In the on-going debate about the nature of Christ’s atoning death, some have insisted that penal substitution is only one model among many others. My contention has always been that it is more than one of many models and is in fact the central and controlling foundation for everything the atonement accomplished on behalf of sinners. Without it, there is no gospel and there is no salvation. I was pleased to come across this statement by J. I. Packer in which he affirms precisely the same point.
Packer proceeds to explain how penal substitution theologically explains everything else regarding the saving efficacy of Christ’s death. Note the following sequence.
“What did Christ’s death accomplish? It redeemed us to God – purchased us at a price, that is, from captivity to sin for the freedom of life with God (Tit 2:14; Rev 5:9). How did it do that? By being a blood-sacrifice for our sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 9:11-15). How did that sacrifice have its redemptive effect? By making peace, achieving reconciliation, and so ending enmity between God and ourselves (Rom 5:10; 2 Cor 5:18-20; Eph 2:13-16; Col 1:19-20). How did Christ’s death make peace? By being a propitiation, an offering appointed by God himself to dissolve his judicial wrath against us by removing our sins from his sight (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). How did the Savior’s self-sacrifice have this propitiatory effect? By being a vicarious enduring of the retribution declared due to us by God’s own law (Gal 3:13; Col 2:13-14) – in other words, by penal substitution” (416, “The Atonement in the Life of the Christian”).
The inescapable fact is that if Christ’s death was not of the nature of a penal substitutionary sacrifice, we simply have nothing in the way of good news to share with a lost and dying world.
“But the taproot of our entire salvation, and the true NT frame for cataloguing its ingredients, is our union with Christ himself by the Holy Spirit. That is, to be more precise, our implantation, symbolized by the under-and-up-from-under of water baptism, into the twin realities of Christ’s own dying and rising (see Rom 6:1-11; Col 2:9-12). In this union we have a salvation that is not only positional through the cross in the terms just stated, and relational through our sustained faith-communion with our Lord, but is also transformational through the regenerating and indwelling Spirit, who stirs and motivates and empowers us to express our new hearts’ desires in new habits of action and reaction constituting Christlike character (‘the fruit of the Spirit’ in Gal 5:22-23).
”Atonement in the Life of the Christian,” in The Glory of the Atonement, 417
(HT: Sam Storms)
J. I. Packer’s insight into the nature of godly living must be noted. He rightly insists that:
“we can never hope to do anything right, never expect to perform a work that is truly good, unless God works within us to make us will and act for his good pleasure. Realizing this will make us depend constantly on our indwelling Lord – which is the heart of what is meant by abiding in Christ. Our living should accordingly be made up of sequences having the following shape. We begin by considering what we have to do, or need to do. Recognizing that without divine help we can do nothing as we should (see John 15:5), we confess to the Lord our inability, and ask that help be given. Then, confident that prayer has been heard and help will be given, we go to work. And, having done what we could, we thank God for the ability to do as much as we did and take the discredit for whatever was still imperfect and inadequate, asking forgiveness for our shortcomings and begging for power to do better next time. In this sequence there is room neither for passivity nor for self-reliance. On the contrary, we first trust God, and then on that basis work as hard as we can, and repeatedly find ourselves enabled to do what we know we could not have done by ourselves. That happens through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, which is the wellspring and taproot of all holy and Christ-like action. Such is the inside story of all the Christian’s authentically good works”
Hot Tub Religion, 180 (emphasis added)
(HT: Sam Storms)
In an essay on “John Owen on Spiritual Gifts” in A Quest for Godliness, J. I. Packer points that spiritual gifts were not much debated in Puritan theology and that Owen’s Discourse on Spiritual Gifts (published posthumously) is the only full-scale treatment of the subject by a major writer. Some of the questions we are asking today were not even raised at this time. For example, Packer writes, “Seventeenth-century England did not, to my knowledge, produce anyone who claimed the gift of tongues. . . .”
So how would the great John Owen have interacted with our contemporary debates? Packer writes: “it may be supposed (though this, in the the nature of the case, can only be a guess) that were Owen confronted with modern Pentecostal phenomena he would judge each case a posteriori, on its own merit, according to these four principles:”
1. Since the presumption against any such renewal is strong, and liability to ‘enthusiasm’ is part of the infirmity of every regenerate man, any extra-rational manifestation like glossolalia needs to be watched and tested most narrowly, over a considerable period of time, before one can, even provisionally, venture to ascribe it to God.
2. Since the use of a person’s gifts is intended by God to further the work of grace in his own soul (we shall see Owen arguing this later), the possibility that (for instance) a man’s glossolalia is from God can only be entertained at all as long as it is accompanied by a discernible ripening of the fruit of the Spirit in his life.
3. To be more interested in extraordinary gifts of lesser worth than in ordinary ones of greater value; to be more absorbed in seeking one’s own spiritual enrichment than in seeking the edifying of the church; and to have one’s attention centred on the Holy Spirit, whereas the Spirit himself is concerned to centre our attention on Jesus Christ—these traits are sure signs of ‘enthusiasm’ wherever they are found, even in those whom seem most saintly.
4. Since one can never conclusively prove that any charismatic manifestation is identical with what is claimed as its New Testament counterpart, one can never in any particular case have more than a tentative and provisional opinion, open to constant reconsideration as time and life go on. Owen was deeply concerned to bring out the supernaturalness of the Christian life, and to do justice to the Spirit’s work in it, but whether he could have felt close sympathy with any form of modern Pentecostalism is a question about which opinions might differ.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
Important post from Sam Storms:
Most are aware of the Strange Fire conference currently underway at John MacArthur’s church in California. It is specifically designed to argue that charismatics, broadly conceived, are guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Yes, you read that correctly.
Today, my friend Michael Patton wrote an excellent article that can be read at the blog for Parchment and Pen (www.reclaimingthemind.org). Michael Brown also made an appeal to MacArthur on the Charisma News website. Although I’m tempted to throw in my ten cent’s worth, I defer to J. I. Packer.
J. I. Packer is not your typical cessationist. That he is a cessationist is beyond question. But the wise, gentle, biblical, and loving way in which he responds to those in the charismatic movement is a model of Christian maturity and depth of character.
In one place Packer responds to those who are offended by charismatic phenomena by pointing out that “we are very apt to respond by abusing the whole movement and denying that there is anything of God in it at all. But how silly! And how nasty! This is a reaction of wounded pride and wilful prejudice, and as such is bad thinking in every way” (“Piety on Fire,” in Collected Shorter Writings, 2:104). Yes, it is silly and nasty. Of course, Packer is not endorsing, any more than I would, the fanatical excess of those in the so-called “health and wealth” or “Word of Faith” movements. But to argue that such theological abuse discredits the charismatic world as a whole is worse than silly and nasty; it is . . ., well, the better part of wisdom restrains me from using the words that come to mind!
Again, Packer argues that when we test the charismatic movement by biblical standards and the fruit that it bears “it becomes plain that God is in it. For, whatever threats and perhaps instances of occult and counterfeit spirituality we may think we detect round its periphery (and what movement of revival has ever lacked these things round its periphery?), its main effect everywhere is to promote robust Trinitarian faith, personal fellowship with the divine Saviour and Lord whom we meet in the New Testament, repentance, obedience, and love to fellow-Christians, expressed in ministry of all sorts towards them; plus a zeal for evangelistic outreach which puts the staider sort of churchmen to shame” (“Theological Reflections on the Charismatic Movement,” Collected Shorter Writings, 2:125).
What, then, does Packer conclude?
“Laying aside matters of detail, I believe that God has generated it [the charismatic movement] in order to counter and correct the death-dealing fashions of thought which, starting with theologians and spreading everywhere, for the past century have done damage by demurring at the truth of the trinity, diminishing the deity of Jesus Christ, and for practical purposes discounting the Holy Spirit altogether” (Rediscovering Holiness, 52-53).
Would that God might raise up more men and women like J. I. Packer. He is a model of how to promote dialogue without division. May we all learn from his example of how to humbly and lovingly disagree with our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
Sam Storms posts:
The Christian life, or sanctification, is partly a matter of putting “to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13), what some translations refer to as the “mortification” of sin. “This too,” notes J. I. Packer, “is hard. It is a matter of negating, wishing dead, and laboring to thwart, inclinations, cravings, and habits that have been in you . . . for a long time. Pain and grief, moans and groans, will certainly be involved, for your sin does not want to die, nor will it enjoy the killing process” (Rediscovering Holiness, 175).
But how precisely is this done? Packer helps us here:
“Outward acts of sin come from inner sinful urges, so we must learn to starve these urges of what stimulates them (porn magazines, for instance, if the urge is lust; visits to smorgasbords, if the urge is gluttony; gamblings and lotteries, if the urge is greed; and so on). And when the urge is upon us, we must learn, as it were, to run to our Lord and cry for help, asking him to deepen our sense of his own holy presence and redeeming love, to give us the strength to say ‘no’ to that which can only displease him. It is the Spirit who moves us to act this way, who makes our sense of the holy love of Christ vivid, who imparts the strength for which we pray, and who actually drains the life out of the sins we starve” (175).
The Holy Spirit’s distinctive new covenant role, then, is to fulfill what we may call a floodlight ministry in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. So far as this role was concerned, the Spirit “was not yet” (John 7:39, literal Greek) while Jesus was on earth; only when the Father had glorified him (see John 17:1,5) could the Spirit’s work of making men aware of Jesus’ glory begin.
I remember walking to a church one winter evening to preach on the words “he shall glorify me,” seeing the building floodlit as I turned a corner, and realizing that this was exactly the illustration my message needed.
When floodlighting is well done, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is just the building on which the floodlights are trained. The intended effect is to make it visible when otherwise it would not be seen for the darkness, and to maximize its dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you see it properly. This perfectly illustrates the Spirit’s new covenant role. He is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Savior.
Or think of it this way. It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us.
The Spirit’s message is never,
“Look at me;
listen to me;
come to me;
get to know me,”
“Look at him, and see his glory;
listen to him, and hear his word;
go to him, and have life;
get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.“
—Keeping in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), p. 57; emphasis original.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
“But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.”
“God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation in His blood through faith, in order to demonstrate His righteousness.”
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’”
“It is those who cannot come to terms with any concept of the wrath of God who repudiate any concept of propitiation… It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating and God himself who in the person of his Son died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us.”
-John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 167, 172
“God dealt with him as if he had been exceedingly angry with him, and as though he had been the object of his dreadful wrath. This made all the sufferings of Christ the more terrible to him, because they were from the hand of his Father, whom he infinitely loved… It was an effect of God’s wrath, that he forsook Christ. This caused Christ to cry out once and again, ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’”
–Jonathan Edwards, “Of Satisfaction for Sin” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, p. 575
“Can you now think what a vast aggregate of misery there would have been in the sufferings of all God’s people, if they had been punished through all eternity? And recollect that Christ had to suffer an equivalent for all the hells of all His redeemed. I can never express that thought better than by using those oft-repeated words: it seemed as if Hell were put into His cup; He seized it, and, ‘At one tremendous draught of love, He drank damnation dry.’ So that there was nothing left of all the pangs and miseries of Hell for His people ever to endure. I say not that He suffered the same, but He did endure an equivalent for all this, and gave God the satisfaction for all the sins of all His people, and consequently gave Him an equivalent for all their punishment. Now can ye dream, can ye guess the great redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
-Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Particular Redemption”
“Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory. To affirm penal substitution is to say that believers are in debt to Christ specifically for this, and that this is the mainspring of all their joy, peace and praise both now and for eternity.”
-J. I. Packer, “What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution,”Tyndale Bulletin 25 (1974): 25.
“The words of [Romans 3:25-26] afford an insight into the innermost meaning of the cross as Paul understands it… It involves nothing less than God’s bearing the intolerable burden of that evil Himself in the person of His own dear Son, the disclosure of the fullness of God’s hatred of man’s evil at the same time as it is its real and complete forgiveness.”
-C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 1:213-214
Would we recognize a reviving of religion if we were part of one?
I ask myself that question. For more than half a century the need of such reviving in the places where I have lived, worshiped, and worked has weighed me down.
I have read of past revivals. I have learned, through a latter-day revival convert from Wales, that there is a tinc in the air, a kind of moral and spiritual electricity, when God’s close presence is enforcing his Word.
I have sat under the electrifying ministry of the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who as it were brought God into the pulpit with him and let him loose on the listeners. Lloyd-Jones’s ministry blessed many, but he never believed he was seeing the revival he sought.
I have witnessed remarkable evangelical advances, not only academic but also pastoral, with churches growing spectacularly through the gospel on both sides of the Atlantic and believers maturing in the life of repentance as well as in the life of joy.
Have I seen revival? I think not—but would I know? From a distance, the difference between the ordinary and extraordinary working of God’s Spirit looks like black and white, a difference of kind; to Edwards, however, at close range, it appeared a matter of degree, as his Narrative and his Brainerd volume (to look no further) make clear.
Some evangelicals need to be asked, Are you not expecting too little from God in the way of moral transformation?
But others need to be asked, Are you not expecting too much from God in the way of situational drama?
Do we always know when we are in a revival situation?
— J.I. Packer, “The Glory of God and the Reviving of Religion: A Study in the Mind of Jonathan Edwards,” in A God-Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 107-108.
The best book on the doctrine of Scripture has never been written, and is by J.I. Packer.
Every time I teach on the doctrine of Scripture, I find myself reaching for a few J.I. Packer quotations that have coalesced in my memory to form a complete statement on bibliology. But when I reach for the book they’re in, I discover that they’re not in a book. They’re in three different books: ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (1958), God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible (1965, rev 2005), and Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life (1996).
I don’t know how Packer or his publishers think of these books, but I think of them as his Scripture trilogy. They don’t exactly fit together tightly, and don’t seem to be part of a plan. There is a great deal of repetition among them. They were provoked by very different situations and aimed at different audiences. The ‘Fundamentalism’ book is feisty and contrarian, God Has Spoken was first written specifically for Anglicans, and Truth and Power is itself gathered up from disparate essays to make a book.
None of the three is perfect, but I shelve them together, and taken together these 500 pages cover most of what I need for a doctrine of Scripture. It’s also worth noting that Packer has written more than this on bibliology; the fugitive pieces are tracked by Paul R. House in the chapter “God has Spoken: The Primacy of Scripture in J.I. Packer’s Ministry,” in J.I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought.
A few favourite lines. From ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God:
Accordingly, we shall contend that ‘Fundamentalism’ (in so far as consistent Evangelicalism is meant by this term) is in principle nothing but Christianity itself. (p. 22) (Packer goes on to give reasons why the word itself is not helpful in 1958, p. 30ff)
Poetry, according to Wordsworth, consists of emotion recollected in tranquility. Doctrine, according to Liberalism, has a precisely similar character. (p. 26)
One reason why Evangelicals are regarded by some as obscurantist is that, in fact, they sometimes are. (p. 36)
But if the term ‘Evangelicalism’ be given its historic meaning –fidelity to the doctrinal content of the gospel– then ‘liberal Evangelicalism’ is a contradiction in terms… (p. 38)
It is true that many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theologians spoke of Scripture as ‘dictated by the Holy Ghost’; but all they meant by this was that the authors wrote word for word what God intended. The language of dictation was invoked to signify not the method or psychology of God’s guidance of them, but simply the fact and result of it; not the nature of their own mental processes, but the relation of what they wrote to the divine intention. (p. 78)
According to Scripture, God reveals Himself to men both by exercising power for them and by teaching truth to them. Indeed, the biblical position is that the mighty acts of God are not revelation to man at all, except in so far as they are accompanied by words of God to explain them. Leave man to guess God’s mind and purpose, and he will guess wrong; he can know it only by being told it. (p. 92)
From God Has Spoken:
Scripture… proves itself to be God’s authentic word by mediating God’s presence, power and personal address to us in and by its record of men’s knowledge of Him long ago. (p. 19)
God judges our pride by leaving us to the barrenness, hunger, and discontent which flow from our self-induced inability to hear His Word. (p. 26)
Revelation is a verbal activity. ‘God spoke.’ This is not a metaphor for some non-verbal mode of communication; the verb is being used as literally a any human words about God can ever be. (p. 63)
The fact we must face is that if there is no verbal revelation, there is no revelation at all, not even in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. (p. 73)
From Truth and Power:
The Bible is and always has been the book of the church, the source of its faith, thought, preaching, order, worship, praise, prayer and song. The inseparability is conscious; the church always has been, and when in its senses has tried to show itself to be, the church of the book, learning its identity, calling, mission, knowledge of God and knowledge of itself in and under God from the pages of Holy Writ. (p. 47)
Have you ever noticed that we use the phrase ‘Word of God’ in two sense? Sometimes we use it to mean the text of Scripture, as when we call printed Bibles copies of the Word of God. That is a natural usage, but not a strictly scriptural one. When the Bible uses ‘word of God’ in revelatory contexts, it means God’s message, either (as int he prophets) a particular occasional communication to some person or persons or (as in the New Testament) the gospel, God’s message to the world, or (as in Ps. 119) the total message of the Scriptures. (p. 105)
Suppose one resolves before God to make the quest for life and health and peace through Jesus Christ one’s priority and to that end to become a latter-day Bible moth. (p. 148)
J.I. Packer’s words, as relevant today as they were in 1958:
“The honest way to commend God’s revealed truth to an unbelieving generation is not to disguise it as a word of man, and to act as if we could never be sure of it, but had to keep censoring and amending it at the behest of the latest scholarship, and dared not believe it further than historical agnosticism gives us leave; but to preach it in a way which shows the world that we believe it wholeheartedly, and to cry to God to accompany our witness with His Spirit, so that we too may preach ‘in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.’
The apologetic strategy that would attract converts by the flattery of accommodating the gospel to the ‘wisdom’ of sinful man was condemned by Paul nineteen centuries ago, and that past hundred years have provided a fresh demonstration of its bankruptcy.
The world may call its compromises ‘progressive’ and ‘enlightened’ (those are its names for all forms of thought that pander to its conceit); those who produce them will doubtless, by a natural piece of wishful thinking, call them ‘bold’ and ‘courageous,’ and perhaps ‘realistic’ and ‘wholesome,’ but the Bible condemns them as sterile aberrations. And the Church cannot hope to recover its power till it resolves to turn its back on them. (Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 168)”
(HT: Kevin DeYoung)
J. I. Packer:
“I have found that churches, pastors, seminaries, and parachurch agencies throughout North America are mostly playing the numbers game—that is, defining success in terms of numbers of heads counted or added to those that were there before. Church-growth theorists, evangelists, pastors, missionaries, news reporters, and others all speak as if
(1) numerical increase is what matters most;
(2) numerical increase will surely come if our techniques and procedures are right;
(3) numerical increase validates ministries as nothing else does;
(4) numerical increase must be everyone’s main goal.
I detect four unhappy consequences of this.
First, big and growing churches are viewed as far more significant than others.
Second, parachurch specialists who pull in large numbers are venerated, while hard-working pastors are treated as near-nonentities.
Third, lively laymen and clergy too are constantly being creamed off from the churches to run parachurch ministries, in which, just because they specialize on a relatively narrow front, quicker and more striking results can be expected.
Fourth, many ministers of not-so-bouncy temperament and not-so-flashy gifts return to secular employment in disillusionment and bitterness, concluding that the pastoral life of steady service is a game not worth playing.
In all of this I seem to see a great deal of unmortified pride, either massaged, indulged, and gratified, or wounded, nursed, and mollycoddled. Where quantifiable success is god, pride always grows strong and spreads through the soul as cancer sometimes gallops through the body.
Shrinking spiritual stature and growing moral weakness thence result, and in pastoral leaders, especially those who have become sure they are succeeding, the various forms of abuse and exploitation that follow can be horrific.
Orienting all Christian action to visible success as its goal, a move which to many moderns seems supremely sensible and businesslike, is thus more a weakness in the church than its strength; it is a seedbed both of unspiritual vainglory for the self-rated succeeders and of unspiritual despair for the self-rated failures, and a source of shallowness and superficiality all round.
The way of health and humility is for us to admit to ourselves that in the final analysis we do not and cannot know the measure of our success the way God sees it. Wisdom says: leave success ratings to God, and live your Christianity as a religion of faithfulness rather than an idolatry of achievement.”
Packer says that he would like to see Kent and Barbara Hughes’ book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, “made required reading for every pastoral aspirant.”
—J. I. Packer, A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah (Wheaton: Crossway, 1995), 207-209.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
Sam Storms posts:
What comes to mind when you hear someone refer to the “sovereignty” of God? Here is J. I. Packer’s answer to that question. As you read and reflect upon it, observe the beautiful harmony that exists between God’s causal priority in all things (as stated in the first paragraph) and human responsibility and moral accountability (as found in the second). They are gloriously compatible!
The sovereignty of God, writes Packer, means that,
“the living God, who created the entire universe and actively upholds it in being (otherwise it would vanish away, and so would we as part of it), knows everything that has been and now is and foreknows everything that will be just because, in a way that totally passes our understanding, he plans and decides and controls everything that takes place. From inside (and we are all insiders at this point) the cosmos appears as a huge interlocking system of cause and effect, the working of which scientists can examine, map out, and within limits predict because the processes all operate with what appears as built-in regularity. But Christians know what science can never find out, namely, that all the processes of nature are willed and sustained directly by the Creator, every moment, down to the smallest detail, as also are the free-flowing thoughts that run through our minds, and the dreams that befuddle us while we sleep, and the self-determined, accountable decisions about what we will and will not do that we make in a steady stream throughout our waking hours. Let us say it clearly: all the regularities of nature, including the functioning of our own minds and bodies, are as they are because God wills and keeps them so. Nothing would be as it is – nothing, indeed, would exist at all – were it not for the active will of God. . . .
To affirm God’s sovereignty over everything around us, within us, happening to us, and issuing from us takes nothing from our certainty (which Scripture confirms) that all our thoughts, words, and deeds, including all our motives, purposes, attitudes, and reactions, are truly our own, not forced upon us from outside but coming out from within us, so that we are in truth responsible subjects, open to assessment both by other people and by our own consciences, and finally by God himself. Rather it adds to our certainty that, as our continued existence and all our living really involve God, so God really involves himself in an overruling way, somehow (just how, no creature can conceive), in all our circumstances, motives, actions, relationships, experiences, joys, pains, pleasures, griefs, and ventures, which form the situational reality of our daily lives.”
J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, Guard Us, Guide Us: Divine Leading in Life’s Decisions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 199-200.
“The gospel fosters individuality, in the sense of realization that as regards the present decisions that determine eternal destiny one stands alone before God; no one can make those decisions for someone else, and no one can enter the kingdom of God by hanging on to someone else’s coat-tails. The individuality that consists of a sense of personal identity and responsibility Godward is a Christian virtue, making for wise and thoughtful behaviour, and is a necessity for mature life and growth in Christ.
But it has nothing to with individualism, which is actually a proud unwillingness to accept a place in a team of peers and to be bound by group consensus. The gospel condemns individualism as disruptive of the life of the divine family, the new community of believers together that God is building in each place where individual Christians have emerged. Harmonious consensus, undergirded by brotherly love, is to be the goal for every church, and individualism is to be overcome by mutual deference. So, at least, says the New Testament.”
“Evangelical Foundations for Spirituality,” Serving the People of God: The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer, Volume 2 (Paternoster Press), 266.
(HT: Sam Storms)
“Long ago, when I was an undergraduate, I had an experience on one of the rivers in Oxford where students love to pole themselves around in flat-bottomed boats called punts. I do not know if undergraduates do it in the universities of this country, but we do it in Oxford. The experience was my falling into the river. I can still remember the surprise I had when I suddenly found myself upside down in the water and that there were strands of green weed around my head and the light was up at my feet. You do not forget that sort of thing quickly, and on the basis of that experience I construct for you the following illustration.
Imagine a man who has fallen into a river. He cannot swim. The weeds have caught his feet. He is threshing around, but he cannot get free and will not be above the surface for very long. His state is desperate. Three people come along on the bank. One looks at him and says, ‘Oh, he’s all right; if he struggles he’ll get out; they always do. It’s even good for his character that he should have to struggle like this. I’ll leave him.’ The second person looks at the poor struggling man and says, ‘I’d like to help you. I can see what you need. You need some tips about swimming. Let me tell you how to swim.’ He gives him a great of good advice, but he stops there. Then there is the third man who comes along and sees the measure of the trouble. He jumps in, overcomes the man’s struggles, gets him free from the weeds that have caught him, brings him to shore, gives him artificial respiration, and puts him back on his feet. Which of those three men is the truest illustration of what God does to save us?
These three views have theological names. The first corresponds to what is called Pelagianism: its only message is self-help. A hard and unfeeling form of Christianity it is. The second corresponds to what is called Arminianism: God tells us how to be saved, but stops there. The third corresponds to Calvinism. And you can see how the illustration fits. God takes the initiative. Christ comes right down to where we are, enters into our trouble, and does all that has to be done. He breaks the bonds of sin that bind us, brings us to land (that is, to God), restores life, and makes us believers, all this by his sovereign grace which saves absolutely and wonderfully from first to last.”
“To All Who Will Come,” in Serving the People of God: The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer, Volume 2 (Paternoster Press), 200-01.
(HT: Sam Storms)
“It cannot be over-emphasized that we have not seen the full meaning of the cross till we have seen it as the centre of the gospel, flanked on the one hand by total inability and unconditional surrender and on the other by irresistible grace and final preservation.
Christ died to save a certain company of helpless sinners upon whom God had set his free saving love. Christ’s death ensured the calling and keeping — the present and final salvation — of all whose sins he bore. That is what Calvary meant, and means. The cross saved; the cross saves.”
— J. I. Packer A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 138
(HT: Of First Importance)
Sadly, even tragically, evangelicals have sometimes been guilty of preaching and teaching a Gospel that is not, shall we say, “fully dressed.” They may have focused properly on the central features of God’s atoning work on the cross, faithfully preached Christ crucified for sinners, celebrated the resurrection as proof that Christ’s self-offering for our sins has been accepted, and urged hearers to be reconciled to God. In other words, they have been right about the essence of the gospel; the key facts have been there in what they have said. But at the same time they have missed some of the critical implications and applications of the Gospel for daily living.
[...] When we fail to conduct ourselves “in step with the truth of the Gospel” (Gal. 2:14), we are in serious error. We are to live in such a way as to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive to our neighbors (Titus 2:10) and to win their respect by responsible and godly living (1 Thess. 4:11-12). Thus our preaching and teaching of the Gospel–that is, our ministries and catechesis–must include teaching the godly manner of living that accords with sound doctrines of the Gospel (Titus 2:1).
[...] The Gospel is to be adorned by both sound doctrine and godly living. To set the Gospel before parishioners and public without these is to preach an unclothed Gospel.
Our salvation does not end at new birth. We are taught by Scripture to say not only that we have been saved (Eph. 2:8) but also that we shall be saved (Rom. 5:9-10; 13:11; 1 Pet. 1:5) and even now are being saved (Phil. 2:12-13; 1 Pet. 1:9). What is the power that saves us? It is the power of the Spirit at work in and through the Gospel (Rom. 1:16) to change lives. We need both a fully orbed doctrine of salvation and a “fully clothed” presentation of the Gospel. But we have often fallen short on both counts.
(HT: Timmy Brister)
Was there ever such love?
Rabbi Duncan was a great old Reformed teacher in New College, Edinburgh, a hundred and more years ago. In one of his famous excursions in his classes, where he would move off from the Hebrew he was supposed to be teaching to theological reflections on this or that, he threw out the following question: “Do you know what Calvary was? What? What? What? Do you know what Calvary was?” Then, having waited a little and having walked up and down in front of them in silence, he looked at them again and said, “I’ll tell you what Calvary was. It was damnation, and he took it lovingly.” The students in his class reported that there were tears on his face as he said this. And well there might be. “Damnation, and he took it lovingly.”
– J.I. Packer, Knowing Christianity
(HT: Jared Wilson)
Most people in churches nowadays have never read through the Bible even once; the older Christian habit of reading it from start to finish as a devotional discipline has virtually vanished. So in describing the Bible we start from scratch, assuming no prior knowledge.
The Bible consists of 66 separate pieces of writing, composed over something like a millennium and a half. The last 27 of them were written in a single generation: they comprise four narratives about Jesus called Gospels, an account of Christianity’s earliest days called the Acts of the Apostles, 21 pastoral letters from teachers with authority, and a final admonition to churches from the Lord Jesus himself, given partly by dictation and partly by vision. All these books speak of human life being supernaturally renovated through, in, with, under, from and for the once crucified, now glorified Son of God, who fills each writer’s horizon, receives his worship, and determines his mind-set at every point.
Through the books runs the claim that this Jesus fulfils promises, patterns and premonitions of blessings to come that are embodied in the 39 pre-Christian books. These are of three main types: history books, telling how God called and sought to educate the Jewish people, Abraham’s family, to worship, serve and enjoy him, and to be ready to welcome Jesus Christ when he appeared; prophetic books, recording oracular sermons from God conveyed by human messengers expressing threats, hopes and calls to faithfulness; and wisdom books which in response to God’s revelation show how to praise, pray, live, love, and cope with whatever may happen.
Christians name these two collections the Old and New Testament respectively. Testament means covenant commitment, and the Christian idea, learned from Paul, from the writer to the Hebrews, and from Jesus himself, is that God’s covenant commitment to his own people has had two editions. The first edition extended from Abraham to Christ; it was marked throughout by temporary features and many limitations, like a non-permanent shanty built of wood on massive concrete foundations. The second edition extends from Christ’s first coming to his return, and is the grand full-scale edifice for which the foundations were originally laid.
The writer to the Hebrews, following Jeremiah’s prophecy, calls this second superstructure the new covenant, and explains that through Christ, who is truly its heart, it provides a better priesthood, sacrifice, place of worship, range of promises and hope for the future than were known under its predecessor. Christians see Christ as the true centre of reference in both Testaments, the Old always looking and pointing forward to him and the New proclaiming his past coming, his present life and ministry in and from heaven, and his future destiny at his return, and they hold that this is the key to true biblical interpretation.
Christians have maintained this since Christianity began.
–J. I. Packer, Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know (Crossway, 2013), 21-22
(HT: Dane Ortlund)