The Exegetical Systematician: Love Constrains the Atonement

It is necessary to underline this concept of sovereign love. Truly God is love. Love is not something adventitious; it is not something that God may choose to be or choose not to be. He is love, and that necessarily, inherently, and eternally. As God is spirit, as he is light, so he is love. Yet it belongs to the very essence of electing love to recognize that it is not inherently necessary to that love which God necessarily and eternally is that he should set such love as issues in redemption and adoption upon utterly undesirable and hell-deserving objects. It was of the free and sovereign good pleasure of his will, a good pleasure that emanated from the depths of his own goodness, that he chose a people to be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. The reason resides wholly in himself and proceeds from determinations that are peculiarly his as the “I am that I am.” The atonement does not win or constrain the love of God. The love of God constrains to the atonement as the means of accomplishing love’s determinate purpose. —John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

Detecting Spirit Fraud (1 Peter 1:10–12)

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…inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” —1 Peter 1:11 (ESV)

Where the Spirit is so emphasized that there is little to no emphasis on Jesus, it’s not the Holy Spirit who’s involved. Many churches are all kinds of spiritual, in a bad way. A way that grieves the Spirit of Christ. In his great book, The World-Tilting Gospel, Dan Philipps sets forth the litmus test.

“Show me a person obsessed with the Holy Spirit and His gifts (real or imagined), and I will show you a person not filled with the Holy Spirit.

Show me a person focused on the person and work of Christ—never tiring of learning about Him, thinking about Him, boasting of Him, speaking about and for and to Him, thrilled and entranced with His perfections and beauty, finding ways to serve and exalt Him, tirelessly exploring ways to spend and be spent for Him, growing in character to be more and more like Him—and I will show you a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. He is sent by Christ. He ministers Christ. He puts us into union with Christ. He is the witness of Christ, the Scriptures are His recorded testimony, and through them He speaks of Christ still (John 15:26). If this is too opaque for you, J.I. Packer stings together a slew of similes that should make things clear.

“We may multiply the illustrations. The Spirit, as we said, is the floodlight, or the searchlight, picking out and illuminating the Lord Jesus for us; also, he is the contact lens that enables us to see him clearly; also he is the matchmaker, drawing us close to Christ for a permanent union; also, he is the intercom, making communication between Christ and us a reality of our experience; also, he is the spiritual pacemaker, implanted to ensure heart-healthy functioning in love to Christ; and with all this he is the channel through which Christ pours his life and power into us for worship, sanctity, and service. But in all that he does he keeps himself out of sight. When he works in us, Christ, not the Spirit, is the center of attention. Spiritual experiences that lead away from Christ, or bypass him, are not from the Holy Spirit at all.”

Any kind of spirit that draws attention away from Jesus, towards itself, isn’t holy, but demonic. You don’t want to be filled with such spirits. You don’t want to be empowered by such spirits. You don’t want gifts from such spirits.

The Exegetical Systematician: Doctrine is for Doing

Some of the greatest pronouncements of Scripture respecting God and his work of redeeming grace are introduced in order to enforce practical exhortation. Paul, for example, is urging the necessity of unselfish consideration for others, that each one should not look on his own things but every one also on the things of others. It is to enforce this duty that he says: ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men’ (Phil. 2:5–7). Again, when urging upon the church at Corinth the grace of Christian liberality, he says: ‘For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich’ (2 Cor. 8:9). It was not the practice of the apostle only; the same feature appears in the teaching of the Saviour himself. It is when he urged upon his disciples the grand virtue of humility and of readiness to serve rather than be served that he gave utterance to one of his most significant pronouncements: ‘For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). So it is in our text. When John says, ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us’, he makes appeal to God’s greatest work in giving his own Son in order to drive home the practical virtue: ‘Beloved, let us love one another’ (I John 4:7).

This characteristic of Scripture reminds us that the profoundest truths respecting God and his work of redeeming grace bear directly upon the most elementary duties of the Christian vocation. Doctrine is indeed high. But Christian life is also; it is the life of a high and holy and heavenly calling. —John Murray, God’s Love and Our Life

WARNING: Combustible Churches (1 Peter 1:6–9)

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…” —1 Peter 1:6

“I am tired of evangelical conferences where more time is given to the hype than to the hope, where more energy is given to the methods than to the message, and where more effort is devoted to techniques than to truth.” —Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace

Peter here rejoices in a hope that is noncombustible. While Peter’s faith in this hope may be tried and tested, pressed and purified, his hope remains imperishable. Our precious faith is being proved by fiery trials to match our 24 karat inheritance.

Unfortunately, we’ve exchanged hype for hope and joy for cheap laughs. The church’s thin jolly front makes for good kindling and the hot spotlights have brought things to the point of ignition. When the fire comes, the mega edifice will be gone and scarcely anything left. Faith survives the fire, but faith is rooted in the Word. When there is little of the Word, there’s little left after the fire. Trials purify gold, not fluff. It’s no kawinkidink that so many adolescent ministries have “fire” in their name, because that’s often all their good for—and awesome quick flame.

Don’t let the veneer fool you. We’re building sheds instead of temples. Sure, sheds go up a lot quicker, but they don’t last long. They don’t stand the fire. Sheds burn down even quicker than they’re built up. What are the glitz and glare of such hype in comparison to the glory of the Son in His revealing? The saints don’t need to be worked up into a hysteria aping the world’s delusional happiness. The saints need to taste of the word to come through the truth of God’s Word.

The Exegetical Systematician: Basic Counting Skills for a Church Lost in Formulas

[From a sermon on Matthew 18:20]

There are also people who have such esteem for numbers that the will deign to patronize the exercises of worship only where crowds congregate. It is easy to discover the measure of such calculation. They have greater regard for the presence of people than for the Lord’s presence. If we make numbers the criterion of the Lord’s presence, then we miss entirely the purport of our Lord in this text. If only two came to a meeting for the worship of God, it would be offering grave insult to the Lord of glory to suspend the service because of the fewness of those in attendance. Where there are two met in Jesus’ name, there are always three, and the third is the Lord of glory. And where there ire three there are always four. —John Murray, Christ in All the Assemblies of His People

Don’t Go the Wrong Way on Praise Street (1 Peter 1:3–5)

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“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” —1 Peter 1:3a (ESV)

“Blessed” has a different meaning depending on which way the traffic is going. When the flow is from God to us, the sign means one thing, but when commuting from man to God, the same sign has a different meaning.

Numbers 6 is the Bible’s clarion sounding of what it means for man to be blessed by God. There Aaron was instructed to bless the people saying:

“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (ESV)

To be blessed means to be in a state of happiness because one is favored by God. In this God Himself is the central joy of the saints. Blessedness means to be in covenant relationship with the God of all glory as our supreme and inexhaustible joy.

As we consider God in Himself, we have a kind of traffic circle where “blessed” carries a similar meaning. 1 Timothy 1:11 speaks of our “blessed God.” Our Triune God is the happy God. Our God is perfectly and indestructibly pleased in Himself as each person of the Trinity rejoices in the perfections of the others.

But when the traffic turns to return to our God, the meaning of “blessed” is “praise.” In praise, Peter isn’t adding to God’s joy, rather, Peter is expressing how God has added to his. Our praise doesn’t fill some void in God, but in us. God doesn’t need our praise. We need to praise God. C.S. Lewis struggled with the problem of praise. When God demands praise he may seem as though he is demanding continued assurance of His excellencies. Lewis says we despise this in a man, so, why is it different with God? Here is one answer he gives:

“The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least.”

He goes on to say, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” Do you not sense here in Peter such a consummation of joy? When a child delights in the ocean which fills their bucket by pouring the bucket back into the ocean, they haven’t added to the ocean, the ocean has added to them. When grace flows onto us from the infinite ocean of God’s grace in Christ, and we return it back in praise, we haven’t added to God. He has added to us.

We bless because we are blessed, but the traffic doesn’t go the same way on each side of the street. All comes from Him and to Him. Our praise itself is part of our blessedness.