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Adiaphora, a Study in Liberty and its Boundaries

Adiaphora, a Study in Liberty and its Boundaries by Jack Kettler

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)

In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding what is called “adiaphora.” What does this mean? As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. Glorify God always!

Adiaphora:

“Actions or beliefs which are neither commanded nor forbidden in scripture, and thus left to the liberty of the conscience; issues of theology or morals to which scripture does not speak definitively.”*

Adiaphora:

“Teachings and practices that are neither commanded nor forbidden in scripture. An example might be whether or not to use a sound-board in a church, to meet in a tent or a building, to have two or more services or simply one on the day of worship.” **

From Wikipedia:

In Pyrrhonism, “adiaphora” indicates things, which cannot be logically differentiated. Unlike in Stoicism, the term has no specific connection to morality. In Stoicism, “adiaphora” indicates actions that morality neither mandates nor forbids. In the context of Stoicism, “adiaphora” is usually translated as “indifferents.”

When considering the above definitions, one might ask, how could there be disagreements on such seemingly trivial matters. Simply said, adiaphora it could be said is not majoring in minors. Unfortunately, what is obvious to some is not oblivious to others. When considering that a man has fallen sinful nature, majoring in minors can quickly become the norm when approaching seemingly matters of indifference.

From Scripture:

“But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” (1 Corinthians 8:8-13)

When looking at Scriptural evidence on the topic of adiaphora, you find 1 Corinthians 8:8-13 frequently referenced. The following commentary evidence will look at the issues involved. Paramount, to this to this issue will be the very real danger of causing a weaker believer to stumble, and at the same time in preserving real Christian liberty. This side of heaven, majoring in minors can become the cause of disagreements among brothers, and even leading to church conflicts. What is considered adiaphora to one may not be to another. This is why there are conflicts and offenses. The following commentary evidence is not a digression or going off topic; it is directly related to differences among brothers to seeming indifferent matters.

With that said, the commentators will set explain how the apostle Paul instructs believers on how to not offend their brethren in matters of dispute.

The New Testament Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8:9-13:

4. Sin

8: 9–13

9. But beware that this right of yours not become a hindrance to those who are weak.

With an adversative, Paul indicates that although he agrees with the general sentiment of the quotation (v. 8), he rejects the context in which it is used. In preceding verses (vv. 1–2), he had told the Corinthians that knowledge and love must go hand in hand. Knowledge by itself results in arrogance, but when it is accompanied by love, it edifies. And Paul, discovering an absence of love in the conduct of some Corinthians (compare Rom. 14:15), now registers a pastoral objection.

Paul detects a dangerous attitude that will undermine the unity of the church. He commands the readers to beware of their own conduct. He drafts the phrase this right of yours, in which the pronoun this reflects a trace of his dislike for the apparent haughtiness of some Corinthians (see Luke 15:30). Moreover, this is the second time the word weak occurs in this chapter (see v. 7). If this expression comes not from Paul but from these spiritually strong Corinthians, a measure of arrogance seems obvious. They aggressively claim for themselves the right to Christian liberty.

However, just as knowledge without love produces pride, so freedom without love generates arrogance. The Corinthians have the right to assert their freedom to eat food, for Paul himself teaches that “no food is unclean in itself” (Rom. 14:14). Yet Christian liberty must always be observed in the context of love for one’s neighbor in general and the spiritually weak brother or sister in particular.

The right that a Christian legitimately exercises should never become a hindrance to a fellow believer. Paul uses the word stumbling block to describe a specific obstacle a Christian can place on someone’s pathway. And the hindrance here is eating sacrificial meat, which was an offense to others in the church.

The freedom which a Christian enjoys must always be asserted in the context of serving one another in love (Gal. 5:13). His attitude should not be a hindrance to the weaker members of the church. Paul is not saying that those who are weak take offense but rather that those who are strong give offense. The members who promote their right to be free are exerting undue pressure on those whose conscience restricts them from eating certain kinds of meat. Paul, therefore, alerts the freedom-loving Corinthians to demonstrate love by not offending their fellow church members.

10. For if someone sees you who have knowledge dining in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of someone who is weak be emboldened so that he will eat food offered to idols?

We make these observations:

a. Dining. Taking a situation from daily life, Paul envisions the possibility of a spiritually strong Corinthian who sits and eats in the temple of an idol. This believer might be asked to come to a celebration held in one of the many dining rooms of the temple. There the meat of an animal sacrificed to an idol would be consumed. He could reason that the idol was nothing more than a piece of hewn stone and the meat was ordinary food. His faith in God remained strong. Further, he would refuse to break bonds of family or friendship. He would feel obligated to attend a feast to which he was invited and would consider the meal an occasion for fellowship with relatives and friends. Because of his firm knowledge of the Christian faith, he would not see any harm in his presence at a festive meal in a temple dining room.

Although Paul provides an illustration by using the singular you, his intention is to portray the reality of a common occurrence. The possibility is not unreal that Erastus, for example, who was the city’s director of public works in Corinth (Rom. 16:23) and a member of the local church, might attend such functions.

Maintaining Christian liberty, Paul does not reprove a person who eats in a temple dining room. He correctly observes that a spiritually strong believer is not worshiping an idol but only enjoying the company of family and friends. By contrast, in a later passage (10:19–20) Paul comments on idolatry and there delineates the sin of worshiping an idol. Now he calls attention not to the eating in a dining room but to the effect this action may have on a weaker brother. This action has the potential of leading a weaker brother into idolatry.

b. Conscience. The weak brother is probably not a Jew, for a Jew would not think of entering a temple to eat meat that was sacrificed to an idol. Instead, the weak brother is likely a Gentile who recently converted to Christianity, whose spiritual knowledge is limited, and whose conscience is weak. Paul now asks the strong Christian a question that probably conveys a touch of irony: “Does the act of eating in a temple embolden the conscience of the weaker brother?”

By his conduct, the one who is strong is leading the weak one; but the fact is that he leads his brother astray. If a spiritually weak person enters the dining room and eats, his conscience is defiled instead of strengthened (see v. 7). Hence, not the weak brother but his weak conscience is emboldened. The inner voice of his conscience no longer keeps him in check. At the beginning of his discussion of this subject, Paul noted that knowledge leads to pride and love leads to edification (v. 1). Paul now reiterates the same thought in different words. Conduct without love and consideration can be disastrous, especially for the spiritually weak who follow the example of the strong person to lead the way. The full responsibility for the spiritual health of the brother rests on the shoulders of the person who has knowledge. His inconsiderate conduct constitutes a sin against Christ.

11. For the weak brother for whom Christ died is destroyed by your knowledge.

When the weak brother eats sacrificial meat in a pagan temple, he associates his act with idol worship. His confidence is destroyed because of his qualms of conscience. Instead of being built up he is torn down. Paul looks at the consequences of the conduct of the knowledgeable brother who intentionally overrides the objections that the weak brother raises. Paul knows that the insensitive conduct of the brother with knowledge destroys “the weak brother for whom Christ died.”

What the apostle is saying in this verse concerns the spiritual life of the weak Christians. Here is a threefold explanation of Paul’s point of view:

First, with the word order, Paul makes every word count in this text; he stresses especially the verbs to destroy and to die. These two verbs are key words. In this sentence, the verb to destroy is in the present tense to indicate that the action already is occurring. The weaker brother “is being destroyed.” With the present tense, he conveys progressive action but not the thought that the weak brother “has been lost.”

Next, the immediate context (v. 12) features the verb to injure, wound in the present tense. This verb is a synonym Paul uses to explain the meaning of “to destroy.”

And last, the parallel passage in Romans 14:15 and its context shed light on the present verse. “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” If Christ paid the supreme sacrifice by dying for this weak brother, then the least a strong brother can do is to demonstrate neighborly love to fellow Christians by not eating certain foods. The intent of this verse is to depict the contrast between the death of Christ and the callousness of the strong Corinthians.

Two additional observations on this passage. First, Paul is not teaching that a strong Christian can cause a spiritually weak brother to perish, for he writes “brother” instead of “sinner” or “man.” He implies that Christ continues to protect this person from harm and will enable him to stand (Rom. 14:4). In brief, loving this brother so much that he died for him, Christ will also make him withstand temptation. Second, some translators introduce the helping verb could () or would () to convey the probability of experiencing ruin but not the actuality of being lost eternally. The weak brother is stunted in his spiritual growth by the lack of love from fellow Christians. Nonetheless, Christ has redeemed and sanctified him (1:2) and regards him as his brother (compare Heb. 2:10–11).

Paul no longer speaks in generalities but addresses the strong Corinthians personally. He writes, “your knowledge,” and calls attention to the loveless attitude of these Corinthians who are puffed up by knowledge (v. 1). Also, the use of the personal pronoun you seems to reveal that the current problem involved a number of people. By contrasting Christ’s death—as an illustration of the greatest love imaginable—with the loveless knowledge of some Corinthians, Paul encourages his readers to express their love to the weaker members of the church.

12. Thus you sin against Christ by sinning against your brothers and by wounding their weak conscience.

Conclusively, the apostle comes to the heart of the matter. He writes the verb to sin twice in the same sentence. In the Greek, he accentuates this word by having the form sinning near the beginning of the sentence and the form sin at the very end.

13. Therefore if food causes my brother to stumble into sin, I will never eat meat again that I may not cause my brother to stumble.

The conclusion to this part of the discussion is that Paul himself will provide leadership in the Corinthian church even while he is physically absent. If the spiritually strong Christians fail in their responsibility to strengthen the weak, Paul will set the example. This verse is a conditional sentence that expresses reality and certainty. The readers can be assured that Paul indeed will do that which he is telling them.

Paul writes the general word food instead of the term sacrificial meat, which was at the center of the discussion (see vv. 1, 4, 7, 10). The matter of eating food should not become a stumbling block to anyone in the church. Paul himself scolded both Peter and Barnabas for their refusal to eat with Gentile Christians in Antioch (Gal. 2:11–14). He and his associates delivered the letter of the Jerusalem Council to the Gentile Christians (Acts 15:29). Jewish Christians even refused to buy meat in a local Gentile market for fear of eating food that had been offered to an idol. They fully kept the law of Moses (compare Acts 21:20). Gentile Christians, too, were careful in dining with Gentile friends.

For the sake of his Christian brother, Paul says, “I will never eat meat again that I may not cause my brother to stumble.” In the next chapter of this epistle, he states unequivocally that “to those who are weak I became weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that at least I might save some” (9:22). Paul was willing to forego eating certain foods so that he might advance the cause of Christ, the spread of the gospel, and the growth of the church.

Did Paul suggest that every Christian should become a vegetarian? No, not at all. But Paul is willing to go to any extreme to avoid hurting the conscience of anyone for whom Christ died. And if that extreme means not to eat meat for some time, Paul readily adapts. He submits even his Christian liberty to the principle of love. What he is asking every believer to do is to show genuine Christian love to fulfill the summary of the Decalogue: to love God with heart, mind and soul, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matt. 22:37–39). Indeed, Augustine expresses a comment to this effect: “As long as you love God and your neighbor, you may do whatever you wish and you will not fall into sin.”

Additional Note on 8:10

The Jerusalem Council stipulated that Gentile Christians were to abstain from food sacrificed to idols (Acts 15:29). But in Corinth, Paul allowed Christians to enter a temple and participate in feasts held in one of its dining rooms. Paul’s consent in this chapter appears to be contradictory, especially because he forbade the eating of sacrificial meat in 10:14–22.

Is Paul lax in the one chapter (8:10) and strict in the other (10:18–22)? Hardly. What Paul is trying to do is walk the thin line between allowing Christian liberty and strengthening the consciences of the weak. To put it differently, in chapter 8 Paul addresses the strong but in chapter 10 the weak.

Sacrificial meat in itself is not harmful. If Christians should attend a feast where this meat was served, they were free to partake provided they did not hurt the conscience of weaker Christians. But whenever the eating of meat was directly associated with idolatry, Paul condemned this practice (10:7, 14). When a Christian became a participant in idolatry (10:18, 20), he would forge a spiritual association with an idol and thus become an idolater. Whenever Gentiles were worshiping an idol, a Christian should have nothing to do with them. He ought to know that God is a jealous God (Exod. 20:4; Deut. 5:8). In the words of James, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Practical Considerations in 8:12

In today’s world, sin is taken lightly. Often it is considered something amusing, especially when it relates to sexual immorality. When the news media mention sexual escapades of prominent people, the expression used is not “sin” but rather “character weakness.” Indeed, the thinking seems to be that the term sin should not be applied to anyone because it might damage a person’s reputation. Although the consequence of sin is evident, people like to pretend that there is nothing wrong.

In many parts of the world, sin is an embarrassment for the offender when his deed becomes common knowledge. Disgrace can be removed by a restorative action of presenting the offended party an appropriate gift. If the offense remains undetected, the guilty person continues to act as though nothing has happened.

In the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day, sin was a matter of frustration. Sin was compared to an archer who misses the mark and thus experiences failure. Sin, therefore, was a lack of skill that continual training could overcome. It was not something that was taken seriously.

The Scriptures, however, teach that sin is a personal affront to God and a transgression of the laws he has established. Sin is stepping over the legal boundaries within which we should live and work. Sin is an insult to God because we choose no longer to serve him but an idol. And idolatry is nothing but spiritual adultery. God loves his people like a bridegroom loves his bride. Instead of loving him as our spouse, we turn to idols and commit adultery.

Sin can be forgiven only through the shedding of blood—in the Old Testament era the blood of animals foreshadowed that of Christ. In the New Testament era, the sinner is cleansed through Christ’s blood shed at Golgotha. As the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews aptly puts it: “and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). (1)

“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” (Romans 14:1)

From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on Romans 14:1:

“14:1-6 Differences of opinion prevailed even among the immediate followers of Christ and their disciples. Nor did St. Paul attempt to end them. Compelled assent to any doctrine, or conformity to outward observances without being convinced, would be hypocritical and of no avail. Attempts for producing absolute oneness of mind among Christians would be useless. Let not Christian fellowship be disturbed with strifes of words. It will be good for us to ask ourselves, when tempted to disdain and blame our brethren; has not God owned them? And if he has, dare I disown them? Let not the Christian who uses his liberty, despise his weak brother as ignorant and superstitious. Let not the scrupulous believer find fault with his brother, for God accepted him, without regarding the distinctions of meats. We usurp the place of God, when we take upon us thus to judge the thoughts and intentions of others, which are out of our view. The case as to the observance of days was much the same. Those who knew that all these things were done away by Christ’s coming, took no notice of the festivals of the Jews. But it is not enough that our consciences consent to what we do; it is necessary that it be certified from the word of God. Take heed of acting against a doubting conscience. We are all apt to make our own views the standard of truth, to deem things certain which to others appear doubtful. Thus Christians often despise or condemn each other, about doubtful matters of no moment. A thankful regard to God, the Author and Giver of all our mercies, sanctifies and sweetens them.” (2)

“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. For meat destroys not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Romans 14:17-21)

From the Pulpit Commentary on Romans 14:19-21:

Verses 19-21. – Let us therefore follow after the things that make for (literally, the things of) peace, and the things wherewith one may edify another (literally, the things of the edification of one another). For meat’s sake destroy not the work of God. “Destroy,” or rather, overthrow – the word is κατάλυε, not ἀππόλλυε as in ver. 15 – is connected in thought with the edification, or building up (οἰκοδομήν) before spoken cf. “The work of God” is that of his grace in the weak Christian’s soul, growing, it may be, to full assurance of faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9,” ye are God’s building”). Upset not the rising structure, which is God’s own, as ye may do by putting a stumbling-block in the weak brother’s way. All things indeed are pure (i.e. in themselves all God’s gifts given for man’s service are so); but it is evil to that man who eateth with offence (i.e. if the eating be to himself a stumbling-block. The idea is the same as in ver. 14). It is good (καλὸν, not of indispensable obligation, but a right and noble thing to do) neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. The concluding words in italics are of doubtful authority: they are not required for the sense. For St. Paul’s expression of his own readiness to deny himself lawful things, if he might so avoid offence to weak brethren, cf. 1 Corinthians 8:13. (3)

From the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 20:

II. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith on worship.

Comments in closing:

To summarize, adiaphora, is understood as an unsettled or disputable topic or subjects that deal with non-essentials. To illustrate, these type of issues would fall under secular categories of going to movies, music performances, sporting events, amusement parks, reading adventure stories, vacation traveling or not going. Many have experienced arguments about not going to movies for example because there are bad movies.

A weaker brother may see my liberty and then go to a bad movie. Implicit in this reasoning would be not to cause a weaker brother to stumble as a result of my liberty. The issue is, are all movies bad? How is it the stronger brother’s fault if the weaker brother goes to a bad movie, he could have gone to a good movie too? Banning the going to movies is not a solution to the weaker brother’s sin. This type of argument has been applied to the other examples above. There are bad sports, bad music, and bad literature. By using a fallacious non-sequitur argument, it could be said since there are bad things; we should abstain from all manner of things. This type of thinking leads to a monkish life.

However, it is very real that exercising your liberty may cause your brother to stumble. This is a real concern. We should never pressure a weaker brother to conform to our standards of Christian liberty. However, there is also the phenomena known as the tyranny of the weaker brother. I get together with a group of brothers for a cigar night. Also, various beverages are brought to the event. Some brothers who do not smoke or drink. They enjoy the spiritual fellowship and no one is pressured to participate in any liberty other brothers enjoy. The spiritual fellowship and bonding among men of the church are remarkable.

How do we sort all of these issues out, not offending the weaker brother, and yet maintain Christian liberty of conscience? The best statement on how to proceed with disputable matters can be found in the following quotation from the Westminster Confession of Faith. Scripture is where we go for answers and what may be deduced by good and necessary consequence.

In theology, adiaphora would involve the time the Sunday service starts, how many times communion is celebrated, should there be a mid-week service. Can a church service be held in a storefront or a park? Beside, in the area of theology, there are areas of seemingly irresolvable disputes that are not essential for salvation, such as eschatology.

For example, there are differing views regarding the interpretation of the book of Revelation. Four common views are the historicist (a method of interpretation which associates biblical prophecies with actual historical events), preterist (past fulfillment), futurist (future fulfillment), and the idealist (called the spiritual, allegorical, or non-literal approach) views. The book of Revelation belongs to a class of literature called “apocalyptic.”

The Bible uses many literary forms. For example, it uses genera’s such as; law, historical narrative, wisdom, poetical, gospel, didactic letters, or epistles, predictive, and apocalyptic literature. In addition, there are differences in millennial views, such as Pre-Millennial A-Millennial Post-Millennial and a subset of Pre-Millennialism is Dispensational Pre-Millennialism. To some eschatology would be considered under the area of adiaphora, to others it would not.

How do we sort out and resolve the disagreements? The instruction from the confessional standard is a good rule of thumb where it says, “common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.” Christian prudence and charity are called for in the area of adiaphora.

The Westminster Confession of Faith: Good & Necessary Consequence Chapter 1.6:

vi. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.

“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Notes:

1. Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 1 Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1993), pp. 269-278.

2. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, Romans, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p.1815.

3. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Romans, Vol. 18, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p.411.

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca writes http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics

*** Reformed answers http://reformedanswers.org/

**** https://www.gotquestions.org/

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Did you that Trump hater Mitt Romney’s religion started in a Hat?

Learn how Mitt’s religion started:

A magic rock, a hat, Joseph Smith and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon

I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear.*

  • David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, Missouri: 1887) p. 12.

Learn more about this very unusual religion at

http://www.thereligionthatstartedinahat.com/

God Bless,

Jack Kettler

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Ordo Salutis, a Study in Salvation

Ordo Salutis, a Study in Salvation by Jack Kettler

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)

In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding what theologians call the “ordo salutis.” What does this mean? As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. Glorify God always!

Ordo salutis:

“An ordered list intended to describe the logical order of the saving benefits of Christ’s work which are given to those who are being saved in order to show the relationships between those benefits in the saved person’s experience of them; literally, the order of salvation.”*

Ordo salutis:

“Latin for “order of salvation.” Theologically it is the order of decrees by God in bringing about the salvation of individuals. In the Reformed camp, the ordo solutis Isaiah 1:1-31) election, 2) predestination, 3) calling, 4) regeneration, 5) faith, 6) repentance, 7) justification, 8) sanctification, and 9) glorification. In the Arminian camp, the ordo solutis Isaiah 1:1-31) calling, 2) faith, 3) repentance, 4) regeneration, 5) justification, 6) perseverance, 7) glorification. ” **

From Scripture:

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? ” (Romans 8:28-31)

From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on Romans 8:28-31:

“8:28-31 That is good for the saints which does their souls good. Every providence tends to the spiritual good of those that love God; in breaking them off from sin, bringing them nearer to God, weaning them from the world, and fitting them for heaven. When the saints act out of character, corrections will be employed to bring them back again. And here is the order of the causes of our salvation, a golden chain, one which cannot be broken. 1. Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son. All that God designed for glory and happiness as the end, he decreed to grace and holiness as the way. The whole human race deserved destruction; but for reasons not perfectly known to us, God determined to recover some by regeneration and the power of his grace. He predestinated, or before decreed, that they should be conformed to the image of his Son. In this life they are in part renewed, and walk in his steps. 2. Whom he did predestinate, them he also called. It is an effectual call, from self and earth to God, and Christ, and heaven, as our end; from sin and vanity to grace and holiness, as our way. This is the gospel call. The love of God, ruling in the hearts of those who once were enemies to him, proves that they have been called according to his purpose. 3. Whom he called, them he also justified. None are thus justified but those that are effectually called. Those who stand out against the gospel call, abide under guilt and wrath. 4. Whom he justified, them he also glorified. The power of corruption being broken in effectual calling, and the guilt of sin removed in justification, nothing can come between that soul and glory. This encourages our faith and hope; for, as for God, his way, his work, is perfect. The apostle speaks as one amazed, and swallowed up in admiration, wondering at the height and depth, and length and breadth, of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. The more we know of other things, the less we wonder; but the further we are led into gospel mysteries, the more we are affected by them. While God is for us, and we keep in his love, we may with holy boldness defy all the powers of darkness.” (1)

From Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Romans 8:30:

“Moreover … – In this verse, in order to show to Christians the true consolation to be derived from the fact that they are predestinated, the apostle states the connection between that predestination and their certain salvation. The one implied the other.

Whom he did predestinate – All whom he did predestinate.

Them he also called – Called by his Spirit to become Christians. He called, not merely by an external invitation, but in such a way as that, they in fact were justified. This cannot refer simply to an external call of the gospel, since those who are here said to be called are said also to be justified and glorified. The meaning is, that there is a certain connection between the predestination and the call, which will be manifested in due time. The connection is so certain that the one infallibly secures the other.

He justified – See the note at Romans 3:24. Not that he justified them from eternity, for this was not true; and if it were, it would also follow that he glorified them from eternity, which would be an absurdity. It means that there is a regular sequence of events – the predestination precedes and secures the calling; and the calling precedes and secures the justification. The one is connected in the purpose of God with the other; and the one, in fact, does not take place without the other. The purpose was in eternity. The calling and justifying in time.

Them he also glorified – This refers probably to heaven. It means that there is a connection between justification and glory. The one does not exist without the other in its own proper time; as the calling does not subsist without the act of justification. This proves, therefore, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. There is a connection infallible and ever existing between the predestination and the final salvation. They who are subjects of the one are partakers of the other. That this is the sense is clear,

(1) Because it is the natural and obvious meaning of the passage.

(2) Because this only would meet the design of the argument of the apostle. For how would it be a source of consolation to say to them that whom God foreknew he predestinated, and whom he predestinated he called, and whom he called he justified, and whom he justified “might fall away and be lost forever?” (2)

Picture From the Monergism website on Ordo Salutis:

The “Ordo salutis” is a Latin term, which means “the order of salvation”. It speaks of a way of organizing all the events of redemption in the consecutive order that they show up in an individual’s life (as revealed in the bible) when he is joined to Christ by the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind we must never separate the benefits (regeneration, justification, sanctification) from the Benefactor (Jesus Christ). The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration, etc.) is the work of God in Christ and is by grace alone.

All the benefits of redemption such as conversion (faith & repentance), justification, sanctification and perseverance presuppose a renewed heart (the existence of spiritual life) which believes. The work of applying God’s grace is a unitary process given to the elect simultaneously in Christ. This is instantaneous, but there is definitely a causal order (regeneration giving rise to all the rest). Though these benefits cannot be separated, it is helpful to distinguish them. Therefore, instead of imposing a chronological order we should view these as a unitary work of God to bring us into union with Christ. We must always keep in mind that the orders expressed in the following articles occur together or happen simultaneously like heat and fire. All aspects of the work of God continue together throughout the life of a Christian.

Jesus Christ is the source of all redemptive blessings, including regeneration, justification, sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). Election is the superstructure of our ordo salutis (a blueprint, so to speak, of what God intends to do for elect sinners in time), but not itself the application of redemption. Regeneration, the work of the Holy Spirit, which brings us into a living union with Christ, has a causal priority over the other aspects of the process of salvation.

· God opens our eyes, we see.

· God circumcises/ unplugs our ears, we hear.

· Jesus calls a dead and buried Lazarus out of the grave, he comes; (Ephesians 2:5)

· In the same way, the Holy Spirit applies regeneration, (opening our spiritual eyes and renewing our affections), immediately and infallibly resulting in faith. (John 6:63, 65)

Historically in the Church, there has been disagreement about the order of salvation, especially between those in the Reformed and Arminian camps. The following two perspectives of God’s order in carrying out His redemptive work reveals the stark contrast between these two main historic views. Keep in mind that both viewpoints are based on the redemptive work, which Christ accomplished for His people in history:

In the Reformed camp, the ordo salutis is 1) election/predestination (in Christ), 2) Atonement 3) gospel call 4) inward call 5) regeneration, 6) conversion (faith & repentance), 7) justification, 8) sanctification, and 9) glorification. (Rom 8:29-30)

In the Arminian camp, the ordo salutis is 1) outward call 2) faith/election, 3) repentance, 4) regeneration, 5) justification, 6) perseverance, 7) glorification.

Notice the crucial difference in the orders of regeneration and faith. While the Reformed position believes spiritual life is a prerequisite for the existence of the other aspects of salvation, the Arminians believe that fallen, natural man retains the moral capacity to receive or reject the gospel of his own power. Even with the help of grace, he still must find it within himself to believe or reject Christ. This has broad implications and raises questions like why does one man believe and not another? You might also notice that, according to Arminians, election is dependent on faith, not the other way around. This is no small matter …understanding the biblical order, while keeping in mind its unitary process, is crucial and has a profound impact on how one views God, the gospel, and the Bible as a whole.

But how can regeneration (life) come before justification? Some might ask. This is because causes and effects usually happen at the same time. God creates the world and it exists. It did not hesitate 5 seconds but sprung into existence the same moment he called it into existence. When a pool ball hits another, they touch at the same time, but only ONE is the cause of the other moving. Likewise, God breathes new life into us and we breathe. God opens our eyes and we see, He gives us a new heart and we believe. No time delay takes place. They occur simultaneously, but one actually CAUSES the other. Faith is the fruit of grace and as such, we can only ascribe all glory to God. (3)

Picture from the monergism web site

The Unbreakable Golden Chain of Salvation According to the Westminster Confession of Faith:

III.6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power, through faith, unto salvation.

VIII.1. It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Savior of his church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom he did from all eternity give a people, to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.

X.1. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ ….

XI.1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone ….

XII.1. All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption …, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him, as by a father: yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption; and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.

XIII.1. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them ….

XVII.1. They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

XVII.2. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

Comments in closing:

We see in Romans 8:28-30, the “golden chain” of salvation. In this passage, there is a point-by-point sequence where Paul declares the indissoluble order of how God saves us. Paul makes it clear that our salvation from beginning to end is the work of a sovereign God. Hence, this “golden chain” is unbreakable because of God’s grace that can never fail His elect people!

Consequently, the biblical understanding of ordo salutis allows us to see clearly that God is the author of our salvation from beginning to end. God graciously enables and causes sinners to believe, to repent, to become Disciples of Christ, and finally to be gloried. This theology prevents the sinner from trying to take any credit for his salvation. God deserves all the glory

Notable Quotes:

“We are initially united with Christ in regeneration.” “We appropriate and continue to live out of this union through faith.” Third, “We are justified in union with Christ. “Fourth, “We are sanctified through union with Christ. “Fifth, “We persevere in the life of faith in union with Christ. “Finally, “We shall be eternally glorified with Christ.” – Anthony Hoekema

“Regeneration, faith, conversion, renewal, and the like, often [in the Bible] do not point to successive steps in the way of salvation but rather summarize in a single word the entire change which takes place in a man.” – Herman Bavinck

“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Notes:

1. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, Romans, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p.1800.

2. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Romans, p.2205.

3. Monergism website on Ordo Salutis

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca writes http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics

*** Reformed answers http://reformedanswers.org/

**** https://www.gotquestions.org/

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Monergism, Defined and Defended

Monergism, Defined and Defended by Jack Kettler

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)

In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding “monergism.” What does this mean? As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. Glorify God always!

This study will focus on a positive presentation of “common grace.” In fairness, there are learned Christian teachers who deny that there is such a thing as “common grace.”

Monergism:

“The doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration—that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated, and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration.”*

Monergism:

“The teaching that God alone is the one who saves. It is opposed to synergism, which teaches that God and man work together in salvation. Cults are synergistic. Christianity is monergistic.” **

From Scripture:

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

John Calvin’s comments are profitable to read on the Ephesians text:

8. For by grace are ye saved. This is an inference from the former statements. Having treated of election and of effectual calling, he arrives at this general conclusion, that they had obtained salvation by faith alone. First, he asserts, that the salvation of the Ephesians was entirely the work, the gracious work of God. But then they had obtained this grace by faith. On one side, we must look at God; and, on the other, at man. God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is not a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, and if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all commendation, it follows that salvation does not come from us.

Ought we not then to be silent about free-will, and good intentions, and fancied preparations, and merits, and satisfactions? There is none of these which does not claim a share of praise in the salvation of men; so that the praise of grace would not, as Paul shews, remain undiminished. When, on the part of man, the act of receiving salvation is made to consist in faith alone, all other means, on which men are accustomed to rely, are discarded. Faith, then, brings a man empty to God, that he may be filled with the blessings of Christ. And so he adds, not of yourselves; that claiming nothing for themselves, they may acknowledge God alone as the author of their salvation. (1)

Two more passages from Scripture make clear the monergistic nature of salvation:

“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)

“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” (Romans 9:16)

Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Romans 9:16 get right to the heart of the issue:

God’s election is not of Jacob’s, or of any other man’s, willing or running; i.e. it is not from his good desires or deeds, his good inclinations or actions, or from the foresight thereof; but it is of God’s mere mercy and good pleasure. This text wounds Pelagianism under the fifth rib. Nec volenti, nec volanti,* was the motto of a noble personage. * Translation: Nor is it who wishes it, nor a flying (2)

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers agrees with Matthew Poole on the Romans text:

(16) Of him that runneth. – A metaphor taken from the foot-races as St. Paul may very possibly have seen them practiced at Corinth. (Comp. Romans 9:16; Galatians 2:2; Galatians 5:7; Philippians 2:16.) The meaning is that the prize does not depend on human will or human effort, but on the grace of God. (3)

A Monergistic Testimony:

By the grace of God, confession is made to the truthfulness of what the apostle Paul teaches in the following passage of Scripture:

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” (l Corinthians” 15:1-4)

In another place, he declares the following concerning man’s condition “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one…that every mouth may be stopped, and the entire world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:10, 19). This was my condition. Paul goes on to say, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 6:23. I had earned the wages of death. God in his mercy gave me the gift of eternal life. The only thing that I earned and deserved was death. Eternal life came as a gift. I am certain of this; there was and is absolutely nothing in me that caused God to give me this gift. Jesus Christ gets all the glory and praise.

Being faithful to what the writer of Hebrews sets forth:

“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Look to Jesus by giving him the glory. God gave me the gift of faith. Salvation is by grace and even my faith is a gift. Ephesians 2:8 says “and that not of yourselves.” What is not of yourselves? Faith! Did I choose Christ and exercise faith? If so, then why did this happen? Who gets the glory? Does Christ get the glory? Do I get the glory? Why did I choose to believe? The next passage supplies us the answer:

“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Ephesians 1:4- 5)

Was this salvation in my hands to choose or reject? If this were the case, then could I not glory in and of myself? How can that be so? If so, I would have done something, others had not done.

The following verse tells us that predestination is according to the good pleasure of his will:

“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” (Romans 9:16)

The doctrine of election more than any other teaching of Scripture takes salvation out of man’s hands and places it under God’s control. Men do not like God’s control. The cause of God’s choosing is in Him. If we insist that we played a part in God’s choice, then human merit is a factor. Salvation then becomes synergistic rather than monergistic. Biblical salvation is monergistic. Christ alone, by his complete and finished work, saved me.

Within a synergistic scheme, salvation becomes a cooperative effort. My work takes away from the work of Christ. How? I contributed. I played a part in my salvation. If I was not willing, then God could not save me. A synergistic scheme of salvation not only steals Christ’s glory, it limits God’s power. God can only do what I allow him to do within this type of system.

Salvation comes by the grace of God, not works from a man:

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)

This is the close of my testimony:

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen”. Romans 16:27. Heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). Amen! (4)

Confessional support from The Canons of Dordt, the Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine:

Article 10: Conversion as the Work of God:

The fact that others who are called through the ministry of the gospel do come and are brought to conversion must not be credited to man, as though one distinguishes himself by free choice from others who are furnished with equal or sufficient grace for faith and conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains). No, it must be credited to God: just as from eternity he chose his own in Christ, so within time he effectively calls them, grants them faith and repentance, and, having rescued them from the dominion of darkness, brings them into the kingdom of his Son, in order that they may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called them out of darkness into this marvelous light, and may boast not in themselves, but in the Lord, as apostolic words frequently testify in Scripture.

Article 11: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Conversion:

Moreover, when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds.

Article 12: Regeneration a Supernatural Work:

And this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures, which God works in us without our help. But this certainly does not happen only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a way of working that, after God has done his work, it remains in man’s power whether or not to be reborn or converted. Rather, it is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead, as Scripture (inspired by the author of this work) teaches. As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only activated and motivated by God but in being activated by God is also itself active. For this reason, man himself, by that grace which he has received, is also rightly said to believe and to repent.

Comments in closing:

In contrast to monergism as defined above, synergism’s definition is that two or more causes work in tandem to produce results not obtainable by any of the causes independently. If this definition is granted, then it would be irresponsible for a Christian to say that God as one of the causes cannot accomplish His will and needs the help of other causes.

Salvation is monergistic, God is not constrained by man’s will in applying His work of salvation, nor is He dependent upon man’s cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously enables and causes sinners to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. How could a sinner try to take any credit for his salvation? God gets all the glory.

“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Notes:

1. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Ephesians, Volume XX1, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, Reprinted 1979), p. 227.

2. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Romans, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), p. 511.

3. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Romans, vol.2, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p.242.

4. Jack Kettler, The Religion that Started in a Hat, adapted from Chapter 21, “A Personal Confession of Faith,” (Maitland, Florida, MCP Books), pp.419-420.

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca writes http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics

*** Reformed answers http://reformedanswers.org/

**** https://www.gotquestions.org/

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Common Grace: A Bible Study

Common Grace: A Bible Study by Jack Kettler

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)

In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding “common grace.” What does this mean? As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!

In this study, I have very few comments. This study is an example of how I approach a topic for ongoing biblical research. I learned a long time ago that it is profitable to write down your personal Bible studies. Not only for your own future reference but also to pass them on to those whom are mentoring their friends.

This study will focus on a positive presentation of “common grace.” In fairness, there are learned Christian teachers who deny that there is such a thing as “common grace.”

For example, Herman Hoeksema, a leading Dutch Reformed theologian/pastor and Professor David Engelsma both from the Protestant Reformed Church deny there is such a thing as “common grace.” In fairness to these men of impeccable character, at the end of this study, there is a link to a debate on common grace that reflects their point of view.

Common grace:

“The grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation.” “Those general operations of the Holy Spirit whereby He, without renewing the heart, exercises such a moral influence on man through His general or special revelation, that sin is restrained, order is maintained in social life, and civil righteousness is promoted. Or, (b) those general blessings, such as rain and sunshine, food and drink, clothing and shelter, which God imparts to all men indiscriminately where and in what measure it seems good to Him.” *

Common grace:

“Common Grace is the grace God gives to creation as a whole, to all unbelievers. In this universal non-salvific form of grace, God allows the sun to shine upon both the righteous and the unrighteous. He does not judge unbelievers right away due to the work of Christ on the cross by which people are saved. God endures with them for the sake of those who would believe. Unbelievers can be doctors, engineers, parents, etc., and function within God’s domain and counsel. God shows his goodness to all people when He feeds them, allows them to work, experience beauty, learn and have joy. It is also common grace that “restrains” the wrath of God until a later time.” **

From Scripture:

“The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” (Psalm 145:9)

The Pulpit Commentary on Psalm 145:9 captures the idea of “common grace” when seen that God does not the desire the death of the wicked:

Verse 9. – The Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works. “The Lord is good to all;” he “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and send-eth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). He “wouldeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live,” And his “tender mercies,” or “compassions,” are not only over his human creatures, but “over all his works” – all that he has made – animals as well as men, “creeping things,” zoophytes, all that can feel. (1)

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)

From Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Matthew 5:45 also picks up on this when seen that God’s gift is given to the just and unjust alike:

As your heavenly Father hath a common love, which he extendeth to all mankind, in supplying their necessities, with the light and warmth of the sun, and with the rain; as well as a special love and favour, which he exerciseth only toward those that are good, and members of Christ; so ought you to have: though you are not obliged to take your enemies into your bosom, yet you ought to love them in their order. And as your heavenly Father, though he will one day have a satisfaction from sinners, for the wrong done to his majesty, unless they repent; yet, to heap coals of fire on their heads, gives them good things of common providence, that he might not leave them without witness, yea, and affords them the outward means of grace for their souls: so, although you are bound to seek some satisfaction for God’s honour and glory from flagitious sinners, and though you may in an orderly course seek a moderate satisfaction for the wrong done to yourselves, yet you ought to love them with a love consistent with these things; that so you may imitate your heavenly Father, and approve yourselves to be his children. (2)

“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30)

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” (Romans 13:1-4)

Common Grace from the Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms:

gratia communis: common grace i.e., a non-saving, universal grace according to which God in his goodness bestows his favor upon all creation in the general blessings of physical sustenance and moral influence for the good. Thus, rain falls on the just and the unjust and all men have the law engraved on their hearts. Gratia communis is therefore contrasted by the Reformed with particular or special grace (gratia particularis sive specialis, q.v.). (3)

John Calvin on Common Grace from Psalm 145:9:

“Jehovah is good to all, etc. The truth here stated is of wider application than the former, for the declaration of David is to the effect, that not only does God, with fatherly indulgence and clemency, forgive sin, but is good to all without discrimination, as he makes his sun to rise upon the good and upon the wicked. Forgiveness of sin is a treasure from which the wicked are excluded, but their sin and depravity does not prevent God from showering down his goodness upon them, which they appropriate without being at all sensible of it. Meanwhile believers, and they only, know what it is to enjoy a reconciled God, as elsewhere it is said — “Come ye to him, and be ye enlightened, and your faces shall not be ashamed; taste and see that the Lord is good.”(Psalm 34:5, 8.) When it is added that the mercy of God extends to all his works, this ought not to be considered as contrary to reason, or obscure. Our sins having involved the whole world in the curse of God, there is everywhere an opportunity for the exercise of God’s mercy, even in helping the brute creation.” (4)

John Knox on Common Grace:

“After these common mercies, I say, whereof the reprobate are often partakers, he openeth the treasure of his rich mercies, which are kept in Christ Jesus for his Elect … Such as willingly delight not in blindness may clearly see that the Holy Ghost maketh a plain difference betwixt the graces and mercies which are common to all, and that sovereign mercy which is immutably reserved to the chosen children.” (5)

Louis Berkhof on Common Grace:

“The origin of the doctrine of common grace was occasioned by the fact that there is in the world, alongside of the course of the Christian life with all its blessings, a natural course of life, which is not redemptive and yet exhibits many traces of the true, the good, and the beautiful. The question arose, how can we explain the comparatively orderly life in the world, seeing that the whole world lies under the curse of sin? How is it that the earth yields precious fruit in rich abundance and does not simply bring forth thorns and thistles? How we can we account for it that sinful man still retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior? What explanation can be given for the special gifts and talents that with which the natural man is endowed, and of the development of science and art by those who are entirely devoid of the new life that is in Christ Jesus? How can we explain the religious aspirations of men everywhere, even of those who did not come in touch with the Christian religion? How can the unregenerate still speak truth, do good to others, and lead outwardly virtuous lives?” (6)

Charles Hodge on Common Grace:

“That there is a divine influence of the Spirit granted to all men, is plain both from Scripture and from experience… to the general influence of the Spirit (or to common grace) we owe, – 1. All the decorum, order, refinement, and virtue existing among men 2. To the same divine agent is due specially that general fear of God, and the religious feeling which prevail among men, 3. The Scriptures refer to this general influence of the Spirit those religious experiences, varied in character and degree, which so often occur where genuine conversion or regeneration does not attend or follow.” (7)

Common Grace from the Dictionary of Theological Terms:

A term use to describe the goodness of God to a sin-cursed world, not including salvation. By His common grace, God places a restraint upon sin and its natural results and upon the immediate execution of wrath against sinners.

It is not merely negative. It includes the bestowal of favour and blessing of a general nature, but not of that special kind which leads to salvation. Thus, Prof. John Murray defined common grace as “Every favour of whatsoever kind and degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.” (8)

Chapter 10 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Section 4.) Others not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, (1) and may have some common operations of the Spirit, (2) yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: (3) much less can men, not professing the Christian religion be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the laws of that religion they do profess; (4) and, to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested. (5)

(1) Mt 22:14. (2) Mt 7:22; Mt 13:20, 21; Heb. 6:4 ,5. (3) John 6:64, 65, 66; John 8:24. (4) Ac 4:12; John 14:6; Eph. 2:12; John 4:22; John 17:3. (5) 2 John 9, 10, 11; 1Cor. 16:22; Gal. 1:6, 7, 8

While not using the term “common grace,” the Confession of Faith uses the term, “common operations,” which is virtually synonymous.

Common Grace by James Montgomery Boice:

[How do] millions of men and women respond to the true and even greater benevolence of God? All are recipients of what theologians call “common grace,” the provision of God for all persons; yet they fail to acknowledge it or allow it to accomplish the ends for which God dispenses such benevolence. Romans 2:4 speaks of this: “Do you show contempt for the riches of his [that is, God’s] kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”

If you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, you are in the same position as Joseph’s brothers at this point in the story (see Genesis 43:15-34). You have sinned against your elder brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, by denying his claims and refusing his proper lordship over your life. He has used means to awaken you to your need and bring you to an open confession of sin. But you have gone only so far as God’s tactics have forced you to go; even though he has been most loving and gracious toward you, you have not acknowledged his hand in these benefits.

I want you to awaken to God’s goodness. I want you to see that all you are and all you have are a result of God’s common grace to you.

Let me explain it from God’s perspective. God does not owe you anything. He does not even owe you a chance at salvation. When Adam and Eve first sinned against him in Eden, God could have judged them harshly and have sent them to hell at once; and if he had done that, He would have been absolutely just in his actions. Adam and Eve would have received nothing more than their proper desserts. If, acting in a different fashion, God had instead allowed them to live and produce offspring until there were literally millions of their descendants spread out over the entire earth to occupy it and pollute it by their abundant acts of idolatry, theft, fornication, hatred, greed, and other forms of sin, and then had brushed them all into eternal torment, God would nevertheless still have been just. No one could fault him. The righteous angels in heaven would still be able to cry out, as they do even today, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).

God owes us nothing. Yet, as we well know, God did not immediately banish Adam and Eve to hell, nor did he later suddenly consign the masses of mankind to torment. On the contrary, though there is a judgment to come, God has continually poured out his blessings on men and women.

You have received such blessings. Donald Grey Barnhouse writes correctly, “You are not a believer in Christ and yet you are still out of hell. That is the grace of God. You are not in hell, but you are on earth in good health and prosperity. That is the common grace of God. The vast majority of those who read these words are living in comfortable homes or apartments. That is common grace. You are not fleeing as refugees along the highways of a country desolated by war. That is common grace. You come home from your job and your child runs to meet you in good health and spirits. That is common grace. You are able to put your hand in your pocket and give the child a quarter or a half dollar for an allowance. It is common grace that you have such abundance. You go into your house and sit down to a good meal. That is common grace. On the day that you read these words there are more than a billion and a half members of the human race who will go to sleep without enough to satisfy their hunger, The fact that you have enough is common grace. You do not deserve it. And if you think that you do deserve anything at all from God beyond the wrath which you have so richly earned, you merely show your ignorance of spiritual principles.”

Romans 2:4 puts the matter of God’s common grace to you and others as a question: “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience?” The answer is, of course, you do–unless you have repented of your sin and turned back toward God through faith in Jesus Christ. By nature human beings are ungrateful. By nature you show “contempt” for God’s kindness. Yet it is precisely this kindness that God is using to bring you to repentance.

I quote Barnhouse again: “To despise the riches of God’s grace is the blackest of all sins. It far outweighs the sins that are a violation of righteousness. Fallen man has a fallen nature. That is why the Lord seemed to overlook the outbreaks of the flesh, knowing man’s frame and remembering that he is but dust (Psalm 103:14). You who boast, perhaps, that you are not guilty of the great fleshly sins should realize that the despising of God’s goodness is a sin that far transcends an act that might be called a crime under human law.

“Why is God so good toward the lost? He declares that the purpose of the riches of his goodness, forbearance and longsuffering is to lead man to repentance; and he further declares that man does not know the object of God’s goodness. Is this not a further picture of the state of man by nature? Can it not be seen that the dark ignorance of unbelief has brought a further fruit of ignorance of the grace of God? You are in good health? Why does God permit it? The answer is that he wants you to turn to him and acknowledge his goodness and accept the riches that he has for you. You have other blessings that come from the common grace of God. The purpose of such riches is to cause you to turn about-face and come to Him for further blessing.” (Donald Grey Barnhouse, “God’s Wrath,” The Book of the Revelation, vol. 2 Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 1953)

God’s Love Commended

I have spoken of “common grace” in the sense that God’s genuine affection has been poured out upon all persons regardless of who they are or what wrongs they may have done. As Jesus said, God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). Common grace? Yes! But in another sense, it is not at all common. It is most uncommon. It is extraordinary, and it leads us to the most uncommon or extraordinary love of all. We find it in Romans 5:6-8: “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

It is “while we were still sinners” that God has done everything for us. Here is love at its fullest. It is while we were still sinners and, in fact, oblivious both to the extent of our sin and to the uncommon kindness of God toward us in all things that God sent his own son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die for us.

Moreover, God goes to the unheard of length of commending his love to us by this fact. The word commend (KJV; “demonstrate,” NIV) is used in two ways in the New Testament. It sometimes means “to establish, prove or make certain.” In this sense the death of Christ certainly “proves” God’s love for us, the meaning the NIV translators have favored. But “prove” is a cold word. It has the temperature of algebraic axioms and corollaries. It seems remote. The other use of “commend” is “to recommend or set forth in such a manner that the matter appeals to the heart.” This surely is the fullness of the meaning here. The death of Jesus Christ proves the reality and demonstrates the nature of God’s unfathomable love. But more than that, it commends it to us in such a manner that we will repent of our sin–which left unrepented of keeps us from God–and instead leads us to embrace Jesus Christ as our own personal Savior.

Have you done that? If not, notice that the word “commend” (“demonstrate”) is in the present tense (“commends” or “demonstrates”) rather than in the past tense (“commended” or “demonstrated”). That is, it is not merely a past happening that today may be forgotten. It is a present reality, as much a force today as it has ever been. It is today–right now–that God is commending his deep and genuine love to you by Jesus’ death.

Today you and I may look back at Joseph’s brothers and fault them for their ignorance of Joseph’s identity and their slowness to repudiate past sin. But if we try, we can find at least some partial excuses for them. Their sin was long past. There was nothing they could do to change its consequences. As far as their recognition of Joseph was concerned, how could they possibly guess that this powerful Egyptian was the despised brother they had last seen as he was led off as a teenager into slavery?

There are no such excuses for us. We know there is God; the Bible says that only fools deny it (Ps. 14:1). We know that all we are and have come from God’s hand; the Bible says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). When we stop to think about it, we even know that God sent the Lord Jesus Christ to save us by giving his life in our place. But do we acknowledge this? We do not–unless God awakens our consciences and turns us from our manifest ingratitude.

That is what you must allow God to do for you–if you have not turned from sin previously. You must allow him to turn you to faith in your older brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has loved and continues to love you perfectly. (9)

Comments in closing:

Anything that God does in revealing His will to man can be called common grace. Revealing anything to man is gracious. Any providential action whereby blessings come to the just and unjust alike is common grace. The opposite of grace would be judgment and wrath. It is a blessing to the unjust that a famine ends, a nation is spared from war, murders and thieves are brought to judgment rather than rape and pillage. That the unjust are not immediately consumed, is God’s grace. Many sinners, rather than experience calamity, produce works of art, contribute to science in which both the just and unjust are blessed.

“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Notes:

1. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Psalms, Vol. 8, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p.371.

2. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), p. 26.

3. Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Academic, paperback 1995), p. 130.

4. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentary, Psalms, vol. 6, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, reprinted 1979), p. 276.

5. Ed David Laing, The Works of John Knox, (vol. 5, Wodrow Society, Edinburgh, 1856), On Predestination, p. 87.

6. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), p. 432.

7. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), pp 670-671.

8. Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Emerald House Group, Ambassador Productions, LTD), p. 93.

9. James Montgomery Boice, (Quotation from Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1987)

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics

*** Reformed answers http://reformedanswers.org/

**** https://www.gotquestions.org/

The Myth of Common Grace by Garrett P. Johnson http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=28

Transcription of A Debate on Common Grace 9/12/ 03 distributed by the Evangelism Society of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church Grand Rapids, Michigan

http://www.prca.org/pamphlets/pamphlet_80.html

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The Noetic Effects of Sin

The Noetic Effects of Sin by Jack Kettler

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)

In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding noetic effects of sin. What does this mean? What are the implications for counseling and apologetics?

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!

Noetic effects of sin:

“The negative effect of sin on the minds and thinking of humankind, causing the reasoning ability of fallen humanity to be corrupted, especially degrading the understanding of spiritual things; also called the noetic effects of the fall.” *

Noetic effect of sin:

“The noetic effect of sin is the effect upon the mind. The Greek word for “mind” is “nous.” Therefore, ‘noetic’ deals with the mind, or the rational aspect of the person. This effect means that our reasoning abilities are no longer pure and proper all the time. But, it does not mean we will always reason improperly. We can think rationally, use mathematics, make proper judgments, etc. But, as is obvious, there are many false religions in the world that are believed and defended intellectually. So, the noetic effect of sin upon the mind most assuredly manifests itself in the belief of false gods, false Christ, false gospels, etc.” **

From Scripture:

“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:21)

“Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” (Ephesians 4:18)

From Calvin’s Commentary on Romans 1:18-23:

18. For [42] revealed, etc. He reasons now by stating things of a contrary nature, and proves that there is no righteousness except what is conferred, or comes through the gospel; for he shows that without this all men are condemned: by it alone there is salvation to be found. And he brings, as the first proof of condemnation, the fact, — that though the structure of the world, and the most beautiful arrangement of the elements, ought to have induced man to glorify God, yet no one discharged his proper duty: it hence appears that all were guilty of sacrilege, and of wicked and abominable ingratitude.

To some it seems that this is a main subject, and that Paul forms his discourse for the purpose of enforcing repentance; but I think that the discussion of the subject begins here, and that the principal point is stated in a former proposition; for Paul’s object was to teach us where salvation is to be found. He has already declared that we cannot obtain it except through the gospel: but as the flesh will not willingly humble itself so far as to assign the praise of salvation to the grace of God alone, Paul shows that the whole world is deserving of eternal death. It hence follows, that life is to be recovered in some other way, since we are all lost in ourselves. But the words, being well considered, will help us much to understand the meaning of the passage.

Some make a difference between impiety and unrighteousness, and think, that by the former word is meant the profanation of God’s worship, and by the latter, injustice towards men; but as the Apostle immediately refers this unrighteousness to the neglect of true religion, we shall explain both as referring to the same thing. [43] And then, all the impiety of men is to be taken, by a figure in language, as meaning “the impiety of all men,” or, the impiety of which all men are guilty. But by these two words one thing is designated, and that is, ingratitude towards God; for we thereby offend in two ways: it is said to be asebeia, impiety, as it is a dishonoring of God; it is adikia, unrighteousness, because man, by transferring to himself what belongs to God, unjustly deprives God of his glory. The word wrath, according to the usage of Scripture, speaking after the manner of men, means the vengeance of God; for God, in punishing, has, according to our notion, the appearance of one in wrath. It imports, therefore, no such emotion in God, but only has a reference to the perception and feeling of the sinner who is punished. Then he says that it is revealed from heaven; though the expression, from heaven, is taken by some in the sense of an adjective, as though he had said “the wrath of the celestial God;” yet I think it more emphatical, when taken as having this import, “Wheresoever a man may look around him, he will find no salvation; for the wrath of God is poured out on the whole world, to the full extent of heaven.”

The truth of God means, the true knowledge of God; and to hold in that, is to suppress or to obscure it: hence they are charged as guilty of robbery. — What we render unjustly, is given literally by Paul, in unrighteousness, which means the same thing in Hebrew: but we have regard to perspicuity. [44]

19. Inasmuch as what may be known of God, etc. He thus designates what it behoves us to know of God; and he means all that appertains to the setting forth of the glory of the Lord, or, which is the same thing, whatever ought to move and excite us to glorify God. And by this expression he intimates, that God in his greatness can by no means be fully comprehended by us, and that there are certain limits within which men ought to confine themselves, inasmuch as God accommodates to our small capacities what he testifies of himself. Insane then are all they who seek to know of themselves what God is: for the Spirit, the teacher of perfect wisdom, does not in vain invite our attention to what may be known, to gnoston; and by what means this is known, he immediately explains. And he said, in them rather than to them, for the sake of greater emphasis: for though the Apostle adopts everywhere Hebrew phrases, and v, beth, is often redundant in that language, yet he seems here to have intended to indicate a manifestation, by which they might be so closely pressed, that they could not evade; for every one of us undoubtedly finds it to be engraven on his own heart, [45] By saying, that God has made it manifest, he means, that man was created to be a spectator of this formed world, and that eyes were given him, that he might, by looking on so beautiful a picture, be led up to the Author himself.

20. Since his invisible things, [46] etc. God is in himself invisible; but as his majesty shines forth in his works and in his creatures everywhere, men ought in these to acknowledge him, for they clearly set forth their Maker: and for this reason the Apostle in his Epistle to the Hebrews says, that this world is a mirror, or the representation of invisible things. He does not mention all the particulars which may be thought to belong to God; but he states, that we can arrive at the knowledge of his eternal power and divinity; [47] for he who is the framer of all things, must necessarily be without beginning and from himself. When we arrive at this point, the divinity becomes known to us, which cannot exist except accompanied with all the attributes of a God, since they are all included under that idea.

So that they are inexcusable. It hence clearly appears what the consequence is of having this evidence — that men cannot allege anything before God’s tribunal for the purpose of showing that they are not justly condemned. Yet let this difference be remembered, that the manifestation of God, by which he makes his glory known in his creation, is, with regard to the light itself, sufficiently clear; but that on account of our blindness, it is not found to be sufficient. We are not however so blind, that we can plead our ignorance as an excuse for our perverseness. We conceive that there is a Deity; and then we conclude, that whoever he may be, he ought to be worshipped: but our reason here fails, because it cannot ascertain who or what sort of being God is. Hence the Apostle in Hebrews 11:3, ascribes to faith the light by which man can gain real knowledge from the work of creation, and not without reason; for we are prevented by our blindness, so that we reach not to the end in view; we yet see so far, that we cannot pretend any excuse. Both these things are strikingly set forth by Paul in Acts 14:16-17, when he says, that the Lord in past times left the nations in their ignorance, and yet that he left them not without witness (amarturon,) since he gave them rain and fertility from heaven. But this knowledge of God, which avails only to take away excuse, differs greatly from that which brings salvation, which Christ mentions in John 17:3, and in which we are to glory, as Jeremiah teaches us, Jeremiah 9:24

21. For when they knew God, etc. He plainly testifies here, that God has presented to the minds of all the means of knowing him, having so manifested himself by his works, that they must necessarily see what of themselves they seek not to know — that there is some God; for the world does not by chance exist, nor could it have proceeded from itself. But we must ever bear in mind the degree of knowledge in which they continued; and this appears from what follows.

They glorified him not as God. No idea can be formed of God without including his eternity, power, wisdom, goodness, truth, righteousness, and mercy. His eternity appears evident, because he is the maker of all things — his power, because he holds all things in his hand and continues their existence — his wisdom, because he has arranged things in such an exquisite order — his goodness, for there is no other cause than himself, why he created all things, and no other reason, why he should be induced to preserve them — his justice, because in his government he punishes the guilty and defends the innocent — his mercy, because he bears with so much forbearance the perversity of men — and his truth, because he is unchangeable. He then who has a right notion of God ought to give him the praise due to his eternity, wisdom, goodness, and justice. Since men have not recognized these attributes in God, but have dreamt of him as though he were an empty phantom, they are justly said to have impiously robbed him of his own glory. Nor is it without reason that he adds, that they were not thankful, [48] for there is no one who is not indebted to him for numberless benefits: yea, even on this account alone, because he has been pleased to reveal himself to us, he has abundantly made us indebted to him. But they became vain, [49] etc.; that is, having forsaken the truth of God, they turned to the vanity of their own reason, all the acuteness of which is fading and passes away like vapor. And thus their foolish mind, being involved in darkness, could understand nothing aright but was carried away headlong, in various ways, into errors and delusions. Their unrighteousness was this — they quickly choked by their own depravity the seed of right knowledge, before it grew up to ripeness.

22. While they were thinking, etc. It is commonly inferred from this passage, that Paul alludes here to those philosophers, who assumed to themselves in a peculiar manner the reputation of wisdom; and it is thought that the design of his discourse is to show, that when the superiority of the great is brought down to nothing, the common people would have no reason to suppose that they had anything worthy of being commended: but they seem to me to have been guided by too slender a reason; for it was not peculiar to the philosophers to suppose themselves wise in the knowledge of God, but it was equally common to all nations, and to all ranks of men. There were indeed none who sought not to form some ideas of the majesty of God, and to make him such a God as they could conceive him to be according to their own reason. This presumption I hold is not learned in the schools, but is innate, and comes with us, so to speak, from the womb. It is indeed evident, that it is an evil which has prevailed in all ages — that men have allowed themselves every liberty in coining superstitions. The arrogance then which is condemned here is this — that men sought to be of themselves wise, and to draw God down to a level with their own low condition, when they ought humbly to have given him his own glory. For Paul holds this principle, that none, except through their own fault, are unacquainted with the worship due to God; as though he said, “As they have proudly exalted themselves, they have become infatuated through the righteous judgment of God.” There is an obvious reason, which contravenes the interpretation which I reject; for the error of forming an image of God did not originate with the philosophers; but they, by their consent, approved of it as received from others. [50]

23. And changed, etc. Having feigned such a God as they could comprehend according to their carnal reason, they were very far from acknowledging the true God: but devised a fictitious and a new god, or rather a phantom. And what he says is, that they changed the glory of God; for as though one substituted a strange child, so they departed from the true God. Nor are they to be excused for this pretense, that they believe that God dwells in heaven, and that they count not the wood to be God, but his image; for it is a high indignity to God, to form so gross an idea of his majesty as to dare to make an image of him. But from the wickedness of such a presumption none were exempt, neither priests, nor statesmen, nor philosophers, of whom the most sound-minded, even Plato himself, sought to find out some likeness of God.

The madness then here noticed, is, that all attempted to make for themselves an image of God; which was a certain proof that their notions of God were gross and absurd. And, first, they befouled the majesty of God by forming him in the likeness of a corruptible man: for I prefer this rendering to that of mortal man, which is adopted by Erasmus; for Paul sets not the immortality of God in opposition to the mortality of man, but that glory, which is subject to no defects, to the most wretched condition of man. And then, being not satisfied with so great a crime, they descended even to beasts and to those of the most filthy kind; by which their stupidity appeared still more evident. You may see an account of these abominations in Lactantius, in Eusebius, and in Augustine in his book on the city of God. (1)

Calvin on the Sensus Divinitatis or the sense of divinity:

“That there exists in the human mind and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity [sensus divinitatis]. This we take to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead.” (2)

Comments:

Closely related to the sensus divinitatis is the Imago Dei or the image of God:

In Christian theology, the Imago Dei, Latin for the image of God refers to the stamp of God placed upon humankind. A man is an image bearer of God. In the fall, this image is marred.

As Calvin has explained in his comments on Romans 1:18-23 and on the sensus dvinitatis, fallen humankind even though fallen in sin, have an awareness of God’s presence or knowledge of Him. Sinful men suppress this knowledge. A fallen man is not neutral. Understanding this about fallen men has implications for biblical apologetics and biblical counseling. This innate knowledge in the fallen man becomes a point contact as the believer approaches the non-believer.

In the area of counseling, this is approach is nouthetic counseling or biblical counseling. Nouthetic counseling breaks with non-Christian phycology, and Christian non-believer influenced phycology.

In the area of apologetics, this approach is presuppositional apologetics. Presuppositional apologetics presents the Christian religion from the Bible and defends it against opposition by means of exposing the logical fallacies or specifically the reductio ad absurdum of non-Christian worldviews, and consequently, establishes the biblical worldview as the only worldview that can account for a consistent sense of reality.

Presuppositional apologetics exclusively argues for the biblical God, and not just the existence of some kind of god or a simple theism devoid of any content. An example of theism without content would be Aristotle’s prime mover. Aristotle’s prime mover is nothing more than a philosophical construct. In contrast, the God of Holy Scripture reveals His characteristics in His written Word.

Confessional support from the Canons of Dordt the Noetic Effects of Sin:

The Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine

Article 1

The Effect of the Fall on Human Nature

Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished in his mind with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual, in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil’s instigation and by his own free will, he deprived himself of these outstanding gifts. Rather, in their place he brought upon himself blindness, terrible darkness, futility, and distortion of judgment in his mind; perversity, defiance, and hardness in his heart and will; and finally impurity in all his emotions.

Article 2

The Spread of Corruption

Man brought forth children of the same nature as himself after the fall. That is to say, being corrupt he brought forth corrupt children. The corruption spread, by God’s just judgment, from Adam to all his descendants – except for Christ alone – not by way of imitation (as in former times the Pelagians would have it) but by way of the propagation of his perverted nature.

Article 4

The Inadequacy of the Light of Nature

There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him – so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so, he renders himself without excuse before God.

In closing:

As noted, a man suppresses this knowledge of God, yet it remains the best point of contact for evangelism and discipleship by appealing to this sensus divinitatis using biblical theology that replicates this approach along with the converting power of the Holy Spirit.

“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Notes:

1. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Romans, Vol. XIX, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), pp. 67-74.

2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Westminster Press), p. 43-44.

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics

*** Reformed answers http://reformedanswers.org/

**** https://www.gotquestions.org/

The Myth of Neutrality https://rebuildbiblicalworldview.wordpress.com/…/the-myth-…/

How to Respond to Scripture-Rejectors https://capmin.org/how-to-respond-to-scripture-rejectors/

R. Dozier, Random discussions on Theology, Evangelism and Apologetics, http://rcdozier.blogspot.com/2014/01/clark-and-van-till.html

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Propitiation, what is a Propitiatory Sacrifice?

Propitiation, what is a Propitiatory Sacrifice? by Jack Kettler

“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)

In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding propitiation. Christ’s sacrifice was a propitiatory sacrifice. What does this mean?

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!

Propitiation:
a sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God and thus averts God’s wrath toward sinners. *

Propitiation:
This means the turning away of wrath by an offering. It is similar to expiation but expiation does not carry the nuances involving wrath. For the Christian the propitiation was the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. It turned away the wrath of God so that He could pass “over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3:25). It was the Father who sent the Son to be the propitiation (1 John 4:10) for all (1 John 2:2). **

From Scripture on Propitiation:

“And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:9-10)

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4)

“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” (Romans 3:25)

“Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17 NAS)

“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

From Barnes’ Notes on the Bible explaining Romans 3:25:

Whom God hath set forth – Margin, “Fore-ordained” (προέθετο proetheto). The word properly means, “to place in public view;” to exhibit in a conspicuous situation, as goods are exhibited or exposed for sale, or as premiums or rewards of victory were exhibited to public view in the games of the Greeks. It sometimes has the meaning of decreeing, purposing, or constituting, as in the margin (compare Romans 1:13; Ephesians 1:9); and many have supposed that this is its meaning here. But the connection seems to require the usual signification of the word; and it means that God has publicly exhibited Jesus Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of people. This public exhibition was made by his being offered on the cross, in the face of angels and of people. It was not concealed; it was done openly. He was put to open shame; and so put to death as to attract toward the scene the eyes of angels, and of the inhabitants of all worlds.

To be a propitiation – ἱλαστήριον hilastērion. This word occurs but in one other place in the New Testament. Hebrews 9:5, and over it (the ark) the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy-seat. It is used here to denote the lid or cover of the ark of the covenant. It was made of gold, and over it were the cherubim. In this sense it is often used by the Septuagint Exodus 25:17, “And thou shalt make a propitiatory ἱλαστήριον hilastērion of gold,” Exodus 18-20, 22; Exodus 30:6; Exodus 31:7; Exodus 35:11; Exodus 37:6-9; Exodus 40:18; Leviticus 16:2, Leviticus 16:13. The Hebrew name for this was כפּרת kaphoreth, from the verb כּפר kaaphar, “to cover” or “to conceal.” It was from this place that God was represented as speaking to the children of Israel. Exodus 25:22, “and I will speak to thee from above the Hilasterion, the propitiatory, the mercy-seat. Leviticus 16:2, “For I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat.” This seat, or cover, was covered with the smoke of the incense, when the high priest entered the most holy place, Leviticus 16:13.

And the blood of the bullock offered on the great day of atonement, was to be sprinkled “upon the mercy-seat,” and “before the mercy-seat,” “seven times,” Leviticus 16:14-15. This sprinkling or offering of blood was called making “an atonement for the holy place because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel,” etc. Leviticus 16:16. It was from this mercy-seat that God pronounced pardon, or expressed himself as reconciled to his people. The atonement was made, the blood was sprinkled, and the reconciliation thus effected. The name was thus given to that cover of the ark, because it was the place from which God declared himself reconciled to his people. Still the inquiry is, why is this name given to Jesus Christ? In what sense is he declared to be a propitiation? It is evident that it cannot be applied to him in any literal sense. Between the golden cover of the ark of the covenant and the Lord Jesus, the analogy must be very slight, if any such analogy can be perceived. We may observe, however,

(1) That the main idea, in regard to the cover of the ark called the mercy-seat, was that of God’s being reconciled to his people; and that this is the main idea in regard to the Lord Jesus whom “God hath set forth.”

(2) this reconciliation was effected then by the sprinkling of blood on the mercy-seat, Leviticus 16:15-16. The same is true of the Lord Jesus – by blood.

(3) in the former case it was by the blood of atonement; the offering of the bullock on the great day of atonement, that the reconciliation was effected, Leviticus 16:17-18. In the case of the Lord Jesus it was also by blood; by the blood of atonement. But it was by his own blood. This the apostle distinctly states in this verse.

(4) in the former case there was a sacrifice, or expiatory offering; and so it is in reconciliation by the Lord Jesus. In the former, the mercy-seat was the visible, declared place where God would express his reconciliation with his people. So in the latter, the offering of the Lord Jesus is the manifest and open way by which God will be reconciled to people.

(5) in the former, there was joined the idea of a sacrifice for sin, Leviticus 16. So in the latter. And hence, the main idea of the apostle here is to convey the idea of a sacrifice for sin; or to set forth the Lord Jesus as such a sacrifice. Hence, the word “propitiation” in the original may express the idea of a propitiatory sacrifice, as well as the cover to the ark. The word is an adjective, and may be joined to the noun sacrifice, as well as to denote the mercy-seat of the ark. This meaning accords also with its classic meaning to denote a propitiatory offering, or an offering to produce reconciliation. Christ is thus represented, not as a mercy-seat, which would be unintelligible; but as the medium, the offering, the expiation, by which reconciliation is produced between God and man.

Through faith – Or by means of faith. The offering will be of no avail without faith. The offering has been made; but it will not be applied, except where there is faith. He has made an offering which may be efficacious in putting away sin; but it produces no reconciliation, no pardon, except where it is accepted by faith.

In his blood – Or in his death – his bloody death. Among the Jews, the blood was regarded as the seat of life, or vitality. Leviticus 17:11, “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” Hence, they were commanded not to eat blood. Genesis 9:4, “but flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:23; 1 Samuel 14:34. This doctrine is contained uniformly in the Sacred Scriptures. And it has been also the opinion of not a few celebrated physiologists, as well in modern as in ancient times. The same was the opinion of the ancient Parsees and Hindus. Homer thus often speaks of blood as the seat of life, as in the expression πορφυρεος θανατος porphureos thanatos, or “purple death.” And Virgil speaks of “purple life,”

Purpuream vomit ille animam.

AEniad, ix. 349.

Empedocles and Critias among the Greek philosophers, also embraced this opinion. Among the moderns, Harvey, to whom we are indebted for a knowledge of the circulation of the blood, fully believed it. Hoffman and Huxham believed it Dr. John Hunter has fully adopted the belief, and sustained it, as he supposed, by a great variety of considerations. See Good’s Book of Nature, pp. 102, 108, New York edition, 1828. This was undoubtedly the doctrine of the Hebrews; and hence, with them to shed the blood was a phrase signifying to kill; hence, the efficacy of their sacrifices was supposed to consist in the blood, that is, in the life of the victim. Hence, it was unlawful to eat it, as it were the life, the seat of vitality; the more immediate and direct gift of God. When, therefore, the blood of Christ is spoken of in the New Testament, it means the offering of his life as a sacrifice, or his death as an expiation. His life was given to make atonement. See the word “blood” thus used in Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:12, Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 13:12; Revelation 1:5; 1 Peter 1:19; 1 John 1:7. By faith in his death as a sacrifice for sin; by believing that he took our sins; that he died in our place; by thus, in some sense, making his offering ours; by approving it, loving it, embracing it, trusting it, our sins become pardoned, and our souls made pure.

To declare – εἰς ἔνδειξις eis endeixis. For “the purpose” of showing, or exhibiting; to present it to man. The meaning is, that the plan was adopted; the Saviour was given; he suffered and died: and the scheme is proposed to people, for the purpose of making a full manifestation of his plan, in contradistinction from all the plans of people. (1)

PROPITIATION from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

pro-pish-i-a’-shun:

1. Terms and Meaning:

The word is Latin and brings into its English use the atmosphere of heathen rites for winning the favor, or averting the anger, of the gods. In the Old Testament it represents a number of Hebrew words–ten, including derivatives–which are sufficiently discussed under ATONEMENT (which see), of which propitiation is one aspect. It represents in Septuagint the Greek stems hilask- (hile-), and katallag-, with derivatives; in the New Testament only the latter, and is rarely used. Propitiation needs to be studied in connection with reconciliation, which is used frequently in some of the most strategic sentences of the New Testament, especially in the newer versions in Hebrews 2:17, the English Revised Version and the American Standard Revised Version have both changed “reconciliation” of the King James Version to “propitiation,” to make it correspond with the Old Testament use in connection with the sacrifice on the DAY OF ATONEMENT (which see). Luke 18:13 (“God, be thou merciful (margin “be propitiated”) to me the sinner” (the American Standard Revised Version margin)); Hebrews 8:12 (quoted from the Septuagint); and Matthew 16:22 (an idiomatic asseveration like English “mercy on us”) will help in getting at the usage in the New Testament. In Septuagint hilasterion is the term for the “mercy-seat” or “lid of the ark” of the covenant which was sprinkled with blood on the Day of Atonement. It is employed in exactly this sense in Hebrews 9:5, where later versions have in the margin “the propitiatory.”

Elsewhere in the New Testament this form is found only in Romans 3:25, and it is here that difficulty and difference are found extensively in interpreting. Greek fathers generally and prominent modern scholars understand Paul here to say that God appointed Christ Jesus to be the “mercy-seat” for sinners. The reference, while primarily to the Jewish ceremonial in tabernacle and temple, would not depend upon this reference for its comprehension, for the idea was general in religious thought, that some place and means had to be provided for securing friendly meeting with the Deity, offended by man’s sin. In Hebrews particularly, as elsewhere generally, Jesus Christ is presented as priest and sacrifice. Many modern writers (compare Sanday and Headlam), therefore, object that to make Him the “mercy-seat” here complicates the figure still further, and so would understand hilasterion as “expiatory sacrifice.” While this is not impossible, it is better to take the word in the usual sense of “mercy-seat.” It is not necessary to complicate the illustration by bringing in the idea of priest at all here, since Paul does not do so; mercy-seat and sacrifice are both in Christ. Hilasmos, is found in the New Testament only in 1John 2:2; 4:10. Here the idea is active grace, or mercy, or friendliness. The teaching corresponds exactly with that in Romans. “Jesus Christ the righteous” is our “Advocate (margin “Helper”) with the Father,” because He is active mercy concerning (peri) our sins and those of the whole world. Or (Romans 4:10), God “loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for (active mercy concerning) our sins.” This last passage is parallel with Romans 3:25, the one dealing with the abstract theory, and so Christ is set forward as a “mercy-seat,” the other dealing with experience of grace, and so Christ is the mercy of God in concrete expression.

2. Theological Implication:

The basal idea in Hebrew terms is that of covering what is offensive, so restoring friendship, or causing to be kindly disposed. The Greek terms lack the physical reference to covering but introduce the idea of friendliness where antagonism would be natural; hence, graciousness. Naturally, therefore, the idea of expiation entered into the concept. It is especially to be noted that all provisions for this friendly relation as between God and offending man find their initiation and provision in God and are under His direction, but involve the active response of man. All heathen and unworthy conceptions are removed from the Christian notion of propitiation by the fact that God Himself proposed, or “set forth,” Christ as the “mercy-seat,” and that this is the supreme expression of ultimate love. God had all the while been merciful, friendly, “passing over” man’s sins with no apparently adequate, or just, ground for doing so. Now in the blood of Christ sin is condemned and expiated, and God is able to establish and maintain His character for righteousness, while He continues and extends His dealing in gracious love with sinners who exercise faith in Jesus. The propitiation originates with God, not to appease Himself, but to justify Himself in His uniform kindness to men deserving harshness. Compare also as to reconciliation, as in Romans 5:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18.

See also JOHANNINE THEOLOGY, V, 2.

LITERATURE.

Besides the comms., the literature is the same as for ATONEMENT, to recent works on which add Stalker, The Atonement; Workman, At Onement, or Reconciliation with God; Moberly, in Foundations, Christian Belief in Terms of Modern Thought. William Owen Carver (2)

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary:

1. (n.) The act of appeasing the wrath and conciliating the favor of an offended person; the act of making propitious.

2. (n.) That which propitiates; atonement or atoning sacrifice; specifically, the influence or effects of the death of Christ in appeasing the divine justice, and conciliating the divine favor.

Strong’s Greek

2434. hilasmos — propitiation

propitiation. Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine Transliteration: hilasmos Phonetic

Spelling: (hil-as-mos’) Short Definition: a propitiation, atoning sacrifice …

//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/2434.htm

Strong’s Hebrew

3722a. kaphar — to cover over, pacify, make propitiation

3722, 3722a. kaphar. 3722b. to cover over, pacify, make propitiation.

Transliteration: kaphar Short Definition: atonement. Word …

/Hebrew/3722a.htm

Propitiation by John Murray:

This fact does not mean, however, that the atoning work of Christ is not to be interpreted in terms of propitiation.5 There are passages in which the language of propitiation is expressly applied to the work of Christ (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; I John 2:2; 4:10). And this means, without question, that the work of Christ is to be construed as propitiation. But there is also another consideration. The frequency with which the concept appears in the Old Testament in connection with the sacrificial ritual, the fact that the New Testament applies to the work of Christ the very term which denoted this concept in the Greek Old Testament, and the fact that the New Testament regards the Levitical ritual as providing the pattern for the sacrifice of Christ lead to the conclusion that this is a category in terms of which the sacrifice of Christ is not only properly but necessarily interpreted. In other words, the idea of propitiation is so woven into the fabric of the Old Testament ritual that it would be impossible to regard that ritual as the pattern of the sacrifice of Christ if propitiation did not occupy a similar place in the one great sacrifice once offered. This is but another way of saying that sacrifice and propitiation stand in the closest relations with one another. The express application of the term “propitiation” to the work of Christ by the New Testament writers is the confirmation of this conclusion.

But what does propitiation mean? In the Hebrew of the Old Testament it is expressed by a word which means to “cover.” In connection with this covering there are, in particular, three things to be noted:

1. it is in reference to sin that the covering takes place;

2. the effect of this covering is cleansing and forgiveness;

3. it is before the Lord that both the covering and its effect take place (cf. especially lev. 4:35; 10:17; 16:30).

This means that sin creates a situation in relation to the Lord, a situation that makes the covering necessary. It is this Godward reference of both the sin and the covering that must be fully appreciated. It may be said that the sin, or perhaps the person who has sinned, is covered before the sight of the lord. In the thought of the Old Testament there is but one construction that we can place upon this provision of the sacrificial ritual. It is that sin evokes the holy displeasure or wrath of God. Vengeance is the reaction of the holiness of God to sin, and the covering is that which provides for the removal of divine displeasure which the sin evokes. It is obvious that we are brought to the threshold of that which is clearly denoted by the Greek rendering in both Old and New Testaments, namely, that of propitiation. To propitiate means to “placate,” “pacify,” “appease,” “conciliate.” And it is this idea that is applied to the atonement accomplished by Christ.

Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure. Very simply stated the doctrine of propitiation means that Christ propitiated the wrath of God and rendered God propitious to his people.

Perhaps no tenet respecting the atonement has been more violently criticized than this one.6 It has been assailed as involving a mythological conception of God, as supposing internal conflict in the mind of God and between the persons of the Godhead. It has been charged that this doctrine represents the Son as winning over the incensed Father to clemency and love, a supposition wholly inconsistent with the fact that the love of God is the very fount from which the atonement springs.

When the doctrine of propitiation is presented in this light it can be very effectively criticized and can be exposed as a revolting caricature of the Christian gospel. But the doctrine of propitiation does not involve this caricature by which it has been misconceived and misrepresented. To say the least, this kind of criticism has failed to understand or appreciate some elementary and important distinctions.

First of all, to love and to be propitious are not convertible terms. It is false to suppose that the doctrine of propitiation regards propitiation as that which causes or constrains the divine love. It is loose thinking of a deplorable sort to claim that propitiation of the divine wrath does prejudice to or is incompatible with the fullest recognition that the atonement is the provision of the divine love.

Secondly, propitiation is not a turning of the wrath of God into love. The propitiation of the divine wrath, effected in the expiatory work of Christ, is the provision of God’s eternal and unchangeable love, so that through the propitiation of his own wrath that love may realize its purpose in a way that is consonant with and to the glory of the dictates of his holiness. It is one thing to say that the wrathful God is made loving. That would be entirely false. It is another thing to say the wrathful God is loving. That is profoundly true. But it is also true that the wrath by which he is wrathful is propitiated through the cross. This propitiation is the fruit of the divine love that provided it. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10). The propitiation is the ground upon which the divine love operates and the channel through which it flows in achieving its end.

Thirdly, propitiation does not detract from the love and mercy of God; it rather enhances the marvel of his love. For it shows the cost that redemptive love entails. God is love. But the supreme object of that love is himself. And because he loves himself supremely he cannot suffer what belongs to the integrity of his character and glory to be compromised or curtailed. That is the reason for the propitiation. God appeases his own holy wrath in the cross of Christ in order that the purpose of his love to lost men may be accomplished in accordance with and to the vindication of all the perfections that constitute his glory. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood to show his righteousness . . . that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25,26). (3)

Confessional support from the Belgic Confession, Article 21:

We believe that Jesus Christ is a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek— made such by an oath— and that he presented himself in our name before his Father, to appease his wrath with full satisfaction by offering himself on the tree of the cross and pouring out his precious blood for the cleansing of our sins, as the prophets had predicted.

For it is written that “the chastisement of our peace” was placed on the Son of God and that “we are healed by his wounds.” He was “led to death as a lamb”; he was “numbered among sinners” and condemned as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, though Pilate had declared that he was innocent.

Closing comments:

Since man is utterly incapable of satisfying God’s justice except by compensation in hell, there’s no amount of good works, or sacrifices, or gifts that man could offer that would appease the wrath of God or satisfy His justice. The only satisfaction, or propitiation, that would be acceptable to God which could reconcile man to Himself had to be provided by God Himself. “And Abraham said, my son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together” (Genesis 22:8). “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God,’ who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)! “But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). Christ, came into the world in human flesh to be the perfect sacrifice for sin and make atonement or propitiation for the sins of His people.

“The idea of propitiation – that is, of averting God’s anger by an offering – runs right through the Bible.” – J.I. Packer

“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Notes:

1. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Romans, p. 2081-2083.

2. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for ‘Propitiation,’” “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 2467.

3. John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company 1955), p.29-32.

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics

*** Reformed answers http://reformedanswers.org/

**** https://www.gotquestions.org/

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