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Christ Plays on Every Station: Common Grace and the Law Written on Man’s Heart

If God does not confront man everywhere, he cannot confront him anywhere. That’s a paraphrase. That’s also inherent in the concept of common grace and the law written on the heart of man.

In an essay in his book Common Grace and the Gospel, Cornelius Van Til uses this analogy to describe Paul’s teaching in Romans 1-2:

The main point is that if man could look anywhere and not be confronted with the revelation of God then he could not sin in the biblical sense of the term. Sin is the breaking of the law of God. God confronts man everywhere. He cannot in the nature of the case confront man anywhere if he does not confront him everywhere. God is one; the law is one. If man could press one button on the radio of his experience and not hear the voice of God then he would always press that button and not the others. But man cannot even press the button of his own self-consciousness without hearing the requirement of God (p. 203).

This is our attempt to suppress the truth, Romans 1-style.

Christians often do the opposite. Doug Wilson made this point in a blog post years ago. He said something to the effect that Christians think they’ve found the right station. So they keep the dial tuned in to that station and that station alone. Which sounds great. Until your wife (or you) gets tired of K-Love.

A major point of our book is going to be that Romans 1 applies to Christians too. For instance, Romans 1:23 describes truth-suppressing, idol-worshiping man like this:

“[They] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon that pointed out the fact that this is an obvious allusion to Psalm 106:20:

“They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.”

To whom is Psalm 106 referring? It’s talking about Israel. It’s talking about religious people.

Van Til makes the point that if God is to confront man anywhere, he must confront him everywhere. Christians and non-Christians alike are bent toward suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. One way we do this, as Christians, is by not looking for God’s glory everywhere. We convince ourselves that he’s not speaking on every radio station. But he is. He’s there, confronting us with his law and his gospel. Yes, even in secular culture. Not just in sunsets and the ocean.

Charles Spurgeon (see HERE) sometimes quoted the hymn Say Not, My Soul. I’ve never heard the hymn in church. You probably haven’t either. But here’s the first stanza:

Say not, my soul, ‘From whence
Can God relieve my care’
Remember that Omnipotence
Hath servants everywhere.

Omnipotence has servants everywhere. This is why (in the quote linked above) Spurgeon said God’s truth is “viral.” Gerard Manly Hopkins put it this way: “Christ plays in ten thousand places.” Here, it’s more like ‘Christ plays on every channel.’ He plays everywhere, always. But we have to have ears to hear and eyes to see.

From Illustrations to Parables, and Finding Truth in Places Where Others Can’t See It

The first interesting point Tasker makes here is that, if you follow the narrative of Matthew, Jesus at one point makes a conscious decision to move from simple illustrations to the use of parables. And this transition was clear enough (i.e. enough of a change from his previous preaching) that the disciples noticed it and were curious enough to ask about it.

The text in question is:

Matthew 13:10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

Tasker comments:

Perhaps the most important and distinctive feature of this chapter is that the evangelist, by the words of Jesus that he records in verses 10-15, makes it clear, as the other evangelists do not, that Jesus deliberately adopted the parabolic method of teaching at a particular stage in His ministry for the purpose of withholding further truth about Himself and the kingdom of heaven from the crowds, who had proved themselves to be deaf to His claims and irresponsive to His demands. Hitherto, He had used parables as illustrations, whose meaning was self-evident from the context in which they were spoken (e.g. vi. 24-27). From now onwards, when addressing the believing multitude he speaks only in parables (34), which He interprets to His disciples in private. Matthew alone tells us that the disciples, apparently surprised at this new development in His policy, asked Him Why speakest thou unto them in parables? The answer they received was that there were mysteries of the kingdom of heaven which could not be understood by those who, He said, using language similar to that used by Isaiah about his contemporaries (see Is. vi. 9, 10), looked upon Him with their eyes but never understood the significance of His Person, and heard His teaching with their ears but remained deaf to its implications. When such people heard a parable about the kingdom it would therefore be for them an interesting but pointless story conveying no revelation of divine truth. The disciples, on the other hand, had already grasped something of the supernatural character of their Master and of the kingdom He came to inaugurate…in their case there was another illustration of the proverbial truth that whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance

– R.V.G. Tasker, Tyndale New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to St. Matthew, pp. 134-135

Another interesting point is his comment on “whosoever hath, to him shall be given…,” which implies that the spiritually-minded have discernment to perceive truth in places that others will see as nothing but an interesting story.

 

He spoke to them so continually in the language of blood…How amiable!

From Andrew Bonar’s Commentary on Leviticus:

The blood must be ‘sprinkled round about upon the altar.’ Surely Israel must have felt that their souls were reckoned very guilty by their God, since he spoke to them so continually in the language of blood. None but a heavy-laden sinner could relish this never-varying exhibition of to the eye of the worshipper. The pilgrims to Zion, in after days, must often, as they journeyed through the vale of Baca, have wondered what was to be seen and heard in the courts of the Lord’s house, of which the worshippers sang, ‘How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God … Blessed are they that dwell in thy house!’ (Ps. 85:1, 2, 4). And when they arrived, and saw in these courts blood on the altar, blood in the bowls of the altar, blood on its four horns, blood on its sides, blood meeting the eye at every turn, none but a deeply-convicted soul, none but a soul really alive to the guilt of a broken law, could enter into the song, and cry with the worshippers, ‘How amiable!’ Even so with a preached Saviour at this day, and a sin-convinced soul!

He looks at us in our suffering as he would have looked at Jesus had our sin not been imputed to him

I’ve written about this before HERE and HERE, but here’s another angle on it. Calvin on 2 Corinthians 1:5:

Verse 5

2 Corinthians 1:5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

For as the sufferings of Christ abound This statement may be explained in two ways — actively and passively. If you take it actively, the meaning will be this: “The more I am tried with various afflictions, so much the more resources have I for comforting others.” I am, however, more inclined to take it in a passive sense, as meaning that God multiplied his consolations according to the measure of his tribulations. David also acknowledges that it had been thus with him:

According to the multitude, says he, of my anxieties within me,
thy consolations have delighted my soul. (Psalms 94:19.)

In Paul’s words, however, there is a fuller statement of doctrine; for the afflictions of the pious he calls the sufferings of Christ, as he says elsewhere, that he fills up in his body what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ. (Colossians 1:24.)

The miseries and vexations, it is true, of the present life are common to good and bad alike, but when they befall the wicked, they are tokens of the curse of God, because they arise from sin, and nothing appears in them except the anger of God and participation with Adam, which cannot but depress the mind. But in the mean time believers are conformed to Christ, and bear about with them in their body his dying, that the life of Christ may one day be manifested in them. (2 Corinthians 4:10).

Samuel Bolton states a similar idea in The True Bounds of Christian Freedom:

…God has mercy for ‘can-nots’, but none for ‘will-nots’. God can distinguish between weakness and wickedness. While you are under the law, this weakness is your wickedness, a sinful weakness, and therefore God hates it. Under the Gospel He looks not upon the weakness of the saints as their wickedness, and therefore He pities them. Sin makes those who are under the law the objects of God’s hatred. Sin in a believer makes him the object of God’s pity. Men, you know, hate poison in a toad, but pity it in a man. In the one it is their nature, in the other their disease. Sin in a wicked man is as poison in a toad; God hates it and him; it is the man’s nature. But sin in a child of God is like poison in a man; God pities him. He pities the saints for sins and infirmities, but hates the wicked. It is the nature of the one, the disease of the other.

The main take-away I got from Calvin today is that God the Father somehow views the sufferings of his people as their share in the sufferings of Christ. In other words, the Father poured his wrath out upon Jesus in his suffering so that he could sympathize with us in our suffering. He looks at us in our suffering as he would have looked at Jesus had our sin not been imputed to him. He sees our failings and pains as weakness, not as wickedness. In doing so, he is the “God of all comfort.”

Christ’s Heart Surely and Speedily

Goodwin writes of the Holy Spirit’s continual work of shedding God’s love abroad in our hearts through Christ:

Him [i.e. the Holy Spirit], therefore, I shall send on purpose to be in my room, and to execute my place to you, my bride, spouse, and he shall tell you, if you will listen to him, and not grieve him, nothing but stories of my love…All his speech in your hearts will be to advance me, and to greaten my worth and love unto you, and it will be his delight to do it. And he can come from heaven in an instant when he will, and bring you fresh tidings of my mind, and tell you the thoughts I last had of you, even at the very minute when I am thinking of them, what they are at the very time wherein he tell you them…We are said to ‘have the mind of Christ’…for he [the Spirit] dwelleth in Christ’s heart, and also ours, and lifts up from one hand to the other what Christ’s thoughts are to us, and what our prayers and faith are to Christ. So that you shall have my heart as surely and as speedily as if I were with you; and he will continually be breaking your hearts, either with my love to you, or yours to me, or both…

-Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ, pp. 19-20

The fact that the Spirit can come in an instant and declare Christ’s love gives us hope in the midst of emptiness and spiritual dryness. The imperatives are, Listen to Him and Don’t grieve Him.

Christ’s Love to Sinners in the Midst of Sin

Commenting on Peter’s three denials of Christ, and of the general abandonment of Jesus by his disciples during his passion (his greatest expression of his love), Goodwin makes the point that we learn something very important about the heart of Christ toward his people:

And by the way, so God often orders it, that when he is in hand with the greatest mercies for us, and bringing about our greatest good, then we are most of all sinning against him; which he doth, to magnify his love the more.

-Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ, p. 28