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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

General Revelation – Part 1 – External and Internal Revelation

The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.

Psalm 19:1

We know Him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God, even his everlasting power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says (Rom. 1:20). All which things are sufficient to convince men and leave them without excuse.

Belgic Confession, Article 2 (1561)

To speak of General Revelation is to speak of God making Himself known (i.e., revealing Himself) to all people everywhere. This revelation is twofold:

  • The external revelation of God in nature

  • The internal revelation of God in man

External Revelation

God reveals Himself to us through the created world

As we look around us, the evidence of our Creator is everywhere. Consider how fine-tuned the universe is to support human life (anthropic principle); or how amazing it is that Microchiroptera bats can hunt in total darkness by emitting a stream of high-pitched sounds that bounce off their prey and then the resulting echo is received by their very sensitive antennas; or how about the bacterial flagellum with it’s out-board-motor-like propulsion system—complete with a rotor, O-rings, bushings, and drive shaft. Indeed, we live in a world filled with wonders that evidence our loving Creator.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made…

Romans 1:20

God’s creative handiwork is clearly evident to all. Expounding on this point, Paul, speaking to the people of Lystra, said,

Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filing our hearts with food and gladness.

Acts 14:17

Internal Revelation

God also reveals Himself to all men internally.

18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

19) because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Romans 1:18-20

It is not of a mere external revelation of which the apostle is speaking, but of that evidence of the being and perfections of God which every man has in the constitution of his own nature, and in virtue of which he is competent to apprehend the manifestation of God in his works.

Charles Hodge (1797–1878)

God Reveals Himself to Us Through Our Moral Reasonings

Conversation with an unbeliever: Ever feel guilty? Of course you do. Why? Because you are guilty. Guilty of what? Of breaking God’s law.

It would be rare indeed to find someone in this country who has not heard the summary of God’s law—the Ten Commandments. But what of those who have not heard? Are they off the hook? Do they receive a cosmic “Get Out of Jail Free” card? Many Evangelicals would say yes. Many would say that surly God would not find someone guilty of breaking a law that he did not know.

But is this the case? Is one excused from the law’s requirements simply because he’s never heard them? Paul addresses this issue in Romans, stating “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law . . . show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2:14-15). In his commentary on Romans, John Calvin speaks of men being “blind,” but “not so blind that we can plead ignorance without being convicted of perversity.”

The actual hearing of the law does not determine the lawbreakers ultimate guilt; for all men know the law of God innately, since all men bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). Thus, when men reason morally, experience a crises of conscience, or suffer from guilty feelings they are actually reflecting the stamp of the law, which each man by nature bears.

All men of sound judgment will therefore hold, that a sense of Deity is indelibly engraven on the human heart. And that this belief is naturally engendered in all, and thoroughly fixed as it were in our very bones, is strikingly attested by the contumacy of the wicked, who, though they struggle furiously, are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God . . . for the worm of conscience, keener than burning steel, is gnawing them within.

John Calvin (1509-1564)

God Reveals Himself to Us Through Our Religious Self

As much as man is a moral creature, he is just as much a religious creature. Man was created to have fellowship with, to worship, and to adore his Creator.

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Westminster Shorter Catechism (1640s)

Then all your people will be righteous; they will possess the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.

Isaiah 60:21

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:36

The Fall, however, changed the object of man’s worship:

. . . although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and fourfooted animals and creeping things.

Romans 1:21-23

Instead of accepting revelation they became philosophers. And what is a philosopher? A philosopher is a man who claims that he starts by being skeptical about everything, that he is an agnostic. “I am going to have the date,” he says, “and then I am going to work it out.” And that is exactly what such men have done; they become foolish and wicked in their reasonings, in their thoughts, in their own conjectures and speculations and surmisings. And what is the cause of it all? Paul uses the word “vain” and it means not only foolish, but it means wicked as well . . . The cause of the whole trouble was wickedness and it is still wickedness.

D. Martin Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)

To be continued . . .

--The Catechizer

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Today in History: Pocahontas

Much legend surrounds the life of Pocahontas, but the known facts are remarkable enough. Born around the year 1595 to Powhatan, chief of a powerful tribe, she was about twelve years old when English colonists founded Jamestown, Virginia. According to Captain John Smith, it was Pocahontas who saved him when the Indians took him prisoner. Just as the executioners were about to bash in his head, Smith wrote, Pocahontas “got his head in her arms, and laid her owne upon his to save him from death.”

Some scholars have suggested that what Smith took to be an “execution” was really a ceremony of some kind. At any rate Powhatan set Smith free, and young Pocahontas became a frequent visitor to Jamestown, sometimes bringing food to the hungry settlers. Her friendly nature (her name means “playful one”) made her a favorite among the colonists.

A few years later, after Smith left for England, the settlers kidnapped the Indian maiden, intending to hold her until her father returned some prisoners and stolen supplies. During her captivity, Pocahontas converted to Christianity and was baptized as Rebecca. With her father’s consent, she married colonist John Rolfe, and the couple had a boy, Thomas. The marriage helped bring peace between the Indians and settlers.

In 1616 the Rolfes sailed to England to help promote the Jamestown colony. There the Indian “princess” was treated as a celebrity and welcomed at royal festivities. But she grew ill and died just before she was to return to Virginia. She was buried on March 21, 1617, in the town of Gravesend.

Pocahontas’s story has been told a hundred ways in books, poems, plays, and movies. She was undoubtedly a courageous young woman who tried to bring friendship between two peoples. Captain Smith may have left the best tribute when he said she was “the instrument to [preserve] this colonie from death, famine, and utter confusion.”

American History Parade

1617 - Pocahontas, who died just before she was to begin her return voyage to Virginia, is buried in Gravesend, England.

1788 - A fire destroys 856 buildings in New Orleans, ruining most of the city.

1790 - Thomas Jefferson takes office as America’s first secretary of state.

1963 -Alcatraz, the federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, closes.

1980 - President Jimmy Carter announces the United States will boycott the Moscow Olympics in response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Today in Church History: Ned B. Stonehouse

In 1902, within the space of three days, Paul Woolley (March 16) and Ned B. Stonehouse (March 19) were born.

The two would meet as students at Princeton Theological Seminary, and they would join J. Gresham Machen in the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. There they enjoyed over thirty years of fruitful service as part of the original faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary (Stonehouse in New Testament and Woolley in Church History). Both men numbered among the 34 constituting ministerial members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936.

Each man also contributed toward the development of a greater historical consciousness within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Stonehouse's 1954 book, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, was for many Orthodox Presbyterians their introduction to the life of Machen and the founding of the OPC. The OPC General Assembly acknowledged Woolley's gifts to the church by appointing him as the denomination's first historian, in 1974.

John Muether


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Today in History: St. Patrick’s Day

Saint Patrick, a fifth-century missionary born in Roman Britain, became the patron saint of Ireland by spreading Christianity throughout the Emerald Isle. For centuries the Irish have set aside a day to remember him. But the version of St. Patrick’s Day that Americans know, which celebrates all things Irish with parades, parties, and “putting on the green,” was invented chiefly in our own country.

And no wonder. Some 36 million Americans claim Irish ancestry—almost nine times as many people as the population of Ireland itself.

Irish settlers, many of them indentured servants, brought the custom of remembering Saint Patrick to the American colonies. Boston held its first observance in 1737. In New York City, Irish soldiers in the British army held a parade on St. Patrick’s Day 1762. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington allowed his troops camped at Morristown, New Jersey, many of whom were Irish descent, to have a holiday on March 17, 1780.

In the nineteenth century, as millions more Irish immigrants arrived, including those fleeing the Great Potato Famine, St. Patrick’s Day observances became more widespread. Over time the day became less a remembrance of the saint himself, and more a way to remember Irish heritage, often with flair (as in Chicago, where the city dyes the Chicago River green).

From Davy Crockett to Bing Crosby, Americans with Irish roots have shaped out history and culture. By some estimates, one-third to one-half of American troops in the Revolutionary War were of Irish descent, as were 9 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. As many as 19 presidents, including Andrew Jackson, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, have had Irish ancestors. If the United States is the world’s melting pot, the broth has a wee bit o’ the taste of Irish stew.

American History Parade

1737 - The Charitable Irish Society of Boston holds the first public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in the American colonies.

1776 - Threatened by Patriot cannons on Dorchester Heights, the British evacuate Boston.

1898 - The USS Holland, the first practical submarine, conducts a trial run off Staten Island.

1958 - The United States launches its second satellite, Vanguard I (still in orbit as of 2012).

1959 - The USS Skate becomes the first submarine to surface at the North Pole.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Monday, March 16, 2015

Today in Church History: Paul Woolley

In 1902, within the space of three days, Paul Woolley (March 16) and Ned B. Stonehouse (March 19) were born.

The two would meet as students at Princeton Theological Seminary, and they would join J. Gresham Machen in the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. There they enjoyed over thirty years of fruitful service as part of the original faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary (Stonehouse in New Testament and Woolley in Church History). Both men numbered among the 34 constituting ministerial members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936.

Each man also contributed toward the development of a greater historical consciousness within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Stonehouse's 1954 book, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, was for many Orthodox Presbyterians their introduction to the life of Machen and the founding of the OPC. The OPC General Assembly acknowledged Woolley's gifts to the church by appointing him as the denomination's first historian, in 1974.

--John Muether


Friday, March 13, 2015

Today in History: Harvard Gets a Name

On March 13, 1639, the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States was named for Puritan minister John Harvard, one of the school’s earliest and greatest benefactors.

Historians know little about John Harvard’s life. The son of a London butcher, he was born in 1607 near the Surrey end of the London Bridge, and as a young man he received his education at Emmanuel College, part of the University of Cambridge. By the 1630s, his father and most of his family had died of the plague. His inheritance made him a well-to-do member of England’s middle class.

Faced with religious persecution, Harvard joined the wave of Puritans emigrating to America for a better life and chance to worship freely. In 1637 he and his wife, Ann, arrived in New England and became inhabitants of Charlestown, Massachusetts. That same year, he became a teaching elder of the First Church of Charlestown, a position that required him to explain scripture and give sermons.

But John Harvard did not last long in the New World. A little more than a year after his arrival, he died of consumption. On his deathbed he bequeathed 779 pounds (half his estate) and a collection of about four hundred books to a college that had been founded in 1636 in Newtown (now Cambridge, Massachusetts).

It was a generous gift, one that helped launch the fledgling college on its mission to educate students in a classical curriculum and Puritan theology. In 1639 the Massachusetts General Court decided to name the school Harvard College in honor of the minister. Today the name Harvard is a good reminder that many of this country’s finest universities trace their roots to churches and clergymen who realized that without educated citizens, America could not thrive.

American History Parade

1639 - Harvard College is named for one of its first benefactors, clergyman John Harvard.

1868 - The Senate begins the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.

1928 - The St. Francis Dam gives way on a reservoir 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, killing at least 450 people.

1930 -Clyde W. Tombaugh and fellow astronomers at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, announce the discovery of a ninth planet, later named Pluto.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Today in Church History: Charles G. Finney

On March 13, 1836, Charles G. Finney resigned as pastor of the Second Free Presbyterian Church in New York City, and announced his intention to demit the ministry of the Presbyterian Church and to transfer his ordination to the Congregational Church.

When asked at his licensure exam in 1823 whether he subscribed to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Finney responded, "I had not examined it - This made no part of my study." During his tenure as a Presbyterian minister he rarely attended Presbytery meetings and his opposition to Presbyterian theology and polity grew. Eventually he became the favorite target of Old School opponents of the Second Great Awakening. He left the church a year before the Old School-New School division, disdainfully suggesting that "no doubt there is a jubilee in hell every year about the time of meeting of the General Assembly."

John Muether


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Does Calvinism Teach Puppet Theology?

I own the cattle on a thousand hills,
I write the music for the whippoorwills,
Control the planets with their rocks and rills,
But give you freedom to use your own will.

And if you want Me to, I’ll make you whole,
I’ll only do it tho’ if you say so.
I’ll never force you, for I love you so,
I give you freedom – Is it “yes” or “no”?”

I Give You Freedom (The Whippoorwill Song).

“God’s a gentlemen; He would never force his affections on us. No, that would be indelicate. He wants us to choose to love Him, to choose to handover the love-strings of our heart. Don’t you want your loved ones to choose to love you? God’s not a cosmic masher.”

Sound familiar? (Probably not the “masher” part unless you’re an octogenarian.) Anyone who has been a Calvinist for any length of time has been confronted with the charge that we believe in a God who is nothing but a puppet master, an evil Jim Henson; and furthermore that man is nothing more than an un-responsible automaton. . . .

And yet, that’s not at all what Calvinism teaches. At least, that’s not what we should be teaching. It’s true that Calvin, like Augustine before him, believed the will of God to be the necessity of all things. But the Church’s leading theologians have always carefully distinguished between different kinds of necessity. Calvin, for example, though he held to the highest view of God’s sovereignty vehemently rejected any notion of necessity which entailed external coercion or compulsion. In this matter he was simply following Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and the entire tradition of Christian orthodoxy.

This is why the puppet and robot analogies don’t work, and no Calvinist should own them. While we believe that God’s grace is irresistible and flows from his electing love, we must be clear that this grace renews us from within. It does not coerce us from without. God is not a puppet master pulling on our strings so that we do what he wants apart from our own willing or doing. His will precedes our will, but it does not eradicate it.

You can read the rest of Kevin DeYoung’s comments here.

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Be Encouraged: God Does Not Issue Bluebacks

During the Civil War, the economic systems of the North and South were set on differing paths—at least in their ability to gasp for air. The South was suffering grievously due to the North’s naval blockade, which disallowed the transport of the southern mainstay—cotton. Although fairing better than the South, the North was hardly swimming in a sea of revenue.

As early as 1861, the first year of the war, Lincoln and his cabinet were forced to make tough economic choices. One such choice was to increase duties and excise taxes. Another was to issue “greenbacks.” Greenbacks were printing-press currency backed by the federal government. Because it was not supported by gold, the greenback’s value was determined by how much the government could borrow; as a result, the value of the greenbacks fluctuated with each battle. The problem was resolved, however, by the passing of the National Banking Act of 1863. This act allowed banks to issue currency based on the purchase of government bonds, thus stabilizing the greenbacks.

As mentioned, the South was fairing much worse, lacking the industrial might and commerce of the North. In response to this dire situation, Davis’ administration imposed a 10% increase of taxes on farm produce. Of course, this did not sit well with the states’-rights southerners who opposed direct taxation by a central government. Only 1% of the Confederacy’s revenue was derived from this measure. Consequently, revenue quickly dried up.

So out came plan B: Printing press currency. The South began printing “blue-backed” paper money. Once the printing presses began to hum, the flow of currency into the market place would not be ebbed. Runaway inflation ensued. For example, if you and two others decided to have breakfast in 1864 Richmond, you would leave a $21.15 tip—that’s 15% of $141, the cost of the meal. By the time Lee surrendered, the Confederacy was experiencing inflation of 9,000 percent.

What's This All About?

You’re probably wondering why we’ve taken this short trip down history lane. Well, hanging in my hallway at home is a $5 blue-backed bill, which was issued on February 17, 1864. The full faith and trust of the Confederate States of America backed this note. I’m sure this pledge gave solace to the note’s original recipient. Today, however, the bill is worthless as currency, holding value by historians and history buffs only. This note is void, despite the intentions and promises of the Confederate government.

History reveals that regimes come and go; political philosophies fail; nations rise and fall, their destinies not being in their hands. But with God, this is not so. Actually, He determines the times and seasons of nations and men.

And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.
(Acts 17:26)

He sovereignly decrees all that comes to pass.

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His Will.
(Ephesians 1:11)

He accomplishes His purposes.

. . . He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand . . .
(Daniel 4:35 )

His Word stands because of who He is. Therefore, unlike that Confederate note, God’s Word will never return void. It shall always retain its value, adequacy, clarity, power, and authority. It shall always accomplish the purpose for which He set it.

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

(Isaiah 55:11)

How we ought to rejoice upon hearing such a pledge. Our covenant-keeping God has the ability and the will to fulfill His promises and keep His Word. This holds much more meaning than the pledges of men, governments, or nations. Indeed, God’s Word stands because of who He is—And you can take that to the bank.

--The Catechizer

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Monday, March 09, 2015

Living Worthy of the Gospel

. . . let your conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

Philippians 1:27

The Gospel is not about what we have done; it's about what Christ has done. The only thing you and I contribute is sin and hatred of God. Jesus did everything righteously required by God of men. He obeyed God's law, in total —perfectly! He also suffered the infinite and righteous wrath of God against sinners, satisfying the Father's Holy indignation. To that end, He dispatches preachers to proclaim His finished work (Romans 1:13-19, 10:6-17) and graciously works faith into the hearts of men (Philippians 1:29, Ephesians 2:1, 4-9, Philippians 2:13). All of this is His work "lest any man should boast."

When saved, the “work “done by us (e.g., faith and repentance) is in response to that which the Triune God has done. In other words, our positive response to the gospel proclamation was God’s doing and not ours! We responded positively because of His work, not the other way around.

Given this amazing work by God on our behalf, we are charged in this verse to live "as becometh" (KJV) "worthy of" (NKJV)" of the Gospel; and in so doing, even then we can do no more than profess that "we are unprofitable servants" having done that which was "our duty to do" (Luke 17:5-10). This is because, like our positive response to the gospel, our good works also stem from God’s glorious grace. The difference, however, is our “good” works contributed nothing to our salvation, but they do contribute to our being conformed to the image of Christ in sanctification.

Grace and more grace. Our life in Christ begins and ends with His work and His mercy. How then can we not strive to live thankfully and faithfully? How then can we not live “worthy of the Gospel of Christ”?

--The Deacon

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