Thursday, December 31, 2020

Types and shadows (again)

One of the more interesting characters in the Old Testament is Joseph. There are some very clear parallels between Joseph and the Lord, but the New Testament doesn't seem to notice them. So is Joseph a type of Christ?

As far as I can tell, Joseph is mentioned only a handful of times in the New Testament:

  • John 4:5
  • Acts 7:9–14, 7:18
  • Hebrews 11:21–22

(There is a mention in Revelation 7:8, but it's a reference to the tribe of Joseph, not to him as an individual.)

So there are three places Joseph is mentioned in the New Testament,  and in none of those is the he brought up as prefiguring the Lord. 

But if we read the story of the woman at the well in Sychar (John 4:5–42) a little more closely, there is a hint lurking a little deeper... The story of the the woman at the well begins with the first mention of Joseph in the New Testament (not that there are many of those), and as far as I can tell, it's a reference to Genesis 48:21–22. We're told that Sychar is "near to the land which Jacob gave to his son Joseph". 

While I don't claim to be very wise, I have learned to pay attention to these passing references when I read Scripture. There are a whole lot of "Wait... what?" moments, and I've learned to slow down and let them sink in. It's not for nothing that Scripture throws these mentions into a story.

So there is a very slight connection between Joseph and the story of the woman at the well. But there are two more very slender threads connecting her story to Joseph. Both come from Genesis 41:45. There, Pharaoh calls Joseph  Zaphnath-paaneah. If we look in the margin, we find that  Zaphnath-paaneah means "Savior of the world" in Egyptian, and "Revealer of Secrets" in Hebrew. Notice that both of these play into the story of the woman at the well.  First, the woman describes Christ as "a man who told me all things I had ever done" (John 4:29) – the Revealer of secrets. Then the Samaritans call the Lord "the Savior of the world" (John 4:42).

So is Joseph a type of Christ? I honestly don't know.  Those connections are real, but they're awfully slender. It seems to me there are a lot of those in Scripture, where "type" seems like it might be too strong a word, but there's more there than just coincidence.

There are some striking features to the story of the woman at the well. It's very rare that we see anyone invite the Lord to stay in their home. The Samaritans asked the Lord to stay, and He stayed with them two days (John 4:40). I'm sure there were others who hosted the Lord, we know about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 12:2) and Simon the leper (Mark 14:3) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10). But it's certainly not a common thing in Scripture for someone to invite the Lord into their home. What's even less common is the Lord refusing an invitation; off the top of my head, I can't recall the Lord ever doing so.

And then we have the title "Savior of the world," which I can only find twice in the New Testament (John 4:42, 1 John 4:14). It seems like the Samaritans in Sychar had seen a truth much more clearly even than the disciples did at the time. And that's not because the Samaritans were smarter than the disciples. It's because God was revealing His Son to them.

The Lord's promise of "living water" to the woman is a striking feature of the story as well. I used to think the Lord was speaking to her about eternal life, but that's not what "living water" is. Yes, living water results in eternal life (John 4:14), but "living water" refers to the Holy Spirit (John 7:38–39). So here the Lord is, talking to a woman who is apparently lost, and He jumps to the indwelling Spirit of God. Doesn't that seem strange? It's like He's skipping a step. I would expect the Lord to hit her with "you must be born again" (John 3:3–7). But that's not what He does.

At Sychar, the Lord reveals Himself as the Man who can give the Spirit of God. Let that sink in: He is a Man and He can give God as a gift! 

I've written too long about this already, and this post is long overdue, so we'll just wrap this up here. The connections between Joseph and John 4 aren't accidental. I'm not willing to commit to saying that Joseph is a type of Christ (well... not yet), but there is certainly a "Joseph character" to John 4. And the more I look at that chapter, the more surprising it is, especially as early as it appears in the Gospel. Here we have idolaters who recognize Christ for who He is, take Him at His word, and acknowledge Him. Almost sounds like Asenath, doesn't it?

Friday, December 18, 2020

Types and shadows

I've been thinking about Isaac. Genesis doesn't spend a lot of time discussing Isaac, compared to Abraham, Jacob, and even Joseph. But when we turn to the New Testament, Isaac shows up in some interesting ways.

Having spent many years around "brethren", I've heard a lot of talks about types and shadows in the Old Testament, especially in Genesis. I admit that I've become a bit jaded by some of those talks: not everything recorded in the Old Testament has deeper shades of spiritual meaning. But while I say that, I have to admit that the New Testament explicitly describes symbolic meanings in the accounts of Isaac's life.

Galatians 4:21–31 makes the statement that the story of Isaac and Ishmael has "an allegorical sense" (Galatians 4:24).  It then goes on to say that Hagar represents the Law, while Sarah represents "the Jerusalem above" (Galatians 4:26). And then it tells us that "the son of the maid servant shall not inherit with the son of the free woman" (Galatians 4:30). The conclusion being that we can't have both law and grace: we need to take our place as those under grace, and eschew putting ourselves under law.

Hebrews 11:17–19 retell the story of Abraham offering up Isaac (Genesis 22:1–19). It tells us that Abraham expected the Lord to raise Isaac from the dead, "whence also he received him in a figure" (Hebrews 11:19). So when we read through Genesis, we're supposed to understand that Isaac died "in figure" on the mountain, and came back down the mountain resurrected "in figure." J. N. Darby points out that the entire character of the promises to Abraham change at the point Isaac is offered:

The promise of the blessing of the nations was not given to Abraham and his seed. It was made to Abram alone in Genesis 12; and so in Galatians 3 we read in the original, "And to Abram were the promises made, and to his seed." So again, the promise which was confirmed before of God to Christ (not in Christ). Hence it is the apostle insists upon its being one, for the promises to Abraham, as father of the Jews, were made in common to him and to his seed together; and it was promised that his seed should be as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is by the seashore, innumerable. Whereas the promise of the blessing of the nations was given to Abram first, and then confirmed to the one seed, Isaac, figure of Christ sacrificed and risen again, with no mixture of anyone else, nor mention of a numerous posterity.  ("Connection of the cross with the entire development of God's ways with man", Collected Writings, Volume 22, pp. 365–372)

It's in Hebrews 11:17 that we read Isaac is Abraham's "only begotten son."  This is the only place I can find where that expression is used of someone other than Christ. And here's the amazing part: it's not literally true. Isaac had an older half-brother and several younger half-siblings. He might have been Sarah's only son, but he wasn't Abraham's. 

Scripture does this sort of thing sometimes: it makes statements that aren't literally true, and we're expected to understand that they're not literally true. And when that happens, we need to slow down and pay attention. The Scripture is emphasizing a point, and it does so by making us ask, "Wait... what?"

And of course that brings us to Romans 9:6–13 where Isaac's birth, and the birth of his children, are used to demonstrate "Divine, sovereign, individual election". Isaac's place as Abraham's only begotten son is not true in the strictly historical sense, but it's true in God's reckoning. That's really the whole point of the first half of Romans 9.

So I've come full circle, so to speak. When I was much younger, I was eager to see types and shadows in the Old Testament. And then I began to suspect that most or all of that sort of thing was really eisegesis: it's something read into – not out of – Scripture. But now I appreciate that the New Testament does, indeed, support the idea that there are types, shadows, and hidden meanings in the Old Testament.

Now, I don't want to lose sight of an important lesson here. When the New Testament tips us off to some deeper meaning in the Old, we should dive in to see, understand, and appreciate it. But I still view with skepticism some of those interpretations, at least until I can see justification for it in the text. But perhaps that's a rant for another time.




Friday, December 11, 2020

Salvation and baptism – baptism (again)

There is some question about "baptism" in Romans 6:3–6. Does that mean baptism in water? Or does it refer to something else, perhaps baptism of the Holy Spirit? It's not a trivial question, and there are probably problems no matter which view you take.

Clearly 1 Corinthians 12:13 teaches that each individual believer has been baptized spiritually, above and beyond baptism in water. But I don't think that's what Romans 6 is referring to. I think Romans 6 is referring to water baptism.

Now, I'm sure that each believer, baptized or not, is united to Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Galatians 2:20 brings up our union with Christ, with no mention of baptism. So I'm not saying that a believer who isn't baptized in water hasn't died with Christ.

But Romans 6–8 is all about our life down here, in a wicked world, in fallen bodies (Romans 8:10). It's not about our life in the world to come, nor about our place with Him in heaven. It's dealing with our practical walk as those united with Christ in this life, and that's what baptism is all about.

Notice that the issue in Romans 6 isn't what God sees, but what we see. It's about our reckoning, not God's (Romans 6:11). And when we're talking about what we see, we're talking about an outward reality; we're talking about baptism.

Friday, December 4, 2020


As an earthly king, the Lord Jesus ties together two successions from Scripture. As King of Israel, He succeeds David (2 Samuel 5:3; John 1:49). As King of Kings, He succeeds Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:37; Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16). It seems to me that the title "Son of God" corresponds to the first title (John 1:49), while the title "Son of Man" corresponds to the second – it's the Son of Man who is given a kingdom that shall never end (Daniel 7:13–14).

When David announced Solomon as his successor, he had him ride through Jerusalem on a mule (1 Kings 1:32–48). God announced His own Son as David's successor in the same way (Matthew 21:1–16). I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but we see the Lord riding only twice in Scripture: once on a donkey, once on a white horse. And these two scenes correspond to the titles "King of Israel" (Matthew 21:5) and "King of Kings" (Revelation 19:16). 

It's easy to forget that God Himself set up Nebuchadnezzar as King of Kings (Daniel 2:37–38; Jeremiah 27:4–8), but it's true. God set up Nebuchadnezzar as king just like He set up David as king (Psalm 78:70–72). By the time we get to Nebuchadnezzar, the Old Testament has detailed how the nation of Israel had fallen into disrepair. It was, indeed, a nation in ruin. So it's easy to see Nebuchadnezzar as a judgment brought on Israel (and he was), but we shouldn't let that overshadow what God was doing with him. The Most High rules in the kingdoms of men, and He gives them to whomever He wills (Daniel 4:31–32).

But the fact is, when we refer to the Lord as "King of Kings," we are using a title He gets from Nebuchadnezzar and the gentile kings (cf Ezra 7:32). It's a title God gives Him, but just like "King of Israel," the Lord is the last, and not the first, to hold it.

So when we read the captivity and post-captivity books of the Bible, we get another glimpse of the Lord as King. It's not the same point of view that we get when we see the lives of the kings of Israel, but it's equally true.

I wouldn't actually say that the Lord will have two kingdoms: but I could be wrong about that. I remain convinced that the New Covenant is exclusively between the Lord, Israel, and Judah (Jeremiah 31:31–34; Hebrews 8:7–11). I don't see that the gentiles have any part in that. The title "King of Kings" is given to both Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:37) and Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:32), but they definitely had two separate kingdoms. So it's not apparent to me that these two kingly titles necessitate two kingdoms: "King of Kings" doesn't seem to be tied to a specific kingdom.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Salvation and baptism – baptism

In H. A. Ironside's A Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement, he discusses an attempt at reconciliation between the so-called "Grant brethren" and "open brethren" in Plainfield, NJ between 1892 and 1895 (pp. 145–170). He quotes a letter signed by B. C. Greenman, S. Ridout, and F. W. Grant in which they list barriers to fellowship, including "insistence upon certain views of baptism" on the part of "open brethren" (p. 148). 

Better and more godly men than I have disagreed about baptism, so I've made a practice of not kicking that particular hornets' nest. But since a couple folks have asked, I'll make just a few general comments on baptism.

I grew up almost entirely surrounded by people who taught, believed, and practiced believers' baptism. I can't count the number of times I've heard someone say that baptism is "an outward expression of an inward reality." 

Eventually – having read way too much on the subject – I was challenged by the statement that while Scripture says other things are types of baptism (the ark, 1 Peter 3:21, and the crossing of the Red Sea, 1 Corinthians 10:1–5), it doesn't say baptism is a type of anything else. I haven't been able to find a place where baptism is called a type, a symbol, a sign, or anything close to it. That's not a slam dunk, but it does undercut the central assumption behind believers' baptism. Scripture treats baptism like a reality, not a symbol.

I know, "slam dunk" is a horrible pun.

For the past ten or fifteen years I've leaned to household baptism, perhaps a little reluctantly. I'm not really interested in getting into fights over baptism, and I'm not willing to make something a fellowship issue without an actual verse. So I'm perfectly happy fellowshipping with other believers who hold a different view.

There is a paper by J. N. Darby on STEM Publishing, "On the Baptism of Households" that seems to me to be a very clear presentation of the household baptism position. It's well worth a read.

Let me just say: household baptism doesn't mean baptismal regeneration. Baptism doesn't regenerate, give life, or justify in God's sight. I absolutely don't believe that an infant, having been baptized, is now no longer a sinner. 

Household baptism is merely the acknowledgement that there is such a thing in Scripture as earthly, temporal, outward salvation as well as eternal salvation. Baptism is connected with the former, not the latter. 

So yes, I believe in baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16). That doesn't mean God forgives sins because people are baptized. I take it to mean that in baptism, we leave a world under sin and judgment and take our place in a new order of things.  It's not for God's benefit that we are baptized. God counts as righteous the one who believes and does not work (Romans 4:5), baptism has no place in that. But baptism is intimately connected with our place in this world.

So that's my take on baptism. I fully admit that I've read too much on the subject, which certainly affects my thinking.

Let me add a short postscript here... Francis Schaeffer's short paper "Baptism": is well worth a read. He argues for infant baptism by pointing out that circumcision is called a "sign" in Scripture (Romans 4:10–11), and Scripture does explicitly say that circumcision was to be an outward sign of an inward reality (Deuteronomy 10:16; Romans 2:28–29). But Scripture still commanded the circumcision of infants. 

That's a compelling argument: if circumcision – which Scripture explicitly tells us is the outward sign of an inward reality – can be practiced on infants, than surely we shouldn't scruple to baptize infants on the strength of the argument that they haven't believed.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Salvation and baptism – salvation

Having believed God, we are declared righteous without works (Romans 4:5). Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1). Having been justified, we shall be saved (Romans 5:10–11). But of course, Romans doesn't stop there.

I mentioned last time that we seem content with a "gospel" that doesn't even rise to the level of the Old Testament. We seem afraid even to teach and declare what Romans 4:1–8 teaches. But even if we fearlessly declare Romans 4:1–8, we still have only gotten as far as the Old Testament. To use the Exodus metaphor, we bring people to Succoth, or perhaps all the way to Etham (Exodus 13:20), and then we try to assure them that they've gotten all God has for them. But of course it's not true.



Someone who hasn't seen the enemy dead on the shore might well be born again. She might well be justified in God's sight, redeemed, regenerated, and forgiven of all her sins for eternity. But she's not saved. Romans doesn't just end at Romans 5:1, and we shouldn't stop there either.

Don't let's forget Colossians 2:6 – we are to walk as we have received. And we must keep Galatians 3:1–3 in mind – we don't start out on one principle and finish on another. We are certainly saved by faith, just as surely as we're justified by faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). It's not that we start out by faith and then earn salvation. But the fact remains that there is progress from justification to salvation.

When we go to the next chapter, we are brought face-to-face with baptism immediately (Romans 6:3). We recall that 1 Corinthians 10:1–2 describes the crossing of the Red Sea as baptism, so it's no stretch at all to say that Romans 6–8 answers to Exodus 14. In other words, we're now talking about salvation.

And we see the same language in Romans 6:1–9 that we saw in Exodus 14:30–31. Both are about baptism, both are about death.

Romans 5:19–21 sets the stage for Romans 6:1–9. We find in Romans 5 that Adam's sin made us all sinners, regardless of our actual guilt. I realize there are many who believe that we are all guilty of Adam's sin, but I don't read that in Scripture. Romans 5 doesn't say that God holds me guilty of what Adam has done, but that Adam's sin made me a sinner. And we read that sin has reigned (Romans 5:21). This theme of sin personified as a master is carried into Romans 6, where we find that the solution to the problem of sin reigning is to put to death the one who had been sin's slave (Romans 6:5–6). Notice Romans 6 doesn't teach that sin has been crucified, nor even that sin is judged. We don't get the condemnation of sin until Romans 8:3, and even then, we realize (Romans 8:23) that while sin has been judged, the judgement hasn't yet been executed. Romans 6 strikes not at sin, but at the sinner. It's about the servant of sin, the man I used to be.

Whether I believe it or not, God sees that I have died with Christ (Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:1–3). But Romans 6:11 commands us to "reckon" that to be true. What that really means is, for us to experience the salvation that God has for us, we need to see things the way He sees them, the way He says they really are.

Notice the parallel here with Exodus 14:30. Salvation isn't merely dead enemies on the shore, it's seeing the enemies dead on the shore. Similarly, salvation isn't merely that I have died with Christ, it's seeing that I have died with Christ.

Exodus 14:31 goes on to say (as cg commented earlier), that when the Israelites saw the enemy dead on the shore, they feared God, and believed in God, and in Moses His servant.

Romans 4:5 says that God justifies the one who "believes on him who justifies the ungodly." Revelation 14:6–7 tells us the "everlasting gospel" – fear God and give Him glory. Notice in both Romans 4:5 and in Revelation 14:6–7, the issue isn't so much what we believe, but whom we believe. When we get to Romans 6:1–11, the issue is still faith (remember, we are to walk as we received), but now it's much more specific about what we are to believe.  We are called to believe that we have been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:11).

So let's be perfectly clear: we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). The question isn't one of faith followed by works; it's faith from start to finish. But the journey that starts with justification (by faith) and goes on to salvation (by faith) isn't a single step. It may take many years for a person to believe God (thus being justified in His sight) to having peace with God, to being saved, having seen the bodies of the enemy dead on the shore. All of these are by faith, but they're not all the same step.

I was justified as a very young person, having believed the gospel. But it was at least fifteen years before I (as an adult) saw that I had been crucified with Christ. At any point in that span of time, I would have said (and did, indeed, say) that I was saved, but I don't believe I was. I was born again. I was forgiven of all my sins. I was righteous in God's sight. Had I died in that time, I would have found myself safe in God's presence. My eternal destiny was settled. But I wasn't saved. I didn't see myself as having died with Christ (I thought that was an aspirational statement about a holy life). I hadn't seen the enemies dead on the shore.

But I did think I had already gotten all God had for me. I honestly thought that, having been forgiven of all my sins, I was now responsible to live for God. I thought I had something to offer Him! See, I hadn't yet learned what it was to be lost. I definitely had not gotten all God had for me. 

And I think that's one reason I keep ranting about being careful with words like "saved." There are consequences to carelessness in holy things.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Salvation and baptism – justification

The distinctions between salvation, justification, redemption, etc. aren't just an academic interest. There are real, practical consequences that come out of carelessness with the text of Scripture. Sometimes when someone points out something in Scripture, there's a tendency to say, "OK... so what's for lunch?" Sometimes it can be hard to understand just where a misreading will lead.

The most valuable and enduring lesson I learned from reading Darby is, the text of Scripture matters. We misread, simplify, or blur distinctions to our own peril. I'm not suggesting (and I certainly don't believe) that any misreading of Scripture is a "salvation issue" (as much as I hate that terminology), but I am certain there are watersheds: small changes with enormous consequences that aren't immediately obvious.

One effect of carelessness here is, we undercut the gospel. It shouldn't be a surprise that confusing justification with salvation means we don't get either one right.

So let's pause and consider what Scripture has to say about justification. Scripture says, "to him who does not work, but believes on [H]im who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness" (Romans 4:5). Do we really believe that? I'm afraid many "gospel messages" I've heard add big and small things to that simple statement. Altar calls, sinners' prayers, confessions of sins – these things may not seem like much, but they're not what Scripture teaches. Scripture teaches in the plainest possible terms that all God wants is for us to believe Him. He is eager to declare as righteous anyone who stops calling Him a liar, and admits that He is right. The bar couldn't be set lower.

I've been in many churches in my life – many or most of them "brethren assemblies" – and I've heard a lot of gospel messages, but I haven't heard many that don't add something to the gospel.

[Note: If you haven't recently, it's worth reading William R. Newell's comments on Romans 4:4–5, especially the story in footnote #84.]

I don't think people are setting out to subvert the gospel. I think they are trying to make it more concrete or "actionable". But there's nothing actionable about a declaration that God declares righteous the one who does not work, but believes. That is, by definition, entirely inactionable. It's the declaration that our taking an action is the opposite of what God wants. He wants us not to work, but to believe.

I've heard two speakers of some renown in the last ten years say that if you can't recall a conversion experience, then you really aren't saved. For the moment, let's ignore the misuse of the word saved and focus on the main point. Does Scripture teach the need for a conversion experience? Not that I can find. What it says is, God counts as righteous the person who does not work, but believes. Do you believe God? Then you're justified, regardless of whether you can remember a specific conversion experience.

It seems like many Christians teach a "gospel" that doesn't even rise to the level of the Old Testament. Romans 4:6–8 (quoting Psalm 32:1–2) says that the person whom God justifies (the one who does not work, but believes, Romans 4:5), is a person to whom God will "not at all reckon sin" (Romans 4:8). Do we really believe that? Do we believe and teach that God, having justified a person, will not at all – for any reason –, put sins to their account? Do we believe and teach that someone who has been justified on the basis of faith (not of works) is someone whose sins God refuses to count?

Someone who had been a foreign missionary once told me that they wouldn't teach "eternal security" when they were on the mission field, "because it would just lead to people sinning." Is that a faithful proclamation of the gospel? Is that honestly and faithfully telling what God has said? I am certain it is not.

So we might ask ourselves, if someone came to a gospel meeting in our churches, would they be told that there was nothing for them to do, because it has all been done? Would they be told that God counts as righteous the one who does not work, but believes? Would they walk away knowing that, having believed, God wouldn't count against them any sin they had ever committed, or any sin they would someday commit, even those in the future?

Galatians 1:6–9 warns against "another gospel." So here's a question for our own consciences: are we declaring the gospel accurately and scripturally? Are we faithfully saying the God declares as righteous the one who doesn't work, but believes? Or are we preaching another gospel?

I am convinced that we fail to understand, teach, and declare justification by faith alone in Christ alone, partly because we mix up justification with salvation. They're not the same thing, although they are related. And because we're not careful with what the Scripture actually says, we end up preaching our own ideas, not the word of God.



Friday, November 6, 2020

Salvation and Baptism

The first mention of salvation in Scripture is Genesis 49:18, "I wait for thy salvation, O Jehovah." 

The next place we read about salvation is Exodus 14:13, "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah." It's worthwhile taking a few moments to think about what Exodus can teach us about salvation.

We remember that the children of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for 430 years (Exodus 12:41). God had sent Moses to deliver them from Egypt, but Pharaoh refused to obey God, God having hardened his heart (Exodus 4:21–23). And so God did what He had told Moses He would do when He spoke to Moses in Midian – He killed Pharaoh's son (Exodus 4:23).

The children of Israel – having been warned that God would pass through Egypt, killing all the firstborn sons (Exodus 12:23) – were to put the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and lintels of their doors, and not go out of their houses until morning (Exodus 12:22). God would "pass over" them if they were sheltered behind the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12:23). 

God did what He said He would do – what He had told Moses He would do when He spoke to Moses in Midian, before Moses ever stood before Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21–23). God passed through Egypt, killing every firstborn son (Exodus 12:29–30). So the Egyptians sent the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 12:31–33).

1 Corinthians 5:7–8 tells us that Christ is our Passover, having died for us. It is His blood that shelters us from judgment. It is in His death that He ensured the wrath of God cannot touch us (John 3:36). 

But of course the people of Israel had a long way to go. In fact, the journey was longer than it really had to be, because of the fear that they people would want to return to Egypt, if they took the most direct route (Exodus 13:17–18).

Exodus 14 opens with God instructing the people of Israel to encamp by the Red Sea. And the scripture tells us why: because God intended to destroy Pharaoh by hardening his heart (again!) and luring him into a trap at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:1–4). Now, let's pause to think about that for a moment... we might expect God to ignore Pharaoh now that Pharaoh has finally obeyed and sent Israel away. But God isn't done with Pharaoh yet. He hardens his heart (Exodus 14:8) so that he will pursue Israel and be destroyed at the Red Sea.

So the people of Israel are trapped at the shore of the sea, they have nowhere to go. God is essentially using them to bait the trap He has set for Pharaoh, and they are terrified. They know that Pharaoh is coming to destroy them. And Moses tells them, "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah" (Exodus 14:10–14).

Notice that Moses hasn't once described the deliverance of Israel as "salvation" before this. He hasn't called the plagues on Egypt salvation. He hasn't called them sheltering behind the lamb's blood salvation. He hasn't even called their being sent away from Egypt salvation. It's only now, when God is about to destroy Pharaoh that Moses starts talking about salvation.

And we know how the story ends. God tells Moses to stretch his staff over the sea (Exodus 14:15–18), and He parts the sea so that the children of Israel can walk through it on dry ground (Exodus 14:16). And God hardens Pharaoh's heart one last time so that the Egyptians drive their chariots into the sea (Exodus 14:17), then He brings the water in the sea back together, drowning all the Egyptians (Exodus 14:26–28).

And then, just to be sure that we understand the lesson, the chapter reiterates what happened, "Thus Jehovah saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the sea-shore" (Exodus 14:30). That is a working definition of salvation: it's seeing the enemy dead on the shore.

The children of Israel were redeemed in Egypt. They were led by God into the wilderness. They crossed the sea on dry land, by the power of God. But they weren't saved until they saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.

1 Corinthians 10:2 describes the crossing of the Red Sea as baptism. This is one of the reasons I keep insisting that baptism saves. It doesn't regenerate, redeem, justify, or reconcile. But it saves. The connection between baptism and salvation isn't an accident, and it's not made lightly. And notice, it's very much the same idea in 1 Peter 3:20–21.

I am sure that the Old Testament saints were born again. After all, "Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets" will be in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:28), and Christ Himself assures us that new birth is necessary for a man to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1–7). And scripture is explicit that Abraham was justified by faith alone (Romans 4:1–5). David, too, being justified by faith alone, is a man "to whom God will not at all reckon sin" (Romans 4:6–8). These are all Old Testament truths.

But the Old Testament saints were not united to Christ. This is one blessing we have and they didn't have. We are united to Christ in His death, His burial, and His resurrection (Romans 6:1–5; Colossians 3:1–4). And notice Romans 6 connects our union with Christ to baptism. It's entirely scriptural to say that one huge difference between the Old Testament saints and the New is that we are now baptized into Christ Jesus.

There's a lot more to talk about here, so I'll save that for another time. But let's make this final point: being saved means seeing the enemies lying dead on the shore. I'm almost fifty years old, and in that time, I've heard many, many gospel messages. I've heard many, many evangelical talks. But I have very rarely heard about the dead enemies on the shore.

It's like we're content to be redeemed, and don't really want all that God has for us: not merely justification, but salvation.

Friday, October 30, 2020

"None seeks after God"

I've been thinking a lot about Romans 3:10–11 over the last few weeks. Those verses have long puzzled me, because it's self evident that there are men and women who are deeply interested in God. So there's an apparent contradiction between Scripture and what we actually experience.

It seems to me this conflict is resolved in Romans 1:21–23. When Romans 3:11 says that not one seeks after God, I take that to mean that not one seeks after God as He really is. Fallen men and women are entirely willing to worship gods they themselves imagine. They're deeply interested in a god who is out there somewhere, but doesn't have any real claim to their obedience and submission. What they're not willing to do, is to submit themselves to the God who created them.

I remember hearing Ellis Potter say in one of the L'Abri Ideas Library recordings that in the fall, man put himself at the center of the universe. That's not our only problem, but it's a huge problem. We find it impossible to relate to the God who really is the center of the universe, because we simply can't see that it is He – and not we – who is the center.

It's not in the nature of unregenerate man to acknowledge the God who is really there.

Friday, October 23, 2020


 Eisegesis sounds pretentious, but it's a real word. It means "reading in." It's adding something into the text because we expect it to be there, or we want it to be there. It's a hard trap to avoid, because it's hard to see and identify our own biases and preconceptions.

A few years ago, I read an article online where someone referenced the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3–9), calling it the "parable of the soils." That's not the first time I've heard that title, nor the last. But in this case, I commented on the article, asking why the person had called it "the parable of the soils" when the Lord called it "the parable of the sower" (Matthew 13:18). The author responded:

The reason why I (and I assume others also) have referred to it as the parable of the soils is to focus upon the main thrust of the passage – the ground on which the seed was thrown. The emphasis by the Lord leans heavily toward the condition of the soil where the seed was sown, representing the four different heart responses to the Gospel message. In no way (at least with me) is it meant to counter the words of our Lord or to redirect the teaching.

I didn't follow up on that response, because I wasn't interested in fight on a comment thread. But it's been more than five years since that exchange, and as I've thought it over, it hasn't gotten less troubling. 

Note: I'm not going to link to the article, nor to the comment thread, because I'm not trying to embarrass anyone. It shouldn't be too hard to find, if you want to fact-check me on it. If you can't find it, email me and I can send you a link. 

As far as I can tell, the Lord gave exactly one of His parables a title. He told many, many parables; but this appears to be the only one He titled. Since we agree that the title of the parable focuses our attention to a specific element of the story, it's self-evident that the emphasis by the Lord is not on the soils at all, but on the sower. That's why He called it "the parable of the sower."

And this is what I mean by reading something into a passage. Doing something as small as giving a parable a title seems to be harmless, but it's not. Does this person really think the Lord missed the main thrust of the passage? I'm sure he doesn't, but it's what he actually said in that response.

So we can think more highly of ourselves than we ought, or we can use this as a teachable moment for ourselves. We can ask, "where do I read things into the Scripture?"

For years I thought that the Lord taught we should do good works so that men and women would see them and believe. But that's not what the Lord said. He said, "Let your light thus shine before men, so that they may see your upright works, and glorify your Father who is in the heavens" (Matthew 5:16). Why did I think that verse was teaching that good works would lead someone to repent? It's not in the text, it was only there in my mind. To be fair, it was likely because I had heard others misquote that verse all my life; but we can fairly say that I misread that verse, because I thought I knew what it was supposed to say.

I wasn't allowing the Scripture to speak to me, I was trying to finish the Lord's sentences!

So where else am I doing this? I'm sure there are many places in Scripture where I am finishing the Lord's sentences. I'm sure there are many places where I just assume I know what the text is going to say. 


Friday, October 16, 2020

Except the Lord build the house

 Psalm 127:1–5


A friend asked me the difference between Dispensationalism and and Covenant Theology. My answer is that the one stresses discontinuities between the Old and New Testament, while the other stresses continuity. That's a pretty vague statement, but I think it's a good place to start. Obviously both are -isms, and so both are definitely wrong in at least some points. 

One of the effects of reading Darby extensively was that I began to back off a lot from the Dispensationalism I grew up with, as I began to see more and more continuities between the Old and New Testaments. That's not to say I dove into Covenant Theology, or anything like it. But reading Darby forced me to see and appreciate many continuities between the Old and New Testaments, which aren't really acknowledged among more mainstream Dispensationalists.

I really do believe all -isms are wrong. Dispensationalism, Calvinism, Arminianism – they're all wrong by virtue of the fact they're -isms. Yes, even Darbyism (and that really is a thing). They're all wrong because none quite addresses the whole counsel of God. Further, it seems like we humans just can't resist moving from "working model" to "interpretive framework" to "replacement for Scripture." We just can't seem to avoid getting to the place where we disregard at least some part of Scripture because of our personal theology (Matthew 15:1–6).

Don't get me wrong! If the choice is between Calvinism and Arminianism, and I have to choose, I'll take Calvinism every time. As far as I can tell, it represents Scripture much more completely and honestly than the other... but it would be far better for me to stick to Scripture. Similarly, I think Dispensationalism is a much better -ism than Covenant Theology, but it's still an -ism, it's still lacking, and it still easily becomes a replacement for Scripture if we allow our vigilance to fail.

I've said it many times: the unique feature of Darby's writings is that he resists the temptation to develop a theology. I wish I could do the same.

One of the marks of the "dispensationalism" of Darby, Kelly, et al. was the teaching that a godly walk isn't the result of careful adherence to the Law, or careful self-discipline, but the result of our union with Christ in His death, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the work of God in us. Of course that's a mark of that era's Dispensationalism that was quick to disappear. Many who teach Dispensationalism today still mention our union with Christ, but they seem to think it's relegated to a "positional" truth, not something that really affects our lives. 

Of course there is the opposite error: an error that I easily fall into. We won't passively fall into godliness. It's easy for me (and some other people I know) to allow ourselves to fall into the error opposite legalism, which is an almost fatalistic "passivism." That's not what Scripture teaches.

So what does Scripture teach?

 Psalm 127:1–2 shows us what's happening behind the scenes. There are builders working on a house, but unless the Lord is the one actually building it, their labor is vain. There are watchmen watching over a city, but unless the Lord is keeping it, their waking is in vain. 

Vain labor is a thing. It's probably more common than we realize: time, effort, resources spent pursuing some end on our own, without the Lord being in it. Robert has commented that "without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5) is a promise we don't like to remember. We like to think we are capable of accomplishing things on our own, we don't like to remember that without the Lord, we might well do things, but we can't accomplish anything.

Well, we don't interpret Psalm 127:1–2 to mean that the city shouldn't post watchers, nor that the builder of a house shouldn't work hard. That's going beyond what the Scripture actually says. It's not an injunction against human effort, but it is an observation that we cannot control the outcome of our labors. The Lord accomplishes what He sets out to accomplish, and we work against Him in vain.

We like to speak out against laziness – and rightly so –, but Psalm 127:2 tells us that the Lord gives rest to His beloved. Now, I read "His beloved" to mean primarily Christ, but it seems to me there is an extension to us here as well. When we recognize that our work is really His work, then we realize the outcome isn't really our concern. We don't pour our lives into vain labor, we allow Him the end that He wants.

At the same time, I have come to believe that our work (work "of the Lord" 1 Corinthians 15:58) is real and significant. I confess that any number of times over the last twenty-five years, I've held to a view pretty close to fatalism. I have many times believed – in fact, if not in words – that we are more or less just to sit and wait for God to do the work. I was wrong. That's not what Scripture describes. Rodger mentioned to me that sonship implies a significant relationship, almost an uneven partnership. We have been called into a relationship with the Father and the Son where we have been freed and empowered to take part in the work the Lord is doing. 

But make no mistake, the partnership is definitely not an even one. That's what Psalm 127 is saying. Those who build the house are laboring: but it's the Lord who really builds the house. The watchmen are waking, but it's the Lord who is keeping the city. So we're not working to produce something for God. We're working with God, to be a very small part of what He's producing. That's really the idea of sonship: that we come into the family business and take part. But we don't delude ourselves into thinking the family business was struggling until we took part: God is and was getting precisely the outcome that He wants.


Friday, October 9, 2020

Romans 9

Having mentioned Romans 9, it seems like a good idea to spend a few minutes reading through that chapter. Not to give a real exegesis, but to give an overview of the argument in that chapter. 


vv. 1–5, the problem of Gentile belief and Jewish unbelief

Romans 9:1–5 sets out an apparent contradiction with Romans 8:29 ff. Israel "according to flesh" (Romans 9:3) has largely not believed in Christ, so they're excluded from the Romans 8 blessings. At the same time, gentiles who have believed are promised them. But there are eight blessings to Israel listed in Romans 9:4–5, including Christ Himself. So how can we understand this conundrum?

The answer takes three chapters to develop, but if we limit ourselves to this chapter, we'll see that it builds on "Divine sovereign individual election". That argument takes up basically all of this chapter.


vv. 6–7 The Word of God has not failed

The thesis is given in Romans 9:6 – the word of God has not failed. That's the central point, and the same verse tells us why: because "not all [are] Israel which [are] of Israel" (Romans 9:6).  This is the point that will be argued for the rest of the chapter, but it's the point that seems most frequently missed when I hear people discussing Romans 9.

The argument that the word of God hasn't failed is that not all of Israel's descendants are counted as the nation of Israel, nor are all of Abraham's descendants counted as children (Romans 9:6–7). It's possible that someone can be descended from Israel (Jacob), but not be part of the nation of Israel as far as God is concerned. It's possible for someone to be a descendant of Abraham, but not be included in God's reckoning of Abraham's children.


vv. 8–9 Isaac is a son, Ishmael is not

Let's pause here and say that this explains the strange and repeated assertion in Scripture that Isaac is Abraham's only son (Genesis 22:1–2, 15–19; Hebrews 11:17–19) even though we're explicitly told that Isaac had an older brother (Genesis 21:9) and several younger siblings (Genesis 25:1–6). We know for a fact that Isaac was not Abraham's only begotten son, but Scripture describes him that way.

So Romans 9:8–9 explains that Isaac is Abraham's only son as far as God is concerned, because he is the son of promise. Ishmael is Abraham's physical descendant, but God doesn't count him as a child of Abraham.


vv. 10–13 Jacob is chosen, Esau is not

Romans 9:10-13 applies this same principle to the next generation, saying that although Jacob and Esau were twins, having the same father and the same mother, Jacob is chosen but Esau is not. And here were have an amazing parenthesis that introduces a very important point (Romans 9:11), that it wasn't a matter of what they did. Indeed, we're explicitly told that God chose Jacob over Esau when neither of them had done either good or evil. And we're told why: "that the purpose of God according to election might stand." 


summary of vv. 6–13 election is individual

One interpretation of these verses is national election: the idea being that Ishmael, Esau, and Jacob all represent nations, and God was effectively choosing the nation of Jacob (Israel) as opposed to the nations of Esau (Edom) and Ishmael. I held that view for many years, but it doesn't stand up to the opening statement in Romans 9:6–7 – "not all are Israel who are of Israel, nor are all children who are seed." We know this is the point of these stories, because the text has already told us where the argument is going. The argument isn't to support national election (which is a real thing), it's the opposite: membership in an elect nation isn't an indication of individual election. That's the statement in Romans 9:6–7, and it's the argument that's being developed in Romans 9:8–13. Ishmael and Esau both had the right father, and Esau even had the right mother (notice that's explicitly mentioned in Romans 9:10), but they weren't themselves chosen. 

So we could stop right there and we have our answer to the conundrum of Romans 9:1–5. Being born into the [elect] nation of Israel doesn't mean that God considers you one of Abraham's descendants. It's brutal, it's harsh, but it's the argument of Romans 9.

v. 14 is God unrighteous?

But of course there's more, and now we get to the part that really angers the flesh. Romans 9:14 asks the question, is God unrighteous? And of course the answer is no. But the argument to establish it actually makes things "worse".

v. 15–16 what about Israel?

The thesis of our argument is that the word of God hasn't failed because, "they are not all Israel who are of Israel,  nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham" (Romans 9:6–7). vv. 8–13 has given us examples of the second statement – Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, and Jacob are all descendants of Abraham, but only Jacob is the chosen. But we haven't seen a case where someone is of Israel, but not Israel. So now we come to an example from later in the story – from Israel.

Romans 9:15 takes us back to Exodus 33:19–23. The entire nation of Israel (except Moses and Joshua) had committed idolatry at the foot of Sinai, and God had threatened to wipe them all out. And in fact, Exodus 32:25–29 tells us that Moses had ordered the summary execution of three thousand of the people, right then and there; so not all the nation is shown mercy. So now Moses has been pleading with God for the people, and at the end, God says, "I will be merciful to whom I will be merciful."

Now we're looking at the whole question of election from the other side. In Romans 9:8–13, the argument has been about excluding individuals from the elect nation. Now we're discussing an entire nation that has sinned, that all deserves to be wiped out (Exodus 32:7–10). And God says that He will not treat them like they deserve: He will choose – not because of any merit on their part – to be merciful to them, because that's what He chooses. So now we're discussing God's choosing (election) in terms of inclusion: in terms of including people who have done nothing to deserve it. So Romans 9:16 reiterates the statement of Romans 9:11, that the issue is whom God chooses. God shows mercy to whom God chooses to show mercy, it's not an issue of what you do, nor even what you choose, but whether God chooses to show mercy.
vv. 17–18 Pharaoh

So now we hit the hardest verses: as soon as we find that God chooses to show mercy to some who don't deserve it (Romans 9:16), we find the story of Pharaoh. And here we find that God chose not to show mercy to someone. Indeed, God chose to harden Pharaoh's heart (Romans 9:17). God raised Pharaoh up – notice Romans 9:17–18 doesn't start the discussion with Pharaoh already on the throne, but with God raising him up – to show His power through Pharaoh. And Romans 9:18 tells us that God's choice to show mercy is mirrored in His choice to harden: He has mercy on whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills.


summary of vv. 6–18 God chooses individuals

Before we look at Romans 9:19, let's remind ourselves of the context. The problem in Romans 9:1–5 is that Israel has been given promises that we just don't see fulfilled.  Gentiles are getting blessings in Christ (Romans 8:28 ff.), but Israel is not. And the answer given is that the word of God hasn't failed, because God chooses individuals. Not every person descended from Abraham is counted as a child of Abraham. Not every person born into Israel is counted as part of the chosen nation. There is national election, but Romans 9 is arguing that an individual's place in an elect nation is itself a choice of God. That God has the right to exclude individuals from their national election.

And Romans 9:18 answers directly to the conundrum of Romans 9:1–5. Why has Israel largely (not entirely! Romans 11:1–6) rejected Christ? The first answer is given in Romans 9:6–7, not all those individuals are in God's reckoning of Israel. The second answer is given in Romans 9:18, God has chosen to show mercy to some, and has chosen to harden others.


vv. 19–20 how can God judge, if His purpose is always fulfilled?

So now we see the reaction, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”  (Romans 9:19).  Let's remind ourselves that this is the test of whether we've been paying attention in the previous 18 verses. If we have, we'll also conclude that no one can resist God's purpose. He chooses to show mercy to some, and to harden others. So how can God judge them? Isn't that unfair? 

Paul's answer is brutal and direct, who are you to judge God? (Romans 9:20).

Romans 9 goes on to develop this idea, but it's worth pausing here to let this one sink in. God doesn't have to explain Himself to us. He has every right to harden Pharaoh's heart, and then destroy Pharaoh because he wouldn't humble himself. That's pretty much what God promised Moses He would do (Exodus 4:21–23). Before Moses returned to Egypt, before he stood before Pharaoh the first time, before he ever mentioned letting the children of Israel go, God said He'd make sure Pharaoh didn't obey, and then He'd punish Pharaoh for it.

God doesn't owe us an explanation: He has every right to make vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor. 


vv. 22–24 vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath

Romans 9:22–24 brings this whole discussion back to the opening conundrum of Romans 9:1–5. There are vessels of wrath, prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22). There are vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:23). God has made both. The vessels of mercy are identified as "us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles" (Romans 9:24). Notice how it ties this back in with Romans 8:30. And notice that these vessels of mercy aren't defined by lineage or any form of national election: they are individuals, called from Israel and from the Gentile nations.

Romans 9:25–29 goes on to substantiate this claim quoting Hosea and Isaiah, which we'll skip for the sake of brevity.


vv. 30–33 righteousness by faith, not by law

We should mention Romans 9:30–33, though, because it carries the argument forward from Romans 9:1–5, and ties it into Romans 10:1–4. Here "Israel" refers to the nation, effectively the people who aren't considered children of Abraham in Romans 9:6–7. This is "Israel according to flesh" as in Romans 9:1–5. 

And what do we find? That gentiles (not all gentiles, surely) have attained righteousness through faith (Romans 9:30), while Israel (not all Israel, certainly) has failed to attain righteousness, attempting to earn it by law (Romans 9:31–32).

That "Israel" here doesn't mean the whole nation (i.e., God has a remnant in Israel) is clear both from context (cf. Romans 11:1–6) and from the preceding statement. We don't understand "the Gentiles... have attained to righteousness" (Romans 9:30) to mean that all the gentiles are believers. This isn't teaching a sort of a reverse national election! But the bulk of Israel – Abraham's and Jacob's physical descendants – have rejected Christ, and thus have rejected God's righteousness. Gentiles, who have no claim to blessing as descendants of Abraham, have found God's righteousness. This is developed more fully in Romans 10 and 11.

But notice that the issue in Romans 9:30–32 isn't some temporal blessing. The issue is righteousness before God. [Some] gentiles are righteous before God, having believed. [Some] Israelites are unrighteous before God, having not believed. So yes, the argument of Romans 9 is indeed an argument of election to salvation. It encompasses more than just salvation (the eight blessings to Israel in Romans 9:1–5), but any claim that Romans 9 isn't about salvation ignores vv. 22–32.


So that's my take on Romans 9. I apologize it was so long, but following my comments on the significance of Romans 9:19 earlier, it seemed worthwhile to write down. I've read too much on the chapter not to have picked up ideas from others on it, but I've deliberately avoided referring to commentaries to keep the flow of the text. So I'm sure there's nothing I could say that's not in one of Darby's expositions, or in Newell's Romans, Verse by Verse.


Friday, October 2, 2020

"You will say to me"

I'm having a prolonged conversation with two friends who disagree with me on election. I have no idea if they read this blog or not, but I'll try and keep things anonymous. I'm not interested in beating up on them behind their backs (so to speak), but some thoughts have come out of this that I want to share, and perhaps even develop more fully here.

I can think of several places in Romans (I'm sure there are more) where Paul stops the flow of the argument to anticipate a reaction from the reader:

  • Romans 6:1 "what shall we say then? shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" 
  • Romans 7:7 "What shall we say then? [is] the law sin?"
  • Romans 7:13 "Did then that which is good become death to me?"
  • Romans 9:14 "What shall we say then? [Is there] unrighteousness with God?"
  • Romans 9:19  "Thou wilt say to me then, Why does he yet find fault? for who resists his purpose?"

These are very useful checkpoints in the book. While they serve a rhetorical purpose, they also serve an exegetical purpose: they tell us how the apostle expects us to react to what he has said. So, for example, in Romans 6:1, he anticipates that our reaction will be, "should we just keep sinning?" Alan Gamble says Romans 6:1 is the test for whether we're preaching the true Gospel, or just preaching good works. When Paul presents the Gospel, he expects the reaction to be "why not just keep sinning?" If people don't ask that after our Gospel messages, we're just preaching good works.

It was a turning point in my life when I realized that when I read Romans 9:1–18, I didn't react the way Paul expects. The expected reaction is in Romans 9:19. He expects we'll say, "why does God judge someone who doesn't have a choice?" So if I have a different reaction to the one Paul expects, maybe I'm not following his argument very well.

I realized that I had developed a theology of Romans 9 that no one would find offensive. If I explained Romans 9:1–18, no one would hear my explanation and conclude that God was judging someone who didn't have a choice. But when Paul taught Romans 9:1–18, that was exactly the conclusion. The fact that my understanding of Romans 9 wasn't offensive proved it was wrong, because Paul's is entirely offensive. If you read Romans 9:1–18 and don't react by saying, "how can God judge someone who doesn't have a choice?" then you have missed the point.

Interestingly, Romans 9:20 doesn't give an explanation for how God is just misunderstood. Paul doesn't say, "No, you misunderstood me, of course God is fair." On the contrary, he says, "how dare you judge God?" (Romans 9:20).  I can't think of very many places where the Scripture presents a difficulty and then doesn't answer it, but Romans 9:19–20 is one of those places. It tells us that our reaction to Romans 9:1–18 will be indignation, then it tells us we need to shut up and sit down. (OK, that's a pretty loose paraphrase.)

So yes, if we find Romans 9:18 offensive, then we probably understood it correctly. But of course we shouldn't stop there. William R Newell says, "a believer’s heart is not fully yielded to God until it accepts without question, and without demanding softening, this eighteenth verse [Romans 9:18]" (Romans, Verse by Verse, p. 369). 

There was a day I realized quite clearly that I very much demanded "softening" of Romans 9. I remember realizing that my problem with Romans 9:1–20 wasn't that I had difficulty understanding it, but that I had difficulty accepting it.

That was a humbling day.

Now, I'm not saying my friends don't have hearts yielded to God. My point is that I very clearly remember when God used these verses to show me that I wasn't submitting to Him. I needed to accept my place isn't to judge God, but to accept that He is my judge. God is God, I am just a man, and not a terribly remarkable man at that.

It think that's pretty close to a working definition of repentance (Job 42:1–6).

I thought that might be helpful to share.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Dead to Sin

 I've written about this so many times that I'm afraid anything I write here will merely be a repeat of something I've said before. But perhaps it's worth going over again, and perhaps we might find something new and worthy of our time.

Having grown up very evangelical, it was a turning point in my life when I discovered Romans 6:1–11. For the first time, I realized that Christianity is not about my efforts to please God. The Christian life begins not with "Do!" but with "Done!" And that's not just a statement about justification or redemption – Colossians 2:6 tells us we are to walk with Christ in the same way we received Him. Both are by grace, through faith. Both are resting in what God says about His Son.

The first mention of "salvation" in scripture is Genesis 49:18, "I wait for thy salvation".  We next see it in Exodus 14:13, "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah."  Exodus 14 goes on to describe what salvation looks like: "Thus Jehovah saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the sea-shore" (Exodus 14:30–31).

I know I've said this too many times, but it bears repeating here. We tend to see words like "salvation," "redemption," and "justification" as synonyms; they are not. They are very closely related, but they don't at all mean the same thing. These words describe very different things. Sometimes they occur very closely together (sometimes they do not), but they're still very distinct things.

Exodus 14 teaches us two very important facts about salvation:

  1. it is God's work – we need to "stand still" to see it (Exodus 14:13)
  2. it results in our seeing the enemy dead (Exodus 14:30) 

Romans 6 invites us to see the enemy – our own fallen and lost selves – lying dead. There isn't merely some psychological trick the scripture plays on us, it's an act of faith. When I accept what God has said as the truth, I that is faith. Romans 6 doesn't make any sense except as an act of faith. God has said I have died with Christ, therefore it must be true.

Now, Romans 6 doesn't teach annihilation – it's not that I have ceased to exist. But it does teach that that man I was has died. I was once a lost sinner, but having died with Christ, I am not that man any more. And having been raised with Him from the dead (Colossians 3:1), I am now in a place to walk in newness of life. 

And notice, it doesn't say sin has died. It says I have died.

But it's of the first importance (or, as J. N. Darby would say, "of the last importance") that we do what Romans 6:1–11 invites us to do, what the Israelites did in Exodus 14:30. We need to pause and look at the dead enemy. Churches are full of people who are trying to walk in the newness of life, who haven't ever really believed or accepted that their old life has ended, that they have died with Christ. They haven't looked at the bodies on the shore.

And this is the problem I have with so many evangelicals when they start to discuss baptism: they make it out to be an act by which we promise to walk in newness of life. That's not it at all! It's not that we promise something to God, but that we are accepting what He has already done for us. Urging people who have never accepted that they have died with Christ to live in newness of life doesn't result in godliness, it results in hypocrisy.

Let me just add here, that our having died with Christ doesn't empower us. It frees us, but it doesn't empower us. It's the Holy Spirit that empowers us, and He's not the subject of Romans 6, but Romans 8. Having died with Christ, we are now in a place to walk in newness of life. But we find that being in that position isn't actually enough: we need the power of the Holy Spirit. But that's perhaps a subject for another time.

At one point, I applied Romans 6 to various sins. I might have thought to myself, "Remember, you have died to anger," or "you have died to lust." I don't believe that's what Romans 6 is teaching at all. It's talking about sin, not sins. And it's not even talking sin in the most abstract sense, although I thought that for a while too. The context of Romans 6 – the discussion that starts in Romans 6:1 and ends in Romans 8:17 – leads me to believe it's talking about the sin that dwells in me (Romans 7:17). 

But again, it's not that sin has died. Indeed, Romans 8:3–4 indicates that sin, having been condemned, is still very active. But I have died. I have died with Christ, and so I am free from sin (Romans 6:7, NASB). Not from its presence (at least not yet, Romans 8:23), but from its power.

We are, indeed, called to newness of life (Romans 6:4). But we get into trouble when we try and skip steps, and trying to walk in newness of life without recognizing our death with Christ, is definitely skipping a step.

The result of our having died with Christ is glorifying God in our bodies (Romans 6:12–14). This is unique to Christianity. We await the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23, Philippians 3:20–21) when the Son of God comes from Heaven to make them like His. But we're not just supposed to sit here and wait. We're to glorify God now, in fallen bodies. We're to live out in this creation a life that really belongs in the next (2 Peter 3:13).  That doesn't mean we don't hope for the new heavens and new earth, and it doesn't mean we just write this one off. We glorify God here and now, patiently waiting for His time to bring us into the new one. Keeping both of these things in focus, erring neither to the right hand nor to the left, is very difficult for me.

So seeing myself as having died to sin isn't an excuse for inaction in this world. But it's necessary to glorify God here and now.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Dead to the Law (reprise)

 J. N. Darby wrote an article titled, "The Sabbath: or, Is the law dead, or am I?". That's a good question to contemplate.

To be blunt, a lot of dispensationalists get this one wrong. We tend to think the Law was "for then", not "for now". But that's not what Scripture actually teaches. Scripture teaches not that the Law came to an end, but that our death with Christ has made us dead to it. This perspective is important if we want to understand what the Epistles (particularly the Pauline Epistles) teach.

Romans 7:5–8 is careful to tell us two things that almost appear to be opposites. First, when we attempt to keep the Law, we will find that it merely empowers the sin that lives in us (Romans 7:18–23 reiterates this point). Many Christians talk about the Law curbing our tendency to sin, but the Epistles tell us just the opposite: the Law makes it easier for us to sin!

The second lesson in Romans 7:5–8 is that while the Law provides a point of attack for the sin that lives in us, the problem is not that the Law is bad. On the contrary, the Law is holy and just and good (Romans 7:12). How does something that is holy and just and good have such a terrible effect on us?

The answer is in Romans 3:20, "by the Law is knowledge of sin." The Law was given to reveal sin (not, as J. N. Darby points out, sins). The Law does exactly what it was designed to do: it reveals our own sinfulness to us. It's working exactly as designed when it shows us to be sinners. This is why 1 Timothy 1:8–11 asserts that the Law isn't for righteous men, but unrighteous ones. The whole point of it is to reveal unrighteousness.

It is not the Law that has died, but I that have died. The problem isn't that the Law is bad, but that I am. And if I insist on putting myself under it, it will do exactly what God gave it to do: it will reveal that I am a sinner.

So what should I do? I need to accept what God has said: I have died with Christ. In that death, I have been put in a place where the Law has nothing to say to me. I have been separated from it as completely as I have been separated from sin. I have died to both, and I am to see myself in that light. My self-image is supposed to be "one that has died with Christ." That death removes me from sin, and from the Law.

Scripture doesn't teach that sin has died, but that I have died. Scripture doesn't teach that the Law has died, but that I have died. The disruption is on my side.

The Law is still as much in effect as it ever was.  And it still works: it still shows fallen men and women to be sinners. We don't believe that the Law has been abolished, but that we have been separated from it by the death of Christ, so that we can be fruitful towards God (Romans 7:4).

Friday, September 11, 2020

Dead to the Law

 I was reading a book whose authors contend that Christians being "not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14–15) and their being "dead to the law" (Romans 7:4–6) shouldn't be taken to mean that Christians aren't under obligation to the Law. Their explanation is that "not under law" means not justified by keeping the law.

This view isn't as uncommon as we might expect, so it's worth thinking over.

Galatians 4:3–5 asserts that Christ came to "redeem those under law". So we can confidently say that at least some people are (or were) "under law". If we are to take these authors' view of what it means to be "under law", then we have to conclude that Galatians 4:3–5 teaches there are those who are justified by works. That's an odd statement in light of Galatians 3:10–12, Romans 3:19–20, etc.

What the epistles explicitly teach is that God has only ever justified sinners on the basis of faith (Romans 1:17, 4:1–15). God has never justified on the basis of works – not based on the Law of Moses or any other law. Justification is by faith, only and always. This is the clear teaching of the first four chapters of Romans, as well as the epistle to the Galatians.

So what does it mean to be "under the law"? Romans and Galatians both make it clear that the function of the Law was to reveal sin (not, as Darby points out, sins). In fact, Galatians makes the astonishing statement that it would have been unrighteous of God to add the Law as a condition to a promise He had made to Abraham 400 years earlier (Galatians 3:15–26). We can't make a promise, then add caveats and conditions long after the fact. So we conclude that the Law has nothing – nothing! – to do with justification in God's sight, nor even with the promised blessing to Abraham.

So the Law was only ever a "rule of life", never a means of justification.

And at this point, the entire argument falls apart. If the Law was never more than a rule of life, then it cannot be said that those "under the Law" were under it as more than a rule of life. Nor can it be said that those "not under Law" are under it as a rule of life, but not as a means of justification. That's absurd.

It's striking that Romans 7:4–6 describes our relationship to the Law in the same terms that Romans 6:11 uses to describe our relationship to sin. The Christian lives as separately from the Law as he does from sin.

Now, I realize there are more nuanced views that I've sort of glossed over here. But it seems to me that the Epistles clearly and unequivocally teach that the believer is, indeed, dead to the Law and under no obligation to it. That doesn't mean the believer is to live lawlessly, not at all! But it falls far short of what Scripture teaches to suggest that the Law has any authority at all over the believer.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Exclusive and Inclusive

The Lord appears to make two opposite claims in Mark 9 and Matthew 12. In Matthew 12:30, He says, "he that is not with me is against me." In Mark 9:39–40, He says, "he who is not against us is for us." We might describe the former as an exclusive statement, and the latter as an inclusive statement. It's worth thinking about these two statements.

It seems to me the difference between those two statements is the pronoun: when the Lord makes an exclusive statement, He uses the pronoun "me"; when He makes the inclusive statement, He uses the pronoun "us". In other words, when the issue is Christ Himself ("me"), then we can't be too exclusive. If you're not for Christ, then you are against Him, period. But when the issue is Christ and His followers ("us"), then we need to be inclusive. If you're not actively against them, then you are for them.

It seems to me there are two errors we might fall into here. The "liberal" error is to make an inclusive statement about Christ Himself, misquoting Matthew 12:30 as "he who is not against me is for me." The opposite error is to make the exclusive statement about a group, misquoting Mark 9:40 as, "he who is not with us is against us."

If we make an exclusive statement about a group, then we end up in some difficulty. We end up making loyalty to a group to be virtually the same as loyalty to Christ. And I know people who have had to deal with this: people who have been accused of defecting from the truth because they started to meet with a different group of Christians. Now, I may have problems with some of the fellowship decisions people around me have made, but to accuse someone of leaving Christ! I just don't see how someone who truly fears God wouldn't be terrified to say something like that.

On the other hand, if we make an inclusive statement about Christ Himself, then we're really denying the Gospel, aren't we? The Christian life centers on Christ. J. N. Darby wrote a paper called "Bethesdaism, or Indifference to Christ." I can't recall much about the article, but that title has haunted me for many years. What a description! How could a believer be indifferent to Christ?

Sadly, it happens. Sadly, it's a lot easier than we might think. I have found myself pretty close to indifferent to Christ many times, when I've let other things get in the way. It's all too easy for us to allow ourselves to find something that comes between us and the Lord.

But the point is, making an inclusive statement about Christ Himself (not about Christ and His followers) is really the first step to syncretism.

One of my daughters' friends was telling us that he was at some sort of interfaith event at a college, and there was a panel taking questions. He asked if each panel participant could briefly explain how their beliefs were divine, as opposed to being merely moral philosophies. In other words, is your faith really about God? Or is it just a moral code?

It seems to me that evangelicalism has reached a point where it's much more a moral code than a religion. When I was growing up, it was common to hear Christians claiming, "Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship." I'm afraid even "religion" would be an improvement for many at this point. It's remarkable how popular a Christ-optional Christianity is.

We're called to fellowship with the Father and with the Son (1 John 1:1–3). There is implicit morality there, but it's not really a moral code. Indeed, James 2:21–26 holds up Abraham (who was on the verge of killing his son as a sacrifice) and Rahab (who committed treason) as examples of faith. The moral code that comes from loving and fearing God might well be something the world around us finds incomprehensible, or even reprehensible.

But that's really the point: we're not called to a moral code, we're called to a Person.

So I'm trying hard to remember that when it's about Christ alone, I need to be exclusive. When it's about Christ and His followers, I need to be inclusive.

Friday, August 28, 2020

"If we confess our sins"

I've had a long and tempestuous relationship with 1 John 1:9. It's a verse we teach to the children quite early:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)
We're right to do so! It has been an anchor for generations of Christians who have found they just don't measure up.

But there's another side to it. Let me illustrate with a story:

When I was a teen, I was in a Bible class. The teacher asked, "Which sins did Christ die for?"

Someone replied, "The sins we confess".

The teacher asked, "So if you die while sinning, do you then go to hell? After all, that would be a sin Christ didn't die for."

That was a watershed moment in my life.

It didn't occur to me immediately, but I eventually realized that I (along with many others, apparently) had come to believe that confession of sins was somehow meritorious. I'd never have said I earned forgiveness by confession, but I effectively believed it. Perhaps I'd have said that confession makes me forgiveable or something... but I did definitely believe that confession was a sort of a work I did to gain forgiveness.

Eventually I came to see that God forgives because of the blood of Christ, not because I have confessed. I came to understand that God forgives my sins whether I confess them or not. I don't see any other way to understand Romans 4:5–8.

So what's the point of 1 John 1:9? I am convinced the point of 1 John 1:9 is really assurance of forgiveness. It's not telling us how to gain God's forgiveness, but it's telling us how to be assured of it. When we have sinned, and that sin seems too big, and it seems to obscure God's face, and it seems to cut us off from God, we can look at 1 John 1:9 and be sure that God has forgiven it.

Friday, August 21, 2020

My Lord, the King

I was listening to someone speaking about the relationship between Christ and the church. He said that Christ isn't king over the church: the church is His bride, not His subject. I didn't spit out my coffee when he said that, but I wanted to. 

I understand where that idea comes from. Perhaps the most important distinction between believers on this side of the Cross and the Old Testament saints is union with Christ.  David and Abraham were both justified freely by faith (Romans 4:1–10). But not a verse of Scripture even hints that either of them had died with Christ, was buried with Him, or was risen with Him. All of these things are true of us today (Colossians 3:1–5). Of course this is all individual.

There is something new that God has done now, corporately, compared to the Old Testament. There is the assembly, the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22–23), the habitation of God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19–22). Scripture tells us the assembly is not only the Body of Christ, but also the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:24–33). And it's entirely Scriptural to emphasize the intimacy of this relationship. Ephesians 5 does exactly that.

But there's a danger here: so many who want to emphasize the intimacy of the relationship between Christ and His bride, fall into the opposite error. The idea that "the church is His bride, not His subject" is just plain foolish. It doesn't have to be one or the other: it's both.  

Scripture tells us quite plainly that the wife of the king isn't exempt from his authority. Yes, the assembly has a distinct and intimate relationship with Christ, but I can't find a single example in Scripture where the king's wife isn't one of his subjects.

Let's consider the case of David and Bathsheba (1 Kings 1:11-31). What does she call David? She calls him "my lord King David" (1 Kings 1:31). She calls him "my lord the king" (1 Kings 1:21, 27).  She calls him "my lord" (1 Kings 1:17). Some people seem to have decided it's appropriate to use this last title for Christ, but not the others. Is there any reason the bride of Christ shouldn't address Him as "my Lord, the King?"

Let's consider the case of Esther. She refers to her husband as "the king" (Esther 5:1-4), and "O king" (Esther 7:1–4). 

It seems to me like this is an example of folks allowing their theology to push them past what Scripture actually teaches. Both in Israel (David and Bathsheba) and in the nations (Ahasuerus and Esther), Scripture presents the queen as addressing the king as "king". 

So we should be really careful about condemning someone for calling Christ the King. Let's not make someone a transgressor for a word, especially when the Scripture seems to support it.



Friday, August 14, 2020

The Synagogue

Sometime in the past couple years, I was struck by the fact that both the Lord and Paul appear to have regularly attended the Synagogue. Luke 4:16 tells us it was the Lord's custom to attend the synagogue. Acts 18:4 tells us Paul visited the synagogue every sabbath in Corinth.

What struck me is, the synagogue isn't in the Law of Moses. It was an invention of post-captivity Judaism; we generally credit Ezra with inventing the tradition of the synagogue (Nehemiah 8:1–12). In fact, the first sabbath day commandment – given before the children of Israel reached Sinai – commands against leaving your home (Exodus 16:29).  But the Lord respected the synagogue tradition, and appears to have attended faithfully.

I've spent a lot of time with folks who take very seriously any and all commands in the New Testament about the church and its order. We don't always agree on what that means – for example, "open" assemblies generally have elders, while "exclusive" assemblies take a "not for today" position on elders –, but it's not taken lightly. There is a tendency among some groups almost to attempt to reset the ecclesiastical clock and go back to Acts 2, like the last two millennia can just be ignored. And while I personally hold views along the lines of J. N. Darby and William Kelly, I see no less conviction on the part of others who might hold slightly different views.

So you can imagine my surprise when I realized that the Lord went to the synagogue. And He didn't apparently go there to accuse them of following a man-made tradition, He didn't go there and tell them that there's no mention of the synagogue in the Law, He didn't go there to remind them that they were to worship only in the place where God had put His name (Deuteronomy 12:1–14). He went there and read the scriptures.

And that made me question a whole lot of things.

Now's a good time to remind ourselves that the Lord did, indeed, call out the Pharisees for things they had added to Scripture (Matthew 15:1–9). We should remind ourselves that He went back to "the beginning" when it was a question of divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19:1–9). So the Lord didn't just act like adding to the Word of God was OK. But we can't honestly say He followed a regulative principle either.

Now, it's true that the Lord is eternally God. It's true that He has every right to do whatever He likes, because He is God. But that doesn't appear to be what's going on here. The fact is that the Lord submitted to the Scriptures, treating them like they were the written record of God's words. But here's a case where He accepted the traditions of Judaism, apparently without any qualms at all.

I don't doubt that the Lord's life as a man on earth was entirely characterized by a moment-by-moment obedience to the Father (Isaiah 50:4; John 5:16–20).  I don't doubt that He was led by the Spirit of God every single step He took (Luke 4:1, etc.). There's no doubt in my mind that the Lord wasn't just doing what He felt like doing at the time.

But at the end of the day, here's a case where He accepted the traditions Judaism without making a point of reminding everyone that they weren't (in this case) strictly obeying the Law. He wasn't calling everyone to follow the "Old Testament pattern."

And the Apostles seemed to have a similar attitude. I've spend many years contemplating Acts 15, but without getting too side-tracked, I'll just say that when a dispute about the Law arose, the Apostles weren't shy about making a decision. Was it a godly decision? Apparently it was (Acts 15:28).

So I've been making a conscious effort not to get too hung up on a regulative principle. I've spent many years doing exactly that. I'm not saying "anything goes," not at all. I haven't forgotten that the Lord accused the Pharisees of allowing the traditions of the fathers to make the Word of God of none effect (Mark 7:9–14). But I'm also realizing that the Lord was led by the Spirit of God to participate in things that fail the to meet the standards of a strict regulative principle. And I'm not going to claim to be better than Him.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Sacrifice for sins

1 Corinthians 15:1–8 tells us "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures". 

We understand that Christ fulfilled each of the sacrifices in the Mosaic Law when He died for us. He was at the same time a burnt offering for our acceptance (Leviticus 1:2–3), a trespass offering for our guilt (Leviticus 5:1–6), and a sin offering for our sin (Leviticus 4:2–3). And those are just three of the offerings! He was the one single sacrifice to which each of the Old Testament sacrifices looked forward.

It's not the Christ died several times, but that in His one single offering, God saw every one of those prescribed in the Old Testament.

The value of the offerings to the Old Testament saints was a forward look to Christ. The value of those offerings to the New Testament saints is a clearer picture of what God saw in that once-for-all sacrifice.

I've heard many people say that the Levitical offerings are laid out from God's point of view, but we tend to see them in reverse. We tend to see the trespass offering first, because we are troubled by our sins. Then we move onto the sin offering, as we come to understand not merely that we have sinned, but that we are sinners. We might eventually come to appreciate the peace offering as making a place for us to sit in fellowship with God. Then we begin to understand the meal offering and see that value of the One who gave Himself for us. Finally we grasp that we are accepted by God, because of Christ, our burnt offering. That's probably a little simplistic, but there's more than a grain of truth in it. I'm not sure any lesson is ever learned only once, and it seems to me like we go through these progressions over and over, perhaps moving a little deeper each time.

I was struck a few years ago by the realization that the New Testament uses remarkably consistent language to describe Christ's offering His body and His blood for us. 1 Peter 2:24 tells us that Christ bore our sins in His body. Colossians 1:20 tells us He made peace through the blood of His cross. While those are certainly summed up in a single sacrifice, they're not at all the same thing. And they're illustrated in some detail in the Leviticus 16.

Leviticus 16:7–10 gives us a summary of two goats on the Day of Atonement. One goat is offered as a sin offering, the other is sent away into the wilderness. Both goats make atonement, but they do so in  different ways.

The goat offered for a sin offering is slaughtered, and his blood is taken "inside the veil" and sprinkled on the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:15–19). That goat's blood, we are told, makes atonement for the sanctuary (Leviticus 16:16), and for the tabernacle and the altar (Leviticus 16:20).

The goat who is sent away alive is taken, and all the sins of Israel are confessed over his head, then he is led into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:20–22). That goat, too, makes atonement (Leviticus 16:10).

Both goats make atonement, but they do it differently. The one goat makes atonement with his blood, propitiating God. The other goat, by bearing away the sins of the people.

One of my favorite papers by J. N. Darby draws the distinction between those two aspects of atonement. It's one of his shortest papers, and well worth the read:  "Propitation and Substitution" (Collected Writings, Vol. 29, pp. 286–288).

We need both of these sides of atonement. If God is propitiated, but we still bear our sins, then we're still guilty before Him. If, on the other hand, our sins are borne away, but God is not propitiated, then we find ourselves not guilty, but still estranged. We need to have our sins borne away, and God on our side.

In the New Testament, we find the language of propitiation is connected with the blood of Christ, while the language of substitution is connected with His body. He made peace with the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20). He bore our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). So it's not a stretch to say the goat for a sin offering prefigures the blood of Christ, while the scapegoat prefigures His body.

This touches on the burial of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1–6). Having borne our sins in His body, He was buried. We've discussed before how "buried" in Scripture is all about hiding from view. The last time God saw our sins, they were buried out of His sight. He doesn't see them now.

Propitiation is a little harder to wrap our minds around. Substitution is particular, both in the Old Testament and the New. Aaron was to confess the sins of Israel over the head of the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:21). The Lord bore our sins (notice the plural) in His own body. Those are referring to specific sins. But there is no confession when the goat for a sin offering is slaughtered, nor when his blood is taken and sprinkled behind the veil. It's universal, as opposed to particular.

The idea is really that Christ's sacrifice has made God able to righteously act in love toward fallen men and women. Romans 3:25–26 tells us that the death of Christ allowed God to justly justify sinners. Notice it is the blood of Christ that Romans specifically references. It's worth meditating on Romans 3:25–26. Those verses give us a glimpse at God in a way we normally don't think of Him.

We see some connection with what theologians call "common grace." Common grace is the idea that God acts in grace in this life, quite apart from eternal salvation. God might well bless those who do not believe, even if those blessings are only temporal, limited to this life. Matthew 5:45 tells us that God causes the rain to fall on the unjust as well as the just. That blessing is surely limited to this life, but it's still a blessing that comes from God, and is a tangible form of His grace.  Paul's words to the men of Lystra are overflowing with this idea. He declares to them
God, who made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and all things in them; who in the past generations suffered all the nations to go in their own ways, though indeed he did not leave himself without witness, doing good, and giving to you from heaven rain and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:14–18).
The blood of Christ, offered to God, forms the basis of God's righteously acting in grace to fallen men and women.

One last thought: J. N. Darby applies the distinction between propitiation and substitution to the Calvinist/Arminian controversy. His diagnosis is that their disagreement on the Atonement is because they each see only one part of it:

If we look at the difference of Arminian and Calvinistic preaching, we shall see the bearing of this at once. The Arminians take up Christ's dying for all, and generally they connect the bearing of sins with it; and all is confusion as to the efficacy and effectualness of Christ's bearing our sins, for they deny any special work for His people. They say, If God loved all, He cannot love some particularly; and an uncertain salvation is the result, and man often exalted. Thus the scapegoat is practically set aside.

The Calvinist holds Christ's bearing the sins of His people, so that they are effectually saved; but he sees nothing else. He will say, If Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it, there can be no real love for anything else. Thus he denies Christ's dying for all, and the distinctive character of propitiation, and the blood on the mercy-seat. He sees nothing but substitution.

"Propitiation and Substitution," Collected Writings, Vol. 29,  pp. 287–288