- The Moral Depravity and Ill-desert of Man
- The retributive justice of a Holy God
- The Spiritual impotence of man to save himself
- The Sovereign freedom of God to save sinners
God’s sovereign mercy, on whom he shall have it, has freed me from so much guilt and shame for my sin. I know this – I experience this – sometimes. Sometimes I am such a fickle man, wondering from infinite grace into the pits of self serving and self satisfying aims in life – too often I forfeit the treasure of my soul – God himself, a relationship with my maker through the grace of God in Christ Jesus – to stop into lesser things. In these times I dry up, I ache, and must return to the fountain of grace. This process in my life – is not fun – I would much prefer to consistently shower in the realities of grace. But God allows my heart to go far, so that I might desire to be brought near again. My only hope is that he never let’s me go – this too, is of his grace, a great promise to which I cling.
I loved the Hymn Packer chooses to end with:
Oh How Grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be; Let that grace now, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee Prone to wander Lord I feel it; Prone to Leave the God I love Take my heart, oh, Take and Seal it, Seal it for thy courts above Yes, dear Lord, do seal it.
Week 7 – Chapter 14 – God the Judge In the coming chapters, the holiness of God, in light of sinful man is brought forth with frightening clarity – Yes, God will judge, and he will judge rightly – for this truth, man must tremble. God is clearly portrayed as the final judge of man, his character, his actions, and his life. Both in the Old and New Testaments it is clear that God, and God alone in Christ, is the judge of each man’s soul. Though jdugement does puzzle much of the contemporary mind of people – with tolerance and all judgement spurned, it has always seemed to me that the goodness of God requires justice, and justice consequently will require judgment – for if God is not the judge of wickedness it cannot be said of Him that he is good. Evil and rebellion shall not be an eternal state of affairs for the universe – the judge will come and vindicate his name, his glory, his people and bring all deeds into account. All too often I can live without conscious acknowledgement that as a believer I too will be judged for deeds done in the body – this I need to be reminded. Not for reward seeking alone, but in order to bring no offense to the Lord I claim to love. Too often believers in our world, and our churches, forget that God will judge sinners and he will deliver them by grace through the gospel – why do we remain silent, why do we not tell of sin, of righteousness and the judgment to come? Week 8 – Chapter 15 – The Wrath of God Wrath, anger – are such things worthy of God? Such are the questions, God is all loving, all forgiving, he would never be angry with helpless humanity that is so prone to go wrong. The teachings of the Scriptures reveal rightly that this thinking is in error. God will no by no means clear the guilty – sin will be punished, justice will be done. It was a great joy to see the work of Jonathan Edwards both utilized and vindicated in this chapter. So often Edward’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is exhibit A of times intolerant and less sophisticated than our own. Such is not the case – Edwards piety, Biblical understand, great intellect and spiritual sensibilities simply brought forth the horrifying reality of the wrath of a Holy God. Packer also does a great job explaining that Wrath is chosen by obstinate sinners who refuse to turn to God. It was great to see this is clearly articulated from reformed theologian. Finally Packer’s description of the imagery that the Scriptures use to describe the wrath of God:
- Fire – agonizing awareness of the displeasure of God
- Outer Darkness – for knowledge of great loss
- Gnashing of Teeth – self condemnation and self-loathing
Packer closes the chapter with a great Biblical theology of Wrath in the book of Romans – this was worth the chapter as it puts wrath (bad news) in context with gospel (good news) for desperate sinners. Week 8 – Chapter 16 – Goodness and Severity of God Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. Romans 11:22 Goodness yes! We love the Goodness of God in Contemporary Culture – but severity and being “cut off” to this the modern mind recoils. Packer offers some probing analysis of why this is so for people today – I will list these with comment: People follow private religious hunches – “follow your heart” is so universal in the thinking of so many that we simply believe what we want to – no place for God’s severity in my gut – he accepts all people – this I believe according to ME. Modern people think of all religions as equally valid – so God cutting those off who persist in all manner of unbelief seems foreign to us.
- People have ceased to recognize their own sinfulness – no sin in here – no sin in them either – Why would God be severe with us?
- People are in the habit of disassociating the thought of God’s goodness with his severity – to many the two terms are unpleasant bedfellows – but in the Scriptures the two are inseparable in their unity.
Our world, making God out to be somewhat like a cosmic Santa Claus is left without reverence for God, without an understanding of evil (Packer’s point that the so called problem of evil was not regarded as a problem before), and with no understanding of God’s lordship over this world. When bad things happen, the Christian who believes in Santa is left perplexed – will he deny the power of God in the world? Or will he doubt his goodness? He has nothing left to do but “grin and bear it” – The words of Chesterton come to mind for me here: There is a vital objection to the advice merely to grin and bear it. The objection is that if you merely bear it, you do not grin GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: NY, Image books, 1959) 104. Originally published: New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908. Such a view of God – either helpless or lacking in goodness – will always fall short – both in helping us understand our experience, and in the reality of the nature and character of God. Packer’s solution, yes the Biblical solution is to maintain the marriage of Goodness and Severity – that God is good and generous and merciful – yet will be severe with the unrepentant – Thank God for his patience with us, for his longsuffering with us – for without it we would perish. Packer closes with a suggestion of response:
- Appreciate the goodness of God
- Appreciate the patience of God
- Appreciate the discipline of God – which brings the unbeliever to faith or helps the believer persevere.
I know I must be taught to say “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Psalm 119:71) - Enrolled in the school of the now – hoping for the coming “not yet” Week 9 – Chapter 17 – The Jealous God Jealousy – a vice for humanity, yet a perfection in God? Such perplexity is the subject of this chapter – If God is said to be Jealous then how is Jealousy “Good.” This chapter is masterful in its explanation of the two types of human jealousy we know – one is wicked the other is good.
- A Bad Jealousy – “I want what you’ve got and I hate you because I do not have it (Packer 170) – Such is the nature of a jealousy based in covetousness.
- A Good Jealousy – Zeal to protect a love relationship or to avenge it when broken – as a zeal for marital fidelity and trust.
The latter – minus any imperfection – is what the Bible means when it teaches that God is a jealous God. According to this definition there is a love to protect and a zeal for something great!
- The Love – God’s covenant Love for his people
- The Zeal – Of God for his own glory – and this displayed in the covenant people he love
So God is Jealous that HIS people not scuttle and waste their affections on infidelity and idols. And his zeal for his own Glory will keep them as his own so that He might display the matchless nature of his worth for the highest happiness of his creatures. For this – God’s own Glory – he is jealous. Great section on what it means for people to be “zealous” for God – in the good, not pejorative sense. So often zeal is misled so being “zealous” is spun in negative light – but to be zealous for the good, the right, the true, yea even God himself – this is the zeal that I long to have consume my soul. Sometimes, Sometimes, but not always – I am still in need of help. Week 9 – Chapter 18 – The Heart of the Gospel
Knowing some of a Packer’s work from a lecture I heard in Amsterdam, I assumed at some point in this book, his treatise on Knowing God, would arrise the themes “Adoption through Propitiation” – and boy was i rewarded for such anticipation. Chapter 18 – The Heart of the Gospel has the strange and rarely used word propitiation at it center. And Packer is right. His excellent definition of the term is literally a summation of what the Holy Creator God has done for humanity: It denotes the covering, putting away or rubbing out of sin so that it no longer constitutes a barrier to friendly fellowship between man and god [expiation] and the pacifying of the wrath of God thereby [propitiation adds the latter definition to expiation] Packer 182. Packer describes propitiation as the work of God himself, made by the death of Jesus Christ as a substitution, which manifests and clarifies the righteousness of God, showing God to be just and the one who justifies the ungodly. St. Anslem’s work in the Proslogion echos this view of the propitiation and atonement. The death of Jesus accomplishes the many aspects of propitiation – reconciliation, redemption, sacrifice for sin, bearing of sin, all through the shedding of blood. These, Packer says, are all pictures and illustrations of propitiation. This understanding of propitiation puts the wonderful gospel in context. Propitiation thereby is:
- The Driving Force and Purpose of Jesus’ Life
- Gives clarity to the destiny of both believer and unbeliever – clearly rejecting Universalistic urges in the heart of man.
- Clarifies “Peace of God” in the understanding of “Peace with God”
- Illustrates the multi-dimensionality of God’s love – The free, eternal, unreserved, and sovereign love of Christ.
- And Finally, it fully reveals the Glory of God in saving sinners through the crucifixion of the Son of Man.
Propitiation – the essence of the gospel! To this I shout with Packer Amen! And Glory be to God!!! Week 10 – Chapter 19 – Sons of God Propitiation, now the message of Adoption through Propitiation – this is the topic of Chapter 19. God is our Father, we have become his sons and daughters. I must say that such nearness, such familial terms, such closeness of persons – is hard to believe when thinking of a glorious, all powerful, creator God. Such is the good news!!! The very creator God, becomes our Father, and even my Father by adopting me through the work of his Son Jesus Christ (Propitiation). Packers discourse on the Fatherhood of God would have served me well this summer as I wrote a sermon with this title. I wish I had read this chapter in my preparation, but it is good to see that the Lord of Heaven lead me in His Word to many of the same texts and conclusion. It is good to see that even as an ant, one can travel the same paths as the big dogs of Theology. Fatherly Aspects of God’s relationship with Jesus – which extend also to us his adopted ones.
- Authority in our lives
- Affection for us in Love
- Fellowship and closeness of relationship
- Honor for the children
Packer literally defines all of the Chrisitan life through this concept of adoption. It is the highest privilege, the basis of our lives, the rule for our conduct (imitate the Father, glorify the Father, please the Father), it is the essence of Prayer (Our Father in heaven…), it is the key to living by faith and trust (our Father knows what we need). Adoption demonstrates to us God’s Love, gives us hope (as heirs of eternal life and the kingdom), aids in understanding the work of the Holy Spirit (the spirit of adoption by which we cry Abba Father – or Daddy!), and it motivates us toward holiness of life (action in accordance with our nature as a child of God.) Finally adoption gives us assurance as we know God our Father will not abandon his children. Packer’s elaboration on assurance was quite a blessing – his bifurcation of the concept into inferential assurance (a conclusion drawn from the fact that one knows the gospel, trusts Christ, brings forth works meet for repentance and manifests the instincts – I might say affections – of a regenerate man) and immediate assurance (The direct work of the Spirit in the regenerate heart) was extremely helpful. His final definition of assurance on page 227 is classic. The final questions of this chapter were once again probing and difficult – specifically the following: Have I learned to hate the things that displease my Father? Am I sensitive to the evil things to which he is sensitive? Do I make a point of avoiding them, lest I grieve Him? Once again, my unsettling answer that makes me again fall upon his grace is only – sometimes…
Week 10 – Chapter 20 – Thou our Guide How does God Give Guidance to his Children? I love the basic answer given here. After talking about the silliness of our over sensitized view of guidance, that every decision must have a person, subjective, and inner divine directive, Packer lays out a great view of guidance that is grounded in the Words of Scripture. How does God guide? He lays forth paths by his word – principles marked out, precepts to be kept in the midst of the complexities of life. God’s will and plan will guide us (one because he HAS a will and plan) even in the midst of our failures and “bad decisions” – even through “unanswered prayers” – for me now forever an unbiblical and useless phrase – Garth Brooks not with standing. This chapter, far from being a check list of discerning the will of God, does provide a great list of principles which I found extremely helpful. This list is a reflection of the six pitfalls Packer admonishes us to avoid:
- Be willing to think – to reason. God’s guidance is not simply found in super-supernaturalistic impressions…but from considering truth in the midst of circumstances.
- Be willing to think ahead
- Be willing to take advice – from wise and godly counsel
- Be willing to suspect yourself – be aware of ego and self-aggrandizement
- Be willing to discount personal magnetism – don’t just follow outstanding personalities – Test everything
- Be willing to wait – Oh how I need to be patient – yet I have only one short life – OH GOD HELP ME HERE !
A last point to be made is that God’s guidance of his children (adopted through propitiation) is an act of his Sovereign Will – this is of great comfort, for even though I do screw up – he does not. I am content that he plays his hand ahead of mine. Week 11 – Chapter 21 – These Inward Trials Oh the peril of misleading the brethern to think and believe the coming to faith in Christ is an end to all their worldly struggles, problems and heartaches. Acknowledging the role of trials in the life of the believer is of utmost importance – misleading them is a recipe for disaster in the life of the soul. Packer diagnoses the problem in the evangelical church through several fronts: Misapplied Doctrines – Neglecting the teaching of the “hard side” of the faith – daily discipline from God, attacks of the world the flesh and the devil, gloominess and darkness that can come upon the soul – the unsettledness of living in the not yet of a sinful and fallen world. The call to suffer as Christ suffered.
Wrong Remedies – continual re-consecration if life is hard, just do the formula to get life back to the cheery days of young salvation – to try and “fix it” rather than find joy in God during difficult days. Packer says that if we seek to return people to the days of their salvation infancy – we are doing them a cruel disservice as God is stretching them to grow them up.
Loosing Sight of Grace – God’s grace will work out in our lives towards hope and obedience – a Godward trajectory of grace in the midst of a world yet unrealized and dark. Wait on the Lord – Wait on Him as he works his processes in and through me – to his glory and a “real” not “contrived” joy. The great reminder once again – one that I need, and need, and need to know is that God can and does use my blunders, my messed up decisions to bring about good in my life. Thanks be to God! Week 11 – Chapter 22 – The Adequacy of God In the climax of the book, Packer leads us to the lofty mountain of the Word of God that most reformed theologians all point to, up in the lofty altitudes that only the desparate and devoted choose to climb – that of the book of Romans. And in this book is the peak of Everest, a summit of the Christian way in the 8th chapter of the book. A chapter that begins with “No Condemnation” and ends with “No Separation” – A justified sinner never again to be under the wrath of God – a creature united as an adopted child to his loving Father, never to be separated, orphaned ever again for all eternity. Such is the song we sing, we sing as the redeemed – and with Packer, who has served the church as a great guide for our souls into the Word of God we do sing, Psalm 16:
1Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you." 3As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. 4The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. 5The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 7I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
And yes I do sing this as an unabashed Christian Hedonist!