On the Nature and Quality of the Christian Life

Plato sometimes says that the life of a philosopher is a meditation upon death, but we may more truly say that the life of a Christian man is a continual effort and exercise in the mortification of the flesh till it is utterly slain and God’s Spirit reigns in us. – John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes 3.3.20.

On Jesus Christ’s Virginal Conception

My reasons for believing in Christ’s virginal conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit may be summarized as follows:

First, of course, is the teaching of Scripture itself, about which, as we have already noted, there is no question.  This reason is paramount and sufficient, as far as I am concerned, for believing it, but then, I speak as a Christian.  But, more can be said.

Second is the weight of the church’s historical testimony that I reviewed in a cursory way above.

Third is the Christian theistic reason: Jesus’ virginal conception is, simply, one aspect of the total supernaturalism of Scripture and of Christian theism in general.  If one can believe, for example, Genesis 1.1 or that God speaks to men in Scripture or in Jesus’ miracles or that He rose from the dead and left this world by ascending to His Father, it is asking very little more of one to believe that Jesus entered this world also miraculously by being virginally conceived.

Fourth is the psychological reason: only the virginal conception can explain Mary’s willingness to be included in the company of those who worshiped Jesus as the divine Son of God (Acts 1.14).  It taxes one’s credulity to accept that Mary could have believed that her Son died for her sins and was her divine Savior deserving of her worship or that she would have allowed others to believe so if she knew in her heart that His origin was like that of every other man and that He had been conceived out of wedlock.

Fifth are the theological reasons: (1) the virginal conception of Jesus is the Bible’s explanation for the “how” of the incarnation, and (2) while the virginal conception is not necessarily the total explanation for Jesus’ sinlessness, it is a fact that, if Jesus had been the offspring of the union of a human father and mother, such a natural generation would have entailed depravity (John 3.6) and implicated Jesus in Adam’s first sin (Romans 5.12, 19).

Sixth, and finally, are the apologetic or polemical reasons: (1) if Jesus was not virginally conceived, then Matthew and Luke were in error and cease to be trustworthy, authoritative guides and teachers of doctrine not only here but in other matters of faith as well, such as Christ’s resurrection (see Machen, Virgin Birth, 382-387).  (2) If Jesus was not virginally conceived, serious gaps are left in any effort to understand the person of Christ and the incarnation (Machen, Virgin Birth, 387-395).  (3) If Jesus was conceived like all other men, then He stood under the Adamic curse like the rest of those who descend by natural generation, as we just noted, and this, in turn, means that He would not have been an acceptable Savior of men before God.  But this would mean, in turn, the end of Christianity as a redemptive religion for sinful men since there would then be no one who could offer himself up to God as an acceptable, unblemished sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and to reconcile God to man.  I fully realize that this last point assumes a particular doctrine of sin (“original and race sin”) and a particular view of the atonement (“satisfaction”), but then it is a fact that the Bible teaches this doctrine of sin (Romans 5.12-19) and this kind of atonement – the kind that Jesus accomplished by His sinless life and substitutionary death on the cross.

From: Faith’s Reasons for Believing: An Apologetic Antidote to Mindless Christianity by Robert L. Reymond (Fearn: Mentor, 2008), pp. 190-192.

Robert L. Reymond (1932-2013) was Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri (1968-1990).

On the Road – A Diary Entry

Monday, May 27th, 1765.  I took my leave of Londonderry.  Mr. Knox sent his servant to conduct me to Sligo, being now as affectionate as Mr. K., of Sligo, was the first time I was there.  Keeping a steady pace, we rode fifteen miles, so called, in four hours and a half, and came, at noon, to Ballimafay.  Here we were shown into a room, where lay a young man, brought near death by a vomiting of blood.  Perhaps we were brought into this room, at this time, to save a poor man’s life.  As we were riding through the mountains in the afternoon, we overtook one who was just come from Derry, and had heard me preach all the time I was there, both in the evening and the morning.  I talked plainly both to her and her husband, and they expressed all possible thankfulness.

At five, we reached Donegal, the county town.  What a wonderful set of county towns are in this kingdom!  Donegal, and five more, would not altogether make up such a town as Islington.  Some have twenty houses in them, Mayo three, and Leitrim, I think, not one.  Is this not owing, in part, to the fickleness of the nation, who seldom like anything long, and so are continually seeking new inhabitants, as well as new fashions, and new trifles of every kind? – John Wesley (1703-1791)

For the Lord’s Day (497)

Thus, the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.  And, on the seventh day, God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.  So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because, on it, God rested from all His work that He had done in creation.  (Genesis 2.1-3)

Matthew Henry (21)

Of buying many books, making ourselves master of them and masters of what is in them by much study, still, the desire of learning would be unsatisfied.  It will give a man, indeed, the best entertainment and the best accomplishment this world can afford him.  But, if we be not, by these, admonished of the vanity of the world and human learning, among other things, and its insufficiency to make us happy without true piety – alas, there is no end of it nor real benefit by it.  It will weary the body but never give the soul any true satisfaction.  The great Mr. Selden subscribed to this when he owned that, in all the books he had read, he never found that on which he could rest his soul, but [only] in Holy Scripture, especially Titus 2.11-12.  By these, therefore, let us be admonished. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), commenting on Ecclesiastes 12.8-12.

Charles Spurgeon on Spiritual Gleaning

Let me learn from Ruth, the gleaner.  As she went out to gather [the grain], so must I go forth into the fields of prayer, meditation, the ordinances, and hearing the Word to gather spiritual food.

The gleaner gathers her portion [grain by grain].

Her gains are little by little, so must I be content to search for single truths, if there be no greater plenty of them.  Every [grain] helps [to increase the amount], and every gospel lesson assists in making us wise unto salvation.

The gleaner keeps her eyes open.

If she stumbles among the stubble [as if] in a dream, she would have no load to carry home rejoicingly at eventide.  I must be watchful, in religious exercises, lest they become unprofitable to me.  I fear I have lost much already.  O, that I may rightly estimate my opportunities, and glean with greater diligence.

The gleaner stoops for all she finds.

And so must I.  High spirits criticize and object, but lowly minds glean and receive benefit.  A humble heart is a great help towards profitably hearing the gospel.  The engrafted soul-saving Word is not received except with meekness.  A stiff back makes a bad gleaner.  Down, master pride, you are a vile robber, not to endured for a moment.

What the gleaner gathers, she holds.

If she dropped one [grain] to find another, the result of her day’s work would be but scant.  She is as careful to retain as to obtain and so, at last, her gains are great.  How often do I forget all that I hear.  The second truth pushes the first out of my head, and so my reading and hearing end in “much ado about nothing”!

Do I feel duly the importance of storing up the truth?  A hungry belly makes the gleaner wise.  If there be no [grain] in her hand, there will be no bread on her table.  She labors under the sense of necessity and, hence, her tread is nimble and her grasp is firm.  I have even a greater necessity, Lord. Help me to feel it, that it may urge me onward to glean in fields which yield so plenteous a reward to diligence.

From: Evening by Evening by Charles Spurgeon (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1868), entry for August 2.  Comment on Ruth 2.17.

Note: The word “grain” replaces the word “corn” in the original, since the Hebrew word encompasses more than just corn seed.  In Ruth 2.17, the reference is to barley, for example.

The Purpose of the Church

Perhaps the primary idea of the church was fellowship.  It was the corporate and social outcome of individual relation to Christ.  Christianity is social as well as personal.  The very nature of Christ’s salvation was to create a community.  Paganism might show the beauty of the old humanity, but Christianity created a new.  The church is a society of sinners saved by Christ.

But fellowship will necessarily express itself in service.  The possession of Christ will lead to witness and work, for the church will inevitably endeavor to extend itself while, at the same time, it builds up its own members.  At this point is seen the importance of the church to the individual.  It is not without point that the creed first expresses belief in the “holy catholic church,” and then follows immediately with a phrase in explanation and amplification of it, “the communion of saints.”  Individualistic Christianity is a contradiction in terms.  While a man is justified solitarily and alone, he is sanctified in communion with others.  Christian character needs the community for development, for it is only possible in fellowship with members of the Christian church (Ephesians 3.18; 6.18).  There is no future for any Christianity that does not express itself through a community.  Mysticism, by itself, is too vague and individualistic.  While Christianity is mystical, it is much more.  Mere individualism is equally impossible, for “unattached” Christians find no place in the Christianity of the New Testament.  It is a great mistake to associate individualism with what is sometimes regarded as “ultra” spirituality, which is often opposed to organized Christianity.

From: The Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles by W. H. Griffith Thomas (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1930), pp. 267-268.

The Sin Nature Not Completely Rooted Out in This Life

Christians are, in part, unevangelical in their hearts and lives.  The whole root of sin is not stubbed up at once.  No wonder some bitter taste remains in the fruit they bear.  Saints, in heaven, shall be all grace, and no sin in them, and then they shall be all love, also.  But here, they are part grace, part corruption, and so their love is not perfect.  How can they be fully soldered together in unity, never to fall out, as long as they are not so fully reconciled to God in point of sanctification, but now and then there happen some breaches betwixt them and God Himself?  And the less progress the gospel hath made in their hearts to mortify lust and strengthen grace, the less peace and love is to be expected among them. – William Gurnall (1616-1679), from The Christian in Complete Armor (Volume 1, Page 548)