Sermon on Romans 3:21-26 – “God’s Righteousness Past and Present”

Preached Mar. 18, 2018 at Dillingham Presbyterian Church

[Rom 3:21-26 ESV] 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.


A Christian from time to time is asked some rather difficult questions. Some sermons ago on the book of Romans I talked about one difficult question; that is, “What about people who live on remote islands and have never heard the Gospel, are they saved?” The answer, if you recall, was based on the Biblical teaching that “Ignorance is not bliss.” All men are guilty of breaking the law of God; ignorance of the Gospel is not a sufficient excuse.

Another difficult question might be raised based on our text today. That is, “How were people saved before Jesus died on the cross?” How were people saved in the Old Testament? Since this letter of Paul’s to the Romans is a treatise on salvation, we find in it the answers to many difficult questions, including the one at hand: How were people saved in the Old Testament?

Our passage today is one of the most important passages of the Scriptures. But I said this also of Romans 1:16-17 which was the purpose statement of the book of Romans — “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

This is the very Gospel message, given there in 2 verses near the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans. And now—after almost three chapters of Law leading to the conviction of sin—Paul returns to this Gospel message. And, we, now having a good knowledge of his argument up to this point—knowing just how bad things are, for “none is righteous, no not one”— we are to be convicted of our sins and prepared for the Gospel message. This is Paul’s intent.

This Gospel, Paul now tells us, is “Apart from the Law.” And it is “through faith” and “by his grace.” This we have heard before. Salvation is by Grace through Faith, and not of own doing, it is a gift of God so that no one may boast.

But there is something else about this Gospel. The Gospel shows God to be just, for in Christ’s death on the cross it is shown that God has not forever passed over former sins and left them unpunished, but has put forward His son Jesus Christ to to be a propitiation, to appease His divine demand for justice.

And, it is through this divine justice that Jesus Christ redeemed His people, both those in the Old Testament era and those in the New Testament era.

And so, with these two eras in mind, the title of the sermon today is “God’s Righteousness Past and Present.” (REPEAT)

And, as we consider this passage today, we’ll look at three points from it:

I. God’s Righteousness is through Faith. (REPEAT)

II. God’s Righteousness is through Grace. (REPEAT)

III. God’s Righteousness is through Justice. (REPEAT)


We left off in Romans 3:9-20 with Paul saying emphatically “none are righteous.” Now we contrast that with the righteousness of God.

I. God’s Righteousness is through faith. (vs. 21-22)

Paul writes,

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it–22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

Paul’s “But now” is the grand transition to the Gospel, previously mentioned briefly in Romans 1:16-17. So the argument is this: No one is righteous. BUT NOW. The gospel of God’s righteousness has been revealed. A way to be declared righteous in the eyes of God has been revealed apart from the law.

This phrase “the righteousness of God” you might recall from previous sermons is not only that righteous quality of God himself, but a righteousness that God credits freely by His grace to people who do not have righteousness of their own. Man is not made righteous but is seen as righteous in God’s eyes for the righteousness of Christ credited to us.

A. God’s righteousness revealed apart from the law.

And, Paul says, this righteousness has been revealed “Apart from the Law.” That is, one does not become righteous by doing the things of the law. Righteousness comes in another way.

Though the Law and prophets—the whole Old Testament—bears witness to the righteousness of God, it is credited to man only by faith; only to those who believe.

B. Our faith is not a generic faith, but faith in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures.

But this belief is not just any generic faith, but a faith IN JESUS CHRIST as revealed in the Scriptures. Christians are not just “people of Faith”—we don’t put our faith in just anything and everything. We put our faith in Christ.

Imagine, if you will, how foolish it would be to put your faith in everyone and everything. If you did that you would believe you truly are going to win the Publishers Clearing House jackpot, you would believe the telephone scam saying you’ve won a free vacation in Florida if you merely send in a modest fee to cover the taxes, or you might even believe what a lawyer or politician says.

But ours is not a generic faith. We don’t have faith in just anyone or anything.

Our faith is IN JESUS CHRIST.

And we don’t just believe anything about Christ, we believe what the Scriptures tell us about him.

We don’t believe in the Jesus Christ of the ancient heretic Arius or of today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses who say Jesus was just a man but not God.

Nor do we believe in the Jesus Christ of the ancient Docetists who said that he was merely a phantom with no physical body.

Nor do we believe in the Jesus Christ of the liberal social gospel which says that Jesus was merely an example for us of how to live, and not our savior.

Our faith is in the Jesus Christ of the Bible, who was foretold by the prophets, who was born of a virgin at Bethlehem, who lived a perfect life, who was crucified and died and was buried. Who rose again and who ascended into heaven. We believe in the Jesus Christ of the Scriptures who is both the second person of the Trinity and human as well.

This is not a generic faith, but a faith in a very specific Jesus —the only one who is truly worth worshipping, the Jesus Christ of the Bible.

So we have the righteousness of God credited to us through faith in Jesus Christ. But the righteousness of God is credited to us also through God’s grace.

This is our second point: “God righteousness is through Grace.”

II. God’s Righteousness is through Grace. (vs. 23-25a)

Paul writes,

For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

A. These few verses are a great summary of the Gospel.

These few verses are a great summary of the Gospel: Though all have sinned and fallen short, justification comes by God’s grace as a gift to be received by faith.

And here, so importantly we have the word “gift.” As “all have sinned” and as we are “justified by his grace as a gift” it is clear that no one makes any contribution to his own justification. It is purely OF GOD.

All of these things are gifts from God — faith, grace, and salvation.

B. Paul is NOT teaching Universalism.

But, it is important to note, Paul is not teaching universalism. Though all people (universally) sin, only those who believe in Jesus Christ are redeemed. Universalism falsely says that each and every person will go to heaven and that there is no hell.

But who could be so obtuse as to believe that the Bible doesn’t teach there is a hell and that some will end up there? Who could be so obtuse? I will tell you …

A pastor, Rob Bell, in the town I grew up in gained great popularity in those years. I heard him preach once, having attending his church with some friends. Like the town down the road from here, his church was called Mars Hill. Well, some years after I heard him preach he wrote some rather WONKY things. Primarily he argued for universalism – that God Loves each and every person with a saving love such that none will go to hell! Though he eventually lost his job over this and other matters, there were (and are) many who have followed him. He discounted the doctrine of Hell.

But Jesus spoke often of Hell as a real place.

He said that it would be better to lose your right eye or your right hand than to have your whole body cast into hell. (See: Matt. 5:29-30). He said that we should fear Him who has the authority to cast into hell. (See Matt. 10:28) And he said that it is a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (See Matt. 13:42)

Peter also tells us that when certain angels sinned against God, He cast them into hell. (See 2 Peter 2:4)

And so, because there is a hell, and because some do end up there, we do not preach Universalism. Jesus’ death on the cross was for His people, not for All people such that none will end up in hell. The righteousness of God is credited to His people through faith and through grace as a gift from God— the gift of Jesus Christ.

And of this gift, Paul tells us that God put forward Jesus Christ as a propitiation by his blood.

C. Propitiation is …

A Propitiation. What does this mean?

The commentator William Hendrickson says that propitiation is “deliverance by means of the payment of a ransom, from the guilt, punishment, and power of sin.” (Hendricksen. p. 130-1.) REPEAT

Because many deny that the Bible teaches propitiation, the payment of a ransom in the death of Jesus Christ, it is important to note those important places in the Bible where this is taught. Here are some place where it is taught Jesus’ sacrifice removes the wrath of God.

Isa 53:4-8 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Matt 20:28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Romans 5:9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

1 Peter 1:18-19 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

The Bible most clearly teaches this propitiation. A propitiation that is made by God’s grace.

1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

D. “Mercy seat” of the Ark was a (hidden) type of the fulfillment of the “propitiation” of the public crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Interestingly, the word translated “propitiation”—in Greek hilasterion— is the same word used in the Greek Old Testament for the “mercy seat” – the golden cover of the ark of covenant. On the annual day of atonement the high priest would enter the holy of holies and sprinkle first the blood of a sacrificed bull on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant, and then upon it also the blood of a sacrificed goat. This was an Old Testament shadow of what was to come — the blood atonement, the propitiation, of Jesus Christ. But, while the ark of the covenant with its “mercy seat” (hilasterion) was kept hidden in the holy of holies in the tabernacle, Christ in his propitiation (hilasterion), in the pouring out of his blood, was out in public for all to see. His death was a public spectacle. And while the sacrifice of the bull was a yearly occurrence, Christ’s propitiation was once-and-for-all.

Knowing this, that God’s righteousness is through grace in the propitiation of Jesus Christ for our sins, we move to our third point, God’s Righteousness is through justice.

III. God’s Righteousness is through Justice. (vs. 25b-26)

Paul writes,

This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

A. Christ’s death showed God’s demand for justice.

In order for God to be just, He must execute justice. To do so He put forward Jesus Christ as a propitiation by His blood.

In Old Testament times, the sins of the reprobate were punished in that immediately following their deaths they experienced the pains of hell. But the sins of God’s elect in Old Testament times remained unpunished until Christ bore the punishment they deserved upon the cross. Having previously passed over sin, God now fulfilled his demand for justice in the death of Jesus Christ.

And this was to prove that God is just. For to leave sin forever unpunished would be to lack justice.

In our times we often have too much sympathy for the criminal, thinking all punishment to be unjust. But the readers of Paul’s letter would want to know how God could be considered just if he did not punish sins, for punishments are rightly due to criminals; sinners.

And so God proved his justice in Christ. The sins of the elect were not left unpunished, but were punished in Jesus Christ.

And so God is just, for he did truly punish sins as He promised.

And simultaneously, while proving on the cross that God is just, it is also shown that God is the justifier. God is the justifier in that He is the one who justifies the elect when He credits His righteousness to them.

Think of it this way: Would you consider a judge to be just if he never pronounced a sentence on a guilty person? But the sentence for breaking the law of God is death. The sentence must be carried out. And it is Jesus whom God has chosen to carry it out.

B. God the Father and Jesus Christ in Agreement

It is important here that we do not make the mistake of thinking that God the Father is the angry God, and Jesus Christ the loving God.

But rather the Bible teaches that God loved us before He sent Christ to die for us. God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He FIRST loved us and THEN sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

And God the Father and God the Son are on the same page, they both wanted the arrangement of Christ dying on the cross for the sins of the Elect.

Again the Bible teaches that God, in this manner, loved the world: HE gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

And this was not only the Father’s will, it was the sons will as well. He went to the cross willingly. Hebrews 12:2 tell us that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” He took great joy in saving His people. He was not a reluctant savior, merely carrying out his Father’s wishes.

And so both God the Father and Jesus Christ love the elect, and both God the Father and Jesus Christ willed that Jesus would die on the cross as a propitiation for sin.

C. How were people saved in the Old Testament?

So we reach a question I noted at the beginning: How were people saved in the Old Testament?

If faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation, how were people saved before Jesus walked the earth?

Paul writes that God had “passed over former sins in his divine forbearance.” Forbearance is “patient self-control; restraint.” God passed over the former sins of His people in His divine forbearance. He restrained himself for a time from punishing those sins until Jesus Christ bore the punishment on the cross. Christ’s death on the cross was for the sins of all believers, both those in Old Testament times and in New Testament times. The saving effect of Christ’s death on the cross reaches both backwards and forwards, for all God’s people, past and present.

Salvation in the Old Testament is explained in the WCF, chapter 7.

Get yourself a copy of the WCF. This is our “subordinate standard.” The Bible is our authority, divinely inspired, revealed to us by God. There is no substitute for the Bible. But confessions are helpful summaries and explanations of the Bible. And the Westminster Confession is the best confession I know of in explaining and summarizing the major teachings of the Bible.

So let us look at what the confession tells us about this question: how were people saved before Jesus walked the earth?

Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 7:

It explains salvation in the Old Testament times:

V. This covenant [the Covenant of Grace] was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: [that is the time of the Old Testament and time of the New Testament] under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.

So, while salvation in the New Testament era is through faith in Jesus Christ, salvation in the Old Testament era was through faith in the promised Christ. (REPEAT)

It is the same covenant by which God saves man in both the Old Testament era and the New Testament. The same covenant, but differently administered.

In both cases salvation is through faith. And in both cases the object of that faith is the same – the messiah, the Christ.

The difference is now we know Christ more fully. (REPEAT)

Christ was known by the promises in the Old Testament. Back in the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans he speaks of the “Gospel which God promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures.” And then he says, it is the gospel “concerning his son.” The object of faith in the Gospel has always been Jesus Christ.

The author of the book of Hebrews also tell us something of the Old Testament saints:

HEB 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

Since God’s way of salvation is through faith in Christ in both New Testament times and Old Testament times, it is clear that Christianity is not a new religion, founded in the first century. Christianity is the continuation, the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. Those who rejected Christ are the ones who started a new religion. Judaism began in the first century.

God’s righteousness is through faith and through grace, AND ITS HAS ALWAYS been through faith and through grace. That is, in salvation in Old Testament times was as much by faith and grace as it is now in New Testament times. But now the object of our faith is more clear. What was once types and shadows is now known to us – Jesus our messiah.


The Old Testament concealed the cross, the New Testament reveals it. The mystery is no longer hidden. God’s righteousness is known through faith, it comes to us through His grace and is upon His justice.

We have something not even Abraham had

We have something not even Moses had

We have something not even Davis had

Though they too were saved by Grace through Faith by God’s divine justice in punishing Christ for their sins,

We have the more complete knowledge of Jesus Christ and his death for us as a propitiation by his blood on the cross, proving His righteousness for all times.

What we have is a great blessing. We have a God who loves us.


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Review of “Some Pioneer Presbyterian Preachers of the Piedmont North Carolina.”

Some Pioneer Presbyterian Preachers of the Piedmont North Carolina by Rev. I. S. McElroy, D. D. Undated, circa 1928. 50 pp.

I purchased this relatively rare book to further my research into the historical pastors of Dillingham Presbyterian Church. It contains brief bios of ten presbyterian preachers including the founding organizer of Dilingham Presbyterian Church, the Rev. R. P. Smith. D. D. 

Interestingly this book was written while R. P. Smith was still alive and so his dates are noted as (1851 – ) and his address listed as Asheville, NC, 48 Dunstan Road. He is referred to as “the outstanding man of evangelistic labors.” Smith preached in Gastonia from 1893 to 1896 and then worked as a Superintendent of Home Missions from 1896 to 1924. Dillingham Church, though not mentioned in this book, was founded under Smith’s efforts in 1896, his first year on the job. Thus it must have been one of the first of the 14 churches he is said to have planted.

But what of the nine other illustrious gentlemen who’ve found their way into this short book? Here I’ve cut the short bios even shorter:

1. Rev. Robert Archibald. 

Though his dates are unknown, Archibald did graduate from Princeton College in 1772 was ordained in 1778. McElroy refers to him as “the first or more probably the second resident Presbyterian minister in the territory now included in the Kings Mountain Presbytery” which he earlier noted as including the counties of Gaston, Cleveland, Lincoln, Rutherford, and Polk. These are the counties immediately west of Charlotte, NC. Archibald is “second” due to there having been one previous pastor, the Rev. Hezekiah Balch at their Rocky River Church. This church apparently still exists to this day, though not with the original building extant.

McElroy notes that Archibald “was a scholar and a man of gifts, but lacking in clearness of conviction and fixedness of purpose.” This is evidenced in that he “first thought of practicing medicine, then he entered the ministry as a Calvinist, then drifted into Arminianism and finally became a Universalist or rather a Restorationist.” In 1794 he was suspended from ministry by his presbytery because of his heretical doctrines.

2. Rev. Humphrey Hunter (1735-1827)

Born in Ulster Ireland, he sailed to America with his widowed mother at just the age of four. He fought and was captured for a time in the Revolution before escaping from his captors by night “in time to celebrate the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.” (p. 11) He then studied under Robert Archibald, presumably while Archibald was still a Calvinist, and finished his theological study under the Presbytery of S. C. where he was licensed to preach in 1789. His longest tenure was at the Steele Creek Church from 1805 to 1827. (The same church Miss Bertha Abernathy grew up in many years later.)

3. Rev. Robert Hall Morrison, D. D. (1798-1889)

The son of a Revolutionary war solider, Robert Hall Morrison studied at Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1820. His most notable work was in connection with the founding of Davidson College which opened in 1837 with Morrison as the first president. He and his wife had twelve children.

4. Rev. Joseph Kennedy (1838-1912)

This pioneer preaching graduated from Davidson College in 1859 and Columbia Theological Seminary in 1864. He served a chaplain for the Confederates and then pastored a number of churches following the war. It is said that he “preached the gospel not so much from a sense of duty as from purse love of his Lord and his work.” (p. 19)

5. Rev. Robert Zenas Johnston (1834-1908)

Johnston is another pioneer preacher who graduated from Davidson College; he in 1858. And likewise another who graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary; he in 1861. He longest call was at Lincolnton from 1872 to his death in 1908. As the stated clerk for Mecklenburg Presbytery for twenty-five years and the Moderator of the Synod of North Carolina in 1887, he would have been a quite prominent pastor. Even at the time of the books writing in 1928 there were counted 59 living descendants of Rev. Johnston.

6. Rev. Wm. E. McIlwaine, D. D. (1845-)

Ordained in 1875, Rev. McIlwaine pastored a number of churches in the region and later worked in home missions. A letter of his is quoted in which it is said that he was the first pastor to have a manse in the county and that previously ministers generally owned their own homes and lived in the country. McIlwaine’s date of death is not listed, but as he is spoken of in the past tense he apparently was deceased by the time of the book’s publishing.

7. Rev. Robert Newton Davis (1818-1871)

Rev. Davis grew up at the Rocky River Church, the second time we’ve come across this church now. Here we have another Davidson College graduate; class of 1840. For the firs time though we see Union Theological Seminary in Virginia mentioned, where Davis graduated from in 1843. After preaching a time in Virginia, he was for twenty years the pastor in Lincolnton, NC.

8. Rev. James Davidson Hall (1806-1892)

Hall was a graduate of the University of North Carolina (1828) and Union Theological Seminary, VA in 1833. He preached at a number of churches, largely in Gaston county and was one of the founders of Davidson College. “The War Between the States swept away much of his earthly possessions.” It is said that more than sixty of his descendants entered the presbyterian ministry.

9. Rev. Edward Payson Davis, D. D. (1851-)

The son of a pastor, Davis graduated from Davidson College in 1873 and Columbia Theological Seminary in 1877. He preached widely at church both within North Carolina and in other states.

Additional information of interest:
McElroy notes that in the pioneer years “Church buildings were made of hewed logs generally 30 by 24 feet with a shed at the other end from the pulpit where the slaves could sit and through an opening made in the wall by the removal of two or three logs they could see and hear the preacher.” (p. 6)

The pioneer presbyterian preachers are said to be “almost without exception of Scotch-Irish lineage.” (p. 6)

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Review of “Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God” by J. I. Packer

Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer, InterVarsity Press, 1961 [reformatted 1991], 126 pp.

In Chapter I “The Sovereignty of God,” J. I. Packer writes to Arminians that “you know” and “you believe this already” referring to the sovereignty of God. That is, Arminians do not credit themselves with their own salvation [even if their theology logically does] and Arminians pray to God under the supposition that God is in control. Here I think Packer makes a good point, but it is not clear that such things (knowing God’s primary role in salvation and in prayer) necessitate whatever particular view of sovereignty (presumably Calvinistic) that Packer takes. Packer assumes (but does not give) a particular view of sovereignty as if it were the only view.

At the end of the chapter Packer notes the “long-standing controversy in the Church as to whether God is really Lord in relation to human conduct and saving faith or not.” (p. 16) He holds that Arminians do believe in divine sovereignty “but some are not aware that they do, and mistakenly imagine and insist that they reject it.” Rather than letting these “two truths live side-by-side” in a “mystery,” Packer argues that Arminians have allowed the “supposed demands of logic” in affirming human responsibility to therefore deny sovereignty.

Packer’s presentation of the options however is inadequate. There are more options than he presents. There are, it seems to me, six logical possibilities:

1. Deny God’s sovereignty and retain human responsibility. (Arminianism)
2. Deny human responsibility and retain God’s sovereignty. (Hyper-Calvinism / Antinomianism)
3. Deny both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. (Atheism / Agnosticism)
4. Admit to not knowing the answer.
5. Claim that reconciling God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery. (Packer)
6. Find a way to reconcile God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. (Clark)

The problem with Packer’s view is that he hasn’t justified his claim, the claim that the reconciling of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is a mystery. Nor, does it seem that it is possible to justify that claim. That is, there is no way for Packer (or anyone else) to know that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility cannot be shown to be logical harmonius. To prove his claim it would requires one to rule out each and every of the (infinite?) possible ways in which God’s sovereignty and human responsibility might be reconciled. While the Bible gives both doctrines, nowhere that I’m aware of does it state that the two doctrines are to be considered a mystery. Packer, like the rationalists he condemns, has gone beyond Scripture.

Surely Packer means to avoid Atheism, Arminianism, and Hyper-Calvinism. But why not attempt to solve the problem on a Calvinistic basis rather than appealling to mystery? Perhaps, as Gordon Clark wrote, “If [harmonizing determinism and responsibility on the basis of Calvinistic Christianity] has not been done before the reason is that the Calvinists of today are but half-hearted followers of the prince of theologians, John Calvin.” (Gordon H. Clark, “Determinism and Responsibility”, The Evangelical Quarterly, 1932) Clark’s solution is to first define responsibility. He writes, “Let us call a man responsible, then, when he may be justly rewarded or punished for his deeds.” And then, Clark continues, “God is Sovereign; whatever He does is just, for this very reason, because He does it. If He punishes a man, the man is punished justly and hence the man is responsible.” There is no opposition (nor mystery) between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility for “responsibility requires determinism.” But nowhere does Packer, nor any other Reformed theologian I know of, interact with Clark’s Calvinistic solution. Rather, without a solution, and not humble enough to admit “I don’t know,” they often propound what they cannot defend, “mystery.”

Chapter II “Divine Sovereignty & Human Responsibility” continues Packer’s defense of mystery, which he now calls “antimony” or “appearance of contradiction.” But two propositions are either contradictory or they are not. And nowhere does Packer show how divine sovereignty “appears” to be contradictory to human responsibility. The fact is they are not contradictory. They only “appear” so when one has false understanding of one or both of the terms. The solution, as noted before in Clark, is rooted in properly understanding the terms, not in claiming “antimony” and proudly walking away.

To Packer’s benefit he does say that the way one should handle an antimony is to “put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding.” (p. 21) Here at least he doesn’t go as far as Cornelius Van Til and his followers who make antimony a property of the Bible itself, rather than solely a deficiency of one’s own understanding. But if one’s deficient understanding is the root case of the antimony then why say that it is “insoluble”? Does one person’s ignorance necessitate that everyone is ignorant? Packer seems to waver here between view 4 and view 5 above.

Packer opposes the temptation to “get rid of antimonies from our minds by illegitimate means.” (p. 25) But shouldn’t legitimate means be legitimate?

Packer does rightfully warn against those who emphasize either human responsibility to the exclusion of divine sovereignty (p. 25-29) or divine sovereignty to the exclusion of human responsibility (p. 29-36).

Chapter III “Evangelism” sees the root of the confusion about what evangelism is in the “habit of defining evangelism in terms, not of a message delivered, but of an effect produced in our hearers.” (p. 37) “Evangelism means to present Jesus Christ.” (p. 38) And to present Him as the “only hope” and “exhorting sinners to accept Christ Jesus as their Saviour.” (p. 39) Even better, Packer writes, “Evangelism is the issuing of a call to turn, as well as to trust; it is the delivering, not merely of a divine invitation to receive a Savior, but of a divine command to repent of sin.” (p. 40) Packer rightfully critiques the view that evangelism’s essence is to produce converts. That rather is God’s work; while evangelism is man’s (granted still led by God). Rightly, Packer says, “the way to tell whether you are evangelizing is not to ask whether conversions are known to have resulted from your witness. It is to ask whether you are faithfully making known the Gospel message.” (p. 41)

Returning back to “responsibility” Packer correctly, in my opinion, shows that it is the obligation of all Christians to evangelize (p. 46) and that conversion is the goal (p. 50-53). The ways in which one brings the gospel to others are many. House meetings, Bible Studies, Sunday services, etc. are all evangelistic endeavors. (p. 54) “The way find out whether a particular service was evangelistic is to ask, not whether an appeal for decision was made, but what truth was taught at it.” (p. 56)

Packer does evidence his Calvinism with good statements against preaching “Christ died for every one of you.” (p. 67-69) But his claim that John Wesley was “content to preach the Gospel just as it stands in Scripture” (p. 69) is doubtful, though I do not know Wesley’s work well enough to judge.

The final chapter, “Divine Sovereignty and Evangelism” returns to the question of how evangelism is related to the sovereignty of God. His conclusions form two main propositions: (1) The sovereignty of God in grace does not affect anything that we have said about the nature and duty of evangelism (p. 96), and (2) The sovereignty of God in grace gives us our only hope of success in evangelism (p. 106).

Ultimately, Packer has a lot of good Biblical material on the proper message, subject, objects, methods, and goals of evangelism, but his philosophical appeal to mystery in understanding the relationship of evangelism and the sovereignty of God is found wanting.

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Review of “Before Jerusalem Fell” by Kenneth L. Gentry Jr.

Before Jerusalem Fell, Dating the Book of Revelation, An Exegetical and Historical Argument for a Pre-A.D. 70 Composition, by Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989, 418 pp.

As the author of this book Kenneth L. Gentry notes, the debate over the dating of the book of Revelation is ultimately between two camps — the “late” camp holding to a date c. A.D. 95 and an “early” camp holding to a pre-70 A.D. date. Before Jerusalem Fell is a treatise supporting the “early” view. Included in the book is a valuable list of other early-date advocates and their related publications. (p. 30-38) This list includes, among theologians I have some familiarity with: Adams, Bahnsen, Baur, Bruce, Bultman, Chilton, Crampton, Farrar, Grotius, Hort, F. N. Lee, Moule, Renan, Schaff, Augustus Strong, Tillich, and Westcott along with many other (presumably eminent) theologians with whom I am not familiar.

The external evidence, Gentry notes, is “generally conceded on all sides to be their  [the late date proponents’] strongest argument.” The most important statement in view is that of Irenaeus who wrote (here translated into English):

“We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.”

The question then is what “for that was seen” refers back to. Is it “the apocalyptic vision” or “him who saw the apocalypse”? Gentry notes the “perceptive” observations of S. H. Chase (among others) that Ireneaus could have been referring to the fact that John lived until Domitian’s reign and thus was available to be asked about the name of the antichirst. (p. 50-51) Though even many early-date advocates are not convinced of such an interpretation (p. 53), Gentry adeptly traces the history and reasons of scholars who have argued for it. One argument he notes is based on a saying of Irenaeus regarding “ancient copies” of the book of Revelation. That is, if Irenaeus was writing in 185 A. D., it is argued that reference to “ancient copies” lends towards the “early” view. This, in my opinion however, is certainly not persuasive. But with the external evidence largely relying on Irenaeus, and with doubts to the meaning and import of Irenaeus’ saying, we might need to move on to the internal evidence.

But, before moving too quickly to the internal evidence, Gentry looks at some other external evidences. First is that of Clement of Alexandria who wrote that John left Patmos for Ephesus “after the death of the tyrant.” With Domitian and Nero each having had persecuted the church, the question of who the tyrant is to be identified as is not easily answered, though Gentry shows through many historical citations why Nero is most fitting for the title. Interestingly, in Clement’s Miscellanies he speaks of the teaching of the apostles ending in the time of Nero, placing the writing of not only the book of Revelation but of all New Testament books before Nero’s death in 68 A. D. (p. 84)

A number of other earlier church sources are referenced. The Shepherd of Hermas is presented as evidence. If an early date for this book (perhaps 85-90 A. D. ) is accepted, and Hermas borrows language from Revelation, then an early date of Revelation is necessary. (p. 91) The Muratorian Canon also is given as evidence for it notes that Paul wrote to seven churches following the rule of his predecessor John. (p. 94) This confuses me because I do not know of one of Paul’s letters to a church being written so late (67-70 A. D.). Then there is Tertullian who “strongly suggests that John’s banishment occurred at the same time Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom.” (p. 95) Regarding the writing of Victorious that John was banished to work in the mines on Patmos during the reign of Domitian, Gentry notes that a 90-year old John would scarcely be able to do such physical work. An earlier date again makes more sense. The apocryphal Acts of John interestingly has Domitian banish John after John had written Revelation. (p. 100) And the Syriac tradition also has John’s banishment under Nero. (p. 106) Ultimately, however, Gentry concludes, “there was no sure, uniform, and certain tradition in the early centuries of the Church on this matter.” Yet “all things considered even the external evidence leads toward a Neronic date.” (p. 109)

Next, Gentry moves on to the internal evidence. He notes six lines of evidence from early-date supporters James M. McDonald:

(1) The peculiar idiom of Revelation indicates a younger John, before his mastery of the Greek language, a mastery evidenced in his more polished Gospel from a later period.
(2) The existence of only seven churches in Asia Minor (Rev. 1) indicates a date before the greater expansion of Christianity into that region.
(3) The activity of Judaizing heretics in the Church (Rev. 2, 3) should be less conspicuous after a broader circulation of Paul’s anti-Judaizing letters.
(4) The prominence of the Jewish persecution of Christianity (Rev. 6, 11) indicates the relative safety and confidence of the Jews in their land.
(5) The existence and integrity of Jerusalem and the Temple (Rev. 11) suggest the early date.
(6) The reign of the sixth emperor (Rev. 17) must indicate a date in the A.D. 60s. (p. 115)

Gentry yet deems (1) “doubtful” and (2) “based on insufficient evidence.” He regards (5) and (6) as “stronger” and “virtually certain.” (p. 118)

For Gentry, “it would seem certain that the theme of Revelation deals with Christ’s Judgment coming upon the generation of those Jews who crucified Him” and that this allows “only a pre-70 A.D. date” for no other event but the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. “parallels the magnitude and covenantal significance of this event.” (p. 131)

Further, Gentry believes, there is a “contemporary expectation of the author regarding the fulfillment of the prophecies.” (p. 132) John speaks of these events three times as “the things which must shortly take place,” and he has Jesus five times say He is coming “quickly.” As for the dispensationalist view that this only means that when Jesus comes he will come with great rapidity, Gentry notes that this would have offered no consolation to the persecuted saints of the seven churches who received the letter.

Gentry then has a valuable section on the identity of the sixth king of Revelation 17:9-10 which reads, “Here is the mind which has wisdom.The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while.” Rome is a city “universally recognized by its seven hills” (Palentine, Aventine, Caelian, Esquiline, Viminal, Quirinal, and Capitoline) and is very likely John’s referent. And so looking to Rome for the identity of the kings is reasonable enough. There is some challenge with ascertaining which Caesar the counting would begin with. Nevertheless Gentry sees good reason to believe the kings to be ordered 1) Julius Caesar, 2) Augustus, 3) Tiberius, 4) Gaius, 5) Claudius, 6) Nero, and 7) Galba.  With Nero’s death in June A. D. 68, and if Nero is in view in Revelation, then the book is written prior to that date. And then Galba reigns “for a little while” — only about 7 months.

The evidence now mounting, Gentry suggests that “the early date position approaches certainty.” While I’m generally favorable to his interpretation, I’m at a loss at this point in the book as to how “certainty” could be considered near. But Gentry bases this also on the “yet-to-come internal evidence” so perhaps he has more conclusive arguments to come.

The next evidence comes from Revelation 11 which references the temple as still standing. In fact, as noted by John A. T. Robinson, none of the New Testament books mention the cataclysmic event of 70 A. D. as a past fact. Even some late date advocates (here typically Liberals, so-called “higher critics”) are forced to conclude that this section of Revelation 11 must be an earlier fragment incorporated into the book.

The Epistle of Barnabas does indisputably speak of the destruction of the temple as a past event — “the house of God” “pulled down” by the enemies of the Jews. Ignatius possibly alludes to it. And Justin Martyr tells of “the temple of the Jews which was afterwards destroyed.” These post-70 A. D. writings, among others, note the fall of Jerusalem and/or the destruction of temple as past events, yet Revelation does not. But the famous saying applies, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” It is difficult if not impossible to put “weight” on the various arguments Gentry makes. They are decent arguments. But how decent the argument or how many decent arguments does one need to have certainty?

And so the argument moves on to the role of Caesar Nero. This was one argument well known to me even before reading this book. The number of the beast, 666, is known to equal the value assigned to the letters of Caesar Nero’s name in Hebrew. And a textual variant of 616 fits a variant of Nero’s name, possibly an intentional but erroneous fix of a scribal editor. Hence, the argument is, the early Christians — or at least one scribe — knew that Nero was meant. Yet, “no early church father suggests Nero’s name as the proper designation of 666,  even though various suggestions were given.” (p. 205) Gentry suggests that “the true interpretation, whatever it was, very quickly had been lost.” (p. 205) The name “Lateinos” suggested by some ante-nicene fathers “could well involve the Empire’s head”, Caesar. And so that evidence might indicate that some of the fathers were looking in the right direction.  Arguments that 666 even in Greek sounds like the hissing of a snake (which Nero was called) and that the red color mentioned in Revelation is in reference to Nero’s red beard I find fanciful at best.

Next Gentry provides evidence of the earliness of Revelation in that Christianity is still seen as strongly attached to the Jewish community. Believers in the book of Revelation are still called “Jews” (2:9 and 3:9). Quoting then from Torrey, Gentry writes, “we can safely observe that ‘the Apocalypse of John plainly belongs to the period in which Jews and Christians still lived together.'” (p. 225) The radical us/them distinction between Christians and Jews later given in the Epistle of Barnabas (c. 100 A. D.), Ignatius (c. 107 A. D.), and Justin Martyr (c. 160 A. D.) is not present in Revelation. Likewise the Romans at an early point were apt to identify the Christians and Jews, but later distinguished between the two. Gentry notes that “many scholars recognize the significance of 70 A. D. in the separation of Judaism and Christianity .” (p. 229)

Gentry also notes that many of the features of the land and of the city of Jerusalem given in Revelation describe the place before the destruction of the Romans. (p. 232 – 236) He then notes some general and specific correspondences between scenes in Revelation and the events of 70 A.D. (p. 240 – 256) Then, in the last section before the conclusion, Gentry examines the alleged “Domitianic evidences” of the late-date view.

Before Jerusalem Fell is truly an excellent book. Gentry handles the available data and arguments well. I’m just not entirely convinced that the data and arguments are sufficient to dogmatically say Revelation is pre 70 A. D. Though I favor that interpretation, I would certainly give a charitable ear to those who have other opinions.

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GPTS Conference 2018

This is the second year that I’ve attended the Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS) conference. It is held at Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, a large and rather dashing church in Greenville, SC.

My current church is a financial supporter of GPTS and it is the seminary I would most likely recommend to prospective ministry students. GPTS, like Sangre de Cristo Seminary from where I graduated, is accredited by the Association of Reformed Theological Seminaries (ARTS). The seminary, to my knowledge, is strongly confessional; that is, it supports subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms. My only concern with GPTS is the influence of some of the Van Tillian errors upon the school, such as support of the well-meant offer of the gospel. I had to avert my eyes at the conference book tables whenever I came upon a Sinclair Ferguson volume.

Well, the 2018 GPTS conference featured a number of speakers including many of the seminary’s faculty. Guest speakers included, most prominently, G. K. Beale and Joel Beeke.

I found last year that attending all of the speeches was quite taxing and so this year decided to attend only some of them and take longer breaks in between.

On the first day I heard Ian Hamilton and G. K. Beale speak. I briefly spoke with G. K. Beale before his speech; basically just long enough to give him a free copy of my The Presbyterian Philosopher. As Dr. Beale holds the J. Gresham Machen chair at Westminster Theological Seminary he might find interest in the book which prominently features the history of Machen the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Outside of the lectures I talked with Andy Webb, Erwin Morrison, C. N. Wilborn, Daniel Jarstfer, Jared Dillingham, Wayne Rogers, Kerry Belcher, Dean Walker, Eric McCall, Paddy Cook, Roland Matthews, and Andy Wortman. From the used book section I picked up a $1 copy of Gordon Clark’s A Christian View of Men and Things in good condition.

It was a tough day for me in some personal ways. My mom has been in the hospital for over a week now with complications due to diverticulitis. Though she is improving, I continue to have concern for her. Then, leaving in the morning for the conference my wife and I found that our car wouldn’t start. I think it is a dead battery, but we didn’t have time to check and took our other vehicle instead. And during Dr. Hamilton’s speech I was fidgeting too much and even accidentally slipped my wedding ring off which fell on the floor. Well the Woodruff Road Church has sloping floors and the ring rolled a few rows forward. I had to wait till the speech was over to recover it. Despite these temporary setbacks, I made it through the day unscathed.

On the second day of the conference I heard Ryan Speck, Michael Barrett, and Joseph Pipa speak. In addition to talking to some of the same people that I spoke with on the first day, I made an effort to talk to more people. I talked with Morris McDonald, Kirk Fearing, Dr. Pipa, Ben Westerveld, Scott and Melanie Schallenberger, Cilas Menezes, Logan Shelton, and Steven Cook. Having conversations with other Christians is my favorite part of the conference.

I might possible be the worst speech listener in the world, for I can hardly recall much specific about the speeches. I was distracted by my own goals for the conference including selling copies of my books, handing out literature for my Appalachian Trail missionary work, and promoting the speech I’m giving soon at Reedy River PCA.

As for the PCA, there is a tense relationship between the denomination and supporters of GPTS, some of whom are in the PCA. With the latter strongly confessional and the former more evangelical than Reformed there are differing visions for the denomination. I found outspoken opposition to the PCA majority in a number of conversations I had. It seems to me that if the conservatives are going to turn the tide in the denomination they need GPTS and its supporters to play a lead role.

Addition 3/15/2018: It must be noted that the Calvary Presbytery of the PCA, which includes churches in South Carolina around the Greenville area, has made 5 of the 16 overtures for the 2018 PCA General Assembly. These include Overture 1 on the “Solemnization of Marriage” and Overture 7 which would reduce the fee that ruling elders pay for attending the General Assembly and in turn promote ruling elder participation and with that a more confessional or at least conservative direction for the denomination.

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Which preacher has the most sermons on SermonAudio?

I thought of this question, “Which preacher has the most sermons on” after noticing that Dr. Joe Morecraft had over 2,000 sermons posted there. So is there anyone who has more than him? I don’t believe there is a way to sort by number of sermons, so we might just look up some prominent preachers and see what we find.

It seems that it is mostly Baptist and Presbyterian preachers whose sermons are uploaded on sermonaudio. It is highly doubtful that there is much interest in hearing a pentecostal sermon from years past or say some Joel Osteen material. Do liberals post their sermons in the same numbers as conservatives, I wonder?

Anyways, here is some of what I’ve found for some prominent pastors:

C. H. Spurgeon – 3,644 sermons
John MacArthur – 3,017 sermons
Dr. Joe Morecraft III – 2,618 sermons
Dr. Joel Beeke – 1,799 sermons
Dr. Ian R. K. Paisley – 1,344 sermons
Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. – 1,201 sermons
Dr. Bob Jones Sr. – 840 sermons
Dr. Carl McIntire – 724 sermons
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson – 660 sermons
Dr. R. C. Sproul – 531 sermons
Dr. Harry Reeder – 362 sermons
Dr. Morton Smith – 148 sermons
Martyn Lloyd-Jones – 135 sermons

And some preachers I know personally:

Anthony Dallison – 1,288 sermons
Dr. Richard Bacon – 1,205 sermons
Jeff Black – 1,063 sermons
Dr. Kenneth G. Talbot – 876 sermons
Richard Hicks – 190 sermons
Mike Chastain – 185 sermons
Ralph A. Rebandt – 151 sermons
Dr. Henry Krabbendam – 130 sermons
Kevin DeYoung – 21 sermons
Wayne Rogers – 20 sermons
David Engelsma – 11 sermons

But the greatest number on sermon audio might be:

Gregory N. Barkman – 5,859 sermons

I don’t even know who this is.

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Review of “Jonathan Edwards, A New Biography” by Iain H. Murray

Jonathan Edwards, A New Biography, by Iain H. Murray, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987, 503 pp.

This is an enjoyable introduction to the life and thought of 18th century American theologian Jonathan Edwards replete with references to personal letters giving the reader a good feel for New England life in that era.

Murray well details the history of the Edwards and Stoddard families—as Jonathan’s mother was a daughter of the Puritan minister Solomon Stoddard. Regarding the family my favorite note was about Edwards’ sisters, for he had ten of them, each six foot tall. They said of his father Timothy that he had “sixty feet of daughters.”

It was an interesting time religiously in New England. Murray notes that there wasn’t an Episcopal clergyman in the whole colony until 1720, (p. 60) and that “as late as 1726 Cotton Mather believed their was no Arminian minister in Boston” (p. 105). Edwards did have some connections with the early American Presbyterians, particular the Tennant family who was prominent in the New Side Presbytery. Up until the Great Awakening (c. 1740) many considered the spiritual state of New England to be fairly low. The people had heard the Puritan preaching for generations, and probably knew their Bibles; they often just didn’t believe it. The Great Awakening was indeed great, and Edwards played a significant role in it, but it certainly didn’t convert everybody. And many of those who professed faith did not produce the fruit associated with true faith.

Murray well points out that “conviction” played an important role in the awakening as it does in general for the conversion of believers. The conviction he refers to is that conviction of sin which leads one to cry out to God for forgiveness. Having preached myself recently on the Romans 3 passage Murray emphasizes in chapter 7, I was glad to see him (and Edwards) come to many of the same conclusions on the important of preaching the law to bring knowledge of sin, leading to conviction.

Pertinent to debates ongoing today, Murray notes that “Christmas Day was unobserved and virtually unknown in New England” (p. 149) and that while Edwards “always had a high regard for the Psalms” it might be incorrect to say he favored exclusive Psalmody as “he was to defend the introduction of the forms of praise and Watt’s paraphrases were introduced into his own congregation about 1743.” (p. 187)

One focus Murray has is on Edwards’ piety; noting his long hours of study, dedication to ministry and family, and the positive appraisals of his character by contemporaries including George Whitefield and Samuel Hopkins.

I was interested to find Edwards’ approval of presbyterianism in his letter to John Erskine, July 5, 1750: “As to my subscribing to the substance of the Westminster Confession, there would be no difficulty; and as to the presbyterian government, I have long been perfectly out of conceit of our unsettled, independent, confused way of church government in this land; and the presbyterian way has ever appeared to me most agreeable to the word of God.”

Though Edwards’ theology certainly is mentioned in the book, I did not come away from having read it with much in the way of knowledge of Edwards’ distinctives. Certainly, he was a Calvinist. But it is not clear to me, even having read this biography, why Edwards so stands out as to be noted in some places as the most important 18th century American theologian. I did learn that one of the greatest importances of Edwards is his book on Religious Affections following the Great Awakening. Murray speaks of it as having “enduring relevance.” (p. 267) And also of importance is Edwards An Account of the Life of the Late Reverend Mr. David Brainerd which Murray notes was “the first full missionary biography ever to be published.” (p. 307)

I found Edwards to be a good example when he stood on Biblical principle against the policy of the day of communion as a “converting ordinance.” But it seems that opinion on Edwards was quite mixed in his own day with the majority at his church in Northampton eventually opposed to him and forcing him out of that call. His eventual next call to Stockbridge, a frontier settlement populated mostly by natives, surely seems to be an unusual place if Edwards were then greatly respected as an eminent theologian.  Murray does in the end confirm the suspicions I had developed earlier in the book: “Edwards was not regarded in his own age, in his own country, with the general esteem which he received at a later period.” (p. 449) At the end Edwards becomes president of the College of New Jersey, but dies shortly after starting the job. Sadly, his own death was close to the deaths of a number of his family members including his own father, his daughter Esther and son-in-law Aaron Burr Sr. Murray notes that Aaron Burr Jr., who later became the Vice President of the United States, was raised by an uncle and lived “without God.”

At over five-hundred pages, the book was a fairly tedious read. But, given the interest many have in Edwards, it is a necessarily thorough book.

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