The very heart of worship,
as the Bible makes clear,
is the business of expressing,
from the depths of our spirits,
the highest possible honor we can offer before God.
A Taste of Heaven: Worship in the Light of Eternity (R. C. Sproul)
Session 7 – Preaching the Immutability of God (Steve Lawson)
The seventh and last session of the conference is led by Steve Lawson preaching on the Immutability of God. As a side note, next year’s conference will feature Dr. Al Mohler. Preregistration is $89.00. And if you are in the Mobile area, John MacArthur will be preaching at Christ Fellowship Church on Wednesday, October 6 for a prayer breakfast and the evening service. He will be preaching on the topic of his forthcoming book: Slave.
The text is Malachi 3:6. This is a revelation of God about Himself – His own absolute immutability. The location of this revelation is significant – at the close of the Old Testament. In the midst of the change to come, God declares that He will not change.
So is it true that, even though the message does not change, the methods must change? If God has never changed, if human nature has never changed, if the methods of grace have never changed, then why should we expect that the methods need to change?
1. The definition of God’s immutability. God is unchanging, forever the same, never mutates, His attributes never cease, they never change.
(a) God’s essence is unchanging. He is, was, and will always be spirit. Refer to Psalm 102:25-27.
(b) God’s attributes are unchanging. Refer to James 1:17. God has no shadows. God cannot change for the better because He is already perfect, and being perfect He cannot change for the worse (A.W. Pink).
(c) God’s purposes are unchanging. God’s purposes were fixed in eternity past. There is no Plan B. Refer to Isaiah 46:9-11. However, we must always be amending our plans to align with the immutable purposes of God.
(d) God’s word never changes. Refer to Psalm 119:89. Even man’s law changes, but God’s word never changes. Refer to Isaiah 40:8, Matthew 5:18, Luke 16:17. Application: a ministry that never goes out of style is preaching the word of God.
(e) God is unchanging in the object of His love. Refer to Jeremiah 31:3. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God.
(f) God’s judgment is unchanging. The execution of God’s justice is unchanging. God’s wrath is unchanging. Refer to John 3:18. Annihilationism is unthinkable for an unchanging God. Refer to Revelation 14:11, 20:10. Forever and ever is also used to describe how long believers shall be in heaven.
2. The implications of God’s immutability.
(a) Our message never changes. As long as we preach the Bible we will never contradict ourselves. Refer to Hebrews 13:8. Preach the same Christ every day. Human nature does not change. The sickness is always the same. God’s remedy to the sickness does not change. Refer to John 14:6. And the requirement placed on sinners does not change – faith in Jesus Christ.
(b) Our method never changes. These are the ordinary means of grace – the word of God, sacraments, prayer. In every season, the word of God going forward in public proclamation is the primary method of grace. God only had one Son, and He made Him a preacher.
Expositor’s Conference – Session 6 – Question and Answer (R.C. Sproul)
The sixth session of the conference was a question and answer session. Any reference to “I” or “My” in the answers is on the part of the speaker, not the writer.
Question: Is there a specific will of God revealed through His Holy Spirit?
Answer: The secret counsel of God for the individual is just that – secret. We should not spend time worrying over this. We should spend our time with working on the revealed will of God in the Bible and form our decisions based on the revealed will. The will of God is your sanctification. There is extraordinary providence – a leading of the God directly, but far less frequently than people suppose. When someone says God is calling me to do thus-and-so, ask “How do you know?”
Question: The resurgence of the popularity of reformed theology. What about the groups arising within the reformed camp? How inclusive should we be? How likely is division?
Answer: Evangelicalism was a small minority in Christendom years ago, but has exploded and has eroded. Reformed theology is now resurging, but there is already erosion. Negotiations on justification and imputation are already occurring. The camp is as broad as the non-negotiables of the faith.
Question: Reconciling God’s immutability and Christ’s kenosis.
Answer: They cannot be reconciled. All God’s attributes are immutable. The kenosis theory of emptying as we know it was developed by 19th century liberal theologians – that Christ laid aside his divine attributes. Reformed Christology recognizes that Jesus was, remained, as is, 100% God at all time. Chalcedon answered this question. Each nature retained its own attributes.
Question: What laws does God command a Gentile nation to obey?
Answer: Theonomy is a movement to create a Christian nation with the Old Testament civil laws. Rushdoony and North are the preeminent proponents of this movement. The New Testament in no way reflects the desire to maintain the Israelite civil state. However…the Old Testament does reveal God’s righteous and God’s justice. Laws may be based on Old Testament principles without attempting to resurrect the entire Old Testament civil code. The work of theonomists in showing how the Old Testament law impacts the New Testament has been excellent. North has a book which is dedicated to R.C. Sproul. The church also needs to impact government by being a prophetic voice.
Question: Pink addresses the wrath of God and gives a special note to preachers to preach the wrath of God.
Answer: Preachers are guilty of not declaring the whole counsel of the attributes of God. We fail to see that God is glorified in His justice as well as in His mercy.
Question: What about the cessation of spiritual gifts?
Answer: I believed miracles ceased at the end of the Apostolic age…because the function of the miracle was to authenticate agents of revelation. Miracles only appeared at significant epochs of Biblical history. We must also be specific about our definition of what a miracle is – an immediate intervention of God to do that which only God can do.
Question: Can God speak outside of scripture.
Answer: Of course He can. But does He? No. Not in the terms of new specific revelation.
Question: Thoughts on denominations in light of unity. Are they necessary? Are they desirable?
Answer: The zeal of denominations is admirable. There are issues that will never be resolved this side of eternity. We must practice the way we are convinced God would have us the way practice and not practice they way God is not pleased to have us practice. It is another matter to break fellowship over such an issue. Any doctrine left to the development by inference from scripture is subject to error (i.e., baptism).
Session 5 – Preaching the Wrath of God (R.C. Sproul)
After lunch on Tuesday, the fifth session of the conference was lead by R.C. Sproul, preaching on the wrath of God. Dr. Sproul’s first statement is that the wrath of God is reserved for those who fall asleep during a sermon after lunch. The text for Dr. Sproul’s sermon is Leviticus 10:1-11.
We struggle with the portrait of God in the Old Testament. We struggle with the difference between the God of wrath in the Old Testament and the God of love and mercy in the New Testament. However, this is a false dilemma. The greatest wrath of God is revealed in the New Testament at the cross.
The offering made by Nadab and Abihu is translated as strange, profane, and unauthorized. And for this they are struck dead by God. When Aaron complains to Moses. Moses reminds Aaron of God’s words – among those who come near me, they must regard God as Holy, and God must be glorified before all the people. And what is Aaron’s response? He holds his peace (he shuts his mouth) before the righteousness of God’s judgment. Who can plead his case before God?
But God was not finished. Not only was the mouth of Aaron shut. He instructed the dead bodies to be taken outside of the camp – out of the presence of God. Think for a minute of all that is done outside the camp. The scapegoat is sent outside the camp. The carcass of the sacrifice is disposed of outside the camp. Lepers were sent outside the camp. Jesus was crucified outside the camp.
But God was not finished yet. Aaron and his sons were forbidden to mourn for Nadab and Abihu. Aaron and his two remaining sons were anointed as holy. He was forbidden to mourn the wrath of God against the unholy. We are never to obscure the difference between the profane and the holy. Do we have a sense of the presence of the holy entering into the sanctuary.
Moreover, consider the experience of Uzzah. The ark was designed so that it would never be touched by human hands. Yet Uzzah profaned the holy with the common. Jonathan Edwards makes the point that the sin of Uzzah was the sin of presumption – presuming that his hands were cleaner than the mud into which the ark would have fallen.
And there are other such accounts. The account of Korah. The account of Ananias and Sapphira. How do we account for these sudden outbursts of the wrath of God? We must start by considering that, before God, every sin is a capital offense. Therefore, the revelation of the wrath of God against these specific sins is an evidence of the mercy of God, the patience of God, the forbearance of God.
Yet, human nature opposes this. The more merciful God is, the more we sin and become hardened to the mercy of God. This is because there is no fear of God. The accounts of Nadab, Abihu, Uzzah, Korah, Ananias, and Sapphira are reminders that the wrath of God is still alive and well. When we are saved, we are saved from God, that is, from the wrath of God. Nobody is amazed by grace any longer.
Here is the progression of our response to grace: at first we appreciate it, then we expect it, then we demand it. Romans 1 reminds us that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. God’s wrath is not random, not capricious. It has a specific target – all ungodliness and unrighteousness. Jesus Christ became this target of God’s wrath for the sins of His people.
To explore this matter further, read the books by Jeremiah Burroughs – Gospel Worship and Gospel Fear.
Session 4 – Preaching the Grace of God (Steve Lawson)
Steve Lawson is the preacher for the fourth session, with the subject of preaching the grace of God. His text is Ephesians 1:3-14.
Paul understood grace because he had lived through a revelation of God’s grace on the road to Damascus. Paul understood that all that he was was because of the grace of God.
1. Electing grace. Grace begins in eternity past, before the foundation of the world (verse 4). The word means to be drawn out and set apart for a purpose. To chose out from among the many. God chose by Himself and for Himself according to the tense of the verb. See 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. God’s choosing is not based on merit. Notice the two modifiers of this choosing: in Christ and in love. The order of this electing grace can be constructed from four key words in Ephesians 1:11 – first there is the counsel of God. Out of this counsel comes the will of God. Out of the will of God comes purpose. And what God purposes, He predestines to guarantee the certainty of fulfillment. This grace causes us to preach with humility.
2. Redeeming grace. Verse 7 tells us of the redeeming grace of God. To redeem is to pay a price that a person cannot pay for themselves to purchase their freedom. The price paid was the blood of Jesus Christ. See Ephesians 5:25-27. This grace allows us to preach with compassion.
3. Regenerating grace. This is the grace which has made us alive. This is the grace of the new birth. See Ephesians 2:4-5. The dead person can do nothing. The sinner is spiritually dead, and therefore can do nothing spiritually, However, God, having made us alive spiritually, gives us the ability to do something spiritually. This grace allows us to preach with boldness.
4. Preserving grace. This is seen in verse 13. We have been sealed up in the life of Christ. What has been done in eternity cannot be undone in time. What can separate us from the love of Christ? Nothing. Even our glorification is spoken of in the past tense. This grace allows us to preach with confidence.
This is the grace which we preach. This is the only grace. Any grace which is not these four things is not grace at all.
Session 3 – Preaching the Holiness of God (R.C. Sproul)
Moving on to Tuesday morning and the third session of the conference. The subject of the session is the Holiness of God. The text is Isaiah 6:1-13.
The attributes of God as contained in the confessions of most major denominations are uniform. However, the most unique characteristic of reformed theology is the doctrine of God. That is because reformed theology does not forget on page 2 what it learned on page 1. Theology goes astray when it departs from one the attributes of God.
Of all the attributes of God, the one most neglected but most needful is the simplicity of God. That is, God differs from all creatures in that he being is simple, not compound or complex. We are complex creatures. God is simple, He is not made up of parts. God is completely all of His attributes. God’s attributes cannot be set against one another. Love does not prohibit wrath. Therefore, we can use every attribute of God to define His holiness. His holiness is eternal. His holiness is immutable. And therefore, we can say that holiness captures every attribute of God.
The vision of Isaiah came in the year king Uzziah died (by the way, the same year Rome was founded). King Uzziah was perhaps the greatest king since David, but is also the king who usurped the role of the priest. Uzziah profaned the holiness of God.
In verse 1, Isaiah sees the Lord sitting on the throne. The word Lord here is the word Adonai. This is juxtaposed with LORD in verse 3, which is Yahweh. Adonai is the title given to God in the Old Testament, the sovereign one. This title is also given to Jesus Christ in the New Testament. In Greek, it is rendered kurios. And how did Isaiah see the Lord? High, lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple. The length of the robe determined the status of the king.
Above the Lord are the seraphim. They are constructed in a way that fits their habitat, just as are all creatures. The habitat of the seraphim is the immediate presence of God. Therefore, they must have three sets of wings, for they must cover their face and their feet, and they must fly. Compare the record of Moses requesting to see the glory of God. Even the sinless seraphim cannot look upon the holiness of God. Also consider the beatitudes – only the pure in heart will see God. Again, compare the events of Moses at the burning bush. Our feet symbolize our status as creatures.
But most striking is the message of the seraphim – holy, holy, holy. Thrice repeated because of the overwhelming magnitude of God’s holiness. Not just holy. Not just holy, holy. But holy, holy, holy. This is the only attribute of God described this in this superlative manner in the Bible.
The whole earth is full of the glory of God. Why is it that the world does not know who God is, seeing that His glory fills the whole earth? It begins with the fact that the church does not know who God is.
And notice the effects of the presence of the Lord. The thresholds shook, the temple was filled with smoke. But the greatest effect was upon Isaiah himself. He did not proclaim himself blessed for having seen the Lord. In contrast, Isaiah pronounces doom, judgment, curses upon himself, through the use of a single word – Woe. Not upon his enemies, but upon on himself – Woe is me. Isaiah understood who God is, and Isaiah understood who he is. This is why sanctification is such a gradual process.
What does Isaiah become aware of? His unholiness. Specifically, his unclean lips. We are taught that our first petition is the hallowing of the name of God. Isaiah realizes that his lips have profaned God, and that he dwells amongst a people of unclean lips. But God has grace upon Isaiah. God cleanses Isaiah in the way in which Isaiah recognizes his unholiness. And in this cleansed state, Isaiah then becomes ready to become a servant for the Lord. Isaiah becomes a messenger of God’s judgment. One that had received mercy was then given a message of judgment. But Isaiah is also told that there will be a remnant left in Israel, as a seed left in a burned stump.
The Expositor’s Conference 2010 is supposed to be live broadcast through SermonAudio today.
The first session is due to begin at 9:00 AM.
The link to the live broadcast is SermonAudio Christ Fellowship.
|9:00 A.M.||Preaching the Holiness of God
|10:30 A.M.||Preaching the Grace of God
|1:30 P.M.||Preaching the Wrath of God
|3:30 P.M.||Questions & Answers (Steven Lawson & R.C. Sproul)|
|6:30 P.M.||Preaching the Immutability of God
Session 2 – Question and Answer (R.C. Sproul)
Departing from the published conference agenda, the second session Monday night is a question-and-answer session with Dr. Sproul. Questions are taken from the audience. Steve Lawson quipped that he would handle anything that Dr. Sproul stumbled on.
Please note that the use of “I” and “My” and the like below refers to the answers of Dr. Sproul.
Question: Thoughts on the legitimacy of lay preaching, those who are working in a profession and preaching “on the side”.
Answer: I have a bias for lay preaching. My father was a lay preacher. The legitimacy comes with the call – some are sent, some just went. Lay preaching should be done under the jurisdiction of the church.
Question: Biggest challenges to the Biblical church and reformed theology.
Answer: Doing the Lord’s work man’s way. To be seduced by method and technology. Pleasing man instead of pleasing Christ. “Redoing” church and “Reimagining” church. Degrading the symbols in the church (such as the redesign of the pulpit – think Plexiglas). Designing church services for unbelievers or to accommodate unbelievers.
Question: What is your most significant book?
Question: Has the church been adversely affected by thinking that preaching only occurs within the walls of the church?
Answer: Paul engaged people inside and outside the church. Some of the greatest preachers of all time were street preachers. The greater concern is the erosion of preaching inside the church.
Question: What about efforts to rescue the culture apart from the preaching of the gospel?
Answer: Revival does not necessarily change the culture. Babies don’t change the culture. Those that change the culture must first become adults in the faith – they must be transformed and not conformed. We do that by investing in the people of God by preaching the gospel.
Question: The difference between teaching and preaching.
Answer: Helping people to see how to apply the truths of scripture to their lives.
Question: The problem with the congregational attitude concerning the length of sermons.
Answer: People should sit for a sermon for as long as they will sit for a professional football game. But a preacher must earn the right to preach for 45 minutes. Most preachers don’t have enough to say to preach for 45 minutes. We should finish when the people want more, not when they’ve had too much.
Question: The response of the congregation to worship and preaching. What do you think needs to be done?
Answer: Since when did preaching and the response to the preaching become not part of worship?
Question: What impact does the absurdity of some “science” claims have on the church.
Answer: People swallow nonsense answers – for instance Stephen Hawking. Our congregation has not been taught that rationality applies to the seeking of truth. Our church culture has been taught that you can get to the heart without going through the mind.
Berean Husband is blogging almost live again this year from the 2010 Expositor’s Conference at Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama. This is the second year I have attended this conference. Last year the speakers were Steve Lawson (pastor of Christ Fellowship) and Joel Beeke, noted author on the Puritans. This year the speakers are Steve Lawson and R.C. Sproul. This is the only conference Dr. Sproul is doing outside of Florida this year. Session 1 begins in about five minutes. The attendance this year is excellent. There was no parking left in the parking lot and there are probably 350 to 400 here in the sanctuary. The give-away bag is excellent this year. There are five full-length books, including Sproul’s new book on the Gospel of John. I almost ordered this book a few weeks ago…glad I waited. The theme of this year’s conference is “The Glory of God in Preaching.” The conference guide says that the conference audio will be available shortly after the end of the conference at www. Christfellowship.cc. Sermonaudio is also live video webcasting the conference. Check for a link on the homepage. The conference begins with some congregational singing and a choir anthem.
Session 1 – Preaching the Glory of God (Steven Lawson)
The text for session 1 is from 1 Peter 4:10-11. These verses instruct us that those who God calls to preach have been gifted to preach the word of God. Therefore, every preacher must be a good steward of this gift of preaching. There will be accountability for this stewardship. The chief end of this stewardship is the glory of God.
1. The gift of preaching. Every believer is given a gift. The gift is to be employed in serving one another. The gift is solely from the grace of God and not based on natural ability. In verse 11 we see two categories of these gifts: speaking and serving. The gift of speaking involves both teaching and preaching. Preaching includes teaching and something more. The “more” is the public proclamation of the word of God. Preaching is accompanied by extraordinary power (c.f. the power of the preaching of Paul and Peter). Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6 that this gift of preaching must be fanned into a flame. There is no room for timidity in preaching.
2. The gravity of preaching. Preaching is a sacred call. Verse 11 calls our preaching the speaking of the oracles of God. That is, God’s words spoken through the preacher. We cannot take any part of ourselves into the pulpit. The words must be all God’s words, none of ours. The preacher should have nothing to say apart from the word of God. The preacher must be under the authority of the word of God. More so, when the preacher is preaching the word of God, it is as if God himself is present in the midst of the congregation. The gravity of preaching also arises from the fact that the preacher is a steward. The word of God is entrusted to the preacher to use it wisely for the glory of the master. The steward acts on behalf of the master with the best interest of the master in heart. See 1 Corinthians 4:1-5. The steward will be accountable to be faithful with the gift of preaching. And this accountability is not to man, but to God. We are not even accountable to ourselves. Also see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. The preacher must skillfully lay the foundation of Jesus Christ. So many preachers are busily and skillfully laying a foundation, but the foundation is not Jesus Christ. And so many preachers are busily and skillfully building on the foundation, but are using hay and stubble. All these works will be tested by fire. A handful of gold is worth far, far more than a truckload of hay. We will not know who are the really great preachers until we see what remains after the work has been tested by fire. And see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. We must give our all in order to win the prize at the end of the race. So many preachers are running aimlessly with no goal, and the punches that they throw don’t count, don’t make a difference. We must also make sure that we live in the same manner as we preach to others to live.
3. The goal of preaching. The goal of preaching is that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. We are to glorify God in our preaching and lead others to give glory to God through what they hear preaching. We need to take care that we receive no glory from what we preach. The gift of preaching that God has given to a person is to end that God himself may be glorified.
I would recommend that anyone who thinks that they have been called to preach should listen to this sermon, particularly the part about the gravity of preaching. How often do we build with hay and stubble when we have the chance to build with gold and silver?
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Sunday September 26, 2010 through Tuesday September 28, 2010 in Mobile, Alabama.
In this conference, Drs. R. C. Sproul and Steven Lawson will focus upon the biblical preaching that is God-centered and God-exalting. Our goal is to ignite a renewed passion for God’s glory in our exposition of Scripture. In each session, we will be challenging expositors to hold forth an elevated view of our sovereign God in preaching. When the absolute holiness of God is once again recovered in contemporary preaching, worship will be transcendent, Christ will be treasured, discipleship will be galvanized, and evangelism energized.