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Grace Archives ~ Aletheia Baptist Ministries Skip to main content

Law and Grace

Law and Grace

by Rick Shrader

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This new book by Dr. Houghton is a long-awaited and welcomed addition to the important issue of law and grace in the believer’s life.  It could as well have been titled, “Law, Gospel, & Grace” because that is the three-fold division Dr. Houghton suggests as a Dispensational solution to the confusion over law and grace, especially when contrasted to the Catholic and Reformed (as well as Lutheran) views.  Whereas Catholics see law and grace as both essential to salvation, Reformed see the moral part of the Mosaic Law continuing, and Lutherans see the law as a present guide to believers, Dispensationalists who distinguish carefully between Israel (law) and the church (grace), believe that the whole law is done away and yet still do not see grace as lawlessness.

Houghton’s great addition to the discussion is to see Gospel and Grace as distinct in the life of the believer.  The law only condemns and shows the sinfulness of man.  Gospel offers pardon and righteousness totally apart from the law.  Grace is a new guide for the believer’s life which makes demands upon the believer (while at the same time securing his eternal salvation) motivated by love and gratitude, and thus fulfills and surpasses the righteousness of the law.

“I believe significant problems surface if we make only two distinctions.  If the categories of Law and Gospel are the only ones recognized, how does one describe the believer’s obligation to live a life of obedience to God?  After all, we have already recognized that God’s law makes demands, while the gospel does not.  Then how should we explain why the New Testament makes demands of believers today?  If these demands cannot rightly be called Gospel, then what are they?” (p. 11).

 

 

Studies in the Epistle to the Hebrews

Studies in the Epistle to the Hebrews

by Rick Shrader

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Most are familiar with English’s work, Re-Thinking The Rapture, but may not be aware of his great commentary on the book of Hebrews.  This was first printed in 1955 by Loizeaux Brothers.  This is a detailed work similar to William Newell and is trustworthy in matters of types, covenants, and law vs. grace.

 

The Providence of God and why we are tha...

The Providence of God and why we are thankful

by Rick Shrader

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thes. 5:18).

“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).

One of the most difficult things for us to do is to give God thanks for everything. How can we do that? Especially when we see all around us a broken world that appears to be at odds with its Creator. Yet God commands us to be thankful for all things. Some reflection on God’s very nature will help us here. We forget that God is in control and at the same time He cannot be changed by sin, brokenness, or difficulty. Whatever God does is good and perfect, and even the seeming contradictions in life are working together for the ultimate good in His plan.

We often thank God for His creation. “O LORD, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all” (Psa. 104:24). “The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens” (Prov. 3:19). We also thank God for His special acts by which He has shown us His mercy and grace. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning” (Jas. 1:17). We also know that God displays His common graces to all the world. “For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). “Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).

“Providence” comes from two Latin words, pro, meaning “before,” and video, meaning “to see,” and therefore often carries the meaning of “foresight.” In the doctrine of providence, however, we speak more of God’s “oversight” and control. Because God is omniscient and omnipresent, He is everywhere overseeing everything. We may think of controlling all things in some chronological order and therefore having to run from place to place. But God sees all of history like one snapshot, all at once.   “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). J. Oliver Buswell rightly said, “The universal providence of God is the basic assumption of all Scripture.”1

Two old but ongoing errors regarding providence are deism and pantheism. One sees God too distant and the other sees God too close. Deism teaches that God created the world and then left it to run on its own without His interference, like winding up a clock and letting it run. Many deists have believed in God’s control and praised Him for His providence but only meant that He made a wonderfully exact time piece! Pantheism, on the other hand, teaches that everything is in fact God and therefore the world keeps itself going because it is one big universal being. Louis Berkhof wrote, “Christian theism is opposed to both a deistic separation of God from the world and a pantheistic confusion of God with the world.”2 More modern errors are panentheism, or process theology, which views God as getting smarter and more involved as time goes on. Another error is openness theology which teaches that God doesn’t know the future and can only control things by calculating what, in all probability, will happen. In contrast to these is the God of Scripture “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will (Eph. 1:11).

Most theologies call the subject of God’s control over the world providence and some have called it preservation. Common grace is very similar but is usually dealt with separately (see Rolland McCune and Wayne Grudem). The usual way this subject is divided is into three categories: preservation, concurrence, and government. In all of these we find ourselves thankful to a great and mighty God who never leaves us nor forsakes us.

Preservation: Being thankful for all God created and maintains.

Heb. 1:3, in describing the divine attributes of Jesus Christ, says that He “upholding all things by the word of his power” sat at God’s right hand after finishing His redemptive work. The word “upholding” is from pher? meaning “to bear” or “carry.” God, in the person of Jesus Christ, continually bears or carries the whole creation along by the very word of His power. Col. 1:17 says, “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” “Consist” (from sunistemi) gives the meaning of being framed and held together. Peter uses this word in 2 Peter 3:5, “by the word of God the heavens were of old” (lit. “were sunistemi,” were held together). God not only created the world but holds it all together by the very word of His power.

It appears from these verses that the world could not continue to operate or even exist without God’s steady hand upon it. Solomon said, “The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew” (Prov. 3:19-20). We can thank God for the dew because it comes when God wills it to come. The Psalmist writes, “He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. . . . He watereth the hills from his chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. . . . He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down. . . . O LORD, how manifold are thy works!” (Psa. 104:10, 13, 19).

It should not be thought that God leaves no room for secondary causes (as we will see in the next point) but that He oversees everything that happens for the best possible result, considering the fallen nature of man and the brokenness of this world. It is not like the cruise control on your car which can be set at a certain speed and then the foot can relax. It is like the gas pedal that needs a constant pressure so that you don’t go too fast or too slow. God knows exactly (precisely, minutely, explicitly) how the whole universe needs to run and always applies the right amount of pressure at every instant.

Concurrence: Being thankful for all God does with us and through us.

“Concurrence” means agreement or union in action. God also works with His creation, especially His sapient creatures, to perform His providential work. So Psalm 104 also says,   He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and the herb for the service of man” (14). God makes the herb to grow but man has to till the ground if it is going to become food. “The trees of the LORD are full of sap, the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house” (16-17). God makes the trees to grow but the birds are busy making nests.

Charles Hodge likens this cooperation to the sun, “which affects different objects in different ways. The same solar ray softens wax and hardens clay. It calls the germinating force of all seeds into action, but does not determine the nature of that action.”3 This is partly why good and bad happen under God’s providence. God makes a tree and one man makes a boat that floats and another man makes one that sinks. God causes fire to happen because He has made the elements of His creation to combust, but one man warms himself by his fire and the arsonist burns someone else’s home with his fire. One man makes a bullet from God’s raw material for food and protection, but the murderer uses it to kill. And in it all, God holds each one responsible for how he has used, or cooperated with, God’s provision.

Without this concurrence within God’s providence there would be no science, for man could not make experiments that could be tested with the same criteria again and again. Technology would not be possible if man did not know that raw materials will respond the same way each time they are molded or formed. We easily recognize the secondary causes in these things because we see the materials or watch the construction and testing and sometimes witness the tragedies or failures. But we often forget that the primary cause is God though His hand is invisible to us. I may plant a garden but I would still have no food if God had not created the herb yielding seed after its kind.   Believers who have the eyes of faith should, of all people, be thankful “always for all things.”

Government: Being thankful for all God plans and brings to completion.

This third division differs from the first two in that we also see God using His creation and His providential hand to bring about His will and to bring all of creative history to its appointed end. As with concurrence, God uses even imperfections and evil to bring about good purposes. Joseph’s brothers thought to do evil when they sold him into slavery in Egypt, but Joseph reminded them of God’s providence, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen. 50:20). God used Babylon to punish Israel and called that wicked nation “the sword of the Lord” because it served His purpose with Israel. Paul said in prison, “For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19).

Sometimes God’s governmental providence is called His “secret will” as opposed to His “revealed will.” We all do difficult things that no one sees or notices in order to bring about a greater good or a long range plan. So God works in ways that seem mysterious to us but in the end will bring about His eternal good.

Not long ago I showed Samantha, a young Sunday School girl, how the word “history” could be divided into “His-story.” She looked at it and said, “cool.” Yes! and that is why we all love Rom. 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” This is how we can understand David in the 103rd Psalm, “The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all. Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure. Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the LORD, O my soul.”

 

And So . . . .

Even more could be said about God’s miraculous interventions into His creation, those special providences where the very “laws” of nature were broken for His purposes. It is generally agreed that providence, like common grace, does not lead the sinner to Christ. It witnesses (Acts 14:16-17) and informs (Rom. 1:20) but it takes the preaching of the gospel for conversion to take place (Rom. 10:14). We can wrestle with supposed “accidents” or “chance” happenings or even the problem of evil. Yet the believer will never lose faith even when bad things occur. He knows that Almighty God maintains His creation and holds His children in His hand. Our life is hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:3) and that is all the comfort we need.

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Notes:
1. J. Oliver Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980) 174.
2. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapdis: Eerdmans, 1977) 165.
3. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol I (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) 599.

 

Absolutely Free

Absolutely Free

by Rick Shrader

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Written in 1989, this book has been the declaration voice of the Free Grace Movement.  At that time Hodges was the long-time professor of New Testament Greek at Dallas Seminary.  Since his departure from that seminary he has been influential in founding and writing for the Grace Evangelical Society (GES) which advocates the Free Grace position.  The subtitle to this book is, “A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation,” having appeared on the scene just one year after John MacArthur wrote The Gospel According to Jesus.  Hodges’ main thrust is to show that Lordship, either before or after salvation, is unnecessary as proof or evidence of salvation since a believer may remain in a carnal state his entire life.  Hodges uniquely interprets James chapter two as having nothing to do with false faith, but only with Christian faith.  “’Can faith save him?’  But James is not talking here about salvation from hell.  Why should he?  He and his readers were born again” (124).  He also uses John the Baptist as an example of a believer who denied the very faith that saved him and yet remained a believer.  He says, “To put it plainly, at this critical juncture in time, John the Baptist does not believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  Instead, he questions this truth.  Does he then have eternal life?  Of course” (106).

In addition, Hodges explains Romans 10 as having nothing to do with salvation.  “So the salvation Paul has in mind here is broader in scope than simply salvation from eternal damnation.  Instead it embraces the whole range of spiritual and personal deliverances which a risen Lord is able to bestow on those who call upon Him for it” (196).  Such is the tortured interpretation Hodges uses to denounce the Lordship teaching.

 

 

Water of Life

Water of Life

by Rick Shrader

This small book is forwarded by Charles Spurgeon and reprinted in America by Gospel Publishers in MT.  I found this copy in a used book store.  Listen to Bunyan on the abuses of grace:  “Alas! What can be expected of him that has nothing in him to teach him to manage that knowledge of grace which he has, but his flesh, his lusts, and lustful passions?  Can these teach him to manage his knowledge well?  Will they not rather put him upon all tricks, evasions, irreligious consequences and conclusions, such as will serve to cherish sin?  What Judas did with Christ, that a graceless man will do with grace, even make it a stalking-horse to his fleshly and vile designs; and rather than fail, betray both it and the profession of it to the greatest enemies it has in the world.”

Quote from Better Homes & Gardens (July 2005):  “Studies of more than 6,000 junior and high school students found that those with tattoos and body piercings (not earrings) were more likely to smoke cigarettes or marijuana, go on drinking binges, have premarital sex, get into fights, join gangs, skip school, and get poor trades.  ‘If a child asks for a tattoo, the parents should recognize that as an opportunity to talk,’ says Dr. Timothy Roberts, an adolescent medicine specialist at the University or Rochester’s Children’s Hospital.”

Maybe that’s why God said, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD” (Lev. 20:28)!”

 

The Potter’s Freedom

The Potter’s Freedom

by Rick Shrader

The sub-title of the book is “A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free.”  I reviewed Geisler’s book in the July, 2001 issue of Aletheia to which I gave a favorable review because I like Geisler’s position.  I have liked White’s material before, but I don’t hold his extreme position on Calvinism (the book is foreworded by R.C. Sproul) and I think he unfairly represents Geisler as shallow. Geisler’s sin is in being “contradictory to the historic Reformed position” (well!). I am sure Geisler will answer this book soon and we can read for ourselves.

 

God, Creation and Providence in the Thou...

God, Creation and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius

by Rick Shrader

These kinds of books take a great deal of patience to read through.  However, today’s debates over the nature of God’s foreknowledge demand that we make honest effort at understanding  men like Arminius.  He, no doubt, was a thoughtful theologian with a desire to retain the sovereignty of God and the free will of man without conflict.  While I find some of his thoughts too close to today’s Open Theism, I see his followers adding too much to his system of thought much like Calvin’s followers did to his.  Interesting but slow reading!

 

Chosen But Free

Chosen But Free

by Rick Shrader

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I have always enjoyed reading Geisler, and most of us have read him for years in the field of apologetics and philosophy.  Here, Geisler speaks to the current issues of  “Extreme Arminianism” (seen in the elimination of God’s sovereignty) and “Extreme Calvinism” (seen in the elimination of Man’s free will).  Geisler takes issue with Extreme Arminians such as Pinnock, Boyd, Rice and others, and with Extreme Calvinists such as Sproul, Piper and often back to J. Edwards.  Geisler considers himself a “Moderate Calvinist, as opposed to a “Moderate Arminian” due to eternal security.

 

 

Grace Unknown

Grace Unknown

by Rick Shrader

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This is the third book I have read by Sproul in the last year in which he defends the Reformed Faith, specifically those doctrines related to salvation by faith.  These books are a valuable reference in the current controversy over Catholic faith and evangelical faith.  It is disappointing when Sproul refers to Fundamentalism as “unscholarly types” and “backwoods, primitive theology,” as well as when he defends infant baptism as “the majority position in church history.”  Sproul, of course, defends every point of Reformed theology, including regeneration of an individual prior to that person’s faith in Christ.  In spite of those beliefs with which I disagree, I enjoy reading Sproul and am generally glad for his stand against the liberal attack on faith.

 

 

All of Grace

All of Grace

by Rick Shrader

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I picked up this well-know book on a discount rack.  It is a book written by Spurgeon directly to sinners who might be so inclined to read about the gospel for themselves (talk about a different age!).  I think it (and L.S. Chafer’s True Evangelism) is one of the most relevant books on evangelism from past generations one can buy today.