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The Christian Sabbath: Considering The New Testament

The question before us is do the scriptures teach that the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”, is still in force for Christians today? This is not my first post on the subject. In the first, I simply stated our belief on the matter. In the second, I addressed what I believe to be a crucial problem within the modern church, namely, antinomianism. In the third, I introduced the categories of moral, civil, and ceremonial as they apply to the law of Moses. I made the case that the fourth commandment contains both moral and ceremonial aspects. This is why the command will abide forever (because it is moral), and why some things have changed (the day has moved from Saturday to Sunday, etc., due to the ceremonial aspect of the command). Now we turn our attention to the New Testament and ask, does the New Testament teach that the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”, is still in force for Christians today?  I have seven points for you to consider.

One, the burden of proof is on those who claim the Sabbath command is no longer in force. A careful reading of the Old Testament scriptures leaves one with the impression that the one in seven pattern of work and rest will continue on to the end of time. I’ve made a case for this in previous posts. Those who claim that the fourth command is no longer binding must prove that the New Testament says the command has been done away with, leaving us with nine of the Ten Commandments

Two, never does the New Testament suggest that fourth commandment has been removed. Some will respond by citing Colossians 2:16-17, which says, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” In fact, this verse supports the view that we hold to. Paul is using technical language to refer to the Jewish seventh-day Sabbath along with the whole complex of festivals and feast days associated with the Jewish Sabbath. We agree that the Christian is not to rest and worship on Saturday as if under the Old Covenant. Neither is the Christian obligated to observe the Passover, the Feast of Booths, or any of the other Jewish holiday. Christ has fulfilled these things, and has thus removed them. By no means is this text saying that the one-in-seven moral principle given at creation and on Sinai has been fulfilled and thus removed. Clearly Paul has in mind all of the ceremonial laws of the Old Covent associated with the Jewish Sabbath, including the ceremonial aspect of the fourth command itself (the seventh day). Notice that he uses the language of shadow and substance, proving that he has the ceremonial and symbolic in mind, and not the moral command of God.

Three, Jesus taught that no law would pass away until it is fulfilled. Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17-18: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” The word translated fulfill means, “to give the true or complete meaning to something—‘to give the true meaning to, to provide the real significance of’” (Louw-Nida, 33.144). The question must be asked, did Christ fulfill, or accomplish, all that the Sabbath signifies at his first coming? I hope not! The Sabbath is, among other things, a picture of eternal rest (Hebrews 4). Though Christ earned and secured our rest at his first coming, we have not yet entered into it fully. When we gather for worship on the Lord’s Day (the Christian Sabbath) we are to remember Jesus and his great act of deliverance accomplished at his first coming. But we are also to look forward to the fulness of God’s rest which is yet in our future. The full significance of the Sabbath has not yet been fulfilled, therefore we should not think that it has passed away.

Four, some have claimed that because the New Testament never reiterates the Sabbath command word for word, it is no longer in force. My response: Who says that something must be repeated in the New Testament in order for it to carry over from the Old? The vast majority of the Old Testament is not repeated in the New and yet we understand that much of it remains in force. If we argue that a particular Old Testament principle no longer has force we must demonstrate theologically why that would be. To say that a law or passage of scripture from the Old Testament only applies if it is repeated word for word would gut the vast majority of the Old Testament of significance for the Christian.

Five, while it is true that the fourth commandment is never reiterated word for word in the New Testament, it is in fact spoken of more than any other command. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were constantly accusing him of breaking the Sabbath. Read the Gospels and notice, however, that Christ never broke the Sabbath. He kept it perfectly. He stripped away all of the gunk that man had heaped upon it. He kept the Sabbath purely, but rejected the traditions of men. One should remember that the Gospels were written to Christians. Also, it should be remembered that they were written, not as bear facts of  history, but in order to persuade Christians to believe and to live rightly according to the truth. One should ask, if the Sabbath were of no importance to the Christian under the New Covenant, then why did the Gospel writers deal with it so frequently? The reason they dealt with it, in my opinion, was to demonstrate to the Christian community the importance and true significance of the Sabbath. Jesus kept the Sabbath purely. Christians are to keep the Christian Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day, in the way that he did. To state it another way, why would the Gospels devote so much time to the Sabbath principle and labor to demonstrate  Jesus’ restoration of the fourth command if the command were destined to be tossed into the garbage can of history after the inauguration of the New Covenant?

Six, notice that early church gathered according to the pattern of one in seven, but on the first day of the week. Read the Gospels and see that Jesus met with his disciples on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, after his resurrection, and before his ascension to the right hand of the Father (John 20:26). Read the book of Acts and see that the first Christians gathered for worship on the first day of every week (Acts 20:7). Read Paul’s letters and see that he expected the Church gather together on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2). And notice, finally, that John the Apostle was said to have been in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day (a day that uniquely belongs to the Lord) when he received the vision of the Apocalypse (Revelation 1:10). How do we explain this pattern? It was so firmly and so quickly established by the first Christians, but nowhere do we find a command from Christ or his Apostles saying, the Sabbath is no more, now you are to rest and worship on the Lord’s Day. No such command is given. Where does this new pattern for rest and worship come from, then? Is it not most reasonable to see that the early Christians understood exactly what we are saying? The Sabbath principle given at creation and reiterated on Sinai was for all people in all times. God’s people were were to work six days and rest and worship one. But the resurrection of Christ was so significant (it was an act of new creation) that the day moved from Saturday to Sunday, and is rightly called the Lord’s Day. I have often wondered how pastors who claim that the fourth command was fulfilled and thus taken away by Christ compel their people to gather for worship once a week on Sundays. On what basis do they argue for such a practice? If there is no Sabbath command behind this practice, then we must admit that it is simply a tradition. And if it is a tradition, then we cannot be bound to keep it. Why not gather once a month (some Christians do, I guess). Why not gather for corporate worship on Thursdays. Who’s to say that it must be weekly and on a particular day? The only persuasive answer is that God has ordained that we gather weekly, and he has specified that the people of God gather on Sunday now that the Christ has come, having accomplished his work of redemption.

Seven, consider the following passages that do explicitly speak of a continuation of Sabbath keeping under the New Covenant: First of all, notice Matthew 24:20. Here Jesus speaks of the tribulation that the people of God will experience after he goes to the Father. He says, “Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.” It seems most reasonable to think that Jesus envisioned the pattern of six and one to exist under the New Covenant as it did under the Old. Two, notice that the writer to the Hebrews says, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9–11). The word translated “Sabbath rest” refers to, “a special religiously significant period for rest and worship—‘a Sabbath rest, a period of rest'” (Louw Nida 67.185). He says that it “remains” (present tense). And remember that he was writing to Christians under the New Covenant. And why does it remain? It remains because we have not yet entered the fullness of God’s rest. Notice how  he exhorts Christians in verse 11 to “strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

The evidence it overwhelming, in my opinion, that the fourth commandment is still in force under the New Covenant. The six and one pattern remains because this is the pattern established by God at creation and reiterated on Sinai. In response to the question, who changed the Sabbath? The answer is that Jesus did, by his life, death, and resurrection. We rest and worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, because God’s word, the Holy Scriptures, Old and New, compel us to. May God’s people learn to call the Sabbath a delight!

Posted in Theology, The Christian Sabbath, Church Life, The Christian Life, Theology, Joe Anady, Posted by Joe. Comments Off on The Christian Sabbath: Considering The New Testament

The Christian Sabbath: Is the Sabbath Command Moral or Ceremonial?

I can actually remember uttering the words, “Oh, this is good”, the first time I read chapter 19 of the London Baptist Confession. Many of the questions that arise concerning the scriptures have to do with, what appear to be, inconsistencies between the Old and New Testaments. Some have been troubled to the point of believing that the God of the Old Testament is altogether different than the God of the New – the one being a God of wrath, the other a God of grace. Others come to less troubling conclusions, but still struggle to appreciate the beautiful continuity that exists between the Old and New Testaments.

Chapter 19 of the Confession identifies three categories of laws found within the Old Testament – moral, civil, and ceremonial. These categories help the student of the Bible understand why some things have remained the same while others have changed as the Old Covenant gave way to the New. It should be acknowledged from the start that the Confession provides but a brief statement concerning these things. Confessions of Faith are like this – they do not seek to prove a case, or to thoroughly explain an issue – they are, as the name implies, confessions or declarations. Though complexities remain, the categories of moral, civil, and ceremonial are, in my opinion, good and helpful and true.

Ceremonial Laws

The Confession is right to say that the law of Moses contains a variety of “typical ordinances” (LBC 19.3). This means that some of the laws of Moses served to typifyrepresent, or symbolize something. And what did they symbolize? Among other things, they governed the worship of Israel, “prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits“. The ceremonial laws of Israel served to prefigure Christ. Hebrews 10 is a wonderful place to go for an example of this. The sacrificial system given to Israel was “…but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities…” (Hebrews 10:1, ESV). The passage proceeds to make the case that Christ is the true form. The ceremonial laws of Moses were like a shadow cast backwards on history, if you will, the significant and substantial thing which cast the shadow being Christ crucified.

The Confession goes on to say that the “ceremonial laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are, by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only law-giver, who was furnished with power from the Father for that end abrogated and taken away.” Why have they been taken away? It is because Christ has fulfilled them (Matthew 5:17)! They have served their symbolic purpose! The thing symbolized has come –  his name is Jesus the Christ.

Civil Laws

I will not linger long over the civil law. The Confession simply says, “To them [Israel] he also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use.” Notice two things: One, the civil laws, like the ceremonial laws, have also expired. They have expired due to the simple fact that God’s people are not confined to the nation of Israel under the New Covenant (Romans 9:24-26). Gentiles have been grafted into Israel (Romans 11:17) and are, by faith, children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7); the middle wall of separation has been broken down by Christ (Ephesians 2:14); Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36); the gospel is to go to all nations (Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 25:6-8; Matthew 28:18-20). Simply put, under Christ there is no nation to give the civil laws of Moses to, in a strict and direct sense. Old Covenant Israel rightly bore those laws for a time, until the Christ came through them. Now that he has come, the laws have expired (notice that not even modern Israel is governed by the civil laws of Moses, nor should they be). Two, notice that the Confession acknowledges the ongoing usefulness of the civil laws in that they too have moral implications for us today. For example, Paul argues that Pastors should be paid by appealing to a civil law forbidding the muzzling of an ox while it treads out grain (1 Corinthians 9:8-10) (I’m flattered). The civil laws, though they have been taken away, do contain application for us today.

Moral Laws

The moral law differs from those mentioned above in that it is for all people in all times. It is our belief that the moral law was written in two places. First, it was written upon the heart of Adam. Our Confession summarizes this well, saying, “God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart…” (LBC 19.1). We may call this the human conscience. Adam possessed this law in a most pure way. We possess it still today, but we suppress it in our sinfulness (Romans 2:12-16). Secondly, this law was also given to Moses. “The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man. (Deuteronomy 10:4 )” (LBC 19.2). It is important to notice that there is continuity between the law given to Moses and the law written on the human heart. Paul’s point in Romans 2:12-16 is that a person will be judged by the moral law of God even if he does not have accesses to the law of Moses in the form of the Ten Commandments. For even if he does not have the Ten Commandments, he does have the same moral law law written upon his heart.

The Sabbath Command: Moral or Ceremonial?

The question is this: Is the Sabbath command moral or ceremonial? I do hope that you can see the importance of this question. If it is purely ceremonial, then we would believe that it has been fulfilled by Christ and thus taken away. If it is purely moral, then we would expect that it would continue unchanged until the end of time.

I’ve already stated in a previous post that the Sabbath command “contains a moral principle applicable to all people at all times and in all places.” But notice that I have also said in another place that the “Sabbath is a picture of something.” In other words, it has some typological, symbolic, and ceremonial aspect to it.

I have not contradicted myself. My reason for writing in this way was to prepare to make this statement: The Sabbath command given to Adam at creation, and to Moses at Sinai, was neither fully moral, nor fully ceremonial, but contained elements of both.

I believe understanding this principle is the key to understanding the Christian Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day – whichever term you prefer.

I’ve already far exceeded my self imposed 1,000 word limit, so I will work to bring this a conclussion, leaving some points for another time. For now, consider these three things:

1. We are persuaded by scripture to see the Sabbath command as moral and perpetual. Consider the following reasons:

  • The Sabbath principle was given to Adam at creation. Adam was the representative (covenant head) of mankind.
  • The Sabbath command was given to Moses being grouped together with nine other moral and perpetual commands. The fourth command has to do with the proper worship of God. The first three forbid certain things; the fourth positively commands something, namely the pronounced worship of God on day out of seven (note the terms positive and perpetual in the LBC 22.7)
  •  There is ample evidence that this moral law was not only written on stone and given to Moses, but also on the heart of man. Men and women the world over worship with regularity. They either  worship the true God or false gods; and they either worship according to what God has appointed (one day out of seven), or according to their imaginations and devices (LBC 22.1). The point is that even those who do not have Moses’ law show that they have that same law written on their hearts, distorted as it may be (Romans 2:12-16).

2. We are persuaded by scripture to see the Sabbath command as containing ceremonial elements for the following reasons:

  • The particular day is not inherently moral but serves a symbolic purpose. While the moral principle calls men and women to worship the one true God one day out of seven, the particular day is not inherently moral. We might ask, “what difference does it make which day we gather for worship so long as we worship one day out of seven?” We would have to admit that the moral principle is one in seven. The particular day would not matter except that God has specified the day, and that for symbolic purposes.
  • The seventh day symbolized something particular. Before Christ the Sabbath was on the seventh day. It was a reminder of God’s act of creation (Exodus 20:11). It reminded the people of Israel of their salvation from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). But given its position in the week the seventh day Sabbath also reminded them that their true salvation and rest was yet in the future. Just as we look forward to the seventh day of the week from the vantage point of the first or second day, and so on, so too the Old Covenant saints looked forward to the coming of the Christ and the rest that he would bring from their vantage point in the history of redemption.
  • The New Testament teaches that Christ fulfilled the Jewish seventh day Sabbath along with all of the festivals and feasts associated with it. Colossians 2:16 says,  “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” (Colossians 2:16, ESV) This verse is not saying that the moral, one in seven Sabbath principle, contained with the fourth commandment has been taken away, but that the Jewish, seventh day Sabbath, with all of it accompanying feast days, has been fulfilled by Christ. Christians are not obligated to keep these. The feasts and festivals were clearly ceremonial, picturing Christ, and were thus taken away. The seventh day was also ceremonial, pointing forward to the coming of the Christ.The seventh day Jewish Sabbath was also taken away, its peculiar symbolic purpose having been fulfilled by Christ.
  • The day has moved from the seventh to the first. After Christ, the one in seven principle remains – how could it not given all that has been said before concerning its moral core, its having been given at creation and placed at the heart of the Ten commandments – but the day has moved to the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; etc. ). This is the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10), or the Christian Sabbath. The particular day was able to move because it is not moral (fixed), but ceremonial (subject to change). The day has moved given the significance of what Christ accomplished by his death and resurrection. The people of God under the New Covenant rest and worship on the first day to remember, not only the original creation, but the new creation procured by Christ Jesus. We rest and worship on the first day to remember, not only Israel’s salvation from Egypt, but the salvation earned by Christ, which was far greater indeed. 
  • The first day symbolizes something particular. We rest and worship of the first day because the Christ has come – our salvation has come. We look back to him and the significance of what he has accomplished. The first day Christian Sabbath pictures this very thing. Just as we look back to the first day of the week from the days that follow, so too we look back to the work that Christ has accomplished for us, from our unique vantage point in the history of redemption.
  • The Lord’s Day also reminds us that, as Christians, we have entered into Christ’s rest, and work out of the rest he has secured. For Adam, things were exactly the opposite – work was to lead to rest. For Israel, things were also exactly the opposite – work would lead to rest (not for salvation, but as it pertained to entering into and remaining in the land, which was a type of the kingdom of God). Notice that in Christ, however, everything is turned on it’s head. We rest and then work. We abide in him, and through abiding him we bear fruit (John 15).

3. With that said, it must be noted that we have not entered his rest in a full and consummate sense. I hope we all agree with that! Though we enjoy tremendous benefits in Christ, and though it is true that we are seated with him now in the heavenly places, we have not entered the fulness of his rest. This is why it cannot be that the Sabbath has expired. The Sabbath was a picture of eternal rest for Adam in the beginning. He was to work, and thus enter in. The Sabbath was also picture of rest for the nation of Israel, calling the people to trust in God that they might enter his rest. And the Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, still functions as a picture of eternal rest. Though we have tasted that rest in Christ, we have not entered into it fully. Though the death and resurrection of Christ was indeed significant (so significant was it that the day changed!), his first coming only inaugurated  his kingdom – we eagerly await the consummation of it (Romans 8:18-25).

This is precisely what the writer of Hebrews means when he says, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:9–11, ESV)


There is ample biblical evidence in support of the idea that Sabbath principle is perpetual; there is also ample evidence in support of the idea that something changed in regard to the Sabbath at the resurrection of Christ. Noticing that the Sabbath command is both moral and ceremonial is the key that allows us to  process all of the evidence found in the Old and New Testament. When all is considered we cannot agree with the anti-Sabatarians, nor can we agree with the Seventh Day Adventists –  we must finally say “Amen” to what is expressed so beautifully in chapter 22 of the London Baptist Confession (see also chapter 21 of The Westminster Confession of Faith) and agree that this is indeed the faithful and true teaching of Holy Scripture.

Posted in Theology, The Christian Sabbath, The Christian Life, Theology, Joe Anady, Posted by Joe. Comments Off on The Christian Sabbath: Is the Sabbath Command Moral or Ceremonial?

Do you have questions about the doctrine of salvation?

Do you have questions about the doctrine of salvation? If so, I would highly recommend this seminar series from Dr. John Piper that a friend of mine made me aware of today. The teaching is well presented, thorough, clear, and deeply devoted to the Holy Scriptures – also, it’s free! There’s about 8 hours of teaching here in audio or video form with lecture notes available. Perhaps you could find a way to work this in to your schedule in the next month or two. I trust that you will be blessed by it as you grow in your understanding of what it means to be saved by grace alone through faith alone. May your love for Him increase!


TULIP, Part 1: Introduction

TULIP, Part 2: Assumptions – Irresistible Grace

TULIP, Part 3: Irresistible Grace – Total Depravity

TULIP, Part 4: Total Depravity – Unconditional Election

TULIP, Part 5: Unconditional Election

TULIP, Part 6: Unconditional Election

TULIP, Part 7: Limited Atonement

TULIP, Part 8: Perseverance of the Saints

TULIP, Part 9: Ten Effects of Believing the Five Points of Calvinisim



John 3:16 – God’s Immeasurable Love

It was a joy to study and preach on John 3:16 this past Sunday. This text truly does communicate the most glorious of truths to us – that the Almighty has chosen to love the world, the sinful world, by sending his unique Son in order that all who believe will have eternal life.

A frustration in preaching is that there is usually so much more to be said than what can be said in 45 minutes. That is especially true when diving into an isolated text such as this, dealing with it as a stand alone sermon. There is truly so much more that could be said about John 3:16 than what was said last Sunday from the pulpit at Emmaus, and that is why I am writing this post.

Bellow is B.B. Warfield’s exposition of John 3:16. It is the best that I know of, and the one that I agree with. I do believe that he gets off track a bit in the last section as he seems to allow his Postmillenial views to influence his interpretation of the text, but really this is a minor criticism in comparison to the excellence of his sermon. Please read it and allow it to deepen your understanding of the love of the Almighty God towards sinners.


B. B. Warfield

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

To whom we owe this great declaration of the love of God, it is somewhat difficult to determine: whether to our Lord himself, or to that disciple who had lain upon his bosom and had imbibed so much of his spirit that he thenceforth spoke with his Master’s voice and in his Master’s words. Happily, it is a matter of no substantial importance. For what difference does it make to you and me whether the Lord speaks to us through his own lips, or through those of his servant, the apostle, to whom he had promised, and to whom he had given, his Holy Spirit to teach him all the truth (John 16:13)?

What concerns us is not the instrumentality through which the message comes, but the message itself. And what a great message it is—the message of the greatness of the love of God! Let us see to it that, as the words sound in our ears, it is this great revelation that fills our hearts, fills them so full as to flood all their being and wash into all their recesses. The greatness of the love of God, the immeasurable greatness of the love of God!


This exhortation is not altogether superfluous. Strange as it may sound, it is true, that many—perhaps the majority—of those who feed their souls on this great declaration, seem to have trained themselves to think, when it falls upon their ears, in the first instance at least, not so much of how great—how immeasurably great—God’s love is, but rather of how great the world is. It is the world that God loves, they say, the world. And forthwith they fall to thinking how great the world is, and how, nevertheless, God loves it all. Think, they cry, of the multitudes of men who swarm over the face of the earth, and have swarmed over it through all the countless generations from the beginning, and will swarm over it in ever-increasing numbers through perhaps even more countless generations yet to come, until the end. And God loves them all, each and every one of them, from the least to the greatest; so loves them that he has given his only begotten Son to die for them, for each and every one of them. And for each and every one of them with the same intent—the intent, namely, that he may be saved. O, how great the love of God must be to embrace in its compass these uncounted multitudes of men. And so to embrace them that every individual that enters as a constituent unit into the mass of mankind receives his full share of it, or rather is inundated by its undivided and undiminished flood!

Certainly this is a great conception. But it is just as certainly not a great enough conception to meet the requirements of our text. For, look, will you measure the immeasurable greatness of God’s love by the measure of man? All these multitudes of men who have lived, do live, or shall live, from the beginning to the end of the world’s entire span—what is their finite sum to the infinitude of God? Lo, the world, and all that is in the world—and all that has ever been in the world or can ever be in the world—lies as nothing in the sight of the Infinite One, floats as an evanescent particle in his eternal vision. How can we exalt our conception of the greatness of the divine love by thinking of it as great enough to embrace all this? Can we praise the blacksmith’s brawn by declaring him capable of supporting a mustard seed on his outstretched palm? This standard is too small! We cannot compute such masses in terms of it. Conceive the world as vastly as you may, it remains ever incommensurate with the immeasurable love of God.

And what warrant does the text offer for conceiving so greatly of the world, or indeed for thinking of it at all under the category of extension, as if it were its size that was oppressing the imagination of the speaker, and its parts—down to the last analysis—that were engaging his wondering attention? Evidently the text envisages the world, of which it speaks in the concrete, as a whole. This world is made up of parts, no doubt, and the differing destinies that await the individuals which compose it are adverted to. But the emphasis does not fall upon its component elements, as if their number, for example, could form the ground of the divine love, or explain the wonder of its greatness. Distribution of it into its elements and engagement with the individuals which compose it is merely the result of the false start made when the mind falls away from contemplating the immensity of the love of God with which the text is freighted, to absorb itself rather in wonder over the greatness of the world which is loved.

And having begun with this false step, it is not surprising if the wandering mind finds itself shortly lost in admiration not even of the greatness of the world, but rather of the greatness of the individual soul. These souls of men, each and every one of which God loves so deeply that he has given his Son to die for it—what great, what noble, what glorious things they must be! O what value each of us should place upon this precious soul of ours that God so highly esteemed as to give his Son to die for it! A great and inspiring thought, again, beyond all doubt; but, again, obviously not great enough to be the thought of the text. Clearly, what the text invites us to think of is the greatness of the love of God, not the greatness of the human soul.

And how can we fancy that we can measure the love of God by what he has done for each and every human soul? Persist in reading the text thus distributively, making “the world” mean each and every man that lives on the earth, and what, after all, does it declare that the love of God has done for them? Just open a way of salvation before men, give them an opportunity to save themselves. For, what, in that contingency, does the text assert? Just this: that “God so loved the world”—that is, each and every man that has lived, does live, or shall live in this world—”that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” “Whosoever believeth on him”—those only.

Is this, then, the measure of the immeasurable love of God—that he barely opens a pathway to salvation before sinful men, and stops right there; does nothing further for them—leaving it to their own unassisted initiative whether they will walk in it or not? Surely this cannot be the teaching of the text; and that, for many reasons. Primary among them is this: that we all know that the love of God has done much more than this for multitudes of the children of men, namely, has not merely opened a way of salvation before them, but has actually saved them.

Nor is our text silent on this point. It is not in this mere opening of a way of salvation before each and every man that the love of God for the world is declared by it to issue, but in the actual saving of the world. We read the next verse and we discover it asserting that God sent his Son into the world for this specific end—that the world should be “saved by him.” God did not then only so love the world as to give it a bare chance of salvation; he so loved the world that he saved the world. And surely this is something far better. It provides a much higher standard by which to estimate the greatness of God’s love.

We discover, then, that the distribution of the term “world” in our text into “each and every man in the world” not only begins with the obvious misstep of directing our attention at once rather to the greatness of the world than to the greatness of God’s love and only infers the latter from the former. It ends by positively belittling the love of God, as if it could content itself with half-measures—nay, in numerous instances, with what is practically no measure at all. For if it is satisfied with merely opening a way of salvation and leaving men to walk in this way or not as they will, the hard facts of life force us to add that it is satisfied with merely opening a way of salvation for multitudes to whom it should never be made known that a way of salvation lay open before them, although their sole hope is in their walking in it.

And why dwell on special cases? Shall we not recognize frankly that so meager a provision would be operative in no case? For even when it is made known to men that a way of salvation is opened before them, can they—being sinners—walk in it? Let our passage itself tell us. Does it not explicitly declare that every one that doeth ill hateth the light and cometh not to the light? And who of us does not know that he, at least—if not every man—doeth ill? Does the love of God expend itself then in inoperative manifestations?

Surely not so can be measured the love of God, of which the Scriptures tell us that its height and depth and length and breadth pass knowledge; of which Paul declares that nothing can separate us from it—not death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature; of which he openly asserts that if it avails to reconcile us with God, through the death of his Son, much more shall it avail to bring us into the fruition of salvation by his life.


Obviously, then, the distribution of the notion “world” in our text into “each and every man” in the world, does less than justice to the infinitude of the love of God which it is plainly the object of the text to exalt in our thought. Reacting from the ineptitudes of this interpretation, and determined at all costs to take the conception of the love of God at the height of its idea, men of deeper insight have therefore suggested that it is not the world at large that is in question in the text, but God’s people, the chosen of God in the world.

Surely, it is God’s seeking, nay, God’s finding love that is celebrated here, they argue—the love which goes out to its object with a vigor which no obstacle can withstand, and, despite every difficulty, brings it safely into the shelter of its arms. The “world” that God so loved that he gave his Son for it—surely that is not the “world” that he loved so little as to leave it to take or leave the Son so given, as its own wayward heart might dictate; but the “world” that he loved enough, after giving his Son for it, powerfully to move upon with his quickening Spirit and graciously to lead into the offered salvation. This is the “world” of believers, in a word, as they are called in the following clause, or, as they are called elsewhere in Scripture, the “world” of God’s elect. It was these whom God loved before the foundation of the world with a love beyond all expression great and strong, constant and prevailing, a love which was not and could not be defeated, just because it was love, the very characteristic of which, Paul tells us, is that it suffereth long, is not provoked, taketh no account of evil, beareth all things, endureth all things, yea, never faileth: and therefore was not and could not be satisfied until it had brought its objects home.

It is very clear that this interpretation has the inestimable advantage over the one formerly suggested, that it penetrates into the heart of the matter and refuses to evacuate the text of its manifest purport. The text is given to enhance in our hearts the conception of the love of God to sinners: to make us to know somewhat of the height and depth and length and breadth of it, though truly it passes knowledge. It will not do, then, as we read it, to throw limitations around this love, as if it could not accomplish that whereto it is set.

Beyond all question, the love which is celebrated is the saving love of God; and the “world” which is declared to be the object of this love is a “world” that is not merely given an opportunity of salvation, but actually saved. As none but believers—or, if you choose to look at them sub specie aeternitatis, none but the elect—attain salvation, so it seems but an identical proposition to say that it is just the world of believers, or the world of the elect, that is embraced in the love of God here celebrated. When the text declares, therefore, that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for it, is not what is meant, and what must be meant, just the elect scattered throughout the world?

It may seem strange to us, indeed, to speak of the elect as “the world.” But is not that largely because, in the changed times in which we live, we do not sufficiently poignantly appreciate or deal seriously enough with the universalism of Christianity in contrast with the nationalism of the old dispensation? In this universalistic and new covenant gospel of John, especially, what is more natural than to find the “world” brought into contrast with Jewish exclusivism? In short, is not the meaning of our text just this: that Jesus Christ came to make propitiation for the sins not of Jews only, but of the whole world, that is to say, not of course to reach each and every man who lives in the world, but in any event for men living throughout the world, heirs of the world’s fortunes?

Certainly it is difficult for us to appreciate the greatness of the revolution wrought in the religious consciousness of men like John, bred in the exclusivism of Judaism and accustomed to think of the Messiah as the peculiar property of Israel, when the worldwide mission of Christianity was brought home to their minds and hearts. To John and men like John, its universalism was no doubt well-nigh the most astonishing fact about Christianity. And the declaration that God so loved the world—not Israel exclusively, but the world—that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever—from every nation, not from the Jews merely—should believe on him should have eternal life. This great declaration must have struck upon their hearts with a revelation of the wideness of God’s mercy and the unfathomable profundities of his love such as we can scarcely appreciate in our days of age-long familiarity with the great fact. Is not this, then, the real meaning of the immense declaration of the text: that Jesus Christ is the worldwide Savior, that now the middle wall of partition has been broken down and God has called to himself a people out of all the nations of the earth, and has so loved this his people gathered thus from the whole world, that he has given his only begotten Son to die for them? And is not this a truth big with consequences, worthy of such a record as is given it in our text, and capable of awakening in our hearts a most profound response?

Assuredly no one will doubt the value and inspiration of such suggestions. The truth that lies in them, who can gainsay? But it is difficult to feel that they quite exhaust the meaning of the great words of the text.

In their effort to do justice to the conception of the love of God, do they not do something less than justice to the conception embodied in the term “the world”? In identifying “the world” with believers, do they not neglect, if we may not quite say the contrast of the two things, yet at least the distinction between the two notions which the text seems to institute? “God so loved the world,” we read, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Certainly here “the world” and “believers” do not seem to be quite equivalent terms. There seems, surely, something conveyed by the one which is not wholly taken up in the other. How, then, shall we say that “the world” means just “the world of believers,” just those scattered through the world, who, being the elect of God, shall believe in his Son and so have eternal life?

There is obviously much truth in this idea: and the main difficulty which it faces may, no doubt, be avoided by saying that what is taught is that God’s love of the world is shown by his saving so great a multitude as he does save out of the world. The wicked world deserved at his hands only total destruction. But he saves out of it a multitude which no man can number, out of every nation, and of all tribes and peoples and tongues. How much, then, must God love the world! This interpretation, beyond question, reproduces the fundamental meaning of the text. But does it completely satisfy all its suggestions? Does there not lie in the text some more subtle sequence of thought than is explicated by it? Is there not implied in it some profounder and yet more glorious truth than even the worldwide reach of God’s love, manifested in the Great Commission, and issuing in the multitude of the saved, the voice of whose praise ascends to heaven as the voice of many waters and as the voice of mighty thunders?


Neither of the more common interpretations of the text, therefore, appears to bring out quite fully its real significance. The one fails to rise to the height of the conception of the love of God embodied in it. The other appears to do something less than full justice to the conception of the world which God is said to love. The difficulty in both cases seems to arise from a certain unwillingness to go deeply enough. A surface meaning, possible to impose upon the text, seems to be seized upon, while its profundities are left unexplored.

If we would make our own the great revelation of the love of God here given us, we must be more patient. Renouncing the easy imposition upon it of meanings of our own devising, we must just permit the text to speak its own language to our hearts. Its prime intention is to convey some conception of the immeasurable greatness of the love of God. The method it employs to do this is to declare the love of God for the world so great that he gave his Son to save it. The central affirmation obviously, then, is this—and it is a sufficiently great one to absorb our entire attention—that God loved the world. “God,” “loved,” “the world”—we must deal seriously with this great assertion, and with every element of it. We must first of all, then, thoroughly enter into the meaning of the three great terms here brought together: “God,” “loved,” “the world.”

We shall not make the slightest step forward in understanding our text, for instance, so long as we permit ourselves to treat the great term “God” merely as the subject of a sentence. We must endeavor rather to rise as nearly as may be to its fullest significance. When we pronounce the word, we must see to it that our minds are flooded with some wondering sense of God’s infinitude, of his majesty, of his ineffable exaltation, of his holiness, of his righteousness, of his flaming purity and stainless perfection. This is the Lord God Almighty, whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, to whom the earth is less than the small dust on the balance. He has no need of anything, nor can his unsullied blessedness be in any way affected—whether by way of increase or decrease—by any act of the creatures of his hands. What we call infinite space is but a speck on the horizon of his contemplation. What we call infinite time is in his sight but as yesterday when it is past. Serene in his unapproachable glory, his will is the irresistible law of all existences to which their every motion conforms. Clothed in majesty and girded with strength, righteousness and judgment are the foundation of his throne. He sits in the heavens and does whatsoever he pleases. It is this God—a God of whom to say that he is the Lord of all the earth is to say so little that it is to say nothing at all—of whom our text speaks. And if we are ever to catch its meaning we must bear this fully in mind.

Now the text tells us of this God—of this God, remember—that he “loves.” In itself, before we proceed a step further, this is a marvelous declaration. The metaphysicians have not yet plumbed it and still protest inability to construe the Absolute in terms of love. We shall not stop to dwell upon this somewhat abstract discussion. It is enough for us that a God without emotional life would be a God without all that lends its highest dignity to personal spirit whose very being is movement, and that is as much as to say no God at all. And it is more than enough for us that our text assures us that God loves, nay, that he is Love.

What it concerns us now to note, however, is not the mere fact that he loves, but what it is that he is declared to love. For therein lies the climax of the great proclamation. This is nothing other than “the world.” For this is the unimaginable declaration of the text: “God so loved the world.” It is just in this that lies the mystery of the greatness of his love.

For what is this “world” which we are so strangely told that God loves? We must not throw the reins on the neck of our fancy and seek a response that will suit our ideas of the right or the fitting. We must just let the Scriptures themselves tell us, and primarily that apostle to whom we owe this great declaration. Nor does he fail to tell us, and that without the slightest ambiguity. The “world,” he tells us, is just the synonym of all that is evil and noisome and disgusting. There is nothing in it that can attract God’s love—nay, that can justify the love of any good man. It is a thing not to be dallied with or acquiesced in. They that are of it are by that very fact not of God. And what the Christian has to do with it is just to overcome it. For everything that is begotten of God manifests that great fact precisely by this: that he overcomes the world. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:15a) is John’s insistent exhortation. And the reason for it he states very pungently: because “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15b).

“God” and the “world,” then, are precise contradictions. “Nothing that is in the world is of the Father,” we are told. Or, as it is put elsewhere in direct positive form, “The whole world lieth in the evil one” (1 John 5:19). “The world, the flesh, and the devil”—this is the pregnant combination in which we have learned from Scripture to express the baleful forces that war against the soul: and the three terms are thus cast together because they are essentially synonyms.

See, then, whither we are brought. When we are told that God loves the world, it is much as if we were told that he loves the flesh and the devil. And we may, indeed, take courage from our text and say it boldly: God does love the world and the flesh and the devil. Therein indeed is the ground of all our comfort and all our hope. For we—you and I—are of the world and of the flesh and of the devil. Only—we must punctually note it—the love wherewith God loves the world, the flesh, and the devil—therefore, us—is not a love of complacency, as if he, the Holy One and the Good, could take pleasure in what is worldly, fleshly, devilish; but that love of benevolence which would fain save us from our worldliness, fleshliness, and devilishness.

That indeed is precisely what the text goes on at once to say: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The world then was perishing. And it was to save it that God gave his Son. The text is, then, you see, in principle an account of the coming of the Son of God into the world. There were but two things for which he, being what he was as the Son of God, could come into the world, being what it was—to judge the world, or to save the world. It was for the latter that he came. “For,” the next verse runs on, “God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him.” Not wrath, then, though wrath were due, but love was the impelling cause of the coming of the Son of God into this wicked world of ours. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” The intensity of the love is what is emphasized. It is so intense that it was not deterred even by the sinfulness of its objects.

You will perceive that what we have here then is, in effect, but John’s way of saying what Paul says when he tells us that “God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

The marvel, in other words, which the text brings before us is just that marvel above all other marvels in this marvelous world of ours—the marvel of God’s love for sinners. And this is the measure by which we are invited to measure the greatness of the love of God. It is not that it is so great that it is able to extend over the whole of a big world. It is so great that it is able to prevail over the holy God’s hatred and abhorrence of sin! For herein is love, that God could love the world—the world that lies in the evil one: that God, who is all holy and just and good, could so love this world that he gave his only begotten Son for it—that he might not judge it, but that it might be saved.

The key to the passage lies, therefore, you see, in the significance of the term “world.” It is not here a term of extension so much as a term of intensity. Its primary connotation is ethical, and the point of its employment is not to suggest that the world is so big that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it all, but that the world is so bad that it takes a great kind of love to love it at all, and much more to love it as God has loved it when he gave his Son for it.

The whole debate as to whether the love here celebrated distributes itself to each and every man that enters into the composition of the world, or terminates on the elect alone, chosen out of the world, lies thus outside the immediate scope of the passage and does not supply any key to its interpretation. The passage was not intended to teach, and certainly does not teach, that God loves all men alike and visits each and every one alike with the same manifestations of his love. And as little was it intended to teach or does it teach that his love is confined to a few especially chosen individuals selected out of the world. What it is intended to do is to arouse in our hearts a wondering sense of the marvel and the mystery of the love of God for the sinful world—conceived, here, not quantitatively but qualitatively as, in its very distinguishing characteristic, sinful.

And search the universe through and through—in all its recesses and through all its historical development—and you will find no marvel so great, no mystery so unfathomable, as this: that the great and good God, whose perfect righteousness flames in indignation at the sight of every iniquity and whose absolute holiness recoils in abhorrence in the presence of every impurity, yet he loves this sinful world—yes, has so loved it that he has given his only begotten Son to die for it! It is this marvel and this mystery that our text would fain carry home to our hearts, and we would be wise if we would permit them to be absorbed in its contemplation.


At the same time, however, although we cannot permit the passage to be interpreted in the terms of the debate in question, it would not be quite true to say it has no bearing upon that debate.

One thing, for instance, which the passage tells us, and tells us with great emphasis, is that the love which it celebrates is a saving love; not a love which merely tends towards salvation, and may—perhaps easily—be defeated in its aim by, say, the unwillingness of its objects. The very point of the passage lies, on the one side, in the mightiness of the love of God; and, on the other, in the unwillingness not of some but of all its objects.

The love here celebrated is, we must remember, the love of God—of the Lord God Almighty: and it is love for the world—which altogether “lies in the evil one.” It is a love which is great and powerful and all-conquering, which attains its end and will not stand helpless before any obstacle. It is the precise purpose of the passage to teach us this, to raise our hearts to some apprehension of the inconceivable greatness of the love of God, set as it is upon saving the wicked world. It would be possible to believe that such a love as this terminates equally and with the same intent upon each and every man who is in “the world,” only if we may at the same time believe that it works out its end completely and with full effect on each and every man. But this the passage explicitly forbids us to believe, proceeding at once to divide the “world” into two classes, those that perish and those that have eternal life. The almighty, all-conquering love of God, therefore, certainly does not pour itself equally and with the same intent upon each and every man in the world. In the sovereignty that belongs of necessity to his love as to all love, he rather visits with it whom he will.

But neither will the text allow us to suppose that God grants this immeasurable love only to a few, abstracted from the world, while the world itself he permits to fall away to its destruction. The declaration is not that God has loved some out of the world, but that he has loved the world. And we must rise to the height of this divine universalism.

It is the world that God has loved with his deathless love, this sinful world of ours. And it is the world, this sinful world of ours, that he has given his Son to die for. And it is the world that through the sacrifice of his dear Son, he has saved, this very sinful world of ours. “God sent not the Son into the world,” we read, “to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him” (John 3:17). That is to say, God did not send his Son into the world for the purpose of judging the world, but for the purpose of saving the world—a declaration which could not be true if, despite his coming, the world were lost and only a select few saved out of it. The purposes of God do not fail.

You must not fancy, then, that God sits helplessly by while the world, which he has created for himself, hurtles hopelessly to destruction, and he is able only to snatch with difficulty here and there a brand from the universal burning. The world does not govern him in a single one of his acts. He governs it and leads it steadily onward to the end which, from the beginning, or before a beam of it had been laid, he had determined for it. As it was created for his glory, so shall it show forth his praise. And this human race on which he has impressed his image shall reflect that image in the beauty of the holiness which is its supreme trait.

The elect—they are not the residuum of the great conflagration, the ashes, so to speak, of the burnt-up world, gathered sadly together by the Creator, after the catastrophe is over, that he may make a new and perhaps better beginning with them and build from them, perchance, a new structure, to replace that which has been lost. Nay, they are themselves “the world”—not the world as it is in its sin, lying in the evil one, but the world in its promise and potency of renewed life.

Through all the years, one increasing purpose runs, one increasing purpose: the kingdoms of the earth become ever more and more the kingdoms of our God and his Christ. The process may be slow; the progress may appear to our impatient eyes to lag. But it is God who is building! And under his hands the structure rises as steadily as it does slowly, and in due time the capstone shall be set into its place, and to our astonished eyes shall be revealed nothing less than a saved world!

Meanwhile, we who live in the midst of the process see not yet the end. These are days of incompleteness, and it is only by faith that we can perceive the issue. The kingdom of God is as yet only in the making, and the “world” is not yet saved. So, there appear about us two classes—there are those that perish as well as those that have eternal life. With the absoluteness which characterizes the writer of this gospel, these two classes are set before us in the text and in the paragraph of which it forms a part, in their intrinsic antagonism. They are believers and unbelievers in the Son of God. And they are believers and unbelievers in the Son of God, because they are in their essential natures good or bad, lovers of light or lovers of darkness. “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light…. But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light” (John 3:20-21). Throughout the whole process of the world’s development, therefore, the Light that has come into the world draws to himself those who are of the light. He, that is, who through love of the world came into the world to save the world—yea, and who shall save the world—in the meantime attaches to himself in every generation those who in their essential nature belong to him.

How they came to be his, and therefore to be attracted to him, and therefore to enter into the life that is life indeed—to become portions no longer of the world that lies in the evil one, but of the reconstructed world that abides in him—the paragraph in which our text is set leaves us much uninformed. Accordingly, some rash expositors wish to insist that to it the division of men into the essentially good and the essentially bad is an ultimate fact. They speak therefore much of the ineradicable dualism of Jesus’ conception, not staying to consider the confusion thus wrought in the whole paragraph. For in that case how could there be talk of the Son of God coming into the world to save the world? Obviously, to the text, those who belong to the Son themselves require saving. That is to say, no less than the lost themselves, they belong by nature to the “evil one,” in whom the whole world—not a part of it only—we are told explicitly, “lieth.”

And if we will but attend to the context in which our paragraph is set, we will perceive that we are not left without guidance to its proper understanding. For we must remember that this paragraph is not an isolated document standing off to itself and complete in itself, but is a comment upon the discourse of our Lord to Nicodemus. It necessarily receives its color and explanation, therefore, from that discourse of which it is either a substantive part or upon which it is at least a reflection. And what does that discourse teach us except this: that all that is born of flesh is flesh, and only what is reborn of Spirit is Spirit; that no man can enter the kingdom of God, therefore, except he be born again of God; and that this birth is not at the command of men, but is the gift of a Spirit which is like the wind that bloweth where it listeth, the sound whereof we hear though we know not whence it cometh and whither it goeth—but can say of it only, Lo, it is here!

Here then is the explanation of the essential difference in men revealed in the varying reception they give to the Son of God. It is not due to accident of birth or to diversity of experience in the world, least of all to inherent qualities of goodness or badness belonging to each by nature. It is due solely to this—whether or not they have been born again by the Spirit and so are of the light and come spontaneously to the light when it dawns upon their waiting eyes.

The sequence in this great process of salvation, then, according to our passage, when taken in its context, is this: the fight of the Son of God to save the world; the preparation of the hearts of men to receive the Son of God in vital faith; the attraction of these “children of the light” to the Light of the world; and the rebuilding of the fabric of the world along the lines of God’s choosing into that kingdom of light which is thus progressively prepared for its perfect revelation at the last day.

Thus, then, it is that God is saving the world—the world, mind you, and not merely some individuals out of the world—by a process which involves not supplanting but reformation, re-creation. We look for new heavens and a new earth, it is true; but these new heavens and new earth are not another heaven and another earth, but the old heaven and old earth renewed; or, as the Scriptures phrase it, “regenerated.” For not the individual merely, but the fabric of the world itself, is to be regenerated in that “regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory” (Matt. 19:28). During the process, there may be much that is discarded. But when the process is completed, then also shall be completed the task which the Son of Man has taken upon himself, and the “world” shall be saved—this wicked world of sinful men transformed into a world of righteousness.

Surely, we shall not wish to measure the saving work of God by what has been already accomplished in these unripe days in which our lot is cast. The sands of time have not yet run out. And before us stretch, not merely the reaches of the ages, but the infinitely resourceful reaches of the promise of God. Are not the saints to inherit the earth? Is not the re-created earth theirs? Are not the kingdoms of the world to become the kingdom of God? Is not the knowledge of the glory of God to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea? Shall not the day dawn when no man need say to his neighbor, “Know the Lord,” for all shall know him from the least unto the greatest?

O raise your eyes, raise your eyes, I beseech you, to the far horizon. Let them rest nowhere short of the extreme limit of the divine purpose of grace. And tell me what you see there. Is it not the supreme, the glorious, issue of that love of God which loved, not one here and there only in the world, but the world in its organic completeness; and gave his Son, not to judge the world, but that the world through him should be saved?

And he spake with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he … showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God…. And the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine upon it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb. And the nations shall walk amidst the light thereof: and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it. And the gates thereof shall in no wise be shut by day (for there shall be no night there): and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it: and there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that maketh an abomination and a lie: but only they that are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev. 21:9-11, 23-27)

Only those written in the Lamb’s book of life, and yet all the nations! It is the vision of the saved world. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” It is the vision of the consummated purpose of the immeasurable love of God.

The author was professor of didactic and polemic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1887 until his death in 1921. This article was originally a sermon preached in the Princeton chapel, and has been slightly edited. The Bible quotations are from the ASV. Reprinted from New Horizons, April 2003.

Taken from

The Word as a Means of Grace

I came across this quote from Charles Hodge in my sermon preparation last week. The quote is embedded within a larger section where he is discussing the means of grace. I wanted to share it with you as a way of encouraging you to read the scriptures daily and to listen to sound Bible teaching regularly. The spiritual health of the church and our lives individually is connected to how much we know of God’s Word.

“Christianity nourishes just in proportion to the degree in which the Bible is known, and its truths are diffused among the people. During the apostolic age the messengers of Christ went everywhere preaching his Gospel, in season and out of season; proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; requiring those to whom they preached to search the Scriptures; exhorting younger ministers to preach the Word; to hold forth the Word of life; to give attendance to reading, exhortation, and doctrine; to meditate upon these things and to give themselves wholly to them. During this period the Gospel made more rapid progress, and perhaps brought forth more abundant fruits than during any equally long period of its history. When, however, the truth began to be more and more corrupted by the speculations of philosophy, and by the introduction of the Jewish doctrines concerning ceremonies and the priesthood; when “reserve” in preaching came into vogue, and it was held to be both lawful and wise to conceal the truth, and awaken reverence and secure obedience by other means; and when Christian worship was encumbered by heathen rites, and the trust of the people turned away from God and Christ, to the virgin and saints, then the shades of night overspread the Church, and the darkness became more and more intense, until the truth or light was almost entirely obscured. At the Reformation, when the chained Bible was brought from the cloisters, given to the press, and scattered over Europe, it was like the bright rising of the sun: the darkness was dissipated; the Church arose from the dust, and put on her beautiful garments, for the glory of God had arisen upon her. Wherever the reading and preaching of the Word was unrestricted, there light, liberty, and true religion prevailed, in a proportionate degree. Wherever the Bible was suppressed and the preaching of its truths was forbidden, there the darkness continued and still abides.”

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology – Volume 3, Pages 469-470

via The Word as a Means of Grace « On the Road to Emmaus.

VeggieTales and Moralism

The other day Carson and I were watching VeggieTales, you know… Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, and all the other vegetable characters that “teach” lessons from the Bible. As I sat there watching, I began thinking to myself whether or not this animated show was really teaching biblical truths and concepts. Even though the characters were reenacting and explaining Bible stories, my skepticism grew the more I watched and listened. After the show was over, I did a quick Internet search to see what others might have to say about this program. What I found was rather interesting. On September 24th, 2011, published an interview with VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer in which he admitted and repented of teaching moralism rather than Christianity in all of the VeggieTales episodes.

“After the bankruptcy I had kind of a forced sabbatical of three or four months of spending time with God and listening to Him. I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, ‘Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,’ or ‘Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!’ But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality.” [1]

What is moralism, and why is not a biblical theology? The distinction between moralism and biblical Christianity is rather simple but can often be overlooked if not careful. At the core, moralism is a “religion” which teaches that man ought to live a life of good moral character by continually doing what is right. While you might be thinking there is nothing wrong with this statement, the serious deficiency of moralism is that it never presents the  gospel message. Moralism preaches that we are to do what is right, but it never addresses the fact that we are unable to do what is right before God.  VeggieTales is just one example of how teaching Bible stories and morality from scripture doesn’t necessarily mean biblical truth is being taught. We can teach our children every moral principal in scripture but if the gospel message is missing, it is nothing more than the self-righteous philosophy found in many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.

As I mentioned earlier, the problem with moralism is that it calls people to live a life of morality (based on God’s law) but neglects to teach about man’s inability to do good or to point to the covenant of grace of Jesus Christ. Moralism presents an incomplete story. For a complete understanding of biblical truth, which we need to be teaching our children, we must comprehend the difference between the law and the gospel and how both impact the life of a believer.

The Bible teaches that God requires man to obey his law (morality). The scriptures also teach that all of mankind is unable to keep those very same commands.  Therefore, God intended his law to have a “pedagogical use (usus elenchticus sive paedagogicus); it shows people their sin and points them to mercy and grace outside of themselves” (Lems). While God’s law reveals his will and standards for mankind, it also brings individuals to the realization that they are in need of the gospel; this is what is lacking in moralism. What man is unable to do according to the law, Christ did in our place- by living a perfect life to the law and paying the ransom for our sins by dying on the cross. God’s law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ work together in the life of an individual to bring about a saving faith.

God’s law not only points someone to Christ but it also guides the believer on how he or she shall live. God’s law has a “normative use (usus didacticus sive normativus) which means this use of the law is for those who trust in Christ and have been saved through faith apart from works” (Lems). The law cannot save people because they are unable to keep it. But God’s law does instruct believers on how they are to behave in the family of God. God’s law is what helps guide believers in the process of becoming holy as God is holy. The commands found in scripture play an essential role in the sanctification process of a believer. While we are to keep the commands of God, we must never forget that our ability to do so comes from the work of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection has set believers free from the bondage of sin and prepared the way for the Holy Spirit to dwell within believers, to guide and direct them into righteousness.

In raising children and living the Christian life, we must guard against becoming moralistic, demanding do’s and don’ts without grace or mercy. We must also be cautious in becoming antinomian, believing that God’s law is of no use to believers since they have faith in Christ. As Christians and as parents, we must use God’s law the way he intended it to be used- to reveal his will to mankind, to point people to Christ for salvation, and to bring about holiness in those who have faith in Jesus Christ.

Question and Answer Opportunity

Hello Church,

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this sermon series but have one regret: there is so much more that could be said concerning the unfolding of the story of redemption and the typological nature of the Old Testament!

I acknowledge that I have moved very quickly, only briefly introducing these concepts to you, but please understand that I plan to address this topic in two ways in the future.

One, the history of redemption will always be in view as I preach. In order to understand the scriptures one must keep both the whole and the parts in view. The moment we begin to look at the small details of the text and ignore the overarching story of scripture (the meta-narrative), we are lost. The same is true if we pay attention to the meta-narrative while ignoring the individual parts. In the next couple of months we will be going back to the study of an individual book (probably in the New Testament), moving verse by verse through the text. No matter which book of the Bible we are studying we must keep the history of redemption in view. In this way, instruction concerning the unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes will be never ending.

Two, I plan to teach through the history of redemption in much greater detail in an Emmaus Essentials course a few years from now. I would like to give you all an opportunity to progress through the current Emmaus Essentials track before offering a more “advanced” track. We are laying foundations now by studying systematic theology but there is so much more that I would like to teach! Please remain faithful in attending Emmaus Essentials so that we can continue to grow together in our understanding of scripture.

Because we have moved so quickly through the history of redemption (covering the whole Old Testament in only a few months) I would like to request questions from the congregation. These might be questions that you used to have, currently have, or think other might have. The point is that I would like the opportunity to answer those questions either from the pulpit or through writing. If you have questions pertaining to this sermon series please post them here and I will do my best to provide answers.

Posted in News, Theology, Joe Anady, Posted by Joe. No Comments

In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

Emmaus Christian Fellowship is almost eleven months old (born June 5, 2011). In some ways it feels as if we have been together for a long time, but in other ways it feels like we have just begun. The past eleven months have been filled with a lot of hard work for the Elders and Leadership core here at Emmaus; lots of study, lots of meetings, lots of writing.

In particular, we have been working hard on the Foundation Documents of Emmaus Christian Fellowship. These documents will include things such as our statement of faith, confession, bylaws, membership process, mission statement, as well as other core documents which will bring clarity to the beliefs, policies, and vision of ECF.

These documents are important and I’m looking forward to the day when we will give them to the people of Emmaus for review and feedback (I have a date in mind as a goal but I rather not say given that rushing these documents for the sake of meeting a deadline would be foolish and potentially harmful to the decades of ministry that await us).

I write this post because we are approaching a time when the beliefs of Emmaus Christian Fellowship will be stated with great specificity. My concern, as we grow in our understanding of the scriptures, is that we maintain a disposition of heart where we are able to, one, stand firm upon our convictions and, two, be humble and gracious towards those who might disagree with us on the non-essentials of the Christian faith.

Maintaining this balance is no simple task. Christians have struggled throughout the ages with this interplay between standing for truth and loving those who might disagree. It has been a struggle because it is a complicated endeavor.

I think the motto, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”, is potentially helpful for three reasons.

First of all, the motto acknowledges that there are essentials to the Christian faith that all must agree upon in order to be a Christian. As a result, there are some things worth fighting for. Consider Paul’s words to Titus concerning the qualification of an Elder within the church: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9, ESV)

Second, the motto acknowledges that within the church we must leave room for liberty in the areas that are non-essential to the Christian faith. Consider Paul’s words to the Romans concerning the diversity which existed within the church of Rome: “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:5–6, ESV)

Third, the motto encourages us to do all things with charity, which I take to mean, humility, graciousness, and out of a heart of love. Paul encouraged the church in Colossae in the same way saying, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14, ESV)

We must be careful at this point given that we have made a mess of this “love” concept in our modern day supposing that it means that we are never to disagree, confront, or rebuke. To those who hold the view that love is being perpetually passive I would ask the question, have you ever read about Jesus in the gospels or Paul’s writings to the churches? These men confronted boldly from time to time and yet they did so out of love.

Consider the contrast concerning Paul’s dealings with the church of the Thessalonians. First he says, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7, ESV) And then a few verses later he says, “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12, ESV) Paul uses the imagery of a nursing mother and an exhorting father to illustrate his care for the believers. Both tenderness and exhortation can and should emanate from a heart of love.

In regard to the charity principle, the point is this – we must be sure that whether we are encouraging or exhorting that our hearts are truly humble and filled with love, even for our enemies. To be perpetually passive or constantly confrontational will not do. It is possible to be passive out of a heart of hatred just as it is possible to confront in love.

The issue is the heart. This is my prayer for Emmaus Christian Fellowship, that our hearts would be pure. We must stand for the truth of the gospel and do so because we possess a true love for God and our fellow man.

Click here for more thoughts on the motto, “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.”

"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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