Christ Church Free Church of England

Pastor's Pen....

Greetings at the official start of summer - I believe May 1st is just that, though we have been known to have snow in May in years past! This is the time of the year when we start thinking of the holidays. The students in schools and universities are getting their heads down for exams and will soon be breaking up for the summer, some to return to high school and some to launch out into the real world having graduated. Our thoughts and prayers are with them who are facing these big milestones.

In the church a good time, with the summer break looming, to begin a series that will carry us through this time most probably. I want to help us be  thinking about and celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation by studying a book by one of the Puritans - John Owen: "The death of death in the death of Christ." A challenging book that examines one of the great "solas" of the Reformation - GRACE. There were five of these pillars of the Christian faith that together stand alone - we dare not try and add to them or subtract from them. (Basically what is meant by them being solas - standing uniquely alone in the matter of securing infallibly the total salvation of lost sinners - needing no extra assistance or addition to guarantee our slavation. They are GRACE; FAITH: SCRIPTURE; CHRIST & THE GLORY OF GOD.

Owen develops the GRACE sola by asking the vital question: "For whom did Christ die?" In other words who actually benefits from the grace of God poured out there and in what way? Did his death only make it possible for all men to enter into that grace - maybe fiinally depending on who exercises enough faith or fulfills some other condition - or does it go further and actually shower that grace upon some. i.e. Is it sola grace or grace +++ that actually secures our salvation? Does it do away with death for them? And not only do away with it - the death of death for them - but does it enable them to rise to new life in Him even as he rose, evidenced by the recipients of this grace exercising repentance and faith? i.e. Is faith and repentance the condition to receive this grace or evidence of having already received it?

Owen shows that passages of scripture indicate that when Christ died and rose he had a particular people in mind. In fact those people are described as dying with him and rising with him WHEN HE DID - no matter it was in many cases long before they were even born! (Romans 6 suggests the death of death for this particular group. Romans 8 suggests the rising to new life of this same group.) These passages do not say all this is true of them because they believe or only when they believe. It just says its true of them because thats what God has decreed. Not that faith isn't essential - it is one of the solas - but why do they come to faith? They come to faith because the Holy Spirit convinces them that they have already died and been appointed to rise to new life in Christ. Not the other way round, as we often hear it preached. They come to faith because God shows them that before the creation of the world He had graciously chosen to include them in all that he was to accomplish for them particularly at Calvary - i.e. not for all mankind in general - and then would apply to this specific group - named the elect in scripture - from his place in glory, as and when he chooses.

The effects of this grace obviously can only be discovered once they experience the power of his risen life pulsating through their inner being. They ask themselves how come they are experiencing all this when others around them aren't - sometimes those very close to them, like brothers and sisters. The answer is not that they have greater faith, or self determination, or better instruction, or better opportunity etc but rather that God chose to shower his grace partricularly on them.

God holds the key to this grace. He dispenses it on whosoever he will and we cannot question why me or why not her. Neither can we choose who may respond to it - it must be offered to all without discrimination on our part, even to the most hostile and unlikely, trusting God will do what only he can. Sure this is a mystery and we recognise it limits who the recipients are - or better, more positively, who God sets His love on particularly. The Reformers called this PARTICULAR REDEMPTION. But other views also limit who benefits from GRACE.

The non-reformed teachers Owen contended with also limit grace. They limit it by saying Christ died for all mankind indiscrimanantly (they called this UNIVERSAL REDEMPTION) but only those who come to faith actually receive it. They had different ideas about how people come to faith and who actually comes to faith - some almost saying the Holy Spirit does all they need to bring them to faith, others that free will has to have a much bigger part to play, but all to a greater or lesser extent, put the key to unlock God's grace in the hands of men - frail, sinful, fallible men. To a greater or lesser extent they contend that it is ultimately people not God that choose who benefits from all Christ has done or not. No matter how much grace God has made available - mankind can choose to accept or reject.  This is often attributed originally to Jakob Arminius, a dutch tehologian who Owen mainly contended with in this book. His concern - to champion so called man's free will!

You can appreciate this too not only severely limits who the recipients of grace are but does so by putting the final say in the hands of very falible, fallen people rather than in the hands of God! It begs the question - how free is free will in fallen man? If you press the point and ask the obvious question as to who is more likely to be successful in dispensing this grace - the answer is obvious. Given what's at stake - the grace of God that alone can save from a godless eternity - you can see why the Reformers got quite passionate about the solas. But never mind the Reformers - lets look over the summer at what does God's word teach. That's the issue isn't it at the end of the day? - However much we may or may not like or fully understand it all.

Well follow with us as we try our best to distill the essence of Owen's work, which by the way, Jim Packer says in the intro is, in his view, the finest treatment of the subject ever penned and has never been countered by the Arminian camp. The messages will be put up on our media page as we go along, Lord willing. Hope they are helpful and will be used in part at least by Almighty God to irresistably call to himself all for whom Christ died  - as he assures his Son he will do. (John 6 vs 37)

In His service and by his grace,

Grahame.