Lecture 5: The Power of the Gospel
Course: Why We Believe
Lecture 5: The Power of the Gospel
Step # 5 – How can We Justify the Claim that the Bible Makes for Itself
I. The Continued Analysis of the Westminster Catechism
I want to complete our analysis of the application of the Westminster Catechism to our own lives and answer how we can know that the Bible is God’s Word. We have just dealt in an extended way the whole of the Glory of God. And why from John 7 and John 5 and Romans 1 and our experience of the natural world, all of that causes us to say this is it, this is the explanation; it coheres to what I am and what I have seen. Now the last words in that is this, by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation. 2nd Corinthians 4:4-6 comes close to explaining what this means. ‘In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the Gospel of the Glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ Satan is trying to keep us from seeing the light of the Gospel; this is not a physical light. It is a light that you can’t see with your physical eyes. It is the light of the Gospel of the glory and radiance of Christ as the image of God. When the Gospel is faithful preached, when you tell the story of Jesus Christ, the perfect man, God-man, dying for sins in your place, rising again from the dead, conquering death, conquering hell, conquering sin, conquering Satan and being exalted to God’s right hand; this is all according to the Scriptures and testified to by eye-witnesses. When you tell that story faithfully, Paul says that there is a light of a magnificent person that shines out and the heart sees it, unless Satan is blinding the heart. And if you see it, you know it is true, you see it as plain as a light in a room. There is an immediacy in the Gospel that vindicates itself according to this text, we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as bond servants for Jesus’ sake. Then verse 6 parallels verse 4, ‘for God who said light shall shine out of darkness’, the original bringing into existence of light. He is the one who has shown in our hearts because that is how this light happens to us blind creatures. This is the new birth I believe. He has given us the ability in our hearts to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. That is how you come to credit the Gospel. The God who let light shine out of darkness shines in your heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. It is a self-authenticating kind of glory that you see written across that story that cannot be accounted for any other way. This is why I don’t think that it is irrational.
Johnathan Edwards argues in his sermon Divine and Supernatural Light Immediately departed to the Soul. If you have never read that sermon and want to know more about what I am saying here, you need to read that. You can find it on-line by searching Google©. He argues that it’s rational, meaning that there is a real reason for believing the Gospel. We are just blind to it, but you can see it and it is self-evidencing, just like there is a real reason for me to believe the light is on in this room. There is a real reason to believe that there is a light on in the Gospels. You have to look with the eyes of your heart. What stops us from seeing this light is our own sins, but if we open our hearts to it, we can see it. In 1st Peter, talking about the new birth, ‘you have been born again, not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is through the living and abiding Word of God; this is the Word that was preached to you.’ When the story of the Gospel is told in the power of the Holy Spirit, new birth happens to people. New birth means that a miracle takes place and one of the marks of that miracle is that light dawns and you see things as irresistible true and attractiveness that you didn’t see before and you embrace the Gospel. So what Westminster is saying when it argues that by the Scriptures, light and power is given to convince and convert sinners, it is the Word of God. This is what I am arguing from 1st Peter 1:23 and 2nd Corinthians 4:4, that this light and power to convert means that a miracle has happened when the Gospel has been faithfully preached and we are enabled to see authentic self-vindicating light and glory in the person of Jesus Christ.
Note that if someone asks you why you believe this stuff? One short answer would be, ‘when I read the story of Jesus in the Gospels of how he lived and what he said and did and how he died and then rose again; when I read that, he wins my trust. I can’t reject him.’ I don’t think the person you are talking to will not despise that answer. If they do, you could ask, how do you come to trust somebody? How did you get to trust your wife or someone? Their answer usually includes watching, studying, seeing what they were like. This is the way I feel about the apostle Paul; having spent so many hundreds of hours talking and dealing with Paul, I can’t regard Paul as a person who doesn’t know what he is talking about. I feel the same way about Jesus. It is nice to develop arguments for the validity and reliability of the Gospels, but the story as it reads in the Bible wins me over.
II. John Calvin and the Westminster Catechism
This is the last part of the Westminster answer. ‘But the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man is alone able fully to persuade that they are the very Word of God.' What does that mean? I am going to go to Calvin here and unpack his doctrine as I think the Westminster Catechism was influenced by him. The Spirit of God bearing witness (This is the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit) brings us to believe that the Bible is the very Word of God. This is my section on John Calvin’s doctrine of the internal testimony. He says that a most pernicious error widely prevails that Scripture has only so much weight as conceded to it by the consent of the church. In his day, he thought this to be a pernicious error, and I would guess that error is still abroad today. As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men. Yet, if this is so, what will happen to miserable consciences seeking firm assurances of eternal life if all promises of it consist in and depend upon the judgement of men? That was his dilemma. If you don’t base it on the judgement of the church, what will you base it on? That is what he is trying to answer here. How shall we know? His answer is the internal testimony of the Spirit. The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent that all reason; for as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his word, the Word will not find acceptance in men’s heart before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit there who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaim what had been divinely commanded. Because until he illuminates their minds, they ever waver among many doubts; the crucial question here is how he does this. How does the Holy Spirit persuade us of the truth of Scriptures? He says, let it stand that those who the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught, truly rest upon Scripture and that Scripture is indeed self-authenticating. What the testimony of the Holy Spirit is going to argue, this is not added information about the Bible. If I say, seek the full experience of the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the truth of the Word of God. That doesn’t mean, go into the words, leaving your Bible at home and ask the Holy Spirit to tell you that the Bible is true. This is not the testimony of the Holy Spirit as it is not a second revelation.
We have the revelation from the Bible and we have words coming from the Holy Spirit, of prophecy, wisdom, words of knowledge and they are coming and saying that the Bible is true, pick it up and read it. That is not the case that this is pulling rank on the Holy Spirit in the Word. That is not what Calvin means nor is it what I would mean. He is saying that when the Holy Spirit testifies to you, it does so by illuminating the Word as self-authenticating. Hence, it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning and the certainty it deserves with us is obtained by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty; it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore, illuminated by this power to see what is really there, by this power we believe neither by our own or anyone else’s judgement that Scripture is from God. This is the most remarkable statement. We do make judgements, but he is arguing that the witness of the Spirit, which is the effect of the Spirit, has in making us able to see what is really there. This is what I am talking about in 2nd Corinthians 4:4, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. To see what is really there, that is so immediate that he says it is not by virtue of any long train of arguments formed by our judgement. But above human judgement, we affirm with utter certainty just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself, looking at the light. That light is on, I am not reasoning about that light being on. I am stating a fact, the light is on. And he says that this is the way the heart sees the glory of God in the Bible. That it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of people; we seek no proofs, no marked genuineness upon which our judgement may lean, even though he gives lots of those. That is not the immediate final decisive work of the Spirit, but we subject our judgement and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guess work. We do this fully conscience that we hold the unassailable truth. This is all in the institutes of book 1 in chapter seven of Calvin’s writings.
We feel that the undoubted power of his divine majesty lives and breathes there in the Bible. By this power, we are drawn and inflamed, knowingly and willingly to obey him, yet also more vitally and more effectively than by mere human will of knowing the immediate sight of God’s reality in the word. How can we be assured that this comes from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church? It is as if someone has asked when we will learn to distinguish the light from darkness. Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully a clear evidence of its own truth as white and black does in color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste. J.I. Packard’s restatement says that Calvin’s affirms Scripture to be self-authenticating, through the inner witness of the Spirit. You have two ways of being conscious: one, I read my Bible and the other, I listen to the Spirit. When the Spirit says believe the Bible then I go back to confidence. If you go about it that way, you will be disillusioned and even perhaps become a heretic, because you will be open to all kinds of messages that come from outside the Bible. So, the Bible is self-authenticating through something the Spirit does that enables you to see what is really there. What is this inner-witness; not a special quality of experience, not a new private revelation or an existential decision, but a work of enlightenment whereby through the medium of verbal testimony, blind eyes of the Spirit are opened and divine realities come to be recognized and embraced for what they are. This recognition, Calvin says, is as immediate and unanalyzable as the perceiving of a color or a taste by physical sense of an event about no more can be said that when appropriated stimuli were present, it happens. And when it happens, we know it happens. Now this might unsettle you, because you may think that you have never thought about your experience with the Bible that way. I have never thought about my experience with the Gospel that way.
Don’t panic! God does this for the simplest of people. It can happen to a six year old. He couldn’t began to articulate what has happened, and unless he is well taught as he grows up and gets older, he will never articulate what has happened because he has so badly been taught. Have you ever thought about why you have become to believe? You just remember believing when you were little and you have always taken the Bible to be so and that is not a bad thing provided there is reality. This is just a way of putting a template on your experience to see whether you can think this through. I had to do this; was that my experience of the Bible? From age 6 to 62, having walked through unbelievable challenges to my faith with various schools with people confronting me and mocking my view, has my inability to walk away from this owing to tradition and stubbornness or has God opened my eyes to see what I can’t turn away from? Whatever name you put on it, I just can’t walk away from the Jesus that I have seen in the Gospels. And I think if you are born again, you will have the same experience if you allow yourself to think about what happened to you.
(1 John 5:7-11) Well, where does John Calvin get all this stuff? Where should you go to the Bible to argue that what I have just said is Biblical? This is probably the most important text though there are others; I think 1st Peter 1 and 2nd Corinthians 4 are very pertinent to this issue. This reference uses the words, testimony of the Spirit. ‘And it is the Spirit who bears witness because the Spirit is the truth.’ There, you have the witness of the Spirit. So what is he talking about? It says that ‘for there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water and the blood.’ This is very perplexing; perhaps this part refers to the Spirit coming to Jesus at his baptism and the water being his submission into all righteousness in water baptism with blood being his crucifixion. I am not sure about the scope of verse 8. These three are in agreement with his life from his call, his baptism and his death. ‘If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.’ We have the phrase, witness of God, again. ‘For the witness of God is this, that he has born witness concerning his son.’ The witness that he has in mind is about Christ, that he is real and true; that he is who he says he is. ‘The one, who believes in the Son of God, has the witness in himself.’ That means, if you have been brought to authentic faith in Jesus, the reason is because you have the witness of God functioning in your life. The Holy Spirit has done something; the Spirit has born witness in a way that you have yielded to his authority. ‘The one who does not believe God has made him a liar because he has not believed in the witness that God has born concerning his Son. And the witness is this that God has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son.’ Does this fit with what Calvin is saying? If you have the Son, then you have life. What is the witness of the Spirit in your life that the Son of God is who he says he is? The fact that you are alive, this is the witness that he has given to you; it is eternal life from the dead.
The witness is that I see him; I was dead and in my deadness, I was in rebellion; I was in blindness. He was boring to me, foolish to me, disinterested; I want to write website because there are so many websites out there that hate the Bible; some completely devoted to undermining the Bible. One such website was full of contradictions and lies about the Bible. There is anger out there toward Christianity and the Bible. And that is who I was and then something happened. I saw the Gospel differently; I saw the glory of Christ differently. I saw the crucifixion not as foolishness and not as a stumbling block but as the wisdom of God. So what happened? Life was given and the heart that was dead and rebellious and hostile and indifferent was now alive to spiritual things, the new birth happened, the call of God happened, the illumination of the Holy Spirit happened. The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see what is really there and I must believe. So, I think that this text does bear witness to what Calvin was trying to explain in the internal testimony of the Spirit for you non-historians and non-scholars who stake your life on whether the Bible and Gospel is true. As you look at the world, know yourself and think about reality and then expose yourself to the story of the Bible; does the Spirit remove blindness so that you see self-authenticating beauty and truth there? Scholars spent their lives trying to unpack this in objective argumentation and I thank God for them because I had to have some of those answers in my own life. But those answers didn’t make me a believer, but it was access to God’s truth rather than what the latest PhD scholar says or what Bart Ehrman says. Every time we turn around, there is another person writing another book to undermine the Bible and Jesus. Today, it is Bart Ehrman, tomorrow it will be someone else and again the news media will blow it up to be the final mark against Christianity and the Bible. But the Bible is there like the Rock of Gibraltar. I hope you don’t get shaken to the foundations with the latest attack.
Thank God for liberalism! Because by its very nature, liberalism is self-correcting; conservatism means people are comfortable with old true things and don’t feel any impulse to feel new. If they see something that is old and true, let’s conserve it. Liberalism means generally that you got to have new stuff. Well, what a wonderful thing, because they will always reject the old, write something new but then later that will be old and then they will rewrite that. Liberal scholars must always deny what liberal scholars in the previous generation said, otherwise they become conservative.
Step # 6 – The Nature of the Inerrancy of the Authority of Inspiration and Its Infallibility
Now, I want to discuss the idea of inerrancy of the Bible and what it means. The Bible is without error in the sense that all which the Biblical authors intended to teach is true and doesn’t conflict with reality or with the will of God. A writer shouldn’t be accused of error because someone construes his words in a way the writer doesn’t intend. The meaning of a text is not what anyone can construe from the words but what the writer intends for the language to teach. For example, if I say to a friend in Detroit I will be there at 10 a.m. meaning Eastern Standard Time. And he construes the meaning of my words to be 10 a.m. Central Standard Time, I have not erred if I arrive earlier than expected. I may have been unclear but I wasn’t wrong. So the meaning of a writer should not be considered false just because the words could be used to express error. This is common sense; if you write a letter or a contract and they take you to mean what you didn’t mean and then they use some hermeneutical argument to say language is open ended and I can make it mean what I want. Common sense says to do unto others as you would have them to do unto you. You are required to try and understand what a writer means in their writing. This is an honorable and kind and loving thing to do and you should do with the Bible as well. Why do I say teach? Things are inherent in that this intention to teach is not inherent. The word, teach, reinforces this point by implying that a writer might say things which he is not teaching. For example, I may say to my son, pick your mother up in the town square. My teaching is that he should get his mother at a place known as the town square. I am not teaching that he should lift her off the ground, even though I said to pick her up. Nor am I teaching that the town square is the same length on all four sides. If the town square is a hundred feet by a hundred and five feet, I haven’t erred. If my son never touches his mother but brings her home from there, he has not disobeyed. Both the word, intended, and the word, teaches are meant to protect a writer from accusation of error when there is none. That is the way language works.
Implications for reading Scripture in regards to accurate descriptions of natural events as what one simply sees are not scientific errors. The Sun rises in the east is not a scientific error; it is a matter of observation. Joshua 10:13; so the Sun stood still and the moon stopped until the nations avenged themselves of their enemies. The point here is not to teach a pre-Capernaum world-view that has the earth static and the Sun doing this. That is not the point! The point is all of them were watching and it stopped; that is what the point was. It would be so contrary to the Bible’s intentions because the Sun doesn’t stop, the earth stops rotating. (Revelation 6:13) the stars of the sky fell to the earth as a fig tree cast it unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. Of course, stars, being so big don’t fall to the earth like grapes. But the word, star, is a picture for heavenly bodies that are up there and when they start falling, a meteor shower comes and they fall and can be seen burning up in the sky. No honest person would see this as an actually star, that is, a sun falling to earth! These writers did not know what we know scientifically; they used the word stars to describe all the things out there, whether they are a planet or star. I am arguing that what you see can be described not necessarily in scientific language.
Another one would be that idiomatic exaggerations are not errors. I will greatly bless you and multiple your seed as stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. There aren’t that many Jews are there? There are fourteen million Jews. The point is not one for one but instead they are innumerable as far as their ability to innumerate them. This is an interpretation in Jeremiah, ‘the host of heaven cannot be counted and the sand of the sea cannot be measured so I will multiple the descendants of David.’ You will not be able to count them. I am pointing you in the direction with the nature of inerrancy to say, let language function the way it normally functions, so that you don’t find errors where there aren’t any.
Step # 7 – How Should We Handle the Bible
First, handle the Bible with reverenced as being Holy; it is the unique and precious Word of God. Don’t make light of the Bible. Cherish the Word of God; it is supremely valuable only under God, himself. J.I. Packard said that a puritan preacher said in a time of great persecution, take our houses, take our clothes, take our children and our wives but don’t take our Bibles. Study the Word of God seeking to understand its original meaning with your mind. Always pray over the Word of God, that God would illuminate your mind to see what is really there. Even though God has done that for you decisively so that you have been able to see that it is true if you are a Christian. There is so much more to be seen. Even day, Satan is trying to cloud you and fire darts at you. Pray earnestly that he would be defeated. Mediate on the Word of God, reflecting both on the meaning and the implications for your life. Memorize the Word of God so that it feeds you, transforms you and is available for use in blessing others. Memorizing has two effects, it has a transforming effect on your world view and way of thinking to have memorized Scripture in your mind and your heart and it is there really to bless other people in times of ministry. Spread the Word of God by supporting missions and translations in work and by giving away copies and portions to others. Oh, that you would carry around little pieces of the Bible, Gospels of John, giving this away and leaving them in hotel rooms. Let us disseminate the Word because the Bible has power in and of itself. ‘All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me,’ Jesus says, ‘go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you and low, I will be with you to the ends of the earth.’ You give yourself to knowing and studying and teaching and disseminating and doing the Word of God and you have a promise that Jesus will be with you wherever you go. Amen!