Ligonier National Conference – Steve Lawson (II)

Pastor Steve Lawson, in addressing the topic The Holy One of God: The Holiness of Jesus, had us turn to Mark 1:21-24. Whenever the light of holiness, of truth, shines upon dead religion, sin is exposed, Satan is provoked, and unclean spirits are angered. There is no greater stronghold of Satan than in houses of worship where truth is suppressed. And there is no greater threat to Satan than when truth penetrates these houses of dead religion. All hell is about to break loose in the text. Jesus has entered the godless synagogue where Satan had gained a foothold. Remember that it was a religious crowd that most opposed Christ, maligned Him, slandered Him, accused Him of being born out of wedlock, of being in cahoots with the devil’s minions.
Capernaum was an important city of enterprise in that day. Jesus enters the synagogue. Now it was not uncommon in that day for a visiting teacher to be asked to make some public remarks. Jesus opens up the Word for those in attendance. [We recall that Jesus’ primary approach in ministry was to read the Word, teach the Word, and apply the Word. Jesus is the Great Expositor who has come to give the Word.] We read that the crowds were “amazed at his teaching.” It is a very strong word used: the crowds were amazed at the authority of Jesus. Not only what He said but the way He said it. While the rabbis of that day were quoting other rabbis, Jesus was saying “Thus says the Lord.”
And it is no coincidence that we have a demon-possessed man present. Demons traffic the most in places where their is dead religion. Jesus said of Capernaum, “Will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades” (Luke 10:15). We see a similar reference in Revelation 2:9. Demons are real and they can conquer the wills and hearts of those committed to dead religion.
Jesus Receives a Title of Deity, Supremacy, and Purity
This demon cries out from this particular demon-possessed man. And he speaks for his company of demons, “What do we have to do with each other?” In other words, “What do we have in common?” This demon knows that the fallen angels are under the judgment of God. He wonders if now is the time for their destruction. And he says to Jesus, “I know who you are.” There is no question of Jesus’ identity among the realms of demon spirits. He identifies Jesus readily, with a better testimony than from liberal pulpits, “The Holy One of God.” The Holy One — the only Holy One. Jesus was more than a carpenter, he was the fully divine Son of the Living God. Not 50% man, 50% God. 100% God. How strange that such an astute confession should come from such unclean lips.
Jesus is completely Holy. His motives, His thoughts, His actions. What is the holiness of God? It is His “other-ness” — it speaks of the profound difference between Him and us. It speaks of His transcendent majesty. The demon recognized this — this was the One that was high and lifted up — the One who was blameless in all His ways.
Look again at the title,”The Holy One of God.” This is a formal, technical title. “The Holy One of God” is a formal title for God in the book of Isaiah. No less than 26 times in the book of Isaiah we find this title for Jehovah God: “The Holy One of God.” It is picked up in Ezekiel, Psalms, and elsewhere. So when this demon says, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God,” the identity is unquestionable. The identity was assigned to God in the Old Testament, and it is assigned to Jesus in the New Testament. That is what is taking place — from the lips of a demon-possessed man.
There is only one other place where this is found, John 6:69. Jesus looked at Peter, “You alone have the words of eternal life.” He then addressed their Teacher as “The Holy One of God.” It is a title of Deity. It is a title of Supremacy. It is a title of purity. II Cor 5, “Him who knew no sin.” Jesus said, “The ruler of this world is coming and He has nothing in me.” [Meaning: There is no beachhead in me in which he was entrenched himself. Satan has no foothold in my life whatsoever.]
Jesus authoritatively tells the demon to shut-up and come out of the man. The crowd was already amazed, and now this? They began to say among themselves “Who is this?” A new teaching, with authority. New for them, but old in origin. Immediately in verse 28 we read, “The news of Him spread everywhere.” This is the holiness of Jesus. Conquering the ruler of this world. At Calvary, fully defeating them, dying as the Sinless Lamb of God, becoming sin for us. “Now is the ruler of this world cast out.” Jesus “rendered powerless him who had the power of death.” He plundered the house of the strong man.

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Ligonier National Conference – Sinclair Ferguson (II)

Sinclair Ferguson, to address the theme Hallowed By Your Name: The Holiness of the Father, had us turn to the high priestly prayer of John 17. In verse 11 of that prayer, we have the only instance in which Jesus refers to His Father as “Holy Father.” It is the only time we see this phrase (what scholars call a “hapex legamano”). What should we make of it? “O Holy Father” is indeed a most rare expression used for addressing God.
Chapter 12 of John’s gospel is sometimes considered the beginning of the “second half” of John’s gospel. Jesus performs signs of wonder in the first half of the book, but the latter half appears devoted to Jesus enfolding His disciples into the ineffable mysteries of God the Holy Trinity. [Here is evidence that the Trinity is in no way a “speculative” and “unpractical” doctrine.] Jesus brings His disciples into a deeper understanding of God the Father (who sent Him) and God the Holy Spirit (who will be with them after their departure). If you want to know Jesus Christ, then you must have at least a working knowledge of what Jesus unpacks in this discourse.
After His resurrection, he tells one, “Go and tell my brothers, that I am ascending to my Father and their Father.” We see Jesus gathering His brothers and sisters into the Family.
1. What does it mean for the Lord of glory to come to the Father and say “Holy Father”?
There are two dimensions running through John’s gospel. On the one hand, we see the Eternal Son of God addressing the Father as Holy Father. What does it mean that from all eternity there has been this response of the Eternal Son to the Eternal Father such that He addresses Him as “Holy Father.” For something to be an attribute of God it must have been, in action, expressed among the three persons of the Trinity. [God expresses wrath, but strictly speaking it is not an attribute of God, because in the blessed Trinity there is no manifestation of it. Rather, wrath is a temporary manifestation of God’s holiness in response to sin.]
The meaning of holiness becomes separation to the creation and to the sinner, but within the Trinity holiness means purity, but not separation. Holiness is the intensity of expression of God the Father with reference to God the Son, such that the Son cries to the Father “Holy Father.” We see in Isaiah 6 that the prophet feels “undone.” We are not fit to say “Holy Father.” Look at the seraphim — they have never sinned, but they have to cover their faces because they dare not look directly upon the Holiness of the heavenly Father. They rightly fear disintegration.
And we are told in John 1 that “in the beginning, the Word was ‘face-to-face’ with God the Father, and able to bear it.” The Son gazes into the eyes (as it were) of His heavenly Father and is able to experience the intensity of the Father’s love for Him (as a wife and husband share an exclusive intensity of love for one another).
Have you ever been in the presence of someone whose love for you was so intense that you felt you had to get away? The intensity we’re talking about here might be not unlike what a young man and woman feel for one another when they prefer nothing more than to talk and to gaze at one another, connecting and relating. John 5:19-20: Jesus speaks of His relationship with God the Father, and he says, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees his father doing.” And then in John 10:17 “for this reason the Father loves me, that I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”
Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with His heavenly father. As the challenges mounted and his obedience became increasingly great, His heavenly father was increasingly pleased. Even when he was dying on the cross, His father was quietly singing, “My Jesus I love thee, I know thou art mine….if ever I loved thee, my Jesus tis now.”
2. And we have been brought into the fellowship of the Trinity.
We will be there when he presents us to the Father and says, “Here I am, and the children you have given me.”
A. The church which Jesus purchased with His own blood is the holy Family. The New Testament shows a church family that people were afraid to join (so different they were), yet they poured in. The Spirit was mightily with the holy Family.
B. Jesus wants us to know how much he loves us. He died that we might be with Him forever — so intense was His love for us.
C. God the Father will stop at nothing to make His ransomed church be saved to sin no more.

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Ligonier National Conference – Steve Lawson

Steven J. Lawson is the senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala., and serves on the ministerial board for Reformed Theological Seminary and the board of directors for the Master’s College and Seminary. Dr. Lawson has also authored many books including Famine in the Land, Foundations of Grace, and The Expository Genius of John Calvin.


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Photo: Lukas Van Dyke

Pastor Lawson’s assignment was to address The Legacy of John Calvin. This is no doubt a daunting task, since Calvin’s influence was massive. Even Spurgeon said of Calvin, “Among all those who have been born of women, there has not risen a greater than John Calvin. No age before him ever produced his equal, and no age after has ever produced his rival.” Calvin stood at the head waters of the Reformation, and we know stand down stream.
Lawson provided a few headings to help us get a grasp on John Calvin’s legacy.
I. A Theological Standard
Calvin was the architect of reformed theology — he was the standard even in his day. Luther was a volcano, spewing out numerous fiery ideas. But Calvin was the systematizer — he arranged and ordered the theology of the Reformation. Lloyd-Jones that apart from Calvin, the Reformation would have died out by the end of the 16th century.
First, there was The Institutes of The Christian Religion. It was a theological tour de force written when he was 25-26 years old, and published a year later. He had been a Christian for only one year prior to writing it. Whereas Rome charged the Reformation as a theological novelty, Calvin’s work showed that in fact Rome was the novelty. It was the Reformation that was properly built upon the Scriptures and the church fathers. Calvin gave structure to the great truths of the faith.
Calvin taught the doctrines of grace. Calvin covered 75% of the Bible just with his commentaries alone – thousands of pages of published verse-by-verse analysis of Scripture. He wrote catechism and tracts. So his writings were diverse in their form and content. Calvin taught the doctrines of grace, and believed that God alone saves. In matters of the trinity, providence, justification by faith alone, the nature of the church, Calvin was a pillar bearing witness to the truth: the exegete of the Reformation. Calvin combated the church-state union of the Roman Catholic Church, and other false doctrines.
Calvin gave “a pattern of sound words” on just about every topic. Future confessions and future catechisms would in reality stand on the shoulders of John Calvin.
II. A Christian (Reformed) World-View
Calvin’s teaching caused believers to live out their belief in a practical, life-changing way. A reformed world-view emerged from Calvin’s teaching. The sum of this view was Soli Deo Gloria. Calvin taught that every activity that humans pursued should be done to the glory of God. “For from Him and to Him and through Him are all things.” Warfield said, “No man had a more profound view of God than John Calvin.” Calvin taught that a man could no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic could remove the sun by scribbling the word “darkness.”
Calvin saw every attack on justification by faith as an affront to the glory of God. Ditto for transsubstantiation, indulgences, and other Roman teaching and practices. Rome’s was a man-centered theology. What drove John Calvin was zeal for the glory of God. So it is only natural that over all his theology would be “the glory of God.” Calvin wrote: “We are God’s. Therefore, let us live for Him and die for Him.” The relentless pursuit of the glory of God, for Calvin, was manifest in six areas:
A. A Protestant Work Ethic
Before the Reformation, the doctrine of vocation was thought to be exclusively for the clergy. Calvin’s teaching on work elevated all areas of lawful work to a level of dignity, worth and value. Every calling of God was sacred for Calvin. This dignified work, and imbued energetic industry, whereby common labors were being done unto the Lord. Calvin thought that all watch makers (for example) would give an account to God someday for every watch they made.
B. Education
Calvin taught that it was glorious to love God with all of one’s mind. Education in Calvin’s day was an elitist institution, only for monks or priests. But Calvin developed the Geneva Academy: the college and the seminary. His desire was that every person be properly trained for whatever work God had called them to do. Calvin beleived in a “learned laity” that would excel in their work for the glory of God. Thomas Jefferson actually tried to purchase the Geneva Academy and bring it to the USA. That’s how impressed he was with it.
C. Society — Law and Order
Calvin thought there were various uses for the law. The law displayed the glory of God, it revealed the righteous standard of God, and showed us our need for a Savior. But it also provided a guideline for living. It was in the law that Calvin found a pattern for “the punishment fitting the crime,” for the protection of the weak, and for the preservation of life. Mankind must not be left to natural law — the law written on man’s heart.
D. Free market capitalism
At the heart of a free market was the recognition of certain virtues: hard work, the right to private ownership, private investment, the blessing of God upon one’s labor, risk taking, the nobility of profit, the importance of caring for the poor out of own’s profit. Wherever Calvinism went, productivity, industry, and a society growing in wealth could be found. This is a part of Calvin’s legacy.
E. A Reformed Church
Due to the influence of Calvin, the church in Geneva was Reformed, and that, too, would spread elsewhere. The Scripture was primary. Preaching was central to the life of the church–Calvin moved the pulpit to the center of the church’s archetecture. Every architectural line would aim toward a pulpit with an open Bible. Calvin fenced the Lord’s supper to believers. Church discipline was practiced. A separation of church and state: each would look after their own domain. The church was led by Jesus Christ, not a Pope who could somehow speak infallibly. Pastors/teachers — a plurality of elders. The regulative principle.
F. Democratic Society and Personal Liberty (A Decentralized Republic)
Calvin wrote on the dangers of an absolute monarchy. He wrote on the need for “checks and balances.” Calvin even argued for branches of government — a symmetry and balance that would provide stability. He called for a balance between divine sovereignty and human sovereignty. Calvin called for the greatest allegiance to be given not to any earthly authority, but to God alone.
Just as their should not be the autonomy of one pastor, Calvin believed in a plurality of democratically elected leaders who could direct the laws of a nation. Such ideas were influential in Calvin’s day, and in the birth of the United States of America as well.
III. An International Influence
Geneva had become a refuge city for many who had escaped from Bloody Mary and other oppressors. Many would later return to their homeland and spread the Reformation. They become convinced that humans were mere stewards of the mysteries of God — they returned to England, to France, and to other regions — some to face the death of martyrs.
Calvin begot Calvinists — men and women with a “can do” attitude in life and ministry. They would perculate throughout the Roman Empire. It went into France — by 1562, Calvin’s influence was massive (several hundred Reformed churches). In that day, about 10% of France were open confessors of Reformed teaching (this in spite of France being an officially Catholic nation which persecuted detractors).
Calvinism was taken to national politics in the idea that “The Law is King” (rather than “The King is Law”). The Geneva Bible, and the Westminster Confession of Faith, and later the Puritans — all this came from the legacy of Calvin. Oliver Cromwell, who sought a constitutional republic to replace the monarchy of England. No Calvin, no Cromwell; no Cromwell, no Constitution; no Constitution, no US Constitution. It was Calvin’s ideaology which influenced the pilgrims who came to America. The earliest and most influential settlers in the United States were Calvinists. They brought with them the Bible and the Reformed theology of Calvin. That theology was dominant in New England.
President John Adams noted that religious liberty owed much respect to the legacy of Calvin. Even Jefferson, a deist, was impressed at what the Geneva Academy produced. The great colleges of New England (Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth) were originally founded to train Calvinistic preachers. The Declaration of Indepence was written largely by Presbyterian elders who did not want a monarch to rule over them.
George Bankcroft, a noted US historian, has written about Calvin: “Calvin was the founder of popular education, the free school. The Plymouth settlers were Calvinists. He that would not honor the memory of Calvin knows but little of the origin of America’s religious liberty.”
The two leaders of the Great Awakening (George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards), who would launch a strong missionary movement, were committed Calvinists. This was a huge influence for John Carey and Andrew Murray — men who gave their lives to missionary activity, entirely undergirded by the truths of the doctrines of grace: that God had elected a people for Himself from the foundation of the world. The truth cannot be ultimately resisted by the sinful heart. God would build his church.
Time does not permit to the listing of the great scientists who were influenced by Calvin’s world view. Reformed Baptist, Reformed Independents, Dutch Reformed, and numerous other Calvinistic denominations and high-profile Calvinistic leaders today: so much so that Time magazine has recognized Calvinism as one of the ten major ideas changing the world.
What is the future of Calvinism beyond our day? It shall endure until the end of the ages, because biblical Calvinism is nothing other than the preaching of the Word of God. The Word of God, and its preaching, shall endure forever.

One Response to “Ligonier National Conference – Steve Lawson”

  1. jesse newton July 6, 2009 at 2:32 pm #

    until recently i had not read a lot about the great follower of christ,john calvin,but the more i learn of the man,the saint,the more grateful iam for his hand print on the reformation.iam sure as i continue to read of this great christian i shall find some areas of disagreement,but i pray that i will treat the legacy he left us with great respectand honor.

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