Ligonier Ministries Blog

The official feed of Ligonier Ministries, founded by theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul in 1971 to help Christians know what they believe, why the believe it, how to live it, and how to share it.
Ligonier Ministries
  1. There is only one institution of which Jesus declared, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). The church is Christ’s “Plan A” for proclaiming His gospel of salvation and for making disciples of all nations. There is no “Plan B” in the Lord’s work of redemption. Dr. R.C. Sproul founded Ligonier Ministries to equip the local church for discipleship and to help congregations reach the nations with the truth of God’s Word. We want to support your church in any way we can. By partnering with Ligonier through a monthly gift, you can extend your ministry reach, both within your local church and around the world. For as little as $1 per church attendee each month, your congregation can gain greater access to discipleship resources while providing trustworthy teaching materials to the missionaries you support and to other churches around the world. EQUIP THE CHURCH Access Tabletalk magazine subscriptions for your leaders or the whole church Gain full access to Ligonier Connect for your entire congregation Receive deep discounts on Ligonier books, study Bibles, and teaching series Save on Ligonier conference registration for the whole church REACH THE NATIONS Provide Ligonier Connect to your supported missionaries and those they disciple Send copies of the Reformation Study Bible internationally to pastors and church leaders in need Give your missionaries discounted or free registration at Ligonier events How can Ligonier serve your church specifically? To share your unique discipleship needs with us and to hear more about the partnership program, please contact us at church@ligonier.org.
  2. The last ten years of Calvin’s life were quiet and productive. The final edition of his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, now expanded to four times its original size, was published in 1559. His lectures on Lamentations were concluded in 1563, as were his sermons on 1 and 2 Samuel. But, beginning that summer, his health began to rapidly decline. For a time, he was unable to engage in public duties, though his home continued to play host to a steady stream of eager visitors from Geneva and all over Europe, all keen to get the great Reformer’s wisdom and counsel. He did manage to attend the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Easter Sunday, 1564, though his poor health meant he had to be carried to the service on a chair. That April saw him confined to his sickbed, from which he was never again to rise. Resolved to serve the Lord while he had breath, from his room he exhorted the gathered ministers of Geneva to persevere in their labors for the sake of the kingdom. On Saturday, May 27, 1564, his close colleague Theodore Beza, having just left his bedside, was suddenly summoned to return. Hurrying back, he found that Calvin had already died, “without a word or a groan or even the slightest movement. He seemed rather to have fallen asleep.” “We can truly say,” he noted, “that in this one man God has been pleased to demonstrate to us in our day the way to live well and to die well.” In accordance with his wishes, Calvin’s remains were wrapped in a simple shroud, placed in an unadorned casket, and buried in an unmarked grave in the Pleinpalais cemetery. There would be no possibility of a “cult of Calvin” if the great Genevan Reformer had anything to do with it. Indeed, his remarkably unremarkable burial reflected the driving priorities of his life. In his brief final testament, he surveyed the major accomplishments of his life only to lament, “Alas my desires and my zeal, if I may so describe it, have been so cold and flagging that I am conscious of imperfections in all that I am and do.” In life, Calvin was often bold in defense of the faith. He was incessant in preaching and lecturing, in writing and editing, so that the truth of the gospel might reach further and with more clarity than ever. He was indefatigable, and his literary output was extraordinary. But when it came to his view of himself, Calvin had learned the grace of humility. In death, as in life, his great priority was never to point to himself, but to Christ his redeemer. Commenting on Matthew 24:43, he wrote, “But God does not bestow the honourable title of his children on any but those who acknowledge that they are strangers on the earth, and who not only are at all times prepared to leave it, but likewise move forward, in an uninterrupted course, towards the heavenly life.” This was the ideal for which Calvin strove in life and in death. Let us, like him, set our sights on the heavenly life and move resolutely toward it without interruption. This article was originally published May 26, 2021. : Theodore Beza, The Life of John Calvin (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 1997), 118. : Beza, The Life of John Calvin 118. : Cited in Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 334.
  3. Several times the New Testament declares Jesus to be the heir of King David and, thus, the descendant of Abraham (e.g., John 7:42; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 5:5). But only twice do we get a lengthy genealogy tracing the steps down to Jesus: Matthew 1:1–17 and Luke 3:23–38. Without ancestry.com and 23andme.com, it is not surprising that these two genealogies differ. Some differences are mere spelling variations. But sometimes they involve whole sections of names. It may be surprising to learn that the genealogies in Matthew and Luke align for only approximately seventeen names out of one hundred. But do such differences mean that the genealogies contradict each other? Are there errors, or can the genealogies be reconciled? Skeptics have attacked Scripture on this point since the AD 200s (e.g., Porphyry and Julian the Apostate), and theologians have responded with various solutions (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, Julius Africanus, Ambrose, and Augustine). No comprehensive solution has won the day, but that does not mean there is none. It just means we must keep working at it. To that end, keep in mind four things when navigating the genealogies. Intention of the Authors A genealogy is a compact narrative. The names bring with them the stories. If so, then both Matthew and Luke have authorial freedom in how to tell the genealogical story: Matthew uses descending order ending with Jesus (A “begat” B), while Luke uses ascending order starting from Jesus (B “son of” A). Matthew selects Abraham as the starting point, while Luke starts back at Adam. Matthew places his genealogy at the beginning (Matt. 1), while Luke places it after Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3). Matthew organizes the names in a 14/14/14 scheme (Matt. 1:17), while Luke may be adopting a subtle 11x7 scheme. These choices are not contradictions. They simply reflect how the two evangelists have different goals. Matthew, for instance, stresses the Abraham–David–Jesus linkage (Matt. 1:1), while Luke stresses Jesus as “son of God” via Adam (Luke 3:38). Lineal Principle: Royal or Blood Line A major choice when compiling a genealogy in antiquity is whether to offer the legal/royal lineage or the actual birth/blood lineage. The two are not the same: the legal heir may not reflect physical birth order (illustrated by Julius Caesar’s notoriously complex genealogy). The most common theory is that Matthew on the whole offers the royal lineage, while Luke may largely trace actual birth descent. A telltale sign is this: Matthew 1:6–12 David → Solomon → . . . Shealtiel Luke 3:27–31 David → Nathan → . . . Shealtiel Nathan was the third son of David (2 Sam. 5:14) and older brother of Solomon, but the throne passed to the latter. Jesus, then, would have blood ties to David via Nathan and legal ties via Solomon. Adding further complexity, birth descent could be traced through the father or mother, though the former was more common. Adoption Practices Extending the prior point, it was not uncommon, [even among Jews], for a father to adopt someone who was not his birth son to be legal heir. Such fusing of lineages via adoption may help explain other complexities: Matthew 1:12 Jeconiah → Shealtiel → Zerubbabel Luke 3:27 Neri → Shealtiel → Zerubbabel God’s curse of Jeconiah involved Jeconiah’s offspring not receiving the throne (Jer. 22:30). Perhaps Neri was the biological father of Shealtiel, who was then—via adoption—grafted into the royal line of Jeconiah. Compression Lastly, the compiler of a genealogy may choose to skip generations, just as one could summarize, “Prince William is heir of Elizabeth I,” omitting several steps in between. Matthew 1:8 compresses the genealogy from Joram to Uzziah (skipping Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah). Compression may also help explain why the genealogy of Matthew 1:12–16 from Zerubbabel to Jesus is so much shorter (nine names) than Luke 3:23–27 (nineteen names). Putting it Together Let’s apply some of these principles to a final difference in the genealogies: Matthew 1:15–16 Matthan → Jacob → Joseph → Jesus Luke 3:23–24 Matthat → Heli → Joseph → Jesus From a human perspective, who was Jesus’ grandfather? One option is that Matthan/t (if the same person) had two sons, Jacob and Heli. One of them had Joseph as a son, but the other adopted him upon his birth father’s death. Another option is that Jacob was Joseph’s father, but Heli was Mary’s father (implying that Matthan and Matthat are not the same person). Heli is listed by Luke as the closest physical male ancestor of Jesus and/or the adoptive father of Joseph (if, say, Heli had no male offspring). There are other options, but these two illustrate the possibilities. So What? It can be intimidating to try to wrap our heads around the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. We should not ignore the differences. But we also should avoid the trap of automatically assuming that such differences are unsolvable contradictions or errors. With various tools or principles in place, plausible explanations are out there. But amid the effort of reconciling the genealogies, let us not lose sight of what they both teach: Jesus Christ is the miraculously conceived son of a virgin yet is also—through Israel’s winding history—heir of the kingdom of David and the promises of Abraham.
  4. It is easy to be critical of prayer, particularly the prayers of others. Robert Murray McCheyne’s words are often cited because they remain painfully true: “You wish to humble a man? Ask him about his prayer life.” Our prayers reveal much about us. Prayers with little or no worship and focusing on our needs (usually health) reveal a distorted, Adamic bent. What they reveal is self-centeredness, what Martin Luther labeled homo in se incurvatus: “man curved in on himself.” Listen to prayers at the church prayer meeting (if one still exists). You will discover that the majority of prayers are "organ recitals"—prayers for someone’s liver, kidney, or heart. Not that we shouldn’t pray for medical issues, but a preoccupation with health is itself a reflection of how little we understand why it is we desire good health. We desire it so that the person we are praying for lives for Jesus Christ. Prayer is “talking to God” (Graeme Prayer and the Knowledge of God, p. 15.). Sometimes, perhaps too often, the “talk” is all about us. We've all had those annoying conversations that have been entirely one-sided, showing little or no interest in us. It’s all about them—their interests, desires, needs, and complaints. Prayer can get like that: we pour out our woes, become totally self-absorbed, and show no interest in dialogue that involves “listening” to what God has to say. God is patient and, in His grace, He responds. But it shouldn't be like that. When Jesus taught us to pray, He showed us that prayer begins (and continues) with God: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). Take a look at the structure of the Lord’s Prayer, and it will show you that at least half of our praying should be addressed to the praise and worship of God. Person Many factors influenced Tertullian when he coined the term personae to represent the threeness of God, but he employed this term primarily because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit “talk” to each other. They relate personally—to each other and to us. In other words, God communicates with Himself and with His people. It stands to reason, therefore, that prayer should consist of personal communion—talking to God with inquisitiveness as to His nature and His desires, and eagerness to learn about the things that please and displease Him. The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, among other things, reminds us that there must be a clearheaded focus on our part on who God is and what God is like. Theologians have reflected on how we come to know God and what it is that we know about Him. The answer has often come in this form: we know very little in answer to the question “What is God?” What we do know (because God has revealed it to us) is in answer to the question “What is God like?” God shows us what He is like by revealing to us His name. Our minds, whether consciously or subliminally, are (to use John Calvin’s phrase) “idol factories,” constantly succumbing to “I like to think of God as . . .” formulas, all of which are seriously wrong, conceived by a persistent anti-God bias in our mental, moral, and spiritual systems. To avoid idolatry in prayer, we must begin by reminding ourselves of His name—whether that be God’s covenant name “I AM WHO I AM” or Yahweh (that is, self-existent, self-sustaining, self-determining, everywhere present, and always in control); or, as the Lord's Prayer wonderfully encapsulates, “Father” (expressive of the newness of the new covenant and the access and status to which the work of our Redeemer has introduced us); or, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (as Jesus Himself disclosed in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19). When Jesus commissioned His disciples to baptize in the “name” (singular) of “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” He revealed the impenetrable truth that there is more than one in the one God. God-centered prayer pauses to reflect on the nature of God, what He is like—His attributes. That, too, is the focus of an account in which God tells Moses His name. The context (Ex. 34) is the nasty business of the golden calf (man's idol factory at work again). Having cleared up this mess, Moses ascended Sinai again only to be told God’s name once more (Yahweh, Ex. 34:5), but now expanded with an explanation of His nature: “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘ “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ ” Grace, mercy, and holiness are attributes that God assigns to Himself—holiness being His moral perfection that responds in retribution to lawlessness and ingratitude. God-centered prayer requires a proper knowledge of God in His Trinitarian glory. Praise > Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting. (Ps. 147:1) God is praiseworthy. Getting that fact under our skin is not as easy as we might think. Self-centered praying (which is a form of idolatry) fails to appreciate that our purpose here on earth is to praise our Creator and Redeemer. Listen to the psalmist as he extols the praiseworthiness of God again and again. The Psalter used to be the basic diet for Christians. Christians sang psalms around the dining room table and in church services on Sunday. Subliminally, the God-centered praise of the book of Psalms became the language of prayer. Since psalm-singing has waned, the rich God-exalting praise that the Psalter represents has waned as well. J.I. Packer reminds us of the need to distinguish between praise and thanks, and to ensure that we do both: > Prayers of thanks focus to some extent on us. We thank God for particular gifts given to us and others personally, and for general gifts bestowed on all. Praise, on the other hand, focuses directly on God. We praise him for who and what he is. It is the difference between a spouse saying to the other, “You are the most understanding person I know; that’s one reason I love you so much” and “Thanks for the sandwich; I needed it” (Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight, p. 31). Presence Praising God does not come naturally to us. We must be resolute about it. That’s why Jesus warned His disciples in the preface to the Lord’s Prayer about a religious performance more concerned about outward spectacle and ceremony than inward authenticity and true worship. “Hypocrite” is the term Jesus uses (Matt. 6:5), a term just about as offensive now as it was then. Playacting, pretending to pray, praying without the reality of knowing we are in God’s presence, is a harsh judgment but a true one nevertheless. When we do such things, we are praying to exalt ourselves, not God. It is the self-centeredness that plagues us, that needs to be rooted out and destroyed. Authentic prayer, God-centered prayer, realizes that the promise of prayer is God Himself. Being in the presence of God is the greatest reward of prayer. Godly folk have always relished this: > O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells. (Ps. 26:8) > Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple (Ps. 65:4) Do you know anything of this? If not, pursue Him until you find Him. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” (Isa. 55:6) Practice How can we ensure that our prayers are God-centered? Consider the following five-step strategy: 1\. Remind yourself that there is only one God in the universe, and that you are not Him. 2\. Adoration comes first, before confession, thanksgiving, or supplication. Worship the Lord in your praying. 3\. Read a psalm before you pray, and attempt to emulate what you find: a preoccupation with God in all His multifaceted nature. Find psalms of joy or grief, praise or lament, and note how the psalmist spends time with God, making Him the center of his thoughts and desires. 4\. Learn to love God’s names so that saying and repeating them fills you with an inexpressible joy, a reminder of who He is and His covenant faithfulness to you in the gospel of His grace. 5\. Learn to “wait” upon the Lord. Watch how the psalmist, “fainting” as he thinks of his own troubles, finds relief by deliberately focusing on the great things God has done: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Ps. 77:11-12).
  5. ”In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The introductory segment of the prologue of the gospel of John was the most carefully examined text of the New Testament for the first three centuries of Christian history. Of all the theological issues and questions facing the early church, none was more acute than the church’s understanding of the person of Jesus Christ. The New Testament devotes plentiful attention to the person and work of Jesus—what He said, what He did, where He came from, and where He went. But nothing captivated the minds of the intellectual leaders of the early church as much as the question, “Who was He?” The question “Who was Jesus?” forced attention on the Johannine concept of the logos. This Greek term, simply translated “word,” was the deepest idea about Jesus introduced in the New Testament. We note the distinction John makes when he writes: “The Word was with God and the Word was God.” At worst, John falls into a ghastly contradiction between two assertions made about the Logos with barely a breath taken between them. When we say someone or something is with another that normally indicates a distinction between them. We note an obvious difference between distinction and identity. When we assert that two things are identical we usually mean there is no difference or distinction between them. Yet, here John does two things: On the one hand he distinguishes between the Logos and God, while on the other hand he identifies the Logos with God. Contradiction? Not necessarily, though we live in an era in which theologians, both liberal and conservative, are not only content with, but take delight in contradictions. However, if we are to retain theological sanity, we must reject the idea that these assertions are in fact contradictory. Nor do we wish to succumb to the popular but deadly notion now popular in formerly Reformed circles, that real contradictions can be resolved in the mind of God. This new irrationalism gives us an irrational God with an irrational Bible and an irrational theology; all defended by an irrational apologetics. This movement rests on the false premise that the only alternative to irrationalism is rationalism. But one need not be a rationalist in order to be rational. Flights into the absurd may delight existential philosophers, but they slander the Holy Spirit of truth. Nor can we solve the tension in John by appealing to the absence of the definite article (as do the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses) and render the text: “And the Word was a God.” This feeble attempt at resolution yields only polytheism. It was this type of question that impelled the church to examine and test Christological formulations for three centuries. The watershed confession of the fourth-century Nicene Creed did not leap suddenly on the scene like Athena out of the head of Zeus. The formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity was codified in the fourth century but was by no means born at that time. Tri-unity in the Godhead had its roots in the fertile soil of the first-century biblical text. At issue from the beginning was the question of monotheism. It was discussed in terms of the idea of monarchianism. We are familiar with the words monarch or monarchy in normal conversation, as we use them with respect to butterflies and rulers. In Greek, the term has a prefix and a root. Ironically, the root of monarch—“arch”—appears in John 1. The Apostle writes, “In the beginning . . . ,” and the word translated “beginning” is archè. This word also means “chief” or “ruler.” In English we speak of archangels, arch-enemies, architects (chief builders), arch-bishops, etc. In all of these words, archè means “chief” or “ruler.” Thus, when we add the prefix “mono” to the root archè, we get the idea of “one ruler.” A monarch, then, is a single ruler over any given realm (usually a king or a queen). In the early centuries, the church had to maintain the clearly taught notion of monotheism, with the equally clear affirmation of the deity of Christ. How monotheism could be maintained while affirming the deity of Christ reached crisis proportions in the third century and on into the fourth. The third century witnessed the strong assault against Christianity by various forms of Gnosticism, which bred a kind of Monarchianism called “Modalistic Monarchianism.” To understand this we must grasp something of the meaning of the term “mode.” A mode was a particular “level” or “manifestation” of a given reality. The popular idea among Gnostics was that God is the ultimate reality. His Being radiates, or emanates, from the core of His Being. Each radiation or emanation represents a tier or level of His being. The further that emanation, or tier, is from the core of the divine Being, the less “pure” is its divine Being. The heretic Sabellius taught such a concept. He compared the relationship of the Logos to God as being analogous, as a sunbeam is to the sun. The sunbeam is of the same essence or being of the sun, yet can be distinguished from the sun. In modern terms we say that the sun is ninety-three million miles away from us, yet we are warmed by its rays that are near at hand. Sabellius argued that Jesus was of the “same essence” (Greek, homo-ousios) as God but was less than God. Sabellius and his Modalistic Monarchianism was condemned as heresy in Antioch in 267, and the church used the expression “like essence” (homoi-ousios) to refer to the Logos. Here the idea was that the Logos, though distinguished from the Father, shared fully “in like manner” with the Father in His divine Being. Soon after the defeat of Sabellius and Modalistic Monarchianism, a new and more virulent form of monarchianism arose. Ironically its cradle was Antioch, the very place where Sabellius was condemned. The new heresy has been called “Dynamic Monarchianism,” and sometimes, “Adoptionism.” The Antioch school of Lucien, Paul of Samosata, and others produced their most formidable representative—Arius. It was the teaching of Arius and his followers that provoked the critical Council of Nicaea and the Nicene Creed in 325. Since this will be discussed further in this issue of Tabletalk, I will restrict my comments here to indicate that Arius clearly denied the eternal deity of the Logos. He defended himself, ironically, by appealing to the orthodox phrase “like essence” (homoi-ousios). The Logos is only “like” God; He is not God Himself. Most heretics like Arius tried to mask their heresy by using orthodox language to convey it. The Arian threat was so great that the church reversed her choice of terms for defining the relationship of the Logos to the Father. The term the church had previously rejected in the third-century dispute with Sabellius, homoousios (“same essence”) was elevated to orthodoxy. Now the term, of course, was not used to revert to Sabellius’ modalism; rather, it was used to assert that the Logos is of the same divine essence as God—co-eternal, co-essential, not created. The importance of this word choice underlines in red how seriously the church took the threat of Arianism and how resolute the church was to maintain her confession of the full deity of Christ. This was the defining moment of fourth-century Christianity.