Ligonier Ministries Blog

Ligonier Ministries
Ligonier Ministries
  1. It happens with irregular regularity: suffering inserts itself into our otherwise pleasant lives and disrupts yet again. Grievous experiences have an unwelcome way of doing that. They barge right in, uninvited, leaving those who take the impact mourning, sorrowful, and feeling diminished. These painful providences bring about genuine harm and loss. Additionally, they never come at a desirable time, because honestly, there is no desirable time to face hardships. And yet, there is sometimes a mentality in the church that we must seek to conceal our grief, put on a happy face, and go about life as though these challenges we face are “fine.” We answer the regular greeting of “How are you?” with “I’m well, thank you,” when inside we are far from “well.” We go to worship and sing songs that feel just a bit too chipper for our present situation. There seems to be the thought that Christians, buoyed up by the strength of the Lord, need not (perhaps ought not) welcome grief—that there is strength in downplaying such distress at life’s difficulties. After all, we are to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds (James 1:2). With such perspective, though, believers are left wondering what place there is to mourn. Ecclesiastes 7:2–4 is conspicuously absent in our day-to-day theology: > It is better to go to the house of mourning > than to go to the house of feasting, > for this is the end of all mankind, > and the living will lay it to heart. > Sorrow is better than laughter, > for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. > The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, > but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. We can understand the world not wanting to grieve, for they mourn as ones who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Such a casting off of pain makes sense to the world’s position. But what about the church? Why are we tempted to buy into the lie that suffering should be treated as minor and trivial? And why do we avoid the house of mourning and instead rush headlong to the house of feasting, laughter, and mirth? Perhaps we are beginning to preach the world’s solution to ourselves of, “Eat, drink, and be merry” (Eccl. 8:15) “for tomorrow we die” (Isa. 22:13). We have effectively taken that which is heinous; that which is abnormal to God’s original design and creation; that which has intruded upon all that He made “very good” and sullied this sphere of life, blessing, and bounty; and we have made that intruder something it is not. We have said of this enemy, Suffering—this interloper and invader of God’s good design—which came as a result of our fall into sin, “You’re not so bad.” However, God’s truth is so much more glorious than attempting to face sorrow with mere stoicism. In God’s economy, the believer can rightly call aguish what it is: awful and unpleasant. We can go to the house of mourning, rightly taking these griefs to the Lord (1 Peter 5:7) and rightly taking them to heart (Eccl. 7:2). After all, the Psalms are replete with godly expressions of lament. In fact, there’s an entire book of the Bible dedicated to it (Lamentations)! We also simultaneously hold the hopeful truth that God has overcome the curse in Jesus Christ. He has triumphed over this sphere of sin and misery and has redeemed even all our woes, commandeering difficulties for His good purposes in our lives. So, we do not grieve as those without hope. We rightly grieve, but we also rightly trust the Lord’s good providence in the midst of grief. These truths stand in godly unison and not oppositional tension. So, dear Christian, let us sorrow well. Let us weep and grieve, but not despair. Let us allow our brothers and sisters to mourn and not place a moratorium on their grief—an amount that is Christianly acceptable before they ought simply to smile again. And may we all take heart, for even though we face all kinds of trouble in this world, Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33). One day, every sorrow will be wiped away (Rev. 21:4). But today is not that day. Until then, we say, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
  2. Are you looking for a tool to help take your Bible study deeper and apply the truth of God’s Word to your life? Tabletalk magazine is a monthly discipleship resource designed to enrich your study of Scripture as you daily seek to grow in your Christian faith. Start your risk-free trial today and join 260,000+ Tabletalk readers worldwide. YOUR FREE TRIAL INCLUDES: Three months of Tabletalk print issues Daily, in-depth Bible studies Thought-provoking articles on biblical, theological, and practical themes An effective Bible reading plan Exclusive offers on additional discipleship resources Your trial also gives you complete access to years of past issues at TabletalkMagazine.com. Discover all that Tabletalk has to offer by using your three-month trial period to explore the online library of more than 15,000 studies and articles. No credit card information is required, so there’s no risk. Get started today and add this effective companion to your daily Bible study. Already subscribed to Tabletalk? Share this three-month free trial with your friends to help them grow in their knowledge of God’s Word. Daily Bible studies and topical articles also lend themselves to group study or discussion.
  3. Parents are entrusted with a sacred charge to communicate the truth of God to their children. In Deuteronomy 6:6–9, we read, >“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” The New Testament affirms the call for Christian parents to diligently teach their children: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Both fathers and mothers share in this task of imparting the knowledge of God’s holiness and grace to their sons and daughters. The command is clear, yet its application takes place in as many different ways as there are different families. Are you looking for a biblical discipleship resource to use during your family worship time? The daily Bible studies in each monthly issue of Tabletalk magazine can provide a reliable and flexible structure for studying God’s Word as a family. In addition to thought-provoking articles on biblical, theological, and practical themes, Tabletalk includes daily Bible studies for each weekday and a study for each weekend. These daily studies can serve Christians in their personal worship during the week, and they can also be an excellent tool for family worship. Each daily Bible study includes: A Bible passage reference for study A selection from that particular passage printed on the page A devotional commentary on the passage A brief and concise application of the study (called Coram Deo) A suggestion of Bible passages for further study on that topic Two Scripture references that follow a Bible-in-a-year reading plan The different elements of each daily study can be combined, expanded, or abridged to meet the needs of your family’s worship. For a shorter study, parents can simply read the Bible passage and devotional commentary. For a lengthier session, passages from the “For Further Study” section can be read. For families with younger children, parents can use the daily studies to ensure their own solid grasp of the text, and the family devotion can simply be reading the text together followed by some age-appropriate questions based on the Scripture reading that parents can devise to match their children’s cognitive and developmental abilities. Families with children away at college can continue the tradition by ensuring their students have a Tabletalk subscription, which allows the family to continue discussing daily studies and articles together, enabling parents to disciple from a distance. Grandparents can also join for a multi-generational time together in God’s Word. If you’re not subscribed yet, you can try Tabletalk with a three-month free trial. Whatever age or stage of the Christian life, Ligonier’s ever-expanding library of biblical resources can provide spiritual nourishment to each member of your family as you grow together in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Other Recommended Resources: Ligonier’s Children’s Book Collection Ligonier’s Parenting Resource Collection Ligonier Connect The Reformation Study Bible The Reformation Study Bible, Student Edition
  4. In the eleventh century, one of the church’s most brilliant thinkers, Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, wrote three important works that have influenced the church ever since. In the field of Christian philosophy, he gave us his Monologium and his Proslogium; in the field of systematic theology, he penned the great Christian classic Cur Deus Homo, which being translated means “Why the God-Man?” In this work, Anselm set forth the philosophical and theological foundations for an important aspect of the church’s understanding of the atonement of Christ, specifically the satisfaction view of the atonement. In it, Anselm argued that it was necessary for the atonement to take place in order to satisfy the justice of God. That viewpoint became the centerpiece of classical Christian orthodoxy in the Middle Ages, in terms of the church’s understanding of the work of Christ in His atonement. Since then, however, the satisfaction view of the atonement has not been without its critics. In the Middle Ages, questions were raised about the propriety of thinking that the atonement of Jesus was made necessary by some abstract law of the universe that required God’s justice to be satisfied. This gave rise to the so-called Ex Lex debate. In the Ex Lex debate, the question was raised as to whether God’s will functioned apart from any law or outside of any law (ex lex), or whether the will of God was itself subjected to some norm of righteousness or cosmic law that God was required to follow and, therefore, His will was exercised under law (sub lego). The question was: Is God apart from law or is He under law? The church’s response to this dilemma was to say basically “a pox on both houses,” and to declare that God is neither apart from law nor under law in these respective senses. Rather, the church responded by affirming that God is both apart from law and under law, in so far as He is free from any restraints imposed upon Him by some law that exists outside of Himself. In that sense, He is apart from law and not under law. Yet at the same time, God is not arbitrary or capricious and works according to the law of His own nature. The church declared that God is a law unto Himself. This reflects not a spirit of lawlessness within God, but that the norm for God’s behavior and God’s will is based on what the seventeenth-century orthodox theologians called “the natural law of God.” The natural law of God, as a theological expression, can be easily misunderstood or confused with the broader concept that we encounter in political theory and in theology of the so-called “law of nature” (lex naturalis). In that sense of the phrase, the law of nature refers to those things that God reveals in the world of nature about certain principles of ethics. In distinction from this common use of the term natural law, what the seventeenth-century Westminster divines had in view when they spoke of the natural law of God was this: that God operates according to the law of His own nature. That is to say, God never acts in such a way that would contradict His own holiness, His own righteousness, His own justice, His own omnipotence, and so on. God never compromises the perfection of His own being or character in what He does. When the church confesses the necessity of the satisfaction of God’s righteousness, this necessity is not something that is imposed upon God from the outside, but it is a necessity imposed upon God by His own character and nature. It is necessary for God to be God, never to compromise His own holiness, righteousness, or justice. It is in this sense that an atonement that satisfied His righteousness is deemed necessary. In more recent times, modern thinkers have objected to the satisfaction view of the atonement on the grounds that it casts a shadow over the free grace and love of God. If God is a God of love, why can He not just forgive people gratuitously from the pure motivation of His own love and grace, without being concerned about satisfying some kind of justice, whether it’s a law of His own nature or a law imposed from without? Again, this view of the atonement fails to understand that God will never negotiate His own righteousness, even out of His desire to save sinners. In the atonement, we see that God both manifests His gracious love towards us and yet at the same time, manifests a commitment to His own righteousness and justice. Justice is served by the work of Christ who satisfies the demands of God’s righteousness, thereby maintaining God’s commitment to righteousness and justice. God satisfied the demands of His righteousness by giving to us a Substitute who stands in our place, offering that satisfaction for us. This displays marvelously the graciousness of God in the midst of that satisfaction. God’s grace is illustrated by the satisfaction of His justice in that it is done for us by the One whom He has appointed. It is God’s nature as the Judge of all the world to do what is right. And the Judge who does what is right never, ever violates the canons of His own righteousness. The Bible explains the cross in terms of both propitiation and expiation, the twin accomplishments of Christ in our behalf. Propitiation refers specifically to Christ’s work of satisfaction of God’s righteousness. He pays the penalty for us that is due our sins. We are debtors who cannot possibly pay the moral debt that we have incurred by our offense against the righteousness of God, and God’s wrath is satisfied and propitiated by the perfect sacrifice that Christ makes on our behalf. But that’s only one aspect of the work. The second is expiation. In expiation, our sins are removed from us, remitted by having our sins transferred or imputed to Christ, who vicariously suffers in our stead. God is satisfied, and our sin is removed for us in the perfect atonement of Jesus. This fulfills the dual sense in which sin was atoned for on the old-covenant Day of Atonement, both by the sacrifice of one animal and the symbolic transfer of the sins of the people to the back of the scapegoat, who was then sent into the wilderness, removing the sins from the people.
  5. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). Abraham asked this rhetorical question of Yahweh when punishment was threatened against the inhabitants of Sodom. These words are rooted in the universal conviction of God’s people that all the works of His hands are truth and justice (Ps. 111:7; Deut. 32:4). The God of creation and redemption is a righteous God. Divine righteousness refers first and foremost to the perfection and uprightness of the divine nature. For God to be righteous principally means that God measures up to Himself and is always all that He ought to be as God. While righteousness usually implies conformity to a standard, God simply is the righteousness or justice by which He is righteous and just. This is not so much conformity as it is identity. We might even say that in willing His own being as His highest good, God gives Himself His due. This is the original and uncreated justice of divine self-love. Righteousness is not a state of being God acquires through long practice or exercise, such as a habit. Neither is it merely a relative attribute we ascribe to God based on His just dealings with creatures. Rather, righteousness denotes the essence of God itself apart from any consideration of His faithful dealings within the created order—that is, God being true to Himself. It is not a separate quality of being within Him that is distinct from His essence, as it is in angels and humans. Yet this perfection of the divine nature also ensures that all God’s ways toward the creature are just. It is because He is righteous that His judgments are just (Ps. 119:137). Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne (Ps. 89:14; see also Ps. 9:8). In other words, God’s providential rule over the world is rooted in His essential uprightness. Philosophers and theologians have noted a distinction between commutative justice and distributive justice. Commutative justice refers to the fairness of exchange in a business transaction. This is properly denied of God since He is not engaged in a give-and-take relationship with His creatures such that He would be indebted to the creature on account of some good or gift received. Who has first given to Him that He should repay (Job 41:11; Rom. 11:35; see also Job 35:7)? Distributive justice, on the other hand, means giving to each his due and can be ascribed to God in several respects. John Owen characterizes this broadly as “the justice of government or judgment.” Here are four things that we should understand about God’s righteousness. 1. God shows His righteousness in giving to each creature what its nature requires. He gives food to the birds of the air and beauty to the flowers and grass of the field. For man He provides food, clothing, and much more. This should teach us to seek our daily bread from our heavenly Father who knows all our needs and, furthermore, to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matt. 6:25–33). This does not mean God is obliged to give an equal distribution of goods to all creatures. It is His prerogative to make one differ from another (1 Cor. 4:7). Nevertheless, whatever we possess—life, breath, and all things (Rom. 11:36)—is supplied to us by the just government of God who gives us all things richly to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17). 2. God’s works and words are righteous since they are true. God’s commandments are just since He commands of creatures only that which gives Him the glory due to Himself. God’s intellectual ideas are the rule and measure of all things, thus, the truth of these things consists in their conformity to God’s intellect. Since He works all things in accord with the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11), His ways are true and just. His commandments are just in that the rules He gives to angels and men are ordered to the glory of His own divine nature. Further, glorifying God is the chief end of all intellectual creatures. A just command is one that orders a subject to its proper end and good, and God’s commands accomplish that purpose. 3. God’s retributive justice renders to each one according to his deeds (Rom. 2:5–6). God’s retributive justice pertains especially to punishment meted out to the wicked (Ex. 34:7). The Westminster Confession states that God is “most just and terrible in His judgments; hating all sin” (2.1). This should not be confused with the chastisements that are meant to reform and rehabilitate the sinner (Heb. 12:6). Rather, retribution is the maintenance of God’s righteousness against those who oppose it. His righteousness, which is His perfect love of His own goodness, requires His holy opposition to all that opposes His goodness. This is manifested against transgressors in the form of wrath and vengeful torments executed upon them (Ps. 34:16; Amos 9:4). The final punishment of hell is eternal and so cannot be remedial; neither is its everlasting duration disproportionate inasmuch as the creature’s sin is against an infinitely holy God and actively continues forever in defiance of God. 4. The righteousness of God is also demonstrated in His rewards to the righteous (Ps. 58:11; Rom. 2:7; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 22:12). God’s eyes search the whole earth that He might strongly support the hearts that are completely His (2 Chron. 16:9). Fittingly, the Westminster Confession maintains that God is “the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (2.1). We should hasten to note the good that He finds in creatures and upon which He lavishes rewards is itself His own gift to the creature. He rewards His own good work in us. There is no such thing as strict merit by which the creature offers something to God that is not first received from God or offers something to God that is genuinely commensurate with God’s own boundless worth. Yet even so, in His justice He recompenses those who are pure, righteous, and clean (Ps. 18:20, 24). It is just that the creature’s good be rewarded, even if we have no good apart from God (Ps. 16:2). In one sense, when God rewards the righteous, He is doing justice to His own work within them. A Word about God’s Mercy Finally, a word about God’s mercy is appropriate. In whatever ways justice and mercy may be distinguished, we must not conceive God’s mercy to ill-deserving sinners as the forfeiture or truncation of divine righteousness. Indeed, this is the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that in it the righteousness of God is revealed (Rom. 1:17; 3:21–26). His retributive justice is satisfied by the death of His Son and God thus maintains Himself, so to speak, against the wicked. But in that this satisfaction is made for us by a substitute whom God Himself graciously provides, God is free to justify the ungodly without injury to His own justice. In the gospel, “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Ps. 85:10). God is both just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).