John Murray on Common Grace



common grace is ‘common’ because it is universal, and it is ‘grace’ because it is undeserved and given by a gracious God. As with my other foundational doctrinal loci, the formulation of this doctrine is extremely rich, complex and controversial, and I can highlight only some of the relevant points. The exposition of Murray is seminal. Murray defines common grace as ‘every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God’. According to Murray, common grace has both a negative and a positive function. Its negative function is that of divine restraint: a restraint on sin, a restraint on wrath and its execution, and a restraint on the effects of sin. The positive function is that of divine favour, whereby creation receives divine blessing, non-Christians receive divine favour and goodness, ‘good’ is attributed to non-Christians, and non-Christians receive benefits from the presence of the gospel. It is important to note that with all of these functions, under the sovereignty of God, there can be a great deal of differentiation and variegation in terms of the amount of divine restraint and blessing within a particular society or period of history.
Their Rock is Not Like Our Rock

Daniel Strange

How shall the minister be able to hold out

“How shall the minister be able to hold out against so many enemies, so dangerous, so great, so learned, and so scornful? He must encourage himself by meditating upon the promises of God, who has put him in his service, who has put a powerful word in his mouth, and who goes with him to see that none touch him or do him any harm. Jeremiah was sent against priests, princes, and people, who all (he knew) must fight against him; and how could one poor Jeremiah hold out against them all? The Lord furnishes him with a gracious promise to lean upon, “I Will be With you to deliver you” (Jer. 1:19). And When he was in his ministry, did he find this an idle promise, or God not so good as his word? No, surely. He was in daily derision; he heard railings and reproaches upon every side; but he says, “The Lord is with me like a mighty giant, and therefore my persecutors shall be over— thrown” (Jer. 20:11).” 

Thomas Taylor “An Exposition of Titus”

What sufficiency of Scripture means



Van Til a great summary of sufficiency: 

“The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. And it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or indirectly. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work but it also tells us who God is and whence the universe has come. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven”

Defense of the Faith 

They possessed perfect knowledge


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We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge

Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” III.1.1, in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 414.

Above the machine-gun turret


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Ivanov, the Stalinist interrogator, is speaking to the Rubashov a loyal son of the Revolution who now needs to go. Rubashov is in prison wandering if and when he will be executed and of what crime he will need to confess. This section here is an interesting discourse on ethics and puts politics into focus.

But the importance of the discussion comes in the last clause of the last sentence:

‘I don’t approve of mixing ideologies,’ Ivanov continued. ‘There are only two conceptions of human ethics, and they are at opposite poles. One of this is Christian and humane, declares the individual to be sacrosanct, and asserts that the rules of arithmetic are not be applied to human units. The other starts from the base principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and not only allows, but demands, that the individual should in every way be subordinated and sacrificed to the community — which may dispose of it as an experimentation rabbit or a sacrificial lamb. The first conception could be anti-vivisection morality, the second, vivisection morality. Humbugs and dilettantes have always tried to to mix the two conceptions; in practice, it is impossible. Whoever is burdened with power and responsibility finds out that on the first occasion that he has to choose; and he is fatally driven to the second alternative. Do you know, since the establishment of Christianity as a state religion, a single example of a state which really followed a Christian policy?  You can’t point out one. In times of need — and politics are chronically in a time of need — the rulers were able to evoke “exceptional circumstances”, which demanded exceptional measures of defense. since the existence of nations and classes, they live in a permanent state of mutual self-defense, which forces them to defer to another time the putting into practice of humanism — ‘

Rubashov looked through the window. The melted snow had again frozen and sparkled, an irregular surface of yellow-white crystals. The sentinel on the wall marched up and down with shouldered rifle. The sky was clear but moonless; above the machine-gun turret shimmered the Milky Way.

Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler


There is no real difference between the work of missions and the work of the Church at home


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We have all heard a good deal lately of the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh. By far the strongest impression it made on my mind was that there is no real difference between the work of missions and the work of the Church at home, and that what we need is not a greater interest in missions but a greater interest in the Gospel—that is, in the truth that Christ has come into the world, the revelation of the Father, and that no deep or satisfying happiness can enter human hearts but that which enters with Him. Of course there are differences of men, racial, historical, cultural, but in the long run they do not count. It is not to the Briton or the German the Gospel is preached in Europe, or to the Chinaman or the Hindu in Asia; it is to the soul yearning for God, or perhaps hardened against God; it is with the same inspiration, the same hidden allies, the same antagonists, the same soul travail, the same hope, everywhere.

And with this word “hope” I will conclude, returning from the compassionate to the congratulatory side of our Saviour’s word. It is only a joyful religion which has a right to be missionary: only one which is conscious of having found the supreme good will be eager to impart it. But surely if we are conscious of having found the supreme good, or rather of being found by Him, it should make us glad and confident.

Some one said to me not long ago that he was struck with the number of hopeless ministers. There were so many men who had everything against them, who had an uphill fight, who despaired of making any more of it; they were pithless, apathetic, resigned; they entered beaten into the battle, or did not enter into it at all. I will say nothing unsympathetic of men whom it is not for their brethren to judge, but I will say this to every one who has accepted this vocation—that when we preach the Gospel it must be in the spirit of the Gospel. It must be with the sympathy of Jesus for all who are yearning after God, and with the certainty of Jesus that in Him there is the revelation of God which will bring happiness to all yearning souls. So preached, it cannot be in vain.

In Bengal and in Scotland, in our own race, and in the races most remote from our own, there are souls desiring to see the things that we see, and destined to be blessed with the vision. The evangelist’s is no calling for a joyless and dispirited man. “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.

James Denney, The Way Everlasting: Sermons (London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 59–61.

Anne Bradstreet, Meditation XXXIII




Much labor wearies the body

and many thoughts oppress the mind:

Man aimes at profit by the one

And content in the other;

But often misses both,

And find nothing but vanity and vexation of spirit.


Ecclesiastes 2:11

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

The Spiritual Chymist, Meditation XXXIII


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The previous post in this series may be found here.

Upon a Pleasure Boat



A private house is often guilt by the same model which princes use for their palaces, the dimensions only being contracted with the observance of the same figure. And so a boat or vessel of pleasure, differing in its use and design, as well as in its blue from another ship, is yet by the skill in ingenuity of the artist exactly modeled after the mold or shape of the tallest ship of war and traffic; it having its rigging, sails, anchors, cable, false ports, and what not hat please the fancy and eye of the beholder?

But how many of these things are more for pomp and beauty than for use and necessity? When the vessel itself is made only to receive the caresses and blandishments of the sea and not to endure the hardship of a storm.

It is not an ark for necessity, as Moses’ was, not an ark for safety as Noah’s was, but a vessel for pleasure; and therefore a gentle breath that may swell the sails and the curling waters that may cause a little agitation; and a serene sky which may invite the fishes to sport, do much heighten the delight of the passengers; but loud winds and waves that roar, clouds which make the heavens with darkness, carry in them so may images of death and soon turn their pleasure into affrightments, and put them upon nothing more than an earnest longing and wishing for the safety of the shore.

But the resolute mariners in their ships, they both expect and prepare to wrestle with such difficulties: they ply their sails, they fathom the sea with their line, they have their hand on the helm, and their eye to Heaven; they let fall their anchors, and ride admit the tempest till it has spent its fury, with undaunted courage.

I have now methinks set forth in an allegory the temporary professor [one who merely claims to be a Christian] and the sound and real believer, the one having only the form and the other the power of godliness; the one serving himself and the other his God in the works of religion.

In the sunshine and prosperity of the Church, who spreads a fairer sail of profession than the temporary? Who seems more eager following Christ coast after coast than he? Who is more expressive of his joy and delight in approaching the ordinances; who more confident of boasting in his following Christ and dying with him — when others leave him — than he? And yet if but a cloud of a hand-breadth [1 Kings 18:44] arise in the firmament of the Church, who is more full of boding fears and repentings in himself than ever he went so far [who has more misgivings]?

If Christ be but apprehended and led away to the High Priest’s palace, to be there buffeted and spit upon, who more ready to say, I know not the man! Or, if it be needful, to renounce him with an oath?

Now the ground of all this is, because he makes his religion an art rather than a duty, and does rather inform and actuate it, than be informed and guided by it. He took it up not to honor God but to better himself by it; and therefore resolves, if he cannot be a gainer he will be no loser.

But how greatly differing from such a one is the true and real Christian, who enters into his religion as into a covenant of marriage which requires performances and not retractions; forethoughts of burdens as well as delights? He looked upon the Church of Christ, not as a pleasure boat — which is only for a pastime — but as a ship that must expect storms, but fear not a wreck because Christ is in it. And therefore he is resolved to withstand the corruptions of the times, to out-face the sins and scorns of men, to be valiant for a truth trampled upon, and not to be ashamed of a persecuted profession, and to bear up against the threats and malice of the most potent enemies with an unbended consistency.

Did not Peter and John thus against a synod of Pharisees? Paul against the contradictions of the Jews? Athanasius against the power of Constantius and the Arians? And Chrysostom against the pride and rage of Eudoxia?

He is not worthy of Christ who is allured to come only to come to him upon the expectations of pleasure, nor he that is kept from the fear of ensuing dangers.

Do thou, then, O blessed Savior
Make my heart upright in my coming to thee
And fix my confidence so on thee
That seas of trouble may never in the least separate me from thee
And if at any time I cry out like the timorous disciples,
Lord save me, I perish!
Do thou calm my fears —though not the storm—
That so I may possess my soul in patience
And believe that thou wilt either
Be my pilot to bring me safe to shore
Or be my plank, to save me from ruin and perishing.

Carl F. Henry, Ways of Knowing.5


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The previous post on Henry’s essay, “Ways of Knowing” can be found here.

In the next section of the essay, Henry considers Experience as the basis for knowledge.

Empiricism: Empiricism relies upon the senses rather than upon intuition. However, that simple concept has undergone significant development over history.

Mystics: Mystics argue that their experiences should not be ruled out of court merely because they are not shared by all. However, in contemporary philosophy only objective sense information constitutes an acceptable experience to consider.

Aristotle/Thomas and Modern Empiricism: Aristotle and Thomas considered empiricism as a first step: “perceptual induction”can then lead to propositions upon which one can build. Thomas famously developed proofs for God based upon empirical perception of the world without resort to revelation.

Modern empiricism could not tolerate such a thing:

The special interest of empiricism, moreover, is to identify events for the sake of the prediction and control of perceptual experience, rather than to render them comprehensively intelligible in relation to metaphysical reality (cf. Edwin A. Burtt, Types of Religious Philosophy, pp. 197 ff.).

Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 79.

Applied to Theology:  Hume attacked the Thomistic proposition that one could move from empirical observation to proof of God:

Thomistic contention that the existence of God, and the existence and immortality of the soul, are logically demonstrable simply through empirical considerations independent of divine revelation.1 Hume’s contention was that those who profess theological beliefs on empirical grounds have no right to such beliefs unless they produce requisite perceptual evidence, and that in the absence of demonstrative empirical proof, belief is unreasonable.

Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 79–80.

Henry then draws an interesting line between Hume and Schleiermacher: Schleiermacher expanded the scope of empirical data to “religious consciousness” rather than mere cognition. He grounded Christianity in the human experience — thus attempting to rescue  knowledge of God from Humean skepticism but at the cost of a supernatural Christianity:

Schleiermacher boldly identified the empirical method as adequate to deal with religious concerns and decisive for the fortunes of Christianity, yet he sought at the same time to broaden the definition of empiricism so that—contrary to Hume’s skeptical analysis of theological claims—an appeal to the religious consciousness could yield a positive and constructive verdict. Schleiermacher considered feeling rather than cognition the locus of religious experience, and he applied the empirical method hopefully to the claims of Christian theism. Rejecting the historic evangelical emphasis that the truth of revelation rests on an authority higher than science, Schleiermacher broke with miraculous Christianity and held that all events must conform to empirically verifiable law.

Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 80.

This trajectory leaves open the development of a completely new religion still calling itself “Christianity” without maintaining the same revelatory content (which has happened in great deal in the West).

As Henry notes, what sort of rationale can ground one’s claim of “religious experience” or “truth”. Even empiricism generally can be of little use beyond analysis of material objects:  “But how does one arrive at a permanently valid ought, at fixed norms of any kind, by the empirical method of knowing?” (P. 83) That of course has not stopped many from claiming an absolute authority for empiricism.

It does boast engineering feats, but such feats do not prove or disprove anything with respect to God. One can simply cannot argue from “I made a bridge” to “There is no God.” As Henry explains:

Taken by itself, the empirical method provides no basis for affirming or denying supernatural realities, since by definition it is a method for dealing only with perceptible realities. It cannot, therefore, validate supraperceptible being; nor can it validate moral norms either or confirm past historical events in present public experience. The empiricist must acknowledge that his method leads finally to one of many possible views, and not to final certainty about anything.

Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 85.