Nathan Eshelman

Salvator Mundi: I Can’t Imagine it!

The Apostle John pleads with believers to keep themselves from idols (I John 5:21) as well as reminds us that when he is revealed we will see him as he is (I John 3:2). Let’s throw off images, cling to what is confessional, biblical, and good—and know that there will come a day when you will see him face to face.

In 1978, art historian Joanne Snow-Smith quietly began a movement. She argued that a dark and ominous painting of Jesus Christ called Salvator Mundi was a long lost Leonardo Di Vinci. Through the normal media of scholarly debate, provenance building, and good old-fashioned marketing, the painting would make its way to the famous Christie’s auction block. Christie’s describes itself as “a world-leading art and luxury business.” A painting that, at its last sale (in 2005) was highly doubted among the art world as a Leonardo, sold in 2017 as “the last Leonardo” for a spectacular $450 million. It is the highest price ever paid for a single piece of art sold at auction.
An image of Jesus sold for $450 million.Well, not really an image of Jesus.
Reformed believers have always been opposed to the making and use of images of Jesus. This prohibition is rooted in the second commandment. Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, is not to be imagined, drawn, sculpted, painted, etc. The Puritan Thomas Vincent said: “It is not lawful to have pictures of Jesus Christ, because his divine nature cannot be pictured at all; and because his body, as it is now glorified, cannot be pictured as it is; and because, if it does not stir up devotion, it is in vain—if it does stir up devotion, it is a worshipping by an image or picture, and so a palpable breach of the second commandment.”
And that is not merely his private opinion, it is the confessional position of the Reformed and Presbyterian world.
Surely you know the exception to the rule. It is widely debated, even among church officers. Some will say that it is a “trendy exception” among ministerial candidates in a larger reformed denomination to take exception to the image prohibition. Well-meaning brothers and sisters will argue that since Jesus took on flesh, we are able to portray him. Others will say that images of Jesus are fine as long as we do not worship them or they stay out of the churches. Many will argue that images of Jesus are fine as long as they are only used for teaching rather than worship—think flannel-graphs and children’s books. But surely these are not the norm, but the exception. Every person that argues from these positions argues contra our confessional position and contra historic reformed Christianity.
The rule, rather than one’s personal exception is that images of God are forbidden—and that is all three persons of the godhead. (See Westminster Larger Catechism 109.)
Read More
Related Posts:

A Jesus Misjudged?

It seems almost weekly that discouraging news of comes from various corners of Christ’s Church. Apostasy, discipline, closures, resignations, and divisions all cause much suffering in the heart and mind of the one who loves Christ. Has God cast off forever? Has he forgotten grace? Has his mercy been undone? Let that not cause you to “pass censure” on Christ, for you only can “judge it by halves.” Jesus is doing a glorious work, even in the midst of these discouragements.

What is Christ doing in his church? What are the ways that we should interpret the–sometimes dark–providences of God in building, reforming, censuring, or comforting the church? We are not as skilled as we ought to be in judging the work of Jesus in our midst; and that’s always been the case.
Isaiah 53:4b says, “..yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” This verse demonstrates that when each of God’s people first look upon Jesus, we misjudged the work. You saw the savior stricken of God, and yet it was for your salvation, because of your transgression.
Meditating on this verse, James Durham (1622-58) said that this verse stands as a great application, or use, when considering what Jesus is doing in his church. Sometimes we see things that are not there and we misinterpret what Christ is doing among us. Durham writes, this verse is:
“to teach us, when we are ready to pass censure on Christ’s work, to stand still…to correct ourselves… [Christ] gets much wrong[ed] as to his public work, as if he were cruel, when indeed he is merciful; as if he had forgotten us, when indeed he remembers us still; and as to his private work in particular persons, as if he did fail in his promise when he is most faithful, and bringing it about in his own way.Read More
Related Posts:

Christ’s Pattern, a Masterful Work

The Christian life has many ebbs and flows. Among the flowing, we find patterns of our own life and that of our brethren which are reflective of our Savior. We see patterns of grace, obedience, conquering, acquiring heaven, and perseverance. When the world, flesh, and devil tell the Christian that his life is a fake, that Christian may promptly respond, “It is not a fake—it remains a masterful work.” It is the work of Christ in us and to us, and for his glory. He is doing a masterful work.

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: Romans 8:3
Among the years of fruitfulness in the ministry of Thomas Manton, an unknown Dutch artist was completing a painting in 1650 that would be titled, “An elderly man with a gilt helmet.” That painting hung in Amsterdam until 1898, then purchased for a German collection in Berlin. For the whole of the nineteenth century and a good part of the twentieth, the painting was attributed to the Dutch master, Rembrandt van Rijn. An art expert recently discovered that the work was not Rembrandt’s, but by the hand of a skilled, yet unknown student of his.
As word of the “elderly man” spread, the news that the painting was a fake became well known. “It is not a fake…it remains a great masterful work,” responded Jan Kelch, the German art historian that discovered this truth. The student had reflected that which the teacher put forth—to the point where the world saw the pattern of the teacher, rather than the student.
Thomas Manton, looking at the life of Christ in the greatest chapter, saw “Jesus condemning sin in the flesh” as a means of giving the Christian a pattern to follow in the Christian life. The pattern would not be redemptive, of course, but one of godliness and encouragement in living out the Christian life. Manton said, “Christ, by taking our flesh is become a pattern to us of what shall be done both in us and by us (Works of Manton, 11.425).”
Manton put forth five ways that Christ, our master, was a pattern for us and in us, His students.
1. Pattern of Grace
The first of the patterns is that of grace. Manton said of Jesus, “His own holy nature is a pledge of the work of grace, and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit… (Ibid).” When the Christian looks to the life of Christ and sees the work of the Holy Spirit and the outpouring of grace upon his life, the Christian can be certain that God will provide grace and the work of the Holy Spirit to all who call on him by faith.
Grace is a gift of the Spirit, and that same Spirit working in us was first working in Christ. Manton makes that connection by saying, “For the same holy Spirit that could sanctify the substance that was taken from the virgin, so that that holy thing that was born of her might be called the Son of God, can also sanctify and cleanse our corrupt hearts (Ibid).”
The Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 6:11, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” The Spirit gives grace for sanctification, even over our “such were some of you” sins. Christ has promised grace and patterns grace as well.
2. Pattern of Obedience
Secondly, Christ’s life is a pattern of obedience for the Christian.
Read More
Related Posts:

What the Law Could Not Do

In God’s decree, the law was not designed to restore from sin or to recover from the wages of sin—the law brings death, and the reader of the Scriptures needs to ask concerning that other way. The law “could not do” as far as restoration was concerned. The law brings death rather than life. Living unto God is only through the person and work of Jesus Christ, rather than through the law. This was true in the Old Testament as well as in the New.

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: Romans 8:3

The law of God has great value in the Scriptures and for the Christian life. Thomas Manton would not doubt the value of the law nor its place in the Christian life; he was not a Neonomian. A high view of the law of God, as described in chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, section five, necessitates that there are things the law can and cannot do:
“The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God, the Creator, who gave it. Neither doth Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.”
Manton would understand and propound these moral-legal duties as a minister and an assemblyman at Westminster. Despite this high view of the law, Manton understood the limitations of it. Following the Apostle Paul who confessed there were things “the law could not do,” Manton gave four limitations of the law, demonstrating what the law could not do for fallen humanity. He said in summary, “It was impossible for the law to do away sin, and justify man before God…that is, through the corruption of our natures, we being sinners, and are unable to to perform the duty of the law (Works of Manton, 11.420).” The impossibilities of the law are four.
Cannot Free Us From Sin and Death
Our father Adam was given a command in the Covenant of Works. The law, being written on his heart, was a law of full obedience. The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 19.1-2, tell us that the same law that was given to Adam “continued” as the moral law given at Sinai. Was that law able to free the people of God from sin and death? No.
Despite the law not being able to free us from sin and death, God’s will—his heart, his purpose, and decree—was that man would be free. Manton said,  “It was necessary in respect of God’s purpose and decree, that we should be free from sin and death. For God would not have mankind utterly to perish…(Ibid).” God’s will was that humanity, or a people chosen from humanity, would not perish in sin and death.  God “would not lose the whole creation of mankind. God hath showed himself placable and merciful to all men, and hath forbidden despair, and continued many forfeited mercies…(Ibid).”
Sin and death are unable to be overcome through the law of God, and Manton then turns his attention to the fact that restoration is unreachable through the law as well.
Read More
Related Posts:

Law Opposed to Law

The Covenant of Grace is a “law of the spirit.” The Spirit of God has instituted this covenant and applies it to the lives of men and women who believe. Manton said that Christ himself speaks of covenant in terms of spirit and truth. He says, “Not only because of its spiritual nature, as it cometh nearer and closer to the soul than the law of outward and beggarly rudiments; and therefore Christ called the ordinances of the gospel, spirit and truth (Works of Manton, 11.395).”

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2

In our circles today, it is not popular to speak about the Gospel as Law or the Law of the Gospel. The Gospel message is one that is received by faith and the division between Law and Gospel is often driven so sharply that there is no room for Law in Gospel or Gospel in Law.
The Puritans, including Thomas Manton, saw grace in law and law in grace, all while maintaining a rigorously Christ-centered Gospel of free grace. There was no hint of the errors of Federal Vision, and yet speaking in terms of law was common parlance for the time.[1] Manton demonstrated in his treatment of the greatest chapter that law is able to be opposed to law—with the Gospel’s law triumphing.
Where does Manton get the idea of the Gospel’s law? Citing several verses which use the language of the law of the Gospel, Manton finds law used positively in the Scriptures. Speaking of the coming Gospel age, Isaiah looked forward to the time when “many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob…for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3). Matthew 28:20 also uses language of law as Jesus sends his ministers into the nations preaching the Gospel. Jesus says, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” The Apostle would speak of believing the Gospel in terms of obedience when he condemned those “that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”  (2 Thessalonians 1:8). Paul also reminded the Christians in Galatia to press on in the Christian life: “ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” (Galatians 5:7).
The language of law in reference to the Gospel age is much more connected than we are comfortable with today.
Manton helped his readers to see their connectedness to law as well as their disconnectedness in his exposition of Romans 8:2 as he divided the law opposed to the law.
Two Laws
The two laws that are described in the second verse of Romans 8 are the law of sin and death and the law of the Spirit of life. Manton does not imagine these laws as the 10 Commandments versus the Gospel, but clearly articulates that the laws are the two covenants that we find in the Scriptures: the law of “sin and death” is the Covenant of Works and the law of the “Spirit of life in Christ” is the Covenant of Grace.
The Covenant of Works became a law of sin and death when Adam sinned and brought the curse on himself and “for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation…(Westminster Shorter Catechism, 16).”
Read More

Space Oddity

“When the Son came for salvation, he did not take angelic nature into union but became human.” “Then again, in the visions of Revelation, John saw “living creatures” representative of creation gathered around the throne of God in worship of the Lamb…This was a vision, but we must suppose it represents a reality… While we are not given a detailed answer to our question and must leave it in the hands of all-wise God, it seems that eternity will be filled with praise and obedient faithfulness from throughout the animate and intelligent cosmos.”

What if aliens were discovered…or discovered us? Would that change your opinion of the Bible, the Christian faith, and the centrality of humanity as image bearers of God? Recently there was some buzz in the online-news about NASA hiring twenty-four theologians to help them understand how humanity would respond to the discovery of alien life.
Although the facts around NASA hiring have been called into question, the truth remains that those in the scientific community–and many people–want answers to theological questions concerning the existence of life “out there.” 

One online magazine said, “Though NASA certainly gave money toward the program, it didn’t go as far as to hire anyone from it. A spokesperson from NASA told the Associated Press that the researchers involved in the program were never directly employed by the space agency. Individuals who receive grant funding from NASA are not employees, advisors, or spokespersons for the agency, the spokesperson told the AP in an email. Thus, the researchers and scholars involved with this study were not hired by NASA, but instead received funding… to conduct this work.”
So what is the answer? Do alien lifeforms, or extraterrestrial intelligences (ETI) exist? In all my reading of the puritans, reformers, Covenanters, Seceders, and others, I have never found an answer to whether we would find ETI if we explored the universe. For the most part, I didn’t care, but the question does get asked.

In Robert Letham’s Systematic Theology (which was published in 2019 rather than 1619) he confronts the question of ETI and the existence of alien life forms. Again, I don’t remember this question being posed in any of the old dead guys. 

On pages 288-289 he explores this question.
Letham begins with demonstrating that there are some that argue the vastness of our universe is connected to our planet’s uniqueness. He said, “Some argue that there is no extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) anywhere in the universe. The vast size of the cosmos, it is said, is necessary for humans to be able to live here on earth.Read More

Exemption from Condemnation

Union with Christ is a spiritual union, not one merely that is declared or imputed, such as justification. Mystical, real, and spiritual union with the Lord Jesus occurs when one is “in Christ.” 

Thomas Manton began his exposition of Romans 8 by telling his hearers “what condemnation importeth.” The world stands under condemnation because of sin—that black backdrop has made this chapter’s “No condemnation!” all the more precious to the believer. Manton next turns the reader’s attention to union with Christ as the means by which “exemption from condemnation” occurs in the life of the sinner. The sinner becomes a saint through union with Christ.
Extolling the benefits of “no condemnation,” Manton reminds his hearers that these benefits are only for those who are in union with Christ. “This privilege is the portion of those that are in Christ (Works of Thomas Manton, 11.388).” The Westminster Shorter Catechism, written by the Westminster assembly, of which Manton was a clerk, wrote, “How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?” The answer they gave is, “The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling (WSC, 30).” Manton knew that union with Christ was central to the benefits described in this chapter.
“Late Cavils”
Confusion over union with Christ is not new to our day. Hearing objections and disagreements over how this union occurs became common in the theological milieu of Manton’s social context. Manton said,
I shall here show you what it is to be in Christ…the phrase noteth union with him. There is certainly a real, but spiritual union between Christ and his members… But late cavils make it necessary to speak a little more to that argument (The Works of Manton, 11.389).
“Real” and “spiritual” union is central to the relationship with Christ in the union theology of Thomas Manton, but these ideas were pushed against in his time. “Late cavils” references current disruptions and objections to biblical truth surrounding the doctrine of union with Christ.[1] Manton described the greatest of these cavils as those propounding “political” union.
According to Manton, union with Christ “is more than a relation to Christ as a political head.” Manton was not the only one concerned about the “late cavil” of political union. John Owen, a colleague of Manton’s in the chaplaincy of Cromwell, also saw political union as a threat to the union with Christ taught in Scripture. Owen wrote:
That there is such a union between Christ and believers is the faith of the catholic church, and has been so in all ages. Those who seem in our days to deny it, or question it, either know not what they say, or their minds are influenced by their doctrine who deny the divine persons of the Son and of the Spirit. Upon supposition of this union, reason will grant the imputation pleaded for to be reasonable; at least, that there is such a peculiar ground for it as is not to be exemplified in any things natural or political among men (Works of John Owen, Justification, 5:209).
Read More

Enjoying the Means

When I speak of the means of grace, I have in my mind’s eye five principal things,—the reading of the Bible, private prayer, public worship, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and the rest of the Lord’s day. They are means which God has graciously appointed, in order to convey grace to man’s heart by the Holy Ghost, or to keep up the spiritual life after it has begun. JC Ryle, Practical Religion, 14.

And enjoy him.
We all know the phrase. Our chief end is to glorify and enjoy God. This is the Presbyterian way.
Do we enjoy him? Do you enjoy him?
Do we enjoy the means given to us that allows us to know him, glorify, and enjoy him? These are important questions. This past week I was convicted by JC Ryle (as I often am) as he challenged his hearers on whether they are enjoying the means that God has given to them. I thought I would share a portion of that with you under this question:
Do you enjoy the means of grace? Ryle says,
When I speak of the means of grace, I have in my mind’s eye five principal things,—the reading of the Bible, private prayer, public worship, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and the rest of the Lord’s day. They are means which God has graciously appointed, in order to convey grace to man’s heart by the Holy Ghost, or to keep up the spiritual life after it has begun. As long as the world stands, the state of a man’s soul will always depend greatly on the manner and spirit in which he uses means of grace. The manner and spirit, I say deliberately and of purpose. Many… people use the means of grace regularly and formally, but know nothing of enjoying them: they attend to them as a matter of duty, but without a jot of feeling, interest, or affection. JC Ryle, Practical Religion, 14.
Read More

Water Heater Maintenance

Make your prayers for your minister more fervent than your complaints about his shortcomings. Let your children hear you praying for him and his calling.  Your prayers will strengthen him before the throne room of grace, and they will soften your heart toward him. This is important, especially if the hot water stops running for a season.

Last week our water heater broke down. I thought the pilot light went out because we have had some heavy rains and flooding lately. As it turns out, it was not the pilot light going out, but rather the tank breathing its last. Due to busy schedules, our plumber could not replace it for a couple of days. Over those days we often thought about our lack of a hot water heater. I showered at the church building where I serve as pastor. We boiled water so that dishes could be properly washed. Unkempt children were allowed to ferment a bit longer than usual.
It was not suffering, by any means, but it was annoying and it disrupted our first-world lifestyle.  We went from never thinking about our hot water heater to thinking about it quite a bit.
Consequently, I meditated on a conversation that I’d had during my seminary internship. At that time, one of my mentors said to me, “Nathan, pastors are often treated like hot water heaters. Nobody really thinks about them when they are working, but when they stop working, they are not repaired; instead they are quickly replaced.”
In my time of pastoral ministry, I have talked with several hurting pastors who would resonate with the water heater statement. Many pastors work extra-long hours, are unable to “turn off” care for the church when not working, preach while on vacation (to afford the vacation), and have very few outlets for reducing the stresses of ministry. A year or so ago, my doctor told me that she could often tell which patients were pastors based solely on their high cortisol levels (cortisol is a stress-related hormone that is produced in the adrenal glands). Pastors suffer from high rates of depression as well. Pastoral ministry, although extremely rewarding, often fun, and spiritually refreshing is a demanding calling that, for many, results in being—well—broken.
I need to acknowledge that many in the church, not just pastors, have high-stress vocations and are frequently left without refreshment. Burnout is a symptom of our 24-7 culture, not merely of the stress of pastoral ministry. As the Bishop of Winchester said, “When we talk about pastoral burnout, we need to be careful not to invalidate the exhaustion many feel in all of life (citation withheld).”
With that said, this article will specifically address pastoral ministry. Without proper spiritual, physical, and emotional maintenance, the high stress and high demand calling of pastoral ministry will result in burn out, which will too often lead congregations to replace their minister rather than invest in their broken one.
No one repairs a hot water heater.
As I thought about the similarities between the calling to bring God’s Word to his people and the calling to bring hot water to the home, these five ways of investing in “hot water heater maintenance” were among my meditations amid boiling water and fermenting children.
How can you help to provide maintenance for your pastor rather than replace him?
Pray for him
Consider having a stated time each week in which you pray for your pastor. Include this in family worship times as well. Frequently, the conversations in homes of church members revolve around what their pastor could be doing better, how he falls short, and what he missed in his sermon. Make your prayers for your minister more fervent than your complaints about his shortcomings. Let your children hear you praying for him and his calling.
Read More

Talitha Cumi

There will come a time when the graves will opened. And all of you ladies who are in Christ will hear: “Talitha cumi.”  “Little girl, get up.” And all of you men who are resting in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin—you will hear: “Talay Cumi.” “Little boy, get up.” And you will be ushered into eternity—body and soul—by the one who conquered death. 

Most of the Gospel of Mark is written in Greek, and when the reader is confronted with Jesus speaking Aramaic, it ought to give pause. Jairus’s twelve year-old daughter–an only child–lay dead and the Lord Jesus had been called to her bedside to heal her. The Gospel records:
Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. Mark 5:41-42
With the quiet of the room and the mourning of the parents…
With Peter and James and John looking on…
With a twelve year old girl lying dead in her bed…
With all the wailing outside and the mockery of Jesus….
With the words of her death spreading around the small town….
Jesus, the precious savior, takes this little girl by the hand and whispers in Aramaic:
Talitha cumi.
These are two of the most precious words in all of the Word of God:
“Little girl, get up.”“Honey, it’s okay—rise up.”“Rise up, little girl.”
And she did.
She rose from the dead as Jesus brought her back to life through whispering two of the most precious words that have ever crossed the lips of humanity.
Talitha cumi.
Now go–if you will–with me into the next years and decades of life, along with this twelve-year old girl. Use your sanctified imagination.
Read More

Scroll to top