Founders Ministries

The Saving Design of God’s Common Grace

This article was originally posted in Issue 116 of the Founders Journal.

Theologians frequently distinguish two species of divine grace in the Scriptures: saving grace and common grace. God directs the former particularly to the elect; God showers the latter indiscriminately on all men in general. Saving grace is, as its designation suggests, efficacious in effecting the redemption of those to whom it is given. Common grace, on the other hand, does not guarantee the salvation of its recipients. Nevertheless, God’s common grace is saving in its design. That is, God sincerely intends the kindness and patience he shows to all sinners (whether elect or non-elect) to lead them unto saving repentance. The apostle Paul underscores this biblical truth in Romans 2:4.

Before we demonstrate our thesis concerning the teaching of Romans 2:4, we believe it would be helpful to read the verse in its larger context:

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Rom 2:1-5, ESV).

From this passage (especially verse 4), we’ll identify the recipients, the nature, and the design of God’s common grace.

The Recipients of God’s Common Grace

Precisely whom is Paul addressing in Romans 2:1-5?

The “Moralist” whether Jew or Gentile

The majority of commentators believe Paul has transitioned from indicting pagan Gentiles in Romans 1:18-32 to condemning self-righteous Jews in 2:1ff.[i] There are good reasons, however, to interpret the scope of Paul’s indictment as inclusive of any moralist, whether Jew or Gentile.[ii]

The Sinfully Self-Righteous Person

Not only is Paul addressing the self-confessed “moralist.” He seems to have in view the person who not only prides himself in his assumed “superior” ethical mores, but also makes it his business to judge and condemn others less outwardly decent or religious. This is the kind of judgmentalism Jesus warned against in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7:1-5). It’s epitomized in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican where the former, looking condescendingly on the latter, has the audacity to pray,

God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get (Luke 18:11-12, ESV).

The Blind and Stubborn Reprobate

Paul’s characterization darkens as the passage progresses. This is not just a moralist who’s got nothing better to do than to complain about the ills of the decadent society around him. Paul’s diatribe is aimed at the man who shows contempt[iii] for the abundance of God’s “kindness and forbearance and patience” of which he is a recipient. This contempt actually blinds him[iv] to the fact that such undeserved kindness has a benevolent design (2:4). And in this case, the blindness is the willful, sinful, and culpable variety.[v] Worse, it results in a stubborn impenitence that accrues, rather ironically for the moralist, a “treasury”[vi] of divine wrath and judgment (2:5).[vii]

The Nature of God’s Common Grace

The “common grace” in this passage is God’s indiscriminate kindness shown to the undeserving or, better, ill-deserving. Paul describes this kindness using three nouns. The first, χρηστότητος, denotes the quality of beneficence. The second, ἀνοχῆς, signifies the quality of being forbearing or tolerant. It’s used in Romans 3:26 to refer to God’s postponement of judgment. The third, μακροθυμίας, refers to the quality of patience or long-suffering. Paul summarizes these ideas with the cognate adjective of the first noun, χρηστὸς, which is here used substantively–”God’s kindness.”

Some Grace Saves

Sometimes divine “kindness” is employed to signify a discriminate, salvific, and efficacious grace. For example, consider Paul’s words to the church of Ephesus:

But God, being rich in mercy (ἐλέει), because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace (χάριτί) you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace (χάριτος) in kindness (χρηστότητι) toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace (χάριτί) you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (2:4-8).

Worth noting is that Paul portrays God’s saving “kindness” (χρηστότης) as a species of “grace” (χάρις) and expression of “mercy” (ἔλεος). Moreover, we see a parallel in this text with Romans 2:4 in that both passages describe God’s kindness or grace in lavish terms: here, “God being rich” (πλούσιος); there, “the riches (πλούτου) of his kindness.”

Paul employs the same salvific kindness terminology in his letter to Titus:

But when the goodness (χρηστότης) and loving kindness (φιλανθρωπία) of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy (ἔλεος), through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace (χάριτι), we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (3:4-7).

In this case χρηστότης (“goodness”) and φιλανθρωπία (“loving-kindness”) function as the more general terms of which God’s saving ἔλεος (“mercy”) and χάριτι (“grace”) are species. And, like our text (Rom 2:4) and Ephesians 2 above, this divine kindness is extravagant: “this Spirit he poured out on us richly (πλουσίως) through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Some Grace Does Not

Some Christians seem to believe that “grace” vocabulary, like that above, always and necessarily denotes God’s efficacious and saving kindness to the ill-deserving. But this is simply not the case for several reasons.

First, the fact that the phrase “common grace” doesn’t occur in the Bible does not mean the concept behind the phrase is absent. To assume that the absence of a special term or a technical phrase precludes the idea or notion conveyed by such a word or phrase is to commit a linguistic fallacy. As James Barr explains, “It is the sentence (and of course the still larger literary complex such as the complete speech or poem) which is the linguistic bearer of the usual theological statement, and not the word (the lexical unit) or the morphological and syntactical connection.”[viii] For example, one will scour Genesis 3 in vain for such terms as “sin,” “evil,” “rebellion,” “transgression,” or “guilt.” But it’s obvious to most readers that the chapter is all about mankind’s fall into sin. Similarly, the Scriptures teach that God is one nature and three persons. Thus, we may affirm the doctrine of the “Trinity” even though the term doesn’t occur in the Bible. The same holds true for the phrase “common grace.”

Second, and related to the point above, it’s not the term “grace” by itself that denotes efficacious grace. Rather, the larger context in which the term occurs is what constrains the special (soteriological) signification. In general, the term “grace” denotes ideas like “favor,” “goodwill,” or “kindness.” Only when the term is employed in contexts where God’s regenerating, justifying, or sanctifying activity is in view does it convey the theological notion of divine saving grace to the ill-deserving. To assume that the English term or its Hebrew or Greek counterparts (see below) must always have a technical meaning in biblical discourse is, once again, linguistically fallacious. D. A. Carson calls this the terminus technicus fallacy in which “an interpreter falsely assumes that a word [e.g., “grace”] always has a certain technical meaning–a meaning derived either from a subset of the evidence or from the interpreter’s personal systematic theology.”[ix]

Third, even the Hebrew and Greek terms commonly translated as “grace” (Hebrew: חן [noun], חנן [verb]/Greek: χάρις [noun]; χαρίζω [verb]) do not always denote God’s efficacious and saving kindness to the ill-deserving. When, for instance, Noah finds “grace (חן) in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen 6:8), he’s not receiving God’s saving grace as an ill-deserving sinner, but God’s approval as a righteous saint (see Gen 6:10). In other words, there is a species of grace that’s actually merited (cf. Gen 33:12-17; Prov 12:2). Such is what the Gospel writer Luke had in view when he tells us, ”Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor (χάριτι) with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Obviously, divine saving grace to the ill-deserving doesn’t fit this context. There are many other examples of non-soteriological usage.[x]

Fourth, the biblical terms translated “grace” belong to a larger semantic domain that includes words such as “mercy,” “compassion,” “patience,” “long-suffering,” and “kindness.” Such terms may denote God’s discriminate saving grace, or they can signify a more general idea like God’s indiscriminate kindness. Psalm 145 seems to bring both kinds of divine grace into close relation. The psalmist highlights God’s covenantal or special grace in verse 8 with an allusion to Yahweh’s self-revelation in Exodus 34: “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Then, in the next verse, he places God’s special grace under the umbrella of God’s common grace: “The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”[xi] The Greek term used to translate “all” in the LXX often signifies the entire world (Job 2:2; Isa 11:9; Nah 1:5), which nicely parallels the phrase “all that he has made.” It seems then, there is a species of God’s grace or kindness that is more general in scope.

Fifth, that the noun χρηστότητος (“kindness”) and adjective χρηστὸς (“kind”) can denote a non-salvific favor, that is, a general kindness, is shown by the fact that they are predicated of Christians. That is, believers are commanded to be kind and gracious to others (2 Cor 6:6; Gal 5:22; Col 3:12; Eph 4:32). One should note that the species of “kindness” enjoined of humans in these passages is represented as analogous to the kindness God has showed toward us in salvation, not necessarily in terms of efficacy but in terms of its general nature, i.e., a kind of favor that is benevolent and merciful in character. Note how Jesus enjoins his disciples to imitate God’s common kindness by being gracious even toward their enemies:

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind (χρηστός) to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:35-36, ESV).

Sixth, our text in Romans plainly refers to a species of divine grace or kindness that is not limited to the elect and that falls short of actually effecting the conversion of its recipients (see Rom 2:5). So we agree with William G. T. Shedd when he comments on Romans 2:4 and remarks, “The apostle is not speaking, here, of the effectual operation of special grace upon the human will, but only of common influences.”[xii]

In summary, though the phrase “common grace” doesn’t appear in the Bible, the concept of common grace does. Common grace refers to God’s blessings on the human race that fall short of salvation from sin. Theologians usually classify these common expressions of divine kindness and benevolence as follows: (1) God’s restraint of human sin and its effects, (2) God’s bestowal of temporal blessings on humanity in general, and (3) God’s endowment of unbelievers with knowledge and skills to benefit human society as a whole.[xiii] The goodwill, tolerance, and patience of Romans 2:4 would extend to all three of these dimensions of common grace. Yet these indiscriminate blessings are not an end in themselves. God has an agenda.

The Design of God’s Common Grace

Why is God so amazingly good, tolerant of, and patient toward the self-righteous and self-sufficient reprobate who spends his life condemning others and commending himself? Before we identify the obvious reason, which the apostle Paul highlights, let’s address two incorrect answers to the question.

To Assure the Sinner “All’s Well”

The first incorrect answer to the question is the one assumed by the impenitent moralist Paul is describing. Such a person interprets God’s gracious providence as a sure sign that God is pleased with him. The fact God hasn’t struck him dead with a bolt of lightning must mean God approves of him and that he has no need to fear. This kind of gross and groundless presumption characterized the Jewish nation who foolishly interpreted God’s deferral of judgment as a certain sign that all was well (see Jeremiah 7).

But Paul exposes the folly of this presumptuous attitude and in no uncertain terms declares quite the opposite. The self-righteous moralist is just as much under God’s condemnation as the depraved pagan. After all, all things are open before the eyes of whom we must give an account (Heb 4:13). Accordingly, the aim of God’s common grace has not been to stoke the moralist’s pride, to foster complacency, or to promote presumption. Rather, says Paul, God’s goodness is aimed at the self-righteous moralist’s repentance.

To Fatten the Sinner for Judgment

Some, especially those of the ultra-Calvinist bent, insist on reading the text as if God’s design in demonstrating kindness to the non-elect were nothing more than a means to aggravate their guilt and increase their punishment. Just as the farmer feeds and fattens the turkey for the chopping block, so God showers good things upon and withholds immediate judgment from the self-righteous sinner in order to make him “ripe” for damnation. It’s as if God’s only intention toward the non-elect can be malevolent; any beneficence, on God’s part, is disallowed. For example, in a critical review of John Murray’s The Free Offer of the Gospel, Matthew Winzer asserts,

The reprobate are not considered merely as creatures when God dispenses his temporal benefits to them. They are “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,” and God is said to endure them “with much longsuffering” (Rom 9:22). And this longsuffering is not presented as being in any sense for their benefit, as if He were patiently waiting for them to turn to Him that He might be favourable to them. No, it is so that “he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (verse 23). Thus, God’s wrathful enduring of the reprobate is for the purpose of mercifully manifesting His glory to the elect. Every temporal benefit, therefore, which comes to the reprobate is not without purpose, but is made effectual to them for their inuring [i.e., hardening] and making meet for damnation.[xiv]

In the same paper, Winzer concedes that God has a general love or benevolence for humanity in general, but he strongly insists that such benevolence cannot include any disposition of goodwill toward the non-elect.[xv] God can only be said to desire the damnation of those whose damnation he actually decrees.

Of course, it’s true enough that God’s indiscriminate common grace will aggravate the guilt and increase the punishment of the impenitent. That’s the point of Romans 2:5. Moreover, God’s damnation of the reprobate will also serve to highlight God’s perfect justice and sovereign power while accentuating his mercy to the elect. That’s the point of Romans 9:21-23. Nevertheless, the point of Romans 2:4 is quite another biblical truth.[xvi]

To Lead the Sinner to Repentance

Paul states the design of God’s common grace in no uncertain terms. Addressing the self-righteous moralist who stubbornly persists in his impenitence, the apostle asserts, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom 2:4 ESV). Paul uses the present indicative, which literally reads, “… is leading you to repentance” (cf. KJV, NAS, NIV). Some wrongly interpret this as a simple statement of fact, viz., God’s goodness [efficaciously] leads [a subgroup of sinful humanity, namely, the elect] to saving repentance.”[xvii] But Paul’s use of the present indicative here has a tendential or voluntative force.[xviii] Accordingly, the ESV correctly renders it “is meant to lead” (cf. NRSV, NJB). Other English versions convey the tendential or voluntative as “is intended to lead” (HSCB; cf. NLT) or “would lead” (NAB).

That the force of Paul’s language suggests a beneficent disposition on the part of God is further suggested by the likelihood that Paul is here echoing the language of the Wisdom of Solomon (circa 1st or 2nd century BC), an apocryphal book with which Paul would have been familiar. That book contains an indictment on the human race analogous to Paul’s discourse in Romans 1:18-32. What’s more, the author of Wisdom of Solomon highlights God’s merciful design behind his patience and longsuffering toward sinners:

But you are merciful to all (ἐλεεῖς δὲ πάντας) for you can do all things, and you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent (παρορᾷς ἁμαρτήματα ἀνθρώπων εἰς μετάνοιαν) (Wisdom 11:23, NRSV).

A little later he writes,

Though you were not unable to give the ungodly into the hands of the righteous in battle, or to destroy them at one blow by dread wild animals or your stern word. But judging them little by little you gave them an opportunity to repent (ἐδίδους τόπον μετανοίας), though you were not unaware that their origin was evil and their wickedness inborn, and that their way of thinking would never change (Wisdom 12:9-10, NRSV).

Paul’s thought here finds some analogy in his discourse to the Greek philosophers at the Areopagus:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God (ζητεῖν τὸν θεόν), in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27 ESV).

It’s probable the apostle Peter had Paul’s teaching in Romans 2:4 in view when Peter wrote in his Second Epistle:

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation (καὶ τὴν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν μακροθυμίαν σωτηρίαν ἡγεῖσθε), just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him (2 Pet 3:14-15 ESV).

Finally, we would suggest that this Pauline and Petrine notion of a saving design underlying God’s benevolence and patience is what a pseudonymous writer in the fourth century plainly commends in the so-called the Apostolic Constitutions (AD 375-380) when he writes,

Great art thou, Lord Almighty, and great is thy power; and to thine understanding there is no limit; our Creator and Saviour, rich in benefits, long-suffering, and the Bestower of mercy, who dost not take away thy salvation from thy creatures; for thou art good by nature, and sparest sinners, and invitest them to repentance (Greek: εις μετανοιαν προσκαλουμενος [summon] / Latin: eos ad penitential provocans); for admonition is the effect of thy bowels of compassion. For how should we abide if we were required to come to judgment immediately, when, after so much long-suffering, we hardly emerge from our miserable condition![xix]

In summary, then, from the evidence above we may conclude a saving design in the indiscriminate common grace God showers on all men whether elect or non-elect.


The larger implication of Romans 2:4 is the fact that we cannot limit God’s desire for human compliance with the terms of the law and the gospel to the elect alone. Yet we fear that a strain of “High-Calvinism” does this very thing. Constrained by a “substance metaphysics” assumption that one cannot predicate non-actualized potency of God, i.e., unfulfilled wishes or desires,[xx] these theologians make every effort to avoid the force of such texts as Romans 2:4. Thus, John Gill admits that “the providential goodness of God has a tendency to lead persons to repentance.” However, Gill is shackled to the unbiblical notion that God can only desire what he decrees. Since God evidently did not decree the salvation of the person(s) envisioned in this text, Gill must find a way to “reinterpret” it to fit his system:

This is to be understood not of a spiritual and evangelical repentance, which is a free grace gift, and which none but the Spirit of God can lead, or bring persons to; but of a natural and legal repentance, which lies in an external sorrow for sin, and in an outward cessation from it, and reformation of life and manners, which the goodness of God to the Jews should have led them to.[xxi]

But if the repentance (μετάνοιάν) of verse four is the “natural and legal” kind, why does Paul insist that those who’ve been lead to such non-saving repentance will be judged as the Last Day because of the lack of repentance (ἀμετανόητον) in verse 5? Same Greek term with alpha privative! Closer to the truth is John Calvin when he concludes, “The design of [God’s] benevolence is … to convert sinners to himself.”[xxii] Indeed, it is Calvin’s moderate and chaste form of “Calvinism” that better reflects the apostle’s thinking. God’s common grace cannot effect repentance in the sinner’s heart apart from his saving grace. Nevertheless, God’s common grace does serve to reveal God’s salfivic posture toward fallen humanity, including those who ultimately resist his overtures of good will.

[i] See, for example, Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans (1835; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1983), 46-47; C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans 1–8, ICC (London: T & T Clark, 2001), 136-39; John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 1:54-56; Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 107-08; Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 126-27; Thomas Schreiner, Romans, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 105-07, among others.

[ii] The arguments for an inclusive reading include the following: (1) Romans 1:16 speaks of Jews and Greeks; no indication of a narrowing of scope to Gentiles in 1:18; (2) Romans 1:18-32 not just directed to Gentiles–verse 23 alludes to Ps 16:20 and Jer 2:11, which are indictments against Jews; (3) Romans 2:1 begins with a logical connector, “therefore,” and suggests a continuation of the argument. “O Man” and “Everyone who” are general terms that apply to all men. Note also that “passing judgment” is something Gentiles are said to do in 2:15; (4) both Jews and Gentiles are addressed in 2:1-16; (5) the occurrence of anthropos in 1:18 and 2:16 may serve to bracket the whole pericope; (6) Romans 2:17 provides a clear transitional marker for shift from mankind in general to the Jews in particular: “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God ….” These arguments are drawn from Samuel Waldron’s lecture notes for “Prolegomena I: Introduction to Systematic Theology and Apologetics” (Unpublished, n.d.), 108-09. Commentators who read the passage as inclusive include John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, in vol. 8 of Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. Ross Mackenzie (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 40-44; R. C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Colombus, OH: Wartburg Press, 1945), 128-30; F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, TNTC (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1963), 86-89.

[iii] The Greek term καταφρονεῖς frequently refers to disrespect or contempt for authority. See 1 Tim 4:12; 6:2; Titus 2:15; 2 Pet 2:10.

[iv] “Failing to understand” (ἀγνοῶν) stands in apposition to “showing contempt” (καταφρονεῖς).

[v] In some cases, “not knowing” doesn’t imply any fault or moral culpability. See Rom 1:13; 1 Cor 12:1; 1 Thess 4:13. In other cases, however, such blindness is morally culpable. See Rom 10:3; 1 Cor 14:38; 2 Pet 2:12). We agree with W. G. T. Shedd who interprets the ignorance in Romans 2:4 as belonging to the second category: ”The word implies an action of the will along with that of the understanding. It is that culpable ignorance which results: 1. from not reflecting upon the truth; and 2. from an aversion to the repentance which the truth is fitted to produce. It is the ‘willing ignorance’ spoken of in 2 Pet. iii.5.” Commentary on Romans (1879; repr., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967), 37.

[vi] Thomas Schreiner doesn’t miss the irony: “The word θησαυρίζεις (thesaurizeis, you are storing up, v. 5) is probably ironical, for it typically denotes the future bliss Jews would have because of their good works (Tob 4:9-10; 2 Esdr [4 Ezra] 6:5; 7:77; 8:33, 36; 2 Bar 14:12).” Romans, 109.

[vii] Herman Hoeksema tries to interpret the 2nd person singular pronoun σε (“you”) as generic for humanity in general, thus allowing that some of whom Paul addresses here (the elect) actually come to repentance (2:4) while others (the reprobate) do not and are condemned (2:5). See his Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1966), 119. Of course, the “Man” (ἄνθρωπε) whom Paul here addresses (2:1, 3) is generic. But, as argued above, Paul’s focus is more narrow than humanity in general. Moreover, the σε (“you”) in verse 4 is the same “you” in verse 5 as the 2nd person singular pronoun σου (“your”) and reflexive σεαυτῷ (“yourself”) demonstrate. We suspect that Hoeksema’s dogmatics are driving his exegesis, rather than the other way around. See K. W. Stebbins’ critique of Hoeksema’s exegesis in Christ Freely Offered (Strathpine North, Australia: Covenanter Press, 1978), 72-73.

[viii] Semantics of Biblical Language (1961; reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004). 263.

[ix] Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 45-46.

[x] Sometimes humans show “grace” or withhold it (Gen 33:10; 39:4; 50:4; Exod 3:21; Ruth 2:2, 10; 1 Sam 20:3, 29; Eph 4:29; Deut 24:1; Luke 6:32-34; Acts 20:27; 25:29; 2 Cor 8:7, 9). Sometimes “grace” is used for “adornment” (Prov 3:22; 4:9; Prov 17:8) or something like “graceful,” “charming” or “fitting” (Prov 5:19; 7:5; Prov 10:32).

[xi] The parallelism of verse 8 and 9 make God’s “grace” synonymous with his “goodness.”

[xii] Commentary on Romans, 37.

[xiii] I expand on each of these points in my brief theology of human culture, “Pro-Cultural” or “Counter-Cultural”? A Theology of Human Culture (Nov 11, 2011). For fuller treatments, see Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), 432-46; John Murray, “Common Grace,” in vol. 2 of Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977), 93-119; Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 187-202; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 657-668.

[xiv] “Murray on the Free Offer: A Review by Matthew Winzer“ (2000): (accessed Sept 18, 2008).

[xv] We rather agree with John Murray when he remarks, “It is a metallic conception of God’s forbearance and longsuffering that isolates them from the kindness of disposition and of benefaction which the goodness of God implies.” The Epistle to the Romans, 59.

[xvi] Robert Haldane is on target in his commentary on Romans 2:4: “From this it evidently follows that God externally calls many to whom He has not purposed to give the grace of conversion. It also follows that it cannot be said that when God thus externally calls persons on whom it is not His purpose to bestow grace, His object is only to render them inexcusable. For if that were the case, the Apostle would not have spoken of the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering,–terms which would not be applicable, if, by such a call, it was intended merely to render men inexcusable.” The Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: William Oliphant and Co., 1874), 78-79.

[xvii] For instance, in Hoeksema’s opinion “the text states a fact: the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance, εἰς μετάνοιάν σε ἄγει.” Then he argues that Paul is addressing humanity in general. Finally, Hoeksema opines, “It makes no difference whether the apostle has in mind the Jew or Jews and Gentiles both. Of this ‘man’ it may, indeed, be said that God’s goodness actually leads him to repentance, as is clearly evident in the case of the elect. Yet, it may also be said of man that he despises the goodness of God, and does not know by actual experience that it leads him to repentance as, again, is evident in the case of the reprobate that rejects the gospel, and thus aggravates his condemnation.” Reformed Dogmatics, 119. Once again, we think Hoeksema’s dogmatics skew his exegesis.

[xviii] More fully, the present indicative as gnomic (affirming a general truth) and voluntative or tendential (expressing intention without reference to the outcome). Douglas Moo refers to it as conative, which coveys a similar modal sense. The Epistle to the Romans, 133, n. 42; cf. Cranfield, Romans I, 145; C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom Book of the New Testament (Cambridge, 1953), 8; Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers (Chicago: Moody Press, n.d.), 856; Barclay M. Newman and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans (New York: United Bible Societies, 1973), 33-34. Grammarians who discuss this use of the indicative include Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar (New York: MacMillan Company, 1956), 186; and Daniel Wallace, Beyond Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 534-35, 752).

[xix] Clement, Bishop and Citizen Of Rome (Pseudonym) The Work Claiming To Be The Constitutions Of The Holy Apostles, Including The Canons; William Whiston’s Version, Revised From The Greek; Irah Chase, Otto Krabbe; D. Appleton and company, 1848), Book 7, 35.1, [p. 150]. (accessed Feb 22, 2014).

[xx] The argument seems to go something like this: God’s essence is identical with his will and God’s will is delimited by God’s decree. To predicate unfulfilled desires of God is to affirm parts of God that are non-actualized potencies. In a word, it is to deny that God is “pure act” (actus purus) and to affirm that he is composed of both actualized desires and also non-actualized desires. For a philosophical defense of this notion, see James E. Dolezal, God Without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011), 34-44, 177-87, 188-91, 194-97. Yet here is a case when the musings of “natural theology” bump up against the clear testimony of Scripture. When that happens, so much the worse for natural theology.

[xxi] Exposition of the Bible, Online edition: Romans 2: (accessed Feb 24, 2014).

[xxii] Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. John King; Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), Accordance electronic edition. Cf. Shedd, Commentary on Romans, 37; Hodge, A Commentary on Romans, 48-49; Thomas Chalmers, Lectures on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (New York: Robert Carter, 1845), 39; Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 59-60; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 133; Cranfield, Romans 1–8, 145.

Are God’s Justice and Mercy Incompatible?

In the book, The Impossibility of God,[1] the editors present five categories of arguments that they claim disprove God’s existence. One such claim asserts that “a contradiction between two or more of God’s attributes” renders God impossible, as follows:

If God exists, then the attributes of God are consistent with one another.

Some attributes of God are not consistent with one another.

Therefore, God does not and cannot exist.[2]

For instance, Theodore M. Drange argues that God as both an “all-just” and “all-merciful” judge cannot exist. An all-just judge will always “treat every offender with exactly the severity” deserved, while an all-merciful judge “treats every offender with less severity” than deserved. And as both cannot be true, God cannot exist.[3] Interestingly, the Bible presents the same problem and Drange has rightly identified it. In this puzzle we see the fundamental problem facing people under God’s righteous condemnation. How can God, like a corrupt judge that ignores the law and leaves the guilty unpunished, remain righteous if He ignores the demands of His justice to have mercy on sinners?

Essential to a right approach to all difficult theological and philosophical issues, the answer to this vital question requires understanding the relationship of God to mankind from the beginning, including our proper responsibility to Him as our creator. Broadly, God created everything and everyone. From God we have life and every good thing, apart from Him we have nothing. To Him we owe all things, while He owes us nothing. And as God is infinitely excellent, we should treat Him as His dignity deserves. Thus, we read, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5 NASB). Christ repeated the mandate as the “greatest” commandment (Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). The Shema, then, states the minimum we owe God as our glorious creator, sustainer, and giver of every blessing.

Sin, however, fails to treat God as He deserves, either by ignoring what He has told us to do, or by doing what He has told us not to do. The penalty for sin includes physical and spiritual death. “The soul who sins will die” (Ez. 18:4). “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die’” (Gen. 2:16-17). When Adam and Eve sinned, they immediately died spiritually when their loving communion with God was shattered and He became their judge and adversary. They hid themselves in shame from the One they once loved and enjoyed. Physical death, that mortal enemy and curse, came later and has afflicted humanity ever since. “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin” (Rom. 5:12).

Moreover, neither God’s holy dignity and power, nor the nature and requirements of His justice have changed. Scripture presents God as a righteous judge, whose strict justice applies to everyone always, without respect to persons. “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (Jam. 2:10). “But the LORD abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment, And He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity” (Ps. 9:7-8). The standard for Adam and Eve applies to all people. And while Christ fulfilled the Mosaic Law, He also lived the perfect life of honor and obedience eternally owed to God. The moral duty of all people—as articulated in the Shema and repeated by Christ—never ends. People owe God perfect love and obedience forever.  

At the same time, Scripture teems with descriptions of God’s mercy to people of His choosing. For instance, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’” (Rom. 9:14-15). Again, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:10-12). Perfect justice and mercy even appear in the same verse: “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Ex. 34:6-7).

But how can this be? Granted, God is free to do as He wills, when He wills, to whom He wills, and no finite and fallen creature can tell Him otherwise. “‘Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.’ Then Job answered the LORD and said, ‘Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee?’” (Job 40:2-4). Nonetheless, God cannot violate His flawless character, including His perfect justice. Should He pervert justice in a single case, He would cease to be perfect and thus cease to be God. Moreover, if He applied His strict justice without exception, He could be merciful to no one. After all, Adam and Eve were cast from paradise for one sin. Thus, the argument that an all-just and all-merciful God cannot exist would seem to have merit. It would also appear that Scripture has created an unsolvable dilemma, calling into question its own coherence and trustworthiness, and the existence of the God it proclaims. But does it?

In Christ’s encounter with the rich young ruler, He used the gentleman’s refusal to give up his wealth to illustrate how no one who loves anything more than Christ can enter into heaven. When Jesus declared, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24), the disciples understood the indictment and asked, “then who can be saved?” Indeed, “If Thou, LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “There is none righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10). “There is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20). “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?’” (Prov. 20:9). All stand guilty before God and worthy of condemnation. 

From the perspective of the accused, the situation was bleak. God will never relax the demands of His justice to grant mercy—the penalty for sin must be paid. Yet, Christ did not leave His disciples in despair, adding,iH “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27; cf. Matt. 19:26, Luke 18:27). God Himself would become one of us. God Himself would take our place and satisfy the perfect obedience required by His justice. And God Himself would pay the just penalty we deserve for our disobedience and contempt. “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17).

Long before the earthly ministry of Christ as High Priest, the prophet Isaiah predicted this saving work:

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. (Isa. 53:2-6).

And further:

By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. (Isa. 53:8-11).

Moreover, the entire sacrificial system of the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple foreshadowed God’s solution to the dilemma of justice and mercy in saving sinners, including the provision of a priestly mediator between God and man (in particular, the high priest who entered the Holy of Holies once a year with the blood of the sacrifice to cover the sins of Israel); the practice of substitution (a lamb for a man); and sacrifice for sin (the death of a substitute in the place of the sinner). Thus, John the Baptist proclaimed at his first sight of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Christ’s sinless life met the requirements of God’s strict justice in loving God with all His “heart, soul, and might,” giving God the Father His due as the supremely excellent creator and sustainer of all. On the cross He suffered infinite wrath in our place, paying the penalty for our sin by His agony and death.

As a man, Christ was the perfect substitute for mankind. As God and man, He was the perfect mediator between God and man. And as God, His suffering and death paid an infinite penalty for the sin of mankind. This He did once for all time, never to be repeated.

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.   And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Heb. 10:10-14).

In His cry from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), Christ proclaimed the successful accomplishment of God’s plan of the ages, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning His redeeming work, and the reality of the shadows displayed in the Tabernacle and Temple ceremonies—the satisfaction of God’s justice for the salvation of souls. The Lamb of God came not to abolish the standard of God’s perfect justice. He came to satisfy its requirements on behalf of sinners:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished (Matt. 5:17-18).

How, then, do the benefits of Christ’s magnificent work become the possession of the sinner? By grace through faith in Christ, alone, we are saved from the condemnation of our sin.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him (John 3:16-17).

But how does faith save sinners? Does the act of believing constitute a good work of such merit that it meets the demands of God’s justice? Does God accept faith in the place of the requirements of His law? If Christ, alone, satisfied the requirements for forgiveness of sin and the obtaining of eternal life, how does faith save?

We know that none are saved by their own good works, for “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20), and “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus…since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16). Our good works cannot earn God’s favor. Salvation is by grace. Moreover, faith, of itself, cannot satisfy the standard of God’s strict justice—Christ, alone, met the requirement of sinless obedience and payment of the penalty for our disobedience. How, then, does faith save us if Christ met the standard of God’s righteous justice and we remain sinful and guilty?

Saving faith constitutes the open, empty, and unworthy hands that accept the free gift of Christ’s satisfaction of God’s justice on our behalf. Faith denies any merit of our own to earn acceptance by God as it receives the merit earned for us by Christ. As in marriage the bride and groom are legally united as one, so saving faith unites the believer and Christ in a bond of love. When the bride says, “I do,” all that belongs to him becomes hers. And when the bridegroom says, “I do,” all that belongs to her becomes his. (Granted, most of his junk gets thrown out in the process, but I digress.) In the same way, faith unites to Christ such that the merits of what He accomplished for salvation become the possession of the believer. In a “great exchange,” our sins were credited to Christ when He suffered and died on the cross, so His righteousness in meeting the demands of God’s justice on our behalf is credited to us when we embrace Him by faith. By faith the believer is “covered in the righteousness of Christ.” “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2Cor. 5:21). “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). In this way, salvation by faith upholds God’s righteous justice. “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (Rom 3:31). The obligation to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and might remains unchanged. Christ, in perfect righteousness, performed it in our place. Again, Isaiah predicted this:

I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Isa. 61:10).

Sadly, though the “Light of the World” satisfied God’s justice and offers forgiveness of sin and eternal life to all who would receive Him as Savior, many reject the precious gift:

There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:9-13).

Indeed, “the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Matt. 7:14). Why?

And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed (John 3:19-20).

For the religious deniers of Christ as God and Savior, the principle that our best behavior or merits cannot meet God’s standard of justice or earn His favor, pose an obstacle to faith in Christ. For atheists and the irreligious, the duty to bow to God’s sovereign authority asks too much, or is “contrary to human dignity,” as Kant would have it. In the end, the battle rages between two wills: God’s will in and through Christ, or our own.  

In drawing this article to a close, we have in the justice as contrary to mercy objection to the God of the Bible an example of what besets the best of atheistic arguments. From a human perspective, God’s justice and mercy present an unsolvable problem. Yet God, who created and sustains all things, who transcends what He has made, who determines the rules of reality and defines the nature of justice and mercy, has solved the problem according to His wisdom. And even if God clearly meets the demands of our limited grasp of logic, God’s solution remains foolish and unacceptable to many.

For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:18-21).

And while God’s ways need not be understood in order to be true, the “unsolvable,” from our narrow perspective, does not constitute a problem for God. He remains just in His mercy on sinners through faith in Christ, who satisfied for us the claims of His justice. And regardless, God is sovereign, answers to no one, and remains under no obligation to have mercy on a single soul, especially those who scorn the person and work of Christ—who suffered infinite wrath to purchase endless and immeasurable happiness for the unworthy.Neither must God have mercy on those who deny the clear display of His genius, power, and goodness in creation and every blessing, or who reject His law written on their heart. In the end, the penalty for sin will be paid, either vicariously in Christ or personally without Christ, while His free offer of mercy remains for all who would seek Him. “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:2-3).

Adapted from Craig Biehl, Too Small: Why Atheists Can’t Know What They Say They Know. Forthcoming, Tulip Publishing, 2023.

Scriptures are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, copyright© 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier, eds., The Impossibility of God (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2003).

[2] Introduction to “Multiple Attributes Disproofs of the Existence of God,” in The Impossibility of God, 181.

[3] Theodore M. Drange, “Incompatible-Properties Arguments: A Survey,” The Impossibility of God, 195-6.

“How stingless death!”: Surveying a Baptist Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:55

As Christian, the allegorical pilgrim, marched into the river, chest-deep and deeper, he rejoiced with a song: “O grave, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” This comes from the second part of the Pilgrim’s Progress, where John Bunyan (1628–1688) writes of the believer’s approach to death. When the pilgrim ends the song, he hears at last the sounding of trumpets; the long journey is complete and he finally enters the Celestial City.[1] Herein is a Baptist interpretation of this hope-filled verse—no matter if this story is an allegory, it stands in a tradition that sees Christians singing triumphantly at death, believing they will meet their Lord immediately thereafter.

There is yet very little research in terms of collecting a Baptistic tradition of interpretation in biblical studies verse-by-verse, let alone book-by-book. However, through this very small survey, I observe several Baptist sources and deduce the interpretation and use of 1 Corinthians 15:55. The individual authors may elucidate different sides of the gemstone, but Particular Baptist tradition holds together a cohesive interpretation. Herein we examine how this verse was understood in Baptist life through 200 years; for what purpose was the verse used and what key doctrines were advanced through its interpretation? While much of the thought and application from these verses can be found in other reformed traditions, the purpose here is to isolate and engage with an unambiguously Baptist tradition. The below sources are all from Particular Baptists beginning with the first published work in 1676 and ending with a work from 1883; these works are gathered from theological treatises, sermons, letters, and personal journals. There are numerous other sources, but the following suffice in surveying a tradition of use and interpretation of this verse among Baptists. The survey concludes that Particular Baptist tradition utilizes 1 Corinthians 15:55 to contend for the providence of God in death, a secured new life to come, a song to be sung in sanctification as well as glorification, and a song applied as a salve to extinguish sin in the present life.

A Baptist Tradition in Death

The most obvious aspect of 1 Corinthians 15:55 is the use in a Christian approach to death. From 1677 onward, the surrounding verses provided for the Baptist doctrine both of the state of man after death and of the second coming. The Second London Confession of Faith (1689) provides explicit reference to 1 Corinthians 15.[2] There is one death for the saints; the soul departs from the body, but does not sleep, rather it inhabits a paradise where it is made holy forevermore. There, the soul awaits the second coming of Christ, when it shall return to a resurrected body, the same yet now glorified and immortal. The soul and body will reunite finally and forever. Samuel Waldron notes that this paradise, for the elect of God where the soul awaits the body, is not heaven. However, like heaven, it is a place with space and time—God alone is the only being not constrained by his own created order.[3] This confessional doctrine is not merely for head knowledge but for the purpose of ministering to the saints. Those who followed after this Baptistic confession of faith did not deviate from the position found here, but expounded upon this doctrine for application to themselves nearing death, and for their churches—for encouragement, fortitude, and worship. If the Lord is with his elect in life, he will certainly not forsake them in death; this is the working out of providence, even as the soul leaves the body. While there is little deviation from this confessional stance, there is a multitude of application drawn from the below sources regarding just this single verse. Doctrinal and practical teaching abounds from the pen of Baptist tradition.

The Providence of God in Death

Following John Bunyan’s pilgrim into the deep waters of Baptist faith, the works of Benjamin Keach (1640–1704) convey a more comprehensive use of this verse. While a doctrinal understanding of 1 Corinthians 15:55 may be codified in the Baptist confession, Keach gives the practical reading common to Baptists at this time and for the foreseeable future, as well as application for handling the subject of death. His application draws the reader to acknowledge God’s providence in death and dying. Death will indeed alter the condition of the body but it cannot annihilate the body. Though the believer will face the death of the body, it is truly the death of mortality that occurs, for though the body “be dissolved to dust, yet it shall not be lost, it shall rise to life again. Death cannot dissolve or break that blessed union there is between Jesus Christ and believers.”[4] Death occurs according to providence, not by any power within itself. Keach explains through these verses that the soul will in fact separate from the body, but this is according to the work of God in purifying his people, and in order for the saints to join in the triumph of Christ’s resurrection as participants by union.

If God does not pass a sentence of judgment upon the believer, then death has no power to do so. Keach writes, “Death has not power to cast into hell . . . it is sin that casts a person to hell,” and this by the condemnation of God. As Keach rightly commits death into the providential hands of God, he assures his readers, any fear of death is uncalled for because God is the one in power. Fear detracts from the providence of God during and in death, because it confuses the grand promise of union in Christ. A fear and despair of death hinders from the joy and peace that Christians have steadfastly in Christ. By death Christians are delivered from the imprisonment of this corrupt world and from the bondage of sin. Its entire purpose to send sinners into judgment and guilt has now been circumvented; saints look to death as the means to glory in the resurrected life.[5] What Satan meant for ruin, Christ has orchestrated for glory (Gen. 50:20).

Keach likewise unpacks numerous other doctrines bound up in this verse. He explains that Christ’s prophetic office is fulfilled in this verse as a triumph against the devil’s power over Christians. Calling attention to 2 Timothy 1:10 he notes this to be prophetic of Christ on the day of resurrection for believers, which states of the saints’ calling that it “is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”[6] Anne Dutton (1692–1765) takes this prophetic office of Christ one step further, as she sees the verse to connect with Isaiah 25:8, wherein Christ will swallow up death entirely on the day of resurrection. However, Dutton contends that the verse is both prophetic for the final resurrection, and useful for the exercise of faith in the Christian’s present sanctification. She declares that the saints “shall sing in vision [at their final resurrection] as they once sang by faith,” which is the exercise of holiness and assurance by their union with Christ in this life.[7]

Like Keach, Benjamin Wallin (1711–1782) “humbly conceives” that the context of Hosea 13:14[8] is prophetic of those in union with Christ and is proven so by 1 Corinthians 15:55: that “the faithful, in all ages, died in the expectation of being raised again.”[9] Wallin, contends that the spirits of the dead saints are now in union with Christ and in perfect holiness, as they await their bodies to “rise to a blessed immortality.”[10] God’s providence over death is seen through Hosea’s promise that the Lord has complete power over death and the grave, and will not forsake his promise to his people based on this union with the headship of Christ. The backdrop of early Baptist tradition provided thus far contends that this verse, properly interpreted, uniquely describes the believer’s union with Christ and encouragement for the present life, that God’s providential hand is yet with his people now and will be forevermore.

A Promise of Life for Now

John Gill (1697–1771) makes similar connections between 2 Timothy 1:10 and Hosea 13:14 as pointing to both Christ’s prophetic and kingly office by which he conquered death and brought to life immortality for his glory.[11] While there is providence working in death to the glory of God, such providential means point through death to a promise of eternal life. Gill takes these verses and proceeds to point to the first witnesses of the empty tomb, the first true resurrection. He recalls, “go and see the place where their Lord lay”; the believer is called to remember by the empty tomb that the saints rise in union with him there where death was defeated.[12] Christ is king over the conquered enemy Death; that is, accusation and condemnation.[13]

The promise of life now and forevermore is entirely based on Christ’s work. The resurrection of death and the grave is represented in Christ and his elect, just as Christ is the head of the body, his church.[14] As Christ is the head, all those who are members of his body, the elect before the foundations of the world, are united with him in death, resurrection, perseverance, and in spiritual unity forevermore.[15] Gill expounds on Keach’s use of Hosea; as a bee without a stinger is just a bumbling harmless play-thing of an animal, so is death to those in Christ—they laugh and dance around the bee knowing it cannot nor will it ever be anything harmful. As Bunyan’s pilgrim sang at the beginning of the Baptist tradition, so the interpretation of Christians singing this verse remains an integral aspect of continuing Baptist thought.

A Song for Christians Now and Forevermore

God is sovereign in death as well as in the promised new life, but the Baptist tradition does not stop at heady doctrine. The saints must understand the application of this new life now and in future glory. Those saints who have passed through this life are now present with the Lord and enjoying holiness and refreshment, while they await the resurrection.[16] Carrying forward the Confession, the dead in Christ are not in a state of insensibility; sleep is only the bodily term for death, but the soul remains alive as it is immaterial and needs no rest.[17] Moving further, Gill points out the resurrection is indeed of the same body that “fell asleep.” The spiritual body with flesh and bones is not left as a person is turned into a spirit or receives a spiritual body alone, but the “self-same” resurrected body which had fallen asleep will arise to “subsist as spirits do, without need of food.”[18] The saints will “be fitted for spiritual employments and converse with spiritual objects” while yet flesh and blood; by this they experience the glory of “the whole man” through new enjoyments, both “intellectual and corporal.”[19]

At the Millennial reign of Christ, the saints will be raised to life and sing this verse as they have dominion over the sin and corruption of the world, and see Christ’s victory over death through their immortal bodies—they are raised as Christ was raised, his soul went to the Father in paradise, then came back into his body to greater glory through his resurrection.[20] Gill is silent on the issue of Christ descending into Hades as extrapolated from this verse, but rather articulates Christ’s death on the cross and his immediate ascension to paradise along with the other crucified confessor. So, Gill articulates, there is a liberty in the sons of God, where there is an exercise of faith in the face of death.[21] Believers can sing at the prospect of death rather than fear it; choosing it to be a better thing to depart and be with Christ and experience the glorious freedom of incorruptible bodies. Therefore, the saints in Christ, both in death and resurrection, have consolation in the face of mortality.

Booth’s Consolation in Death

Abraham Booth (1734–1806) preached through this verse on September 14, 1772, for a 21-year-old woman who died of small-pox. Through this sermon, Booth provides a portrait of the dying Christian and the consolation both of the dying believer and those in mourning, wherein they all may find both peace and fortitude because of the glorious triumph Christ has provided. Booth is most concerned with the assurance of Christians now, and the glory they will necessarily taste when they find death defeated on their behalf. “Death . . . when possessed of his sting, is no other than the minister of Divine Justice, to lay the delinquent under an arrest, and to drag him to prison and judgment.”[22] Booth examines both Death and Grave as a humiliating pair. The sting of death is guilt.[23] The change in resurrection frees us through our mortal death from the plague of the heart.[24] Booth, as from Gill, strongly connects Hosea 13:14, noting that Jehovah has firmly decreed that death shall be destroyed. Booth lastly gives these words to us as a song:

The Christians triumph over his vanquished foes. His triumph is thus expressed . . .  Here we behold the saint, with death full in his view, and looking into his grave. He sees the monster approach, and feels his cold embrace. The grave lies open before him, and he finds himself ready to take up his lodging in it . . . Does he tremble with fear, or start back with horror? No; he is bold as a lion, and firm as a rock . . . He takes a leisurely survey of death, and his language breathes defiance. With heart-felt joy he loudly exclaims; “O Death, thou once formidable name! . . . Thy haggard form I plainly discern; but where, where is thy sting? . . . for, behold! Thy sting is entirely and eternally gone. Jesus, the glorious victor, has plucked it from thee.”[25]

The entirety of Booth’s dialogue is worthy of print. Here he acknowledges that fear of the grave is inseparable from our mortal state. It is a solemn and important event. Yet, along with Keach, this fear is to be met with fortitude and, by the mercy of God, should diminish in the spiritual life. Fear, for the Christian, is replaced by assurance as the believer fixates on the victory won by Christ.

A Future Song of Victory

Indeed, the Baptist assurance is compelled because of who hold the keys of death. John Ryland Jr. (1753–1825) explains that 1 Corinthians 15 is related entirely to the work of Christ, in the satisfaction promised in 2 Timothy 1:10 just as Keach commented.[26] Christ holds the keys to death and Hades (Rev. 1:18) warranted him by his satisfying the wrath of God for the elect. Ryland continues the tradition of Gill who connected the keys to those used in Revelation 20:1; here, the angel is none other than Christ who binds the beast of death and accusation, just as he simultaneously opens the grave by his sovereign power.[27] Guilt, sin, death, and Satan are the enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25). Henry Holcombe (1762–1824) reminded his church, as the saints rise to meet the key-holder, “then, ‘O grave, where is thy victory?’ shall burst from millions of enraptured and harmonious tongues.”[28] Truly this verse is sung for Christ’s work already accomplished for his saints in glory.

A Present Song of Sanctification

However, this song is not only meant for the resurrection, but is useful for the church in this life. While future glory is an essential doctrine, there is a beautiful precedent set in Baptist tradition for the use of this verse as a present song of sanctification. Samuel Pearce (1766–1799) eloquently regards this verse to be a salve for his own immediate afflictions. By what he deems to be godly suffering in this life, death no longer has a sting to him. He takes it to be a present truth not a future hope. “I feel quite weaned from earth, and all things in it. Death has lost his sting, the grave his horrors.”[29] And so the song offers a necessary fortitude by recognizing God’s providence as well as his mercy over repentant sinners in handling the burdens of the depraved world.

A Song of Mercy in this Life

Samuel Stillman (1737–1807) positioned this verse as a description of God’s attribute of mercy. Such mercy is intended for the present sanctification of the believer as they look forward to their final destination. He preaches, “Through divine mercy, how stingless death!”[30] Stillman saw in this verse those dead saints asleep until the resurrection, instantaneously glorified along with the living. Stillman was quick to subordinate his interpretation in accordance with John Gill’s exposition and theological works. He even blessed God for Gill and felt the London Baptist far “better qualified to unfold the mysteries of the Gospel.”[31] Stillman pushes the believer to acknowledge the grand resurrection of the dead, wherein the resurrected body will be changed, “it shall be spiritual and glorious, and thus fit to be re-united to the soul, and in a complete person enter into the joy of the Lord.”[32] His language continues to be imprecise in this measure, whether a soul is sensible in death: he states “They who sleep are insensible . . . so it is with the dead . . . so it is with the saints who die.”[33] Though he is imprecise in qualifying his statements regarding a spiritual body, we can understand through a larger breadth of his preaching that he indeed believed in a physical resurrection. He uses the term sleep repeatedly to signify that the dead in Christ sleep as in a rest and go into this rest with anticipation of an everlasting resurrection. Rest may likely be his word for the saints living now in paradise.

Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) positions this verse as serving two purposes, the present sanctification and the future glorification of those in Christ. Again, Christians are observed literally “standing on their graves, looking the conquered enemy in the face, and exclaiming” this Corinthian verse. Fuller applies the look toward mercy in this life by which, “we shall be reconciled to death, even before we meet it.” Because believers know Christ’s resurrection they can rest with hope at the prospect of their own bodily decay.[34] The assurance of this little song is both to satisfy the saints spiritual assurance, and to bolster the work of sanctification.

A Salve for Sin

This verse is used in the present life not only for mercy but as a means for meditation on sin and for pursuit of holiness. Pastors John Chin (1773–1834)[35] and John Foster (1770–1843)[36] both utilized this verse on their deathbeds as a way of leaning on mercy and gathering fortitude to face the grave; they repeated the verse for friends, family, and servants shortly before passing this life. Yet there was more at work than a mercy for the deathbed.

In Foster’s second recorded letter from the fall of 1824, he writes to Miss Sarah Saunders that our guilt renders us in disharmony with God, and our sin causes dread to go before him or even to grow in affections of him (as observed in 1 Cor. 15:56). This mentality is why we fear death and do all we can to not think about it. But those who can sing with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55 are those who have taken account of sin—comprehending the depth and depravity of sin. The chorus is comprised of those who have by repentance experienced the assurance of victory, and are tasting the fruit of faithful obedience through this song.

As Fuller gravitated toward a sanctifying purpose in the verse, Foster does the same. Looking at what would bring a Christian to fear death, Foster notes that those leaning on the mercy of Christ and stirred by affections for him would have no need to fear. However, those who wince more than naturally at the idea of death are those who subconsciously recognize they stand under wrath. He explains, even those who have “virtuous habits” and a “favorable situation” may care little to examine sinfulness and thus may not be so near God as to rejoice at the contemplations of death. Foster treats this verse as an expectation, a spiritual goal to grow toward singing at the confrontation of death. The grand evil of sin “is the deficiency of the heart towards God and spiritual and eternal interests.” Desiring communion with God finds its supreme goal in death and entering his glory.[37] Fear subsides in the Christian as the song is sung because there is abundant hope that the mortal flesh passes the Christian into immortality.

A Verse-sized Treatise on Immortal Flesh

Death is, for the Christian, a final mortification that leads to the death of the depraved and carnal mind. When the mortal is dead, the saints are finally free in immortality. In this way, James Petigru Boyce (1827–1888) wrote that death is stingless in the Christian’s present life.[38] Death is the only means through which we are redeemed from the paradoxical situation of Romans 7. Death is truly the punishment of sin, and as such it is the final glory of sanctification, as Foster likewise described. Here in death the Christian finds perfect mortification of sin and depravity, and in death there is the perfect sanctification of the body and soul for glory. Boyce explains through this verse (much as the early Baptist Confession understood), the intermediate state is where the soul remains (“as it may have location without occupying space”) until it is received into its body for resurrection. A human soul without a body is an imperfect life; to be man is to consist of both body and soul.[39] The sting of death is also one of a spiritual sense; therefore, to be raised perfectly is to sing of the victory of the unity of immortal body and soul. Christians seek immortal flesh and, in doing so, fight off temptation so to have a foretaste of heaven’s joys. Boyce longed to sing this verse as a salve for sin with immortal expectations, and by such expectations to quell mortal desire.

A Verse-sized Treatise on Mortification

The crushing of mortal desires is mortification, and victory over death in this life is described with such a word. Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892), exposes death as a monster with great power over believers—he is a dragon the Christian cannot slay.[40] Yet, the sting of death is cut off and therefore, though the Christian will inevitably meet death, there is no longer a lasting effect following death. The sting is sin, and the Christian may now look in retrospect as to the sting disarmed in his past life, but also must now look to a present life without sin, to live as though sin is truly defeated in this life—this through mortifying sin and growing in holiness. Just as Foster noted prior, through the exercise of mortification the Christian will find peace in meeting death. The pilgrim will know this peace by experiencing the assurance and joy of seeing death merely as the natural destruction of the mortal life, but the door of resurrection.


However similar or dissimilar this verse is interpreted within Baptist sources, there is abundant evidence of cohesion in terms of the Particular Baptist tradition. Though there is a richness and wealth within this verse available from many other traditions, it behooves Baptists today to collect, utilize, and scrutinize our own tradition. Through this survey, it is clear there is much to be discovered in the writings of this tradition, not only as pertains to 1 Corinthians 15:55, but throughout the canon of Scripture. If this verse can provide a thorough examination of chief doctrine like union with Christ and assurance of faith, as well as practical and compassionate responses to fear and suffering, what might a survey of Baptist tradition offer concerning other far more controversial passages?

Baptists have a long tradition for the use of this verse. While it is remarkable to count the sources, it is likewise worth noting the development through two-hundred years, and that such development rooted in Scripture and doctrine does not deviate as one might expect. The overarching tradition speaks to the singing of the saints at the approach of death and at the resurrection, chiefly to remember that we are in harmony with millions of Christians as we sing over the grave of our victory in Jesus. Though we pass as pilgrims through the river of death, in singing this verse we are no longer deaf to the sound of the trumpet proclaiming our victory in Christ. What a remarkable word of promise, to sing now and forevermore, “How stingless death!”


Booth, Abraham. The Christian Triumph: A Sermon occasioned by the Death of Miss Ann William.

2nd Edition. London: E. & C. Dilly, 1773.

Boyce, James Petigru. Abstract of Systematic Theology. 1977. Reprint, Cape Coral, FL: Founders

Press, 2006.

Boyce, James Petigru. Selected Writings. Edited by Timothy George. Nashville, TN: Broadman,


Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that which is to Come, The Second Part.

London: Nath. Ponder, 1684.

Dutton, Anne. Letters on Spiritual Subjects, and Divers Occasions; Sent to Relations and Friends.

London: J. Hart, 1748.

Foster, John. The Life and Correspondence of John Foster. Volume 2. Edited by John E. Ryland. 

London: Jackson and Walford, 1846.

Fuller, Andrew. Life of Rev. Samuel Pearce of Birmingham. London: Religious Tract Society,


Fuller, Andrew. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller. Volume 1. Edited by Andrew Gunton

Fuller. Philadelphia, PA: American Tract Society, 1831.

Gill, John. The Doctrine of the Saints Final Perseverance, Asserted and Vindicated: In Answer to

a late Pamphlet, called, Serious Thoughts, On that Subject. London: George Keith, 1752.

Gill, John. The Glorious State of the Saints in Heaven: A Sermon Preached to the Society which

Support the Wednesday Evening’s Lecture in Cannon-Street, London, December 31st, 1755.

London: George Keith, 1756.

Gill, John. A Body of Doctrinal Divinity; or, A System of Evangelical Truths, Deduced from the

Sacred Scriptures in Two Volumes. London: George Keith, 1769.

Holcombe, Henry. A Sermon Occasioned by the Death of R. Charles Bealer. Charleston, SC:

Markland & McIver, 1793.

Keach, Benjamin. A Summons to the Grave, the Necessity of a Timely Preparation for Death;

Demonstrated in a Sermon Preached as the Funeral of …Mr. John Norcot, March 24, 1676.

London: Ben. Harris, 1676.

Keach, Benjamin. Tropologia: A Key to Open Scripture Metaphors, in Four Books. Ireland:

William Hill Collingbridge, 1858.

Pritchard, George. Memoir of the Rev. John Chin, more than thirty years pastor of the Baptist

church in Lion Street, Walworth. London: George Wightman, 1840.

Rippon, John. Life and Writings of the Rev. John Gill, D.D. 1838. Reprint, Harrisonburg, VA:

Sprinkle Publications, 2006.

Ryland, John Jr. Christ Manifested and Satan Frustrated. A Sermon Preached at the Meeting-

House in College-Lane, Northampton. Northampton: Thomas Dicey and Co., 1782.

Spurgeon, Charles. Sermons of Rev. C.H. Spurgeon of London. Volume 1. New York: Robert

Carter, & Bros., 1883.

Stillman, Samuel. Select Sermons on Doctrinal and Practical Subjects. Boston: Manning &

Loring, 1808.

Waldron, Samuel E. A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. 5th Edition.

Wyoming, MI: Evangelical Press, 2016.

Wallin, Benjamin. A Sermon Occasioned by the Death of Mr. Thomas Wildman, who departed this

Life, June 25, 1754. London: George Keith, 1754.

[1] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that which is to Come, The Second Part (London: Nath. Ponder, 1684), 202. “When the day that he must go hence, was come, many accompanied him to the River side, into which, as he went, he said, ‘Death, where is thy Sting?’ And as he went down deeper, he said, ‘Grave, where is thy Victory?’ So he passed over, and all the Trumpets sounded for him on the other side.”

[2] See chapter 31, paragraphs 1–3,

[3] Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 5th ed. (Wyoming, MI: Evangelical Press, 2016), 449–450.

[4] Benjamin Keach, A Summons to the Grave, the Necessity of a Timely Preparation for Death; Demonstrated in a Sermon Preached as the Funeral of…Mr. John Norcot, March 24, 1676 (London: Ben. Harris, 1676), 58–63.

[5] Keach, A Summons to the Grave, 60.

[6] Benjamin Keach, Tropologia: A Key to Open Scripture Metaphors, in Four Books (Ireland: William Hill Collingbridge, 1858), 66.

[7] Anne Dutton, “Letter LXXIII” in Letters on Spiritual Subjects, and Divers Occasions; Sent to Relations and Friends (London: J. Hart, 1748), 257.

[8] Hosea 13:14, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.”

[9] Benjamin Wallin, A Sermon Occasioned by the Death of Mr. Thomas Wildman, who departed this Life, June 25, 1754 (London: George Keith, 1754), 27–28.

[10] Wallin, A Sermon Occasioned … Thomas Wildman, 32.

[11] Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, II.659.

[12] John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity; or, A System of Evangelical Truths, Deduced from the Sacred Scriptures in Two Volumes (London: George Keith, 1769), II.650–51.

[13] Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, II.707

[14] Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, I.326–27.

[15] John Gill, The Doctrine of the Saints Final Perseverance, Asserted and Vindicated: In Answer to a late Pamphlet, called, Serious Thoughts, On that Subject (London: G. Keith and J. Robinson, 1752), 51–52.

[16] Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, II.940–41.

[17] Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, II.944, 946.

[18] John Gill, The Glorious State of the Saints in Heaven: A Sermon Preached to the Society which Support the Wednesday Evening’s Lecture in Cannon-Street, London. December 31st, 1755 (London: 1756), 33.

[19] Gill, The Glorious Sate of the Saints in Heaven, 33–34.

[20] Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, II.1031, 1046.

[21] Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, II.834.

[22] Abraham Booth, The Christian Triumph: A Sermon occasioned by the Death of Miss Ann William, 2nd ed. (London: E. & C. Dilly, 1773), 6.

[23] Booth, The Christian Triumph, 12.

[24] Booth, The Christian Triumph, 13–14, 16.

[25] Booth, The Christian Triumph, 22–24.

[26] John Ryland, Jr., Christ Manifested and Satan Frustrated. A Sermon Preached at The Meeting-House in College-Lane, Northampton (Northampton: Thomas Dicey and Co., 1782), 45, 49.

[27] Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, II.977, 1013.

[28] Henry Holcombe, A Sermon Occasioned by the Death of R. Charles Bealer (Charleston: Markland & McIver, 1793), 5. Holcombe is noted for his connection with Adoniram Judson and controversy involving the American Baptist Home Missionary Society. He was also a staunch defender of the doctrines of grace among American Baptists, see A sermon, containing a brief illustration and defence of the doctrines commonly called Calvinistic; Preached before the Charleston Association of Baptist Churches (Charleston, SC: Markland & McIver, 1793).

[29] Andrew Fuller, Life of the Rev. Samuel Pearce of Birmingham (London: Religious Tract Society, 1799), 86.

[30] Samuel Stillman, Select Sermons on Doctrinal and Practical Subjects (Boston: Manning and Loring, 1808), 210. Sermon delivered November 30, 1806, “Sermon XIV: The Resurrection, and Change of the Vile Body.”

[31] John Rippon, Life and Writings of the Rev. John Gill, D.D. (1838; repr., Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2006), 129–30.

[32] Stillman, Select Sermons, 292.

[33] Stillman, Select Sermons, 291.

[34] Andrew Fuller, “Principles and Prospects of a Servant of Christ,” in The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, vol. I, ed. Andrew Gunton Fuller (Philadelphia, PA: American Tract Society, 1831), 348. See A Sermon Delivered at the Funeral of the Rev. John Sutcliff, of Olney, June 28, 1814.

[35] George Pritchard, Memoir of the Rev. John Chin, more than thirty years pastor of the Baptist church in Lion Street, Walworth (London: George Wightman, 1840), 125–126.

[36] J.E. Ryland, The Life and Correspondence of John Foster, vol. II (London: Jackson and Walford, 1846), 357.

[37] John Foster, “Letter II,” in The Life and Correspondence of John Foster, ed. J.E. Ryland, 542–43.

[38] James Petigru Boyce, Selected Writings, ed. Timothy George (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1989), 135–136. This essay is extracted from Boyce’s funeral sermon for Basil Manly, Sr. (1798–1868).

[39] James Petigru Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (1977; repr., Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2006), 447.

[40] Charles Spurgeon, “Sermon XIV: Thoughts on the Last Battle,” in Sermons of Rev. C.H. Spurgeon of London, vol. 1 (New York: Robert Carter & Bros., 1883), 274–295.

Reforming Sexuality? Gender, Leadership and the Bible in the Controversy Between John Knox & Queen Mary

“My people infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them.”

Isaiah 3:12

Starting decades ago, many, especially in the universities, have lost faith in the Western civilization narrative. While this is not necessarily a new phenomenon, few have been the voices in the academia wanting to explore the possible reasons that led to such state of things. In order to reflect upon what led to this, one has to address by implication also the issue of leadership. The past decades have seen a progressive value shift from the sexual revolution, through the rise of feminism, all the way to today’s normalization of transgenderism. Side by side with this, and not necessarily just because of it, many Western countries have witnessed the weakening of governmental leadership. This has had an impact upon the leadership process both within the church and in society, to the point that Christians wanting to defend traditional views on these topics are often marginalized. This tension should not surprise us as Reformed Christians given our pedigree.

John Knox (c. 1513 –1572) was a controversial yet relevant figure for this specific issue, able to shed light in the current controversy over gender, sexuality and leadership. He’s often remembered as the “trumpet of the Scottish Reformation”. Yet this immortal title came only after many struggles and arrests due to his controversial message, specifically also for his thoughts on gender and leadership. Knox was often a fugitive, enslaved in the French galleys for nineteen months, having to then flee persecution from “bloody Mary”.[1] What made him uniquely controversial was his personality, his fiery preaching. He was also unashamed and vocal in addressing political matters, at the point of causing riots and sending “lightning thunders” to kings and lords because of their wrongdoings.[2]

During his exile in Geneva, Knox was strongly influenced by the thought and religious approach of John Calvin. He brought back from Geneva to his homeland, Scotland, a vision for the Reformation of the church and society, away from the tyranny of the papacy.[3] His most controversial and best-known pamphlet, published anonymously at first in 1558, was his treatise arguing against the government of women. The purpose of this article is to evaluate whether the view of John Knox on gender and leadership was Biblical and what lesson can be learned from the controversy between John Knox and queen Mary as applied to today’s shifts in gender and sexuality both in society and in the church. Queen Mary I of England was in power at the time of Knox’s reformation. She had also been negatively labeled as “bloody Mary” due to having executed many Protestants by burning at the stake. Mary of Guise was instead a member of the powerful French house of Guise whose ultra-Catholic Duke of Guise had been responsible with Catherine de Medici for the massacre of Huguenots during the Saint Bartholomew’s night in France.[4]

Since Mary of Guise’s project to transform Scotland into another Catholic nation under French control failed, she passed on the burdensome task to her daughter Mary queen of Scots, a Stuart, cousin of “bloody Mary” who became guilty of plotting to assassinate the Protestant half-sister queen Elizabeth, in 1586. Knox had to deal with those “three Marie” and it is therefore at least understandable why in dealing with gender and leadership his words were so sharp and condemning toward them for their acts and not just their gender. Knox felt that England was undergoing a crisis of leadership specifically as these women sought through injustices to counteract his religious reforms, but not merely on the basis of gender. Regrettably, as I will point out such distinction was not made by queen Elizabeth who despite sharing the Protestant faith did not appreciate Knox’s thoughts. Knox had often associated Mary Tudor, with the evil Biblical character of Jezebel, due to her bloody crimes and idolatry.[5] In his preamble to the first blast, Knox plainly attacks the government of women in the context again of those injustices perpetrated by the “three Marie”:

How abominable before God is the empire or rule of a wicked woman […] we hear [of] the blood of our brethren, the members of Christ Jesus, most cruelly to be shed; and the monstrous empire [government] of a cruel woman (the secret counsel of God excepted) we know to be the only occasion of all those miseries. […] I am assured that God has revealed to some in this our age, that it is more than a monster in nature that a woman shall reign and have empire above man. And yet, with us all there is such silence, as if God there with were nothing offended. […] And therefore, I say, that of necessity it is that this monstiferous empire of women (which amongst all enormities that this day do abound upon the face of the whole earth, is most detestable and damnable) be openly revealed and plainly declared to the world, to the end that some may repent and be saved.[6]

As Knox in his controversial pamphlet brings theological support to his position both from Scripture and the church fathers, he is nevertheless aware of those positive cases of women in leadership such as at the times of Judges or under queen Esther. However, as the parallel with Jezebel shows, Knox clarifies that unlike those pious and God-fearing Biblical examples, the women of his day pretended dominion over Scotland and England by being idolatrous, evil and scheming to subvert all justice through a mere tyrannical gynecocracy.[7] Therefore the attack of Knox is on women in leadership only insofar as through their false religion they promote corruption. Knox then expresses in detail his argument concerning gender and leadership ultimately establishing it as a rule even for the public sphere of government:

To promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion, or empire above any realm, nation, or city, is repugnant to nature; contumely [an insult] to God, a thing most contrary to his revealed will and approved ordinance; and finally, it is the subversion of good order, of all equity and justice. […] it is a thing most repugnant to nature, that women rule and govern over men. For those that will not permit a woman to have power over her own sons, will not permit her (I am assured) to have rule over a realm; and those that will not suffer her to speak in defence of those that be accused (neither that will admit her accusation intended against man) will not approve her that she shall sit in judgment, crowned with the royal crown, usurping authority in the midst of men. […] First, I say, that woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him. As St. Paul does reason in these words: “Man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. And man was not created for the cause of the woman, but the woman for the cause of man; and therefore ought the woman to have a power upon her head” [1 Cor. 11:8−10] (that is, a cover in sign of subjection). Of which words it is plain that the apostle means, that woman in her greatest perfection should have known that man was lord above her; and therefore that she should never have pretended any kind of superiority above him, no more than do the angels above God the Creator, or above Christ their head. So I say, that in her greatest perfection, woman was created to be subject to man.[8]

These words must be framed within the sixteenth century context once again so foreign to today’s culture so engraved in feminism and egalitarianism. According to a principle of nature, and not only of Scriptures, Knox believed women to be the weaker vessel, therefore being too frail to be able to bear the weight of authority in the public sphere. This is confirmed by the Reformer through a series of examples in history where women in leadership led to inconstancy, cruelty and lack of guidance.[9] By a logical procedure, questionable for some contemporary observers, Knox affirms that since the woman in the New Testament is not allowed to occupy places of authority in the church, all the more in public government this should ultimately be forbidden:

But the Holy Ghost gives to us another interpretation of this place, taking from all women all kinds of superiority, authority, and power over man, speaking as follows, by the mouth of St. Paul: “I suffer not a woman to teach, neither yet to usurp authority above man” (1 Tim. 2:12). Here he names women in general, excepting none; affirming that she may usurp authority above no man. And that he speaks more plainly in another place in these words: “Let women keep silence in the congregation, for it is not permitted to them to speak, but to be subject, as the law sayeth” (1 Cor. 14:34). These two testimonies of the Holy Ghost are sufficient to prove whatsoever we have affirmed before, and to repress the inordinate pride of women, as also to correct the foolishness of those that have studied to exalt women in authority above men, against God and against his sentence pronounced.[10]

An equally important source of Knox’s debates over gender and leadership comes from his prolonged personal dialogue with Mary Queen of Scots. If one goes to Edinburgh today, it is still possible to visit the outer chamber of the palace of Holyrood where Mary and Knox had these frequent dialogues.[11] From this detail of information, we gather first of all that Knox was willing to meet with her and, as he did so, he in no way displayed any form of sexism. The issue between the two was primarily a religious one rather than strictly a gender issue. Behind her false promises of support, Knox and the Protestants of Scotland in general recognized that she was often acting behind their back to suppress Protestantism through imprisonment, executions, and leading people to exile.[12] Mary at Holyrood had this series of five personal interviews with John Knox.[13] She condemned Knox’s book for undermining her authority and seeking to plot against her. Through the book, so she complained, her subjects were called to obey Knox rather than her. However, Knox replied that both subjects and princes should obey God.[14] In light of Knox’s persistence, she once declared these famous words: “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the armies of England”. From the dialogues between Knox and queen Mary emerges a very diplomatic and respectful attitude in Knox, while still not void of sarcasm toward those he perceived to be injustices of the queen against her subjects. Knox declared that if the realm would find no inconvenience in the government of a woman, he would be willing to submit: “like Paul under Nero”. Essentially, Knox declared that it was not his intention to trouble the queen as a woman and surprisingly he expressed his hope that the queen could be blessed: “as Deborah in Israel”.[15]

This shows how his critic of women in government was centered upon the religious and moral disputes of the day and it was not therefore an attack on women in general. However, not everyone was able to draw such distinction. Knox’s ideas on women’s rule did not encounter the favor even of the moderate Protestant queen Elizabeth. Some sources even point out the possibility that John Calvin himself might have commented that Knox’s writing on the matter as unhelpful to the cause of the reformed faith. Knox’s fiery words as contained in his book could perhaps make some contemporary reader’s hair stand on end.[16] In fact, because of his position on gender and leadership some have recently pictured Knox as a: “horrid man” or a male chauvinist.[17] Yet by doing so, they are using modern glasses in retrospection, neglecting the contextual historical as well as cultural realm into which Knox blew his apocalyptic trumpet. The charges of evil government to the “three Marie” can be substantiated and considered as legitimate even from a modern point of view, regardless of the issue of gender. Even looking at the issue of gender, Knox dialogued, respected and obeyed the very women he condemned. His overall goal was not to degrade women but to rebuke and address their religious and moral shortcomings in hope of reformation both in the church and in Scottish society at large. Knox was playing on the biblical concept of women’s rule as a sign of the judgement of God, not as a judgement of value upon women. What we see from this article therefore is that Knox might have been a Calvinist but not necessarily a chauvinist.

Also, we conclude that the evidence provided by Knox of unjust women in power throughout history does not necessarily validate per se the need for an exclusion of women from public governments. This is true also in light of the same evidence that historically the corrupting effect of power is no different in the case of men. Actually, many Biblical accounts are inclined to exalt godly examples of heroines in Israel, something that Knox himself, far from being a chauvinist, was well aware of. Women therefore can consider being involved in governmental capacities, if found to be godly. Yet, the fact itself raises the question: where are the men? This is a question that signals the fact that when such things happen men are not stepping up to do what they are supposed to do. In any case, Knox’s approach to gender and leadership was solidly grounded on Scriptures and poses an important challenge to the contemporary weakening in governmental leadership among many western countries. Such weakening is not necessarily related to women, but it does involve to some degree also changes in sexual roles and authority as a stimuli to such weakening of roles of authority in the family, in the church and in the public sphere. It is something that remains part and parcel of a broader cultural shift and reshaping of the universe of values holding together our current civilization. Women in governmental leadership as a widespread phenomenon, while not being necessarily something wrong, remains at least not so ideal from a Biblical perspective. Whenever such instance is described in the Bible it is within the framework of a national and political crisis. Also, the role of women must be kept in light of the parallel spheres of sovereignty. The same expectations or patterns we observe in the family should be observed in the church and likewise ideally in society. Just as women are to submit to their husband in the family, and just as men should be pastor in the church, so the issue of women in the military or transgender males playing female athletics are examples of how Knox had a point in his consideration upon human constitution.

This is where gender ideology comes into the picture. Feminism, the sexual revolution, homosexuality and transgenderism are to be seen all as consecutive steps toward the same direction, gradually threatening to reconstruct the very identity and cultural understanding of Western societies. When ancient societies, whether the Greeks or the Romans, reached such confusion of sexual identity and authority it was a sign of their downfall. Another implication, while not being the main original focus of Knox, concerns the role of women in the church, a point highly debated today among many modern evangelicals. While Knox deals with the issue of women in governments, once again with a focus upon ethically and religiously wicked women rather than women for women’s sake, it is possible to infer from Scriptures themselves (1 Timothy 2:12-15) as well as from Knox’s overall argument that by implication women should not be in leadership in the church. In this case we can confidently claim that it is the church that gave a bad example to society on this matter of leadership and then society simply followed the trend, as the representatives of the kingdom of God do indeed influence for good or for bad society at large. This is where John Knox could also inform in ascertaining who is more biblical in the current debate within Calvinistic circles between defenders of soft-complementarianism and defenders of patriarchy. As women are today appointed as pastors in many denominations, including Reformed denominations, and as many churches lose even confidence of how to define the word pastor, Knox’s blasting trumpet sounds very loud, uncompromising as he was willing to face controversy in order to call us back to the Bible.

[1] Crawford Gribben, “John Knox, Reformation History and National Self-Fashioning.” Reformation & Renaissance Review 8.1 (2006): 61.

[2] Richard Kyle, “The Thundering Scot: John Knox the Preacher.” Westminster Theological Journal 63 (2002):135.

[3] Hans J. Hillerbrand, eds. The Reformation. A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982): 362.

[4] David Laing, Selected Writings of John Knox (Dallas, TX: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1995), 439.

[5] William Croft Dickinson, John Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland. Vol. 1 (New York, NY: Philosophical Library, 1950), 118.

[6] John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (London, UK: Blackmask, 2002), 1-2.

[7] Maria Zina Gonçalves De Abreu, “John Knox: Gynaecocracy, ‘The Monstrous Empire of Women’.” Reformation and Renaissance Review 5.2 (2003):166.

[8] John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (London, UK: Blackmask, 2002), 3-5.

[9] Stanford Reid, “John Knox, Pastor of Souls.” Westminster Theological Seminary (September 1977): 12.

[10] John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (London, UK: Blackmask, 2002), 6.

[11] Elizabeth Withley, The Plain Mr. Knox (Glasgow, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2001), 105.

[12] John Knox, The Reformation in Scotland (Edinburgh, SCT: Banner of Truth Trust, 1982): 155.

[13] John Spottiswood, The History of the Church of Scotland. Vol. 2 (Edinburgh, SCT: Ams Press, 1973), 6.

[14] Owen W. Chadwick, “John Knox and Revolution.” Andover Newton Quarterly (1975): 250.

[15] Richard L. Greaves, Theology & Revolution in the Scottish Reformation (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian University Press, 1980),164.

[16] Preserved Smith, The Reformation in Europe (London, UK: Collier-Macmillian Ltd., 1966), 275.

[17] David Calhoun, “John Knox (1514-1572). After Five Hundred Years.” Presbyterion 40 (2014): 3.


Calhoun, David “John Knox (1514-1572). After Five Hundred Years.” Presbyterion 40 (2014): 1-13. Accessed February 13, 2017.

Chadwick, Owen W. “John Knox and Revolution.” Andover Newton Quarterly (1975): 250-266. Accessed February 13, 2017.

De Abreu, Gonçalves Maria Zina “John Knox: Gynaecocracy, ‘The Monstrous Empire of Women’.” Reformation and Renaissance Review 5.2 (2003): 166-187. Accessed February 13, 2017.

Dickinson, William Croft John Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland. Vol. 1-2. New York, NY: Philosophical Library, 1950.

Greaves, Richard L. Theology & Revolution in the Scottish Reformation. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian University Press, 1980.

Gribben, Crawford “John Knox, Reformation History and National Self-Fashioning.” Reformation & Renaissance Review 8.1 (2006): 48-66. Accessed February 13, 2017.

Laing, David Selected Writings of John Knox. Dallas, TX: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1995.

Hillerbrand, Hans J. eds. The Reformation. A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982.

Knox, John The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. London, UK: Blackmask, 2002. Accessed February 13, 2017.

       ____.The Reformation in Scotland. Edinburgh, SCT: Banner of Truth Trust, 1982.

Kyle, Richard “The Thundering Scot: John Knox the Preacher.” Westminster Theological Journal 63 (2002): 135-149. Accessed February 13, 2017.

Reid, Stanford “John Knox, Pastor of Souls.” Westminster Theological Seminary (September 1977): 1-21. Accessed February 13, 2017.

Smith, Preserved The Reformation in Europe. London, UK: Collier-Macmillian Ltd., 1966.

Spottiswood, John The History of the Church of Scotland. Vol. 1-2. Edinburgh, SCT: Ams Press, 1973.

Withley, Elizabeth The Plain Mr. Knox. Glasgow, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2001.

A Medley of Reformed Relevance

This edition of the Founders Journal puts together articles on a broad spectrum of specific topics but all informed by the big ideas of the Reformed Confessional heritage.  

Ottavio Palombaro, in addition to having gained a (Th.D.), also gained a Ph. D. in economic sociology along with a BA in cultural anthropology. His expertise includes a wide range of theological, sociological, philosophical, linguistic, and musicological subjects. His article in the Founders Journal focuses on John Knox and his biblical/theological/existential interaction with the question of female leadership broadly conceived. He describes the purpose of the article as an evaluation of “whether the view of John Knox on gender and leadership was Biblical and what lesson can be learned from the controversy between John Knox and queen Mary as applied to today’s shifts in gender and sexuality both in society and in the church.” As a fundamental principle of biblical presentation, Knox said, “So I say, that in her greatest perfection, woman was created to be subject to man.” That principle then is teased out through actual biblical phenomena as noted by Knox and elucidated by Palombaro. To those who may be deluged by post-modern standards having the shock of Knox come before them, concluding that he was a “horrid man,” the author noted that “they are using modern glasses in retrospection, neglecting the contextual historical as well as cultural realm into which Knox blew his apocalyptic trumpet.” None can doubt that Knox was a Calvinist, indeed a fully convinced Reformer with a biblical worldview, but, as Palombaro observes, that does not mean that he was a chauvinist. Rather that could mean that he had a more profound and excellent regard for femaleness than any of today’s so-called egalitarians. Judging from Knox’s grasp of biblical womanhood, Palombaro writes, “Just as women are to submit to their husband in the family, and just as men should be pastor in the church, so the issue of women in the military or transgender males playing female athletics are examples of how Knox had a point in his consideration upon human constitution.” This is a highly relevant and salubrious sip drawn from an aged and tested wineskin.

Chris Osterbrock earned the D. Ed. Min. in Biblical Spirituality from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Presently he is a PhD Student in Historical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Wellsboro, PA. and is author of What is Saving Faith? Chris presents us with a symphony and chorus of inexhaustible beauty in the “The Stingless Death,.” While this theme of Christ’s victory over death, even the wages of sin, is a universal Christian theme, the author focuses on the Baptist tradition of interpretation and practical application of 1 Corinthians 15:55. Keach, Gill, Wallin, Booth, Fuller, Ryland, Jr., Boyce, and several others have their say on this triumphant song. Osterbrock notes, “The individual authors may elucidate different sides of the gemstone, but Particular Baptist tradition holds together a cohesive interpretation. Herein we examine how this verse was understood in Baptist life through 200 years.” Among the facets of this scriptural gem, Baptist exposition has explained “the providence of God in death, a secured new life to come, a song to be sung in sanctification as well as glorification, and a song applied as a salve to extinguish sin in the present life.” It has given rise to celebrative imagery of intense poetic impulse such as the exclamation of Abraham Booth, “Thy haggard form I plainly discern; but where, where is thy sting? . . . for, behold! Thy sting is entirely and eternally gone. Jesus, the glorious victor, has plucked it from thee.” And finally, this ultimate enemy becomes the path to unblemished holiness. “Here in death,” the author deduces from the expositions investigated, “the Christian finds perfect mortification of sin and depravity, and in death there is the perfect sanctification of the body and soul for glory.”

Craig Biehl earned his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary. His books deal with the power of Reformed theology in promoting Christian spirituality, the power of orthodox thought, and the futile systems promoted by unbelief. In his article, “Are God’s Justice and Mercy Incompatible?” Craig Biehl unfolds the consistency of biblical orthodoxy to engage serious philosophical objections to the Christian doctrine of God. Letting Theodore M. Drange speak for one specific argument against the existence of God, he sets forth this supposedly inescapable moral dilemma. A god who is just—and a god must be just—would “treat every offender with exactly the severity deserved.” But a god must show the tenderness of mercy and so would treat “every offender with less severity” than deserved. Since these necessary attributes for a god contradict, a god cannot exist. Mercy perverts justice, and justice militates against mercy. Biehl brings to this unbreakable dilemma the biblical teachings on the person of Christ and the nature of the atoning work of Christ. “As a man, Christ was the perfect substitute for mankind. As God and man, He was the perfect mediator between God and man. And as God, His suffering and death paid an infinite penalty for the sin of mankind. This He did once for all time, never to be repeated.” The substitutionary, propitiatory atonement made by Christ in covenant obedience to the Father fully satisfies the demands of both justice and mercy. God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ” (Romans 3:26 NASB). Does this violate either absolute justice or the extension of mercy to the violator of God’s law? Biehl shows that “In this way, salvation by faith upholds God’s righteous justice. ‘Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law’ (Rom 3:31).” In this justice-is-contrary-to-mercy objection to the God of the Bible we have “an example of what besets the best of atheistic arguments.” As Creator, Sustainer, and Judge—and whose image actually establishes all the rules of logic, justice, compassion—God solves this apparent moral contradiction “according to His wisdom.” But, as Biehl points out, even this infinitely powerful, logically consistent, and surpassingly wise solution appears to rebellious man as foolishness. But to those who believe, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Robert Gonzalez, Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary since 2005,  in “The Saving Design of God’s Common Grace” gives an exposition of this fundamental biblical proposition: though common grace “does not guarantee the salvation of its recipients,” it is nevertheless “saving in its design.” In accord with Romans 2, “God sincerely intends the kindness and patience he shows to all sinners (whether elect or non-elect) to lead them unto saving repentance.” After arguing this case with careful exegesis and in interaction with the hyper-Calvinist wing of theologians, Gonzalez concludes “from the evidence above we may conclude a saving design in the indiscriminate common grace God showers on all men whether elect or non-elect.”

This is of the nature of a Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation theological idea. Although it is perfectly just and holy for God to allow humanity to choose its own course of action on the basis of its preferences, God’s calls to believe the gospel or repent heartily from sin are in their nature calls for restoration to a non-cursed relationship with God. He calls neither to hypocritical faith nor merely feigned repentance. He is under no moral impetus, however, to provide effectual grace by which saving faith and repentance are truly manifested. He may justly leave all men or as many as he deems it fitting and consistent with his wise decrees to continue in their course of purposeful rejection of both his moral commands or his overtures of engagement for restoration. Both the call of the gospel and the call of creation and other manifestations of common grace have as their absolute moral end a cessation of rebellion against God and an inclusion as a true worshipper of Jehovah.

Each of these articles looks seriously at the Reformed confessional stance and shows its powerful relevance to any moral, cultural, or religious issue.

A Statement of Appreciation for Wayne Grudem

Recently I received the prayer letter from Wayne Grudem. He sends these out because he really wants the saints to join in prayer that Wayne’s calling, gifts, experience, and projects be owned of God for his glory and the leavening effect of his truth. The letter this week contained a prayer request to pray in light of the “Ending my teaching career.” He explained that at the end of a theology class “I walked out of the classroom with a kind of weariness that I don’t remember feeling before. The combination of my Parkinson’s disease, my prostate cancer and its treatments, and my 76 years of age all are combining, and the result is that I don’t have the energy that I have previously had.” After consultation with Margaret and trusted observers and advisors, Wayne decided “that this would be my last semester of teaching.” Wayne began his teaching ministry in 1977-1981 at Bethel College in St. Paul. From 1981-2001 he taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In 2001 he began a 23-year tenure of teaching at Phoenix Seminary in Scottsdale, Arizona. Over these 47 years Wayne has taught more than 9,000 students. Now he will do what he has already done so well—write.

It will be worthwhile to consider Wayne’s attitude toward this pivot in life. Having parents that lived into their 90’s, close to two decades could remain (DV) and careful stewardship leads him to say, “I need wisdom from God to know what to spend my time on.” Certainly, readers of this post will sympathize spiritually with that desire and pray for the usefulness of this steward of the gospel.

In reflection on having reached such a corner in life, Wayne pointed to a biblical passage shared with him by Vern Poythress.

Do not cast me off in time of old age;

forsake me not when my strength is spent . . . . 

O God, from my youth you have taught me,

and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

So even to old age and gray hairs,

O God, do not forsake me,

until I proclaim your might to another generation,

your power to all those to come

(Psalm 7[1]:9, 17-18). 

Giving insight into the operations of Spirit-driven Christian confidence Wayne noted, “I find it interesting that I’m not thinking of old age as something to be feared. It rather feels like I’ve been running a long race and I’ve turned a corner and now I see the finish line in the distance. Thinking that perhaps 80% of the race is over is, for me, a comforting feeling.”

Wayne’s literary contribution in a number of biblical and cultural areas has been profound and formative: spiritual, theological, exegetical, business, political, ethical issues have all been addressed by this theologian. His engagement with topics of many kinds has been so consistent, voluminous, and large that any attempt to give an extensive summary would be impossible. Wayne’s book the Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today [Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988], in addition to his defense of the continued presence of the gift of prophecy, has some stern warnings against flippant or uninformed dependence on an immediate manifestation of Spirit-driven utterance. His appendices on the canon and the sufficiency of Scripture are profound and apologetically assuring. He says, “if someone claims to have a message from God for us concerning what we ought to do, we need never think that it is sin to disobey such a message unless it can be confirmed by the application of Scripture itself to our situation.” (308) He also issues this warning, “if a pastor does not prepare for a Bible teaching, but says he is ‘trusting the Lord’ to bring something to mind, then he is, in my opinion trying to force the Lord to reveal something to him when he speaks. … Stepping into the pulpit without preparing is like jumping off the pinnacle of the temple. It involves refusing to use the ordinary means God has made available and demanding that he provide some kind of extraordinary revelation to rescue you from your dilemma!” (258).

Application of biblical principles to political issues is a mark of Grudem’s sense of stewardship of the whole life. In over 600 pages of text in Politics According to the Bible, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010] Wayne develops his discussion through “Basic Principles,” “Specific Issues,” and “Concluding Observations.” That final section serves as an excellent summary of his conclusions and how the different political party commitments align with his observations. He does not dodge any tough issue and seeks to unfold relevant biblical principles into greatly diverse and detailed issues. The first specific issue is “protection of life” within which he discusses not only abortion and euthanasia, but the right for citizens to own guns. He discusses the CIA, climate change, coercive interrogation, abortion, the economy (under ten categories), marriage and family, national defense, foreign policy, freedom of speech and religion, and other particular issues. In his section on worldview Wayne begins, “The very first sentence of the Bible tells us the most important building block of a Christian worldview: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (116). As he maintains throughout, this is God’s world, and governments and political systems will thrive and be redemptive agents or fail and increase corruption to the degree that they maintain the proper relation between human responsibility, moral vision, and just adjudication.

His Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning, a book of almost 1300 pages, is not only concerned about coming to a biblical position on a large number of complex moral issues, but about developing Christian character and a desire to live to the glory of God. As in virtually all he writes, Wayne gives an exposition and defense of the full authority of Scripture as the word of God. He shows that, in addition to informing the mind and shaping one’s actions, Scripture properly conceived has a transforming effect on those who study it, cherish it, and hide its words in the heart with the ultimate effect to be conformed to the image of Christ (107-115). He gives 50 pages to the chapter on “Homosexuality and Transgenderism” dealing with large amounts of biblical material, frank discussions of the variety of unscriptural behaviors, and dissonant arguments from other ethicists. In a discussion of transgender bathrooms and locker rooms Wayne makes the judgment, “Such policies thus attempt to reinforce the lie that a person’s gender is something one can choose, not something determined by biological reality” (880).

Wayne does not shy away from all the tough issues and helps us engage with biblical awareness the possible future fallout of naturalistic relativism as applied to ethical issues.  Parts 2-7 are built on the ten commandments, showing the truth of the Psalmist’s exclamation, “I have seen a limit to all perfection; Your commandment is exceedingly broad” (Psalm 119:96 NASB). Chapters close with a Scripture memory passage and a hymn relevant to the subject discussed. Though the issues are often complex and the stakes for personal integrity and social stability and justice are high, Wayne’s discussions and application of relevant Scriptures give a sweet simplicity to the reasoning process about these matters. An example of a general principle applicable to several questions of moral desire is this: “In every generation there is a temptation to depart from the sufficiency of Scripture with new kinds of legalism that God does not require. Therefore, we must avoid two errors: the error of disobeying Scripture and the error of adding to Scripture more than God requires.” (688).

His Systematic Theology (Second Edition) is close to 1600 pages of intense biblical discussion of dogmatics in seven divisions: the Word of God, God, Man in God’s image, Christ and the Holy Spirit, the application of redemption, the church, and the future. This huge systematic theology has been edited to two smaller versions useful for church studies.

Similar to the experience of many Reformed and Evangelical Christians, Wayne testifies to the pleasing and confirming influence of J. Gresham Machen’s work, Christianity and Liberalism. His evaluation of its helpfulness has prompted him to encourage a serious engagement with the breadth of its doctrine and the biblical potency of its arguments. In the section on Scripture, Wayne includes a table of J. Gresham Machen’s interaction with liberalism by distinct categories along with relevant passages of Scripture and places in Christianity and Liberalism where the issue is discussed.

None should doubt the Christological orthodoxy of Grudem. In the context of a carefully-crafted exposition of the biblical and confessional development of the church’s confession of Christ’s person (663-705), in a section discussing the question of impeccability, Wayne says, “But Jesus’ human nature never existed apart from his divine nature. From the moment of his conception, he existed as truly God and truly man as well. Both his human nature and his divine nature existed while united in one person” (673).

Grudem narrates his broad and deep engagement with contemporary and historical theology both in the text and in well-placed pertinent footnotes. Each chapter includes questions for personal application and a double bibliography. One of these locates page numbers from denominational theologies in chronological order dealing with the subject under discussion. The other is a list of works devoted to the subject. The chapter on atonement has 46 such works listed. On this doctrine, Grudem says, “In conclusion, it seems to me that the Reformed position of ‘particular redemption’ is most consistent with the overall teaching of Scripture” (743). Having staked out his personal position, Wayne warns against unhelpful and spiritually unhealthy “nit-picking that creates controversies and useless disputes” (744). Again, every chapter includes a memory verse and a hymn to memorize.

In his book entitled “Free Grace” Theology: 5 Ways it Diminishes the Gospel [Wheaton: Crossway, 2016], Wayne engaged a modern manifestation of Sandemanianism. Like Andrew Fuller before him, he examined the leading ideas of the “Free Grace” movement in the context of closely reasoned biblical exegesis, confessional history, and the moral character and necessary connection of repentance and faith. Though justification certainly includes a belief of the truth, the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing a person to a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus and his redemptive work involves more than a bare belief of the bare truth. While stating clearly the errors of the “Free Grace,’ Grudem helps the reader understand what prompts such a doctrinal reaction and seeks avenues for nurturing a spirit of fraternity.

The last contribution I will mention is his activity in beginning and bringing to fruition the translation of the Bible called the English Standard Version. Having disagreements with some of the translation theory of the TNIV, Wayne gave much time, energy, and theological expertise to that project from its beginning to its completion. He served on the Translation Oversight Committee for the translation itself and as General Editor for the ESV study Bible.

Space allows no comment on Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, his book on Business for the Glory of God, his commentary on 1 Peter, and scores of papers presented at professional meetings. Wayne has demonstrated genuine Christian character in his family relationships, parents to grandchildren. He and Margaret have served as a team for encouragement and hospitality for many peregrinating fellow Christians. I can speak confidently for many thousands of Christians a sincere word of gratitude to him for his unrelenting and uncompromised love of the Bible, the God of the Bible, the redemption of the Bible and his work to make it known. We pray that his stewardship of the gospel in his post class-room labors will be satisfying as he views the “finish line in the distance.”

Charles Spurgeon’s Public Evangelism (Part Three)

This article is Part 3 in a series, you can read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

In the last two posts, we have seen that evangelism was integral to Spurgeon’s public ministry. Similarly, Spurgeon was concerned with equipping men to preach the everlasting gospel to the lost. In this final post, we will explore Spurgeon’s methods of evangelism training both in his local church and the Pastors’ College.

The Local Church

First, Spurgeon trained evangelists through his pulpit ministry. The evangelistic zeal that Spurgeon modeled in the pulpit created a culture of evangelism within his church. Steven J. Lawson writes:

As Spurgeon powerfully expounded the Word, the members of the Metropolitan Tabernacle were burdened to share the gospel with the people of London. Large numbers took to the streets and spread the saving truth of Jesus Christ crucified. They distributed gospel tracts and copies of Spurgeon’s sermons far and wide. As they sought to win people to faith in Christ, they spoke to people in their neighbourhood and at work. They became the embodiment of Spurgeon’s famous book, The Soul Winner.[1]

An example of this can be seen in Spurgeon’s sermon, The Minister’s Farewell, which was preached on December 11, 1859. In that sermon, Spurgeon argued that “the true evangelist must never fail to set forth the beauties of the person of Christ, the glory of his offices, the completeness of his work, and above all, the efficacy of his blood.”[2]

Again, commenting on his evangelistic zeal, Steven Lawson writes: as believers sat under Spurgeon’s strong evangelistic appeals, it “launched them into the highways and byways to be his steadfast witnesses. The exposition of Scripture put fire in the bones of the congregation, who, in turn, [brought] their testimony of the gospel to the lost.”[3]

Similarly, in his preaching, Spurgeon modeled to his congregation what it looks like to reason and plead with the lost. In his sermon, Compel Them to Come In, you can hear Spurgeon’s love for Christ and his love for the lost. Spurgeon cried out:

Our first business has not to do with faith, but with Christ. Come, I beseech you, on Calvary’s mount, and see the cross. Behold the Son of God, he who made the heavens and the earth, dying for your sins. Look to him, is there not power in him to save?[4]

By the grace of God, many young men were converted and given a zeal for evangelism. Commenting on this, Spurgeon said the following:

When, in early days, God’s Holy Spirit had gone forth with my ministry at New Park Street, several zealous young men were brought to a knowledge of the truth; and among them, some whose preaching in the street was blessed of God to the conversion of souls. Knowing that these men had capacities for usefulness, but laboured under the serious disadvantage of having no education, and were, moreover, in such circumstances that they would not be likely to obtain admission into any of our Colleges.[5]

Therefore, it was those who sat under this kind of ministry were given a living example of how to win souls to Christ. It is important to recognize that in any church, the pastor always sets the tone. If the pulpit is cold, without evangelistic zeal, the pews will be cold. We need God to bring a fire of evangelistic zeal in the pulpit, and then, by the grace of God, we must pray for it to enter the pews.

The Pastors’ College

Second, Spurgeon trained men in evangelism through his Pastors’ College. In 1873, the College was described as a “Home Missionary Society for the spread of the gospel.”[6] Spurgeon, however, understood that “no college, no human ordination, can make a man a minister; but he who can feel, as did Bunyan, Whitefield, Berridge, or Rowland Hill, the struggling’s of an impassioned longing to win the souls of men.”[7] The Pastors’ College was established to further instruct those whom God had called to preach the gospel. Spurgeon stated that he “never dreamed of making men preachers,” but he “desired to help those whom God had already called to be such.”[8]

Tied in with the College was “The Pastors’ College Society of Evangelists,” which was established in 1870 and was designed to further mission work in their own country.”[9] The main purpose of the College was to train “attractive, impressive, effective preachers of the gospel”[10] In 1881, a report in The Sword and the Trowel highlighted how the College Society’s evangelists had “traversed the land with great diligence and the Lord has set His seal to their work.”[11] Spurgeon believed that the gift of an evangelist still operated in the church as one of the constituted means for the ingathering of the elect.[12] Therefore, evangelists must be trained, organized and work for and with the churches.

At the College, students sat in on lectures and were trained through practical fieldwork. Most students preached in churches each week and on Monday mornings the senior students met with Spurgeon to evaluate their preaching.[13] After receiving training at the Pastors’ College, Spurgeon encouraged his students to be active in open-air preaching the moment they start their ministries: “One of the earliest things that a minister should do when he leaves College and settles in a country town or village is to begin open-air speaking.”[14] One of Spurgeon’s students, Thomas Medhurst, followed Spurgeon’s advice and began his ministry preaching in the open-air. This open-air ministry later led to his call as pastor at the Baptist Church at Kingston-upon-Thames.[15]

Additionally, students in the College were placed under an experienced minister, who would then “train them in the Scriptures, and in all other knowledge helpful to the understanding and proclamation of truth. The emphasis was thoroughly practical.”[16] Spurgeon also frequently prayed for evangelists throughout his ministry. This can be seen in the following exhortation:

Preaching the gospel is the means which He is pleased to bless. Pray much that he may work by the means of our Evangelists and bring thousands to the Lord Jesus. They are men full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and God is with them.[17]

Summary of Findings

In conclusion, these series of posts have looked at Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s public evangelism. In the first post, we looked at Spurgeon’s involvement in open-air preaching. In the second post, we studied Spurgeon’s personal evangelism. Finally, in this post, it is my prayer that each local church sees the vital need to training evangelists both in the local church and in a similar “Pastors’ College.” All must be done for the glory of the Triune God and the good of His Church.

                  [1] Steven J. Lawson, “How Expository Preaching Builds the Church,” Expositor Magazine 29 (2020): 18.

                  [2] C. H. Spurgeon, Revival Year Sermons, 1859 (1959; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 82.

                  [3] Lawson, “How Expository Preaching Builds the Church,” 18.

                  [4] Spurgeon, Compel Them to Come In, New Park Street Pulpit(1859; repr., Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim, 1972), 5: 17-21.

                  [5] Spurgeon, Autobiography: The Early Years, 385.

            [6] Ian M. Randall, A School of the Prophets: 150 years of Spurgeon’s College (London, Spurgeon’s College, 2005), 30.

            [7] Spurgeon, Autobiography: The Early Years, 384.

                  [8] Ibid., 386.

            [9] Randall, A School of the Prophet., 30.

            [10] Ibid.

            [11] Ibid., 30.

            [12] Tom Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 319.

            [13] Randall, A School of the Prophets, 18.

                  [14] Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 262.

            [15] Ibid., 27.

            [16] Ibid., 23.

            [17] Ibid., 31.

Christ Has Been Raised from the Dead 

As marvelous as Jesus’ resurrection is, Christians often forget much of its significance. We often assume the resurrection, failing to think on it as deeply as we ought or to teach it as frequently as we should. That is why we must reflect on the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, not just on Easter, but all year long, for a consistent, maturing faith. 

In 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, the Apostle Paul rebukes the church because some have denied the possibility of bodily resurrection, and others have spiritualized resurrection. Paul shows how inconsistent that is with the Christian faith because Christianity teaches that Jesus bodily rose from the dead. Here, Paul gives six results of the Corinthians’ false understanding of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, which, in turn, helps believers to appreciate its great significance.

First, if Jesus had not been raised, then Gospel preaching would be worthless.

Paul unfolds the significance of Jesus’ resurrection in verse 14. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain.” If Christ had not been raised from the dead, all evangelism and Gospel preaching would be worthless. All efforts to tell friends, family, and neighbors about Jesus would be a complete waste.

But notice verse 20. “But now Christ has been raised from the dead.” All evangelistic work IS worth the effort, time, toil, energy, and finances put into it! All ministries aimed at reaching out to the lost ARE worthy of prayer, support, and time. Christ’s resurrection turns this implication on its head. If Gospel preaching is vain apart from Jesus’ resurrection, then it is significant because He has been raised. 

Second, if Jesus had not been raised, then faith in Christ would be worthless and meaningless.

In our culture, people say things like, “You just have to believe. You need to have faith.” This wasn’t the Apostle Paul’s take on faith, though. Paul’s view in verses 14 and 17 was that, apart from Jesus’ resurrection, faith is a complete waste of time. Some have said, “Even if they proved Jesus never bodily rose from the dead, I wouldn’t give up on faith. I’d still have my faith.” Paul’s response would have been, “Why would you have your faith? It would be utterly meaningless!” 

But because Christ has been raised from the dead, faith is not meaningless, if, it is in the resurrected Savior. Our faith is worthwhile because we believe, not in a dead savior, but in a Risen Lord! When we have faith in Jesus, we are trusting the One who died, rose again, and lives forever as the Triumphant Lord!

Third, if Jesus had not been raised, then the Bible would be a false witness about God.

Paul and his fellow apostles would be liars about God if Jesus had not been raised because their message was that God had raised Jesus from the dead. This is serious. What Paul is saying in verse 15 is that the New Testament is a book of lies if Jesus is not alive today. 

But because Christ has been raised from the dead, the apostles and the New Testament are true witnesses of God and His redemptive acts! Jesus’ resurrection means that our Bibles are completely faithful and worthy of our trust. Whenever we have the privilege to share the Gospel, we are telling the truth about God.

Fourth, if Christ had not been raised, our sins would still rule over us.

There are two implications presented in verse 17. 

First, we would be under the power of sin. In Romans 6:11, Paul said, “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” If the resurrection did not happen, then the power of sin would rule over our lives. Not only this, but we would remain under the penalty of sin. In Romans 5:10, Paul wrote, For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. We would still be under the wrath of God if Jesus did not rise from the dead. 

But because Christ has been raised, sin’s power has been broken in believers, who are also free from sin’s penalty. Romans 8:1 is true for us who are in Christ through faith: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The significance of Jesus’ resurrection is that we are alive to God in Christ and dead to sin. 

Fifth, if Jesus had not been raised, Christians would suffer divine judgment at death.

Paul’s argument in verse 18 is that deceased believers would be under divine judgment, as would all future Christians at death, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead. If Jesus had remained dead, then the apostles, missionaries who died for the cause of Christ, and believers throughout church history, are in hell. And someday if Christ had not been raised, we would be, too. 

But now Christ has been raised from the dead. God’s judgment has been satisfied through Christ’s death and resurrection! There is hope for forgiveness, salvation, and sinners beyond the grave! All saints who have gone before are rejoicing in Jesus’ presence because He has been raised from the dead. And, someday, when we face death, these words can comfort our souls.

Sixth, if Christ had not been raised, Christians would be the most pathetic people in the world.

“If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” Verse 19, perhaps, just doesn’t ring true in our American culture of peace, joy, prosperity, happiness, and heaven as the cherry on top of it all. So, if Christ has not been raised, and we will not be raised, so what? At least we had a good life, right?

Here’s how Paul saw the Christian life, however: It’s a war against sin, unbelief, and false teachers; and it’s a war for the souls of peoples of every tribe, tongue, and nation. If I’m fighting this war and giving my life for it, and at the end, I’m not raised from the dead, I’m a fool!

The real question is not, Why did Paul think the Christian life was not worth it apart from resurrection? but, Why do we think it is? Jesus’ resurrection should be moving us to make choices and sacrifices that are absurd in the world’s eyes.

But because Christ has been raised from the dead, Christians are the most blessed people on the planet. In the end, we give up nothing, and we get everything by being raised from the dead. Anything we sacrificed will be returned to us a thousand-fold. The solution to self-centered living that says, “I don’t want to die every day and I don’t want following Jesus to cost me,” is to remember the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. 

Has, perhaps, Jesus’ resurrection become nothing more than a slogan to us? If Christ had not been raised, evangelism and faith would be worthless, the New Testament would be a book of lies; everyone would still be in sin, facing condemnation at death, and our lives would be the most pathetic on earth. But now Christ has been raised from the dead. Now, evangelism is worthwhile, our faith is significant, the New Testament is absolutely true, we are free from our sins, we have hope beyond the grave, and giving our lives for the kingdom of Christ is the wisest decision we can make – all because of the all-significant, all-glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Dying To See Jesus 

In this world, there are different types of people who believe they have a relationship with Jesus.

There are those who have had some “encounter” with Jesus, and they wrongly feel there is a connection  because they are deceived..

There are other people who genuinely do have a relationship with Jesus, but they have been taught that authentic relationship with Jesus consists of a certain experience or emotion, so they doubt the reality of their salvation.

Then there are Christians who have authentic fellowship with Jesus and are certain of it, but they know they can excel still more.

And then there are people who simply do not know Jesus at all.

Every person is in one of these four groups. But how does one know for certain if he or she has a genuine relationship with the Lord and Savior?

In John 12:20-26, some Gentiles make a request – “We wish to see Jesus” – that prompts Jesus to address the question all people should ask: How can someone have real, authentic fellowship with Him?

Jesus’ response is puzzling at first glance. Most commentators admit difficulty with understanding how Jesus’ answer relates to the request. The link, while on the surface enigmatic, is very powerful. Jesus knows these Gentiles desire fellowship with Him, but His response goes beyond their inquiry. He wants to know them personally.

John includes this episode because he wants to assure his readers that though we have not seen Jesus in person, much like the Greeks at the time they made this request, Jesus wants authentic fellowship with everyone who will come to Him in faith.

In the rest of the text, verses 23-26, Jesus highlights three keys to authentic fellowship with Him.

First, we experience authentic fellowship with Jesus through His saving work.

The Lord begins his response to the Greeks by referring to His saving work: His death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection from the dead. 

Jesus calls His saving work, His glorification. He does this for two reasons. First, because the cross is where God’s attributes in Christ are most clearly put on display. At the cross, we most clearly see God’s love, wrath, grace, mercy, justice, and Law – in all its demands and its penalty on transgressors. The cross instantly brings together all these glorious and perfect attributes, that always seem opposed: law and grace, mercy and justice, love and wrath.

Jesus is also glorified at the cross because of the results of His work. Through Christ’s death, He would bear much fruit. The Greeks coming to see Him were a precursor to that. They were the first installment, as it were, of the multitude of fruit to come. 

The only way the Greeks can have any meaningful fellowship with Jesus is if He first dies on the cross. Yes, they could interview Him. However, if they really want to know Jesus, it can only happen by means of His death. Jesus must provide the mercy of God by satisfying the justice of God and open the floodgates of the love of God by bearing the wrath of God.

The cross is where God’s attributes in Christ are most clearly put on display.

Our fellowship with Christ does not depend on a feeling or an experience, but on a crucified Savior who died on a wooden, bloody, Roman cross. It’s crucial we come to understand that because of Jesus’ death and through faith in Him, our relationship with Him is objective reality. We experience authentic fellowship with Jesus through His saving work. 

Second, we have authentic fellowship with Jesus through denying ourselves.

Jesus presents the concept of self-denial in a paradox. The person who loves his life loses it, but the person who hates his life keeps it. The first part is the person who loves his life. What does that mean? After all, who doesn’t hang on to the things of this life? That is exactly the question Jesus means to raise in our minds.

The word “lose” is a violent word that signifies destruction. One writer described this word as “definitive destruction, not merely in the sense of the extinction of physical existence, but rather of an eternal plunge into Hades and a hopeless destiny of death.” Those who are living for this life are actively and systematically destroying themselves.

If we want to inherit life and have authentic fellowship with Jesus, we will hate our lives in this world. We will take the eternal perspective and realize that living for the here and now is to waste our lives and to ruin them. The way we protect our lives, odd as it seems, is to let go of it for life eternal. We reject instant gratification and self-centered living, and we wait for eternal life and live a life of self-denial. The goal is life of authentic fellowship with Jesus in His presence forever! 

Finally, we experience authentic fellowship with Jesus through following Him.

The person who knows Jesus through His death and resurrection is marked by a life of denying self and following Him. One commentator helpfully noted, “True discipleship involves not only denial of self but also the recognition of the importance of Christ.”

We follow Jesus by following His example. In 1 John 2:3, John wrote, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” Then he adds in verse 6, “The one who says He abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” The people who have real, continual, authentic fellowship with Christ live after His pattern.

Our fellowship with Christ does not depend on a feeling or an experience, but on a crucified Savior who died on a wooden, bloody, Roman cross.

So, for example, that means we love one another. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you.” Jesus Himself illustrated this in John 13. He washed His disciples’ feet, and then He said to them, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” Following Jesus, then, means living a life of humble service to one another. It also means forgiving each other. Colossians 3:13 says that we should forgive one another, “just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

Those who follow Jesus will be where He is. This is the heart of the message to the Greeks. Jesus responds, “Do you want to see Me? Do you want to be where I am? Then follow Me. Serve Me. And if you are My servant, you will be in my presence.”

Men and women who have this fellowship with Jesus will be honored by the Father, who will reward the servants of His Son. This promise also strengthens Jesus’ call to self-denial and following Him down the Calvary Road. It is not those striving after honor in this world who receive honor from God, but it is those seeking humility, obedience, and fellowship with Jesus in His sufferings and death and resurrection, who are honored by the Father. 

Jesus’ message to the Greeks who wanted to see Him was that the way they could truly see Him was through His cross as they denied themselves and followed Him. Then they would be where He is when He came for His own. Then they would see the glory He had with the Father before the world began. Then the Father Himself would reward them. The only ones who get to see Jesus are those who are dying to see Him by dying daily to themselves and following Him.

The question for each of us is this: Do we, like the Greeks, want to see Jesus?  

Crushed, Stricken, Victorious 

Trusting others presents massive challenges in our fallen world. Everyone has been corrupted by sin, and therefore fails to be fully faithful or trustworthy. As Proverbs 20:6 says, “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?”

While humans prove to be both distrustful and untrustworthy, God presents Himself as the One we can supremely trust for everything in this life and beyond the grave. We see an intentional emphasis in Scripture on the trustworthiness of God, but Scripture does not command us to have a blind faith. The Lord instructs us to trust Him, and then He demonstrates He is worthy of our trust. God never speaks, then fails to act. He always proves Himself faithful. 

Despite this truth, we often struggle to trust God, which manifests itself when we give in to sin in times of various trials and temptations. So how do we grow our trust of our Lord and His power over our sin? 

We find a helpful answer to this question in Isaiah 53. Here, God reveals His Suffering Servant, the Lord Jesus as eminently trustworthy. Whether we suffer because of trials or temptations, Jesus can be trusted to see us through and bring God’s covenant promises to fruition. 

There are four ways Isaiah shows Jesus’ trustworthiness in this passage.

First, Jesus humbled Himself when we were proud.

At the start of this chapter, Isaiah laments Israel’s unbelief. Just before, in Isaiah 52, we learn that the Gentiles would marvel at the exalted Servant. Yet when the scene flips to Isaiah 53, regardless of the magnificent salvific promises of the previous passage, we observe the ongoing disbelief of people who have had a front-row seat to God’s work. What makes God’s promises so difficult to trust? Isaiah answers by showing us the Servant’s humility alongside the pride of sinners who reject God’s word. 

Whether we suffer because of trials or temptations, Jesus can be trusted to see us through and bring God’s covenant promises to fruition.

Isaiah gives a description of the Servant’s humility, using agricultural pictures to convey Jesus’ outward appearance as useless and unfruitful. The Servant came in the humblest of ways, and His circumstances and appearance made Him look dispensable. People would have contempt for God’s Messiah and suffering Servant.

Thus, we see both the humiliation of the Servant and the pride of man. God in human flesh descends to us, and we despise Him because He does not meet our ideals. God, however, sees us in our pride, knows how we will respond, and still comes to save us from sin. 

Jesus proves Himself trustworthy in His willing humiliation for prideful sinners. Isaiah includes himself in those who thought little of the Servant, saying, “We did not esteem Him.” We must include ourselves in that we. Apart from God’s grace, we rejected Him. Christ, though, condescended to save us, showing He is trustworthy. 

Second, Jesus was faithful when we were not.

Isaiah paints a rather ugly picture of us. The Servant was carrying our griefs and sorrows, but we saw His suffering and said, “God has rightly stricken Him for His sins.” We were unfaithful hypocrites, thinking we stood blameless before God’s law as we cast condemnation on His very own Christ! 

The reality is Jesus was pierced and crushed for our transgressions, our iniquities, and our acts of ungodliness! He took the punishment we deserved so we might have peace, wholeness, and well-being. He healed us of our sins by enduring the scourging. We thought we could condemn God’s Servant, but we were actually under God’s curse.

This, though, was God’s purpose and plan, according to Isaiah. That plan involved Christ suffering and dying for us. God Himself caused our unrighteousness, sins, and disobedience to fall on Jesus. God imputed our sins to Jesus on the cross. Jesus stood in our place, took our sins and the wrath of God, and bore our punishment so we could have shalom with God.

The irony here is stark. The prophet says we looked at Jesus and thought, “God punished Him because of His sin,” but God did this to Him because of our sin. Jesus faithfully submitted so we could be forgiven, stand righteous before God, and be made whole again. Jesus’ faithfulness, even while we were faithless and lost, inspires confidence and trust in Him.

Third, Jesus submitted to death when we deserved it.

Verses 7-9 are remarkable in portraying our Savior’s substitutionary death on the cross.

Jesus was treated with contempt, but He was silent like a sheep before shearers.  He suffered horrifically, received no justice, was humiliated, and died childless, a sure sign to that culture that God’s displeasure rested upon Him. His separation from sinners, even though He identified with them, was made clear in His burial.

Isaiah then inserts the phrase, to whom the stroke was due, referring to the utter condemnation God brings down upon sinners. This is another reminder of Jesus’ faithfulness. We should have suffered the wrath of God, but Jesus absorbed the condemnation we deserved.

Jesus’ victory over sin is assured in His success in justifying sinners.

Think about the ways we are tempted not to trust Jesus, Christian. Jesus took our place and bore in His own body our sins, sorrows, griefs, and condemnation; and He went to this extreme to bring us peace, to free us from the guilt of sin, and to save us from eternal punishment. The question is never, “Is Jesus going to provide everything we need to live before Him and attain salvation on the last day?” The question is always, “Do we trust Him?” He died for us when we deserved death. We have every reason to trust Him. 

Finally, Jesus gained the victory over sin when we were the transgressors.

The resounding theme of verses 10-12 is the Suffering Servant, though crushed and stricken, was ultimately victorious. 

We see Jesus’ victory over sin in His resurrection in verse 10. The Lord was pleased with the Servant’s suffering because Christ’s death was an offering to remove our guilt.

God was pleased because the cross was not the Servant’s end. Through His death, Jesus was fruitful, and the things that please God would flourish through Christ’s work. He would live forever, even though He died a horrific death. 

Jesus’ victory over sin is assured in His success in justifying sinners. The result of Jesus’ anguish would be satisfaction for Him, and justification for us who trust in Him. Jesus was victorious over sin, not in some abstract sense, but in the very real sense that our sins are forgiven, cast into the depths of the sea, as far as the east is from the west; and we are now one with the Righteous One, so that His righteousness has become ours. 

We also see Christ’s victory in His exaltation. He, who appeared to be nothing more than a cast off, was the mighty warrior who leads the conquerors in celebration over their enemies. Why? Because He bore our sin and interceded for us, the transgressors, which is the strongest word Isaiah could have used to picture someone’s wickedness.

Jesus showed Himself trustworthy by gaining the victory over sin when we were the transgressors. Through His resurrection, justifying work, and exaltation, Christ is worthy of our trust and confidence. When the apostle Peter read Isaiah 53 and saw what Jesus had done for His people, his response was to see Jesus’ suffering as a model of His faithfulness, so that no matter what we are experiencing or facing, we can trust ourselves to Him. 

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