As is often the case, we need some care, wisdom and discernment as to when and how we might deal with the sin, error or failings of others. But contrary to the views of some, there certainly is a place for public rebuke – even for naming and shaming. It is interesting to see this with the Apostle Paul for example. There seem to have been at least eight individuals who were publicly named by Paul as having failed him or gone off the rails. Whether for betrayal or for sinful activity, Paul had no problem in calling them out in public.
Balancing biblical truths is always a tough gig. We can easily go off into one extreme while trying to avoid another. Consider the issue of dealing with other believers. On the one hand we are told repeatedly in Scripture that we are to be kind to others, forbearing, patient, forgiving, gentle, humble, and so on.
A main reason for all this is because we tend to be guilty of the same things we dislike in others. We all can be just as proud and rude and impatient and unloving and unfair as the next person. So we need to offer grace to others, just as God offers us grace. Let me share just three verses on this.
Paul in Ephesians 4:32 puts it this way: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” And Galatians 6:1 speaks about how we should consider ourselves while we deal with others and their sin.
He says this: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” That verse does deal with the issue of rebuking others and calling out sin – but more on that in a moment.
A third text we should bear in mind is Matthew 18:21-22: “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times’.” That is actually one of the most encouraging texts in all of Scripture. I fail the Lord every single day, and yet he still forgives ME. So I need to extend that much forgiveness to others as well.
But on the other hand, Scripture tells us repeatedly that we are to call out sinful behaviour and false teaching. It tells us often about the need to challenge one another, to rebuke, to warn, and to sound the alarm. We are not to be indifferent or careless about the need to hold others to account, just as we are to hold ourselves to account.
So how are we to reconcile these two seemingly opposing sets of commands of Scripture? How can we love and be forbearing with others, yet at the same time uphold high standards and call out sin? One way to understand this is to keep this oft-heard principle in mind: private sin, private rebuke; public sin, public rebuke. I have discussed this elsewhere: here.
As I explain in that piece, there is in fact a place for calling out others – but it depends on when and where and how we do this. If a person I know of has some sin problem, I am to go to him alone, as in Matthew 18:15-20. The whole world does not need to know about the matter, and a private conversation will do, hopefully.
But if, say, a person writes a book for the whole world to see, and it contains some rather unhelpful and even unbiblical material, then one can publicly deal with that book if needed. Some years ago a noted Australian Christian leader put out a quite bad book with the title, You Need More Money. It was so bad that I penned a review of it, and also shared that review with other Christian publications.
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By James Durham — 3 months ago
The sacraments of the New Testament, in God’s appointment and our use, have three main ends and two further ends.
To Give a Clear Picture of the Covenant
The first end of the sacraments is to represent clearly the nature of the covenant and the things promised in it. These include the washing away of sin, Christ himself in his death and benefits, and the way we come to the application of all these, i.e., by faith, freely, putting on Jesus Christ for taking away guilt, and strengthening us to a holy walk.
In all these, the sacraments (that is, the signs, and word of institution added) fully and clearly hold forth — firstly to the ears, secondly to the eyes, and thirdly to our other senses of feeling, etc. —not only hold what is offered, but also our way of closing with and accepting of that offer. It’s as if God, who by preaching lets us hear Him speak (inviting us to be reconciled to Him) is in the sacraments letting us see Him tryst and close that bargain with us by His ambassadors.
In this respect, the sacrament may be called the symbol and token of the covenant, as in Genesis 17.
This way too, the sacraments have a teaching use. They bring to our remembrance Christ, and His sufferings and benefits, as well as our state, what it was without Him, and before our closing with Him.
All this is represented to us by the word and elements, with the actions concurring, as if it was being acted out before our eyes, so as to make the way of the gospel as clear as can be to the minds and memories of people like us, who either take up these spiritual things senselessly or sluggishly forget them. The Lord, who sometimes makes use of parables and figurative expressions, or similitudes, to set forth spiritual things, to make them resonate with us the more, has chosen this way to make use of external signs and actions for the same ends also.
To Seal and Confirm What God has Said
The second main end of the sacraments is to seal and confirm God’s mind and revealed will to us, and to put us out of question of the truth of His promises, so that we may have a further prop to our faith, and on this basis may draw all the stronger consolation from the promises of the covenant.
In this respect the sacraments are called “seals” (Rom. 4:11) of the righteousness by faith; that is, not the righteousness of Abraham’s faith, but of his obtaining righteousness by it, and not by works. They are seals of the covenant which offers and promises righteousness to those who believe. In the same way the tree of life [in the garden of Eden] was a confirmation to Adam of the promise of life. So was circumcision a seal and confirmation to Abraham of the promises of the gospel, as God’s oath was (Heb. 6:18).
This confirmation may be looked at three ways. It confirms (a) the proposition, (b) the minor premise, and (c) the conclusion of a practical syllogism, by which the believer concludes from the gospel that he shall be saved.
(a) The proposition (or major premise) is, Those who believe shall be saved. By the sacrament this is simply confirmed as a truth that one may lean on. The believer’s conscience in the faith of that subsumes, “I will then take me by faith to Christ.” “Seeing that is a sure truth, I will rest on Him and hold me there.” Or more clearly, “I do believe in him.”
(b) The minor premise of the syllogism, I have faith, is not confirmed simply by the seal, for the sacrament is to be externally applied by church officebearers who can say no more than that they charitably judge this or that person to have faith. Yet we may say that it is confirmed in the case of someone whose faith doubts, who may by this be encouraged to rest on Christ, and quiet himself on Him.
By Tom Hervey — 2 years ago
Law and gospel go together in Paul’s thought, and having been shown the truth of the gospel and having trusted God in light of it, we are then to show the sincerity of our faith and to realize the law’s temporal purpose and the rest of God’s predestined will for us (Eph. 2:10) by obeying the law as a way of love for redeemed persons (Rom. 13:8-10; Col. 3:1-14; 1 Jn. 2:3-5). Law convicts, gospel reconciles, and law informs and sanctifies the redeemed life.
In a recent article I criticized an anonymous group of Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) agency heads for using the phrase “gospel imperative that ‘love does no wrong to a neighbor (Romans 13:10)’” that had also appeared in a 2016 denominational resolution. Central to my objection was that the phrase spoke of the gospel while quoting a section of Romans that deals with the law – the rest of v. 10 states “therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (emphasis mine) – and thus conflated what ought to have been distinguished. In a subsequent response a professor and PCA member, Chris Bryans, expressed uncertainty as to my meaning, saying:
I am not sure where Mr. Hervey is going in his brief comment about Romans 13:10. In attempting to separate law and gospel he believes that Paul is not discussing the gospel but the Law. The author is correct but only in a limited sense. And, as I am sure Mr. Hervey will recognize, although Paul lays out the gospel in Romans chapters 1-11, the applications of the gospel present themselves in the beginning of chapter 12 and continue to the end of the book.
What Mr. Hervey also means by the “separation of law and gospel” is as unclear to me as some of the issues of the Statement seem to be to him. How the separation of law and gospel relates to the issue at hand is also a puzzle to me. The same statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is part of law AND gospel. This needs further elaboration and I look forward to it.
In answer to the professor’s objections, and also because of correspondence which informs me that ministers doing important denominational work regard the law/gospel distinction as peculiarly Lutheran, I offer this response.
In the first case, I did perhaps speak poorly in saying that a “separation” should be maintained between law and gospel, which might suggest they are utterly antithetical. It is noteworthy, however, that I had earlier said (in my “brief comment about Romans 13:10”) that “as a rule the law and the gospel should be carefully distinguished, and each appealed to in its proper place”; i.e., the separation in view is really a clear distinction that puts each in its proper sphere and in the right relation to the other. I will concede that I could have been clearer, but I do not wish for Professor Bryans or anyone else to believe that a believer can so fully separate law and gospel that he can deal with only one rather than both, or that they ought to be regarded as exclusive of each other.
What is the law? In its widest sense it means God’s revealed will for human behavior. In this sense it includes the moral law which is impressed upon human conscience through God’s common grace operating in society (Rom. 2:14-15). In a narrower sense it refers to the special revelation of this will in the Old and New Testaments, hence it sometimes refers to the whole Old Testament (Jn. 10:34), while in other cases it refers specifically to the Mosaic Law (Matt. 7:12), and in yet others it refers to the way of love as taught and exemplified by Christ and his apostles (Jn. 15:9-17; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 6:2; 1 Jn. 4:21-5:3).
What is the gospel? It is the good news of the kingdom of God which has appeared with the incarnation of Christ (Matt. 4:23; 9:35), and which has been raised against the oppressive kingdom of sin, death, and devil that afflicts people with misery and separates them from God (Lk. 11:14-22; Jn. 12:31). God’s kingdom is built upon the redeeming work of its king, who has atoned for the sins of his people and broken the power of death and the devil by dying in their place and rising from the dead (Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:20-22; Heb. 2:14-16). This redemption is received by faith (Mk. 1:15; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:21-26), and so the gospel is then the message of God’s kingdom and of how to enter it by a faith that receives and rests on the king who has accomplished redemption by his work.
The distinction between law and gospel is not per se a distinction between the Old and New Testaments, between grace and judgment, or between commands and promises. Both law (Matt. 5:17-19) and gospel (Gen. 3:15; 15:6; Ps. 32:1-2; comp. Rom. 4:3, 6-8) are present in both testaments, albeit with different degrees of clarity. Both are of grace, as God could have left us to wallow in the darkness of our own sin. Both have to do with judgment (Rom. 2:12, 16). Both relate to sin and have a part in the lives of both believers and unbelievers, being to the former a blessing and to the latter a source of condemnation (2 Cor. 2:15-17). Both contain commands – “do” and “do not” in the case of the law and “repent and believe” in the case of the gospel (Mk. 1:15; 6:12; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; Rom. 16:25) – as well as promised rewards for obedience (Deut. 28:1-15; Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9-13) and warnings and punishments for disobedience (Deut. 28:15-68; Heb. 6:4-6; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
Law and gospel are antithetical only on one point, and even there only insofar as there is human misunderstanding about the matter. It just so happens that this is the most important matter in any person’s life. In the question of salvation the law and gospel are opposed if a person believes that salvation comes from obeying the law, the misunderstanding of Judaism and of various groups throughout church history. If one is inclined to think along such lines, the answer is that the law is a failed, impossible way of gaining eternal life and serves only to condemn, whereas the gospel of God’s free grace in the person and work of Christ, received by faith, is the only means of obtaining the desired salvation. As regards salvation the law is death (Rom. 7:5, 10) and the gospel is life (5:10-21); the law increases sin (5:20) and the gospel compels to righteousness (5:21-6:14); the law is of works (Gal. 3:10-12) and the gospel of faith (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16; 3:13-14); the law is condemnation (Rom. 3:19-20) and the gospel is grace and justification (3:21-26); the law is selfish (Gal. 5:2-4) and the gospel is Christ-centered (2:20-21).
Properly understood, law and gospel are distinct but complementary. The law convicts of sin and shows the insufficiency of all human efforts to earn eternal life, whereas the gospel shows God’s remedy for human depravity and guilt. For the redeemed the law shows the need for the gospel (Rom. 3:19-20), while the gospel provides the material knowledge which faith believes and which moves one to trust God for salvation (3:21-30). The gospel then sets one in the right relation to the law by making it a joyful guide for how to love God and Man (13:8-10), not a hopeless way to try to earn salvation (3:20), nor a condemning testimony to one’s own conscience (2:15) and at the Day of Judgment (2:16). For the reprobate both law and gospel serve to increase the guilt of those who have encountered and rejected them, while those that have not known them will be judged apart from them (Lk. 10:13-16; 12:47-48; Rom. 2:12; 2 Pet. 2:21.)
What makes all of this liable to confusion is that Paul uses the phrase “the law” in different ways, using it to refer especially to the Mosaic Law in the earlier chapters of Romans, and then in the later chapters meaning by it what he elsewhere calls “the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), i.e. a way of living characterized by love for neighbor. Nonetheless, in its varied forms the law is one thing, the gospel another. Both go together to provide an accurate knowledge of Man’s sin, of his need for forgiveness, of how to obtain eternal life, and of how to live a life pleasing to God. But they are distinct and must be carefully recognized as such. To attempt to have law without gospel is to attempt to earn salvation – and to fail miserably. To attempt to have gospel without law is to become an antinomian and to open the door to hypocritically pleading Christ while living wickedly. To conflate the two is to convert the gospel into a new law, the error sometimes known as neonomianism, which changes the gospel from being about what God has done in Christ, the reconciliation which is received by faith, and makes it instead into a different set of directions for what men must do to please God.
Those that speak of a ‘“gospel imperative that ‘love does no wrong to a neighbor’” while appealing to Romans 13 make the error of mistaking gospel for law. Romans 13 is about law, not gospel: loving neighbor is therefore a legal imperative, not a gospel one. But Romans 13 is about law as a guide for proper conduct because Romans 1 through 11 are about gospel and about the law as a testimony to our own sin, our inability to save ourselves, and our need for God to redeem us.
Law and gospel go together in Paul’s thought, and having been shown the truth of the gospel and having trusted God in light of it, we are then to show the sincerity of our faith and to realize the law’s temporal purpose and the rest of God’s predestined will for us (Eph. 2:10) by obeying the law as a way of love for redeemed persons (Rom. 13:8-10; Col. 3:1-14; 1 Jn. 2:3-5). Law convicts, gospel reconciles, and law informs and sanctifies the redeemed life. That is the proper relation and order of law and gospel as revealed in Paul’s writings.
Those that fail to distinguish the two and regard as gospel what is really law open the door to further error, not least the errors of the so-called social gospel, which turns the Church’s message from the gospel of reconciliation to God by faith into an appeal for merely temporal philanthropy. That the phrase to which I objected occurred originally and subsequently in statements about social affairs should therefore move you to concern, dear reader. And while I do not think this indicates that the mistaken authors in view are heretics, nonetheless it betrays a sloppiness in scriptural exegesis and ethical and theological thought that ill becomes our denomination and its foremost men, a sloppiness that merits criticism (and amendment) lest it inspire further failures to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15) that will lead us father away from the Church’s proper mission of making disciples by the means of grace and on into the abyss of socio-political activism in which so many other Presbyterians have foundered and died by abandoning the Great Commission for things that are more properly the province of other institutions.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.
 H. Bavinck, Reformed Ethics Vol. I, 218-226
 Of course what is recorded in the New Testament was, previous to its authorship, transmitted via other means (2 Thess. 2:15).
 This lack of clarity is especially as regards the gospel in the Old Testament. One of the purposes of the law was to show the depravity of sin and with it the need for a gracious redeemer to save man from sin’s dominion: thus the law was added to help clarify the gospel (Rom. 7:7-13; Gal. 3:21-26).
 On this point Professor Bryans and I agree, though implications is arguably a preferable term to his own “applications,” as it better communicates the fact that being in the right relation to the law is a consequence of embracing the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ.
 Hence we have historically distinguished between the three uses of the law, two of which are in view here. Its use in conviction is regarded as the second use of the law; its use in teaching love is its third use.
By Scott Aniol — 2 years ago
Both God’s natural revelation and his special revelation condemn us. They reveal to us our incompatibility as sinners with the holiness of God and the way he designed his universe to operate for his glory. Scripture explicitly teaches us that the payment for sin is death, it reproves and corrects us. It warns us, as David just affirmed in verse 11. It explicitly teaches us that if we confess our sins, Christ is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:6).
A central doctrine of biblical Christianity is that God has revealed himself, and he has done so in two ways, both of which we can find in the first chapter of Genesis. The opening phrase of Scripture expresses the first form of God’s revelation: “In the beginning God created.” Creation itself is God’s revelation—it is God revealing certain things to us, which is why we sometimes call this God’s Natural Revelation or God’s General Revelation.
But then verse 3 of Genesis 1 expresses the second form of God’s revelation: “And God said.” And again in verses 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, and 26 of Genesis 1, we find God revealing himself through spoken words. And then in verse 28 after he created Adam and Eve, “God blessed them. And God said to them.” And then in Genesis 6:13, “God said to Noah.” And in Genesis 12, “the Lord said to Abram.” And in Exodus 3, God called to Moses out of the burning bush. And later at the foot of Mt. Sinai, God spoke the words of his law to his people. And as Hebrews 1 tells us, “long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” So God has revealed himself not only through what he has made, his natural revelation, but also through what he has said, what is sometimes referred to as God’s Special Revelation. And many of these words were written down by holy men as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21), compiled into the Holy Scriptures, which Paul says “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” these Scriptures being “breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:15–16).
So God has revealed himself, and he has done so both through his Natural Revelation—what he has made—and through his Special Revelation—what he has said.
Perhaps one of the most succinct and, indeed, beautiful articulations of these two forms of God’s revelation is found in Psalm 19. This psalm describes both God’s natural and special revelation in a strikingly vivid poem. In fact, C. S. Lewis wrote, “I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”
Psalm 19 is unique for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its genre. In the Psalter, we might expect to find songs of praise or even songs of lament, but Psalm 19 is neither of those. In fact, it reads more like a Proverb than it does a psalm, which is why it is often referred to as a wisdom psalm. But another unique characteristic is its focus on God’s revelation, his Torah—Law. These unique features are found in only two other psalms in the entire 150, Psalm 1 and Psalm 119. These three psalms are wisdom psalms that focus on God’s revelation.
And so let’s consider what Psalm 19 says about God’s natural revelation and his special revelation, and then notice what it says about the proper responses we should have to God’s revelation.
God’s Natural Revelation
First, verses 1–6 express God’s natural revelation.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
This is the natural created order—heavens, skies, what God has made. And as these opening verses poignantly say, what God has made reveals certain things about him—creation is God’s revelation. It reveals his glory and his handiwork. And not just some of creation, all of creation is God’s revelation; the psalmist uses poetic expressions in verse 2 to communicate this:
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
From morning till evening, day and night, what God has made reveals his glory and handiwork; nature is God’s speech and knowledge revealed to us. As Maltbie Babcock wrote, “This is my Father’s world . . . in the rustling grass I hear him pass; he speaks to me everywhere.”
But I want to stress one point here that I have said several times but that we often take for granted because we say it so often: Nature is God’s revelation. God created the heavens and the earth, and he did so intentionally to reveal himself. Nature is the voice of God. We know this; we affirm this. But I think sometimes, especially in our modern scientific, naturalistic society, we tend to view nature as apart from God, sort of doing its own thing.
No, nature is God’s revelation just like Scripture is, but it does differ from Scripture in a couple key ways, and they are communicated in this psalm.
First, nature reveals God without words. Notice what David says in verse 3:
There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
It’s interesting—he just said in verse 2 that “day to day pours out speech,” so nature is God’s speech, but then he says just two phrases later, “there is no speech” in nature. In other words, David is clarifying what kind of revelation nature is. What God created is like speech—it reveals something about him, but it is not exactly speech. It is not actual words. We do not actually hear the audible voice of God in nature. When we sing, “in the rustling grass I hear him pass; he speaks to me everywhere,” we don’t mean that literally. There’s no audible sound or voice.
But that does not make nature any less God’s revelation. It just reveals God in ways other than words. God’s spoken revelation does do some things that his natural revelation cannot, which we’ll look at in a moment. But the fact that nature reveals God without words actually allows it to reveal God to us in ways that words cannot, which leads us to the next point:
God’s natural revelation is universal. That cannot be said for his spoken special revelation—you have to be able to read, or at least listen to Scripture in order to understand what God wants to reveal through Scripture. But what God reveals through what he has made is universal. This is what David communicates in verse 4:
Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
There is no place on earth, nor is there any person on earth where God’s natural revelation does not reach—it is universal. In fact, the apostle Paul quotes this verse in Romans 10:18 to argue that Israel has no excuse for rejecting God’s revelation, for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”
God’s natural revelation is universal. David uses the image of the sun to picture this beginning at the end of verse 4:
No one can escape the sun; it’s universal.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
The same is true for God’s natural revelation—nothing is hidden from it. Its voice goes out through all the earth, and its words to the end of the world. It is universal, which is why sometimes it is called “general revelation,” meaning it reaches all people in general.
So what then is the nature of this universal, non-verbal revelation from God? Verse 3 says its voice is not heard, but verse 4 says its voice goes out through all the earth. So what is this voice?
Well, the Hebrew word in verse 4 literally means “line,” which is often used of a measuring line, but that doesn’t really make sense in this context. It can also be used for a line of text, like a line of poetry, so that begins to fit a bit better.
But what’s really interesting is how the Greek translators interpreted this word. I mentioned a moment ago that Paul quotes this verse in Romans 10:18, but of course, Paul is writing in Greek, so he’s quoting the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. And the Septuagint (LXX) uses a Greek word for “voice” that means “musical sound.”
In other words, nature communicates revelation from God to us, not in actual words, but more like music—non-verbal communication of the beauty and order of God. Even ancient secular philosophers believed that music is the public demonstration of the harmony of heaven. They recognized an inherent order to the physical universe; they found that natural principles of physics and acoustics and geometry and astronomy all share an amazing unity and that music was one of the best representations of that unity. They believed that music harmonized the universe; the intervals of music ordered all things, even the planets—they called it the “music of the spheres.” They believed that the universe is characterized by a quality of interrelatedness that is highly evident in music.
And Christian theologians have long agreed with those early philosophers and considered music to be a particularly powerful expression of the order and harmony of heaven. One of the earliest theologians of the church, Augustine, defined music as “the art of the well-ordered.” God created the universe with an orderliness that displays his glory and handiwork universally to all people.
Natural Revelation is the music of God, a display of his nature and the order of what he has made, and because it is not dependent upon words, natural revelation is universal. What music communicates is not limited to one group of people like spoken language is; music communicates at a natural level universally because it is part of God’s created order, and this is what all nature does—it communicates naturally to all people regardless of language, ethnicity, or culture.
Paul highlights this universal power of general revelation in Romans 1 when he says,
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.