Sermon: The Hound of Heaven, Part II
Text: Luke 15:1-10
Occasion: Trinity III
Who: Mark Woolsey
When: Sunday, June 8, 2008
Where: Providence Reformed Episcopal Church
Luke 15:1-10, NKJV: Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them." So He spoke this parable to them, saying: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ’Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she find it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ’Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may, by thy mighty aid, be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[up] I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmŠd fears,
[down] From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbŠd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat -- and a voice beat
More instant than the Feet --
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."
So begins Francis Thompson in "The Hound of Heaven", perhaps one of the greatest and most moving poems ever penned in the English language. If we take today’s two parables as setting forth general principles, then this poem is the case study that illustrates it perfectly. In my not-so humble opinion it stands head and shoulders above almost all others that I have read. Its form reinforces its content. Francis wrote this autobiographically, at the end of a life spent running from God. It’s pretty straightforward, but there are portions that are somewhat hard to understand when you first hear it. I hope you don’t mind my gestures that I use when I quote it; they are designed to help you know who is speaking at the moment. When my hands are up like this ... then I am playing the part of Francis protecting himself as he is running from God. When my arms are down then I am speaking from God’s perspective.
This is part II of the sermon that I started last week. As you remember, I left you all in quite a "sticky wicket" as the British are wont to say.
II. Thematic Summary
[up] So it was done :
I in their delicate fellowship was one --
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.
I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies ;
I knew how the clouds arise
SpumŠd of the wild sea-snortings ;
All that’s born or dies
Rose and drooped with ; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine ;
With them joyed and was bereaven.
First of all, I mentioned that today’s parables emphasize a single theme, namely soteriology. Soteriology is a five dollar word made up from two Greek words, soter, which means savior, and logos, which means word, discourse, or study. Soteriology is thus the study of salvation, or the theology of salvation, and is common both parables - the sheep is saved and the coin is saved.
Next I commented that in today’s parables we see a shepherd chasing down his lost sheep and a woman searching for her lost coin. Many would summarize today’s parables as God never gives up on anyone. He pursues all to the uttermost, and that that is a great comfort. If that’s the correct interpretation, however, I think the proper reaction should be despair, not comfort. In fact, I think the lesson from these parables is that Jesus DOES give up on some people, and that only seeing it in this way is there any good news in these parables. If you think the message of these stories is that God never gives up on anyone, I suggest you have gotten it just backwards.
III. Scribes and Pharisees Summary
[up] I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine ;
Third, I suggested that to better understand the story presented to us today in Scripture, we have to understand all the players and what role each has. Here’s how the passage begins:
Then all the tax collectors and sinners drew near to Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:1-2)
I described the Scribes and Pharisees as the "orthodox, evangelical Christians" of the day. While we correctly see them in quite a different light today because of how our Lord described their actual state, the perception of their contemporaries was quite different. They were respected by the community, they confessed belief in the Scriptures, and they pursued what they understood as the way of righteousness. To put it bluntly, they were much more zealous to follow the commands of Scripture than 90% of "evangelical Christians" are today. According to the Talmud, which is a Jewish and not Christian book, members of this group consisted not only of the somewhat humorous
Bleeding Pharisee, who in order not to see a woman walked with his eyes closed, and thus often met with wounds", but also, "the Pharisee from Love, who obeyed the Lord because he loved Him with all his heart. (The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, pp 999, quoting the Talmud)
IV. Tax Collectors and Sinners Summary
[up] Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat ;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah ! we know not what each other says,
These things and I ; in sound I speak--
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth ;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o’ her tenderness ;
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Fourth, I identified the tax collectors and sinners as the bottom rungs of society. Today we see them almost as the heroes of the story, bravely throwing off rigid religious formality while eagerly listening to Jesus’ every word. However, we need to remember that the tax collector was a quisling and a corrupt business man, all rolled into one. He was an equal opportunity robber, squeezing the poor, widows, and orphans out of money they needed to live on. "Sinners" included blatant 10-commandment busters such as "the woman caught in adultery". They were the exact kind of people we studiously avoid today, and hope never move into our neighborhood.
V. Sheep Summary
[down] Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbŠd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy ;
And past those noisŠd Feet
A Voice comes yet more fleet --
"Lo ! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me."
In response to the Pharisee’s complaint that Jesus smoozes with tax collectors and sinners, the Saviour begins His reply:
So He spoke the parable to them, saying: What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he find it? (v3-4)
Fifth, I remarked that when our Lord compares us to sheep, He pays us no complement. We acknowledge this when we use the adjective sheepish today. It means:
like or suggestive of a sheep in docility or stupidity or meekness or timidity. embarrassed because of feeling foolish. Meek or stupid.
Phillip Keller, in, "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23", says:
It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep. The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways as will be seen in further chapters. Our mass mind (or mob instincts), our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, our perverse habits are all parallels of profound importance. (A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23, pp 7)
I then asked the question, which lost sheep is it that the shepherd seeks out? Duh. His own, of course. That’s true, of course, but it is more significant than you might think. Listen to Phillip Keller, a modern-day shepherd, when he writes in his book, "A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23":
I recall quite clearly how in my first venture with sheep, the question of paying a price for my ewes was so terribly important. They belonged to me only by virtue of the fact that I paid hard cash for them. It was money earned by the blood and sweat and tears drawn from my own body during the desperate grinding years of the depression. And when I bought that first small flock I was buying them literally with my own body which had been laid down with this day in mind.
Because of this I felt in a special way that they were in very truth a part of me and I a part of them. There was an intimate identity involved which though not apparent on the surface to the casual observer, nonetheless made those thirty ewes exceedingly precious to me. (ibid, p 6)
Notice that Mr. Keller indicates how much the sheep cost him, and that by paying that price they became his. His flock did not choose him; he chose his flock.
VI. Questions Summary
[up] Naked I wait thy Love’s uplifted stroke !
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee ;
I am defenceless utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
Sixth, I left you with a slew of unanswered questions:
A. These parables are explicitly about those whom Jesus saves, but they are also implicitly about those He does not save. What is the difference? Remember that Jesus ate and preached among the sinners, publicans, and prostitutes, but did not even save all of them; just more of them than the Pharisees.
B. How can it be said that Jesus gives up on anyone, and especially that these parables imply just such a thing?
C. How can this "giving up" be considered good news?
D. Which sheep does the Shepherd seek out? Which coin does the woman turn the house upside down for?
For some of you - and I’m not just speaking to visitors, but also to church members - you might be thinking, "Ok, I’ve heard my sermon for the week; let’s finish up the service and go home!". Well, unfortunately, when the Bible mentions "good news", it’s not talking about short sermons. What I just finished was my summary from last week. And I do pray for grace, that God will give us willing hearts and enduring bottoms, to hear, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story...".
VII. The Lost Sheep
[up] In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me ; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years --
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Phillip Keller continues on about what it is like to lose a sheep:
Only those intimately acquainted with sheep and their habits understand the significance of a "cast" sheep or a "cast down" sheep. ...
The way it happens is this. A heavy, fat, or long-fleeced sheep will lie down comfortably in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax. Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground. It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw frantically. Frequently this only makes things worse. It rolls over even further. Now it is quite impossible for it to regain its feet.
As it lies there struggling, gases begin to build up in the rumen.
As an aside, I, Mark, would like to comment that this must mean that this sheep is obviously a teenage boy sheep. Anyway, Phillip continues,
As these expand they tend to retard and cut off blood circulation to extremities of the body, especially the legs. If the weather is very hot and sunny a cast sheep can die in a few hours. It it is cool and cloudy and rainy it may survive in this position for several days. ...
During my owns years as a keeper of sheep, perhaps some of the most poignant memories are wrapped around the commingled anxiety of keeping a count of my flock and repeatedly saving and restoring cast sheep. It is not east to convey on paper the sense of this ever present danger. Often I would go out early and merely cast my eye across the sky. If I saw the black-winged buzzards circling overhead in their long slow spirals anxiety would grip me. Leaving everything else I would immediately go out into the rough wild pastures and count the flock to make sure every one was well and fit and able to be on its feet.
This is part of the pageantry and drama depicted for us in the magnificent story of the ninety and nine sheep with one astray. There is the Shepherd’s deep concern; his agonizing search; his longing to find the missing one; his delight in restoring it not only to its feet but also to the flock as well as to himself. (Ibid, pp 50-53)
This is a shepherd finding a lost sheep. In this illustration, the lost sheep was lost due to its own stupidity. There are other ways to be lost; for example, by wandering away. Why is it, do you suppose, that a sheep wanders away to become lost? I suppose there are times when it is trying as hard as it can to keep up, but perhaps it just falls behind. It simply cannot keep the pace. However, a good shepherd will not let such a sheep fall behind. He will make sure that all sheep have an opportunity to keep up. No, a sheep wanders away because it wants to wander away. This is the same for us. No one really wants God. Listen to Romans 3:10-12:
There is none righteous, no, not one:
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable:
There is none who does good, no, not one. (Ro 3:10-12)
Isaiah tells us:
All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way (Is 53:6)
In fact, can you really blame the sheep for wandering away? Think it through a little more. Why does shepherd keep and seek sheep? To either shear, kill, eat, or sell. What does our Lord promise us?:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. ... he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it. (Mat 10:34-39)
If today’s verses about Jesus seeking the lost were a sales brochure, the verses just before it would be the fine print. It seems what Jesus gives with His right hand He takes away with His left. With the sheep and the coin we have the "giveaway", while we hear just before this,
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
And please understand that the Scriptures make no such separation that is common today, that you can be saved without being a disciple. All who are saved are disciples; there is no other kind.
If Jesus makes it so easy that He comes to find us when we are lost, how can it at the same time be so hard that we must give up all, endure persecution, and hate ourselves to be in His flock?
VIII. The Found Sheep
[up] Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist ;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding ; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah ! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount ?
Continuing with the parable,
And when he has found it, (v15:5) he entices it home, pleading with it to follow him back to the flock. He says that I’ve done all I will do, now it’s up to you to choose to turn around. I’m giving you the opportunity. I never force myself on anyone. I’m knocking at the door of your sheepy little heart. Won’t you open it so I may come in? (pleadingly) Please?
Oh wait a minute! I must have gotten this quote from one of those translations on the internet. You know, the one read by most evangelicals today? But what does the verse say?
And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. (v5)
Notice that the shepherd does not ask anything; nor does he give it a choice. He simply puts it on his shoulder and carries it back home.
Let me ask you again, whose sheep is it? It’s HIS. Not Joe’s next door or Sally’s down the street. The sheep that he hunts for so diligently is his own. And this, dearly beloved, is precisely who Jesus seeks out in this way: His own people. Does the shepherd give equal opportunity to all lost sheep to come join his flock if they were not originally part of his? No! When another shepherd’s sheep is lost, he does not try to take it as his own. When his own sheep is lost, he claims it back, regardless of whether the sheep wants to return or not. This is how he maintains his flock. Well, what about increasing his flock? How is that done? Does he play the winsome shepherd, gaily inviting sheep of other folds into his own? Again, I say no. He buys them from other shepherds; the sheep themselves have no choice about which fold they belong to.
Now wait a minute! This can’t be true. Doesn’t God give all people in the world a chance to be saved, and it’s their choice to accept this offer or not? To say otherwise is to admit that God is just not fair! Well, in response, I would say you are more correct than you realize. God is just, not fair. You need to be careful where you put the comma in that sentence, though.
IX. God is just, not fair
[up] Ah ! must --
Designer infinite !--
Ah ! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it ?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust ;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
In our democratic times, to be fair means that if we give one person the opportunity, we must give all alike the same opportunity. Anything else is discriminatory. And I think man-to-man this is generally a good principle to follow. However, God never promised to be fair, only just. Each of us have an equal opportunity at the bar of God’s justice, and the result is equally dismal: death. What is the highest and most important law in all of Scripture? To love God with all one’s being. Who has even come close? Why should God’s penalty for breaking His most important law be any less severe than society’s penalty imposed upon those who break its most important laws, such as murder or treason in time of war? And I ask each one of you today, search your hearts - who has kept God’s highest law?
Well and good you might say. But if God offers mercy to one guilty soul, doesn’t He have to do this to all? Isn’t that fair? It might be fair, but if He did that, no one would be saved. Let me say it again, if God, out of His abundant love and mercy, simply offered grace to anyone, or to everyone, no one would be saved.
How is that?
X. Dead Men Accept No Help
[up] Such is ; what is to be ?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind ?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds ;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity ;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.
A truism that we fondly associate with that cuddly collection of men known as pirates is:
Dead men tell no tales
And that is true. More apropos to our lesson today would be:
Dead men accept no help
Listen to St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:
And you ... were dead in trespasses and sins. (Eph 2:1)
How many dead people ask for help? How many dead sheep find their way back to the flock? How many dead people accept an offer of life given to them? None. What is their only hope? What did St Paul say?
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, MADE US ALIVE TOGETHER WITH CHRIST (Eph 2:4-5)
What did Christ come to do?
to seek AND TO SAVE that which was lost. (Luke 19:10)
Don’t you see? Christ didn’t come to seek and offer salvation to the lost; He came to save the lost. The cross doesn’t give us the opportunity to be saved; it saved us. And there is a world of difference in that statement; in fact, it is the difference between heaven and hell. The gospel is not that the rescue ship threw a life savor to a drowning man; he’s already drowned. We went down too fast. The gospel is that the rescue ship scoops us off the bottom of the ocean, puts us back together, and gives us new life.
What are the implications of this? Well, if the cross doesn’t offer salvation, but actually saves, then either all are saved, or Christ only came to save His elect. Let me say it again. If the cross doesn’t offer salvation, but actually saves, then either all are saved, or Christ only came to save His elect. I assume no one here subscribes to universalism, the doctrine that says that God saves everyone. Thus, these answers narrow from two down to only one: Christ came specifically to save all and only His people. Thus, the two views of the cross - it offers salvation, or actually accomplishes it - form the basis for a vastly different approach to God, to His people, to justification, to sanctification, to worship, to evangelism, to assurance, and a host of other things that I have no time to discuss.
XI. Jesus Gives Up
[up] But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned ;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
Be dunged with rotten death ?
This is why it is good news to say that Jesus gives up on some. Because that means He actually saves some. If these parables mean that Jesus never gives up on anyone, then they are confusing at best, and meaningless besides. Some, obviously, are lost. Some people are going to hell. There’s no other way to say it. We know this from many other passages of Scripture. If these parables say that Jesus never gives up on anyone, but some go to hell anyway, then something is terribly wrong. They offer us no assurance. Jesus never gives up, but sometimes He does? That was what was so frustrating to me in times past when I tried to understand the message here. If, on the other hand, they mean that Jesus chooses some for eternal salvation, and leaves others dead in their sins, then we can know that He will never give up on His people. That is good news. Know, people of God, that if He gives you faith in Him, He will save you to the uttermost. He will never give up on you.
One might ask, "Isn’t this kind of smugly selfish? God picked me so I’m somehow better than you". No. We are all rebels against God, and traitors to His love. We have fought against Him, denied Him, spurned Him, rejected Him, and died spiritually. The only just thing left for us is the physical resurrection of the dead and eternal torment in the fiery furnace. But God - and these are some of the sweetest 2 words in all of Scripture -
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Ro 5:8)
God was determined to save His people. But doesn’t this cast aspersions upon God, that He doesn’t save all? Only if you say that man somehow merits God’s rescue; that it would be unjust of God to condemn us. But of course it is not. God could condemn the whole world to hell and impugn neither his justice nor His love. We simply have no claim to His grace. Otherwise grace is not grace. As St Paul says:
So I will have mercy on whomever I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion. So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. (Ro 9:15-16)
XII. Limited Atonement
[up] Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit ;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea :
[down] "And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard ?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest me !"
So I guess I ought to name the elephant in the room. I’ve been describing him for you this whole time. Most people are appalled by the phrase I’m about to pronounce; they consider it almost sacrilegious. Either that or unimportant. Yet it is both sacred and important. R.C. Sproul refers to it as "Particular Redemption"; historically it’s been known as "limited atonement". And this is not simply a Presbyterian term. In the year of my birth, 1957, a 16th century book, "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" was republished. This book covered the very topic I am currently discussing. Prefixed to that book was a very significant introduction by one of the greatest Anglicans of our time, J.I. Packer. This introduction has become so famous and so influential that it took on a life of its own. Nowadays you can find it published by itself on the internet. In this introduction Dr Packer contrasts the dominant Evangelical view of salvation that has come to be known as "Arminianism" against what he and I consider the Biblical view, which is sometimes called "Calvinism". Arminianism rejects "Limited Atonement" while "Calvinism" asserts it. Here’s just a teaser of what he said:
Now, here are two coherent interpretations of the biblical gospel, which stand in evident opposition to each other. The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God who enables man to save himself. One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind - election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit - as directed towards [God Himself], and as securing [man’s] salvation infallibly. The other view gives ... denies that man’s salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s gift of salvation, the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important. ...
Redemption, according to Arminianism, secured for God a right to make this offer [of salvation], but did not of itself ensure that anyone would ever accept it; for faith, being a work of man’s own, is not a gift that comes to him from Calvary. Christ’s death created an opportunity for the exercise of saving faith, but that is all it did. Calvinists, however, define redemption as Christ’s substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners, through which God was reconciled to them, their liability to punishment was for ever destroyed, and a title to eternal life was secured for them. In consequence of this, they now have in God’s sight a right to the gift of faith, as the means of entry into the enjoyment of their inheritance. Calvary, in other words, not merely made possible the salvation of those for whom Christ died; it ensured that they would be brought to faith and their salvation made actual. The cross saves. Where the Arminian will only say; ’I could not have gained my salvation without Calvary’, the Calvinist will say, ’Christ gained my salvation for me at Calvary.’ The former makes the cross the sine qua non of salvation, the latter sees it as the actual procuring cause of salvation, and traces the source of every spiritual blessing, faith included, back to the great transaction between God and his Son carried through on Calvary’s hill. ...
When we reject limited atonement
we involve ourselves in a bewildering kind of double-think about salvation, telling ourselves one moment that it all depends on God and next moment that it all depends on us. The resultant mental muddle deprives God of much of the glory that we should give him as author and finisher of salvation, and ourselves of much of the comfort we might draw from knowing that God is for us. And when we come to preach the gospel, our false preconceptions make us say just the opposite of what we intend. We want (rightly) to proclaim Christ as Savior; yet we end up saying that Christ, having made salvation possible, has left us to become our own saviors. It comes about in this way. We want to magnify the saving grace of God and the saving power of Christ. So we declare that God’s redeeming love extends to everyone, and that Christ has died to save everyone, and we proclaim that the glory of divine mercy is to be measured by these facts. And then, in order to avoid universalism, we have to depreciate all that we were previously extolling, and to explain that, after all, nothing that God and Christ have done can save us unless we add something to it; the decisive factor which actually saves us is our own believing. What we say comes to this - that Christ saves us with our help; and what that means, when one thinks it out, is this - that we save ourselves with Christ’s help. This is a hollow anticlimax. But if we start by affirming that God has a saving love for all, and Christ died a saving death for all, and yet balk at becoming universalists, there is nothing else that we can say. And let us be clear on what we have done when we have put the matter in this fashion. We have not exalted grace and the cross; we have limited the atonement far more drastically than Calvinism does, for whereas Calvinism asserts that Christ’s death, as such, saves all whom it was meant to save, we have denied that Christ’s death, as such, is sufficient to save any of them. We have flattered impenitent sinners by assuring them that it is in their power to repent and believe, though God cannot make them do it. Perhaps we have also trivialized faith to make this assurance plausible (’it’s very simple - just open your heart to the Lord . . .’). Certainly, we have effectively denied God’s sovereignty, and undermined the basic conviction of true religion - that man is always in God’s hands. In truth, we have lost a great deal. (J.I. Packer, Intro to "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ")
If Anglicans are not good enough for you, here’s the Baptist C.H Spurgeon:
We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, ’No, certainly not.’ We ask them the next question - Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer ’No.’ They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say ’No. Christ has died that any man may be saved if’ - and then follow certain conditions of salvation. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as infallibly to secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, ’No, my dear sir it is you that do it.’ We say Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it. (C.H. Spurgeon, internet).
XIII. Whom Does Christ Save?
[down] "Strange, piteous, futile thing !
Wherefore should any set thee love apart ?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught" (He said),
"And human love needs human meriting :
How hast thou merited --
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot ? "
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home :
Rise, clasp My hand, and come !"
So, whom does Christ save? The scholarly scribe, the dedicated Pharisee, the corrupt tax collector, or the abject sinner? All and some. He saves all classes, but only some from each class. It’s His choice, and it’s only by His mercy that He saves any. But when He saves, He does so to the uttermost. They are rescued. They are found. They are made alive. He claims them as His own for His own glory. As Abraham Kuyper put it,
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ’Mine!’
This is also why our Lord can in the same breath say that salvation is so easy for us because He does it all, and that none can become His disciple unless they give up everything and follow Him. He is the guarantor of it all. He assumes full responsibility for our salvation. It is because at our baptism and faith we were so united to Christ that all that is true of Him is now true of us. Not because of our faith or baptism, but in our faith and baptism He applied what He had already accomplished at Calvary.
XIV. The Goal
[down] Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art !
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me ?
So what is the goal of all of this? Why even preach on Limited Atonement? Listen to the shepherd’s response to the recovery of this one sheep:
And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ’Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
The goal of every thing God does, and the goal we should always have ourselves is, God is glorified. Even His saving of us is not first of all because we need it, but because it pleased Him.
XV. Preparing for the Eucharist
[up] Halts by me that footfall :
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly ?
[down] "Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest !
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest me."
You may be thinking, ok, maybe I can kind of see your point. But what relevance does it have for me today? Of course, that is a very open ended question that could take hours, days to answer. But in the immediate context of what comes next, here’s one application. Listen one last time to Phillip Keller:
In tending my sheep I carried a bottle in my pocket containing a mixture of brandy and water. Whenever a ewe or lamb was chilled from undue exposure to wet, cold weather I would pour a few spoonfuls down its throat. In a matter of minutes the chilled creature would be on its feet and full of renewed energy. It was especially cute the way the lambs would wiggle their tails with joyous excitement as the warmth from the brandy spread through their bodies.
The important thing was for me to be there on time, to find the frozen, chilled sheep before it was too late. I had to be in the storm with them, alert to every one that was in distress. Some of the most vivid memories of my sheep ranching days are wrapped around the awful storms my flock and I went through together. I can see again the gray-black banks of storm clouds sweeping in off the sea; I can see the sleet and hail and snow sweeping across the hills; I can see the sheep racing for shelter in the tall timber; I can see them standing there soaked, chilled and dejected. Especially the young lambs went through appalling misery without the benefit of a full, heavy fleece to protect them. Some would succumb and lie down in distress only to become more cramped and chilled.
Then it was that my mixture of brandy and water came to their rescue. I’m sure the Palestinian shepherds must have likewise shared their wine with their chilled and frozen sheep.
What a picture of my Master, sharing the wine, the very life blood of His own suffering from His overflowing cup, poured out at Calvary for me. ...
His very life and strength and vitality is poured into mine. (Keller, pp 123-4).
As God has surely saved all you who believe and are baptized in Him, He has prepared His body for you to eat and His blood for you to drink. Come and share in His life.
This is the word of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Soli Deo Gloria!