In the grave

For Holy Saturday:


O BLESSED bodie! Whither art thou thrown?
No lodging for thee, but a cold hard stone?
So many hearts on earth, and yet not one
Receive thee?

Sure there is room within our hearts good store;
For they can lodge transgressions by the score:
Thousands of toyes dwell there, yet out of doore
They leave thee.

But that which shews them large, shews them unfit.
What ever sinne did this pure rock commit,
Which holds thee now? Who hath indited it
Of murder?

Where our hard hearts have took up stones to braine thee,
And missing this, most falsely did arraigne thee;
Onely these stones in quiet entertain thee,
And order.

And as of old, the law by heav’nly art,
Was writ in stone; so thou, which also art
The letter of the word, find’st no fit heart
To hold thee.

Yet do we still persist as we began,
And so should perish, but that nothing can,
Though it be cold, hard, foul, from loving man
Withhold thee.

–George Herbert

The cross

For Good Friday:


By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate:
In both affections many to Him ran.
But O! the worst are most, they will and can,
Alas! and do, unto th’ Immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate,
Measuring self-life’s infinity to span,
Nay to an inch. Lo! where condemned He
Bears His own cross, with pain, yet by and by
When it bears him, He must bear more and die.
Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee,
And at Thy death giving such liberal dole,
Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.

–John Donne, from La Corona

A Hymn to God the Father

For Maundy Thursday:


A Hymn to God the Father



WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.


Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.


I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.

–John Donne

Ok, let’s take a moment to comment about this piece. The author opens up by making this assertion:

One of the major ways in which the Federal Vision departs from the historic Reformed/Presbyterian confessions is in their view of baptism.  They view baptism as effective instrument which unites a person to Christ.

The author then gives damning quotes from me, Rich Lusk, and Doug Wilson, wherein each of us acknowledge that we in fact hold that baptism unites one to Christ and then, he concludes:

Unlike the Federal Vision, the Reformed position doesn’t attribute this type of efficacy or instrumentality to baptism.  Instead, the Reformed talk about faith alone (sola fide) as an instrument

Of course, not a single one of us denies the necessity of faith in Jesus for salvation as the author implies, but that aside, let’s check his main assertion out for a minute. Is it true that the “Reformed position doesn’t attribute this type of efficacy or instrumentality to baptism”? Here’s what John Knox thought about baptism:

By baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted. (1560 Scots Confession)

Here’s the teaching of the French Confession (1559):

Baptism witnesses to our adoption, for by it we are grafted into the body of Christ, that being washed with his blood we might be renewed by his Spirit unto holiness of life. In baptism, God gives us really and in fact that which he there sets before us; and that consequently with theses signs is given true possession and enjoyment of that which they present to us.

Martin Bucer, in his 1537 liturgy for infant baptism, directed the minister to pray this prayer after the administration of baptism:

Almighty God, heavenly Father, we give you eternal praise and thanks, that you have granted and bestowed upon this child your fellowship, that you have born him again to yourself through holy baptism, that he has been incorporated into your beloved son, our only savior, and is now your child and heir.

John Calvin says:

We assert that the whole guilt of sin is taken away in baptism, so that the remains of sin still existing are not imputed. That this may be more clear, let my readers call to mind that there is a twofold grace in baptism, for therein both remission of sins and regeneration are offered to us. We teach that full remission is made, but that regeneration is only begun and goes on making progress during the whole of life. (Antidote to the Council of Trent, 1.5)

The position of the Reformers is summarized in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566) on the efficacy of baptism:

To be baptized in the name of Christ is to be enrolled, entered, and received into the covenant and family, and so into the inheritance of the sons of God; yes, and in this life to be called after the name of God; that is to say, to be called a son of God; to be cleansed also from the filthiness of sins, and to be granted the manifold grace of God, in order to lead a new and innocent life. Baptism, therefore, calls to mind and renews the great favor God has shown to the race of mortal men. For we are all born in the pollution of sin and are the children of wrath. But God, who is rich in mercy, freely cleanses us from our sins by the blood of his Son, and in him adopts us to be his sons, and by a holy covenant joins us to himself, and enriches us with various gifts, that we might live a new life. All these things are assured by baptism. For inwardly we are regenerated, purified, and renewed by God through the Holy Spiorit and outwardly we receive the assurance of the greatest gifts in the water, by which also those great benefits are represented, and as it were, set before our eyes to be beheld.

And many, many more quotes could be lined up to confirm what those who stood in the historic Reformed tradition have believed about baptismal efficacy.

In spite of this our author concludes, apparently, without even the slightest twinge of uneasiness, that the “Reformed position” doesn’t hold these views. Well, ok boss, if you say so. The problem is the only way I can agree with you is if I ignore what the vast majority of the Reformers actually believed. You’ll forgive me if I conclude that your assertion is a tad weak.

But since the “Aquila Report” (to some, the official arbiter of what being “Reformed” means nowadays) has endorsed this position, I’ll just say that being called “unReformed” is a small price to pray for the privilege of standing with Knox, Calvin, and Bucer.

Jonathan Last in his book What to Expect When No One is Expecting points out some sobering statistics to those couples who think it is better to live together instead of getting married (or before getting married). Over the last half-century, nothing has grown in popularity more than couples living together outside of marriage. Last points out that “by the late 1980s, half of all couples getting married lived together first. By 2002, half of everyone had cohabited at some point. . . . Among people in the prime marrying years–those aged 25 to 44–over 60 percent had, at some point, shacked up with a girlfriend or boyfriend.”

In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. The latest figures put this number at 7.5 million couples (a 1,500 percent increase).

If you ask twenty-somethings why living together is preferable to marriage, you’ll hear that it gives the couple time to get to know one another and see how compatible they are together – thus, cutting down on bad marriages, hasty unions between people who fall in love but don’t really know one another, all which leads to more stable, long-term relationships.

And that sounds reasonable.

The only problem is, it isn’t true. As clinical psychologist Meg Jay pointed out in an opinion piece in The NY Times Sunday Review, the statistics demonstrate that “Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages – and more prone to divorce – than couples who do not.”

Jonathan Last points to some hard facts:

- Whereas there’s a 64 percent chance that a first marriage will last at least 10 years, 50 percent of couples living together break up after just one year.

- White women who move in with a boyfriend have a 27 percent chance of getting married after year one and a 59 percent chance if they make it to year three. A woman who lives with a man for five years has only a one-in-four chance of being married to her Romeo (and the odds for minorities are even longer).

Part of the answer for this is the different expectations (and motives) that men and women have for living together. For most women, living together is simply the intermediate step before marriage. For most men, living together is an opportunity to postpone commitment and a way to test the relationship (i.e., get the sexual and economic benefits of marriage without tying yourself down for life). Women commonly feel more loyal to their live-in partners than men. Since there has been no commitment, men don’t feel an equal sense of obligation to their girlfriends. And, over time, this becomes painfully apparent to the women involved. “Jennifer” (one of Meg Jay’s clients who lived together with her boyfriend, got married, and divorced less than a year later) said, “I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife.”

Jay observes, “A life built on top of ‘maybe you’ll do’ simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the ‘we do’ of commitment or marriage.”


So, it turns out that living together (as exciting and even as glamorous as it sometimes may sound) is just another recipe for disappointment, sorrow, and regret. Love consists of a willingness to sacrifice for another, to give up yourself for the good of another and to deny yourself and take the risks involved in committing yourself and all you have and are to another, for your whole life. A man or woman unwilling to do this doesn’t understand love no matter how much they might enjoy sex. Saving on rent and utilities and getting to sleep in the same bed every night (at least until your partner finds someone more interesting) is not the same thing.

Cohabitation makes promises it can’t keep – because it’s simply another lie Satan spreads in his on-going effort to destroy God’s institution of marriage.

So, girls, when your Casanova suggests that you move in with him (or when he asks to move in with you), ask him two questions: “Where’s my ring?” and “When do you want to have the wedding?” If he can’t answer those questions, walk away.

And don’t look back.

The apostles say some amazing things about baptism. By it, Paul says, we are united to Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 6:2; Gal. 3:27) in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-6). Thus, Peter says, “baptism now saves us” (1 Pet. 3:21). And Paul follows by saying that being washed in baptism brings us new life and renewal by the Spirit (Tit. 3:5). Thus, the washing of baptism both sanctifies and justifies us (1 Cor. 6:11).

How can they say these things? Everything depends upon the first thing – i.e. by baptism the Spirit unites us to Jesus and makes us members of His body.

If the Spirit unites us to Christ at baptism and if all spiritual blessings are ours in union with Christ (Eph. 1:3) then we can understand why the apostles can say what they say about baptism. Baptism saves because we are united to the Savior; baptism sanctifies because we are united to the Holy One; baptism justifies because we are united to the Just One; baptism brings new life because we are united to the One who is life (John 1:4; 1 John 1:1-3). Baptism is no bare human ritual. It is inseparably joined to the purpose of the Father, the Person and work of the Son, and the power of the Spirit.

Yet, there is mystery here. Not all who are baptized enter into eternal life. What gives?

Baptism doesn’t save us automatically by itself and alone. Rather, the Spirit by baptism unites us to Jesus (who is Life). And, all those baptized are required to abide in Him by a living faith, trusting in Him alone for salvation, confessing their sins, walking in joyful obedience, and living in gratitude for the grace of God shed abroad in their hearts through Jesus (John 15:1-6).

In other words, the union established by the Spirit between us and Jesus works like the union He establishes between a man and a woman in marriage. The two become one by the blessing of the Spirit (“what God has joined together . . .” Matt. 19:6) and by virtue of this are obligated to cleave to one another throughout all their days (Gen. 2:24). The union of husband and wife depends upon their mutual loyalty and persevering love. If one partner ceases to love the other and forsakes his mate for another, the marriage is destroyed. The union that was brought about by the Spirit and the new life that was created by Him by means of the wedding, dies.

In the same way, one who is united to Jesus and decides to forsake Him for another god, forfeits the blessings that were his in union with Jesus and ends up like the prodigal, destitute and deserted. This is exactly what happened to God’s son, Israel (1 Cor. 10:1-11).

Of course we know that since salvation is all of grace (i.e. not based upon human merit or works but a free gift of God, Eph. 2:8-9), if anyone perseveres in faith, that too is the gift of God. So to point to perseverance as a baptismal obligation is not to mix human works with God’s grace but simply to magnify the fullness of God’s grace. (more later)



[from La Corona John Donne]

Moist with one drop of Thy blood, my dry soul
Shall—though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly—be
Freed by that drop, from being starved, hard or foul,
And life by this death abled shall control
Death, whom Thy death slew ; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death bring misery,
If in thy life-book my name thou enroll.
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which it was ;
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sin’s sleep and death soon from me pass,
That waked from both, I again risen may
Salute the last and everlasting day. 


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