Monday, October 12, 2009

Christ's Sufficiency: Provision for Perseverance

“The bottom line, however, is that Fanning deduces perseverance from Hebrews’s descriptions of Christ’s adequacy. Hebrews does not make that deduction. Thus it is time to look more closely at the deductions Hebrews does derive from Christ’s adequacy. What positive benefit do believers receive from his sufficient saving work? We have given the answer above: PROVISION FOR PERSEVERANCE.
The exhortations in Hebrews 4:14-16 and 10:19-25 make it clear that the writer wants his hearers not only to ‘hold on’ but also to ‘draw near.’ The importance of this ‘drawing near’ is underscored by the fact these two important passages anticipate and conclude the writer’s great presentation of Christ’s high priesthood in Hebrews 7:1-10:18. This process of ‘drawing near’ is a present continuous activity through which believers appropriate the work of Christ for Christian living. See especially Hebrews 4:16, where they are urged to ‘draw near’ in order ‘to find mercy and grace to help in time of need.’ Thus the work of Christ is not just something they ‘have’ but something they regularly appropriate. These assertions make it clear that Christ intercedes for ‘those who are coming to God through Him’ (7:25) as they ‘draw near to find mercy and receive grace to help in time of need’ (4:16). In short, when the writer uses Christ’s high priestly work to encourage his readers, he urges them to appropriate God’s PROVISION.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that within the context of Hebrews Christ’s sufficiency is NOT THE GUARANTEE OF PERSEVERANCE but the PROVISION FOR PERSEVERANCE. Even Fanning ‘falls’ into such a form of expression: ‘They CAN continue, not by human ability or effort, adding their part to God’s, but by the sustaining grace and intercession of their faithful and merciful High Priest and the power of God at work within’…”
(Gareth Lee Cockerill, “Wesleyan Arminian Response to Buist M. Fanning’s Classical Reformed View,” from “Four Views On The Warning Passages In Hebrews” by Herbert W. Bateman IV, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007, pages 240-41).

Cockerill’s words above serve to trump the Classical Reformed argument once more. Remember that Buist M. Fanning argued in his chapter that because Christ is High Priest, and because He lives to intercede for His people, then Christians will automatically persevere!! Cockerill, however, disagrees and does so because of contextual evidence within the Epistle to the Hebrews. Let’s now look at both 4:14-16 and 10:19-25.

First, Hebrews 4:14-16:

14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, New King James Version).

Verse 14 gives us biblical affirmation of Cockerill’s argument. Verse 14 begins with the words, “Seeing then…” This word in the Greek is “oun,” which means “therefore.” It is the conclusion to all that the writer has been stating in chapter 4. First, the writer begins chapter 4 by giving the failure of the wilderness generation to have faith and their subsequent death in the wilderness. They failed to enter the Promised Land (“His rest,” 4:1) because of unbelief. In verse 9, the writer states that a rest remains for God’s people because the wilderness generation failed to enter God’s eternal rest (not a physical rest as some believe it to be). In verse 11, the writer warns the congregation to “be diligent to enter that rest,” so that the congregation will not be punished like the wilderness generation was. And then, verse 14 comes. Because of our “great High Priest” that the writer has discussed much of in chapter 2, verses 9-18, we are to “hold fast our confession.” The word for “confession” here is also “profession.” This is important because most Calvinists, as does Fanning, claim that when the writer arrives at Hebrews 6, that the audience the writer has in mind is an audience of “fake Christians,” those claiming to be believers who really don’t have a relationship with Christ. However, here, we see the writer encouraging the congregation to build on their confession. He in no way, shape or form seems to think that their profession isn’t genuine. All the writer does is encourage the congregation to hold onto their profession and cling to Christ with all they have.

In verse 15, the congregation is told that their High Priest, Christ, has experienced temptation in every way—“yet without sin.” And because He knows EVERY TEMPTATION and has experienced EVERY FORM OF TEMPTATION, He understands—He can “sympathize with our weaknesses.” Because He is there to comfort us and strengthen us as we fight temptation, we can “come boldly to the throne of grace, THAT WE MAY OBTAIN MERCY AND FIND GRACE TO HELP IN TIME OF NEED” (Heb. 4:16, New King James Version).

In other words, Christ is there as our High Priest to hear our cries and strengthen us to face our troubles—not there to assure us that we will AUTOMATICALLY PERSEVERE no matter what—and that we have nothing to be concerned about!!

I will cover Hebrews 10:19-25 at another time. For now, though, let me say that Hebrews 4 shows us all we really need to know—that, as stated, there is no room for unconditional security in the Christian life.

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