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Ligonier Conference (VIII)

Seemingly unaware that today is Saturday (and not Friday as he mentioned at the beginning of his address), Dr. Mohler took the pulpit to discuss “The Holy Spirit and Apologetics” and answer the always-difficult question of Why are there some who believe and some who do not? He began and ended with Matthew 13:1-17.

The world thinks we’re nuts for being here this morning. The world has no understanding of why such a crowd would be here on a beautiful day like this, We are, after all, turning to a 2000 year old book, asking questions and searching it for the answers. And on the subject of crowds, all across America are crowds that think they are churches. There is too often no distinction between a crowd and a church. Jesus’ disciples had trouble understanding this as well and wondered why so few turned to their Lord in faith. We encounter this in Matthew 13 where the disciples ask Jesus why He speaks to the crowds in parables. Of course there are questions that are not truly questions. (“Honey, you’re not going out in that tie, are you?” – this is not a question!). This is a question that isn’t actually a question. They don’t understand what Jesus did when He encountered what must have been the largest crowd that had ever followed Him. The disciples are perplexed as to why Jesus would essentially send people away because of this parable. Jesus’ answer is instructive: to the disciples it has been granted to know, but not to many others.

How do we explain why there are some persons who respond to the gospel with a response of faith, who believe and trust and are transformed while others hear it and simply do not believe or understand? Jesus’ says “if you read the prophet Isaiah you would understand this.” If we understand the reality of why some don’t come to Christ we will not be surprised when we see this phenomenon. This is not a new problem but a problem as old as the church. Theologically we explain this with the noetic effects of the Fall–and by this we refer to the effects of the Fall that refer to our ability to know. The effects of the Fall are many and evangelical Christianity often forgets to take these into account. The effects of human sin extend to our ability to know the things of God and this is a key epistemological crisis and one that is deeply spiritual. The first way out is God’s grace demonstrated in Scripture but we still are unsure why so few choose to “put on spectacles” of God’s Word to understand. Why are there those who prefer idols to the one true and living God even when they hear the gospel presented. It is because our epistemological crisis is deeper than we even knew.

Mohler turned to several passages of Scripture to show the Spirit’s role in understanding.

John 14:26 – the Holy Spirit will teach us all things and we are dependent on Him. This is why the Reformers stressed that Word and Spirit are always conjoined. The problem is not with the Word but with the human heart.

John 16:7-14 – the Holy Spirit is referred to hear as “the Helper.” How else do we think conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment will take place? We are dependent upon the Spirit for this. He is referred to as the Spirit of Truth who will guide into truth and will speak of what is to come. We cannot sever the Holy Spirit from Scripture. We are not told that He will speak apart from Scripture. It is interesting that there is relatively little material about the Spirit in the New Testament but this is testimony that He comes to point to Christ who is central to the Bible. For us to believe and receive the Spirit must first do His work.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 – Paul came declaring the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not with words of wisdom (which is to say the world’s wisdom). He came in weakness and in fear and with trembling. See also verse 10-16. This is humbling as it reminds us that the only reason we have seen what others do not see is because of the sovereign grace of God. The Holy Spirit opened our eyes and ears and allowed us to see what is before us.

Mohler offered several important points of clarification: 1) We are speaking here of the internal testimony of the Spirit. This not a form of enthusiasm or God speaking to us apart from Scripture. Rather, He speaks through Scripture to allow us to see what it contains. 2) The issue is a faith that saves (fiducia – trusting belief). The consequences of the Fall do not mean that we can know nothing. There is a lot we can know and in reality the unregenerate human can know many things that are correct and necessary for the Christian faith. There are many unregenerate people who know the facts of Christianity but reject the essence of the gospel. 3) The Holy Spirit does not open our eyes and ears and hearts so we can embrace the irrational. We do not believe against reason or over against the evidence but rather receive and believe the evidence.. He opens our eyes to see what is plainly there and what our will had refused to accept. 4) Why are there so many who know so much and yet so little? To answer this question he pointed to our reliance upon the Holy Spirit in life and apologetics. 5) The Spirit points always to Christ. 6) We cannot believe there is any other way people can come to faith except by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Spirit is more comprehensive than we will ever understand. He does not bring attention to Himself but to the preeminence of Christ. The ministry of the Spirit is to draw us into the Word–to draw us closer to Christ through His Word and not through some other means.

There are several implications when we think of the Spirit’s work in life and apologetics:

1. The reality of an outward and inward calling must be at the forefront of our understanding. There is the outward call of the gospel that goes out when we preach the Word and share the gospel. In that process we extend the outward call because we can reach no further. Our responsibility is to get the Word from our mouths to their ears and trust that only the Spirit can get the Word from the ears to their hearts. Evangelicalism today has no clear concept of the differentiation between the inward and outward call. We need to trust the Spirit to do what we cannot do.

2. We are absolutely dependent upon the Spirit for evangelism and apologetics. As we pray about these vital concerns as we think about the lost,about ministry in postmodern times, We need to remember that we are not left without the one Jesus called the Helper. Jesus said it is better that He go so that the Helper could be sent.

3. We must be clear about the nature of faith that saves. It is faith built upon truth. It is not merely enough to come face to face with these truths and accept them as facts. There must also be faith. Mohler quoted Calvin’s definition of this kind of faith and it went something like this: It is a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts where these truths are confirmed deep within us through the Holy Spirit.

4. Our absolute knowledge of the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners. How is it that we can miss this? How could Jesus’ disciples miss this? How do we explain why some believe and others do not? How do we understand that this is not a mere matter of the human will? We see that it is all of grace and all of the sovereignty of God in salvation. The Word of God is emphatic: “No one” can come to God by himself. No one can come unless it has been granted by the Father. This is a humbling thought when we consider the sheer grace and mercy of the sovereign God who has allowed us to see what we would otherwise reject.

5) The necessity of expository preaching. We must preach the Word for it is through this Word that God convicts of sin and calls people to Christ. Again, we need to get the Word from our mouths to their ears.

Some came to hear Jesus because of superficial interests or simply because there was a crowd. But some came because in their deepest recesses they were seeking a Savior. The disciples of Jesus were not smarter or more spiritually sensitive than the rest. They were not the seekers but the sought. It was by the Spirit that they were drawn to Christ and were able to see and hear what they otherwise would not have.

Why are there some who hear and others who do not hear? It’s an interesting metaphor because people knew nothing about hearing at this point. Today we know the art and science of hearing and know that it is an understandable process and sound is actually a physical force. We can understand everything about the auditory process and know nothing about the gospel because there are people whose ears do not hear a thing who by God’s grace have heard the gospel clearly. There are some who have never seen with their physical eyes who see the gospel clearly. We are all born blind and deaf and only by God’s grace does anyone see, does anyone hear. Praise God that He has chosen to save some by His grace.

I’m sure I have not encapsulated the excellence of this message. This was definitely one of the highlights of the conference for me and this is a message well worth listening to.

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