Sermon #1898 — Miscellaneous Sermons

 

      Title:                     Why should we study

Systematic Theology?

 

      Text:                      2 Timothy 2:15-16 and 3:16-17

      Subject:   Systematic Theology

      Date:                    Saturday Morning — April 2, 2011

                                                Todds Road Grace Church

                                                Preachers’ Class

      Introduction:

 

Bro. Nibert asked me to come here today for two specific purposes. First, he asked that I talk to you about Systematic Theology. Specifically, he asked that I answer this question: — Why should we study Systematic Theology. That will be the thing I will try to handle first. Then, Bro. Nibert asked that I address another question: — What does our day require of us? That is a matter of at least equal importance; and I will try to answer that question in just a little while.

 

First, let me address this very important and very practical question: — Why should we study Systematic Theology. I know that some are immediately turned off by the very word “Theology” and the thought of anything like a systematic study of Theology; but that should not be the case at all.

 

Š      If we want to understand the Revelation of God in Holy Scripture, — if we desire a grasp of the whole Book of God, not just its parts, — if we wish to see and understand the Word of God as a whole, — if we want to know the Gospel as a whole, — if we want to preach the Gospel as a whole, we need to study and understand Systematic Theology.

 

Š      If we hope to preach the Gospel of the grace of God effectively, — if we desire to persuade others of the things of God, — if we wish to proclaim the Gospel in a way that will help those who hear us remember what we preach, we need to study Systematic Theology.

 

(2 Timothy 2:15-16) “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane [and] vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.”

 

(2 Timothy 3:16-17) “All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

 

Understand this first: — We do not and must not interpret Holy Scripture with human logic. Our interpretation of Scripture must be entirely Scriptural. That is to say, we must seek to know precisely what the intent of the Holy Spirit is in a given passage of Scripture and interpret that passage accordingly.

 

Four Statements

 

Let me make four observations at the outset.

1.    Our doctrine must be the doctrine of Holy Scripture. — The doctrine of Necessary Consequence, which is basic and essential to all systems of Theology (Papist and Protestant), is completely inconsistent with our historic Baptist distinctive of reverence for the Word of God as our only authority for doctrine and practice.

 

Perhaps you are scratching your heads, saying, “What on earth is the heresy of necessary consequence?” It is the doctrine which says that the Bible alone is our only rule of faith and practice, that is to say, that which is written in the Bible and that which is logically and rationally deduced from the Bible. This is the first great error of Protestant theology. The Reformers retained this little bit of Romanism which led to the retention of much more.

 

In the 1689 Baptist Confession we read, “The sum total of God’s revelation concerning all things essential to His own glory, and to the salvation and faith and life of men, is either explicitly set down or implicitly contained in the Holy Scripture.” In other words, God’s Word must be supplemented by our reason and logic to determine our faith and practice!

 

The Westminster Confession is even more specific. “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”

 

It is this doctrine of necessary consequence which allows churches and preachers to devise their own creeds and confessions and causes them to hold their creeds and confessions above the Scriptures, making void the Word of God by their traditions!

 

This doctrine of Necessary Consequence is not something considered insignificant to reformed theologians. It is vigorously defended by them in every age. Without it, the whole system would collapse. Those who reject it are ridiculed as being irrational and ranked with ignorant heretics[1]. There is nothing new about that; but such scandalization must not deter us.

 

The Word of God states the matter with dogmatic clarity. Our only rule of faith and practice is the Word of God. We must add nothing to it. We must take nothing from it (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Revelation 22:18-19).

 

We have absolutely no right to invent doctrines or ordinances of worship. We must believe and practice exactly what is written in the Word of God, not what was written and what we deduce should have been written!

 

If I cannot show you where a thing is stated in Holy Scripture, I have no right to believe it, preach it, or compel others to believe it. We have no right to believe, or insist that others believe, any doctrine which is not expressly taught in Holy Scripture.

 

If I cannot show you in the Word of God a precept or an example of an ordinance, administered and practiced in a specific way, I have no right to practice it that way, nor do you. We have no right to baptize whom we please, in any way we please, or in any way that is most convenient. We are commanded in Scripture to baptize believers only, and to do so only by immersion, which is both what the word baptize means and the only way the ordinance was ever practiced in the New Testament.

 

2.    If one thing revealed in the Book of God appears to contradict something else that is clearly taught in the Book, we must do nothing to take the edge off either. We must proclaim both fully in their context.

Š      Sovereignty and Responsibility

Š      Anthropomorphic Terms and Eternal Deity

Š      Immanent Acts of God in Eternity and External Works of God in Time

 

3.    Yet, we need to have a logical understanding of Divine Truth; and we need to preach the Word of God with logical order, as the Apostle Paul clearly did (At Antioch - Acts 13:42-43; — At Athens – Acts 17:1-3; — At Corinth – Acts 18:4; — At Ephesus - Acts 18:19; and Before Felix – Acts 24:25; 2 Corinthians 5:11).

 

Š      At Antioch - Acts 13:42-43 — “And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.”

 

Š      At Thessalonica Acts 17:1-3 — “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: 2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, 3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.”

 

Š      At Corinth Acts 18:4 — “And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.”

 

Š      At Ephesus - Acts 18:19 — “And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.”

 

Š      Before Felix Acts 24:25 — “And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.”

 

(2 Corinthians 5:11) “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.”

 

Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “Nothing is more needful for making a sermon memorable and impressive than a logical arrangement.”

 

4.    We always need to anticipate the logical consequences or logical conclusions that might be drawn from anything we declare from the pulpit.

 

Those who hear us will draw logical inferences from the things we preach. We need to anticipate those inferences.

 

You might ask, “Why not take the truths as God has seen fit to reveal them, and thus save ourselves the trouble of trying to understand their relation and harmony?” The answer is simple: We all think logically. Sometimes it is very difficult to imagine that that is true, but it is. Men and women think logically. We cannot think otherwise. Such is the constitution of the human mind that it cannot avoid systematizing and compartmentalizing every fact it receives. That is the only way our brains can digest things.

 

Not only is that the case, but we also attain clearer knowledge when we understand the Revelation of God in an orderly way, when we see how the parts fit together.

 

J. P Boyce, recognizing the Word of God as its inspired source, rightly observed, “Biblical Theology consists in the facts of the Bible, harmonized by scriptural comparison, generalized by scriptural theories, crystallized into scriptural doctrines, and so systematized as to show the system of truth taught, to the full extent that it is a system, and no farther.”

 

Our Attitude

 

Clearly, when studying the Word of God (And I make no distinction between the study of the Word of God and the study of Systematic Theology. The Word of God must be our only source and authority for doctrine.), we must approach the Scriptures with a proper attitude. We should always study Theology…

 

1.    With reverence for revealed truth. — In all your study remember you are studying that which is sacred, the Word of God.

 

2.    With earnest prayer for Divine help. — Only God the Holy Spirit can teach and make known to us the mind of the Spirit.

 

3.    With careful, deliberate submission. — We must, with dogged discipline watch for and guard against any thought that might be prejudiced against God’s Revelation.

 

4.    With fear and trembling. — We must take care that we do not formulate doctrine. Our only purpose is to discover truth as God has revealed it. If you find something new, run from it. If it is new it is not true.

 

5.    With a spirit willing and anxious to embrace every particle of Divine Truth. — Whatever we are convinced by Holy Scripture to be Truth, we must anxiously receive.

 

6.    With that humility that only God Himself can give us. — We must never forget that God has, by His own wise and holy purpose, concealed much. He has not revealed all Truth to us even in His Word, let alone in our puny minds. For example: No man knows the day or the hour of Christ’s return. And there is much more that we do not know. Moreover, no one comprehends all truth on a single point. — We accept all revealed truth by faith, trusting our all-wise and ever-gracious God, even when we cannot see how all points of Divine Truth can be fully reconciled.

 

The Advantages

 

Now, let me try to point out some of the advantages of studying Theology systematically.

 

1.    The systematic study of Divine Truth will help us to grasp the whole revelation of God in His Word. — Many understand various points of doctrine who cannot see the revelation of God in Scripture as a whole (Luke 24).

 

2.    When we compare Scripture with Scripture we are enabled to see each aspect of Divine Truth as it relates to the whole. — No Scripture is of any private interpretation. You may not always wish to explain how it is true that God’s love is for His elect alone, as the Scriptures universally declare, and that our Lord Jesus loved the rich young ruler, but you need to be aware of the fact that both are true; and you need to know how both can be true.

 

3.    A systematic study of Theology brings us face to face with the fact that our knowledge is limited to and bounded by God's Revelation of Himself in Scripture. — This is Book is the “sure Word of prophecy.” We have no other.

 

4.    A systematic study of Theology compels us to recognize and deal with every aspect of Divine Truth. — We dare not add anything to the Word of God or take anything from it. Anything added is error; and anything omitted makes our whole understanding of the Scriptures errant.

 

5.    A systematic study of Theology helps us to see the harmony and consistency of all Divine Truth, and constantly reinforces in our minds the Divine origin and Inspiration of Holy Scripture. — This is the result honestly comparing the 66 books of the Bible with each other. This is especially true when comparing the books of Old Testament with those of the New.

 

(2 Timothy 3:16-17) “All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

 

6.    A systematic study of Theology helps us to rightly value each of the doctrines of the Word or God. — Each is true. Each has been revealed that it might be believed. We cannot therefore omit even one, because of its apparent lack of importance, or its mysterious nature, or its demand for great personal sacrifice, or its humiliating assertions, or requirements, or the free terms upon which it assures believing sinners of life and salvation in Christ. Divine Truth is Divine Truth and will tolerate no compromise.

 

Let me give you an assignment. Take it as a challenge. Get a copy of John Gill’s Body of Divinity and read it carefully. Just read it. Then, once you have read it, study it tracing out the Scripture references he gives, marking his arguments. After that, keep it handy. I promise you, you will refer to it regularly throughout your ministry.

 

(1 Timothy 4:16) “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”

 

Make it your business to know the doctrine of this Book. And preach the doctrine of God with fire in your soul. Leave your questions in your study and preach only that which God has taught you, only that of which you are personally and thoroughly convinced.

Š      Preach to the hearts of men.

Š      Preach that which is obvious.

Š      Preach from experience.

Š      Illustrate often.

Š      And validate everything you say with Scripture.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don Fortner

 

 

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[1] See Are Baptists Rational by Michael L. Czapkay in The Trinity Review #95, January 1993, John Robbins, Editor.