Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Visit From Rev. B. M. Palmer

Having a house full of sick children, we held Lord's Day services in our living room this morning with only our family in attendance. We were blessed, however, with a visit from Rev. B.M. Palmer. He offered a sermon entitled, "Spirit of Contradiction in the Treatment of the Gospel." As you may know, Dr. Palmer died in 1902. He was a contemporary of Dr. R.L. Dabney, James Henley Thornwell, and John L. Girardeau. Mighty fine company if you ask me. So, it was a pleasure to read one of his sermons to my family. The sermon text was Matthew 11:16-17:

"But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented."

Dr. Palmer's exposition of this passage involved the response that those in the world have upon sharing law and Gospel. In speaking of God's holiness; of His perfect righteous standard; and of His necessary judging of sin; the world recoils in horror at the thought of a God who upholds judgment and does not simply pardon all. Yet, even in our Earthly courts, we would think a judge very poor indeed who did not hold criminals to account for the crimes they have committed against the innocent. God's holiness and justice is a fact that the world can not stand.

On the other hand, when the news is shared with the lost that the blood of God's own Son was shed for the remission of our sins, the world likewise recoils and can not understand the substitutionary atonement. Whereas in the first case, the holiness of God drives them to depend upon their own works for their justification, Christ's answer is that He has paid in full the price required by God. Their reaction is that "free justification, without reference to any human works, gives a free charter to sin; and that the proper inference from the doctrine is, that men may continue in sin in order that grace may abound, turning the very grace of God into licentiousness."

Men object to the mystery and the simplicity of the Gospel. Palmer offers a two fold solution to this problem.

1. These contradictions annihilate each other and prove the Gospel to be true. "How is it possible that the Gospel can make God too severe in His holiness, and at the same time destroy the very holiness which is proclaims, and make it an impossibility to Him and an impossibility to the creature?"
"No, my hearer, I challenge your attention to the fact that a system which is exposed to these contradictory allegations is, by the very force of the charges, proved to be true. And yet, like her blessed Master, it shall always been the fate of this Gospel to be crucified betwixt these two thieves. It shall find the objections coming from the one side and the objections coming from the other side, and yet it shall live in the midst of all this cross-fire. And, sinner, when the Gospel has outlived it all, and meets you, in the Person of its Great Author, upon the judgment seat, remember that there will come the long, long, long eternity to you, in which to continue this unprofitable wrangling forever."

2. "But, brethren, 'wisdom is justified of her children.'"
Christians, we are the example to the world that the message of law and Gospel is a true message as it works in our lives.
"It is for us to show, by the purity of our lives, the self-denial of our conduct, and yet the cheerful happiness with which we encounter our trials and perform our duties, that there is no foundation for these mistaken pleas against the glorious Gospel of the blessed God."

As sinners redeemed from the curse of the law we can rest knowing that God's perfect standard of righteousness has been upheld by the substitutionary atonement of Christ. And while in our human frailty we still sin, we purpose not to sin freely that grace may abound. Christ's sacrifice bought not only our justification, but also our sanctification, and His Gospel is sufficient for both.

Dr. Palmer's sermon can be found in the reprint of his book entitled, "Sermons by Rev. B.M. Palmer Pastor First Presbyterian Church, New Orleans Volumes I and II." It is a single volume consisting of the texts of both the original volumes. It is published by Sprinkle Publications. Here is the link.

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