Last Sunday we learned of the remarkable faith that a Canaanite woman of Tyre and Sidon exhibited (see Matthew 15: 21-28). The woman had a daughter that was severely oppressed by a demon. She was convinced that Jesus had power to deliver her daughter, and though her cries to Jesus were ignored four times, she persevered in her prayer. In great humility she confessed her unworthiness to receive any favor from Jesus, but insisted that the “least crumb from the master’s table” would do (v. 27).
This woman’s faith was extraordinary. Consider that she was a Gentile, without the Covenant of God’s people Israel, and therefore without God and without hope (Eph 2:12). As an outsider she was considered “unclean”; indeed the Lord Jesus reminded her of this, saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (v. 26). But she had called out for mercy, addressing him as “Lord” and “Son of David”, meaning, Messiah! (v. 22). This Canaanite woman evidently understood the whole purpose of the Gospel of Matthew! Regarding her great faith, John Legg writes,
“What a condemnation of the Pharisees! With all their knowledge of the Scriptures and all their privileges, they still have not understood this, but this outsider asks for mercy from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The ordinary way in which God builds us up unto great faith is within the community of believers, by his Word and Spirit. In Jesus’ day, that building up would have involved attendance at a synagogue every Sabbath, worshipping and obeying Jehovah in the manner of the Jews and keeping the means of grace — especially the ordinances of circumcision for the males and the Passover. But the Canaanite woman had great faith despite having none of these Covenant advantages (see Romans 9:4, 5 for Paul’s list of Jewish privileges under the Old Covenant.)!
There is an important lesson here, which we must note lest we dash into the same error as the Pharisees. For Christians today there is danger in looking to the emblems of God’s covenant love, which are visible signs and seals circumscribing the community of believers, but halting there. These visible signs were always pointers to the invisible God who has always given himself to his people by means of the promised grace of the sacraments. The sacraments of both the Old and New Testaments have never worked of themselves (ex opera operata), nor even through any human instrumentality, whether that be a God-appointed priest or minister. They have only worked salvation when received by faith in Messiah. God the Holy Spirit has always kept his prerogative and his almighty power to work the grace of faith sovereignly whenever and wherever he pleased, with or without any sacraments or using any ordinary means of grace (John 3: 7,8). Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a teacher in Israel, should surely have known this!
What we glean from the Scripture is as follows: what separates Evangelicalism from other branches of Christianity is the doctrine that the Sovereign Holy Spirit works to produce saving faith in a dead sinner by directly operating on that soul, without the use of any human instrumentality. The branch of Christianity that relies on priests or ministers as God-appointed instruments acting as conduits of grace in the Church is not Evangelicalism, but is called Sacerdotalism.
Consistent with the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, Covenant Presbyterian Church is a Protestant church, which has historically been wholly Evangelical in its view of saving grace.