Sunday, December 27, 2009

Genesis 4:1-8, An Interesting Thing about God's Words to Cain

"Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. And she again bore his brother Abel, and Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

"And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof: and the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering. But unto Cain and to his offering he had no respect: and Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

"And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou do well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door: And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

"And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him." [KJV]

This passage has always bewildered me. What did it mean for sin to be waiting at the door? I chose the KJV here, instead of my accustomed ESV, because of its use of "him" here, rather than "it."

I am reading On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ, by the Covenanter William Symington, and he references this text as an underlying reference to atoning sacrifice, as a type and preparation of the coming crucifixion of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. According to him, the Hebrew word used here, "khatta't," can mean either "sin" or "sin offering." However, when used for "sin", the grammatically-feminine word takes feminine modifiers, while its use for "sin offering" takes masculine modifiers. That's why I used the KJV here, which refers to "him" in place of the ESV's "it."

Symington suggests that God's admonition isn't a warning that sin lies at the door, which he calls a tautology. That is, if Cain does wrong, then he is a sinner, it isn't something of which he need beware. Rather, God encourages Cain with the promise that his sin has an answer, the atoning sacrifice of the lamb outside the door, over which Cain has mastery. Compare Leviticus 3:2, which describes the peace offering killed "at the entrance" of the tabernacle, later the temple. Cain then rejects God's gracious offer, even to the extent of murdering his righteous brother. Thus is the writer of Hebrews justified in writing (11:4) that God accepts Abel's sacrifice because of his faith. Yet, Cain, who apparently received greater revelation concerning sacrifice, rejects God's chosen lamb - both in type and antitype - and instead substitutes his own vegetable offering, i.e., his own works in place of God's gracious atoning sacrifice.

Ah, now both the Genesis and Hebrews passages make much more sense to me!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What of Eternity for Infants?

"Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word."
-Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter X, Section 3

A longtime cavil against Calvinists is that we supposedly believe in the damnation of infants. The above paragraph from the Confession is quoted, with various cries of outrage and superiority. Yet, notice that damnation is mentioned nowhere in the paragraph. Rather, only salvation is under consideration.

It is a common concern of spiritually-minded parents what the spiritual welfare is of young children who die, or miscarried, or of children with severe mental disabilities. Afterall, to be saved, we must confess the Lord Jesus with our mouths, and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). How can the infant do so? Or how can the mentally-disabled hear and respond to the Gospel? These are heartfelt questions. And logically, there are only four possibilities that can be discussed for their comfort.

First, some believe that children are spiritually innocent. This is a common view, though it is contrary to the explicit teachings of Scripture. David tells us in Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." And as Paul tells us in Romans 5, from 12 to the end, every human being fell in Adam, so the sin nature has already passed to the next generation, even if unborn. And Paul, again, in Romans, chapter 9, tells us that, before he was even born, "Esau I hated" (verse 13). Just as the sin nature is present from the earliest point of human existence, so that nature is under the just judgment of God.

Second, since we understand that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation, one could hold that all who die in infancy or in mental disability are condemned and lost. This is the real implication of the one who denies the truth of God's sovereign election.

Third, one can hold that all who die in infancy or mental inability are elect. Some Presbyterians take this position. For example, A. A. Hodge, the son of the more-famous Charles Hodge, says in his commentary on this passage in the Confession, "It is not positively revealed that all infants are elect, but we are left, for many reasons, to indulge a highly-probable hope that such is the fact." Personally, I believe that he exceeds the evidence of Scripture in that assertion.

And lastly, there is the position of the Confession, that we have the testimony of Scripture that we can expect that the covenant children of believers, lost in infancy or mental-disability, are regenerated by the Holy Spirit invisibly, apart from His usual means of grace. But we must then acknowledge the silence of Scripture regarding those outside the covenant. Are they lost? Are they taken out of this world because God has made them His own? In this life, we cannot know, because the Scriptures do not tell us. Thus, we must be silent on that question, just as the Confession is silent on it.

However, against our Arminian and Pelagian opponents, I testify that this issue is against them, not us. They have no basis for hope for bereaved parents. Yet, we have the comfort of Paul's teaching again in Romans 5:14. While God hated Esau in the womb, He also tells us that "Jacob I loved." In His gracious covenant, God has elected at least some even from the womb. The Christian parents of a lost child, or of one with severe disabilities, have that comfort and confidence from God's covenant promises.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Faith Knows No Division between the Kingly and Priestly Offices of Jesus Christ

This is another excerpt from "The Gospel Covenant", by the New England Puritan, Peter Bulkeley. Spelling and grammar are as in the original.

"Faith looks at the manner of Gods invitation and call, when he invites us to come and enter into Covenant with him; he doth not offer himselfe to be a God to us to blesse us, without being a God over us, but links these two both together; If we will have his blessing, his peace, wee must be under his Dominion: Look as in a Common-wealth or Kingdome, none hath the benefit of the Law, but those that subject themselves to the Law: none have the protection of authority, but those that obey it; so here; God doth not promise to pardon our sinnes, leaving us still at our own liberty to live as wee list, but if he doe at all make a Covenant with us, he will be a God to us, as well to rule us, as to save us; To say, live as yee will, sinne as yee will, and yet you shall be saved, is the Devils Covenant, not Gods; and therefore it is that when the Lord calls us into a Covenant with himself, he bids us come out from among the wicked, separate yourselves, and touch no uncleane thing saith the Lord, 2 Cor.
6:17, and in this way he promises to receive us, and to be a God unto us; How vile soever we have been before time, it hinders us not from entring into Covenant with God, but if we will now become his people, we must henceforth walke no more as we had wont to doe; we must henceforth be separate from our uncleanesse, Eph. 4:17. Isa. 1, ver. 6, 7, 8, Come let us reason together, let us make an agreement, but withall wash you, make you clean, etc. This is the Lords manner of invitation, so that faith sees a necessity of submitting to Gods authority, because it may not take hold of one part of the Covenant without the other: If we will have God to be our God to pardon us, and to blesse us, wee must have him a God over us to govern us after his own will."

The VIIth Commandment: Shall We Cuckold the Lord?

The Seventh Commandment says, "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14)

I am sure that everyone experiences a wandering mind sometimes, especially when driving. That is what I was doing as this train of thought passed through my own mind.

I was driving to church yesterday, a drive of thirty to forty minutes for me. I was listening to the radio, but I can't remember what the song was. I just remember that it was about a cheating spouse. I think that a wife, for example, who observes that a woman is flirting with her husband, should feel no need to intervene. She should be able to trust her husband to tell the interloper, "I belong to another; you'll have to take this business somewhere else." If he fails to respond in this way, then his wife has a controversy with him, not the other woman.

That thought led me to consider the subject of sin. If I am faced with temptation, my response must be that I belong to another, my Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore have no right to submit to that temptation, to sin, and to cuckold my divine Husband. If I fail to do so, then I have committed spiritual adultery, stolen what is properly His, and His controversy is with me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jesus versus Antinomianism

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." - John 14:15

And again in verses 23-24, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. And the word that you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me."

And see also I John 2:3-4, "And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says 'I know Him' but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him."

Too often, I hear the ignorant protest against the use of an Old Testament passage, because "we are under grace, not under law," (Rom. 6:14) wrenching that phrase out of its context. It is also blurted out indiscriminately in violation of the very words of Jesus, in Matthew 5:17-18, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until it is accomplished." However, I have also noticed a tendency in the same folks to set up their own man-made laws, such as no alcohol, no pants on women, or a man's hair cannot pass a certain rulered length. The first part is the error of antinomianism; the latter is the error of neonomianism.

I think that the Westminster Assembly got it just right in their Confession, Chapter XIX, section 6: "Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of His obedience."

While the antinomian is right, that we do not need to keep the Law to be saved, indeed can never be saved that way, where he fails is in the lack of understanding that we must be saved to keep the Law.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

John 10, For Whom Christ Died

Verses 7-12: "So Jesus again said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.'"

Verses 14-15: "'I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.'"

Verses 25b-29: "'The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out out of the Father's hand.'"

This passage, excerpted above, teaches two of the doctrines commonly called the Five Points of Calvinism: the limited, or particular, atonement and the perseverance of the saints.

Jesus Himself here tells us for whom He was soon to die: His sheep (compare Ephesians 5:25). And then He explicitly tells us that there are some who are not of His sheep, and thus, by implication, not the subjects of His atonement. And He further tells us that these are not a motley gang of random individuals, but rather a specific number given Him by the Father. He had earlier made the same point in 6:37, and would again say, even more explicitly, in 17:2, "since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him." And 17:9, where Jesus says, "I am not praying for the world, but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours." Refer also to Acts 13:48, "...and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." And our author, the Apostle John, reminds us of the exclusion of interlopers from that number in Revelation 20:15, "And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

While this doctrine is commonly referred to as "limited atonement," in order to fix it in that acronym TULIP, that terminology can lead to misunderstanding. It can give the mistaken impression that the atonement is partial, which is certainly not the case. Jesus fully atoned for all whom the Father had given Him. Rather it is the Arminian doctrine of atonement which is limited, for it teaches that Jesus didn't actually die for anyone, but rather may hypothetically have died for some. According to Arminianism, it is possible that no one would have believed, so that that the death of Christ would have had no effect whatsoever. Or, on the other hand, that there are people in Hell for whom Christ died, so that His atonement was insufficient. It is thus the Arminian view of the atonement which is actually limited, not the Calvinist.

And regarding the perseverance of the saints, or as I prefer, the preservation of the saints, Jesus promises us that we can never be snatched out of the Father's hand. What blessed assurance to the believer, for what threat, even from Satan or from our own frailty, can be stronger than the preserving hand of our heavenly Father? Even the Arminian, who holds to the native ability to believe or to disbelieve, nevertheless tells us that "once saved, always saved."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

John 8:47, The True Race War

"Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."

In spiritual terms, there is only one division among men: between believer and unbeliever. That explains the mystery of why the one message of the Gospel has such drastically different effects on otherwise similar people. Paul repeats this thought of the Lord in Romans 8:7, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot."

In Reformed Theology, this is called the antithesis. This terminology is most-closely associated with the name of Abraham Kuyper, seen here, who applied it to social and political issues in his native Netherlands. He said that "... we, of course, have to acknowledge two kinds of human consciousness: that of the regenerate and the unregenerate; and these two cannot be identical. . . If, therefore, it be true that man's own consciousness is his primumverum, and hence must be also the starting-point for every scientist, then the logical conclusion is that it is an impossibility that both should agree, and that every endeavor to make them agree must be doomed to failure" (quoted in this article). It was further developed in the presuppositional apologetics system developed by Dutch-American Professor, the late Dr. Cornelius van Til, and his successor, the late-Presbyterian Minister Greg Bahnsen.

This principle has implications not just in apologetics, but in evangelism, as well. It undercuts an evangelistic method that depends on finding common ground with the believer. While finding common relational grounds is certainly essential, there are not and cannot be any ideological common grounds between the believer and the unbeliever. Truth must be presented as truth, with the results left to the Holy Spirit to change the unbeliever's heart. This especially exposes the false assumptions behind seeker-centered evangelism and worship, since it necessarily implies that to appeal to the nature of the unbeliver is to violate the nature of the believer.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

John 6:35-51, the Sovereign Redeemer

"Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.'

"So the Jews mumbled about Him, because He said, 'I am the bread that came down from heaven.' They said, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, Whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, "I have come down from heaven"?' Jesus answered them, 'Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, "And they will all be taught by God." Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me - not that anyone has seen the Father except He Who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I give for the life of the world is My flesh."

The doctrine of election is often taught from the words of the Apostle Paul, such as in Ephesians 1. That makes sense, of course, since Paul is the one who presents it in the most systematic fashion. But here we have the words of Jesus our Savior Himself.

First, He tells us that the decree of the Father is efficacious, verse 37, such that not one of the elect can possibly fail to be saved. Calvinists refer to this as "irresistible grace." The same principle is seen again in verse 39. Notice also that it is particular: the Father gives Him a definite number of specific individuals, not an ambiguous mass. This same idea is seen in Acts 13:48, where Luke tells us, "As many as were appointed to eternal life believed."

And second, we see that Jesus also teaches election from the negative perspective, i.e., that no one outside the Father's decree can stumble into salvation by accident or by native ability. Our Lord says in verse 44, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." Also later, in verse 65, "No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." Our author also teaches this principle in the Revelation 13:8, where he describes the deception of any "whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain." Calvinists refer to this as the doctrine of "reprobation." Paul also teaches this doctrine, such as in Romans 9:21-23, where he refers to the reprobate as "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction."

And third, He is confronted by the opposition of the religious people, verse 41, just as we now see the emotional objection to election by so many professing Christians.

The Puritan commentator Matthew Henry writes of this passage: "The Father, having sent Christ, will succeed Him [i.e., give Him success], for He would not send Him on a fruitless errand. Christ having undertaken to bring souls to glory, God promised Him, in order thereunto, to bring them to Him, and so to give Him possession of those to whom He had given Him a right. God, having by promise given the kingdom of Israel to David, did at length draw the hearts of the people to him; so, having sent Christ to save souls, He sends souls to Him to be saved by Him."

Think of the consequences if God hadn't rendered His decree of election. As men are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), no one would come to Christ of his own volition. Would not a Savior with no one saved be a despised Son? God forbid that He should leave His Son a wasted Savior! And what a basis of assurance for our faith. Knowing that God the Father saved us out of the mass of fallen mankind, what have we to fear for our spiritual welfare? Nothing at all, for He promises never to cast us out or to allow us to be lost.

The Father said to the Son (Isaiah 49:6), "It is too light a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make You as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Oh, that God for that!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Revelation 20:4-6, The First Resurrection

The Conversion of Paul
"Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years."

Premillennialists hold that these verses refer to a resurrection of the righteous at the beginning of a future millennial reign of Christ. There are a number of problems with that interpretation.

Notice first of all what is resurrected: not the bodies of the righteous, but rather their souls. In other words, John is using "resurrection" in a metaphorical, not a literal, sense. He has used this metaphor before. Our author uses "resurrection" in the spiritual sense in his Gospel. In chapter 5, verses 24-25, he quotes the Lord Himself, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, and hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." Then, as in the Apocalypse, Jesus proceeds from this spiritual resurrection to the physical.

In the Old Testament, the Prophet Ezekiel uses the metaphor of resurrection to describe God's regeneration of His elect. Chapter 37:11-14 tell us, "Then He said to me, 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off." Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: "Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O My people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O My people. And I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord."'"

And elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul uses the resurrection metaphor in the epistles to both the Ephesians and the Colossians. In Eph. 2:5-6, Paul says, "when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." And Col. 3:1, "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."

Thus, logically, to interpret the first resurrection as a literal, physical resurrection is forbidden by the text itself, and instead requires a spiritual interpretation, consistent with its use elsewhere in both testaments, especially in the writing of our present author.

What interpretation then presents itself? That the first resurrection is the spiritual passing from death to life by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, the only way that sinful men become "blessed and holy" (Revelation 20:6). The second resurrection is then the literal physical rising usually connected with the term. Thus the millennium is the period in between, when Christ in His Gospel, through the Holy Spirit, is converting His elect, and ruling in and through them. Thus, this passage forbids the premillennial interpretation usually forced upon it, and logically directs the reader to either the amillennial or postmillennial positions (the difference between these two isn't answered by this text). The first death would then be the physical, while the second death would be the condemnation of the reprobate. That is why the one who has been converted, i.e., been through the first resurrection, is not subject to the second death. As Jesus says in the text from John (5:24), "He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

If We Didn't All Fall in Adam, Then Neither Can We All Be Saved in Christ

We have a saying: "You can't have your cake and eat it, too." A bit odd, if you think about it. However, its meaning is that a thing comes with all of its attributes, whether the recipient wants them or not. Another one along the same idea is, "You have to break some eggs in order to make an omelette."

The same principle applies to theology. It isn't a smorgasbord.

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned - for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

"But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace might also reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
- Romans 5:12-21

A frequent objection to federal, or covenant, theology, is that it is unfair to represent the individual in a federal head, who makes that individual responsible for decisions or actions in which he did not directly participate. Afterall, the individual is sovereign in all things, right? But that atomistic approach to Christian spirituality runs into trouble here.

For the one who wishes to deny original sin, i.e., that each human being is conceived in sin, due to the fall of Adam, this passage from Romans creates a real problem. Paul's point here is that, just as all natural humankind fell in Adam, and is therefore spiritually dead, the redeemed are represented in their federal head, Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, in His justifying death. In other words, the one who denies that Adam represented him in the Fall is logically unable to claim that Christ represents him in redemption. Since the two concepts are founded on the same federal principle, it cannot be denied in the one case and claimed in the other. They necessarily stand or fall together.

Hence, David can mourn in Psalm 51, verse 5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." And then plead in verses 9-10, "Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." The same God who called him a sinner is the God who would save him from the consequences of that condition.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Psalm 37:25-26, the Covenant and Our Daily Bread

"I have been young, and now am old: yet I saw never the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. But he is ever merciful and lendeth, and his seed enjoyeth the blessing." (Geneva Bible, 1599)

Another passage from The Gospel Covenant, by Rev. Peter Bulkeley. [spellings and grammar in the original.]

"Are we in want and doe we desire to enjoy a sufficiency of these outward blessings? would wee be set in a way in which wee may be sure to be provided for? wee have the way here set before us; wee heare that these blessings are promised in Gods Covenant: The promising of them is one branch of the covenant which the Lord makes with his people: The way then is this: First, to enter into a Covenant with God, and then to walk in Covenant with him, as becomes his people; Enter into a Covenant with him. Art thou in hunger, nakednesse, or (if not in such extremities, yet) wantest thou those things which thy condition stands in need of? It may be thou art a stranger to the Covenant betwixt God and his people, and hast lived an alien from God. Thou hast with the Prodigall forsaken thy Fathers house, departed away from God, living viciously and sinfully, and therefore the Lord hath brought thee to the same condition as the Prodigall was brought unto in these necessities; doe thou then as the Prodigall did, when he was in necessity, and knew not what to doe, he then bethinks himself; In my Fathers house (saith he) there is bread enough [Luke 15:17], but I am ready to perish for hunger; I will therefore arise and goe to my Father, and humble myself unto him, desiring to be as one of his hired servants. Think with thyself what provision the Lord makes for those that are of his household; his children and servants have bread enough. Arise therefore out of thy sin by repentance, goe unto him and sue to be taken into his family, and to be one of his servants; and then will the Father call for roabs to cover thy nakednesse, and bring out the fatted calfe to satisfie thy hunger, thou shalt be fed with food convenient for thee: Thy bread shall not fail, and thy water shall be sure [Isaiah 33:16]: Though he suffer aliens to want, yet his family shall be provided for; but then remember this withall, to walk in Covenant with God; walk as becomes one of the family of heaven, and of the houshold of God; be faithfull and diligent in his service, have a care of his honour; doe nothing to blemish his Name, be careful to please him in all things; be zealous for his glory: Be thankfull that he hath taken thee to be one of his: Bee thankfull in thy particular calling, as therein serving the Lord, and not to serve thine own turne. Study to be usefull and serviceable to others of Gods servants, which are of the same houshold of faith with thee, and in this way of the Covenant, look for, and expect the blessing of it; Doe good (saith the Prophet) and thou shalt be fed assuredly, Psal. 37:3. If yee be willing and obedient, yee shall eat the good things of the land, Isai. 1:19. and if at any time thou be put to straights and wants, doe as Jacob did, put God in minde of his Covenant and promise: Lord thou saidst (saith Jacob) that thou wouldst doe me good [Gen. 32:9]: Lord (say thou) thou hast said thou wilt care for me, and provide things needfull for thy servants, and therefore though I be not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, not worthy to be fed with the crummes which fall from thy childrens table [Mark 7:28], yet because thou hast said that thou wilt satiate thy people with thy goodnesse [Jer. 31:14], make good thy word which thou hast spoken; Let thy mercy come unto me, as I trust in thee [Psa. 33:22]. Thus doe and then lay thy life upon it, thou shalt not want: Bread shall be given thee, and thy waters shall not faile; thou shalt have thy daily portion provided for thee. Though thou hast not much laid up in store for many yeares or days, yet thou shalt have thine Omer day by day [Nehemiah 11:23 & 12:47]. And as those in Nehemiah 11:23 & 12:47, they had by the Kings appointment every day a set portion, so shalt thou have thy daily allowance, daily bread, with all such other things that concern this present life."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What Prosperity Has the Lord Promised Us? The Error of the Prosperity Preachers

"Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, and delighteth greatly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the righteous shall be blessed. Riches and treasures shall be in his house, and his righteousness endureth forever."
- Psalm 112:1-3 (Geneva Bible, 1599)

In his book, The Gospel Covenant, New England Nonconformist and Congregationalist Peter Bulkeley comments on this text: "Here may be a mistake, in taking the promise to containe more than indeed it doth; when the Lord promiseth that riches and treasure shall be in the house of the righteous, what doth he mean by riches and treasure? not the riches of a Kingdome: or that which shall be sufficient for a man of a high degree; but such a sufficiency as is sutable to every ones estate and condition which God hath set them in: That which is want and poverty to one, may be fulnesse and abundance to another: That then is riches to any man, when God gives him so much as is sufficiently enough for him in his estate and condition, though he may still come short of many others of higher ranke; this is that which is promised." [spelling and grammar in the original]

Bulkeley's point is well-taken. While the Prosperity Gospel movement has turned such promises into "a Mercedes in every pot, and a chicken in every garage" - or is it the other way around? - that is certainly not what our Father in heaven promises. First of all, His provision is a covenantal blessing. Notice that the promise in the Psalm is sandwiched between references to righteousness and love of God's Law. That side of the coin is certainly foreign to the antinomianism of the prosperity preachers. And second, God never promises one person the treasures that He has given to another, but rather that which is provision and joy for each. It isn't need or suffering which undermines joy in life, but envy. Joy comes with contentment in the gifts that God has given me! In fact, in Hebrews 11:24-25, Moses is praised for rejecting the riches of Pharaoh's household, in order to enjoy his fellowship with God's people, a treasure indeed!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Revelation 13:11-18, The Land Beast

"Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast, it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image of the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666."

While I haven't figured out some of the details, I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that the land beast referred to here was apostate Israel, which cooperated with the Roman sea beast of the first half of the chapter in the persecution and murder of the early Christians.

First, the internal evidence from the passage. The beast is compared to a lamb with horns. This seems clearly contrasted with "the Lamb that was slain," i.e., Jesus, just above, in verse 8. Yet, this lamb has horns, not normal for a mere lamb. While that first Lamb is the Prince of Peace, "gentle and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29), this one has horns, to gore its victims. And Jesus Himself referred to Israel as "lost sheep" (Matthew 15:24).

Further, the beast turns people to the image of the first beast, and later that control extends to the ability to buy and sell. This reminded me of the passage in which the Jewish leaders tried to trip up the Savior on the matter of Roman taxes. The story is found in Matthew 22, and in Mark 12:13-17. When the Pharisees challenge Jesus on the tax, He replies, starting at 15b, through17, "'Bring Me a denarius, and let me look at it.' And they brought one. And He said to them, 'Whose likeness and inscription is this?' They said to Him, 'Caesar's.' Jesus said to them, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's...'"

That power of buying and selling is also connected, in verse 16 of Revelation 13, to a mark "on the right hand or the forehead." Can this be anything other that a reference to a perversion of Deuteronomy 6:8, in which Israel was commanded to remember the Law: "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes"?

And second, I recall from scriptures outside the Revelation, in which the Jewish leaders claimed, even if hypocritically, a devotion to the Roman emperor. In the description of the crucifixion given by the Apostle John, we see the Jews professing their loyalty to the emperor. In John 19:12, we read, "From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, 'If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.'" And then the last clause of verse 15, "We have no king but Caesar." The Jewish authorities declared their loyalties: they preferred Caesar over Christ, the sea beast over the Lamb.

While the Jews certainly hated their Roman occupiers, they made a choice: Caesar over Jesus for king. The connection with the Land Beast would be consistent with a timing of the Revelation before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Revelation 11 and 70AD: The Judge Rules in Favor of the Plaintiffs

"The nations raged, but Your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding Your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear Your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth."
- Revelation 11:18

For years, I have had trouble understanding why this verse is located where it is. Why would John describe the great judgment halfway through his book, only to bring it up again near the end, in chapter 20? However, through an enlightening remark in a commentary, I have gotten it. The judgment here isn't of the dead, but rather a judgment for the righteous dead, in answer to their prayers in 6:9-10, "When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, 'O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'" In other words, 11:18 is comparable to a civil lawsuit in our times, while 20:11ff is a criminal judgment.

We see parallels in some of the Davidic Psalms, such as 35:17, "How long, O Lord, will You look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions." Compare verses 22-26. And again in 94:2, "Rise up, O judge of the earth, repay to the proud what they deserve!" Likewise the Prophet Habakkuk, such as 1:13b, "Why do You idly look at traitors and are silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?"

I think this judgment in Revelation also comes in answer to Jesus's own words in Matthew 21:21, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to this fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' it will happen." While this verse is often misread, as if He said "a mountain," or even spiritualized to represent obstacles in life, notice that He actually specifies "this mountain." This is spoken as He returns to Jerusalem the morning after He cleansed the temple (v. 18). In other words, I think that He was instructing His disciples to pray for the overthrow of Jerusalem and the temple order, as actually occurred in 70AD. Revelation 6 describes the martyred saints making this prayer, and 11:18 describes their sovereign Redeemer vindicating their pleas with a judgment against their persecutors, represented in their emblem, the Temple Mount. This understanding of that verse brings much clarity in my mind, as to the intentions of God, speaking through the Apostle John, in the first half of Revelation.

While I have followed my own thinking in coming to these conclusions, I am not alone in them. The Preterist Archive has a page dedicated to this interpretation. And Kenneth Gentry gives a wide-ranging bibliography of publications on his website.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Revelation 11:1-2, The Tribulation of Jerusalem

"Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, 'Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple, leave that out, for it is given over to the nations [or Gentiles], and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months."

These two verses are key both to the time of the composition of the Revelation and for the meaning of the forty-two months.

The command to measure the Temple, altar, and worshipers necessarily requires that the Temple still be standing, and the Temple ceremonies still be celebrated. That places the writing of the Revelation before 70AD, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and the ceremonies ceased, even to our modern day.

The "forty-two months" refer John's readers back to the prophecies of Daniel, such as 7:25, which told of the attack on Jerusalem and the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid emperor of Syria, in 168BC. That desecration lasted three and a half years, 1260 days, forty-two months, until the success of the Maccabean revolt in 164 (these events are described in the first four chapters of the apocryphal Book of First Maccabees). Not that John was saying that the Roman attack would be limited to the same time frame, but rather that he was creating a parallel between the two events. As his prophecy continued, he also created a contrast: while the Jews drove out Antiochus Epiphanes and his Greeks, they would not overcome the conquest by the Romans.

John uses numbers in this way, such as his frequent uses of sevens, twelves, twenty-fours, and thousands. He mentions forty-two months here; "time, times, and half a time," i.e., three and a half years, in 12:14; and the equivalent 1260 days in 12:6. Our Gentile culture is disconnected from the Maccabean history, but the predominantly-Jewish Christians of the First Century would be well-aware of what happened only 200 years earlier, and which were (and are) celebrated each year in the Hanukkah holiday.

Jesus Versus the Cult of Mary

"While He was still speaking to the people, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to Him. But He replied to the man who told Him, 'Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?' And stretching out His hand toward his disciples, He said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.'"
- Matthew 12:46-50

Paralleled in Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21.

Most people are aware of the Catholic practice of the veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus. In fact, she is even referred to as "co-redemptrix," that is, that she shares the role of redeemer with her divine Son. In 1997, then-Pope John-Paul II prayed to Mary, "Sustain us, O Virgin Mary, on our journey of faith and obtain for us the grace of eternal salvation." In fact, here is a website devoted to Mary in the particular role of "co-redemptrix."

Yet, what does Jesus say about His mother? Not that she is a bad person, by any means, but certainly that she has no claim to special consideration. His very words are that any man or woman who is doing the will of God is at least equal to His biological mother, and He specifically points out His disciples, standing close by. One source attempted to avoid this implication by claiming that the veneration of Mary is no more than the veneration of the other saints (officially perhaps, but certainly not in practice!). However, as I have said elsewhere, the veneration of any saints is contrary to the express will of God.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Sorrow of Moral Self-Improvement

"When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation."
- Matthew 12:43-45

Jesus is here addressing the Pharisees. In Luke 11:39, Jesus acknowledged the external righteousness of the Pharisees. In fact, He even encouraged His disciples to follow their instructions (Matthew 23:3). Yet He also compares them to "whitewashed sepulchers" ("tombs," verse 27), because they exhibited an external righteousness, while remaining spiritually-dead inside.

Thus is the fate of the self-reformed man. And there are many such men, whether we are talking about the criminal that reforms his life, or the alcoholic who gives up drink, or the adulterer who returns to his wife. But the warning of Jesus is that reform doesn't save a man, but rather it leaves him yet a sinner in Satan's power. Satan is unafraid of self-reform, because it merely deepens the deception of the self-improved man. Rather, it is only sanctification by the Holy Spirit, arising from redemption in the blood of Christ, which breaks the power of sin and Satan over fallen man. As Paul testifies (Romans 8:29-30), "For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined, He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified."

There Is No Comfort in Jesus apart from His Sovereignty

"At that time, Jesus declared, 'I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.'"
- Matthew  11:25-30

I have just one brief thought on this passage.

The last two sentences in this passage are often used in evangelistic appeals. And properly so, because they clearly present Jesus as the Savior of men weary of their sin. However, the comfort of the Jesus in verses 29 and 30 is dependent on the sovereignty of the Jesus of verse 27. There is redemption and hope for the sinner, not because he chooses Christ, but because Christ has chosen him.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The End of Mercy: What if God Stopped Listening?

"Thus says the Lord of Hosts, 'Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.' But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. 'As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,' says the Lord of hosts."
- Zechariah 7:9-13

And in Isaiah 59:2-3, "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness."

These verses should be frightening to the modern reader. Are we not moving further and further down a social path that assumes the irrelevancy of God and His word? The Scriptures tell us that God reaches a point of no return in dealing with a stubborn folk: as they refuse to hear Him, He starts to refuse to hear them! I think that we already see this in modern Europe. The continent that saw the Reformers in their glory, now has abandoned their churches, some even reviving the pagan practices of their distant ancestors. Do we not see God abandoning them to the consequences of their spiritual deafness? Europeans are aborting themselves into extinction as their societies are, more and more, turned over to Muslim immigrants. The Europeans abort their children and turn their homelands over to foreigners who know not their languages, their cultures, or their faiths.

However, I do not surrender hope in the grace and mercy of God. Didn't Elijah forget the Covenant, when he said to the Lord (I Kings 19:10), "For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away"? However, while Israel may indeed break the Covenant, God cannot, and rebukes Elijah (verse 18), "Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him." Indeed, spiritual circumstances may appear hopeless to our limited mortal eyes, but faith should always remind us that God retains to Himself a faithful remnant. And may He grant that we will be found among that number!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Who Has Dominion in the Heart of the Believer?

"I am the Lord; that is My name;
My glory I give to no other,
nor My praise to carved idols."
- Isaiah 42:8

And repeated in Is. 48:11,
"For My own sake, for My own sake, I do it;
for how should My name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another."

Surely what God says twice deserves our close attention. He has not, does not, and will not share His glory with another. The obvious intention of that is to forbid the worship of any mere creature, including angels or so-called "saints," much less actual pagan deities. Yet, that sells God's glory short.

In the Preamble to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2), God proclaims, "I am the Lord your God," leading to the First Commandment (verse 3), "You shall have no other gods before Me." In the Covenant, God claims an exclusive authority, the very glory that He says through Isaiah cannot be shared. That necessarily includes over the sovereignty we claim over ourselves. In fact, that is the very sin of Adam, his claim to decide for himself the right to the Tree of Knowledge, irregardless of the stricture placed on him by God. As Satan phrases it, in Genesis 3:5, "You will be like God." Or in Jeremiah 2:31, where the wicked say, "We are free, we will come no more to You [i.e., God]."

But God refuses to honor Adam's Declaration of Independence. Israel demanded a king from the Prophet Samuel (I Samuel 8), but God took their demand as an affront to Himself, telling Samuel (I Samuel 8:7), "They have rejected Me from being king over them." This is an affront He does not tolerate, though He did indeed give Israel a king. Through the Prophet Ezekiel (Ez. 20:33), He proclaims, "As I live, declares the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you."

Peter Bulkeley eloquently associates this faithful rulership of God with the Covenant of Grace. He says, "Thus the Lord will be God over his people, a God above them, as a Prince is over his people, an husband over his wife, a father over his children, a master over his servants, or a shepheard over his flock, to rule and order them according to his own minde. And this is no small benefit and blessing of the Covenant. For look at it as for the good of a people to be under the government of a gracious King, the good of the wife to be under the government of a prudent husband, the good of a child to be under the government of a godly father, and for the good of the flock to be under the guidance of a skillfull shepheard: So it is for the good of the people of God, that he will be pleased to be a God over them, and that he will not leave them to the rebellious lusts of their own hearts."

I think that this is the same lesson that David commends in the Twenty-Third Psalm (Ps. 23:1-4):
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me."

While our benefit is certainly not required to justify God's rule over us, what a blessing that we receive that, as well!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Prosperity: Worshiping the Means in Place of the Cause

[Scripture citations in this post will be from the Geneva Bible, to match the language used by the writers referenced below]

"Therefore they sacrifice unto their net and burn incense unto their yarn [i.e., used in weaving their nets], because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous."
- Habakkuk 1:16

In my personal studies, I have a couple of ongoing books, portions of which I read every day. I have referenced The Gospel Covenant, by Peter Bulkeley, several times. I have also referred to the works of Robert Rollock, a collection of sermons on the death and resurrection of Christ.

An astonishing conjunction occurred in my reading of both last night.

In his book, Bulkeley asks the question, Why does God allow hardship and want in the lives of believers? Afterall, he logically suggests, God is certainly capable of always providing prosperity and plenty to us all. However, in a passage which includes the Habakkuk reference above (cited in the margin), he explains, "Before, they were ready to ascribe some excellency to the meanes and instruments, sacrificing to their own nets: but when they [i.e., the means and instruments] come to nothing, and the Lord hath by himselfe fulfilled our desire, then we are lifted up to glorifie him; he alone is seen to be an al-sufficient God unto his people." That is to say, that God brings want into our lives to keep us from idolizing the gifts in place of their Giver, Himself. As he continues, Bulkeley shows this humbling effect, again from Habakkuk, 3:16-17: "For the fig tree shall not flourish, neither shall fruit be in the vines: the labor of the olive [grower?] shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat [i.e., food]: the sheep shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no bullock in the stalls. But I will rejoice in the Lord: I will joy in the God of my salvation." [Emphasis in the original.]

Then switching books, I immediately read the same point from Robert Rollock, in his commentary on the first seven verses of John 21: "...the Lord uses to disappoint the hope of His own for a season, because that serves more to the glory of God than if they got it the first time: for when men find a prosperous success in all their ways, and all things answering to their desire, scarcely do they consider and discern God's blessing; yea, many times it comes to pass, that in such cases men ascribe the praise of all to themselves, and sacrifice to their own net. But when they see themselves, notwithstanding of all their travails, disappointed of their hope, and thereafter find a blessing and good success, then they plainly discern that all things proceed from the blessing and favourable providence of God, and therefore give to the Lord the praise and glory of all." If I hadn't happened to read Rollock immediately after Bulkeley, I wouldn't have caught the Habakkuk reference, since he doesn't identify it (emphasis added).

The concept can also be seen in Hosea 13:5-6: "It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me."

Clearly the Lord has a lesson for me here. But so far, I haven't discerned the Spirit's application to me, which is why I waited a day to comment on it . However, the insight into "why bad things happen to good people" is certainly profitable, just in itself.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Government Charity, the Spirit of Judas with the Power to Tax

"Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with Him at the table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples (he who was about to betray Him), said, 'Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?' He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, 'Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.'"
- John 12:1-8

So, the situation is that Jesus is visiting the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, soon after having raised Lazarus from the dead. While Martha is preparing the meal and Lazarus is sitting talking with Jesus, Mary anoints His feet with expensive perfume, made from nard or spikenard, then wiping them dry with her own hair.

But where I want to focus is on verse six, which describes the pretended indignation of Judas over the wastefulness of Mary's devotion, the supposed charity possible with the wasted wealth, and his own secret, but evil, intentions for the money. His hidden agenda was, of course, known both by the omniscience of Jesus Himself, and by the Holy Spirit, who inspired the knowledge in the writer, the Apostle John.

Where the passage took my mind was to our own modern bureaucratic system of government-forced charity. Not only is the effectiveness of such government expenditure questionable, so is the real motivation of the politicians that create the programs and the bureaucrats that administer them. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the overhead for government welfare averages about 70%, in contrast to roughly 5% for private charity. Ah, here we go! That leaves plenty of slush money for the pockets of a slew of Judases. In addition, such programs give politicians and bureaucrats the adulation of their allies and  power over private lives. That seems like a lot of personal benefit arising from the confiscation and redistribution of other peoples' money.

Americans are very generous people, both to each other and to others around the world. No doubt this is a remnant of our Christian heritage. The impact of that generosity would be profoundly expanded by removing the government middle man from the process. The American Mary could be lavish with her wealth, if we could merely protect her from the government Judas.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Liberal Religion Is Spiritual Deception

My hometown, Charlotte, NC (of which Huntersville is a suburb), is also the hometown of retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, and our local paper reports that he is coming home to liberate us from our misconceptions of Christianity. Among other things, he denies the transcendance of God, the resurrection, and heaven and hell (I don't claim to understand what thus constitutes eternal life in his
belief system). He will be speaking at a local center of hyperliberalism, Myers Park Baptist Church.
While presenting himself as the purveyor of a thinking man's Christianity, Spong is actually practicing a long-known form of spiritual deception. He is taking an historical term, "Christianity", changing its linguistic and historical content, and then claiming that he is using the term correctly, while the rest of us have distorted it.

Presbyterian theologian Rev. J. Gresham Machen, founder of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, dealt with the same deception in his own denomination during the 1930's. As he explains in his book Christianity and Liberalism, liberalism isn't a different kind of Christianity; it is actually a distinct kind of religion. Thus, the liberals that have taken over much of mainline christendom have foisted a fundamental deception on the man in the pew. As I have described in another post, God takes great offence at such deception (see Jeremiah 23:14-17).

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Blessing of Irresistible Grace

"For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."
- Philippians 2:13

I start here with Paul, because of his straightforward and economical expression of the doctrine of irresistible grace, i.e., that regeneration and sanctification are the effectual, sovereign work of God in us, not something we work up in ourselves. However, it is the expansion of this truth in Ezekiel that I especially want to highlight. I am referring to chapter 36.

Ezekiel 36:21-23: "I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate My holiness before their eyes.'"

Notice this starting point: it isn't about us! God acts in His grace for the sake of His own holiness, His own glory, for the vindication of His own character. Therefore, when any person claims some special worthiness before God, whether for some supposed inherent holiness or even because of his own belief, he fails to give God the credit and glory that He has claimed for Himself. Paul emphasizes this point, as well, in Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace have you been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

But to continue in Ezekiel, verses 25-27: "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules."

Paul explains the "heart of stone" in Ephesians 2:1, "And you were dead in trespasses and sins." Dead, not sick, so that we must be born again (John 3:3) and become a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17).

Ezekiel continues, verses 28-29: "You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be My people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses." And thus God grounds His gracious promises in the same covenant of grace that He declared to Abraham (Genesis 17:7) and to his spiritual seed (Romans 4).

As with reprobation, this aspect of biblical doctrine allows no room for man's pride, but much for man's redemption. Why do so many clamor to reverse that?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Abrahamic Covenant and Infant Baptism

In my continuing reading of "The Gospel Covenant", by New England Puritan Peter Bulkeley, I am currently at a portion in which he defends the identity of the Abrahamic Covenant with the New Covenant in substance, while distinguished in administration. He says (archaic spelling and grammar in original):

"This poynt, concerning the identity or sameness of the two covenants, doth lay a good foundation for communicating Baptisme to the infant children of believers. For if both these things be true, first that the old and new Covenant be in substance the same; and secondly, that children are within the new as they were within the old, then there can be no sufficient reason to deprive children of the seale of the Covenant now more than former times under the old; and, that argument drawne from Circumcision to Baptisme, will stand against all the batteries which are made against it, never to be beaten downe whiles heaven and earth doe endure. The Covenants are the same, and the signes of the Covenants (Circumcision and Baptisme) are in signification the same also; and the children of the faithfull have the same relation and right to the Covenant now as they had before; What reason then that children being before circumcised, in token of their being in covenant, should be forbidden to be baptized , that it might be to them a signe of the Covenant betwixt God and them? It is even a wonder of wonders, that in such cleare light so great mists should be raised up to darken the truth. Let humble mindes search the truth in love, and the Lord will reveale the same unto them."

The verses Bulkeley refers to are Genesis 17: 7, "I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your offspring after you," leading to verse 10, the institution of circumcision as the sign of that covenant, administered to each male infant on his eighth day. Then he points to Paul's use of verse 7 in Galatians 3:16 (see also Romans 4), which he then relates to baptism in verse 27. Then in verse 29, Paul concludes, "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise."

So, Bulkeley's logic proceeds like this:

1) God's covenant promise to Abraham explicitly included his children, who therefore received circumcision as the sign of the Covenant.

2) Christians are the children of Abaraham by faith, and therefore receive His covenantal promises.

3) One of those promises is to bless our offspring.

Therefore, our offspring have a right to receive the sign of the Covenant, i.e., baptism in the place of circumcision.

In the debate over the proper subjects of baptism, credobaptists demand an explicit commandment to baptize the children of believers. Rather, given Bulkeley's argument here, it is actually incumbent on the credobaptist to show an explicit commandment that children are not to receive baptism.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Apocrypha Used in the New Testament?

I attend a men's Bible study on Monday nights. We are just getting started, using a Navpress study on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Tonight I was preparing for the study of the opening four verses.

Hebrews 1:1-4: "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs."

The editors of the Reformation Study Bible attribute the phrase "radiance of the glory" to common terminology from the intertestamental period, found in the apocryphal book, the Wisdom of Solomon, chapter 7, verses 25-28 (referring to the personification of Wisdom, as can be found also in the Proverbs): "For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing fall into her. For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of His goodness. And being but one, she can do all things: and remaining in herself, she maketh all things new: and in all ages entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God, and prophets. For God loveth none but him that dwelleth with wisdom."

I assume that the editors refer to Wisdom as an indication of the rise of certain theological terminology, not as an application of the analogy of faith. But even given that assumption, this note gives me trepidations. While the original King James Version included the Apocrypha, a few years later the Westminster Confession (I:3) advised, "The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the church of God, nor to be otherwise approved or made use of, than other human writings." And the Westminster Directory for Public Worship instructs, "All the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments (but none of those which are commonly called Apocrypha) shall be publicly read in the vulgar tongue, out of the best allowed translation, distinctly, that all may hear and understand."

Obviously, the footnotes of a study bible must necessarily be brief, lest the volume become unusably large. However, I would have wished some clarification here, for the sake of conscience. Perhaps the note was clarified in the recent update of the RSB.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Visible Church and the Second Commandment

"He [i.e., God] brought me to the entrance of the court [of the Temple], and when I looked, behold, there was a hole in the wall. Then He said to me, 'Son of man, dig in the wall.' So I dug in the wall, and behold, there was an entrance. And He said to me, 'Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.' So I went in and saw. And there, engraved on the wall all around, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel. And before them stood seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in hand, and the smoke of the cloud of incense went up. Then He said to me, 'Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, "The Lord does not see us...'"
- Ezekiel 8:7-12

Here we see God's fury at His people Israel for their worship of images, in the very Temple of Jehovah, Who had given the Second Commandment: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God..." (Exodus 20:4-5). The reference to Jaazaniah is especially saddening, because his father Shaphan was the priest who assisted with the reforms of Josiah (II Kings 22 and II Chronicles 34).

In the continuing Reformation from Popery, the Westminster Assembly took this commandment very seriously, and incorporated it into the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church. The Confession of Faith XXI:2 says in part, "Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to Him alone; not to angels, saints, or any other creature..." The Larger Catechism, question 109, is even more explicit, including among the sins forbidden by this Commandment "the making of any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it..." The Westminster divines cited Acts 17:29 as further proof, "Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man."

Rome justifies its use of images first by collapsing the Second Commandment into the First. Then it trumpets the traditions of the Church as demonstrating the indictment of images had little significance to early Christians. And finally, it claims that some images were even given miraculously by God, supposedly demonstrating His approval. The Catholic Encyclopedia says, "If so much reverence was paid to ordinary images 'made with hands', how much more was given to the miraculous ones 'not made with hands' (eikones acheiropoietai). Of these there were many that had descended miraculously from heaven, or — like the most famous of all at Edessa — had been produced by our Lord Himself by impressing His face on a cloth. (The story of the Edessa picture is the Eastern form of our Veronica legend)." The Eastern Orthodox, on the other hand, condemn statues as "graven images," yet validate pictures, in spite of the explicit condemnation in Ezekiel of Jewish idolatry with pictures.

My suspicion is that Rome actually brought in the worship of images to ease the transition of pagans into the church. By baptizing the idol of the pagan, the challenge to his faith is removed. This is the very christo-paganism that continued in Brazil, with Candomble, and the Caribbean, bringing us Voodoo and Santeria. All are the worship of African spirits under the names of Catholic saints. As we say, the proof is in the pudding.

God speaks rightly, when He forbids images as the pathway to idolatry. Read the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32. Aaron the priest, brother of Moses, refers to the calf by the covenant name of God, Jehovah, in verse 5. Yet, God is not amused, to say the least. In the same way, the baptized idolatry of Rome is rebellion against God, and can only earn his wrath, irregardless of whatever sanctified spin the papists put on their personal golden calves.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ezekiel 3, the Commission of the Prophet of God

Verses 1-4: "And He said to me, 'Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.' So I opened my mouth, and He gave me this scroll to eat. And He said to me, 'Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.' Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. And He said to me, 'Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them."

Here we have an allegorical description of the process of inspiration. Ezekiel describes his subjective experience of what the Apostle Paul describes in II Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is breathed out by God...", and by the Apostle Peter in II Peter 1:21, "No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."

Verses 16-19: "And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: 'Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from My mouth, you shall give them warning from Me. If I say to the wicked, "You shall surely die," and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.'"

The word that God has given to the prophet is not to be reserved or suppressed. Rather, he is to repeat it to the sinners around him. The prophet never assumes responsibility for the sins of others, but rather, he will bear consequences in failing to fulfill his God-given role in announcing the righteousness of God.

Verses 25-26: "'O son of man, behold, cords will be placed upon you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people. And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house.'"

These verses are among the most frightening in Scripture. "Because the prophet may be bound with cords?" you ask. No, but because the hardness of the hearts of a people can reach the point where God refuses to continue to deal with them. That is a judgment, referred to as "judicial hardening," that brings Hell into the experience of a people in this life. May God grant us repentance (II Timothy 2:25), that America may never know that kind of hardening.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

God's Wrath Is Faithfulness to Himself and to His Word

Lamentations 3, verses 1-18, God's Judgment on the Apostasy of Judah

"I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; He has driven [me] and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me He turns his hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; He has broken my bones; He has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; He has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about, so that I cannot escape; He has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, He shuts out my prayer; He has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; He has made my paths crooked.

"He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; He turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; He has made me desolate; He bent his bow and set me as a target for His arrow. He drove into my kidneys the arrows of His quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; He has sated me with wormwood.

"He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, 'My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.'"

Verses 19-33, The Faithfulness of God and the Restoration of His People

"Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in Him.'

"The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke [of the Lord] in his youth. Let him sit in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust - there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men."

It is a shame that Lamentations is such a forgotten book in today's church. Though it inspired such great hymns of history as "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," it doesn't otherwise appear in the mouths of the preachers of TV Christendom. Can you picture Joel Osteen talking about God's causing grief? I'm sure Osteen would puff into smoke at the thought!

Yet, look at the richness here. We see the righteousness of God in rebuking the apostasy of His covenant people. They had the oracles of God (Romans 3:2), yet persistently turned to idolatry (spoken especially forcefully in II Chronicles 7:19-22), and broke His Law (Ezekiel 5:6-7). When God sent His prophets to warn His people, those people punished the messengers (Matthew 5:12, Hebrews 11:36-37). Their temporal punishment reached its Old Testament peak in the destruction of Jerusalem, including the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC (the final destruction and excommunication occurred at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD). God certainly vindicated His self-description that He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5).

Then, Jeremiah reminds us also of the grace, mercy, and faithfulness of our covenant God. His wrath is temporary, and He Himself restores His people. Ezekiel gives a more-direct prophecy of that restoration (chapter 37, especially verse 23). As Lamentations 3:38 of our text asks, "Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?" and Job also asks (Job 2:10), "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" God brings suffering into our life to give us correction (Hebrews 12:7), but never simply to make us miserable (Lamentations 3:33).

Isn't God good?