"Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'"
- Matthew 27:50-54
Upon the death of Jesus on the cross, several extraordinary occurrences took place, that testified that this was the death of no mere man: the veil of the temple was torn open, an earthquake shook the ground, the rock of the mountains of the area split, and some of the local dead rose from their graves (the last, though described here, apparently actually coincided with Christ's resurrection on Sunday following). Such a fundamental reaction by the creation would surely be expected to attract the attention of many to the significance of the event. In fact, here in our passage, even pagan Romans were moved to acknowledge the Godhead of the man they themselves had crucified.
Who was unmoved? The very leaders of the Jews who had harried Jesus to His death. In fact, we read of them, plotting against His followers, in Acts 4. In verses 5-6, we see them gathered: "On the next day [after Peter and John had testified before the Jewish crowds] their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family." What was their decision? Verses 16-17: "'What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.'" So, even while acknowledging the significance of the events that occurred before them, they do not repent, but rather turn to subterfuge to suppress the very truth that they recognize.
16th-Century Scottish Presbyterian commentator Robert Rollock says of this passage, "It is a wonderful thing to see, that they who had judgment and understanding, and who had read all the prophecies of the Messiah to come, got no sense, yet a silly multitude [in the historical sense of simple and uneducated, referring to the five thousand of verse 4] gets some sight and sense." In other words, those with the most biblical knowledge, who should have been the first to acknowledge the messianic role of Jesus, instead hardened their hearts against Him, while those who had been most in spiritual ignorance embraced Him. Jesus anticipated this, when He said (Luke 10:21), "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." And Paul looked back to these events, when he said (I Corinthians 1:27), "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise..."
Rollock responds with this admonition, which should still be heard in our day, even after more than four-hundred years: "Whosoever thou are who opposest thee to the brightness of the Gospel, thou crucifiest the Lord of Glory; and as it shall be laid to the charge of the high priests and Pharisees, and of Pilate and Herod, in that great day, that they crucified Jesus Christ, so it shall be laid to thy charge, and thou shalt be as guilty of his blood as they. Woe to that soul which will resist that Word and the Holy Spirit! Woe shall be to the great men in this land who against conscience conspire against Christ, religion, and their native country [i.e,. by opposing the spread of the Gospel], for wrath and vengeance remaineth for them, if they leave not off this unhappy course."
"Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense."
- Proverbs 12:11
"Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it."
- Proverbs 13:11
One of the things I love about Proverbs is the way God exposes an entire wrong attitude in just a few words. Here, He contrasts, in the way of Hebrew poetry, honest day-by-day labor with get-rich-quick schemes. Isn't this such a major aspect of today's economic crisis? Those who would use the stock market or home loans for a quick buck? Even though agriculture is the example used in this text, I don't think it's a matter of setting up some agrarian ideal. That was merely the best visual aid in the society of the time.
This proverb is a rephrasing of the dominion, or cultural, mandate given in Genesis 1:28, "And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion..." It is repeated in Psalm 8:6, "You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet."
Where I work, I deal with a lot of people who play the state lottery. They lay down their money every week, out of the delusion that their dollar ticket is going to win them gazillions of dollars without any additional effort on their parts. However, statistically speaking, if they simply took that same money and put it in a savings account, they would generate more wealth than they can expect to gain from the lottery. But the gleam of quick wealth blinds them to the dullness of actually saving money. Isn't the hare always more glorious than the tortoise? But which one won the race, hmmm? Even the pagan Aesop understood the principle of this Proverb better than do most modern Christians.
"Pour out Your wrath on the nations that know You not, and on the peoples that call not on Your name, for they have devoured Jacob; they have devoured him and consumed him, and have laid waste his habitation."
I have already demonstrated from Psalm 139:21 that the syrupy, sentimental Christians who teach that we should "love everyone" are not advocating what the Bible actually teaches. The verse from Jeremiah matches David in 139:19, "Oh that You would slay the wicked, O God!" And ponder the cries of the saints who had been slain in Revelation 6:10, "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 Romans 12:19, Paul wisely advises us, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'" We are not to seek vengeance by our own hand. Rather, we are to plead for the justice of God on His enemies, who must be our enemies, as well. And God promises to answer that prayer, as He has done once already in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. He promises to destroy the great Whore, Revelation 18:20, "Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!" She was tried, found guilty and punished, in part, according to 8:24, "[For] in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth."
What comfort to know, when unbelievers and hypocrites persecute us, and even kill us in some places, that they are building up the wrath of God on our behalf, and great shall be their destruction.
"Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness, they do not know over what they stumble."
- Proverbs 4:14-19
When a godly man falls into serious sin, it is rarely a matter of being caught by surprise. Usually, he has dwelt on it, planned it, and made sure that his hand is hidden in it.
Consider David's son, Amnon, in II Samuel 13. He was pining after his half-sister Tamar, the full-sister of Absalom, and takes to his bed in a juvenile funk. Then verses 3-4, "But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David's brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man. And he said to him, 'O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you tell me?'" Notice the steps that led to this place: Amnon was already a conspirator with his cousin Jonadab, a "very crafty man," or a man who is practiced at figuring out how to commit evil. Then Amnon pines after his own half-sister, the sin of incest. Then he works out a plan with Jonadab to satisfy that sinful lust. This leads to verse 14, "...being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her." His steps in planning evil have led to his rape of his own sister. He wasn't suddenly overcome by sexual desire, and fell to it; he planned it out carefully, with the assistance of his wicked cousin.
The rest of the story is that Tamar's full-brother Absalom kills Amnon in revenge. Tamar is violated, Amnon is dead, Absalom becomes a fugitive, and the family of David is ravaged as a result of Amnon's scheming.
Man or woman of God, take warning from this case from history. Cut off your scheming at its first steps, while it is still harmless, lest it lead to evil far beyond what you currently imagine.
"So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, 'These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day."
- I Samuel 8:10-18
The context is the change from the period of the Judges, about the first four hundred years of Israel, to the time of the kings, beginning with Saul. The sociological explanation is in verse 5, where the people plead, "Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations." But the theological explanation is found in verse 7, where God Himself says, "Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them."
But it isn't just in the state that sinful man rebels against the Kingship of God. Jesus Christ, as King (Matthew 21:5) and Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22 and 5:23), established a government within her. In answer to the question #45, "How doth Christ execute the office of a King?" The Westminster Larger Catechism answers, in part, "Christ executeth the office of a King, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them..." In addition to the verses mentioned, there is the logical question: if Adam's fall consisted in his choosing to govern himself, how can that same holy God be expected to have left His people to govern themselves after their own sinful hearts?
Christ ordained the government of His Church through elders and deacons. These offices are defined in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Most telling is Titus 1:5, where the Apostle Paul instructs Titus, "This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you." Not an elder in every town, nor elders in all towns, but rather elders in each town. In other words, a plurality of elders, not a monarchical bishop, and especially no imperial Pope.
But, as in Israel in Samuel's day, sinful men rebel against God's government and seek a ruler like the nations have. Thus arose prelacy, government by monarchical bishops, in rebellion against the rule of Christ in His own church. Some faithful men have resisted the encroachment of pagan ecclesiology. Presbyterianism, rulership by elders, survives to this day. Humanly speaking, that survival was by the blood of martyrs, not for church government, but for the crown rights of Christ in His Church. The motherland of Presbyterianism, Scotland, was forced by the Stewart kings to accept bishops, but the Covenanters resisted, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. In the Solemn League and Covenant, subscribed to (then abandoned) by the Parliaments of Scotland and England, and Charles I, king of both, included this clause: "That we shall in like manner, without respect of persons, endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy, (that is, church-government by Archbishops, Bishops, their Chancellors, and Commissaries, Deans, Deans and Chapters, Archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical Officers depending on that hierarchy,)..."
The sin today, even among Presbyterians, is that we have lost sight of who our King is. Everything is OK; nothing is a problem. This is the very sin of the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:15-16. Let us have an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
"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."- Ezekiel 3:18-19 (repeated in Ezekiel 33:8-9)
As noted in my previous entry, Puritan Peter Bulkeley warned of the greater judgment that will come on the one who has access to news of the mercy of Christ, yet rejects it. He personifies that mercy as a witness against the sinner, testifying of his opportunity to repent, an opportunity which he despised. Then Bulkeley continues: "There is in this sin [refusing to heed the call of the Gospel] a speciall indignity offered unto Christ himself, the Son is despised in it, which the Father wil not suffer. It is one great part of the Fathers counsell to honour and advance his Son; for the Father loveth the Son, and will have all men to honour the Son, as they honour the Father... This contempt therefore which is offered unto Christ, when he is offered in the Gospel, and is set light[ly] by, God the Father will avenge to the full. As the bloud of Abel cryed to God for vengeance against Cain, so doth the contempt done to the bloud of Christ cry to heaven against the despisers of it much more. Christs bloud hath a double cry, and it will prevail both ways. First, to prevail for mercy towards those that count it precious, and trust in it; for them it saith, 'Father forgive them.' But it cryes also for judgement against the despisers of it, that God would avenge the contempt of it upon them; and this bloud will be heard, whatsoever it calls for, whither for mercy or for judgement." [spelling and punctuation in the original, except for my bracketed insertions, for the sake of comprehension]
Bulkeley is referring to the words of Scripture, for example, in Psalm 2:12, "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him." And again, in the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33ff), Jesus refers to his own coming execution by rebels, v. 39, then his audience predicts his Father's revenge, verse 42, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death..." And in the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27), he predicts his own judgment on the rebels against him, verse 27, "As for those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me."
For those pagans who have never heard of Jesus, we lament that they will die in their sins. Our compassion, and the command of God in, for example, the Ezekiel passage above, inspire us to send missionaries, print Bibles and other literature, use television, radio, and the internet, so that by every means we may warn them of the judgment, and the mercy that can be found in Christ. But for the one who hears the warning, yet despises it, he doesn't merely die in his sins; he is killed in his sins.
"Whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say: 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me."
- Luke 10:10-16
Puritan minister Peter Bulkeley, in a sermon in a church in Concord, MA, about 1650, said of this passage [idiosyncratic spelling and grammar in the original], "The Lord never shewed so great severitie against any people, as he will doe against those which despise the message of grace brought by the Gospel, even as that people [i.e., the Jews] is now become a spectacle of wrath above all people. When the Scripture threatens a woe, it notes the extremitie of that misery which is to come; but there is woe upon woe threatened against this sin, 'woe to thee Bethsaida, woe to thee Chorazin,' woe to those places where the Gospel comes, and is not regarded."
He continues, "This sin sets more of God against us than was before; before the Gospel came to us, we had justice against us armed with power, both which were provoked by us , but yet mercy was ready to save us, if we would come in and accept of the grace offered; mercy was not yet become our enemy, as not yet being provoked by us, but when it is brought to us by the Gospel, and is despised by us, now mercy and grace itselfe also is against us, and is made our enemy, now mercy joynes with justice, and increaseth wrath."
People often ask of the Pagans, whether in Asia, or Africa, or the jungles of South America, "What of those who never hear about Jesus?" They still bear the wrath of the Law against sin, which is why Christians send missionaries around the world. And for them, the message is that the mercy of Jesus is available to redeem them from that curse. But what about you, American? You have lived all your life in a land where sermons like the one above have been preached for almost four hundred years. You can see a church on any corner. In fact, you may have been in Sunday school as a child in one of those churches. There are Bibles in every bookstore, and Christian television programs twenty-four hours of the day. What will be the witness against you in the judgment? Not just the offended Law of God, but also His offended mercy, which was offered to you at every opportunity, but you turned your back every time! The mercy that would have saved you in a moment, will then be the top witness for the prosecution against you, and your judgment will be that much worse.
Psalm 95:7-8, "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart."
"The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left."
- Isaiah 24:4-6
In the ancient Middle East, whenever a king conquered a new territory, he established a covenant, a treaty laying out his responsibilities as king, and the responding responsibilities of his new subjects. Unlike a treaty of our time, these covenants, known as "suzerainty covenants," were imposed, not negotiated. The parties to the covenant were not equal partners in its establishment. What is the covenant to which Isaiah refers? God says to Abraham in 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 to your offspring after you." Such particular covenants are applications to men of the ultimate covenant made within the Trinity described in Hebrews 1, after Psalm 2:7-8, "I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.'" Thus, strictly speaking, the covenant is made between the persons of the Trinity, then applied to believers. However, that is a legal distinction, not something that necessarily changes our response to the covenant.
Which brings us to the matter at hand.
The Puritan Thomas Shepard, in a preface to a book of sermons on the covenant by fellow Puritan Peter Bulkeley, of Cambridge, England, wrote about 1650, "As all good things are conveyed to God's people, not barely by common providence but by special covenant, Isa. 63:8-9. So all the evills they meet with in this world (if in them the face of Gods anger appeares) upon narrow search will be found to arise from breach of Covenant." [spelling and punctuation in the original] That passage in Isaiah (plus verse 10) reads, "For He said, 'Surely they are My people, children who will not deal falsely.' And He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of the presence saved them, in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore He turned to be their enemy, and Himself fought against them." You might view this as a lawsuit by God against men who violated His covenant.
Does this ring any bells? Many Americans like to talk about the spiritual roots of our country. Consider the Mayflower Compact, which explicitly dedicated the new colony to the Christian faith. Most cities have a church on every corner. There is an average of three Bibles in every home. As a society, do we honor that commitment? Fifty million American babies have been tortured and executed since 1973. I think that that one sign gives an adequate answer. So, doesn't the covenant demonstrate that God has a controversy with us? Yet, economic hardship, war, drought, crime, are all treated as a big mystery. I suggest that they are exactly what should be expected, for a society which has turned against the knowledge and commitments of its forefathers.
Again, Isaiah 1:18-20: "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." God lays out the choice to be made, and the consequences of each option. Have we not chosen to be eaten by the sword?
"Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him."
Where were they thrown? Jude 1:6, "And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, He has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day."
There is a common error in our day that teaches that Satan has great power, and that his judgment is something that will be in the future. Indeed, the Bible does teach the threat of Satan. For example, I Peter 5:8 says, "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." But, do you recall the multitude of demon possessions described in the Gospels, such as the Gerasene demoniac (Mark5:1-20)? Some have cast aspersions on the New Testament because we do not see such possessions in our time. Yet, Jude reveals that we shouldn't expect them, because Satan has been bound. Others see a demon behind every bush.
Satan was definitively judged in the resurrection of Christ. His judgment is progressively applied during the New Testament era, through the Gospel (Rev. 12:10-11). Yet, his death throes are hazardous (v. 12, and I Pet. 5:8). And his judgment will be finalized, after a brief rebellion, in the great judgment (Rev. 20:7-10). Imagine a rabid dog: he is captured, and put in a cage, so that his ability to cause harm has been constrained; however, if you put your hand into the cage, the dog will attack you, so there is still danger from him, but only to the careless; and finally, the dog is destroyed, such that the danger is eliminated permanently and completely. Such is the condition of Satan.
"So shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."
To my mind, the strongest evidence that the Bible is more than mere literature - in fact, greater than any other document that we know - because it is the very Word of God, is the impact it can have on lives, without any assistance from any person. People have been converted, merely from reading a Gideon Bible left in their hotel rooms. Prisoners have been converted, reformed, and turned into peaceful and productive citizens from reading it. Even Islamist terrorists have come to Christ, simply because its pages have come into their hands accidentally, or or have even been stolen for purposes of propaganda.
The writer of Hebrews writes of this effect (4:12): "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Jesus Himself uses the analogy of the sword, in Revelation 2:16, "Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon an war against them with the sword of My mouth." See also Rev. 19:15.
And, of course, the longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, is devoted to love of , training in, and depending on, the Word of God. Of its 176 verses, only three do not contain a reference to it. Consider verse 9, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word." Or consider David's words in Psalm 51:13: "Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You."
I encourage you to be like the one described in the first Psalm (Ps. 1:2-3), "His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers."
"They shall be My people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of Me in their hearts, that they may not turn from Me."
- Jeremiah 32:38-49
One of the so-called Five Points of Calvinism, represented by the acronym TULIP, is "irresistible grace", represented by the "I". According to this understanding, God chooses to work in the hearts of His elect, creating in them a desire and ability to obey His word, not totally and immediately, but increasingly, through the course of each person's spiritual journey. Of course, this doctrine runs counter to the attitude of our culture and our time, which holds that man is sovereign, not God. Irresistible grace means that God will have His way in my heart, even to doing personal battle against my fallen will.
Paul says in Philippians 2:13, "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." And the prophet Ezekiel 36:26-27 says, "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." So, God is zealous for His own holiness and for the glory of Christ in His church, and declines to give the veto into the hands of rebellious, fallen men.
This should be of great comfort to the believer. Knowing the frailty of our own hearts, and how easily we get led back into our old sinful patterns, we need to know that our faithfulness doesn't rely on our own efforts and withered spiritual power, but rather on the awesome grace of our Father in heaven. But even this comfort really isn't the purpose of God in His grace.
Hebrews 1:13 repeats the promise of the Father to the Son in Psalm 110:1, "Sit at my right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet." And Romans 8:29 explains, "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." In other words, while we are the beneficiaries of God's sovereign, gracious purposes, we are not their object: His intention is the glorification of His Son Jesus Christ, with victory over our hearts and the prize of many brethren. This is referred to as Christ's office as king.
"Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. "Then his wife said to him, 'Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.' "But he said to her, 'You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips."
- Job 2:7-10
The folks who teach the so-called Prosperity Gospel don't like this passage. They want their followers to think of the Christian life as the line in that song, "and now I am happy all the day!" They want their followers to see wealth as the favor of God. Of course, this allows the preachers to drive Cadillacs and live in mansions off the donations of those followers. They can claim that, the more ostentatious their wealth, the more favored they must be by God. If only they remembered the parable of the rich young ruler, whose wealth was a stumblingblock to his spiritual prosperity (Luke 18:18-30).
Suffering and deprivation in the life of a believer serve several purposes.
First, they remind us that we are sojourners in this world (I Peter 2:11). In our fallenness, a life of ease and comfort too easily enslaves us to this world. Deprivation weans us from the comforts of the world, to long for the life and world to come (Romans 8:18, James 4:7). Second, they teach us to call upon God, who adores to be sought by us as a Father (Matthew 7:7-11, I John 5:14-15). And third, they teach us to be compassionate and generous to others (Psalm 112:9, but read the whole Psalm).
When Job spoke of evil from God (or disaster, as it may also be translated), notice his dependence on the sovereignty of God. Unlike his wife, and unlike the followers of the Prosperity Gospel, who lose faith when life goes against them, Job is confident, not in many children, many livestock, or gold and silver, but in the person of God. Life is unreliable, but God is always faithful. It is that awareness that produces spiritual stability, maturity, and progress.
Of course, we are human. Yes, including me. It is only natural for us to prefer spiritual growth in easy circumstances. But in all things, God alone must have the glory.
"Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain! Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies."
- Psalm 139:19-22
In my church, we read a psalm (or a portion of a long one) to begin each Sabbath-day service. Then we sing the same Psalm. We go through the whole Psalter every 4-5 years this way. One of the benefits of this
practice is that we see the whole range of human emotions addressed in the Word of God. Ah, if only this practice were more common, perhaps we wouldn't see the saccharine, spineless Christianity which has become commonplace, even in professing evangelical churches.
Some may be astonished at the passage above. David, the man after God's own heart (I Samuel 13:14, cited also in Acts 13:22), actually talks about hating the enemies of God. Aren't we supposed to love everyone? Not according to the Bible.
This has become an issue with the recent killing of an abortion doctor. Abortionists have been taunting, "You Christians are supposed to love everyone!", a principle supposedly violated by this murder. While it is certainly true that it is a presumption against the Divine Judge to carry out vigilante justice, that is because we are to love and obey GOD, not for any supposed love toward someone who made a living by torturing and murdering unborn children.
This same David, in another Psalm, gave us the pattern for seeking God's justice against such an evil person. Referring to someone who persecuted him, David prays in Psalm 109:6-16,
"Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few; may another take his office! May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit! May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children! May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation! May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! Let them be before the Lord continually, that He may cut off the memory of them from the earth! For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted, to put them to death."
In Romans 12:19, the Apostle Paul says, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'" He is referring back to such Old Testament warnings as Deuteronomy 32:41, "I will take vengeance on My adversaries and will repay those who hate Me." Certainly it would be a great act of rebellion to usurp the authority of God by seeking vigilante justice. However, if vengeance is properly part of the holy purposes of God, how can it be any less holy to pray to Him to carry out His purposes?
Now he who is redeemed by the precious blood of Christ and to whom the merits of Christ's passion are applied, is forthwith justified, that is, finds forgiveness of his sins, is immediately acquitted from liability to eternal damnation and raised up by the Holy Spirit, and so from being unrighteous is made righteous. For God when He justifies acts not with man only after the manner of man, merely pardoning him, forgiving his sin, and absolving his guilt, but He makes him better; a thing which men are not wont and not able to give. For He communicates to Him of His Holy Spirit who purifies his heart, and by love shed abroad in his heart, incites him to seek after what is good and just, and follow out and act what is thus sought.
--John Calvin, from "True method of giving peace to Christendom"
"Grace to you and peace from Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before His throne... From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven Spirits of God..."
- Revelation 1:4, 4:5
In all the times I've read these passages, I have always stumbled over these references to the "seven spirits of God." "Seven spirits"? I only know one Holy Spirit. Paul says in Ephesians 4:4, "There is one body and one Spirit..." I couldn't figure out how to reconcile these two descriptions of the Spirit.
But today I looked at the pattern of sevens in the context of these verses. "Seven golden lampstands", in 1:12 and 1:20 (twice), "seven stars", in 1:16 and 1:20 (twice), both again in 2:1, "seven spirits and seven stars" in 3:1, "seven torches of fire" and "seven spirits" in 4:5. This isn't an exhaustive list of sevens in this section of Revelation, but these examples exhibit a pattern: they all refer to sources of light. This is why commentators connect the seven spirits to the Menorah in the Jewish temple. It was one central lampstand, but with seven branches - center, plus three to each side - each bearing a separate flame. Here lies the answer: the one Holy Spirit gives spiritual light as if by seven flames. Therefore, we could view the phrase "seven spirits" as equivalent to "the seven-aspected Spirit", or "the sevenfold Spirit". The emphasis is on magnification, not a count.
Look at Zechariah 4:1-6, especially verse 2, "And he said to me, 'What do you see?' I said, 'I see a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it.'" Here, we see in one place the alternation between the one-ness and the seven-ness of the lampstand, i.e., the Menorah. And the Lord explains that the lamp in the vision represents this truth (verse 6b), "Not by might, nor by power, but by Spirit, says the Lord of hosts." Thus, the seven-multiplying of the lamps is to symbolize the power, beyond any human agency, of the enlightenment by the Holy Spirit.
John 14:26, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." And 16:13, "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth..."
"The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you." - Psalm 102:28
One of the most-misrepresented practices of Presbyterians is the baptism of the infant children of believers. Westminster Confession XXVII:6, "Not only those that do actually profess faith in, and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents, are to be baptized." Why? WCF XXV:2, "The visible church... under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before, under the Law) consists of all those, throughout the world, that profess the true religion, and of their children..." Also Larger Catechism 62, "What is the visible church? The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children."
The misrepresentation is that Presbyterians believe that our children are automatically saved, or that baptism makes them saved, as is taught in the Catholic Church. As can be seen in the constitutional remarks above, that is a misrepresentation. We believe that the children of believers (only, as we are told nothing about the children of unbelievers) are members of the visible church, i. e., the professing church, but not necessarily of the invisible church. That is, that they aren't believers or regenerate, necessarily, but are set apart from the world. This is a confessional expression of what the Apostle Paul teaches in I Corinthians 7:14, "For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." Just as neither the unbelieving husband nor the unbelieving wife is regenerate-by-proxy, neither are their children. However, they are set apart from the world, not counted as Pagans, and therefore have a right to the mark of the covenant, i.e., baptism.
To return to Psalms, this time to Ps. 103:17-18, "The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep His covenant and remember to do His commandments." The children of believers are the subjects of special promises from God, which is a great comfort to Christian parents. But if those baptized children break that covenant, if they are unfaithful - since God can never be unfaithful - then they repudiate those benefits signified by their baptisms.
So the question goes back to our Baptist critics: do you seriously expect us to believe that you really think of your children as mere miniature Pagans?
"I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see."
- Revelation 3:18
In our modern society, Christian faith has gotten turned into something that Jesus and the apostles would never recognize. This one verse exposes how distorted the Gospel has become.
We generally picture buying gold as the province of the rich. Yet, here Jesus counsels us to buy gold, in order to become rich. That means that He calls us poor before we receive His riches, and naked before we receive His garments, and blind before we receive His eye-salve. Then with what do we pay for His gold? Isaiah 55:1, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." The purchaser comes to the merchant with empty hands, yet the merchant, the Divine Merchant, accepts it as sufficient, and puts His wealth into the hands of the purchaser.
This runs so counter to the dominant spirituality of our time. "Surely I am good enough. I will give my good works to Jesus." Yet, He responds, "You have all become like one who is unclean, and all your righteous deeds are like a polluted garment," Isaiah 64:6. You are offering filthy rags as a payment for fine gold.
Even among evangelicals, it is common to treat faith as something the believer gives to Christ. We congratulate ourselves for looking at Buddha, Mohammed, or the newest inspirational speaker on TV, all as equally-valid alternatives to Jesus; "Hmmm, I think I'll go with the savior behind door number 4. Won't he be grateful?"
But what does the Bible say? Ephesians 2:8-9. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, that no one may boast." The faith with which a true believer responds to Christ isn't something that he gives to Christ; it is something that he receives from Christ. That which is our return to Him, He has first given to us.
The Westminster Assembly in the 1640's accurately summarized the biblical teachings on saving faith in the 72nd question of the Larger Catechism: "What is justifying faith? Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the Gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and His righteousness therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation."
So, if your response to Jesus's invitation to come to Him to buy fine gold is to pull out anything of your own, your good works, your faith, your knowledge, anything you have, then you can't afford the purchase. Rather, when you can say, "Lord Jesus, I have no price to give, give me grace that I may respond in faith, and receive that gold without price," Then, and only then, have you understood your condition, acknowledged your need of a Savior, and received His gracious gift of salvation.
"Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
- Micah 6:7
We live in a time when few people believe that actions have consequences. Nothing happens to me because of what I do or the bad choices I make. Everything bad is the result of what someone else does to me. Think of the schoolboy who proudly announces, "I got an A!", in contrast to his classmate who complains, "My teacher gave me a D." In the same way, indiscriminate sexual activity has consequences, whether it is sexually-transmitted diseases or pregnancy. But, no problem! A little shot will take care of the first, and a simple abortion the second.
The ancient Israelites sacrificed bulls and sheep to satisfy God's wrath against their sin. Americans sacrifice our children.
In the Bible, Pagans and apostate Israelites also practiced child sacrifice. Referring to the people of Israel and Judah, Jeremiah said (Jeremiah 32:35), "They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination." See also II Kings 17:31. King Josiah cleansed Israel, in part, by abolishing Molech worship. II Kings 23:10 (in answer to Jeremiah 7:31), "And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or daughter as an offering to Molech." Child sacrifice was a ritual for prosperity. Do we not justify the sacrifice of our own children by claiming that "we just can't afford them," or in a more honest mood, "I would just have to give up too much"?
Moses declared the judgment of Jehovah against the child sacrifices. Jehovah, speaking in Leviticus 20:1-5, abominates child sacrifices, and in verse 2b gives this command, "The people of the land shall stone him [the father who performs the sacrifices] with stones." The people are forbidden to tolerate child sacrifice, and the FATHER is named the responsible party. The prophet Ezekiel (20:31) tells us that God will reject the prayers of a people that tolerates child sacrifice. "When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you."
The great American holocaust has been the millions of children that we have offered up in the fire of saline and chemical abortifacients. The toleration of these sacrifices has caused God to close His ears to us. No wonder we suffer these economic deprivations and the threat of terrorism. How long must we suffer, before we repent and return to our God?
"I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols."
In its proper and most common sense, a prophet isn't someone who tells the future, but rather simply proclaims the Word of God. Under the New Testament, that means a preacher, proclaiming the Word of God and teaching the church. As the Head of His body, the Church (Eph. 5:23), Jesus didn't leave His sheep without shepherds. Rather, He established government within the church, according to which (Eph. 4:11-12), "...He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ..."
One of the requirements our Head laid out for a teacher is in I Timothy 2:11-12, "Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet." So, not sexism, not patriarchy, not tradition, not the Pope, but the divine Head of the Church, has determined that a woman is not to teach in His Church. Notice how exactly the actions of Jezebel in Revelation 2:18-29 are the opposite of the expectations in I Timothy. Therefore, He has a controversy with this Jezebel (probably not her real name, but rather an analogy with the original Jezebel of I Kings 16:29ff) for usurping a place that isn't properly hers. This rebel in the pulpit leads her people to spiritual adultery (perhaps with the literal kind as a consequence), and Jesus holds the sinful toleration of her against the church of Thyatira. He warns of the judgment that will fall, not just on Jezebel, but on those who approve her ministry (verse 22). Think of the Christian Scientists, founded by Mary Baker Eddy, and the Seventh-Day Adventists, founded by Ellen White. Not every heretical group is founded by a woman, of course, but every church founded by a woman is heretical. "You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?" (Matthew 7:16).
While the controversy of Jesus is with the female pastors, notice His anger at those that tolerate them. He doesn't offer to allow the excuse of political correctness. He doesn't pat anyone on the back for modernity. He doesn't say that social pressure makes it OK. He judges them for rebelling against His government in the church.
"Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders... And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself."
- Matthew 27:3, 5
Presbyterian Rev. Robert Rollock says of this: "Of all the torments in the world, the worst is the torment of the conscience, driving thee before the terrible tribunal, to consume thy soul, and dry it up with the fire of the wrath of God. No peace for the wicked; sleep on as they will, they shall be wakened." And the Irish Anglican Archbishop James Ussher, a few years later, repeated this theme: "The tormentor within you is far more heavy, painful, and grievous; it is that never-dying worm within, the sting of a guilty and wounded conscience. This, like a sharp dagger, is still stabbing you in the heart... A man needs no other fire, no other worm to torment him, than what is within him. As worms do on a carcass, this gnaws on a wretched soul."
Conscience is that internal spark that separates the true believer from the unbeliever or the hypocritical believer. We can see in the passage above from Matthew what happens to the hypocritical believer, without hope to pacify his conscience.
But, in contrast, look at the actions of King David, after his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, in Psalm 51. In verses 3 and 4 he makes honest assessment of his sin: "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment." His conscience is burning hard within him, but his response contrasts sharply with that of Judas. Verses 9 and 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." David confesses his sin, pleads for God's forgiveness, and trusts in His cleansing power in his heart.
Like David, we have the promise of God to relieve a grieving conscience. Hebrew 9:14, "How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to serve the living God."
"Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death."
- Revelation 2:10-11
In his commentary on the suffering and death of Christ, Rev. Robert Rollock, a Scottish Presbyterian minister in the 1590's, used Pilate as an example of a man with only a natural conscience, i.e., one not subject to the Word of God, buttressed by the Holy Spirit, and cleansed through redemption in Christ. "Let never any man again, after Pilate, trust to a natural conscience, except he find the conscience propped up by faith, and with better things, and higher things than the things of this world: and if this conscience be backed with the hope of that life, it will be a wonder to see how a man will stand to the end. No crown but to him who stands to the end." Rollock explains that a man with no thought beyond this life will find his conscience pushed to that limit: "Do this, or die." Pilate faced that choice when the Jewish leaders threatened to accuse him of treason for attempting to release a self-proclaimed King of the Jews, in violation of the exclusive claims of Pilate's superior, the Emperor of Rome. With no hope beyond his material comforts, Pilate finally gave in to their schemes, and crucified a man that he himself had declared innocent. Tradition says that Pilate later committed suicide, because his conscience couldn't bear the responsibility for that moral surrender.
This is a theme in both testaments of the Bible. Revelation 2:10-11 is quoted above. Psalm 1:1-2, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night."
And again in Psalm 84:10-12, "For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. Blessed is the one who trusts in You!"
Rollock gives the key: "No crown but to him who stands to the end."
"O God, the nations have come into Your inheritance; they have defiled Your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins." - Psalm 79:1
I believe in the covenantal continuity between Israel, under the Old Covenant, and the Church under the New. For example, we have Paul referring to the Church as the Israel of God in Galatians 6:16. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews calls the Church both Mount Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem in Heb. 12:22. Both analogies are repeated by the Apostle John in the Revelation (Rev. 21:10).
While Asaph was surely referring to pagan invasions of the land of Israel, there is clearly a typological relevance to the Church in our own day.
Liberalism has so permeated the mainline churches, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), that false professors are found at every level, whether in the general membership, or in the courts of the church. Men (and women) in the pulpit vehemently deny the divine authorship and inerrancy of the Bible. Some cast aspersions on other fundamental beliefs, such as the deity of Christ, the sinfulness of man, or the holy justice of God that sends some to Hell. The general membership consists of those who know nothing of sorrow for their sin or the exaltation of forgiveness in Christ.
Even among evangelical Presbyterians, where the faith is still known, though sometimes in a stunted form, the traditions which made reformed churches into great powers in reformation and missions have slidden into irrelevance, or even active dismissal.
Lost is the Spirit that once animated Jenny Geddes of Edinburgh, Scotland, to throw a stool at the minister of St. Giles Cathedral, when he began to read from the new Prayer Book. "Villain!" she shouted, "dost thou say mass at my lug [ear]?" The ensuing riot guaranteed that the Prayer Book was never read there again. That was in 1637, the beginning of the Covenanter period.
My name is Chris Cole. I have lived in the Charlotte, NC, area for over thirty years, and have been an active Presbyterian during most of that time. I love the Westminster Confession of Faith as a beautiful expression of my own personal beliefs.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I prefer the English Standard Version of the Bible, and all quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise stated.
I have a number of reviews of Reformed books on Amazon. There is a link to them in the Reformed links below.
"Seeing [that] the Lord of lords, the Lord Jesus, is so ready (never was there king so ready to hear a subject as Jesus is), [even] if thou wert the vilest body that goes, a thief, a harlot, etc., yet if thou wilt say this, 'Lord, remember on me, and give me a part of thy kingdom'; - if thou prayest to him from a penitent heart, with confidence and assurance, I promise unto thee, heaven and earth shall go [fall] together ere thou wantest [lack] thine asking. Seeing [that] our Lord Jesus is so liberal [free-giving], then seek more than enough, more than a kingdom, and thou shalt get more. The only cause why we want [lack] is in us: we have no hearts to seek it." - Rev. Robert Rollock, Scottish Presbyterian minister, about 1590, in a commentary on Luke 23:42-43