Monday, August 31, 2009

Isaiah 60:14, The Conversion of the Enemies of the Church

"The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel."

As a postmillennialist, I believe that Christ in the Gospel will conquer the predominant share of the world. There are frequent promises pointing to this in Isaiah, such as the one above. What makes this one especially precious is that it is an encouragement to us believers, that those who persecute us in this life will be humiliated by the conversion of their own children. Think about the humiliation of the parents of these Islamist terrorists who have become Christians. And here is a whole page dedicated to testimonies by converted former Muslims. While their former companions are killing Christians, such as this murder in Somalia, these new disciples of Messiah Jesus will sing His glories with us at the great marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10).

This Messianic triumph is prophesied by this same Isaiah, in the well-known Christmas passage, chapter 9, especially verse 7, "Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end." God the Father has promised to subdue the enemies of Christ beneath His feet (see Hebrew 1:13). As we are His body, our enemies are His enemies, and He overcomes them before our eyes. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

Sovereign Election: Thank God for His Gracious Discrimination!

Another excerpt from The Gospel Covenant, by New England Puritan Divine Peter Bulkeley. All arcane spellings, grammar, and emphasis are from the original. Words in brackets are my insertions for the sake of clarity. "&c" in the original has been edited to "etc.", in the modern fashion.

"In the Covenant of workes, God deales alike with all, that are alike in themselves; Looke how he deales with one, so will he do with another, if they walke in the same way; The same worke shall have the same reward, whether in good or in evill. They that are alike in sin, shall be alike in punishment. Justice, which is Gods rule in the covenant of workes, maketh no difference between persons that are equall in themselves. It hath its balance in its hand to give to everyone according to their works; It is no respecter of persons. Therefore God speaking of Baasha, I Kings 16:2-3, saith, that because he walked in the wayes of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, therefore God would make his house like the house of Jeroboam. They both make Israel to sin, and therefore they are both alike in punishment; so also he speaks of Jerusalem, Ezek. 23:31, that because she walked in the way of her Sister, that therefore he would give her cup into her hand. Hence saith the Apostle, Rom. 2:6 to 17, That every soul that continues in well-doing, shall have glory and honour, but unto the disobedient shall be tribulation and wrath, whether Jewes or Gentiles, etc. Where actions are alike, God will deal alike with all such as are under the covenant of workes: What is just towards one is just towards another, when actions and workes are alike; Now God will deale justly with all: he that commands us to give every man his due, Rom. 13:7, will not himself withhold due from any; here therefore God will alike deale alike with all. Let one fulfill the Law, and he shal live thereby; Let another fulfill it, and he also shall have the same life. Let one breake it, and he shall dye, and as many break it, shall lye under the same condemnation. But now it is otherwise in the covenant of grace; grace deales diversly with men that are equall in themselves; where there was no difference before, grace makes a difference, as Rom. 3:23-34. All have sinned, etc., there is no difference in ourselves, we are all shut up in condemnation by sin;but are all justified? No; but onely those that are of the faith of Jesus. Hence saith the Apostle, Rom. 9:10-13, that when Jacob and Esau were both in the same condition, neither of them having done either good or evill, yet grace put a difference betwixt them, and preferred one before the other; They were alike in themselves, yet they had not the like grace vouchsafed to them from God. Justice is due, but grace is free; Justice must doe right, but but grace may communicate itself, to whom, where, and in what measure it will. Hence is that in Rom. 9:15, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, etc., He doth not say, I will deal justly with whom I will, he cannot deale unjustly with any; But concerning grace he saith, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. Therefore to manifest the goodnesse of his grace, the Lord sometimes preferreth those that seem least worthy, he sets the younger before the older, Jacob before Esau, Ephraim before Manasseh, and the Gentiles which were aliens from God, before the Jewes which counted themselves to be the onely people. Consider those two speeches in Mat. 20. The one ver. 14. Take that which is thine own, and go thy way: the other, ver. 15. I will do with mine own as I will. Here is our own, and God's own; our own is that which we look for according to our agreement which we have made with God, for the worke done. As those hyred into the Vineyard, they agreed with the Master of the Vineyard for so much; and that which they so agreed for, for their worke, that was their owne, due by justice; But that which was not by agreement, nor for worke, but comes by grace, that is Gods owne, with which he may do even as he will: our own is that which is due from Gods justice: Gods own is the gift of his free grace. To every one God will say, take thine owne. And where there is no difference in worke, justice will make no difference in wages. And if any begin to complaine that others are better dealt with then they, the Lord answers to such, I will do with mine owne as I will; Grace is mine own, and I owe it to none, I will shew it where I will; It is grace which makes the difference, herein may God deale diversly, giving more to one, lesse to another, as pleaseth him. And hereto agrees that in ver. 16. He that is first shall be last, and the last first. He that should be last in a way of Justice, shall become first in a way of grace; Those that Justice would set last and lowest, Grace will advance and set highest."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Revelation 2:26, If you can't run, then walk!

"The one who conquers and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations."

The same thought is found in Matthew 10:22 (and the parallel in Mark 13:13), "The one who endures to the end will be saved."

And in James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those that love Him."

In his commentary on the Gospel account of the death and resurrection of Christ, 16th-Century Presbyterian Robert Rollock gleans great encouragement for the believer from these verses.

"Look ay thou persevere; if thou may not run, go; yet, if thou may not go, fall down upon thine hands and feet, and creep as it were a snail or a worm, albeit it were but two feet in the day; and, as ever thou wouldst be safe, lie not still. It stands thee upon life and death; thou must wear away, and night and day thou goest ever to this end; and if this outward man decay, grow in the inward man; and as thou growest weak in this life, strive to be strong in that heavenly life that thou art to go to."

I know that I am not Superchristian, able to make leaps in sanctification in a single bound. No doubt, you feel that way, too. But I know that, by God's grace, I can make some advance today. And tomorrow I will be better still. As Rollock reminds us, from the verses above, "It is not said, 'He or she that runs shall be crowned,' but, 'He or she that continues to the end shall be crowned."

NC Governor Acknowledges 500th Anniversary of Birth of Calvin

In response to a request from the First Presbytery (North Carolina congregations) of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Honorable Governor of North Carolina Beverly Perdue sent the presbytery the following letter:

State of North Carolina
Office of the Governor
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301

Beverly Eaves Perdue

August 10, 2009

Dear Friends,

On behalf of the State of North Carolina, it is a pleasure to join the First Presbytery [of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church sic] in recognizing the 500th Anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. His teachings are the foundation of the Presbyterian and other reformed churches and have guided generations of Christians across the globe.

During a time when heretical views were condemnable by death, John Calvin worked to reform the Catholic Church. His scholarship helped lead a movement of religious change across Europe and inspired his masterpiece, Institutes of the Christian Religion.

John Calvin’s influence can be felt in how we live and govern. His notions of freedom of men and liberty are principles that helped form our nation, and it is my privilege to honor John Calvin and his teachings as part of our heritage.


Bev Perdue

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Incompatibility of the Covenants: Grace versus Works

"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.' Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith.'"
 - Galatians 3:10-11

In verse 10 Paul refers to what is traditionally entitled the Covenant of Works. The Westminster Confession of Faith (VII:2) explains this: "The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience." Adam was promised eternal life after perfectly fulfilling all the commands of his Creator, in nature, intent, and action. In his created state, Adam was capable of this state of holiness, would have been confirmed in that state, and his posterity would have inherited that native holiness.

However, as every child in Sunday school has learned, Adam broke the covenant, disobeying God in eating from the forbidden tree. He provoked the wrath of God, and forever forfeited the eternal life promised in that covenant, for himself and his posterity.

However, while justice would surely have allowed God to take no further concern with His rebellious children, in His love and grace He chose to establish a second covenant, the Covenant of Grace. As the Confession continues (VII:3), "Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant [i.e., of works], the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the Covenant of Grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe." Or in Paul's words (Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, from Habakkuk 2:4), "The righteous shall live by faith."

If you look to your works to justify you before God, then you are relying on a Covenant that will now save no man, because its standard is perfection, in nature, intent, and action. For us, the fallen descendants of Adam, there is only one hope, and that is faith in the works and person of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Christ, the Mediator of the Covenant of Grace and Foundation of Our Assurance

This is my second post devoted to a passage of "The Gospel Covenant" by Peter Bulkeley. The first can be read here, with relevant links. Note that arcane spelling and grammar are in the original.

"For comfort to such as are entred into covenant with God, by the Mediation of the Lord Jesus, the Mediator of the covenant; here is their comfort, that this covenant so made, can never be disanulled or broken off. Satan will not be wanting [lacking] to make a breach, if possible he can; he envieth this uniting of God and man in covenant one with another; As soon as ever he saw a Covenant passed between God and our first parents, he presently bestirred himself to make a breach between them, hee did then cast between them melon epidos, an apple of strife (as I may so call it), to draw man to violate the covenant of obedience, which God had bound him in, and so he broke asunder the covenant between God and us; And were our covenant now without a Mediator, as the former was, he might prevaile against us and make a new breach, as he did before; but now here is our stay and strong assurance, that if we be once taken into this covenant of grace, this covenant will hold; Though God might in his justice breake with us, and we would break with him through our sinful infirmity and backsliding disposition that is in us, yet the Mediator the Lord Jesus Christ, standing between God and us, keeps us together, that we can never fall asunder: he pleads with the Father to reconcile him to us, when he is angry with us; he pleads also with us, and when we are going back from God, he brings us to him againe, by renewing in us repentings before him; he draws the heart again before the Throne of Grace, powers upon us the spirit of grace and supplication, puts in our mouths words of confession, and stirres up in us sighs and groans of spirit, intreating the Lord that, though we have gone back from him, yet he would again receive us graciously, Hosea 14:2. And thus by means of this our blessed Mediator and Advocate we are holden and continued in covenant with God, so as the covenant of his grace and peace made with us, stands fast through Christ, notwithstanding our manifold declinings and turnings back from him."

Hosea 14:2, "Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to Him, 'Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips."

Also, John 10:27-30, "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 of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hermeneutics for the Millennium: Sometimes People Work Too Hard to Miss the Obvious

"For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night."
- Psalm 90:4

This thought is repeated in II Peter 3:8, "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."
Roman Numeral 1000

Revelation, chapter 20, contains the phrase "thousand years" six times in the first seven verses. And many Christians take that as a literal, countable, one thousand years, neither more nor less. This literalistic interpretation has become predominant, in spite of two relevant facts: first, that the phrase recurs in a chapter otherwise full of symbolic, even mysterious, imagery; and second, that isn't the way the phrase is otherwise used in Scripture.

Historically, Protestants have used the phrase "the analogy of faith" to express the same principle that we now phrase as "scripture interprets scripture." The difference is that historical Protestants meant it as using clearer passages to interpret the more obscure. Yet, in this case, modern evangelicals take an obscure passage to force an interpretation on passages which were easier to understand before the insertion of Revelation 20.

As indicated by Moses in Psalm 90, and the Apostle Peter in his second epistle, "a thousand years" is used to indicate a time beyond our conception, but representing an indefinite period of time in which God completes His purposes. That interpretation brought into Revelation 20 makes sense, but the literalist interpretation of Revelation 20 imposed on Psalm 90 and II Peter makes nonsense. Which is likely to be the purpose of God?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Unprofitable Servants and Our Good Works

"Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table'? Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what is our duty.'"
- Luke 17:7-10

By nature, we are inclined to compare our morality to that of others. It is similar to that joke about escaping bears: I don't have to be faster than the bear; I just have to be faster than you! Our moral standing in our own eyes isn't according to an objective standard, i.e., the moral Law of God, but rather to a relative standard of better or worse (according to our own estimation) than those around us. Yet, no one ever seems to question how everyone can be more moral than average. Doesn't an average imply that fifty percent of the population is below that level?

This has led in theology to the Roman doctrine of supererogation, according to which some especially-holy people have so exceeded God's moral requirements that they can apply that surplus to others less worthy. Thus, the Catholic adoration of saints.

Jesus disposes of that doctrine in the passage above. Even if a person were to live perfectly, he is only doing what is expected of him, and earns no accolades. He is an unprofitable servant, because he doesn't go beyond the minimum expectation. If the best we can hypothetically do is to scrape by at the bare minimum, then logically there can be no credit for extra good works to beg from so-called saints. The adoration of the saints is exposed as nothing more than vain superstition.

However, even this minimum standard is only hypothetical. Since we have all fallen in our father Adam, Romans 5:12, all our actions are contaminated. Isaiah 64:6 says, "We have all become like one unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." If our best works are only filthy rags in the sight of God, then none of us can claim to have even met the minimum requirement. We are worse than unprofitable servants!

Isaiah 59:2 warns us about the impact of our works on our relationship with God: "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." Our righteous deeds have been like throwing garbage in the face of God, and their stench has driven him away from us. However, in His mercy, God Himself gave the solution for bridging that gap, though it is our actions, not His, that have created it.

Isaiah again explains, in 53:4-6: "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."

If you look to your own good works, then you are separated from a holy God. If you look to the works of a so-called saint, then your hope will be found to be a deception. It is only in the cross of Christ that our fellowship with God can be restored. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 10:9-10, 13, gives us God's promise: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved, for with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved... For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The New Birth Before Nicodemus Was Even Born: Psalm 87

"On the holy mount stands the city He founded; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God. Among those who know Me I mention Rahab and Babylon; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush - 'This one was born there,' they say. And of Zion it shall be said, 'This one was born in her'; for the Most High Himself will establish her. The Lord records as He registers the peoples, 'This one was born there.' Singers and dancers alike say, 'All my springs are in you.'"

Here we have that spiritual Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, described more clearly in Hebrews 12:22-23, "You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect." How do I know that it is the spiritual Zion, instead of the physical one? The text itself says that God prefers it over the dwelling places of Israel, which would include the geographical area of Jerusalem. See also Revelation 21:2, 19-27. This is the distinction in the creeds between the "visible church" and the "invisible church."

This Psalm is the inspiration for the hymn, "Glorious things of thee are spoken," by John Newton (who also wrote "Amazing Grace"). Unfortunately, the hymn has been set to the same tune as "Deutschland, Deutschland, uber alles," the national anthem of Nazi Germany, quite contrary to the Psalmist's universalism.

That's what I love about this particular Psalm: its universal view of the prosperity of the Gospel. Men are born the first time citizens of their respective countries, but they are born again the citizens of the Zion of God. The same theme appears in a number of places in the Scriptures, such as Daniel 7:14, "To Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him," and again in Revelation 7:9, "...behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands."

We must seek the power of the Holy Spirit to make our vision as broad as His is! Too often, evangelism and missions in today's Church mean nothing more than seeking to add a few individuals, here and there. The Prophets saw missions as bringing entire peoples into God's Church, for the glory of Christ alone! Scottish Presbyterian Iain Murray's book "Puritan Hope" examines the impact when that vision takes hold of the Church. Our narrowness has deprived Jesus Christ of the honor and glory to which He is due.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

True Peace and God's Judgment on Religious Formalism

"What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required of you this trampling of My courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations - I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood."
- Isaiah 1:11-15

God isn't here rejecting the Mosaic ceremonies. He did, after all, command them Himself. Rather, He is angry with professing believers who continued to go through the motions of the ceremonies, but missed their point completely. The Apostle Paul referred to the same thing in II Timothy 3:5, "[people] having the appearance of godliness, but denying the power."

The ceremonies were never intended for their own sake; they aren't magic rituals that create spiritual miracles out of the thin air. Rather they were intended to reveal the holiness of God, His hatred of sin, and the necessity of atonement for it. As Hebrew 9:22 explains, "Indeed, under the Law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."

However, for the one who isn't numb to his own sins, the sacrifices should lead to a hatred of his sin, an appeal to the blood atonement, and the clear conscience that comes from knowing the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Again, we see in Hebrews 10:3-4, "But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."

So, what of the blood atonement for our sins? Is it never to be fulfilled? Are we left without the satisfaction of God's wrath? What freedom, what blessing to know that the atonement has been provided once for all! Hebrews 10:12-14, "When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." This verse disabuses the Church of Rome of its doctrine of the sacrifice in the mass: not only is that doctrine false, but it is a blasphemy against the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

When Israel performed their sacrifices as a formal ceremony, with no change of the heart, their consciences were clear, but Isaiah exposes that their peace was a deception. In contrast, for the one who truly places his faith in Christ, Hebrews 10:19-22 testifies, "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and out bodies washed with pure water."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ecclesiastes 7:20, The Wisdom Literature on the Sinfulness of Mankind

A Russian Icon of Solomon
"Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins."

John Calvin phrases the same thought this way: "By nature we are alienated from God and can do nothing but the things he condemns. That, therefore, is the condition of man in himself - that is, a condition totally repugnant to the righteousness of God." From a sermon on Acts 2:38.

In contrast, mainstream religion in this country pooh-poohs the traditional concept of sin. Some turn it into a psychological shortcoming. Others ridicule it as a crusade against fun. Theologically, it is dismissed as the angst of a guilt-ridden Apostle Paul.

Paul certainly didn't invent the concept of sin. In fact, it doesn't even appear with the advent of the New Testament. It doesn't exist just in the Law of Moses. The fallenness and sinfulness of men appears throughout scripture, including in the Wisdom literature, where even evangelicals fail to consider it.

We see it in Ecclesiastes above. We can also find it several places in Proverbs.

16:2, "All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit."

16:25, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death."

17:15, "He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord."

20:9, "Who can say, 'I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin'?"

21:2, "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart."

30:12, "There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth."

And the contrast of Psalm 119:9, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word."

Whose wisdom will you trust when examining your own spiritual condition? The wisdom of men? Or the wisdom of God?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sweetly Receiving the Covenant of Grace

The following is an except from "The Gospel Covenant, or the Covenant of Grace Opened," by Peter Bulkeley, a Congregationalist minister and founder of the colony of Concord, Massachusetts. And apropos of nothing in particular, he is also an ancestor of former President George Bush. I have a facsimile copy of the 1651 edition of his book. He writes so movingly of the covenant, that I thought that any additions from my hand would only lessen its impact. The anachronistic spellings and grammar are from the original, as are also the italicized portions. Words in brackets are my own insertions for the sake of clarity.

"Come with an humble submission to yeeld up thyself to the obedience of the will of God; wee must receive from him the law of our life by which we must live. When you come to make a covenant with God, you must not come to give lawes unto God, but to take lawes from God; not to impose lawes upon him, that he shall save you so and so, but you must leave God free to make the conditions of the covenant after his own minde and will; think it honour enough that you may be a people in covenant with God, and have your life granted by covenant from him, but for the conditions, leave them to God, let him command and require what he will, he must be free, or else he will not make a covenant with you: This is that which Hezekiah [II Chron. 30:7-8] exhorted to, to come and give the hand to the Lord, and serve him, we must come and make a covenant with God, as a servant with his master, as Subjects with their Prince, a covenant of service, not to be our own Lords. The sonnes of David, and Princes of Israel (when Solomon sate upon the throne), came and gave their hand under Solomon, I Chron 29:24. That is, they made a covenant with him, but it was with submission to his power, which submission of theirs unto him, is implyed in those words, They gave the hand under Solomon. And such is the covenant which we must make with God, wee must give the hand under God, submitting to him, to be ruled by him. Thence it is, that we are called upon to deny our selves; If any one will be my disciple, let him deny himself, etc. we must not cleave to our selves, to our wills, and make our own Lawes, we must deny our own inclinations, wills and affections, refuse to be governed by them, and resign up our selves to the will of God; this is the resolution we must come unto, if we will enter into covenant with God; as it was in the sacrifice of the Law, he that offered it, laid his hand upon the head of it, as dedicating it to God, and quitting it from himselfe, as if he should say, I have no more to doe with this bullock, it is now the Lords (that was in part the signification of that action), so if we will be the Lords people in covenant wioth him, we must resigne our selves onely and wholly to be for him, Rom. 12:1-2, we must present our bodies as a living and acceptable sacrifice, consecrate and devote them to God, to live unto him, and to be our own no more: as it is in a marriage-covenant, when a man and woman make a covenant, they doe resigne up themselves one to another, not to be themselves [i.e., to belong to themselves] any more; it is a marriage-covenant that we make with God, I will marry thee to my selfe, saith the Lord, Hos. 2:19. therefore we must doe as the Spouse doth, resigne up our selves to be ruled and governed according to his will."

II Chronicles 30:7-8: Bulkeley says prior to this section that the phrase, "yield yourselves to the Lord," translates "give your hand to the Lord," in the Hebrew. In other words, "give your hand in agreement to His covenant."

Friday, August 7, 2009

The First Turning of Christ's Shame Toward Glory

"After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews."
- John 19:57-59

This Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man (Matthew 27:57), and a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, but one who had not agreed with their decision to eliminate Jesus (Luke 23:50-51). His role in transferring Jesus's corpse to the tomb is mentioned in all four Gospels (see also Mark 15:43). Both Luke
and John mention that this was a newly-dug tomb, in which no bodies had yet been laid, but it was probably intended for Joseph himself, together with his family, as was the custom for the wealthy. This was in fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9, "And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death."

Here we see what is described in Hebrews 12:2, "... looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." After the shame and ignominy of a trial, beatings, lashes, and then the ultimate shame of the crucifixion itself, the trough is past, and the first hints of glory show themselves. As prophesied by the gift of myrrh at His birth (Matthew 2:11), this was the death He was destined to die, and the Father here gives the first tokens of the glory with which He would reward the Son, described for example in Hebrews, chapter 1. The first signs are these two wealthy men, ministering to the humiliated corpse of their Lord, Who had had not even a place to lay His head in life (Matthew 8:20). That glory would advance to His resurrection, His ascension, His seating at the right hand of the Father, and will be ultimately seen in His return in glory to receive the kingdoms of the earth for Himself (Revelation 11:15). That same Jesus that was mocked as a king at His death, would be acknowledged as king in His glory. As Zechariah 13:7-9 prophesied, the Shepherd Who was struck will be acknowledged as "the Lord is my God."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

King Solomon Explains the Failure of the Pleasure Principle

"There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him, who can eat or who can have enjoyment?"
- Ecclesiastes 2:24-25

And again in 3:12-13, "I perceived that there is nothing better for them [i.e., the children of man] than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil - this is God's gift to man."

And once more in 3:22, "So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?"

And again in 5:18-20, "Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil - this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart."

We see Solomon here looking back on his own life. He has pursued wisdom (1:13), self-indulgence (2:1), wealth (2:8), women (2:8b), and even workaholism (2:18-23). After exhausting these attempts at self-fulfillment, he concludes that it is labor in its proper sphere - to produce an enjoyable livelihood, neither as drudgery or as a source of personal significance, and then the enjoyment of the fruits of that labor - that produce a satisfying life. In other words, the greatest king in Scripture, who had every luxury known to man at his command, concluded that it was all vanity; but the labor of the common man, who then spent the fruits of that labor on enjoying life, was where true material happiness was to be found.

Even though Solomon's discovery has been available to men for about three thousand years, it is a lesson that seems to elude too many people. Our own society seems to experience only the two extremes: everyone seems devoted to dissipation, on one hand, or is an obsessive workaholic, on the other, or even both. Solomon experienced both, and concluded that there is no real fulfillment in either. Rather, fulfillment is found in meaningful labor in its sphere, and the use of the fruits to enjoy the rest of one's life.

What would our society look like if we followed Solomon's prescription? I suspect that stress-related illnesses would decrease, addiction to vices would fade, wantonness in children would be a surprise rather than expected, divorce would become the exception rather than the rule. One could imagine a host of unforced reforms that might resonate across society.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Biblical Inerrancy: Walking by Faith, Not by Sight

"Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar."
- Proverbs 30:5-6

God has a special zeal for sustaining the truth of His word. Robert Rollock explains, "God should be glorifed in the truth of His word. There is nothing the Lord seeks more than to be known in the truth of His word; and, therefore, look what He will do to be known to be true in His promise; rather than [that] His promises be not performed, He will invert the course of nature. The thing that the Lord hath once spoken will be performed, albeit all the world should say the contrary."

Rollock is referring to God's own assertions, such as that in Numbers 23:19: "God is not a man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?" Yet, this understanding of Scripture, that it is actually the word of God, and therefore cannot contain error, is under attack. The ability of Christians to rest assured of the truth and love of God is actively denied, not just by professing unbelievers, but even by most members of mainline churches.

Rollock continues: "Men may lie, but God cannot lie. Ere He bring not about the thing that He hath spoken, He will mix the heaven and the earth together. He will bring things about against all the means in the world; not only by and above nature, but also contrary and against nature, as He brought the promise made to Abraham to pass. Nature can be no impediment, albeit a creature can do nothing against nature."

It is logically consistent for liberal Christians to deny the supernatural truth of the Bible, because they deny the supernatural nature of God. By demoting the infallible Deity to simply an exalted, yet fallible, glorified man, they are consistent in denying anything more in his word, than that is merely glorified literature. However, if one assumes a transcendent, omniscient deity, it is completely consistent to rely on what He says to be true and sure. It is on that basis that a true Christian can have confidence in the Bible, because its Author is reliable, in the ultimate and absolute sense, not in the momentary, passing, and unstable manner of a man.

An infallible God gives an inerrant Bible, in which a Christian finds comfort and assurance in the promises of that God in Jesus Christ. We can proclaim with the Apostle Paul, in II Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Does Jesus Believe in the Lone Ranger?

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
- Hebrews 10:24-25

I remember in college, all the folks who drifted in and out of our student fellowship. As Southerners, our natural first question was, "Where do you go to church?" A recurring response was something to the effect of, "I don't go to church; I can worship God anywhere." Even though I was young in my faith at the time, I still found something out-of-sync in that response. In contrast, I immediately found a church the first Sunday I was at college (which was about four hours away from my home), without even questioning that it was important to do so.

In Psalm 122:1, David rejoiced, "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord!'" Passion for the corporate worship of God is even included in the millennial blessings described by the Old Testament prophets. Isaiah 2:3 declares, "Many peoples shall come, and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He might teach us His ways and that we might walk in His paths.'"And again in Zechariah 8:21, "The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, 'Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.'" Lone Ranger spirituality just isn't known in the Bible.

The reasons given in Scripture for the gathering of God's people are numerous. For example, Hebrews 13:17 tells us, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account." So the gathering of the church will bring you into consistent contact with men that God gives a special responsibility for your spiritual welfare (see also II Timothy 4:1-2 and Titus 1:9). The Apostle Paul explains in Ephesians 4:12-13, that Christ gave these elders and deacons "to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, [and] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Building up the corporate church is also one of the outworkings of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because the church is his body. Ephesians 2:19-22 describes the organic growing together of those who are in Christ. To refuse is to reject the very spiritual work that Christ is doing in our world (I John 3:14).

Robert Rollock addresses the Lone Ranger attitude in these words: "It is a folly to thee to say thou wilt depend on the providence of God, and in the meantime to leave off means, for by so doing, thou temptest God, who, as He hath ordained the end, so He hath also ordained the means to the end. As, for example, if thou wouldst go to heaven, thou must use the means, the hearing of the word, etc. Yet many will condemn the means, and yet brag they are assured to come to heaven; they will condemn the preaching, which is the instrument God uses. But I say to thee, thou deceivest thyself." See I John 2:4.

"For in Thy courts one day excels
     a thousand; rather in
My God's house will I keep a door,
     than dwell in tents of sin."
Psalm 84:10, Metrical Version

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pro-Life Means Rescue the Innocent

"Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, 'Behold, we did not know this,' does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will He not repay man according to his work?"
- Proverbs 24:11-12

During World War II, the Dutch woman Corrie ten Boom followed this admonition, when she hid Jewish refugees in her house during the Nazi Holocaust. She obeyed this Proverb literally, and was herself imprisoned by the Nazis. Her own sister perished in the death camp.

In our own time, the American holocaust is the extermination of the unborn. Randall Terry founded the pro-life organization Operation Rescue, and took its name expressly from this text, though not without controversy. Personally, I believe that a Christian can accept the obligation of this text, while not also condoning all the strategies of Operation Rescue.

Of course, that brings up an additional question: if Proverbs 24:11 doesn't justify the tactics of Operation Rescue, what does it require? Too many Christians are satisfied saying that they don't agree with Operation Rescue, then don't do anything else instead. Christian, what are you doing to rescue the unborn? When God sifts the answers of your heart, will He be as satisfied with your answer as you are? Our passage warns against the self-satisfied heart of the man who hides his eyes from his own complacency. Do you believe that the screams of the unborn children will be silenced, if you simply sing a little louder?