Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Abrahamic Covenant and Infant Baptism

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

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

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

So, Bulkeley's logic proceeds like this:

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Apocrypha Used in the New Testament?

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Visible Church and the Second Commandment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ezekiel 3, the Commission of the Prophet of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn't God good?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Doctrine of Reprobation: Laying the Ax to the Pride of Men

"For certain people have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."
-Jude 1:4

Of the distinctive doctrines associated with the nickname "Calvinism", two are particularly anathematized by devotees of free-willism: reprobation, the doctrine that God has actively preordained some for unbelief, hardening, and judgment; and particular atonement, the doctrine that Christ died for a certain number, eternally decreed by God, rather than for men universally. I want here to address the first.

Jude here describes certain people who have been designated for condemnation. Those individuals are contrasted with others in verse 3 who hold to the faith of the saints. Paul addresses the same preordination in Romans 9:11-13, "Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad - in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of His call - she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' As it written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'" God declared in advance that He chose Jacob by name, but rejected Esau by name, out of His sovereign decree of election, explicitly not because of the qualities of the brothers.

Even among some Reformed folks, the doctrine of reprobation is misrepresented as a passive act of God, in which He merely refrains from electing a person to salvation, the view of Lutherans. They are still too attached to human worthiness to accept that God actively devotes some to eternal destruction. But the Scriptures do not bend to their squeamishness. Paul continues in Romans 9:20-24, "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have You made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory?" Notice that Paul doesn't explain God's decree of reprobation. Rather, he condemns our presumption in questioning it. After all, as creatures, we rebel when we demand explanations from our Creator. Do we not claim the same right when we tell our children, "because I said so"?

The Westminster Confession of Faith (III:7) summarizes these biblical statements this way: "The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath, for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice." Notice that the confession does not describe reprobation as a passive allowing, but rather as an active ordaining.

Our fallen hearts naturally rise up and demand that God explain His actions. After all, who does He think He is? "I think I am God, and that you aren't," is His answer. And that should bring Paul's question to mind again: Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Psalms, The Prosperity of Zion, and the Glory of God

"You, O Lord, are enthroned forever; You are remembered throughout all generations. You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is time to favor her; the appointed time has come. For Your servants hold her stones dear and have pity on her dust. Nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth will fear Your glory. For the Lord builds up Zion; He appears in His glory; He regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.

"Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord: that He looked down from His holy height; from heaven the Lord looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord, and in Jerusalem His praise, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord."
- Psalm 102:12-22

To interpret these verses as applying exclusively, or even primarily, to the physical Jerusalem in Israel is to turn this passage against itself. While it refers to nations fearing the name of the Lord, a future people praising the Lord, and the liberated declaring His name and praise, and gathering to worship Him - all of which are spiritual activities - it would then be a nonsensical shift to be talking of a geographical location. Surely this is that spiritual Zion mentioned explicitly in Hebrews 12:22, "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering..." This is the Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, that is a reference to the Church, by the name of her Old Testament type.

This same gathering of the nations to the Church is mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah. For example, see Is. 60:3, "And nations shall come to Your light, and kings to the brightness of Your rising." He uses almost identical wording, reinforcing the application of these prophecies to the Gospel Church.

The Westminster Larger Catechism, question 191, interprets the second petition of the Lord's Prayer ("thy kingdom come"), in part, as praying for "the Gospel [to be] propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, [and] the fullness of the Gentiles brought in." The Westminster Directory for Public Worship enjoins that prayer be raised "for the propagation of the Gospel and kingdom of Christ to all nations, for the conversion of the Jews, [and] the fulnesse of the Gentiles."

The belief in the prosperity of Zion through the power of God in the Gospel is taught in Scripture and has been the historical desire and love of God's people. The negativism and malaise that now dominate the Church have come in through the infection of dispensationalism, in all its factions. May God restore the Church to the power that her oldtime faith gave her!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

God's Controversy with False Teachers: The Feel-Good Gospel of American Evangelicalism

"'In the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to Me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.' Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets: 'Behold, I will feed them with bitter food and give them poisoned water to drink, for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has gone out into all the land.'

"Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, "It shall be well with you"; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart they say, "No disaster shall come upon you."'"
- Jeremiah 23:14-17

Telling anyone of his sin has become passe in today's spiritual world. Whether we are talking about liberal theologians who simply dismiss the very concept of sin, or about feel-good evangelicals like Joel Osteen, it just isn't good form to tell a man that he is a sinner under the judgment of God.

The prophet Isaiah also spoke about these ecclesiastical quislings (Is 5:20): "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."

Jeremiah warns these teachers (verses 26-29): "How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make My people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot My name for Baal? Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has My word speak My word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not My word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?"

The true word of God breaks the sinner's heart like a rock, because his heart must be broken before he will turn to Jesus for salvation. A false teacher will massage the sinner's self-esteem all the way to Hell. Which one is actually helping the sinner? Your eternity may depend on how you answer that question.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Universalism of the Covenant of Works versus the Particularity of the Covenant of Grace

This is another passage from Peter Bulkeley's "The Gospel Covenant." I find great spiritual sweetness in it. Odd spellings and grammar are in the original, as are the italics.

"The covenant of works was made with all men, all men being in Adams loins, and he standing as a publique person in the roome of all his children, when God made that covenant with him: but the covenant of grace is not made with all men, but onely with the faithfull, with those that are given unto Christ by the Father, John 17. And therefore by the covenant of works, God is a God to one as well as to another; God is not a God of one people more than another, by the covenant of workes, for it was made equally with us all in Adam, it being made with him for all his posterity. And therefore seeing wee are all equally the sons of Adam, this Covenant makes no difference betwixt man and man, but all are shut up under it, all bound to fulfill it; and if they breake it (as wee all doe), then liable are we to the sentence of death. But in the Covenant of grace, God is the God of one people, and not of another. Hence is that in Gen. 17:21. God saith that he will establish his Covenant with Isaac, and not with Ishmael: So it was made with Jacob and not with Esau, with Abel and not with Cain, with David and not with Saul; not with Judas, but with Peter; with the Jewes first, and not with the Gentiles; and after, with the Gentiles, and not with the Jewes. By this Covenant one people becomes a more peculiar people then another. As first of Peter, 2 chap. The Covenant of grace is not universal, it is not made with all, as the Covenant of workes was."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sunday Christians, Weekday Pagans

"Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, 'We are delivered!' - only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I Myself have seen it, declares the Lord."
- Jeremiah 7:6-11

Most of us will immediately associate these verses with the tradition of auricular confession, the belief that the priest can forgive all one's sins after confession. But it isn't just that superstition that is addressed here. Too many professing Christians of all stripes act like they get get a new supply of spiritual get-out-of-jail-free cards whenever they go to church on Sunday, so that they can cover their unchristian actions during the week. "Want to cheat your customer? Go ahead, you still have credit at the Jesus Bank and Trust". And we have all seen the reckless driver with the "God is my co-pilot" and "child on board" bumper stickers. And what about the person who acts haughty to a waiter or salesperson, but then adopts angelic humility when he or she walks in the church door?

The great commentator Matthew Henry says, in part, regarding this passage: "The privileges of a form of godliness are often the pride and confidence of those that are strangers and enemies to the power of it. It is common for those that are furthest from God to boast themselves most of their being near to the church. They are haughty because of the holy mountain (Zep. 3:11), as if God's mercy were so tied to them that they might defy his justice."

The passage to which he refers (Zephaniah 3:11-13) gives us the alternative: "On that day you shall be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against Me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in My holy mountain. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and holy. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord, those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid."

God is not fooled by your Sunday religion. Are you?

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Sodomites of Jerusalem

"Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. Though they say, 'As the Lord lives,' yet they swear falsely. O Lord, do not Your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they have felt no anguish; You have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent."
- Jeremiah 5:1-3

It's pretty easy to see that this prophecy would have won Jeremiah no friends in the seat of Judah. His hearers could not have failed to hear the remembrance of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 18, after God has told Abraham of His plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, Abraham is moved to intercede for them. Verses 23-26: "Then Abraham drew near and said, 'Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will You then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?' And the Lord said, 'If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake." The discussion winds down finally to ten righteous, for lack of whom Sodom is doomed. Apparently, Jerusalem also fails to count ten righteous, because it was indeed destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

In fact, in the New Testament, the hardness of Jewish hearts is decried as worse than those of Sodom. Jesus, speaking in Matthew 11:23-24, warns his hearers, "And ... will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you."

The word "sodomite" is thrown around as if its targets were the worst sinners imaginable, yet Scripture warns of a hardness of heart that God hates more than any sin attributed to the people of Sodom. I hate that easy judgmentalism! But I know that it is easier to point the finger than it is to examine one's own spiritual condition. May we heed the warning of Jesus Himself.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jeremiah 1:4-12, The God-Called Preacher

"Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.' Then, I said, 'Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.' But the Lord said to me, 'Do not say, "I am only a youth"; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.' Then the Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, 'Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.' And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 'Jeremiah, what do you see?' And I said, 'I see an almond branch.' Then the Lord said, 'You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.'" [In Hebrew, "almond" and "watching" are closely similar.]

Notice the pattern here: the calling of God to Jeremiah was prior, not just to his intent, but even to his awareness, even from the womb. The man of God doesn't claim a place in His ministry; he is called to it, even against his expectations and desires: "I am only a youth."

There is a parallel here to the calling of Isaiah, 6:5-9: "And I said: 'Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!' Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: 'Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me.' And He said, 'Go, and say to this people...'", etc.

When he became conscious of God's calling of him, Jeremiah protested because of his youth. Likewise, Isaiah protested his sinfulness. The godly man claims no qualifications, for he can have none to offer. Jeremiah was youthful, and Isaiah was a sinner. Their very disqualifications made room for the grace of God and the working of His Holy Spirit, untarnished by the mediatorship of men.

In contrast, across the page, Jeremiah shows us that prophet whom God has not called, but is rather the mouthpiece of Hell. In 2:7-8, we read, "And I brought you out into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled My land and made My heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, 'Where is the Lord?' Those who handle the law did not know Me; the shepherds transgressed against Me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit." The false preacher turns the people away from their faithfulness, turning from His Law to strange and new doctrines. He continues, in verses 26-27, "As a thief is shamed when caught, so the house of Israel shall be shamed: they, their kings, their officials, their priests, and their prophets, who say to a tree, 'You are my father', and to a stone, 'You gave me birth.'For they have turned their back to Me, and not their face. But in the time of trouble they say, 'Arise and save us.'"

The false preacher is happy to stoke the religiosity of his flock during time of trouble, but the God-called preacher speaks the words of God at all times, whether to break down the resistant or to build up the repentant, for God watches over His word, to perform it (1:12; see also Isaiah 55:11). The God-called preacher speaks the truth to nations and to kingdoms, while the false minister is concerned to tickle the ears of his audience (II Timothy 4:3).