Friday, December 31, 2010

Job 9:28-32, Our Condition Outside of Christ in the Covenant of Works

"I become afraid of all my suffering,
    for I know you will not hold me innocent.
I shall be condemned;
    why then do I labor in vain?
If I wash myself with snow
    and cleanse my hands with lye,
yet you will plunge me into a pit,
    and my own clothes will abhor me.
For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him,

    that we should come to trial together."

Job here gives utterance to a concept also found in Isaiah 64:6, comparing our nature to rotten and filthy clothes that must be put off. He goes further, describing the efforts of the unregenerate man to cleanse himself, seeking the purity of snow (contrast Isaiah 1:18), and the cleanliness of harsh lye soap (against Psalm 51:7). This is man under the covenant of works, striving by works to achieve the eternal life first offered to Adam for his perfect obedience (Genesis 1:28-30, 2:17). In Adam's transgression we all became sinners (Romans 5:12), and under judgment for breaking God's commandments (James 2:10 and Galatians 3:10). And Job warns us that the shifty arguments that we offer in defense do not sway our divine Judge (verse 32). That covenant is broken and there is only judgment, not hope, therein.

So, where can we be made clean? Only by being washed in the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:5).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Apostle Paul and Bishops or Elders? Does the Bible Really Say?

"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— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."
- Titus 1:5-9

One of the sharpest conflicts between Presbyterians and Anglicans in Great Britain was over the issue of church government. Presbyterians held - and still hold- that Christ, as Head of the Church, did not leave her to develop a government by accident or by tradition, i.e., that presbyterian government is according to jure divino, divine law. In contrast, most Anglicans believed that church government is not prescribed by scripture, and that the episcopal system developed organically, and should be maintained as an ancient tradition.

However, some supporters of prelacy hold that it, instead, is jure divino. They cite the use of episkopos in the Greek text as a command to have bishops. In their understanding, since both words are used in the Greek, episkopos ("bishops") and presbuteros ("elder", and transcribed into English by some as "priest"), then they must be separate offices, and both necessary to the Church.

However, in the text from Titus above, both words are used, presbuteros in verse 5, and episkopos in verse seven, as referring to the same person! It is on the basis of this passage that presbyterians hold that "bishop" ("overseer" in most modern translations) and "elder" actually refer to the same office, the former describing what he does, the latter describing what he is, older (see Titus 2:2-6). In fact, Paul's words to Titus here would make no sense if the two terms were not equivalent.

I think that this text makes it incontrovertible that presbyterian church government has exclusive claim to the status of jure divino, and prelacy is exclusively a human invention, in rebellion against the Head of the Church.

I do not attempt here to deal with the Roman doctrine of apostolic succession.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Lord Rewards Unbelievers for Their Unwitting Service to Him

"In the twenty-seventh year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 'Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre. Every head was made bald, and every shoulder was rubbed bare, yet neither he nor his army got anything from Tyre to pay for the labor that he had performed against her. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army. I have given him the land of Egypt as his payment for which he labored, because they worked for Me, declares the Lord God.'"
                                                     - Ezekiel 29:17-20

The background here is that God had declared His judgment against the pagan city of Tyre. In the execution of that judgment, He had called Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, an unbeliever, and his army to conquer and destroy Tyre (see Ezekiel 27).

Even though Nebuchadnezzar was unwitting in his God-given role, and would certainly have rebelled against it if he had been conscious of it, God acknowledges this role, and gives him suzerainty over Egypt as a reward.

I think that there is a part of every man's soul that recoils at the thought of God's giving a blessing to a rank unbeliever, even if it is far short of salvation. And even more so, the heart of natural man recoils at the thought of even an unbeliever's serving the purposes of God! The natural man loves to believe that he is self-sovereign, unless he chooses to submit to God. This view is shared by free-will versions of professing Christianity, as well. Yet, Ezekiel reveals the error of human self-sovereignty!

Psalm 74:2, the Eternal Intention of Redemption in Christ

"Remember your congregation, which You have purchased of old, which You have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage! Remember Mount Zion, where You have dwelt."

One of the many errors of Scofieldism, or classical Dispensationalism, is that history consists of a series of plans of salvation set up by God, failed in by men, to be replaced by a new plan. Dispensationalists hold that redemption in Christ was a new plan, unforeseen prior to the actual coming of Christ.
C. I. Scofield

Yet, we see in this verse from Psalms that, not only is the Atonement foreseen, but it is actually seen as so certain as to have been already accomplished!

It is in this same sense that the Apostle John refers to Christ as the "lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8).

In contrast, covenant theology holds that all of history, though under varying administrations, has always been directed toward the Atonement, the Old Testament looking forward in time, but with a faith in its certitude, and the New Testament looking back.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Amos 3:2, Election and God's Disciplining Love

"You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities."

Addressing His own chosen people, God declares that His discipline arises from His special love for us. The same principle appears across the Scriptures, in both testaments. For example, Moses writes in Deuteronomy 8:5, "Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you." That is quoted almost word-for-word by the author of Hebrews 12:7. Proverbs 3:12 in the Old Testament, and again, John in Revelation 3:19 in the New.

Paul gives the explanation for this discipline in I Corinthians 11:32, "When we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world." The discipline of the Lord is directed toward the effectual goal of separating those who are His from those who are not (Matthew 25:33).

When His discipline seems so hard, and it certainly can be, remember one other exhortation from Proverbs 3:11, "My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of His reproof." His discipline arises not from tyranny, but from the love of His fatherhood.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

John 3:16-17, The Universality of the Gospel and the Particularity of the Atonement

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him."

It is amazingly predictable that this passage will come up in any discussion of the extent of the atonement. As I have stated before (such as here and here), I hold to the classic Reformed view of the Atonement, called "limited" or "particular" atonement, i.e., that Christ died effectually and exclusively for a certain number of particular individuals given to Him by the Father before the Creation, explicitly the Church (e. g., John 6:35-40, Ephesians 5:25). This is in opposition to the Arminian view of universal atonement, i.e., the belief that Christ died generically for all, and ineffectually for most.

However, look at what these verses actually say. Because God loved the world, i.e., His Creation, He gave His Son for those who believe in Him. This is particular atonement! Because the Father created this world as good (Genesis 1:10), He saw fit to redeem a race from it, lest it all be condemned for Adam's sin.

The theologian John Brown of Haddington referred to this as "an ordinance of salvation." Brown vehemently maintained that the Father truly and unreservedly proffered Jesus Christ as the way of salvation (Acts 4:12). Any who would be saved must flee to Him, and there can be no other salvation. Thus, Christ holds the office of savior for the whole world, which is a separate issue from either election or atonement. Think of this analogy: the sun is given as the primary source of light for the whole world. However, the blind do not benefit from its light. Yet, their lack of benefit in no way negates the action of the sun. In the same way, while the reprobate receive no eternal benefits from Jesus as savior, that in no way negates his work as Savior, which is effectual for all those whom He chooses. Remember, He Himself said that many are called (i.e., in the proclamation of the gospel), but few are chosen (i.e., in the effectual power of election), Matthew 22:14 (cf. also, Revelation 17:14).

My point here is that there is no conflict between the universality of Christ's saving office and His particularity of saving action. They are distinct things with distinct purposes.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I John 5:7, The Johannine Comma

"For there are three which bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the holy Ghost: and these three are one." -Geneva Bible

This verse, technically referred to as "the Johannine Comma," has been controversial for a long time. However, it is important to recognize that orthodox Christians are unanimous in holding to the substance of the teaching of the verse. Most modern Bible translations, including my preferred ESV, leave it out. Older ones, such as the Geneva Bible and KJV include it. That is because the editors of the critical versions of the Greek New Testament have concluded that it isn't supported by the manuscripts. I am not qualified to address that. The following is from the Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington. He was a mid-18th Century theology professor for the Burgher Associate Synod in Scotland. I reprint it here simply as a contribution to the discussion.

"The Socinians, modern Arians, and some others, contend that the last-mentioned text, I John v. 7, is spurious; because, 1. 'Many Greek manuscripts want [lack] it.' But many of these want other texts: and the similarity of the 7th and 8th verses made a careless transcriber apt to overleap one of them. 2. 'Many of the ancient translations want it.' But none of these translations are of great weight in this matter, for they want much more of the New Testament. Nor are any of them, except the Syriac and Jerome's Latin one, much worth. 3. 'The ancient Fathers do not quote it, when, in their disputes with heretics, it would have been much to their purpose.' But that might be because they had deficient copies, or cared not to adduce a text which their opponents might have rejected. -Let it be further observed, 1, The orthodox had no temptation to forge it, having plenty of proof for their faith concerning the Trinity beside. But the Antitrinitarians had strong temptations to drop it out of their copies, which is also more easily done. And yet perhaps it originated from no design, but from the hurry of a transcriber, amidst the rage of persecution. 2. About 1400 years ago [i.e., before Brown's time], we find complaints of some Antitrinitarians attempting to corrupt the Scripture; but never, till of late, that the orthodox had done so. 3. This verse is referred to by Tertullian about AD 200, quoted by Cyprian about 250, and by Athanasius, or one in his name, about 350. Jerome hath it in his translation about 400, and admitting it to be in all the best Greek copies, he severely blames the want of it in the old Latin version. Soon after, it is quoted by Eucherus and Vigilius. In 484, the African bishops quote it in the Confession of their faith which they presented to Hunneric their Arian king; and about thirty years after, Fulgentius, when required by an Arian king to produce his objections against the Arians, quoted it three times. When the Vulgate Latin translation was solemnly, and with great care, corrected from Greek and Latin manuscripts, by order of Charles the Great, about AD 800, and again by the famed University of Sorbonne, about two hundred years after, this text was retained. Erasmus, who inclined to Arianism, first suspected it, and dropt it out of his first edition of the New Testament: but restored it in his subsequent editions, upon the credit of an old British copy. It is said that nine of Stephen's sixteen manuscripts from which he printed his excellent edition of the Greek New Testament, had this text. No doubt, many of the manuscripts, from which other principal editions were formed, are now lost. A printed copy is even more authentic than almost any manuscript extant, the oldest of which were written some hundred years after all these of the apostles were either worn out, or lost: for, more learning and care have been exercised to render some printed editions correct, than perhaps was taken on all the manuscripts written for a thousand years before the Reformation. 4. The passage appears deficient and unconnected if this verse be dropt. Mill and Bengelius have therefore honestly retained it, in their excellent editions, notwithstanding they have fairly. and with much more candour than Michaelis, represented the objections against it."

In contrast, Free Church of Scotland Theologian William Cunningham, 1805-1861, stated in his Historical Theology (1862, Vol. 2, p. 216), "most Trinitarians now admit that there is a decided preponderance of critical evidence against the genuineness of I John v. 7, usually spoken of as the three heavenly witnesses." This sentence appears in the section in which Cunningham sets forth the errors of the Socinians and Arians on the Trinity and divinity of Christ.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

God Uses Even the Wickedness of Men to Serve Him

"So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, 'What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.' And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt."
- Genesis 37:23-28

We know the story: Joseph had told his father and brothers of dreams in which they bow to and serve him. As might be expected, they resented the idea. Also, their father Israel had exacerbated the conflict by playing favorites, clearly preferring Joseph over his other sons. In their own wickedness, the brothers first plan to murder Joseph, then nervously back off, choosing merely to sell him into slavery to their kin, the Ishmaelites.

What neither Joseph nor his brothers understood was that this was in the purposes of God. Go over to Genesis 45:4-8, especially verse 7, "And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors." God had used the wickedness of Joseph's brothers to bring him to a place from which he would save the lives of the covenant people years later.

However, notice that God never rewards the brothers for their wickedness. While they had planned to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites, he is instead found by the Midianites, who then sell him along. God's purposes are fulfilled, but the brothers are frustrated in their expectation of blood-money. How can anyone read this story and not be convinced of the sovereign decrees of God?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Genesis 31:1-3, Evil in This Life Drives Our Hearts to the Blessedness of Eternity

"Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, 'Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.' And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the Lord said to Jacob, 'Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.'"

Perhaps you recall the context of these events: Isaac had sent Jacob back to Padan-Aram, to Laban, Rebekah's brother, to find a wife among her kindred, as was the custom of that time. Falling in love with Rachel, Laban's daughter, Jacob agrees to work for Laban for seven years as bride-price for her hand in marriage. However, Laban treacherously slipped Rachel's older sister Leah under the wedding veil. Jacob then agrees to work an additional seven years to gain Rachel. He thus works a total of fourteen years for his two wives (joined later by their two hand-maidens).

In the passage quoted here, Rachel's brothers are jealous of the prosperity that Jacob had received from Jehovah his God, while their own father diminished, thus dissipating their inheritance. They turn their resentment against Jacob, and he is inspired to return home.

As I read that this morning, in spite of having read it many times before, I was struck both by the presence of God's electing hand, and the pattern it represents for the life of most, if not all, believers. God had a covenantal plan for Jacob, the heir of the promise, to return to the Promised Land and invest himself there. While He certainly could have simply ordered the move, He instead creates circumstances under which Jacob and his family are happy to do as He intends.

We often hear the question of how a good God can allow evil in the world. While this passage doesn't cover that exhaustively, I think it certainly gives a partial answer. Our citizenship is not in this world (Philippians 3:20); it is in the spiritual kingdom of God. For most of us, the experiential aspect of that is in the world to come. So God makes this world bitter and contemptible, so that we long to be with Jesus. For some people, minor difficulties are sufficient; for others, it may take a larger nudge, such as a horrible disease.

Remember Jacob, and do not allow yourself to focus on the bitterness of this world. Rather, turn your eyes to Jesus, and the time to come when we will no longer know suffering, but only joy (Revelation 21:4).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Five Reasons to Celebrate the Reformation!

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. That event is considered to be the official beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

The controversy between the Reformers and the Church of Rome boiled down to what are often called the Five Solas of the Reformation.

Sola Scriptura, "scripture alone", i.e., the belief that the Bible alone is the infallible rule of faith and life, in opposition to the Catholic advocacy for an equal authority for church tradition.

Solus Christus, "Christ alone," i.e., the belief that salvation is in Christ alone, not in the church, not in Mary, not in the sacraments, and not in any saints.

Sola Gratia, "grace alone," i.e., that salvation is a free gift from God, not the reward for any works on our part, much less the supererogation of the saints or the indulgences from the Pope.

Sola fide, "through faith alone." Our faith is the response created in us by his grace. That is, we aren't saved by faith, per se, but rather through faith.

Soli deo gloria, "for the glory of God alone." God doesn't need to save us. God isn't obligated to save us. In fact there is nothing within us to inspire Him to save us (Isaiah 64:6).

 Also, as a Presbyterian, I celebrate this year as the 450th anniversary of the Reformation of Scotland, under the leadership of John Knox, a converted Catholic priest.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Amos 3:6, Is It the Responsibility of a Sovereign God to Make Us Happy?

"Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?"

Portions like this one are why ignorance of the Old Testament is almost a sign of superiority amongst American Evangelicals. Consider that popular song: "At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away, it was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day!" Charismatics, especially the Prosperity Gospel peddlars, are well-known for claiming that illnesses are "lies from Satan!" But is it biblical to expect to be "happy all the day" or free from illness, simply because one knows Jesus?

Consider another verse, Isaiah 45:7, "I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things." Speaking of Himself, God certainly makes no claims of being the bringer of only sweetness and light.

Or what of the testimony of Job? In 2:10, he says, "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." And the text even makes explicit that it was no sin for him to say this!

God does indeed bring suffering into the lives of even the strongest Christians. the reasons are many. It may be to expose hidden sin or overblown pride (consider Paul's thorn in the flesh, (II Corinthians 12:7-10). Suffering also helps us to loosen our grasp on material things in this life and to focus on the life to come. But the issue is his sovereignty: He does, because He can. It is our place to receive His purposes in our lives. To put it simply: we must learn more and more that He is God and we are not!

The reason American evangelicals avoid passages such as these is that evangelism and worship in most churches have changed God from our sovereign king to Santa Claus, lifestyle guru, or the candyman. Do you remember the Candyman in "Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang"? He was a wicked man who enslaved children with promises of sweets from a pretty wagon. However, when the children responded to his charms, the candy wagon was suddenly revealed as a cage, as the children were carted away to enslavement. I think that provides an excellent analogy for Satan in the deceptions of American popular evangelicalism!

Monday, October 18, 2010

For the Hypocrite, Even Easy Religion Is Just Too Hard!

"[They] say to the seers, 'Do not see,' and to the prophets, 'Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions...'"
- Isaiah 30:10

The hypocritical believer continues his attachment to the Covenant of Works, believing that his own righteousness will carry him to heaven. Yet, such persons clamor for a lowering of God's standards. Picture the pole-vaulter in the Olympics, assuring everyone that he can overleap the bar at its competitive height, yet still begging to have it lowered.

I think this is part of what Paul talks about in Romans 2:15. From the rankest unbeliever to the purest hypocritical professor, a man's conscience knows that he has not lived without sin. But the fallen man seeks that righteousness which was forfeited by Adam in the Garden. Finding that he cannot live that righteousness, he seeks to have the standard lowered to his own level. And he rebels against that true believer who testifies against his unrighteousness, whether by word or just by contrasting lifestyle. We have all heard the codewords: "puritanical," "intolerant." He is inventive in exalting himself over the believer, because the truths that he hears from the believer prick his conscience and trip up his self-righteousness.

The Covenant of Grace holds forth God's way of salvation by free grace alone: "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." (Isaiah 55:1) How hard it is for fallen man to receive what is free, because he has deceived himself into believing that he has wealth. It is as Jesus said to the Church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:17, "You say, 'I am rich. I have everything I want. I don't need a thing!' And you don't realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Speedy Gonzales Ain't Got Nuthin' on This Universe!

According to astronomers, the Big Bang happened 15 billion years ago. However, the matter of the universe stretches 156 billion light years across. In order for the matter at the edge to have reached its current position, i.e., a radius of 78 billion light years, it would have had to travel at five times the speed of light. According to the accepted physical laws, as explained by Einstein, it is impossible for anything to exceed the speed of light. So, how did that happen?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Romans 2:14, the Law Written in Our Hearts

"For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law."

To my mind, one of the strongest evidences that Man is a special creation of God is morality. We do not talk about morality in animals, because it requires a choice and a value system, which only humans have. Paul talks about that inherent morality in the verse above. Even those who have never seen or heard the Law of God have an inner voice that speaks to them on certain fundamental moral standards.

The first objection that comes to mind is those individuals who commit the most horrific acts, seemingly with no twinge of conscience. Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy come to mind (pictured here, proceeding from bottom to top). What of the pillaging of the Vikings or the predations of cannibals? And in our own time, there seems to be a rising number of amoral individuals who prey on their neighbors like wolves among sheep. Do these not indicate that morality is only learned from the threats of outside punishment?

I thought about that question. It certainly seems to be a strong rebuttal. However, a thought occurred to me: even the most hardened gang member, child molester, or schoolyard bully, while he may have no twinge of conscience for abusing his victim, certainly would claim to be wronged if those actions were perpetrated against him. That indicates that he does have a moral conscience; he merely exempts himself from it. He certainly understands what is moral for everyone else.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Logical Deadend for Evolutionism

A fundamental assumption of secular science is uniformitarianism, i.e., the expectation that the way things work at one point in time will be the same at another point. However, I notice that scientists only apply it when it serves their purposes, and ignore it when it works against them.

The main example that comes to mind is the supposed spontaneous beginning of life. If a random collection of chemicals can spontaneously become capable of self-replication, why can those same chemicals not do so repeatedly? That is, if life arose spontaneously at one place and one point in time, why did it never again do so at another place at another time? Shouldn't it be a continuous process, with new cells popping up every epoch?

If human sapience is the result of evolutionary pressures, have those pressures now ceased? Logically, that must be so, if sapience never developed again. And why just in a particular line of primates? Do those evolutionary pressures not apply to felines or canines or reptiles? In fact, that last creates a real problem for evolution, to my mind. If birds are the remnants of the class of dinosaurs known as raptors, as is the dominant theory, then their advanced forms have been around millions of years longer than have the higher mammals. Why did sapience never develop an ornithoid version?

Here is the issue: the secularist must find a naturalist alternative to Deity. Since that is impossible, he blanks out the holes in his logic and proclaims victory. It reminds me of the little boy playing pirate who vigorously insists that his stick is actually a sabre!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Job 1:21 and the Christian Attitude toward Material Possessions

"And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.'"

Presbyterians can honor a little-known figure, Charles Colcock Jones, Sr., of Liberty, Georgia. Born to a plantation family, his spiritual convictions led him to a ten-year career of evangelizing the African slaves on both his own plantation and those of his neighbors. He believed that the spiritual uplifting of blacks would lead to a peaceful end of slavery. At the end of that time in 1848, he became a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary (which actually was in Columbia, SC, during that time). Shortly after his installation there, the family home was destroyed by fire. While the family escaped unharmed, all his material goods were lost, including his pastoral library, acquired over his professional lifetime. Of that loss, he had this to say:

"My mind has been and was calm. It was the hand of the Lord! It was mine to use, not to hold nor keep. He took but what He gave - but what was His own. It all resolved itself into a question of time only. The time was coming when I must be taken from all that was consumed. It pleased God to take all from me and leave me alive." [emphasis in the original]

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shall We Be Guided by Feelings? Or by God's Word?

"David built houses for himself in the city of David. And he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it. Then David said that no one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, for the Lord had chosen them to carry the ark of the Lord and to minister to him forever. And David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem to bring up the ark of the Lord to its place, which he had prepared for it. And David gathered together the sons of Aaron and the Levites..., and said to them, 'You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. Because you did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God broke out
against us, because we did not seek Him according to the rule.' So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel. And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord."
- I Chronicles 15:1-15

The background of this passage is a prior attempt by David described in chapter 13 (and the parallel in II Samuel 6) to move the Ark of the Covenant from Kiriath-Jearim to Jerusalem. In that effort, the procedures of the Law for handling the Ark were ignored in the enthusiasm of king and people. As a consequence (verse 10), "the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzza, and He struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God." This was occasioned by the failure of David to follow the procedures specified by Moses in Exodus 25:12-15 and Numbers 4:15. In a renewed respect for God's holiness, David commands the second effort to proceed "according to the rule."

Paul makes a similar point in II Timothy 2:5: "An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules."

How often have you heard a Christian justify his decisions with sentences that begin with "I feel" or "I think"? Or perhaps the more spiritual form, "I feel led." Rarely are choices made with an explanation that begins with "The Scripture says," or "God has said..." It isn't a matter of the lack of sincerity or enthusiasm, but rather an error of authority. As David discovered to his chagrin, God is not compelled to honor our sincerity. Rather, He honors His word, because He is God and we aren't. As He says in Isaiah 48:11, "My glory I will not give to another."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jonathan Edwards:The Remnant Shall Become a Great Harvest

"On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on Him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, He asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, 'Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.' And Simon answered, 'Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.' And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.' For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, 'Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.' And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him."
- Luke 5:1-11

This narrative was used by Jonathan Edwards as an analogy for his own ministry. During his long ministry in the church at Northampton, he was discouraged by the lack of spiritual fruit in the congregation. He was like the apostles who toiled all night and took nothing. Then came revival, and he saw many congregants turned into vigorous believers, just as the Lord directed the apostles to a great haul of fish.

I think that we have the same hope today, when biblical spirituality seems at such a low ebb. The faithful fishing now, by the Lord's remnant, will become again a great harvest! And it's not because of our skills as fishermen, just as the fishing skills of the Apostles failed them, but by the divine power of our Head and Redeemer.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Revelation 17:1-6, Backpedaling the Reformation: England Caters to the Great Whore

"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, 'Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.' And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: 'Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.' And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus."

On a state visit to the United Kingdom, where the queen was crowned with an oath to uphold the "Protestant Reformed Religion", Pope Benedict XVI has been received by Queen Elizabeth II, the secular head of the Church of England, and by Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of that Church. In fact, the Pope was to be honored with the office of Archbishop for a day.

A joint worship service was touted by the website of the Westminster Abbey, the setting of the writing of the Westminster Standards in the 1640's. In those Standards, the Confession of Faith (XXV:6) says of the Pope (generically, not of a particular Pope), "[he] is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God." According to Westminster Abbey, the service included the Pope, the Archbishop, "together with church leaders from many denominations." This is on top of being officially welcomed by the Queen.

Let us remember that the Church of England broke from the Papacy under Henry VIII. While that king's motives may hardly have been spiritual, England remained a Protestant country, except for a bump under his daughter Mary, to modern times. This breaking away left many martyrs to the revenge of Rome, including Henry's Archbishop, Thomas Cranmer. We still await the repentance of Rome for the murder of such spiritual men (and a few women, too). Yet, the Head of the Church of Rome is received as a head of state and spiritual leader.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Psalm 22: 27-31, Jesus, from Suffering to Triumph!

King David the Psalmist and Ancestor of Jesus
"All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before You.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and He rules over the nations.

"All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before Him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve Him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that He has done it."

This Psalm is such a mighty witness to the triumph of Christ through His death and resurrection. It begins with that familiar appeal from the depths of His suffering, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" The Lord quotes that verse in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34. Then the Psalm ends with His Messianic triumph in the conversion of the nations, from the poorest to the richest, and continuing through their generations (which proves that this cannot be a reference to the post-Second Advent era).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

By What Standard? The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura

"And the Lord said:
     'Because this people draw near with their mouth
and honor Me with their lips,
     while their hearts are far from Me,
and their fear of Me is a commandment taught by men,
     therefore, behold, I will again
do wonderful things with this people,
     with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
     and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.'
- Isaiah 29:13-14

One of the five Solas of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura, the belief that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. In contrast, the Church of Rome held to an equal authority for church tradition. The Catholic Encyclopedia states it this way: "Catholics, on the other hand, hold that there may be, that there is, in fact, and that there must of necessity be, certain revealed truths apart from those contained in the Bible; they hold, furthermore, that Jesus Christ has established in fact, and that to adapt the means to the end He should have established, a living organ as much to transmit Scripture and written Revelation as to place revealed truth within reach of everyone always and everywhere." And the First Vatican Council was even plainer: "Moreover, by divine and Catholic faith, everything must be believed that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, and that is proposed by the Church as a divinely revealed object of belief, either in a solemn decree or in her ordinary, universal teaching.”

But what does the text above say? "Their fear of Me is a commandment taught by men." In Mark 7:6-7, Jesus quotes this text, then adds in verse 8, "You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men." And Paul warns of the attraction of such traditions in Colossians 2:23, "These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion ..."

So, we have the prophet warning against man-made doctrines, quoted and reinforced by our God and Savior Jesus Christ, and repeated by the Apostolic author of much of the New Testament. If the Catholic Church taught that the Bible is wrong, to be corrected by Church teachings (actually the position of Mormons), at least they would have a consistent apologetic. However, when one standard that they acknowledge condemns the other, their error becomes obvious! The Reformers got it right!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Isaiah 25:6-10, The Lord Lifts the Veil from the Nations

"On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, 'Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.' For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain..."

There were a few passages of Scripture that affected me deeply in the early days of my Christian profession, some thirty-odd years ago. For example, my first reading of Ephesians made me a Calvinist. And later, my first readings of the Old Testament Prophets, especially Isaiah, made me a postmillennialist.

Many of these prophetic passages start with this reference to "this mountain." Which mountain? I take it to refer to Mount Zion, the physical location of the Temple, but also a frequent symbol for the Church (see Hebrews 12:22). Related uses of the word can be found in Isaiah 2:2, 11:9, 56:7, Daniel 2:35, Joel 3:17, Obadiah 1:16, Micah 4:1-2, Zephaniah 3:11, and Zechariah 8:3.

In our passage here, Isaiah prophesies a time when God would remove the veil from the nations. This obviously is neither a literal veil over the face, nor the veil of the Temple, though both are biblical uses of the word, since neither fits the context. Compare the uses of the word in successive verses of II Corinthians 3:13-16. Paul begins with the placing of a literal veil over the face of Moses, then changes to the figurative meaning of spiritual blindness. Considering it the same way in Isaiah, we have a promise that a time will come when God will lift the blindness from the hearts of the nations. Not each individual exhaustively, but over the nations as a whole. This is expressed more literally in Isaiah 56:6, referring to "foreigners who join themselves to the Lord," and Micah 4:2, where "many nations" shall come to be taught the word of God.

The promise that the Earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord is a repeated one: Isaiah 11:9 and Habakkuk 2:14. After all, it was the mission that Jesus gave us before Hid ascension (Matthew 28:19-20). One wonders two things; first, why is a repeated promise overlooked by so many? and second, why is such a happy promise rejected and opposed by so many?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Job 14:21, Is There Help in Saints?

"His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he perceives it not."

Among Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and some Anglicans, believers are encouraged to pray to saints for their intercession.

However, here in Job, we see that the deceased aren't aware of the conditions of those, even of their kin, who remain in this life. In fact, in the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31), the very inability of the rich man to affect his surviving kin in part of his torment in Hell!

Furthermore, we have the witness of the Apostle John in Revelation 14:13, "that they may rest from their labors." The blessed dead are free from labor. No strain, no burdens, no hardship. Yet saint-praying Christians are encouraged to bring their living burdens to those same departed saints! The Catholic doctrine seeks to bring the saints under the very bondage that God has removed from them in glory!

As I have said before about the adoration of Mary (here and here), saint worship is a form of idolatry, forbidden by the First and Second Commandments. here, we also see that it is an abuse of the departed dead. Let us instead devote ourselves to the purity of strict Protestant worship.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Isaiah 63:17, the Active Decree of Reprobation

"O LORD, why do you make us wander from Your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear You not? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage."

I am not sure which of the doctrines of grace are most hated by the lovers of free will: reprobation or particular atonement.

The doctrine of reprobation is the biblical understanding that God actively hardens the hearts of some, to the glory of His justice. We see it in the verse above. While this quote is from the ESV, it is closely parallel to other Protestant translations, such as the KJV and NASB. Young's Literal Translation reads, "Why causest Thou us to wander, O Jehovah, from Thy ways? Thou hardenest our heart from Thy fear. Turn back for Thy servants' sake, The tribes of Thine inheritance."

However, opposition to it is so strong that other translations avoid such wording. For example, in the God's Word Translation, the verse reads, "O LORD, why do You let us wander from Your ways and become so stubborn that we are unable to fear You? Return for the sake of Your servants. They are the tribes that belong to You." In the New Living Translation, the first sentence reads, "LORD, why have You allowed us to turn from Your path?" Notice the change in wording: "let us" and "allowed us."

Notice how the more-literal translations give active verbs, "make us wander" and "harden our heart." In contrast, the looser translations water it down to "let us wander" or "allowed us to turn." The pride of the human heart turns them from biblical truth to self-empowering error.

I say, Let God speak, and all men keep silent!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hebrews 12:29, The Law for the Believer

"For our God is a consuming fire."

From a sermon by Robert Traill, a Covenanter minister in Scotland during the 17th Century.

"It is true that there is a change in the state of believers in their justification and adoption, which is a begun change in their natures in sanctification; yet still they are creatures - still there is much unholiness in their hearts and lives, and all sin in itself is equally hateful to God, and contrary to His holy nature; still they are under His holy law, and bound to obedience, though not as a covenant of life, yet as the rule of their life; still they are in hazard of His anger (though not as an unappeased enemy, yet as an offended father), and of the fruits of it, upon their breaking of His laws."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ezekiel 46:18, The Property of the Family Before the Needs of the State

"The prince shall not take any of the inheritance of the people, thrusting them out of their property. He shall give his sons their inheritance out of his own property, so that none of my people shall be scattered from his property.

Such a simple verse, yet it strikes at the root of tyranny, i.e., the greed of power. The inheritance of the family in the land is not to be set aside or undermined by the civil magistrate. Whether this applies to any act of eminent domain, or simply to the wholesale confiscation of property, such as to create state or federal parks, I don't know. However, the implication for the balance between the rights of the people and the authority of the magistrate is obviously weighty. Think about persecutions under supposedly "Christian" kings, such as the Covenanters under the Stuart kings, who faced confiscation of property for refusing to take loyalty oaths. And the Kelo decision in our own Supreme Court.

It flows out of the verse in the previous chapter, Ezekiel 45:8, in which a portion of the land is set aside to the royal family, while the rest is preserved to the people, "so My princes shall no longer oppress My people" (NASB). This, of course, is an application of the VIIIth Commandment, "Thou shalt not steal."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Hermeneutics of Sentiment: Criminal Justice According to God

If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death. And you shall accept no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the high priest. You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.
- Numbers 35:30-34

There are a number of professing Christian groups that work against capital punishment in the United States. The most prominent is the Catholic Church. However, it is most-closely associated with churches of the pietist and Anabaptist tradition, such as Mennonite statements here and here.

I suggest that there are two hermeneutical errors involved. The first is placing sentiment ahead of obedience in approaching Scripture. The second is a disparaging of the Old Testament. The first is a matter of obstinacy, not reasoning. However, the second is based on faulty reasoning. After all, when Jesus quoted Scripture, what did He quote? The Old Testament, of course, such as Deuteronomy during His temptation (see Matthew 4:1-11). When Paul commends Timothy for his knowledge of the Scriptures, at the knees of his mother and grandmother (II Timothy 3:15), for the knowledge they give of salvation in Jesus Christ, the New Testament hadn't even been written yet. This is especially telling in verses 16-17, the classical statement of Scriptural inspiration and infallibility. When Anabaptists disparage the Old Testament, they go against the examples of both the apostles and of Christ Himself!

Even their sentiment speaks against the Catholic and Anabaptist attitudes. They place victim and perpetrator on a level, something that Scripture testifies against. Isaiah 5:20 anathematizes the one who equates good and evil. Jesus in Matthew 12:35 tells us that actions come from the nature of the heart, whether good or evil. Good people and evil people are not the same! (This is a different issue from fallenness, by which all men are sinners.) And Amos 5:15 and Romans 12:9 give a testimony in both testaments to the requirement of justice in order to true love! Sentiment is hatred; justice is love!

In Numbers, we see God's standard of justice. The unlawful taking of life creates an imbalance of injustice that exposes both land and people to the judgment of God. To restore the balance, the blood of the guilty must be shed. This is required by the very presence of a holy God among His people. The importance of this principle is so great that even the inability to convict a murderer does not dispense with the requirement. Deuteronomy 21:1-9 establishes a procedure for dealing with an unsolved murder. According to Moses here, a virgin heifer is to be killed, and the blood poured out in symbolic judgment on the actual human murderer. That is, the shedding of guilty blood is so important to God's justice, that He even commands the symbolic shedding of blood when actual guilty blood cannot be determined.

The standard isn't man's love, but God's holiness!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Does First Thessalonians Teach a Rapture of the Church?

There are three verses here that I want to consider.

First, 4:17, "Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord." This is the classic verse used by certain strains of premillenialists to prove that the church will be "raptured," i.e., taken out of the world, before the Second Advent.

However, two other verses prior to that rule out that literalistic interpretation.

Look at 3:13, "[S]o that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." Notice that Jesus isn't taking away His saints. Rather, He is leading them here. Paul is instructing the living Thessalonian Christians to be prepared for the return of the blessed dead at the Second Advent!

Also, 4:14, "For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep." Again, Jesus isn't taking believers there, he is returning with the saints in heaven to here!

Not only does the immediate context rule out the rapturist interpretation, the language used in 4:17 cannot possibly mean what the rapturists impose on it. The Greek word translated "meet" is used in only two other places in the New Testament. In Matthew 25:1-12, we read Jesus's own words in the Parable of the Ten Virgins. In verse 1, we read that the ten virgins "took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom." The other is Acts 28:15. "Meet" in all three verses is the translation of a Greek diplomatic term, referring to a delegation sent out to greet a VIP, such as an ambassador, and escort him back to the city. It cannot mean to greet him and then leave with him. The word simply doesn't mean what rapturists teach it to mean.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Deuteronomy 20:1-9, Rousas Rushdoony on Biblical Warfare

When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you, Who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is He who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’ Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Is there any man who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. And is there any man who has planted a vineyard and has not enjoyed its fruit? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man enjoy its fruit. And is there any man who has betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her.’ And the officers shall speak further to the people, and say, ‘Is there any man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go back to his house, lest he make the heart of his fellows melt like his own.’ And when the officers have finished speaking to the people, then commanders shall be appointed at the head of the people."
[Note that this is from The ESV, while Rushdoony originally used the KJV. The passage below is from Rushdoony's commentary on Deuteronomy. I reproduce it here because of my fear of the current support among conservative American Christians for imperialistic wars around the world.]

J. A. Thompson has cited the biblical texts governing godly warfare. First, no such war could be conducted apart from God's word or orders (I Sam. 28:5-6; 30:7-8; II Sam. 5:19, 22-23). Second, there had to be a consecration to the task by the men of Israel (I Sam. 21:5; II Sam. 11:11; Isa. 13:3). All that would offend God must be separated from them (Deut. 23:9-14), because God dwells in the camp with His people (Deut. 23:14; Judg. 4:14). Third, the Lord can deliver His people by many or by few (Judg. 7:2ff; I Sam. 13:15ff; 14:6, 17). Fourth, God can and does send panic into the ranks of the enemy, and thereby bring about their defeat (Josh. 10:10; Judg. 4:15; I Sam. 5:11; 7:10; etc.). Fifth, the spoils of the war belong to God, not to man. [J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy, IV Press, 1978, pp. 2187-219]

One of the Dead Sea Scrolls is entitled, The War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness. Its concern was with the great war with God's enemies at the end-time. These laws had their influence. Throughout the Christian era, much has occurred in the way of efforts, both successful and unsuccessful, to limit injustices in wartime. Although the history of Western warfare is not good, it still is different from the ferocity of most pagan conflicts, until recently.

In v. 1, God stresses through Moses that He is with them: therefore, "be not afraid of them." This is a command: to believe in God means to trust in His word.

As a result, two kinds of exemption from military service are granted. First, all those whose minds are distracted and preoccupied by their affairs at home, i.e., a new house as yet not dedicated nor used, a bride betrothed but not taken, or a new vineyard finally producing but as yet unharvested. All such men, however willing to fight, are to be sent home, both as a merciful act and also to eliminate distracted minds (vv. 5-7). Second, all who are fearful and fainthearted are to be sent home. Their presence in the army is a threat to their fellow soldiers.

These exemptions are to be declared by a priest. They are religious exemptions and are therefore to be set forth by a priest. According to numerous texts, a campaign was to be preceded by burnt offerings (Judg. 6:20-21, 26; 20:26; I Sam. 4:3; 7:9; 13:10ff; 14:18; 23:4, 6, 9; 30:7ff). These verses also tell us that attempts to replace obedience with the presence of the ark led to disastrous results.

The exemptions applied to all ranks of soldiers. If, therefore, clan leaders dropped out because of some kind of exemption, then captains of armies were to be made out of the remaining men. The officers were thus named by the men of courage.

The army must then trust in God, not in the size of the army. Wars are not outside of God's providential government, and the most necessary equipment for battle is a trust in God.

It is clear from all of this that military service was voluntary, not compulsory. The covenant people were to place their hope in God, to use godly soldiers, and to eliminate from the ranks of the volunteers all men who might be for any cause double-minded.

[Joseph] Morecroft noted, "When wars are fought in the defense of justice, in the suppression of evil, or in defense of the homeland, they are godly, and are part of the work of restoration. Such wars are 'wars of the Lord," Num. 21:14.'" [A Christian Manual of Law]

Again citing Morecroft, v. 2 indicates that the priest accompanied the army; this was the origin of chaplains. Moreover, the exemptions make it clear that the family has priority, together with exercising dominion over the earth under God.

Deuteronomy deals with warfare in chapters 20:1-20: 21:10-14: 23:9-14; 24:5, and 25:17-19. Even a modernist like Anthony Phillips has called the laws "humanitarian." [Deuteronomy, 1973]

In v. 9, the officers speak "unto the people." Instead of a drafted army, the soldiers are the people, come together to defend their cause or their homes. This is basic in Deuteronomy. Instead of a state decreeing war as a matter of policy, we have a people ready to fight for their cause. Instead of men drafted, made soldiers by compulsion, we have a gathering of the clansmen to defend their cause. The first step before battle is to send home some of these men.

The captains or commanders were, according to A. D. H. Mayes [Deuteronomy, 1981], apparently chosen on the same basis as were elders in cities and in the temple life of the people, captains over tens, twenties, hundreds, and thousands. The original commandment for this in cited in Deuteronomy 1:9-15.

P. C. Craigie's [The Book of Deuteronomy, 1976] comments on this text are very telling. He states, "Israelite strength lay not in numbers, not in the superiority of their weapons, but in their God. The strength of their God was not simply a matter of faith, but a matter of experience." The legitimate wars were godly wars because their purpose was to remain secure in their possession of the land and their exercise of godly dominion therein. Again quoting the admirable Craigie, "The basis of these exemptions becomes clearer against the background of the function of war in ancient Israel. The purpose of war in the early stages of Israel's history was to take possession of the land promised to the people of God; in the later period of history, war was fought for defensive purposes, to defend the land from external aggressors. The possession of the promised land, in other words, was at the heart of Israel's wars, and the importance of the land, in the plan of God, was that Israel was to live and work and prosper in it. The building of homes and orchards, the marrying of a wife, and other such things were of the essence of life in the promised land, and if these things ceased, then the wars would become pointless. Thus, in these exemptions from military service, it is clear that the important aspects of normal life in the land take precedence over the requirements of the army, But this somewhat idealistic approach (in modern terms) was possible only because of the profound conviction that military strength and victory lay, in the first resort, not in the army, but in God."

Israel's military muster included all men between ages twenty and fifty, but not all were used. In Judges 7, we see how Gideon reduced his army in terms of this law. Our Lord applied this in selecting His army, the apostles and other disciples, and He sent home all who were not totally dedicated (Luke 9:57-62). In Luke 14:18-20, our Lord makes it clear that the law of exemptions from military service did not apply where men are summoned into the Kingdom.

Verse 4 states that "God is He that goeth with you." This has also been rendered as "God who marches with you."

We see here as elsewhere that there is nothing outside of God's government. Work, worship, war, eating, sanitation, and all things are subject to His laws. He is totally the Governor of all things. The marginal note to this text in the Geneva Bible tells us, "God permitteth not this people to fight when it seemeth good to them." We are in all things totally under His government.

God's laws of warfare view legitimate warfare as the defense of the family and the land. Modern warfare is waged for political, not covenantal, reasons. Moreover, nonbiblical wars are waged more and more against civilians, as were pagan wars. Thus, there is a great gap between political wars and those permitted by God's law.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Sojourner and Illegal Immigration

"Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place."
- Jeremiah 22:3

I generally do not address political issues. The only other time I have done so is when I have written on abortion (such as here). However, it is time to reveal my heresy: I am not a Republican. There, I've said it! I know that many people believe that Christians must reflexively join the Republican Party. But I am a Libertarian. And the current persecution of Hispanic immigrants is one example of why.

God commands us not to persecute the resident alien (KJV "stranger," ASV "sojourner"). Are conservative Christians in America obeying this commandment? I suggest not!

Other verses to look at include Genesis 23:4 and especially Exodus 23:9.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Covenantal Hermeneutic

This article is by the same guy. He's giving me an inferiority complex.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Four Insurmountable Arminian Errors

I think that this article is so well-written, that I will simply link to it, rather than to attempt to express the same things myself.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Savior Shall Reign Prosperously!

"Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, 'Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.' Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'"
- Zechariah 8:20-23

I am fascinated here by the parallel with the Apostle Paul, in Romans 11. Zechariah here prophesies a time of the prosperity of the Gospel among the Gentiles, and predicts that this time will be a great blessing to the Jews. In contrast, Paul in Romans 11:25-26 ("a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved...") prophesies a Gospel revival among the Jews, and predicts that that time will be a great blessing to the Gentiles. Thus it appears that the two passages are describing the same event, but one from a Jewish perspective and the other from a Gentile perspective.

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is He,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and He shall speak peace to the nations;
His rule shall be from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit."
- Zechariah 9:8-11

A couple of direct quotes connect this passage to Christ. Riding on the foal of a donkey is quoted in Matthew 21:5, when Jesus does literally that. And Jesus also refers to the blood of the covenant, that is, His own blood, in the institution of the Lord's Supper, in Matthew 26:28. Thus, Zechariah now prophesies the benefits of the coming Redeemer for both Gentiles and Jews, combining the Jewish emphasis of Zechariah with the Gentile emphasis of Paul. The two kindreds together shall experience the blessings of the reign of King Jesus!

Jonathon Edwards used this same passage as the basis of his famous Humble Attempt.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

John 10:34-36, the Testimony of Christ for the Bible as the Word of God

"Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your Law, "I said, you are gods"? If He called them gods to whom the word of God came - and Scripture cannot be broken - do you say of Him Whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, "You are blaspheming"?'"

We have three words or phrases used here interchangeably: Law, Word of God, and Scripture. Against the Documentary Hypothesis, Christ gives his imprimatur to the inspiration of the Pentateuch. And against Modernism of any sort, He equates the Scriptures with the Word of God. Thus he puts the lie to those who claim to be Christians while denying the infallible inspiration of His Word. It is as if such people claim, "Jesus is a liar, but we love Him anyway." How can that be considered a saving faith?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Putting on the Righteousness of Christ

"We have all become like one who is 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."
- Isaiah 64:6

Using clothing as a metaphor for sin is a recurring theme in Scripture. Here, Isaiah compares the best actions of fallen men to filthy garments. The theme continues in Zechariah 3:3-5.

"Now Joshua [the high priest, v.1] was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, 'Remove the filthy garments from him.' And to him he said, 'Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.' And I said, 'Let them put a clean turban on his head.' So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by." Confer also Exodus 28:36-38. The Angel of the Lord represents the presence of the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity, the Christ of the New Testament.

The point here is that the filthy garments of sin represent the natural condition of fallen man. In contrast, the clean garments are placed upon him by the external application of Christ. This is the difference between grace and works-righteousness.

In the New Testament, the Apostle picks up the changing-of-garments theme, commanding us to "put on Christ," in Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27. What does this gain us? Philippians 3:9, "[that I may] be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." As English Presbyterian Walter Marshall said in his book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, "The end of Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection, was to prepare and form a holy nature and frame for us in Himself, to be communicated to us by union and fellowship with Him; and not to enable us to produce in ourselves the first original of such a holy nature by our own endeavours."

So, what do you want to wear when you stand before God in eternity: the polluted garments that you have from Adam? Or the clean garments of Christ's righteousness, received by faith?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jude, That Obscure Little Epistle, and the Doctrines of Grace

"Now unto Him that is able to keep you that ye fall not, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with joy, that is, to God only wise, our Savior, be glory and majesty and dominion and power, both now and forever, amen."
- Jude 1:24-25, Geneva Bible

I use the Geneva Bible here instead of my usual ESV for two reasons. One is that it simply has a loftier rhythm to it, to my ear, though there is no material difference between the two translations of these verses. And the other is because of the archaic use of pronouns that shows the use of the plural here. Jude isn't addressing a particular person, but rather the church as a whole.

Of the so-called Five Points of Calvinism, the most maligned is probably Limited Atonement, while the most accepted is the Perseverance of the Saints or, as many Baptists phrase it, "once saved, always saved." Given the pride of fallen men, that should hardly be surprising.

One doesn't hear much about the Epistle of Jude. Not only is it painfully brief overall, but it also addresses a string of eschatological concerns, so it just doesn't get talked about as much as, for example, Paul's epistles. But here it explicitly touches on a doctrine that can be misused as a justification for spiritual complacency, but should, rather, serve as a great comfort to the struggling believer.

Notice how it combines major themes from other books of the Bible. Where Jude reminds us that God is able to keep us, we are reminded of the words on Jesus in John 10:28, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand." And "to present us blameless before Him" recalls the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:4, "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him." Thus, contrary to the view of most Baptists, our perseverance is grounded in His predestination of us. Then Jude justifies this perseverance as, not for our sakes, even as profitable as it is, but rather because of the glory it brings to God.

This is where I believe that the Calvinist rises above the Arminian: while the Arminian is concerned to preserve his own pride and supposed native righteousness, the Calvinist is concerned only with the glory of God and establishing His righteousness.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kindly Teasing Baptists!

"I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea..."
- I Corinthians 10:1-2

Referring to this passage, Neil MacMichael, a Scottish Presbyterian minister of the mid-1800's, came up with this light-hearted jab at his Baptist brethren:

"1. The Israelites were baptized, both adults and infants, for the Apostle declares it.

2. They were not immersed, a fact which Moses and other inspired writers testify.

3. The Egyptians who pursued them were immersed.

4. The Israelites had baptism without immersion, and the Egyptians immersion without baptism.

5. The baptism of the Israelites was salvation, and the immersion of the Egyptians drowning."