Agonizomai: December 2005

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 31/05
Anthropomorphic references to "nature’s methods" make the graces and judgements of God sound so impersonal. Nature has no methods or motivations. Nature is simply the way we have chosen to describe our limited understanding of what God is accomplishing. He upholds everything by the word of His power and both His mercy and judgements are over all His works.

Harlan Ames - Gleanings 12.443
Jonah 1:7 - Casting Blame
7 And they said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.

The world has false understanding of why bad things happen. They start with the assumption that good things are their due, and that when the bad happens there must be a clear reason that can be attributed to its happening. But the Lord Jesus corrected this sort of error in the incident related in Lu 13:1-5:
There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."
The true picture of the world and of humanity is found in the truth that all are already under condemnation and therefore are already deserving of all the bad things that happen to them. It is not so much that any single event is always necessarily linked directly to any particular sin, but rather that we are evil, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

It cannot be stressed enough that all are already under condemnation. Many professing Christians have missed this point for some reason, along with the heathen. It is a source of amazement that Christians themselves fail to believe that everyone is already lost, and that they deserve to be under both the wrath and condemnation of God. Not only this, but God would be perfectly just in bringing humanity to an end without any further ado. Remember the flood? But some people still insist in various ways that the sufferings of others are justifed, while their own sufferings are not. Something or somebody other than themselves is to blame. Still others think that there are "good" people out there who don’t know God, but nevertheless don’t deserve to suffer. We all deserve to suffer – endlessly – and all will unless they repent, as Jesus Himself said. This opens the mind to perceive the true nature of God’s grace - whether His saving grace or His common grace.

But the crew of Jonah’s boat thinks in terms of evil coming unjustly upon them because somebody else has messed up. They have fallen minds and understandings. It is true that when the lot falls upon Jonah they will see that God has raised the storm on Jonah’s account, but what they fail to see is that, should they perish in that storm, it is their due on account of their own sin, and not Jonah’s. In a sense, Jonah’s sin may be the proximate cause, though their own sins, and that of Adam, are the overarching cause, and are reason enough for them to perish – for they came first.

The casting of lots is an old method of determining truth, or a course of action. It happened with Achan in the Old Testament and with Matheus in the New. The Urim and Thummim are thought to have been connected with the casting of lots. But let’s not confuse the concept with gambling, or with mere chance. Gambling is the expectation of gain through chance, without the effort of work. Oh, some people work very hard at "narrowing" their chances, it’s true, but unless you can gamble unto the Lord while having the desire for earthly riches without labour, then gambling is going to be sin for you.

The casting of lots, however, was a way to put the outcome in the hands of God. It was not to tempt God. The result had to be accepted, no matter what, as the will of either the one true God, or of the gods. And, of course, all things are in some sense the will of God because He either permits or causes them. Like fleeces, lots must never be turned into "the best two out of three" if the result doesn’t suit us.

So, the lot fell upon Jonah because it was God’s will that it fall on him. Nobody objected, least of all Jonah. See once more how God’s will is effected not so much through the overtly miraculous as through the fallen minds of men acting in carnal ways out of mortal fear, and purely in self-interest. Note this well. It is how God works most of the time in a fallen and rebellious world. He takes our sinful motives and deeds, and uses them to accomplish His righteous ends. The Lord’s crucifixion itself is the prime example of this.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Friday, December 30, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 30/05
Once it is seen that saving faith consists of very much more than believing that "Christ died for me," that it involves and entails the complete surrender of my heart and life to His government, fewer will imagine that they possess it. Once it is seen that God’s salvation is not only a legal, but also an experimental thing, that it not only justifies, but regenerates and sanctifies, fewer will suppose they are its participants. Once it is seen that Christ came here to save His people not only from hell, but from sin, from self-will and self-pleasing, then fewer will desire His salvation.

Arthur W. Pink - "Saving Faith"
Jonah 1:6 - Desperate Prayer
6 So the captain came and said to him, "What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we do not perish."

Belief in a god, or even in the God is not enough by itself. That belief must be worked out through the obedience of faith. A faith that simply believes is as useless as a faith that simply acts in order to gain approval. Deeds wrought in and unto God spring from a lively (living) faith, but deeds alone can never lead to one.

The captain is desperate, though the captain has no faith in the One True God. Any so-called god that can save his bacon is alright with him, no matter what that god is like. God as a solution to a short-term problem – such as the many storms that invade our lives – such a god is consumed upon our own lusts, emotions and fears. It is made to be about us. It is about us getting what we want from God in the present moment, so that we can go back to living as we please. This is a worldly view of God. It is a view often encouraged by the preaching in our churches.

Should we not then pray in time of need or danger? Of course we should! Jesus did. But what did He say? "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not my will but thine be done". It is not solely about us. It is about God and His purposes. Do we seek God’s purposes in those things that come upon us which we would rather not endure? Or do we simply view God as the means of delivering us from that thing? Are we ready to be delivered through it, or are we only content to be delivered from it? Will we pray "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven?"

The heathen captain cannot possibly arrive at such understanding apart from the grace of God. But the wonder is this – that God often answers the prayers of the heathen, even when prayed with a wrong heart. Such mercy and grace! God’s causes His rain to fall upon the just and the unjust alike. His common grace reaches all men, and that grace will sometimes extend to their deliverance in dire situations. But that deliverance must never be mistaken for anything other than a call to repentance – for them to behold the kindness of God. Alas, we know from the long history of humanity, of Israel, and even of we in the church that His mercies are so often taken for granted and are forgotten as soon as the moment has passed. Let’s ask for grace not to do that any more.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 29/05
(Providence is) “The unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill, He upholds His creatures in ordered existence, guides and governs all events, circumstances, and free acts of angels and men, and directs everything to its appointed goal, for His own glory.”

J. I Packer
Jonah 1:5 - Sleeping Amid the Tempest
5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god; and they threw the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. 6 So the captain came and said to him, "What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we do not perish."

It is when fear comes that men call out to God. When the God of all creation shakes their world they know that they should fear, but not Whom they should fear. The gods to whom these sailors cried out were simply wood or stone idols. Of course the powers behind them were demonic - as are the powers behind all false religion.

This proves that they did not know God. Stressful times will always show who has true faith in the One True God. Stressful times will uncover in us what has been there all along. They will bare our true hearts and cast us upon He Who is true for grace. But the heathen do not know Him. This shows their pitiable condition and reminds us of our own state, apart from God’s grace. All (manner of) men are consigned to disobedience that God may have mercy upon all. {Ro 11:32} (Context - not upon all men universally and individually, but upon some men of all backgrounds)

See how the things we busy ourselves with and which we hold dear – our real idols – become unimportant when matters are at the ultimate head. How many of the heathen will wish they had laid up for themselves treasure in heaven in the day that they must step into eternity and face God? Yet how much may this also be said of professing Christians? How many are as caught up in the world and worldly pursuits as those who never knew Christ at all? How many are there who are indistinguishable from the world where they ought to be light and salt in it? Jesus reminded us that by their fruits we should know them. {Mt 7:20}

But what are we to make of this Jonah who is fast asleep? It cannot be from a clear conscience because he is fleeing from God in open disobedience. This shows the way that the carnal mind works. When we disobey, not only do we act illogically but we shut out thoughts that might lead us to face our sin. It is easier to sleep through a tempest than to listen to conscience or the Holy Spirit’s conviction of that conscience. In fact, it is a sign of the hardness of our hearts when we sin that we would rather “sleep” than come to God with humble repentance. Indeed, what a symbol of ourselves and our sin we see in one who slumbers amidst the raging seas. Spiritually we doze, while all around is wrath and chaos and immortal souls in peril.

God holds out His arms all day long towards us, but so often we will not come. We have but to turn and see Him – to return from the pig swill of our own choices – and He is eager to kill the fatted calf and welcome us back with joy and celebration. But so often we will not come. God gives us the illustration of the Prodigal Son to encourage us, but it is really He Who seeks and hunts and brings us back to Him by bringing us to eventual repentance. We shall see this in the story of Jonah, for we shall see that through the means of raising a great storm, and through the means of the superstitions and concerns of heathen sailors, and through the convicting power of His Word, Jonah was brought to a repentance he would otherwise never have reached by himself.

This is a vital and important lesson for Christians. Like Jonah we have a duty to repent and obey but, also like Jonah, we will never do so without the guiding, caring, chastening, loving, omnipotent intervention of God, according to His predeterminate will. His rod and His staff, they comfort us. We must not be fooled into thinking that we repent because we are such humble and right-thinking people in our own right. We aren’t! We are sinners justified by grace and being sanctified by that same grace.

See the captain of the ship acting in accordance with his own dark lost, carnal thoughts - but those very actions are working towards God’s purposes for Jonah and for Nineveh. The intentions of the crew are purely out of darkness and self, but God makes their darkness and self-directedness serve the light. A book could be written about all that God is accomplishing in this one single incident. Yet we serve a God Who makes all things from the beginning of time to the end – Alpha to Omega – serve His eternal will, and bring about His predetermined ends. From the vibration of the smallest atom in the farthest reaches of the universe, to the rise and fall of Kings and countries, to the salvation of every one of His sheep, God is God.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 28/05
Ye (Israel) are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour. I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, that I am God. Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let (hinder) it?

Isaiah 43: 10-13
The Getaway that Got Away
Today we return to the book of Jonah and pick up in Chapter 1 after Jonah has bolted for the ends of the earth rather than obey God and preach to Nineveh.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans
Jonah 1:4 - But the Lord...
4 But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.

You can’t win against God. Jonah is about to learn this. God will prevail.
"Remember this and consider, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former the things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’" {Isa 46:8-10}
Remember the "but Jonah" of verse 3? Here is the trump card to that, and to all human rebellion..."BUT THE LORD". He has the final say. He is in charge.

We might deal with what God could have done: He could have translated Jonah back to the land, like he translated Philip the evangelist to Azotus. He could have placed it on the captain’s heart to turn back in the same way he moved the hearts of Cyrus and Darius. He could have had the ship taken by pirates and Jonah ensalved to them, sold to a Ninevite and brought back to His mission - in a way similar to Joseph’s enslavement. God did none of these. God worked through the weather.

God uses the so-called "natural" as well as the miraculous. In this story there is the miraculous preparation of a large fish and the preservation of Jonah in its belly. There is the bringing of the fish to land and its spewing of Jonah upon the beach. These things are what we call "miraculous". But we often hesitate to see the hand of God in everyday things, like the weather.

It might not be the weather. It might be bumping into somebody on the street or losing your keys. It could be a spate of orders from your customers at work or a dry spell in your social life. It might be a change of pastors. We often fail to see the hand of God at work in all things for good to we who love God and are the called according to His purposes. {Ro 8:28} Some of us want the overtly miraculous all the time. Such people want to see God doing the unusual, the supernatural, the exciting thing.

But God has recorded so little of this. Apart from the creation itself, there were only three times in Biblical history where this overt form of miracles abounded. The first was the Exodus, the second in the times of Elijah and Elisha and the third was the coming of Christ and the establishment of the church. And we must be careful not to crave such things. We are in danger of walking by sight and not by faith when we do. If God is pleased to do them that is one thing – but running after them is another.

So let it be as it is in Jonah. Let us neither crave the dramatically miraculous nor deny it. Let God be God. But let us obey His inspired Word when He said…
Do not quench the spirit. Do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast to what is good, abstain form every form of evil. (1Thessalonians 5:19-22)
God acts in mysterious ways - but He plainly acts most often in the ordinariness of life. Will we see His hand in it all? It seems that ancient believers and infidels alike did.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Friday, December 23, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 23/05
"To destroy the power of sin in a man’s soul is as great a work as to take away the guilt of sin. It is easier to say to a blind man, See, and to a lame man, Walk, than to say to a man that lies under the power of sin, Live, be holy, for there is that that will not be subject."

Thomas Goodwin
Christmas Break
Today's will be the last post before Christmas. The story of Jonah will resume on Dec 28th, God willing.

God bless all who read this. Have a merry Christmas. Remember Who is the reason for the season and give thanks to God.

Blessings to all...

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans
Jonah 1:3 Rebellion Erupts
3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.

The Word of the Lord came to Jonah, but Jonah...

Do you recognize yourself here? This is disobedience. It isn’t simply the sort of disobedience that springs from confused ignorance – it is the full-blown disobedience of knowing what is required by God and simply refusing to do it. It is sin done in the fullness of light. When we sin like this we are like the Pharisees, putting our hands over our ears and screwing our eyes shut; we are like the ostrich burying our head in the sand; like the child who hides behind a chair believing that if you can’t see them, then you don’t know where they are – or if they can’t see you then they are invisible to you.

When we sin, we will sometimes do anything to get out of the light. We will not come into the light so that our evil deeds can be seen. Light shines in the darkness and all the cockroaches in our sinful hearts want to scurry for the baseboards.

Jonah does this. He won’t abide in the light by obeying God, so he looks for a dark place to avoid God. It isn’t logical, but let he who is without sin among us cast the first stone, because sin itself is illogical – though we all still commit it. We often run from God when we sin instead of running to Him. Will we learn the lesson that, if we belong to Him, our running will cost us dear but He will never abandon us to our rebellion? He has set His seal upon all who are His. He says that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive them. How so? Faithful we can see, but how is He just in doing so? And we find the answer that He is just on account of Christ having paid the price on our behalf. This is why God, instead of tossing Jonah onto the scrap heap of eternity for his willful disobedience, is willing to forbear and train and correct and rebuke him. He loves Jonah with an everlasting love from of old. He has set His seal on Jonah. Jonah is Christ’s and Christ is God’s.

But Jonah isn’t fully aware of all this. He is caught in the moment. His sinful thoughts and feelings are driving him. Is he afraid to preach to Nineveh? Is he repulsed by the idea of preaching to Gentiles? Does he want Niveveh to be overthrown so that the potential threat to his own nation will be removed? We aren’t specifically told here, though we are told later. What we do know is that he disobeys. And in his disobedience he runs to the far ends of the earth. Illogical again because...
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! (Psalm 139:8)
But, as stated before, we are not logical when we sin. We are driven by our flesh. So Jonah runs from the presence of God, though he surely knows it is not possible to do so. And he doesn’t run by halves. Tarshish, though sometimes used in scripture to apply figuratively to ocean going nation cities and peoples, is clearly meant here to refer to a place on the Iberian peninsula in what we now call Spain. This is a port at the far reaches of the then known world - the last stop before the great unknown. The edge of the world.

O can you see yourself here? I can. I can recall times when my twisted and blind and confused and willful and sinfull heart ran from His presence. I’m talking about times as a believer - not as a pagan. Times faced with God’s "Thou Shalt" or His "Thou shalt not" when I just wouldn’t or couldn’t. I didn’t know which, so confused was I by my own sin. As God’s children He deals with us each individually. What was good for me or for Jonah is not necessarily what Omnipotent love knows is good for you. But the principle remains. God will bring to completion in all of His children that good work that He started, unto the day of Jesus Christ {Philippians 1:6}. Watch as he demonstrates the process in Jonah.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 22/05
Natural religion in all its forms presupposes holy character and conduct as the essential antecedent condition of God's favor. Christianity in all its genuine forms presupposes the favor of God as the essential antecedent condition of holy character and conduct.

A.A. Hodge
Jonah 1: 1-2 - The Stage for Rebellion
1-2 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,"Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me."

This was written during the period when Nineveh was on the rise towards its greatest ascendancy, which came about 704-630 BC, after which the Medes and the Babylonians conquered it. However, prior to that, the Assyrians of Nineveh had been a powerful, cruel and violent force throughout much of the middle-East. The book of Jonah was penned in Israel around 790-760 BC before Samaria was besieged and invaded, and before Israel fell into captivity in 722 BC. Jerboam II was on the throne and Amos and Hosea were somewhat contemporary prophets.

"Jonah" means "dove," and Jonah was born in a town not far from Nazareth called Gath-hepher in the region of Zebulun. His father, Amittai, was also a prophet and his name means "faithful." The symbol of peace (the dove) came as the son of "faith" in an area about 2 miles from Nazareth, where the true Prince of Peace and Author of our faith lived much of His life.

As the son of a prophet, Jonah would know what it meant when the word of the Lord came to someone. He would have seen Amittai, his father, being given God’s word from time to time, and would have witnessed and been taught the imperative to do and speak exactly as God commanded.

When the Word of the Lord comes to a man, it is not simply words as we understand them, but it is the power of God unto salvation for those that believe. The power of God is in God’s words, because they contain the wisdom of God, the Truth of God and the Life of God. These things are apprehended through the Spirit of God Who inspired them in the first place, and Who alone can illuminate them to the fallen heart. The same relationship exists between these prophetic words given by God and the giving of the Living Word by God. The Word spoken and written are in full and utter agreement with the Living Word now communicated to our hearts and understanding by the Holy Spirit, with Whom He is One – for the Lord, the Lord our God is One, though He is known in three persons.

The way in which salvation comes to men, whether Ninevites or Romans, Jews or Gentiles, is through the threefold work of the three Persons of the One Almighty God. The Father Sends the Word, the Word accomplishes what He was sent for and the Spirit applies the Word’s work to men. So even with the great power of the Assyrians at Nineveh – God sends His Word to them by means of the prophet Jonah.

Let us be clear. Jonah is not the Word. Jonah has no power to make the Word effective. Jonah, like all men, must abide by faith in the God of the Word to accomplish all that He purposes. The delivery of the Word is Jonah’s duty of submission to the sovereign will of God. God chose him as the vessel, though he was an unwilling one. As the book unfolds we shall see that God makes him willing, accomplishes His purposes, teaches Jonah a lesson, saves many Ninevites and lays down in history a story that is in numerous ways a type of the life of Christ.
"Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me."
You cannot see right up front the mercy of God in God’s command. God Who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and Who would be perfectly just in wiping the sinful Ninevites from the face of the earth and bringing them to His eternal justice – this same God desires that the judgment of God be preached to Nineveh. But the promise of impending judgment preached through Jonah will turn out to actually be the very means by which salvation will come. God purposed it that way from the start. Just as with Cornelius in Acts 10, when God is preparing the hearts of men to receive Christ He is also preparing the messenger by which that salvation will come.

Take a moment to understand this because, if you don’t grasp it you will never get the process of salvation right in your head. Jonah 2:9 states it far better than I can - "Salvation is of the Lord..." It is entirely a work of God, conceived, produced, applied and given to dead and rebellious men. If any receive the gospel then God has prepared them to do so. If any preach the gospel, then God has equipped, trained, sent and led them to do so. God is in charge from start to finish. He is in charge of what, where, when, how, who and if. Are there so-called "seekers?" Then God is calling them – they are not deciding of their own nature to seek Him. There is none that seeks after God, and none that does good, no not one. {Ro 3:11-12}

When Peter says in his encounter with Cornelius...
"Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him ..."
... he is not attributing to Cornelius a motive arising from his natural man, but from the prompting of the grace of God drawing him to salvation. To think otherwise is to credit man with earning his salvation by seeking after God, and this would contradict so many scriptures that it would make nonsense of the Bible. Man must seek, and he will find if he does so. But he will only seek if God moves him to it, which is why the finding of God is inevitable when he does; it is the culmination of the preordained work of God. It is the end of His intention. This is what the Bible teaches when taken as a whole.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 21/05
In that Day, God may credit me for being willing, but every day I will credit Him for making me that way.

Harlan Ames - Gleanings 6.213
Jonah: Themes, Types and Facts to Consider
[continued from Part 1 of yesterday]

Jonah, like every book of the Bible is a reflection of some aspect of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. What reflection you see is between you and God. This study is a reflection of what I see. It is imperfect, subject to error and intensely personal. It is presented not to persuade you to see what I do, but to share with you what I have seen so that you can take it to the One Who is the Truth and let Him be your light. When we each follow Jesus then unity cannot be far away.

You could look at the three-way peril in the book; the peril of Jonah, the peril of the sailors and the peril of Nineveh – and compare how God works through each of them. You might want to consider the way that both the sailors and the Ninevites are brought to the place where they reorder their priorities, casting off the things of the world that had gripped their attention and their affections in order to face the reality of God’s existence, and of His just anger upon their sin. Or you could consider the nature of God’s love for Jonah, for the sailors and for Nineveh. Is it a redemption story? Is it a sanctification story? Is it both?

Then there are those who see figures and types of the Lord Jesus here. The Lord Himself even used the illustration of Jonah’s sojourn in the fish’s belly as a picture of His own burial and resurrection. Is that the only picture that is helpful? Is Jonah the scapegoat like Christ, the Lamb of God? Is he a picture of sin-bearing. Is He both sinful man and spotless Son of God prefigured for us? Is the tempest a figure for the wrath of God on all sin. Is the deep where the weeds wrap around Jonah’s head at the foot of the mountains – what he calls “the pit” – a figure of hell itself, or just of the grave? Could it be meant to convey only the suffocating horror of sin-bearing? Interesting questions all. I have taken a view that is not always literal, and includes references to the symbolic – but that recognizes the historicity of the events, and at least makes an attempt to follow the basic rules of Biblical hermeneutics.

You might wonder what the overall message of Jonah actually is. Those of you who are tender hearted will no doubt see mercy and hope, forgiveness and love because they are indeed all in there. But will you also see judgment and wrath, chastisement and the reality of hell for the unrepentant – because they are just as surely there, too. I hope that you see both. I do. And I see them no only here but throughout the whole of the Bible.

Those who think that regeneration depends to some miniscule, though real, degree upon the will of man will perhaps see a picture in which God extends effectual saving mercy to all. That sort of universalism is not in this text, and it certainly is not the Biblical view of salvation. God's salvation in Christ is indeed sufficient for all, which is why it is imperative that we evangelize the world, but it takes the grace of God operating upon a heart for anyone to actually come to Christ. Of course, these distinctions are not foremost in the minds of the terrified sailors, nor the repentant Ninevites, as they are being brought to salvation. But they are distinctions that I believe God expects His children to understand, as they grow in grace and the knowledge of their great God and Saviour.

So, in Jonah we can see that it is true that God loves all men, has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, desires the gospel to be preached to every creature under heaven, and commands all men everywhere to repent. It is also true that God's wrath abides on all those who do not repent and that God is the one Who orchestrates and effects the regeneration of everyone who is saved, according to His will alone. These things may certainly be seen in the story of Jonah, for those willing to scratch the surface.

The overall message of Jonah to me is twofold…

Firstly, we can see that God makes it abundantly clear that He loves the world, and that He wants us to do the same. God does not ask His servants to act towards men in ways that He does not Himself do. Preaching the gospel through gritted teeth, not caring about the outcome, or hoping people don’t listen at all because we don’t like them cannot stop God from accomplishing his plans. All that the Father has given to Christ will come to Him – regardless. In Jonah, and for us, the question is whether we hold forth the gospel without respect of persons, as a real offer in love, with a sincere and heartfelt desire that they receive it. And do we understand the urgency, while realizing our own dependency upon God?

Secondly, it is clear that God’s mercy towards those He is saving is without measure – filled up, pressed down and running over. Grace upon grace. It is God’s prerogative to say, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy…” – but then the story shows the exceeding greatness of God’s mercy towards those upon whom His salvation is settled. It is settled in Jonah upon a rebellious prophet, a heathen sailing crew and a cruel and unjust Gentile society. God is indeed the God of all the earth, and He is saving some people of every kindred and tongue and tribe. This is the universalism of the scripture. It is true universalism. It is the only universalism. It is the same universalism that we find in another watery story in the Bible – that of the few animals of every kind saved in the ark, while a whole world perished in willful and unrepented sin.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Quote of the Day #1 - Dec 20/05
JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus—love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!

Thomas A Kempis - “Imitation of Christ” 2:11
Quote of the Day #2 - Dec 20/05
There is a clamor today in religion for the miraculous and sensational and spectacular. And this is because people tire of the word of God. People who are looking for miracles as a sign or proof of God’s presence and favor are putting themselves in a good position to be deceived. What is supernatural is not necessarily Divine.

C.D. Cole
Jonah: The Natural and the Supernatural
It would be hard to find another book so tightly written and so purely conceived and executed as Jonah. In four brief chapters of a few simple verses each, a tale of unprecedented wonder is told with unadorned economy.

Here is both the supernatural and the natural presented seamlessly together, in much the same way that the Saviour Himself is portrayed in the gospels. There is not even the blink of an eye in the transition between the very natural terrors of a raging storm and the supernatural wonder of a great fish that swallows up Jonah and keeps him alive for 3 days and nights, before vomiting him up onshore and unharmed. It is seamless.

Christ’s life is the same. There is no demarcation line between Christ’s very practical and pithy peasant wisdom and the obviously divine authority with which it is unapologetically delivered. There is no quantifiable transition between Christ walking dusty roads like all the inhabitants of Palestine, and then walking on water as no human before or since ever did. There is no drum roll, no trumpet fanfare, no astonished aside by the writer of the gospel that warns us that something extraordinary is about to happen – and when it is over then things go back to unfolding the way we always expected them to – the way we are used to.

Our supernatural God - the same yesterday, today and forever.
In both instances, this is our God on display. He is intimately involved with His creation – especially with His creatures and particularly with those of His creatures whom He is bringing, and has brought, into His kingdom. Sometimes His hand is clearly visible as He suspends or alters, however fleetingly, the normal way His creation unfolds or is sustained. Most of the time His hand is hidden behind the so-called “natural” – but His hand is in all things whether seen or unseen. In those long spaces between overtly miraculous events His creatures walk by faith, believing God to be there – trusting when there is no direct line of sight – justified through, and living by, their faith, as Habakkuk said.

I don’t go along with those who think of this book of Jonah as mere myth, and it is for the reasons already stated. God is a supernatural Being. If Jonah is a myth then why not Christ Himself? If the miracles in the book of Jonah are unbelievable then why not the miracles in the gospels? Where is the line to be drawn? When the Saviour of our souls speaks of Adam, Noah, Moses and the prophets (which include Jonah) and of Jonah himself as if they were literal, historical people, then how can mere man deny the genuine existence of any of them – or of the miraculous things that often accompanied their lives?

By the same token we cannot – nor would we ever wish to – deny that Jesus Christ our God is the same yesterday and today and forever. I believe He does intervene and suspend the normal rules of existence with miracles right up until this very day. People are healed, supplies come in the midst of otherwise hopeless situations – a way is made where there was no way. But I believe He does so in a way consistent with what we read in the Bible. As in Jonah, as in the gospels and in Acts – so today, God interjects divine miracles into “normal” life according to His purposes.

The life of faith is not, as some believe, the life of endless miracles – but the life that trusts God when there is no God to be seen by merely mortal means. When miracles become just another word for “sight” then we cease to be walking by faith. This is what makes the Word of Faith teachers so abominable. They take faith and twist it into something it is not in the Bible, and was never meant to be.

[continued in Part 2 tomorrow]

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Monday, December 19, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 19/05
It is you that is far from God, not God Who is far from you. Drawing near to Him is the discovery of His nearness, not the cause of it.

Harlan Ames - Gleanings 9.331
Jonah - God's Boundless Mercy to His Own
God's tough mercy in action
For the next little while I will, amongst other things, post a study of the book of Jonah. This follows the general rule of thumb I set for myself in alternating between Old and New Testaments so that a balanced perspective of the entire Word of God is encouraged.

I have broken the study down into headings and included thematic Bible verses to show where my understanding has been led by the overall sense of the book and its chapters and themes in a chart given below. The chart is available by e-mail in MSWord format on request, or simply use the right-click function to view or print the picture in a larger format.

Jonah - Overview
The boundlessness of God’s mercy
towards those on whom He has mercy

Overview Chart
I trust this will bless you as much in the reading as it did me in the studying.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Ecc 11: 7-10 - Benefits of the Short-Term View
Ecclesiastes 11: 7-10

7 Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. 8 So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. 9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. 10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.

What is vanity, but life received and lived apart from the Lordship of God? A life lived unto the natural man - delighting in the pleasures of the unenlightened soul - is sweet at the moment but will prove to be a complete waste. Worse than that, it will be a wasted life under the just and eternal condemnation of God.

God has indeed made all things good. But man has made evil use of all the goodness God's creation. To have the greatest gift of all, which is life itself, and to live that life as a selfish possession, stolen from God without acknowledgment, is great folly. But it is a great folly that all of natural humankind exhibits.

There is nothing wrong with rejoicing in the good things - a sunny day, the strength and health of youthfulness - but to do so as unto oneself is sin. To live in the midst of God’s goodness, lacking a present gratitude and without a constant care for the proper use of it all is living death, even though it seems like life.

The immediacy of selfish pleasure and the arrogant denial of the inevitability of death and judgment that permits the willful sins of the moment is an illusion. It is foolishness. It is vanity.

There is coming a Day when God will judge the secrets of men by the ONLY standard that matters - His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. {Romans 2:16} If we are not in Him - if His righteousness is not our righteousness - then we shall fail the test.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans
Merry Christmas
Credit: Comstock Images/Getty ImagesHere's an article that might initially elicit more of a giggle than an aghast. I caught myself thinking how naughty and how quaint this whole episode was. That lasted for all of about 2 seconds.

I am so insensitized to the corruption at work in the world that I almost overlook things like this. But here we see anarchy in all of its ugliness; an ugliness in no way diminished by the Santa suits and the appallingly hypocritical aim of protesting the commercialization of Christmas.

The whole episode stands as a flagrant example of what lies in the heart of man - often just below the thin veneer of outwardly civilized behaviour. God restrains, but when He withholds His gracious restraint on human hearts then poison spews forth in all of its deadliness. Theft, disrespect for law, abuse of people and disdain for human property are clearly evident.

But by far the worst element in it all is the utter confusion of motives. To be found doing evil in the name of supposed goodness is a dispostion so pharisaical as to warrant the same sharp rebuke that the Lord gave to similar people during His incarnation. The people who exhibited this behaviour have themselves no inkling of the value of Christmas or the tragedy of its commercialization.

They don't know the Jesus whose life gave rise to the celebration of the Christmas that “Santa” has hijacked. They are an example of the world devouring itself upon any pretext - even when that pretext is based upon a historical fact of such stupendousness that only their spiritually willful blindness could allow them to have taken up the cause in this way in the first place.

The world is waxing worse and worse and this is but one more sign - one more glimpse into the folly and depravity of the human heart. Maranatha - came quickly, Lord Jesus!

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Brooklyn Bridges Age Barrier

Here is a picture of an old man holding my precious new baby granddaughter (born Dec 13th). He looks so disheveled you'd think it was him that gave birth. Baby's name is Brooklyn Paige. By the grace of God, mother and child are doing well. She is my fourth grandchild and there are pictures of the same old man with each of them. Go figure!

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans
Quote of the Day - Dec 17/05
Anything that rises to the level of popularity with the world (even the world of so-called believers) has to at least raise the question of what is missing that makes so palatable that which caused others to crucify Christ.

Harlan Ames - Gleanings 9.322
A Reality Check
Today's "Quote of the Day" will be my 230th post in just under 4 months, excluding two weeks I took off to visit the UK. Today is also the last of my writing on 2Peter - which brings me to the question of "What now?"

I expect that my blog contains too little of the personal and too much of the devotional to be of much benefit to people - even the few that stumble across my site. I don't invest in all of those techniques that Blogger says would generate traffic. I don't write in a way that invites interaction. I neither have nor covet a following of cheerleaders. It's not me. Though I can see that there are some who are blessed with a wide circle of ineterested friends and readers. To these I say, "God bless you."

All this means that I will probably wind down this blog in the near future. It has become a bit of a god in a way. I have enslaved myself to making a daily post. It encroaches on my private time of Bible Study and devotions. My motives are suspect. To my few friends who do follow this blog I hope you have been blessed by God in something that was said here.

In the next few weeks my blogging frequency will most likely decline. I want to finish out a 6 month stint before stopping altogether, but what the blog will look like after today I can't say.

Blessings to all,

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans
2Peter 3:18 - Growing in Grace
18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Now the flip side of being on guard is to be prepared. The antidote to being led astray is to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We can take a negative stance and have a fortress mentality. We can be loaded for bear and be just looking and waiting for the slightest error to occur so that we can slam the door shut, reprove the bearer and feel very self-satisfied. That would be the wrong attitude.

If we prepare ourselves positively, through a relationship with the Living God in prayer and by study - and by applying what we are learning in our lives - then our hearts will not have that edge to them that tells people we are just waiting to unload. Instead, we will be filled with all the fullness of Christ, walking in the Spirit and ready to speak that which is upbuilding to the brethren.

Balance is always the key to the Christian walk. Balance, but not compromise. A desire for unity, but not for worldly tolerance. Such was the perfect walk of Christ and, to an imperfect extent, of His Apostles. Christ never failed to rebuke what needed rebuke, nor to commend or encourage what needed commendation or encouragement. He could be fiercely critical and tenderly compassionate - but always at the appropriate time. To the extent that we grow in grace and the knowledge of Him, He will display those qualities in us, because we have His life in us.

And, as Peter says, all the glory will be to Him through Whom this is brought to pass. It is on account of Christ. It is in His power. It is because of His love. And all the saints said..."Amen".

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 15/05
If the Gospel were more clearly and faithfully preached, fewer would profess to believe it!

A. W. Pink - "Practical Christianity"
2Peter 3:15-17 - Scripture Twisters: More Warnings
15-17 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.

We who await the Lord, who look for His coming, are to count His patience in delaying to return as time given for his as yet unsaved people to repent, and for his children to be sanctified the more. His patience is the opportunity for us to be used to further and to expand His church. While He delays, there is yet work to be done. While He delays there remains the opportunity and the privilege to serve. While He delays, more souls will be saved.

Peter displays here the true grace of a man under the power of God when he speaks of Paul as a "beloved brother." This same Peter had been publicly rebuked and upbraided by Paul for his hypocrisy regarding Gentile believers. But God uses such things in the hearts of his people to humble them, to burn off the chaff of pride and duplicity and prejudice. Through faith in Christ and by the power and grace of indwelling God, Peter speaks that which is upbuilding of the brother that had corrected him. There is not even the hint of any acrimony. There is no residual "side-swipe" - no "damning with faint praise." There is only loving respect for the truth and for a brother who abode in it. He refers, most probably to Ro 2:4 which states:
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Here we can note something very important in our understanding of the inspiration of the New Testament writings. Peter calls Paul’s letters "Scriptures" in such a way that there can be no doubt he regards them as on a par with the Old Testament Writings. He is quite clear in comparing Paul's letters to "the other Scriptures". Now Paul was the instrument of God’s in writing a large portion of the "scriptures" that constitute our New Testament. It is one more instance of the quiet and untrumpeted way that the Bible as whole witnesses to itself.

Another thing worthy of note is that Paul was just as misquoted and misrepresented in Peter’s day as he is today. There were, even then, those who twisted the meaning of Paul’s letters and his doctrine because they were ignorant and unstable people. These characterizations refer to them being unlearned and unsteadfast. While not all people can be scholars, all believers have a duty to know and to understand the doctrines of the faith. This can only be done through diligent study and attention to faithfully transmitted apostolic teaching. But even more so it is incumbent upon those teaching to have a proper understanding of the Christian faith as laid down by Christ and the Apostles. Novices, unstable people and perverters of the doctrine ought never to be allowed to propagate falsehoods and misunderstandings. There is no substitute for knowledge with understanding.

Unsteadfast people are particularly highlighted because they are the ones who tend to twist things. People who jump from church to church ought never to be put in teaching positions until they have demonstrated a knowledge in concept and wisdom in living of the truths of the Bible. People who are ignorant of Biblical doctrines ought never to be found as Elders or Deacons. This is why novices are proscribed from offices, and why Elders must be "apt" teachers.

Beyond this, every believer has a responsibility to himself (and to God) not to be carried away by the errors of people who twist the scriptures, whether ignorantly or not. It’s no use pointing the finger and saying you were led astray. You have a duty not to be led astray. You have that duty. And the best way to ensure that you are not misled is to know the Word of God, and to be walking in the Spirit Who reveals the truth in it to you. Some errors are indeed worse than others. Some are from misunderstanding. But there are others that come from lawless people.

By lawless people is meant inveterate sinners. Unregenerate pretenders. False teachers. Those who talk a big storm but live like the world. As stated earlier, there are literally thousands and thousands of such people supposedly naming the name of Christ - but who preach a twisted and demonic gospel. Today it is every bit as bad, if not worse, than in Peter’s time. God commands you to be on guard, to be prepared and to watch that you do not become ensnared.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

2Peter 3:11-14 - Watching and Hoping
11-14 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

New heavens and a new earth
Having encouraged besieged saints by explaining the reason for the Lord’s delay and the certainty of His coming to judge all things, Peter now turns it around to exhort us to godly living. While we are waiting for God - as we abide - we ought especially to be also watching. The world scoffs while judgment looms. The word plays while destruction and wrath are coming because it refuses to believe God. But the saint knows. The saint’s very hope is in the coming of the great and terrible Day of the Lord because the saint knows that He is loved with an eternal love in Christ. It is a love that cannot be taken back. It is a love given with all the fullness and power and generosity of a limitless God. He Who exhorts mere men to give in joyful liberality can do no less Himself.

In Jesus we not only have all that is needed for life and godliness, but in Him we also a co-heirs of all things. We share the very life of God Himself. God has given us life and that life is in His Son. We have passed from death to life. We are no longer under condemnation. We already have eternal life - the eternal life we received the moment we first believed.

To be free from guilt, free from the fear of death, free from the threat of judgment - to be eternally loved by He Who is omnipotent and infinite and eternal Himself - these facts ought to move us all to live godly lives. Fear may have driven us to Christ, but it is love that frees us in Him. It is His love and the apprehension of it - the realization that He Who has loved us is He that is above all things. This knowledge, springing from true faith - this is what moves all God’s true people to seek holiness. We love because He first loved us and we have been made to realize it.

But do we believe it? Do our actions and words reflect that belief? Are we living not only free, but freely unto God. Have we become slaves of righteousness on account of the love of God for us? Do we live as servants of God or do we still serve ourselves? Do we use the deliverance of salvation as a licence to please ourselves? If the Son has set us free then we are free indeed. Free from bondage to sin. Free from the lordship of the devil. Free from the lusts of our old flesh nature. Free from pleasing men rather than God. Free from the dictates and seductions and from conformity to the world. Free to live in holiness unto God, by His grace.

We are sojourners here. We dwell in the midst of an evil world but we no longer are a part of it. We are now salt and light. We are ambassadors for Christ. We are the means by which the Lord of Glory is made known in the world. We, like our Saviour before us, and on account of our Saviour who now dwells in us - we regard ourselves as "just passin’ through". Our minds and hopes are set on heavenly things and upon the new heaven and earth in which righteousness (that is to say the very presence of God) dwells.

If only this truth would filter down into the very hearts of us all, then our lives would be even more transformed than they already are. It is something to pray for.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans
Quote of the Day - Dec 14/05
"I remember an aged minister used to observe, --that the most learned and knowing Christians, when they come to die, have only the same plain promises of the Gospel for their support, as the common and unlearned:' and so, I find it. It is the plain promises of the Gospel that are my support; and, I bless God, they are plain promises, that do not require much labour and pains to understand them."

Isaac Watts (just prior to his death)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 13/05
Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God. Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.

Isaiah 50:10-11 (AV)
2Peter 3:8-10 - Delay for the Sake of the Elect
8-10 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Remember {2Pe 1:1} that these facts are being given to believers – as an encouragement to persecuted saints – who are beset round and about, within and without, by false teachers, by mockers and by scoffers. Satan has spared nothing in his attempt to suppress the truth. He still spares nothing up until this present day.

Believers need the encouragement and the exhortation, the admonishment that comes from the truth of God and the reliability of His Word. Though God might seem to delay - though the wicked seem to prosper, though deceivers abound, thought the church is under relentless attack and the saints are led like lambs to the slaughter, though the very gates of hell are brought to bear against the Lord and the Lord’s people - yet all is under God’s Lordship, His power and His control.

Though to us it looks like the Lord is delayed, and though the world does not believe He will ever come back (that is, if they believe He came in the first place) yet He is faithful and true. The wicked are tolerated for a season. God patiently abides. God has a plan and a timetable that can neither be hurried nor delayed. And that timetable is governed by this fact - that God does not will that any of His elect should perish, but that every one whom He named in Christ before the foundation of the world be gathered in. That is why God seems to delay. That is why He allows the wicked to prosper for a season. The church needs to be reminded that God is gathering in His own from the world. He will not end things until the harvest is over and only He knows when that will be - because only He knows all the names that were written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.

Some people take verse 9 to be speaking of all humanity and use it as proof that God wills for all men to be saved. In a sense He does. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked and asks why they will not repent. He urges and encourages and commands and even pleads for them to repent and believe the gospel. It is not God’s desire that men perish. But neither is it His will to save all men. Those that perish will perish on account of their sin and their unswerving preference to remain in it. Those that are saved will be saved by the grace of God alone.

It is a commentary on the sad state of doctrinal understanding and Biblical knowledge today - even among teachers and pastors - that this verse of 2Pe 3:9 is almost universally used out of context to "prove" that God wills to save all men. It is used to prove the very opposite of what it means in the context. In the context, believers are given the encouragement of knowing that God is saving all the people He intended to save from eternity, and that this is the reason why He seems to delay His return and the judgement. Poor exegetes use this scripture out of context to say that God wills everyone to be saved - implying that His will is thwarted by the intransigence of fallen men. They make God less than what the Bible says about Him regarding salvation.

One day, we are assured - one day that even the Son did not know when He was on earth - one day Almighty God will have saved the last of those He gave to Christ before the world was made, and at that time – not sooner and not later – God will draw a curtain over history and bring an end to all things as we know them. The whole universe will be dissolved by fire. All the works of men will be brought under the light of God’s holy judgment and all accounts will be settled. Those wicked who seemed to prosper for a time will reap what they have sown. And all God’s children will be vindicated because they trusted in Him and in His righteousness alone.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Monday, December 12, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 12/05
(When) we see the flock of God troubled and tormented with ravenous wolves, that devour and destroy whatsoever they can... must we be moved with mercy towards a wolf: and in the mean time let the poor sheep and lambs of which our Lord hath such a special care, let them. I say, perish? When we see any wicked man troubling the church, either by offences or false doctrine, we must prevent him as much as lieth in our power: we must warn the simple, that they be not misled and carried away; this I say, is our duty. -

"Pure Preaching of the Word" - John Calvin
2Peter 3:4-7 Water and Fire
4-7 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

'Air Water and Fire' by Scott Lilley (age13) - Allenvale School, N.Z.
These scoffers who love their sin so much that they sneer at the gospel of grace, and at its bearers - these will be people blinded from any vision but their own. No doubt many professors of religion jumped on the bandwagon of Christianity then, as now. They rejoiced for a season but when persecution arose on account of the Word they were offended. They began to question because they did not have the assurance of new nature inhabited by God’s Son. He that has the Son, we are told, has life. And He that has not the Son has not life. God has given life to His elect and that life is in His Son. {1Jo 5:11-12} These are they who persevere to the end because the life of God Himself has been given them. So pretenders will become clamorous, not bearing the fruit of the Spirit that endures patiently by trusting in God. They will begin to question the very hope of the saints and the promise of God Himself, thus betraying their unregenerate hearts.

Some may never have even professed Christ. They may be humanists, rationalists, philosophizers. Believers in the uniformity of history, just like the evolutionists. This was indeed the war-cry of those who cowed almost an entire generation of Christians into accepting liberalism and the evolutionary scientific rational view from 1870 to 1935. It was a time when to believe the Bible to be literally the word of God, inerrant and God-breathed Truth, was to be called an idiot, a relic, a simpleton, a fool. It was to be laughed at as behind the times, a stick-in-the-mud, backward, stodgy, inflexible and hopelessly old-fashioned.

The eyes of men have been blinded to the truth. Indeed, they have blinded themselves in their love for sin. It is both tragic and criminally perverse at the same time. Tragic that the testimony of God’s word in preserving the record of the example of the judgment of God in the story of Noah and the flood - this historical fact has been tossed aside by the belittling of the Bible. Mockers first dismiss the testimony and then believe what they want. But it is also criminally perverse because the testimony exists and it is there for all to see. They need but believe God - yet they will not. They would rather hold onto their sin, disdain the Word of Truth and go on their way in the sin that has killed them from their birth.

See Peter notes that their overlooking of the creation is deliberate. The Greek of the passage is that they were "willingly unaware." Deliberate blindness. It is the deliberate and willful nature of their blindness and ignorance that removes any excuse they might try to make before God. There is deceit, but it is self-deceit. Satan may be luring and keeping them, but they willingly embrace the lie, just as Adam willingly sinned.

God’s word explains how the universe was made and why. It even speaks to when. It was made through the Word of God - the same Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. It records how the same God that made it all also destroyed the world on account of its wickedness. And this was a warning to all those who came after, out of the loins of Noah and his family. God is both kind and severe. God is love and God is justice. God is the giver of life and the taker away. God is the Alpha and the Omega. God is mercy and grace - and God is holiness and punishment. God is the friend of repentant sinners and the destroyer of the wicked. And both redound to His eternal glory.

Here are some things you might have heard.
"It’s a myth."
"It’s a moral fairy tale!"
"You don’t really believe that God flooded the whole earth do you?"
"It might have been a local Mesopotamian flood - a particularly heavy year for the annual spring rains."
"God wouldn’t do anything like that! Not my God. He wouldn’t!"
"No loving God would ever kill all those people!"
"Science has proven the flood never happened!"
"This sort of fabulous story is for times past. They don’t really happen or, if they did, they don’t happen any more."
"Nothing comparable has happened since the dawn of recorded history."
These are all things men say to deny or to dilute the fact of the flood and its underlying reasons, which are - the unrepented sin of man and the wrathful judgment of a holy God. But men, rather than face these truths prefer evolutionary uniformitarianism because it denies God, His holiness and His right to judge the sins of all men.

Now Peter is telling us, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that just as God once destroyed the earth on account of the offence of sin to His holiness - so He will do so again. As He once destroyed the earth by water so He will next destroy the earth, and the heavens with a fervent heat that will dissolve the elements. This beginning of the end could be millennia away - or it could be in the next second. In either case it is as certain as past history is certain. What God did as a warning to we in later generations by destroying humanity in a flood, He will do again because the warning is not heeded. It will not be heeded because man universally prefers sin, and can only be saved from the wrath to come by the intervening grace of God.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec11/05
I am He who made all the saints. I gave them grace: I brought them to glory. I know the merits of each of them. I came before them in the blessings of My sweetness. I knew My beloved ones before the ages. I chose them out of the world—they did not choose Me. I called them by grace, I drew them on by mercy. I led them safely through various temptations. I poured into them glorious consolations. I gave them perseverance and I crowned their patience. I know the first and the last. I embrace them all with love inestimable. I am to be praised in all My saints. I am to be blessed above all things, and honored in each of those whom I have exalted and predestined so gloriously without any previous merits of their own.

Thomas A Kempis - "Imitation of Christ" Chapter 3.58
The Home Stretch of 2Peter
Today it's the start of the last leg in 2Peter. 6 more posts, including today's and I'll have to move along to something else.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans
2 Peter 3:1-3 - Ground of Hope
1-3 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.

In this final chapter Peter moves from warnings about false teachers to the certainty of the judgement of the wicked upon the Lord’s return. All of the Apostles had echoed the warnings of the prophets and of their Master that evil men would wax worse and worse - that the wickedness of humanity would be judged. {Ps 50:1-4 Isa 13:10-13,24:19-23 Mic 1:4 Mal 4:1-2}

For the believer, the return of Jesus Christ is a blessed hope. In every generation, in the hearts of all true believers lies the hope that they might be transformed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet - and not see death. We watch and wait for it. No one knows the day nor the hour - yet all anticipate it, as they are both commanded and encouraged to do.

In his first letter, Peter had addressed the very present problem of persecution. In this He addresses the problems of false teaching, and the dangers of wearying in that watching and waiting for the Lord. The church was besieged from without and from within. Each peril had its own unique menace. Combined, they must at times have threatened to overwhelm the people. But Christians have a sure and certain hope both of the resurrection and of the return of the Lord, and the shepherds were quick to remind them that they were but sojourners upon the earth and citizens of heaven.

Men could threaten them with beatings and imprisonment and death; they could seduce and beguile with subtle and malicious heresies; and we see here that they could scoff and jeer and belittle and make fun of the Way. They did this with the Lord of Glory even as He hung upon the cross, willingly impaled and held there by the Father for the sins of His people. All the while He was lovingly bleeding and panting in agony, restraining His omnipotence, veiling His rightful majesty and deference - as He suffered, the very same people that only a day before had hailed him as king now jeered and said, "He saved others - Himself He cannot save." Some taunted Him to come down from the cross, if indeed He was really the Son of God. How easy that would have been for Him. The cross was of His creation, literally historically and symbolically. Yet it was His purpose from eternity to hang there to the very end. It was the will of the Father that He did so - and He and the Father were one. It was what He came to do, and He would not be moved until that eternal cry escaped His lips, "It is finished!" Paid in full.

Now, if the Lord of glory suffered such shame, such ignominy, such cruel taunting - despising it for the joy that lay before Him - then we can understand Peter’s desire to encourage those saints who would be belittled for their faith. Sometimes it is easier for us to hurt physically than to have our proud natures scorned. But thanks be to Jesus Christ this scorn is now the very salve of our souls. We are proud. We are haughty. We are self-glorying in our old natures - but by the grace of God because of Jesus Christ, and the power of His resurrection, our old nature is pummeled and constrained and subdued by suffering through faith in Christ. When we endure, when we abide in His word regardless of the circumstances, when we are railed against and, by the grace of God do not rail back, then Satan’s end is demonstrated for the world and for all the unseen angels to see. And it is then that we see the power of God manifested in us. He changes us, He upholds us, He sanctifies us in the midst of it all - to the praise of His glorious grace forevermore.

These are the last days. The last days began when Jesus ascended into heaven and they have continued for almost 2,000 years since. There were scoffers in Christ’s day, there were scoffers in Peter’s day, there were scoffers in our Grandfathers’ and fathers’ day - and there are scoffers in our day, too. Holy lives, lived in faith through the power of the Holy Spirit serve only to inflame and to enrage the hearts of evil men. The holiness of Christ, though reflected often only too dimly in our own flesh, remains a light to remind sinful men of their true condition before God. They hate God and so, when He displays His life and righteousness in us, men will hate us also, for His sake. {Joh 15:20} But some will be convicted by the light. Some will be brought to shame and to repentance. Some will hear the call of the Saviour from within His people and will be brought into the kingdom.

Meanwhile, the comfort for the saints is that, while they endure all of this rejection and humiliation and insult and taunting, they do so loving their very tormentors, because they know that they themselves were just like them, and would still be, apart from God’s free gift of their salvation in Christ. Abiding in the sure and certain hope that is in Christ, knowing that He has loved them with an everlasting love from eternity past, and will love them with that same love in eternity present and eternity to come - firmly convinced of His love, the saints are able to endure all things, and to love the unlovely - just as their Lord did. He does in and through them, what He has already done for them.

So scoffers will come. And the true saints will endure. They will endure, loving their enemies to the end, as Christ did. They will endure, knowing also that God knows all things. He knows what they have suffered in His Name. He knows also how to requite the wicked. And He will one day do so as sure as the sun rising.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 10/05
The event of man’s labors depends wholly on God’s immutable purpose. Man’s part, therefore, is to do and enjoy every earthly thing in its proper season, not setting aside God’s order, but observing deep reverence towards God; for the mysteriousness and unchangeableness of God’s purposes are designed to lead "man to fear before Him." Man knows not the event of each act: otherwise he would think himself independent of God.

Jamieson, Fausset Brown (On Ecclesiastes 3:14)
I Didn’t Ask to Be Born!
I object!Coming into this world wasn’t easy. It was a cold, noisy, glaring shock to my system. Sure, at the time I didn’t really know that I had a system to be shocked, but the experience was real enough. I didn’t know what I was or where I was. All I knew was that I was. And I am told that I made sure everybody around me knew how profoundly needy and how deeply disturbed I was about the whole incident. I screamed my lungs out. You see - I hadn’t asked to be born.

There is not a person on earth who ever asked to be born. We exist by God’s fiat. The moment God created - in those words “let us make” and “let there be” - there was contained and sealed all that would follow. As soon as there was Adam then there was you and me. We were in Him, waiting to be revealed. And we would be revealed just as surely as God said, “Let there be…”

There was no consultation process with the creation itself prior to its existence. Such a thought is ludicrous. Whatever is – all of it, including you and me – springs from the mind and will and eternal counsels of a God, Who needs no other to give Him assent or advice or permission. That is what “God” means. There is no hope, no power, no origination apart from Him – and He is de facto unopposable.

So when we hear our kids (or ourselves) whining that we didn’t ask to be born, in rebellion against whatever form of authority God has ordained for us to be submitted to – then we truly know that it is a foolish plaint. Nobody asked to be born. God did it anyway. Grow up and get used to it. And, to be fair, most of us do just that.

But once we are grown up we tend to forget. We forget that birth was an involuntary act, which was ordained for each of us personally by the creative pleasure of God. He made not just mankind, but this man. He chose to work it out through the will and desires of my parents and their parents and so on…all the way back to Adam – but there can be no discussion on the underlying truth that He did it.

So, what of the new birth? Are we now tempted to think that spiritual rebirth falls outside the creative prerogative of God alone? Does He now need additional counsel or impetus from the creation He already made without any input from outside of Himself?

When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus He said, “You must be born again or you cannot see the kingdom of God.” He did not command Nicodemus to do something that he was incapable of doing. He did not say, “Be born again…” He said, “You must be born again…” It is about what must be done for you, not what you can do of yourself.

If you have been born again, God has worked it out through your own will and desires to the point where you asked Him to be the Lord of you life. But to think that you did that on your own account belies the truth of the creative sovereignty of your Maker. You are no more born again of your own will and power than you were born the first time of your own volition. You were literally nothing before the creation and you are still nothing. Give God the glory and let go of the stubborn desire to think that you contributed to your salvation by deciding to accept Christ when it was already decided for you in the counsels of eternity.

Experientially, you heard and understood and accepted Christ because God worked it out through people and His providence and His Spirit until you came to an acceptance of Him. Positionally, however, you were saved before you were ever created, because God purposed to do it. Listen to the words of Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation by the grace of God:
“If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learned Jesus Christ aright.”
It is important to understand that man’s will is not eradicated by this truth. It is subjugated. God’s will is given its rightful place as supreme. Nothing that He does ultimately depends upon what we decide. He decided in advance. It is simply that we finite, sin-darkened, blind sheep do not know the end from the beginning like God does. We walk in the discovery of ordained reality through the exercise of our own will. But our volition doesn’t determine the outcome. It does, however, determine our accountability - since God judges the hearts of men. Our intentions mean far more to God than our so-called “accomplishments”.

Just as our physical birth was not a decision we were in a position to make, so our spiritual rebirth is not a decision we made either. It is a condition we discovered through the providence of God and the working of His mighty Spirit, as He brought us to the salvation He had prepared for us all along.

This is not easy stuff. It is not the milk of the gospel. But there has been a peculiar reluctance to move on to the meat in recent years. And that reluctance (if it were possible) robs God of His glory whenever it assigns anything at all to the creature. All things are from and through and to Jesus Christ. In Him all things are held together. He is sovereign Lord of all that His hands have made, including the will of His creatures. By not giving in to this, a last bastion of satanic desperation is left behind God’s own lines, and it “hinders” the prosecution of the war.

Better to be found seeking His face, by His grace, so that perhaps we might discover that our very seeking is the means by which He will bolster the lines and bring us into a fuller submission to Him. The closer we come to this, the closer we come to the understanding that - as Oswald Chambers said – we are the will of God.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Friday, December 09, 2005

Quote of the Day - Dec 9/05
"If we will admit our inadequacy, we can have God's adequacy....The greatest problem in the church is trying to do God's work with man's strength....The key to Christian sufficiency is realizing that everything comes from God and nothing comes from me."

Ray C. Stedman
A Petrine Pause
Yesterday we came to the end of the second chapter of 2Peter. There has been a lot said about false teachers. In the next chapter there are more warnings, but also there is a great deal of exhortation to perseverence and watchfulness. Before embarking on the final leg of this Petrine journey I'm going to offer a couple of posts with a different flavour. The first of these follows, and is called "Perfection Through Impotency".

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans
Ecc 11: 1-6 - Perfection Through Impotency
Ecclesiastes 11: 1-6

1 Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. 2 Give a portion to seven, or even to eight for you know not what disaster may happen on earth. 3 If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie. 4 He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. 5 As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. 6 In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

The overall sense that this small passage conveys is of the transcendence of God. Not only is He omnipotent, but His ways are beyond our understanding. He has indeed revealed much about Himself to us, culminating in the incarnation of His Son, but even the Son cannot be truly known unless He is revealed to the human heart by the Spirit, just as the Son Himself reveals the Father to whom He wills. {Lu 10:22, Joh 16:13-15, Ga 1:15-16} And that itself is an act of God. Apart from revelation, He is unseen and his ways are unknowable.

However, just because God’s ways are beyond our natural understanding does not mean that the natural man does not have enough knowledge of God to stand justly condemned. The visible, created universe is ample to make known the fact that there is a God who is good {Romans 1: 18-20} - but the natural man does not seek after God and cannot know enough of God to be saved.

Here in Ecclesiastes even we believers are put firmly in our place. Our place is as creatures who must live by faith in God - and not by sight. When we act, we necessarily do so without the exhaustive knowledge that God has. He is both omniscient and infallible, and we are not.

The lesson is that, in our creaturely limitations, we must not be immobile on account of our fallibility. We must not have the mindset that refuses to do anything unless the end is clearly and infallibly knowable to us. That is to make ourselves God - as if we could. Nor are we to stand still out of the fear of making a mistake, as the parable of the talents clearly shows. {Matthew 25: 13-30}

It is indeed a narrow way - and deliberately so - for only those with faith from God will indeed move forward. Only those with true faith can live under the tension of the "must" and the "cannot" - or the paradox of striving towards a perfection that they cannot reach, neither need to obtain, through their own meritorious effort.

Faith trusts God when the end cannot be seen. Faith believes that God is good and perfect and wise and true - and that His ends will always be right. Faith accepts that everyone will inevitably fall short of the justly righteous and perfect standards of God. Faith ceases to strive for justification. Faith accepts the impotency of unaided human efforts, while bowing to the command that the effort must nevertheless be exerted.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans