Agonizomai: August 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Malachi 3:7-9 - The Blinding Nature of Sin

Malachi 3:7-9 - The Blinding Nature of Sin

Malachi 3:7-9 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.

Continuing in the vein that, though God is always faithful to His covenant promises, unaided man never is. Again, Israel is the poster boy for this truth. "The days of your fathers" refers to the very beginnings of the nation. Under Moses Israel rebelled and balked and disobeyed and complained before they even got to the Promised Land. And when they got there they slid deeper and deeper into disobedience, only to be rescued by God whenever their disobedience bore its inevitable fruit of sufficient misery for them to once more call upon Him.

The point is that if the root is rotten then the whole plant will be rotten. As it was with Adam and all his offspring from the beginning, so it is with Jacob and all His physical offspring from the beginning. You take flawed marble and you get a flawed statue, no matter how beautifully carved you try to make it. Man’s problem is more than skin deep. Man is rotten to the core. Man is a sinner by nature. Just as Adam’s race came to grief in the flood, though a remnant was saved by grace - so religious man, though a man given all the right pointers and laws and requirements and precepts and nurture and lovingkindness and discipline, was also destined to fall short. Religious man was also a sinner. It would take more than humanism, more than religion, more than rules and regulations to save men. It would take a new heart - a new nature - the nature of God Himself in Christ by the Spirit - wrought and imputed and imparted and perfected in and for men by God Himself.

Yet despite the natural man’s universal rebellion God still calls upon and commands all men everywhere to repent. Here He calls upon Israel to repent. The call to repentance constituted the first words of Jesus in ministry. But it is best to understand the truth - God can and does command what men cannot perform due to their innate corruption - a depravity of heart which bends their will against the Lordship of God. And it is precisely because of the depravity of hearts that some refuse to receive this Biblical teaching. They would rather accuse God of being unfair, or simply twist or ignore the plain teaching of God.

Why will people professing to be children of God refuse to see that apart from the monergistic intervention of God through the regeneration of their hearts they simply will not and cannot repent or believe the gospel? But when God effectually calls He also empowers so that the dead do indeed rise at His Word. Salvation is a miraculous, supernatural work of God alone - which He brings about through the right preaching of the gospel.

Now Israel did not have the gospel per se. Yet God saved some Israelites in all ages. It most certainly was not on account of their obedience - else those people would have been justified by works. What shall we say then? That their obedience (imperfect though it was) was the fruit of a work of grace upon their hearts, demonstrated in a living faith in the God from Whom alone salvation must come.

So God, through Malachi, is addressing not the remnant, but the nation as a whole. The nation as a whole, as a people, had for the most part and in all of their history, fallen short of the covenant that God established with them through Moses. They had turned aside because it was their nature to do so. Yet their natures did not provide them with an adequate excuse. "The devil made me do it" is good for Flip Wilson, but it doesn’t cut it with God. Neither does, "I am a sinner by nature so I couldn’t help myself." Half of that statement is true - for we are all sinners by nature but we have a moral obligation to honor God nevertheless - and we are all held accountable for our failure to do so. The will chooses as it pleases and the human will always chooses that which falls short when left to itself.

God calls the nation as a whole to repentance, even though He has known from eternity those to whom He will grant repentance and those to whom He will not. Some will undoubtedly be revived through the Word that comes to them. Most will not, as history itself confirms. And what better demonstration is needed of the unwillingness that springs from an unregenerate heart than the rhetorical response attributed to Israel? The phrase "How shall we return?" is not a sincere inquiry as to how they may turn and repent. It is a churlish objection that they don’t see what they are doing wrong to begin with. "What are we doing that warrants a return? What have we done that robs God? We are good, sincere, honest people just trying our best to get along in the world. What’s the problem?"

O do I see how sin unrepented of hardens the heart, dulls the senses and closes the ears to God! Only the grace and mercy of God can turn a sinner from his path. O that we might be convicted by the Holy Spirit of the sin to which we give ourselves most naturally and willingly. He is our only hope. If God does not move in us we shall perish as surely as any pagan. But though man is by nature unfaithful, God is not. Those in whom He begins a good work will be brought to glory - not of anything they do, but to the glory of God because He alone is good and He alone is faithful. And we have the mind of Christ, if indeed He is in us - by which we shall be guarded and led into fruitful and obedient lives.

By the time of Malachi, Israel had fallen so far away from covenant keeping, had so little of the faith of God or the fear of Him that they lacked the wisdom to see their true condition or to apprehend even the most outward signs of their covenant breaking. The tithe was instituted during the exodus along with the Levitical laws, but it went back even further to Abraham, who tithed to Melchizedek. But the main purpose of the tithes was to support the Levitical order. The Levites had no land. They had no means of support. Certain cities were granted to them, but they had no inheritance in Israel except the priesthood.

Their job was to care for the things of the tabernacle/temple and to offer up the sacrifices of the people in a manner ordained by, and pleasing to, God. They were in place of, or substitutes for, the firstborn of Israel because the firstborn always belonged to the Lord, and they were "redeemed" by the dedication of the Levites in their place.

Now Israel had found other ways to do things. The priests themselves no longer relied solely on the God of all grace to provide for them, as He had promised, but also upon their wits and their commerce and other tricks and deceptions by which they could gain worldly comforts. This may have been because the people themselves were apostate and given to such things, in place of the tithe from the heart. But corruption usually starts at the top. No that all men are not corrupt, but when leaders themselves, who are charged with guiding the people into the right way, mirror the errors of the sheep then there is no longer any means of keeping the truth alive - for the blind are leading the blind and they both fall into the ditch.

There is more than one way to rob God of His tithes and contributions. It could be by offering that which is lame, or spotted or defective in some way and keeping the best for oneself. It could be by simply playing fast and free with the "gross" so that the tithe is calculated based on an adjusted figure - sort of like "legitimized" tax deductions. It could be by ignoring the precepts of God altogether and not even bothering to tithe at all. In any case it is robbery. Not actual robbery, since all things always belong to God, but robbery from the heart - which is where all evil originates anyway. It is the foolish intent and the desire to rob God even though a right-thinking person would know that God cannot actually be bested.

So what it boils down to at the most basic level is simply unbelief. People who willfully rob God do not believe in Him as He truly has revealed Himself to be. Lack of faith both results from and results in sin. And sin is what puts and keeps man under the curse unless God Himself - the Hope of Israel - provides a solution. Malachi is the herald - the last clue before the advent of that Solution; a solution so entirely "other" that the best minds in Israel could not grasp it even though they had been increasingly given all the information they would need from the dawn of their history until the time of Malachi. Yet the simple and the humble, who had been prepared by God, knew Him and recognized Him for Who He was.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sermon of the Week
Gospel-Faithful Mission in the New Christendom
Sri Lanka is very much in the news here in Canada at the time of writing. What has most people's attention is the war between the government there and the Tamil Tigers. The ins and outs of such a conflict I leave to better men than I.

But here is Ajith Fernando, a Sri Lankan pastor, speaking at the Gospel Coalition in April 2009. People like this often scare me. I get the same feeling when I hear Roxylee sing - or when she writes a gracious note to me. That feeling of fear has less to do with the people themselves than with the manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit in them. My fear is actually awe - awe at the presence of God in His servants. And, as an aside, that is why God's children are all called "saints" or hagios (ἅγιος) in the Greek. It means "that awe-full thing". Sacred, set apart, the temple of the Holy Spirit and a manifestation of the glory of God. Whenever I glimpse this, I am abased, humbled and, yes, afraid.

In this sermon/session pastor Fernando steers a precise line between gospel contextualization and delivering the essential gospel message. He explains how the objective is first and foremost to deliver the message and that any flexibility shown towards the culture is for the sake of getting the message to the hearers as clearly as possible, as soon as possible.

Here is a man not only preaching but also living the gospel. Now you can tell from this blog that I like theology - but here is a man who applies that theology to the real world in the hard places. As Paul would say, "Listen to such men."

And perhaps the best single point in here for me was when he spoke about the increasing tendency of Sri Lankan government to marginalize and criminalize Christian evangelism. I was in tears when he told of his son (or son-in-law) cheerfully saying that they should get busy in the prisons, preparing them to get up to speed to hear the gospel, which would soon be preached there by imprisoned Christians.

What a wonderful, Biblical, positive attitude. While watch bloggers here in North America are warning that such things are coming here (and I don't doubt them) - over there it's not "Batten down the hatches, boys - we're in for a rough time" - no, it's "We had better get to work because God is about to provide a great opportunity!" Stunning. Humbling. Uplifting. Enjoy...

Gospel Faithful Mission in the New Christendom - Ajith Fernando

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Looking in the Right Place
We look for God to manifest Himself to His children: God only manifests Himself in His children.

Oswald Chambers - “My Utmost For His Highest” for April 21st

Friday, August 28, 2009

Malachi 3:4-6 - God Alone is Faithful

Malachi 3:4-6 - God Alone is Faithful

Malachi 3:4-6 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. 5 "Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me," says the LORD of hosts. 6 "For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed..."

Whitefield used to lament that he was often in a quandary as to whether or not to preach the gospel since, by preaching it, he might add to the condemnation of some poor souls who rejected the truth. It was a quandary that exercised him, but never prevented his preaching. The salvation of God’s elect and the declaration - the preaching of Christ - is more glorious than a whole world of the willfully lost.

This is the effect of the gospel - that it is the power of God unto salvation for those that believe, but that it is the harbinger of doom to those who reject it. It is the same with the bringers of the good tidings - those indwelt by the Spirit of Holiness - for they are to those who are being saved the savor of life unto life, but to those who are perishing they are the savor of death into death. {2Co 2:15-16} It is on account of the message, and not only the message, but the One of and from whom the message speaks. If people reject us then that is one thing, but if they reject the Christ we bring that is quite another. Are we invisible enough for that to happen?

Christ is Savior and Christ is judge. In salvation He is beautiful and the epitome of tender love. In judgment He is terrible with eyes of flaming fire and a voice like thunder. One day He will judge all men, but until then His life, His commands and precepts and His Word are the judge of all men. As the Word itself says:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. {Heb 4:12}

Contrary to what many people think, the world is under judgment now. God placed a curse upon Adam and his race. His wrath and condemnation are revealed and they abide upon any who do not receive the love of the truth in Jesus Christ. {John 3:16-21 Ro 1:18-20} The truth is abroad in the world - in creation and in the incarnation, in the saints and in the Word of God. The stamp of the Creator is plain for any who will to see.

God promises Israel that in the day of the Lord’s advent He will draw near to them for judgment. Though He came not to condemn the world in general - nor the Jews in particular - yet the very testimony of His life and words is the condemnation and judgment of which He speaks here. "He came unto His Own and His Own received Him not." What tragedy! What irony! What depravity! What judgment! The light of His life and His wisdom shone to the very people with whom He had been dealing for almost 2,000 years and they didn’t even recognize Him!

Yet that light shone on the hypocrisies, the religiosity and the worldliness of the nation with a searing beam that was so hard to bear that they killed Him for it. They would rather have had their sorceries so that they could know the forbidden things. They would rather marry and cast off women at will for pleasure of political or economic gain - even with the pagan nations that surrounded them. They would rather lie and cheat and turn a blind eye to true need and injustice. In the times of Noah, this was what was known as a land "filled with violence". Not the violence that simply brutalizes physically, but the worse kind that twists the truth and does violence to the edicts of God Himself.

And one must bear in mind that this is the condition of a nation that God had chosen, nurtured and disciplined for millennia. Miracles, prophecy, the scriptures; the warnings, admonishments, chastening, patience, faithfulness and lovingkindness of God did not fail, because God was true to the end. He kept the covenant. But these privileged, chosen, blessed people did not.

There is a lesson for us in this. We are a faithless, and worldly people apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The moment we think we stand we fall. The moment we think we stand we are already fallen. God makes us to stand. {Ro 14:4} We are upheld by His power. {1Pe 1:3-5} It is through faith, yes - but that faith is a faith that is itself the gift of God. {Eph 2:8-10} This is the lesson of Israel for us - that we are not justified and neither can we live through the flesh by obedience to the law so that we are made right with God. God must do it for us. In our flesh dwells no good thing. None. Nada. Nunkie. Zero. Zilch. {Ro 7:18} Salvation is of the Lord - plus nothing and plus no one. {Jon 2:9}

And so the offering of a naturally wayward and rebellious people is acceptable to God only through the Messiah. It is in Him that all the children of God are acceptable - just as in Adam they are not. This is the promise and the hope of Israel, and spiritual Israel always understood this. And it is to spiritual Israel that God always speaks with hearing.

These verses are not a threat to God’s true people, but a promise of faithfulness from God. True Israel mourns. True Israel hungers and thirsts after righteousness. True Israel longs for the judgment of the wicked. And these things are what God promises to do in His faithfulness in the coming Messiah - Emmanu-el, God with us. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. And in Him all things hold together. He is the One for and because of Whom all things exist. {Ro 11:36 Col 1:15-18}

When God says, "For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed," He is contrasting His own faithfulness and immutability with the faithlessness and fickleness of the children of Israel as a nation. It is because Of God and His character - and not on account of anything in Israel that He forbears and still delivers on His promise. If it relied upon Israel to keep the covenant in order that God send the Deliverer then they would be sunk. In fact, God’s word is that they would (inevitably) be consumed. This is a very scary term. It means "utterly destroyed" or "made clean riddance of". And remember that when God destroys He destroys unendingly in hell. {Mt 10:28}

But deliverance does not depend in any way whatsoever upon men. It is entirely a work of God from start to finish - from divine foreknowledge to final glory. {Ro 8:29-30} It is precisely because God purposed to save a people for Himself and for no other reason that Israel was not consumed. It is because God is true and faithful and merciful and gracious. It is because God is Who He is. It is because what God purposed in eternity He brings to pass in history no matter what any of His creatures purposes to do. And if it were not so then no one could be saved. This is the message of these verses.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Depravity and Repsonsibility
There is no lack of the requisite capacities (concerning the certainty of the sinner’s disobedience), if the man would use those capacities aright. Now, a man cannot plead the existence of an obstacle as his excuse, which consists purely in his own spontaneous emission of opposition.

R.L. Dabney - Systematic Theology

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Malachi 3:2-3 - God Will Purify His People

Malachi 3:2-3 - God Will Purify His People

Malachi 3:2-3 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.

Some commentators have taken the suddenness of His coming in verse 1 and the terror of His coming in verse 2 to be an allusion to His coming in judgment in the last days. Dispensational eschatology not being a love of mine, nor a subject of intense study, I cannot speak with authority - but I doubt that the true implication is about final judgment. The context speaks to the incarnation, the coming of Messiah and the one who will go before Him.

Was there, when the Lord walked upon the earth any one at any time who ever confuted what He said, or who proved His words to be untrue? Was there any one to whom He personally ministered and preached whose soul was not searched and probed by His wisdom and the pure light of His gaze into the innermost heart? And even today does He not pierce to the very core all those with whom He has to do?

The figure used is that of a smelter or a whitener of cloth. The refiner of silver heated the furnace and skimmed the dross until the ore was purified. This is the work of the Lord. He sanctifies His people. The washer with fuller’s soap cleanses garments until they are both clean and white - shining in the sun. The Lord Jesus Christ is He who gives a clothing of pure righteousness that renders His people acceptable in the eyes of God - and He also refines their hearts to make them experientially sanctified, creating in them a new heart that delights in God through the Spirit.

The King of Heaven is manifest in Christ. The King before whom no one can stand, as John the Apostle demonstrated in Revelation chapter 1. Though He for a time took on the likeness of sinful flesh (yet without sin) He is now glorified with the glory He had with the Father before the world began. That glory that was previewed by Peter, James and John on the mount of transfiguration.

Now He has come as promised - God manifested in human flesh. Brightness of glory veiled briefly for a specific purpose. But in that purpose was bound up all the intentions of Almighty God from before the foundation of the world until the end of time - and on into eternity. The existence of every man and every microbe - the movement of every atom, the number of the hairs on the heads of every single person that ever lived; the courses of the stars and the galaxies, the number of the beats of every heart, all the events of history, the salvation of His people and eternal wrath upon the damned. Christ is the focus, the gate, the purpose, the reason, the means and the judge through which all things are and by which alone all that are or will be in eternity shall pass either unto God or into hell.

No doubt none will stand in the Day when He returns in glory to judge the world. But only those that think they stand (or thought they stood) at His first appearance failed to be prostrate before Him. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and it had been granted to some to fear and adore Him as God even during the incarnation. All natural men think that they stand. Many professors of religion think that they stand; but so long as they think that they stand then they are fallen, even when not prostrate. O, the wisdom of God that a man who humbles Himself is raised up and the one who exalts himself will be abased!

Christ knew how to bring righteous offerings to the LORD. Do we know how to bring the One Righteous Offering to the Lord - the acceptable spotless Lamb of God who has done all things well and has pleased the Father? Or do we still persist in trying to bring something of ourselves? Do we claim to be justified freely by His grace and yet harbor some self-justifying tendencies by which we seek to make God our debtor?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Aim High!
Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.

C.S. Lewis

Monday, August 24, 2009

Malachi 3:1 - The Promise and Deaf Ears

Malachi 3:1 - The Promise and Deaf Ears

Malachi 3:1 "Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts..."

Attention is now turned to the coming of the Lord God Himself, and to the herald of His coming. The idea of Messiah was well known to the Jews. He would be the deliverer of Israel; God with them. But though the concept was plain, the full depth and breadth of it was so audacious and so unimaginably bold, so overawingly condescending, that men simply could not take it in unaided. This is why the disciples seemed like such dunderheads during the three years that Christ himself taught them. It is why John the Baptist (spoken of here) wavered and asked if Jesus was He Who was to come or if they should look for another.

God with us, God taking the form of one of us, God self-limiting His almightiness, His sovereignty, His infinity, so as to live a life in the body by faith - (fully human yet without sin) - is incomprehensible to the mind - to anyone’s mind. The incarnation will be the subject of wonder and learning for us throughout eternity, and we shall not discover the bottom of it even then - despite glorified bodies and purified minds. Much less, then, were men able to begin to take it in apart from the indwelling power of God’s Spirit. And we upon whom the Spirit of God has come, still dwelling in sinful flesh as we do, are able to catch only the waft of an odour of the substance of this truth during a whole lifetime. Certainly, were God not in us to reveal Christ both to and through us we should remain clueless.

This indeed is both the result and the weight of sin. Lost men are impervious to the depths of the depravity of their souls and their utter inability to receive truth apart from the intervention of God upon their hearts. We must be born again. Born again first or we cannot see the kingdom of God, much less enter it. As Paul Washer describes it, a fish has no concept of its wetness, though it lives in complete submersion in the water. So are we with regard to sin. Being all we know we think it normal. We think sin is not so bad. We think there is still good in us when God clearly states in His word that apart from His indwelling we are capable of nothing but sin. {Ge 6:5 Joh 15:5 Ro 14:23} God alone is good {Mr 10:18} and, unless He is in us through our union with Him in Christ, we cannot do good; we cannot please Him; as rebels and God-haters we remain under His condemnation and wrath.

Malachi is prophesying, under the inspiration of God, that there will come first a herald (John the Baptist) and then the Messiah Himself. His appearance will be sudden. What can this mean? Does it refer to the second coming of which no man knows the hour and which will be as a thief in the night? Or does it refer to the incarnation of the Son of God in the time of Herod?

I think that the "suddenness" is related to the expectations of men. The vast majority would be looking for great fanfare and in high places. They would be expecting a big commotion and lots of pre-appearance promotion. In short, they would be looking for the first century equivalent of Finneyism. The manipulation of people through worldly and carnal means. And why would they be looking for anything else since that is all that they knew? Malachi has just got through warning about the worldliness of Israel. Their focus was in entirely the wrong place. They were looking at the window pane instead of through it. In this sense, the appearance of Christ is a sudden thing - the Galilean peasant, with a ministry out in the boondocks that only for a few weeks out of three years comes to the city of Zion, the centre of the Jewish world.

The claims of His to being Messiah and being Deity incarnate are rude offenses, slaps in the face, dousings with a sudden rush of cold water that simply do not compute; not to carnal and lost men who are looking in the wrong place for someone to boost their earthly existence and secure for them the objects of their lusts.

And so two related things create ignorance and confusion regarding the coming of Messiah - despite the clearness of the text. The LORD will come to His temple... Yes, but the lostness of many makes them unable to apprehend - they have been made dull of heart and unable to receive the truth; and even for those who truly follow the Lord among the apostasy of Israel there is the befogging corruption of the flesh that dulls the spiritual understanding until Light Himself shines in.

The phrases "Whom you seek" and "in whom you delight" ought not to be taken literally to imply a godly expectation in Israel. That would be to rip them out of the context in which Malachi has been chastising the Jews for their carnality. To be sure, the Jews had a delight in the promise of their Messiah, but it was a delight that rested improperly upon things external, to which they had sold and whored themselves, and in which they were, for the most part, inured, blind and hardened. And we know that no one truly seeks after God {Ps 14:2-3 Ro 3:11} although there are many commands to do so in the Writings.

But God says that He has been found by a people who did not seek Him, nor ask for Him {AV Isa 65:1} and implies that it is because the Jews, for all their seeking did not seek aright. They wanted a God who would serve them but not a God Whom they would serve. To use the vernacular, they are the poster boy for us all, so that it may be understood that salvation is not by dint of human effort, but by the grace of God Who has mercy upon whom He will have mercy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sermon of the Week
The Danger of a False Faith
Here, Dr. James White is speaking at the Trinity Baptist Church in Montville, NJ., in a sermon delivered just before a debate with a Muslim apologist. The material has nothing to do directly with that debate. This is over an hour of vintage White - clear exposition and forceful proclamation of the Truth.

And here is his text:

John 8:28-32 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him. 31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The Dangers of a False Faith - James White

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Power Behind the Preaching

I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, "You are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself." My hope arises from the freeness of grace, and not from the freedom of the will.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

[Dear reader(s) and listener(s): Please don't forget that as of today and until September 1st I will be incognito whilst entertaining visitors from overseas. Posts should still appear, but correspondence, including response to comments, will be on hiatus.]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Malachi 2:16-17 - Putting Evil for Good

Malachi 2:16-17 - Putting Evil for Good

Malachi 2:16-17 "For the man who hates and divorces, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless." 17 You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, "How have we wearied him?" By saying, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them." Or by asking, "Where is the God of justice?"

The AV and several other translations render verse 16 as follows:
"For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously."
In all of these other versions the concept is that God hates divorce. This seems to me to be consistent with God’s character. He is faithfulness personified. His commitments are forever. Marriage is given, in part, that we might gain insight into the character of our God through the "cost" of faithfulness in marriage. I say "cost" because it is our tendency toward sin that makes faithfulness seem like a sacrifice when it is, in fact, a great joy and blessing. It is the norm in heaven but the sometimes reluctantly extracted reality in our flesh. That is why we need God to uphold us even in our faithfulness - both to wives and to Him.

The more modern renditions seem to concentrate on the actions of man rather than the character of God. Thus, it is true that to divorce is effectively to hate, by heavenly (true) standards. It is first and foremost to hate God - and secondarily to hate the wife by not keeping a covenant made with her and her family before God. So no pretense ought to be made in the mind of the divorcer by which the action of divorce is separated from hatred towards the one being divorced. Yes, there are exceptions provided in scripture - adultery and the unwillingness of an unbelieving spouse to live with a converted person.

But even a spouse’s adultery need not be an end if repented of, because it reminds of us how we appear to God in our own whoredoms, and how He is ready to forgive for the sake of the covenant and out of His love with which He loved us before the world began. Perhaps we can find the grace of God to remove it as far as the east is from the west where there is true repentance by the adulterer. Remember the story of Hosea and Gomer.

These admonitions are for the true church. They have no soil in which to root in mere professors. It ought to be obvious that in America the divorce rate is practically identical between professing believers and pagans. Add to this the fact that a vast majority of Americans lay claim to being "born-again" believers and you find an enormous non-sequitur. Is the church apostate? Or is it full of people who never truly believed? Are there mostly tares and only a small remnant of true Christians?

Be careful how you answer. It would be useful and wise to read Ezekiel chapter 36 before being too hasty. {see Eze 36:16-36} Ask yourself Who it is that has both sworn and undertaken to make Israel obedient and holy. And then ask whether God has failed, or if He is able to do all that He purposes among the host of heaven and upon the earth. And if it be so that He is able, then wonder why He has not done so among the many professing Christians in our churches. I think the answer you will find - if you are honest - is that God has NOT failed and that there are many who do not belong to Him diluting the church and, tragically, being made to feel quite comfortable while doing so.

Notice also here the difference between newer and older translations in the emphasis. In newer versions it is the man who does this wrong of divorce that "covers his garment with violence" - indicating something visible that spoils the appearance. But in the older Authorized Version we find that the man "covereth violence with his garment" which indicates an attempt to cover up something by dressing it up to look acceptable. And this concept fits much better with the verse that follows in which it is said, essentially, that evil is put for good by these men. This is a woe. {Isa 5:20}

It would be far, far better to stumble honestly or to sin openly than to sin while maintaining in the heart the belief that one is doing good - that one is still "righteous" and acceptable to God. There is no deception worse than self-deception because both the deceiver and the deceived are fools, trying to outdo each other. This can lead only to death and to willful hypocrisy - the very evil which most seemed to infuriate our Lord. It leads to a man doing evil and actually calling it good and being blithely impermeable to the actual facts.

We all have self-justifying tendencies. We are all inclined to make excuses or to minimize or even to justify our sins. But the true child of God, being indwelt by the very God who is at work sanctifying him and bringing to completion the good work He started, will not lay in this iniquity with an easy conscience and will soon enough be disabused of it with, perhaps, a severe beating. God will not suffer those who truly belong to Him to abide in corruption. Those who do not belong to Him will go from bad to worse, never realizing their error and eventually becoming so hardened that they would as soon call Christ "Beelzebub" than be corrected. Therefore let every professor of Christ examine himself to see if he is (in actuality) in the faith. {2Co 13:5}

God is infinite in power and yet is said to be wearied by all this apostasy, false profession and outright sin. Obviously He is not drained of energy. He is, in fact, storing up energy after a fashion for the inevitable wrath that will be vented upon unrepented rebellion. God is patient but, though He is infinite, He is not infinitely patient. He has set limits upon His patience and forbearance that only He knows, since He alone is able to discern the absolute truth about an individual heart or an entire national ethos. Forbearance towards evildoers will come to an end - both individually and historically. As long as God is glorified by His forbearance it will continue - but when He is better glorified by His justice and wrath then that too will appear.

What these apostatizing Jews meant by "Where is the God of justice" is not the same as what David and the prophets might have meant. They cried out for the God of justice to vindicate the obedience of their faith in Him. They cried out for Him to reveal His righteousness by destroying evildoers. That is not what is going on here. What these men meant by the question is something along these lines:

"We can get away with this evil behaviour that is contrary to the precepts of God because He never does anything anyway. Where is He? If He was truly there He would say something or do something but He never seems to. Therefore we can act unjustly."

It is, in fact, the very antithesis of the Psalmist’s cries. It is rank unbelief actually daring a God they have no faith in at all. Pagans who are resisting the gospel display this sort of attitude all the time. "If there is a God then why does He permit evil?" "Why doesn’t lightning come down from heaven on all the murderers and rapists and genocides?" The lack of such lightning is, to them, proof that there is no God and so secretly excuses their own sins.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Get Over Yourself

Philosophy and religion both discard at once the very thought of free will. And I will go as far as Martin Luther, in that strong assertion of his, where he says, “If any man does ascribe anything of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knows nothing of grace and he has not learnt Jesus Christ aright.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Sermon 52 - Free Will a Slave
Dec 2, 1855

Freedom is properly predicated of a person, not of a faculty.

R.L. Dabney
Systematic Theology
Chapter 7 - Free Agency and the Will

He that has the Liberty of doing according to his will, is the Agent who is possessed of the Will; and not the Will which he is possessed of. We say with propriety, that a bird let loose has power and liberty to fly; but not that the bird’s power of flying has a power and Liberty of flying. To be free is the property of an Agent, who is possessed of powers and faculties, as much as to be cunning, valiant, bountiful, or zealous. But these qualities are the properties of persons; and not the properties of properties.

The Freedom of the Will
Concerning the notion of Liberty, and of moral Agency
Jonathan Edwards

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Malachi 2:14-15 - Faith, Marriage and Fruit

Malachi 2:14-15 - Faith, Marriage and Fruit

Malachi 2:14-15 But you say, "Why does he not?" Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.

Why does God not regard the offerings? Asked and answered, really. A more foundational question might be to wonder how this "regard" was to be known as having been given or not? What clue, what sign, what outcome did Israelites expect to see that would tell them, that would assure them that God had regard for their offering? Everything imaginable could be put here. Freedom from guilt? - but people can fool themselves. Answered prayer? - but so often God delays or says no. Fire from heaven upon the sacrifice? - but that was not the norm. So how did they know when God had accepted or rejected their offering?

Well, that they knew, or thought they knew is plain from the text. How does any of us know that God is propitious? He speaks peace to our hearts. Sometimes we must seek for a long time and sometimes we can be assured in an instant. But it is God Who speaks the peace. Even under the Old Covenant it was by faith that the sacrifices were offered up, because the blood of bulls and rams was known to have no power or to give any true pleasure to God. The hope was always in God to provide the way by which true peace with Him could be known. The true remnant in every age understood this in some way. Even those at the beginning, who had little of the light that progressed in successive revelation, believed God sufficient to obey, though not seeing afar off.

And so we Christians know that God is propitiated because we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ - the Messiah - the Lamb of God slain for the reconciliation of His elect people to God. There is salvation in no other name. In Him all the promises of God (to His people) are yea and amen. The shadow was given and the reality has come. His life and work are foolishness to the unregenerate heart, but the wisdom of God to we who are being saved. So, quite simply, we know because God says He is at peace with us and He points to the cross of Christ. Any and all who will believe that in Christ crucified God has put away their sin will be saved. There will be, there can be, no other "proof." And God gives to His people the faith to believe and to trust in Him to the end. The work of God is to believe in the One Whom He has sent. {Joh 6:29}

Jesus Christ crucified, dead and risen is the evidence because He is the offering and there can be no other. And He is to be received in all the fullness of His life, death, resurrection, righteousness and acceptance with God, through faith alone. The shadow is fulfilled and the reality is come.

So why does God not accept the offerings of the Israelites? How do they know the offering is not accepted? Because God has not spoken peace to their hearts on account of the fact that the offering was not made through faith in God alone to provide forgiveness by grace. To them it was a promise of provision to come - but it was always to be God’s righteousness and not the worth of their offerings. Their offerings were an acceptable symbol of what was to come, but their faith was to be in God, not themselves.

And it is clear that by this time there was not much faith left in Israel. When the Son of Man comes again, will He find faith on the earth? Or will the professing church have fared about as well as professing Israel? God will regard the faith of His people because, by it, they trust in Him alone. But the men of Israel in the time of Malachi were trusting only in their lustful passions for the riches and attractions of this passing world.

Cast-off wives whose first bloom of womanhood had given way to a maturer look - whose faces and blandishments had become "familiar" and mundane - these were readily discarded for others who were either younger or who provided advantage through marriage alliance, even with Gentiles. Worldliness. Unfaithfulness. Unsteadfastness. Their covenant breaking hearts towards God were evidenced in their covenant breaking attitudes towards marriage and the purity of the nation.

As an aside it should be noted once more that God most certainly brought into Israel Gentile women like Rahab and Ruth - but they were the exception designed to show either God’s sovereign election or the primacy of faith over even nationality. Nevertheless, Israel was forbidden to intermarry with those outside the faith - the Hebrew religion of serving Yahweh.

Israel whored after the world and simply relegated God to a position in their hearts that He will never take. He is a jealous God and there must be no other gods before Him. He will not come in second best. And He will either chasten or disregard those whose practice reflects this. And, to one extent or another, idolatry governs or taints the attitude of every Jew and Gentile - and every saint among them.

Marriage was a covenant relationship. Jesus said that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. Moses - not God. God does not tolerate evil; He forbears until He deals with it. God is infinitely intolerant of evil. God exhorts us to hate every false way {Ps 119:104} because He hates all doers of iniquity; not just the sin, but the sinner also. {Ps 5:4-5 Pr 6:16-19} True, the children of God who walk by faith in His righteousness still sin - but they hate to do so and they rely upon the grace and mercy of God to reconcile His hatred and His love. In setting His love upon His elect before the foundation of the world He also slew Christ from before the foundation of the world, so that His holy hatred and His unfathomable love could be reconciled to the praise of His glory.

Union is God’s means of intimacy and commitment. It is an expression of faithfulness, steadfastness and the sort of self-denial that rejoices. Not the sort that self-righteously points to what it must give up, but the sort that sees that it gains Christ by honouring God. Again it is a matter of the focus of the heart. What did the Israelite hearts dwell on? Their own ends. What does God want us to dwell on? Him. And in marriage the dwelling on God is through the obedience of faith from the heart in steadfastly clinging to the one with whom there is union through thick and thin until the end.

The wonderful part is that the union with God Himself, which the saints have in Christ, is through thick and thin until the end - but with God the end is eternity. We have eternal life by our union with Him. We might stumble, but He is true.

It is strange that the God, Who can raise up children to Abraham from the very stones, nevertheless desires that His people, through faithfulness in marriage, raise up godly offspring. I must constantly remind myself that word “godly” does not mean god-like, but god-seeking. Just the same as the children of a marriage where only one has come to faith are "holy" - that is, separated. God blesses the whole household because the faith of the believer sanctifies it all.

But I am persuaded that salvation is always a matter between God and the individual, and not a matter of the state of the parents, regardless of how sanctified they may be. It is God Who saves. It is His election and His calling. What god-seeking parents do is to submit themselves as instruments of God’s will through their own obedience, leaving the rest in His hands. Remember - many a godly parent has raised a child of hell, and the children of many hellish parents have been saved by God. The principle is not one of we influencing who will be saved, but of we obeying God regardless, and looking to Him for His faithfulness and mercy. To the extent that God has linked such obedience to His promises we may hope. But we may never presume, and even our children must not come between us and God. Absalom’s wickedness never caused David to stop loving God nor to stop deferring to His will.

God does desire god-seeking offspring from his children. And He has ordained that god-seeking parents will provide the structure and example by which children, growing up into adults, may be exhorted and guided in the right way. Note then, that it is the obedience of the parents that is the main subject of the verses - and not what may or may not be gained by them as a result. In a very loose way, the youths in the fiery furnace illustrate the attitude that obedience is obligatory whether or not God saves. {Da 3:17-18}

Within the context of historical Israel, God had promised faithfulness to a thousand generations of those that kept His covenant. Purity, devotedness, faithfulness and obedience were incumbent upon the people, and under such obedience God would bless their offspring; in fact it was in large part through their obedience that the offspring would be blessed by God. But, lest we forget, the condition of Israel throughout history was one of largely increasing apostasy with a decreasing remnant of the faithful. Israel failed, but God succeeded - THAT is the message.

Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon all who profess faith in God to strive for faithfulness in marriage so that God might produce god-seeking children through their obedience. Guarding the spirit is watching that the enemy does not slip into the thinking on this matter. It is abiding in His word and knowing His precepts - and in never thinking we stand, lest we fall.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Essence of Prayer
“The sovereignty of God does not override the want, the will, the tears, the cry of his children; but does, in the first instance, express itself through that very want — those tears and those strong desires. It is not that man changes God’s purpose, but that man verily and indeed discovers that purpose through his own earnest prayer.”

W. R. Reynolds

Monday, August 17, 2009

Malachi 2:13 - The Deceitfulness of Sin

Malachi 2:13 - The Deceitfulness of Sin

Malachi 2:13 And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.

There is a repentance that God does not hear. It is the repentance of Esau. He did not find repentance though he besought it with tears. Why not? Because his was not a sorrow for sin against God, but a regret that he missed something he wanted. Regret is not repentance. The two are poles apart. Repentance literally turns 180 degrees from the direction it has been going and starts in the other direction. Regret is a carnal emotion that is sorry for itself – sorry that its sinful actions have barred it from the object of its lust, or have brought about circumstances that are unfavourable. The object of repentance is God. The object of regret is self.

Israel had been flaunting God’s precepts in two basic ways. Polluting the nation with Gentile culture and forsaking the marriage laws. It is important to note that no amount of double talk, no excuses - nothing can distract from the fact that they were in abject, willful, carnal, self-serving sin. They had turned their backs on what God had said and effectively made Him either a liar (which is to demonize God and make Him the father of lies, when we know who that really is) or to make him unwise, that His ordinances are not the best and that they themselves knew better than God.

So why are these things written? Why have all this historical stuff and its laws and prophets and admonitions and consequences? What good is it to us in the age of the gospel and of grace? Of what value to the New Covenant? Is it just so that we can sit around and judge Israel for its bone-headed obstinacy? Is it so that we can wipe our brow with a great "Phew!" and go on to bigger and better things? I trow not!

These things were written for our benefit and edification - even in the age of grace. They are words from the breath of God’s mouth. They are spirit and truth. To those who have not the Spirit of God they remain dark, boring, mysterious, uninteresting, dusty old stuff hanging upon a bunch of life-constricting rules that defy comprehension. But to we who are His children, these things are the wisdom of God. Christ is prefigured in so many of them. The things of the kingdom are foreshadowed. It is for we who are indeed the true Israel of God from Adam to Revelation.

These things yield deeper depths to patient and prayerful study, but the child of God surely recognizes His Lord and Saviour and the character of His God in all scripture. God whispers and reveals glowing testimonies of the glories of His Son. A simple taste, a slight parting of the veil here and there, which may be gone in a flash, are nevertheless more than ample to keep us pressing and thirsting to know more of Him.

There is a sense in which we are to recognize ourselves in Israel. The nation was raised for just such a purpose. Their sins are identical to our own. Idolatry is idolatry. Self is always self. Sin has ever been sin. The difference for us now is that we have the Hope of Israel in our hearts - Christ in us, the hope of glory shining brighter as time goes on until that Day. We are citizens of heaven dwelling in the kingdom upon earth. The kingdom has come, is coming and will come. The kingdom is where the King reigns. Yes, he rules all that His hands have made, but He reigns in the hearts of His children.

Therefore, though imperfectly and only partially, where we walk as true believers we carry the kingdom in us because we carry its King, and revere Him as such. This is not Dominion theology. It is God who renders us citizens and He who expands His reign in and through us before the eyes of men and in the hearts of those who will come to faith. What men see is irrelevant. The only question is whether we ourselves are following after Him with a whole heart today - in the present moment. We are subjects and the King knows what He is doing - so the rulership, appearance, timing and results are all safely and properly in His hands. Always were - always will be.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sermon of the Week
What is the Gospel? - D.A. Carson
Once more it is Don Carson who is featured. Here, he speaks at The Gospel Coalition in May 2007. The topic of "What is the Gospel?" essentially takes one of the most well known Biblical summaries of the gospel and exegetes from it the full depth of what is implied by the term "gospel".

Two of his main points are as follows:
Firstly, the gospel is NOT something Christians need to hear once and then get on with it; hearing and understanding more and more about the gospel is something that is integral and vital in living out and growing in the whole Christian life.

Secondly, the gospel is not to be summed up in modern aphorisms or one-liners that lead to a shallow and tragically incomplete understanding of it - and a consequently bankrupt apologetic.
It is good to see Carson finally grasping my blog materials here and here [/humor]. Now here's the REAL thing...

What is the Gospel - D.A. Carson

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Be Wise a Serpents

"It is no sin to doubt some things but it may be fatal to believe everything."

A.W. Tozer

Friday, August 14, 2009

Malachi 2:10-12 - Marriage Sacrificed to Idols

Malachi 2:10-12 - Marriage Sacrificed to Idols

Malachi 2:10-12 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob, any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the LORD of hosts!

Worldliness, arising from a lack of the fear of God, has infiltrated that most sacred of bonds - the family. There is the family of Abraham/Jacob, which is the larger clan, and there are individual families within Israel who are bonded through the marriage of an Israelite woman to an Israelite man.

Apparently the men, including the priests, had given themselves to divorcing their wives and marrying the daughters of the Gentiles in order to form political and economic bonds that would prosper them in worldly ways. Just as in history Judah had departed from his brethren and taken a wife the daughter of Shuah, a Canaanitish woman, so also the post-exhilic tribe of Judah followed in the pathway that God had forbidden.

It seems Judah was, in this, a type of the unfaithfulness of all men by nature. Not unfaithfulness to their wives, but unfaithfulness to God which is evidenced in their behaviour in marriage. All of Israel had been told not to marry the women of the tribes that inhabited the land that God had promised to them {Ex 34:13-16 }, as are believers to this day {2Co 6:14-15} No doubt many were beautiful and alluring. No doubt some would be used by their fathers to dilute the steadfastness of Israel through marriage alliances. But the concern was that they not be seduced by the flesh into the worship of other Gods in place of Jehovah.

Now it is curious that this concern was expressed the way it was. Why not just have a command - say - "You shall have no other gods before Me?" Why link this sort of intermarrying behaviour to forbidden idolatry? Do you see the law of God, good though it is, working death in the natural man? Do you see the condemnation and sin provoked by the law? When the first commandment is to have no other gods then the first inkling of the heart is to do just that – to have other gods. It is what men are like at the core.

Forbidden behaviour in marriage, including polluting the nation by marrying unbelievers and divorcing Jewish women to do it, was only the fruit of an unbelieving heart. It could not be by dint of superhuman effort that a man would please God, but only through the obedience of faith. The law had the power to condemn, but not to save. Faith alone was the constituted means of acceptance with God - and all sin was merely and expression of the lack of it.
If we think this is simply about rules concerning who the children of God could and could not marry them we ourselves take on a legalistic mien. It is about faith in God and in His absolute holiness and righteousness. It is about His sovereign wisdom and right to command his creatures to do what His love and holiness dictate. All sin is unbelief because all unbelief is sin.

Now God says that the one who lacks the faith to believe and obey Him cannot bring any offering to Him that is pleasing. God will not regard the religion of disobedience. He will not watch men flaunt His precepts on the one hand and then make a pretence of religion on the other. This is, in a sense, a greater stench in the nose of God than the disobedience itself. It is hypocrisy. And when God walked among us this was the manifestation of sin that He most detested.

Continuation in hypocritical disobedience will result in spiritual death - being cut off from the tents of Jacob and essentially not counted among the people. His descendants will be cut off, which is a figure for the loss of their inheritance portion of the land. There was nothing more serious than this for an Israelite than to be disinherited from the nation.

What the significance is in the foreshadowing of the kingdom of God is not certain. Does it mean loss of reward or loss of salvation? Or is that drawing the parallel out too far?

We can be sure that the Messiah manifested the perfect fulfillment of all of God’s laws and His obedience was to be received through faith. This would be a faith that was given by God and maintained by Him through indwelling power by the Spirit. The stony heart would be replaced with a heart of flesh. God’s people would desire not to sin - though they would stumble often. But God would complete the good work in them unto the day of Jesus Christ.

But here is where some moderns fall of the chuck wagon. The perfect obedience of Christ received through faith alone, bringing justification, redemption, adoption, sanctification and glorification, all in their proper order and time, does not create a people who can sin with impunity; nor does it create a people who do not have to struggle mightily against sin. It produces a people who begin to see sin more and more for what it is, learning to hate every false way and having a heart to do righteousness - a heart which pants after God, weeps when it sins and remembers in joy the forgiveness of its Saviour.

Surely then, the ones cut off from Israel are not the elect children of God, to whom salvation is assured, but the professors of religion who have not the inner reality of a heart-faith in God.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Center for Church Music
A Mighty Fortress is Our God

The following hymn is linked directly from The Center for Church Music, which I encourage you to visit. There is a wealth of material, beautifully performed, and with a great deal of history and background to the hymns and their writers, and numerous listening options. I plan on linking to their hymns often.

I don't know about you, but I miss the old hymns terribly. They had something to teach us out of our own mouths even as we sang. And, for the most part, God was the object and the subject of them. The music itself is not the focus; the virtuosity of singers or musicians does not elbow itself to the fore; there is not the endless repetition of mindless phrases calculated to "set the mood". There is simply an appreciation and worship of God, often in His own words, for the revelation of Himself in His Son, in the world, and in our hearts.

A Mighty Fortress is Our God - Martin Luther

[Here is the direct link to the page for this hymn at the original site]

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That Word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Malachi 2:8-9 - Fruit of Irreverence

Malachi 2:8-9 - Fruit of Irreverence

Malachi 2:8-9 "... But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts, 9 and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction."

The address is specifically to the Levites of Israel. The application, however can be made to us all. This is the section that brings the contrast between what the priests were supposed to do under the covenant and what they were found doing, which fell short of their part. Let’s see what that was.

The way they were to walk in was what? The fear of God. Reverence. Awe. And in that frame they were to disseminate God’s precepts and judgments and law to the people. But absent that frame of the fear of God it is plain that the holy things quickly became common and the regard for them was lost. The form remained, but the reason for disseminating God’s word, and exhorting the obedience of faith, being largely absent, resulted in compromise and apostasy.

Note that a lack of reverence was at the root of it all. That lack displayed the nature of the heart of the priest. Did he guard his heart? Did he call upon the Lord for grace and help to remain faithfully in awe of His God? Did he let little foxes creep in and spoil the grapes and then continue in hardening his heart unto death?

To the eyes of men it’s quite probable that he looked the part of a priest. He had the robes, the rituals and even the words that were traditionally looked for. He was no doubt quite moral and an outstanding member of the community. No doubt he was scrupulous in keeping laws. No doubt he was pious and reasonable and peaceable and many things that men welcome among themselves - that they even like in others so long as there is a benefit of it to them. But without godly fear and absent an undergirding and filling sense of reverence and awe for God these were all empty things.

The worst condemnation is not on account of their personal failure. The greatest judgement is saved for careless, callous and hypocritical recklessness by which those to whom they had been charged to minister were caused to stumble as a result. And remember - the failure was rooted in a lack of reverence, awe and fear of God.

But failure is not only to be found in omission. It is also in corruption. In fact corruption is far worse than omission because it maintains the appearance of religion without the substance, thereby removing people from a sense of guilt, and hardening them against the truth. Western New York comes to mind - the burned out district, as it was called - after the ravages of Finney’s Pelagian heresy and his humanistic methodologies, by which the second great awakening had been largely hijacked and subverted, had run their course.

It was a simple covenant that God made with Levi. Peace and life from God’s side, and reverence and awe towards God from Levi’s side as he walked with God, and was the bringer of His message to the people. Yet like all the covenants with a covenant men proved to be only covenant breakers because their hearts were evil. God always saved for Himself a remnant according to grace - but absent that influence from God’s side, failure was inevitable. God did not cause the failure. God demonstrated forbearance and patience and willingness to forgive. He showed lovingkindness. He gave rope. Though He knew their hearts yet all righteousness was fulfilled in His sincere desire that they not stumble and perish.

But in the end, after millennia of good starts and bad endings it had come to this place, some 400+ years before the coming of Christ. A remnant had been delivered to the homeland from the Babylonian captivity. The temple had been restored and the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt. Worship was restored according to the ordinances of God. And within a short time even this remnant fell into apostasy, led by the priests themselves. It is a punctuation mark upon the human condition. It illuminates the darkness of the human heart. It illustrates the underlying message of the whole Bible - that God must do a work in man or man will forever remain lost.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hiatus - August 22- 31, 2009
On August 22nd my Father and Brother will be coming for a visit. My Dad will be 90 next March. He looks like a lower mileage model of me, don't you think? My brother is 65 and I have more hair than he. Here they both are from a photo taken after my Mom's funeral in 2008.

Yes, the picture was taken outside a pub where we had just enjoyed a pint of England's finest bitter. I hope to have one more before I die.

This is to let my readers know that I shall be incommunicado on the dates listed above. The blog will self-post (but not, hopefully, self-destruct) during that time, but don't look for too much response to the voluminous number of comments that may arrive throughout that period.

Please pray for traveling mercies for my relatives and that they will have a healthy and happy stay here in the Great White North. And, if you really enjoy a challenge, pray that I will be found a gracious, generous and considerate host.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Malachi 2:6-7 - Freed to Fear

Malachi 2:6-7 - Freed to Fear

Malachi 2:6-7 "... True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. 7 For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts."
Here now is the beginning of a great contrast between the old paths and the new. Levi guarded his mouth from evil and filled it with truth. God who had covenanted peace and life to Levi observes that Levi kept his part by walking in the covenant. And it was in the midst of this obedience of faith that many were turned from iniquity.

Priests were called to walk in the covenant, speaking the truth in love. Priests were there to instruct people in the way of God, as messengers of the Lord of Hosts. And God worked through them - through the obedience of their faith, to maintain the faith and obedience of others.

Never lose sight of the fact that the instruction was done by someone whose part of the covenant was to fear God. This is axiomatic. It was essential to the covenant that the walking in it was done in the fear of God. Without the fear of God there was no covenant-keeping the covenant was broken.

The parallels are many and obvious. Today we are all priests. Today some priests hold offices, called by God to minister and to make clear His message to His people and, by so doing, turn many from iniquity. Those of us who are not appointed by God as ministers in the more pastoral sense of the word are still ministers of the gospel, and are still required to walk in fear, speaking the truth and ministering God’s word to His people.

What makes us different from the world is that we fear God. Our fear shows in our faith and obedience - in our reverence and in our steadfast desire to be messengers of the Lord of Hosts. Godly fear is not an option - it is a requirement.

You would think, to hear many today, that Jesus’ work exempts us from that fear. Dear old pals, jolly old pals we’re all pals together. Us and God. What a partnership! But the son has a reverent fear for the father in a rightly related household. The father’s love, though never abusive, controlling, or dominating to the point of frustration or discouragement, does not erase the dignity of the father’s position ordained by God. God desires to be worshiped. Worship is done in the fear of God. It’s impossible without it. Fear and love are not mutually exclusive. If they were, then we are all lost because Jesus got it wrong. He both feared and loved the Father.

In salvation, God has not removed us from fear as if it was something that existed only as law. He has freed us TO fear Him, because we naturally did not. We have been made to operate as true priests by walking in the fear of God. This was made possible by Jesus Christ. But fear was not eradicated by Him. We must reverence God.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Temporary Technical Problems
I regret to announce that when I awoke from my nap yesterday that my computer didn't. IOW I am unable to do anything in blogging or email until further notice.

Posts will continue to appear, but imagages may not. Neither will those droll little mouse-over comments. Sooner or later even audio links will fail to show.

I`ll try to fix this ASAP. This message comes to you from my son`s computer.