Agonizomai: September 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It Meant the World to Them

Understanding the Jewish roots of the Christian faith helps to put the New Testament concept of "the world" into a proper context.

So often in this day and age, when we hear reference to "the world" in the gospel or the epistles our modern understanding takes over and we automatically think of the total envelope of humanity, including every individual human being. But the word is often employed by the original Jewish writers (John, Peter, Paul) to convey not the global totality of individual humankind, but the Gentiles over and against the Jews, or the inclusion of both Gentiles and Jews.

When a Jew referred to the good news as being for "the world", the underlying thought was often that it was not solely for the Jews, but also for those unclean dogs who had not been born Israelites - a heretofore unthinkable proposition for orthodox Judaism.

This seems like a subtle distinction to some people today. But many draw from the use of the word "world" that these writers are always referring to all men without exception as individuals, rather than simply making a point about different classes of humanity (Jews and non-Jews). And getting this emphasis wrong can have a devastating effect on your doctrine.

I won't pull out verses and point to the ones commonly misrepresented in the way described. Anybody with a concordance, an open mind and a willingness to investigate can find verses containing the phrase "the world" and prayerfully check their own assumptions and conclusions. In fact it's better if it happens that way because you will own whatever results from such testing.

But for myself I have found it has helped to understand something about the culture, the ethos and the mindset of the Jews who wrote the scriptures (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit). And making right distinctions about phrases and words based on these factors has removed not a few barriers to me accepting God's way of dealing with mankind.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Hebrews are Coming...
As a reminder, our often myopic Western viewpoint sometimes makes us forget that Christianity has its roots in real Judaism. Originally, Christianity appeared to be a mere sect of Judaism. The very early church was almost completely comprised of Jews, and believing Jews remained a numerically significant part of the church well into the 2nd Century.

We so often forget the milieu in which the New Testament books were written. The Homily to the Hebrews reminds us of this. It reminds us we have spiritual roots in a history that goes back way beyond Luther or Calvin or the Wesleys - all the way back to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, Who was acknowledged by many Jews but rejected by most, and about Whom all the ancient oracles of the Hebrews testified.

In the first century the question of Jewish tradition was a powerful cultural and theological tool in the hands of the opponents of Christianity - both demonic and human. And it was these forces that the writer to the Hebrews saw at work and against whom He preached.

At issue are the questions of atonement (Yom Kippur) and judgement (Rosh Hashana). In this beautiful and reverent video, ask yourself how repentance, prayer and righteousness factor in averting the severe decree of God. It is true that they do. But HOW they do, and Whose righteousness is involved, is at the heart of the New Covenant, and is what eventually proved to be at the root of the warning to the professing Jews in the early church, to whom the Homily to the Hebrews was written.

Keep tuned into this space for the Hebrews study, which is coming in a week or so.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

(Not a) Sermon of the Week
The Servetus Canard
Canard is a French word for a duck, and is often used in English to refer to a deliberately false story, originating from an abbreviated form of an old French idiom, "vendre un canard à moitié," meaning "to half-sell a duck."


If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it must be a canard. And the old "Servetus was burned at the stake by the big, bad John Calvin" canard is alive and well, despite being only half a duck. In this excerpt from one of his Dividing Line programs, Dr. James White examines the unlearned assertions on this matter of celebrity atheist and apostate Dan Barker, made during a debate with Doug Wilson.

Until about 6 years ago I myself was sublimely unaware of the name "Miguel Servetus" (or Michael Servetus). I knew about Calvin, of course and had even read an abridged version of the "Institutes" - a lot of which sailed over my head, and some of which troubled me. Be that as it may - my ignorance on the matter of Servetus was interrupted by the emotional reaction of a fellow congregant upon learning of my Calvinism.

Now, to be a Calvinist is not to be a worshiper of Calvin (which I certainly am not) but neither does it exclude the appreciation of the power of his mind, his great exegetical skills and, yes, his courage in a difficult time. Honor to whom honor is due - though, IMHO, he got baptism and ecclesiology wrong. [/half smile]

So I looked into the matter because I wanted to satisfy myself first, and secondly to have an answer for my fellow pilgrim. I learned the facts when I found the answers amid the cloud of misinformation on the topic but, alas, my corespondent was impervious to anything but the prejudice that had infiltrated his mind.

Moving along, the damage done to Calvin's reputation and the twisted impression inculcated in the faithful by half-baked, ahistorical information and sloughed off on the public by men like Dan Barker (and a host of others) is something they will one day answer for. Not the least because of how their lame and lazy research and careless distortion of truth has had on some of the children of God. Because of such people, my fellow traveler mentioned above has been debarred from gaining anything from the considerable gifts and graces of our Lord Jesus Christ that were manifested in the world through John Calvin. Give it a listen and see for yourself...

Calvin and Servetus - Dr. James White

Saturday, September 19, 2009

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Here is a hymn that, for me, echoes time spent in the assembly at Grammar School when I was just a callow youth. I was ignorant of the import of the words then, even as I still struggle to comprehend them now. It seems that the deeper I think I go, the more there is yet to be understood.

But the thoughts expressed in this simple worship song are the thing to which Malachi is pointing - in fact, they are the thing to which all of the Old Testament points, and about which all of the New Testament testifies. "Tis mystery all" - but it is that sort of mystery which glows with the Truth of the ages; the purpose of creation and the end of all things are found in Jesus Christ.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Malachi 4:6 - Union in Christ

Malachi 4:6 - Union in Christ

Malachi 4:6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.

Who are these "fathers" and "children" spoken of here? Is it the fathers of the nation, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses? Or is does it speak of something simpler and more imminent? Are we meant to think of the largely apostate rump of Israel turning back to the sort of faith demonstrated in those whom God initially called to be the founders of the nation? But then how would the fathers, long since dead - be turned to the children, if this is what is contemplated?

The most likely and the most accepted explanation is that John the Baptist would be God’s means of causing the hearts of the fathers and the children (the co-existent generations) to unite in obedience to God. Divisions both political and religious - were common in Israel at the time of John the Baptist. There were both zealots and pacifists. There were both Pharisees and Sadducees. There had been Hellenization not only of language, but of social customs, which were accepted more by some than by others. Palestine was a seething hotbed of unrest, rebellion, poverty and distress as it languished under the iron fist of Rome.

God foreknew (in fact, ordained) all these conditions. And He sent John to begin the process of pointing to the One in Whom all unity is found, through His Lordship. When there is only One Who is Master - when there is only one General - and all the rest are servants or soldiers - then there is unity. Messiah was expected to bring unity, as it was promised that He would. But the unity He would bring would be in the Spirit - from the heart - and not by the external, carnal, coercive application of force or politics, or even religious compulsion. The unity that would come in Christ was an unbreakable union of God with His people by which their very hearts were turned towards Him and His will. Great and terrible indeed was the means by which God alone would accomplish this.

But for those who would not hear and were not true Israel there was the promise of utter destruction of the land - meaning the land of Israel. And since Israel rejected their Messiah, but for a few who were saved, God did indeed shatter the nation, obliterate it and scatter the people in AD 70 under Vespasian and his son, Titus - as well as a short time later under Adrian.

It is important to see that God did not do this in a corner, nor without (this) admonition, nor until after millennia of increasingly stern warnings. The Israel addressed in Malachi is a remnant nation just returned from the Babylonian captivity - so they ought to have known that God is deadly serious about the consequences of rejecting Him. And even though the God Who knows the end from the beginning, because He is both, also knows the path that Israel will take - see that the warning is still given. The fact that men refuse to hear does not cause God not to speak. He gives every possible opportunity to Israel. To speak humanly of God for a moment, He exhausts His considerable patience upon them.

But lest we in the church age begin to look down our noses at Israel’s constant and increasing apostasy, maybe we should all read very carefully both what Revelation has to say about the Laodicean church - and what the Holy Spirit said through Paul about the need for self-examination {2Co 13:5}

[This brings the Malachi study to an end. The plan is to begin a study in Hebrews in a few weeks time. Keep on checking with this site for further announcements.]

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Total Depravity
Finally! The preaching of Roy Hargrave is available in new ways to the world at large! Not for the faint of heart, these sermons and teachings strike right at the heart of sin and depravity and preach the free grace of God in Jesus Christ. They are Calvinistic to the core and evangelistic at heart. They will curl your hair and humble your heart. They will buckle your knees and stop your mouth. Seat belts are definitely required if you're going to listen to R.A. Hargrave preaching.

Short clips like this one are now available on YouTube here, and the existing site for Hargrave's material, called GraceWorx, contains links that will permit the playing and downloading of material and, with a bit of imagination, the embedding of sermons into blog and web sites.

As with all preachers, and I know Hargrave himself would tell you this, test everything against the Word of God. But I don't think you'll find too much from him that is out of whack.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Malachi 4:5 - A Terrible Day

Malachi 4:5 - A Terrible Day

Malachi 4:5 "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes."

Not literally the person of Elijah, but someone with the same power and spirit as he. When the Lord Himself stated at its fulfillment, when asked, that Elijah had come and that they did to him as they pleased He was referring to John the Baptist. John, like Elijah, was a wild and fiery wilderness dweller - a fearless prophet who confronted the culture and its apostasy regardless of the rank or power of his hearers.

But what is the "great and awesome day of the Lord"? It is not necessarily the final judgement, because it is linked to John the Baptist and the incarnation of Christ. Does it refer to the moment the incarnation started? Does it refer to the moment of the Lord’s death? His resurrection? What?

Well, it probably refers to the moment the incarnation of Christ began, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she conceived. I suppose it could refer to the Lord’s birth or even to the beginning of His public ministry, because John naturally preceded the Lord in all of these things, since John was conceived, born and began preaching about 6 months before Jesus.

The point is that the coming of Messiah is such an important event that it requires introduction by a prophet assigned specifically to the task. And not just any prophet, but one of the power and spirit of Elijah, and greater than whom is none that has been born of woman. This is part of what makes the "day" both great and terrible. Great events require great announcements. The greatest event in history requires a nonpareil prophet of outstanding qualities - the ne plus ultra of messengers.

But the incarnation is great and terrible (or awesome, or better awe-full, or dreadful or fearful) in more ways than this. Most people think of the cute little manger scene and of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, born in a stable and laid in a lowly feeding trough. It is endearing. It is poignant. It is comfortable because the great and infinite and Almighty God that made the universe is sort of bound up - not in, but by the perceived helplessness of His estate.

O, what a profane and uninformed picture that is! Can we not see that the day is terrible precisely because the infinite and Almighty God in the Person of His Son, has laid aside all the glories of heaven without becoming less than God and constrained Himself to live a human life by faith. And He has not done this as if it were the greatest risk anybody could ever take because of the uncertainty of the result. He came in order to die upon a cross and in order to save His people from their sins. It was His express purpose. Not to make possible the salvation of His people, but to actually and effectually save them.

This means that there is a sense in which He was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. It was ordained. It was purposed by an Almighty God and it could not be stopped by all the demons of hell, nor the will of man. The Lord did indeed have to walk in what God had ordained, but the end was written from eternity. He would accomplish all the purpose for which He came.

What makes the day of the incarnation, birth and commencement of ministry (whichever you regard as that day) terrible is precisely what makes it so poignant. God is doing something that transcends mere human understanding; He is forging eternal sons; He is stopping all the mouths of his creatures; He is answering the accusations about permitting evil; He is showing the immeasurable meekness and lowliness of His heart; He is displaying His wisdom; He is setting at naught the works of the devil; He is reconciling the world to Himself; He is demonstrating grace; He is epitomizing agape love; He is judging the world as it rejects the light; He is gathering His elect into His barn; He is glorifying His Name before the principalities and powers - both holy and fallen. He is working all things for and through Jesus Christ that in all things He might have the preeminence. We can barely see a snow flake on the tip of the iceberg that lies in the ocean of God’s purposes in Christ Jesus - but His coming into history is a day that is both great and terrible for all of these reasons.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What a Savior!

It is the certainty of judgment and the horror of our sin that make Christ all the more beautiful to us. When we see His utterly voluntary gift of standing in OUR place, suffering for OUR transgressions and tasting death for US against the backdrop of OUR hatred for Him, OUR contempt for His truth, His Lordship, His perfections and His graces - all brought to fruition in OUR utterly deliberate murder of Him; when we see this, then we are rendered speechless.

We are stopped in our tracks. Our mouth is closed. The light of the World has come in Christ, has shone in our darkness and the darkness which is us has been overcome by it.

Notice in this hymn Who the subject is. It is not about ME, but about Jesus. It's not about how I feel about Jesus (which would be to put the focus back in me) but about what Jesus has done (by which the true saint is moved to feeling things about Jesus, rather than just singing about how he feels).

Hallelujah, What a Savior!

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, Who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
"Full atonement!" can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
"It is finished!" was His cry;
Now in heav'n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we'll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

This beautiful Philip P. Bliss hymn comes to us from the Center for Church Music, whose site I urge you to visit. More particulars about this hymn can be found on this page.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Malachi 4:4 - The Goodness of the Law

Malachi 4:4 - The Goodness of the Law

Malachi 4:4 "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel..."

The law is a schoolmaster to bring people to Christ. It is, if you like, a place-holder. It stands as a temporary measure by which the coming Messiah is heralded, foreshadowed and seen. It also acts as a reminder of the impossibility of pleasing or appeasing God by anything originating in us. God requires obedience to His law not out of arbitrariness, but because in His wisdom the things of Christ are contained in it. The sacrificial system with more than 1,700 different ritual sacrificial requirements just for the nation - let alone the free will offerings of the people - necessitated a continual blood bath in the priestly duties. Daily, from morning until evening they were up to their armpits in the blood of sacrifices.

Of course, for many the rite itself became the focus. It became a thing to do in its own right, rather than a symbol of the spiritual reality - the real thing, which was the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, to which they were to look forward in faith. But the sheer profusion of the carnage - a horror in itself - serves to underscore the horror of sin and the high cost of redemption. Endless sacrifice alone would not be enough. The sacrifice of the spotless eternal Lamb of God alone would satisfy. People must have the righteousness of God Himself in order to be saved from destruction.

To think this was an unknown concept to ancient Israel is wrong-headed modernist or postmodern thinking. Long before Malachi wrote these words in about 430 BC other prophets like Hosea {Ho 6:6} and Samuel {1Sa 15:22} had pointed out the purely ritual nature of the elements of the sacrifice and that it was the heart - the obedience of faith that God regarded. (David, Solomon, Isaiah, Amos and Micah had similar light)

But the law itself is not bad. It is not eliminated, for Christ Himself did not eliminate the Law, He fulfilled it. And He said that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law until heaven and earth passed away. {Mt 5:17-18} What is needed is a heart to obey the law, which no man has, apart from regeneration by the Spirit of God.

Distinctions also need to be made between the ceremonial law, the civil law and the moral law of God. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the ceremonial aspects of the law. Being the sacrifice Himself - having done all that was necessary to fulfill all righteousness (not just to show His Own, but to make His ours also) - He sat down at the right hand of power. The sacrificial system is subsumed, but not eliminated in Christ. The reality of which the system was the figure has now come. The blood of Christ cleanses and keeps on cleansing eternally all those who draw near to God in Him. God has made all things clean in Christ and had declared that to be so. {Ac 10:15,11:9}

Nor are we national Israel today. The church is universal and not national. Israelite civil law simply cannot apply globally. It is not intended to. The kingdom has come. Again, the reality, of which the land of Canaan was the type, has come in truth. The kingdom is a spiritual kingdom - in the hearts of men, where the King Himself lives and rules, and is acknowledged as Lord.

But the moral law of God and the wisdom in His precepts is eternal and universal. He is a God (THE God) requiring absolute devotion, and He is a God who wants us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Him. The ten commandments have never been abolished though they have only ever actually been kept by one man - the man Jesus Christ. And these we now keep in the Spirit because He is in us to do it.

And the exhortation to Israel given here in Malachi speaks not of the plain of Shittim where the Levitivcal laws were given, but of the law given at Horeb (or Sinai) - the ten commandments, which were the moral foundation of all things. This they were never to forget. It was in remembering the commandments that they were constantly reminded of how far short they fell every day, and of how unattainably transcendent was the righteousness that God required. Only in inadequacy would the proud human heart be made to kneel and seek what God alone could provide - had promised to provide and was now laying the very last brick into the building of hope, before the promise was to be made manifest in reality.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sermon of the Week
God's Hell

John Wagner is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church, Lexington, SC. The "Free Presbyterian" designation may make some listeners/readers uneasy. They are the fundamentalist, fire-breathing, reformed re-born child of the apostate Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Ian Paisley might be their most well known figure.

But let us think as we find. In this sermon there is some frank dealing with passages that simply seem not to exist in the Bibles of many a liberal and seeker oriented church. Wrath, anger damnation, eternal punishment, pain, horror, unending regret, hopelessness - all the things that Jesus (remember Him? The author and perfecter of our faith, the creator of our universe and the final judge of every human being) specifically mentioned again and again in His earthly ministry. I'm speaking of that half of the truth that is simply subsumed in the present day universal distortion of God as ALL love and nothing else.

But Wagner is not unbalanced in this sermon, even though it treats of difficult and hard material. Some may be offended but I'm not too worried about them. The offense may ultimately prove to be cathartic; or it may prove once for all what they truly are. God knows. For those granted ears to hear, Wagner includes as clear a picture of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ as you will hear anywhere. He hits hard, but offers the gospel, too.

This is what preaching used to sound like before we "improved" it and sensitized and sanitized it in the 20th century. The sad thing is that it may be viewed by many people today as unnecessarily harsh, unbalanced and even unBiblical. That's their loss. Enjoy this one, but not too much....

God's Hell - Rev. John Wagner

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Secker Sensitive Wisdom
If heaven could be obtained by human endeavors, then it must either be of little worth, or they must be of great value. But he who puts an estimate upon all things according to their true value, has said, ‘When ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do.’ We are not only unprofitable when all is to be done, but when all has been done. We are unprofitable to God, because he is necessarily and eternally blessed without us; we are not profitable to ourselves, because without him we shall be everlastingly cursed in ourselves.

William Secker
The Nonsuch Professor

Friday, September 11, 2009

Malachi 4:2-3 - Victory in Jesus

Malachi 4:2-3 - Victory in Jesus

Malachi 4:2-3 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.

Still speaking to Israel the nation God puts in a great "but" in order to show a contrast between the wicked and the just. "For those who fear My Name..." there will be an entirely different picture. Will they escape the judgment of Israel under the Romans? Many will indeed do so because they are not a part of Israel’s misplaced zeal. Believing themselves to be specially chosen by the One True God most of national Israel, despite their own rebellion, unbelief and apostasy, still clung to God’s promise to drive out their enemies from the promised land. Seeing this coming, many Christian Jews left Palestine before the rebellion of AD 68-70. Some had already been driven out because of the persecution by the Jews themselves. The Christian’s "agenda" was not to conquer the Romans (or anyone) by force, but with love and truth.

One of the objections of Israel had been that the wicked seemed to prosper while God did nothing. If only they could see! For God did something utterly amazing in Christ - something into which angels long to look and which the saints will speak of for eternity. How small minded we sinners are! An apparent fleeting delay in the administration of justice serves to fill out God’s timing and the fullness of His plan to save a people for Himself in Christ by overcoming both the world {John 16:33} and the evil one. {1Jo 3:8}

In Christ, those that fear God are brought to joy because they have been forgiven, freed from the guilt of sin, escaped the condemnation that abides on the rest of the world, delivered from sin’s reigning power and guaranteed a place with their God forever in heaven. No wonder they kick up their heels like calves released from the confines of the stall. The healing in the wings of the sun of righteousness will accomplish all of this. God’s people will be healed by the life and death of their Redeemer/Messiah. And God’s people in Israel are those who fear Him.

Treading down the wicked as ashes under the soles of their feet is symbolic of the victory that all the saints enjoy through faith in their Lord’s finished work - and by their reliance upon Him in them to overcome the world as He overcame the world in His Own life. This is what the prophet speaks of here - victory in Jesus! I am reminded of E. M. Bartlett’s hymn...

I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins
And won the victory.


O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.

I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;
And then I cried, "Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,"
And somehow Jesus came and bro’t
To me the victory.


I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory.
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea;
About the angels singing,
And the old redemption story,
And some sweet day I’ll sing up there
The song of victory.


Or are we actually to think, along with Israel, that what God intends here is the physical drubbing of the wicked by us? Does that sound like the teaching of Jesus? Is it consistent with the rest of the Bible? Can the Bible contradict itself? No! The treading down of the wicked during the gospel age is by blessing those that curse you; by doing good to those who despitefully use you; by turning the other cheek to those that strike you. This is what heaps burning coals upon their heads, either unto repentance when they see the grace in you, or unto damnation because they refuse to hear, and do persecute to harm one of His little children.

It is He Who has authority, He Who has the right because He is both Creator and Redeemer, He to Whom belongs all power and dominion, Who will and has trod down the wicked and made them ashes under His feet. It is in Him that we do the same, and not of ourselves. And the way He did it during His first coming was the way we are called to do it, and no other. This is the gospel age. It is the age of the "good news".

But there is a hint of another age even in this short passage. For after the gospel age will come the final judgment when the wicked will be trodden down in every sense and eternally.

In both cases - note this well - it is "when I act" says the Lord of Hosts. This is not Jesus in the role of Messiah, but as Jehovah Almighty God, Judge of all the earth - terrible in aspect whose every presence brings trembling and unappeasable fear. To the wicked, as to Satan, He is despair. It is His actions in Christ that bring victory, and it is He Who was slain that will be the judge of all things.

This is important to understand; the victory is ours in Jesus Christ because we inherit all that He has earned. We are co-heirs with Him by the grace of God alone. We did not earn it and neither can we, of ourselves (making flesh our arm) do anything to apply it. We are no longer our own. We have been bought with a price. We are slaves of righteousness. It is no longer we, but Christ in us.

We are not sock puppets. But neither can we do anything apart from Him. We have become one with Him through betrothal, and we will be united at the consummation when we are finally fully joined to Him at the marriage feast of the Lamb. He is our beloved and we are His. He is the bridegroom and we are the bride. He is the Master of the house Who cherishes us and we are the helpmeets who love to do His bidding. There is one leader and all the rest follow. There is one God and all the rest are creatures. But the One True God has chosen to unite in Spirit with a people chosen, redeemed and brought out of every kindred and tribe and nation - to the praise of His glorious grace. And Jesus Christ the Lord is the centre, the nexus, the focus, the Way by which this was planned, executed and is applied.

It is a wonderful thing, and God has done it. That is why He is God and we are not. He did it, and He alone. He did not do it with our help. He did it while we were yet helpless. He planned it before we existed. He will uphold it throughout eternity. It is not, therefore by what we do that we are justified, but by what He has done. He has also ordained things for us to do in Him - or, if you like, things He will accomplish through us {Eph 2:10}. It is not by our doing alone that God is pleased, but by our doing what He purposes in Christ.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sovereign God and Free Agent Man
I know that whatever God does endures for ever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has made it so, in order that men should fear before him.

Ecclesiastes 3:14

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

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Malachi 4:1 - Judgment on Disobedience

Malachi 4:1 - Judgment and Disobedience

Malachi 4:1 "For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch..."

In some ways a continuation of the thoughts expressed in the last few verses, this is also the beginning of a summary of things to come, and an exhortation to be faithful - to look forward and to hold fast.

The primary clue to this verse’s connection is that it starts with the word "for," which inevitably links to the prior idea. It seems to me to be a frequent device in the scripture for one expression of prophesy or promise to encompass somehow more than one event in history. Undoubtedly these passages do refer to a specific event or series of events, but they so often contain figures or echoes of other times and events. The judgement of the nation of Israel at their rejection of their incarnate Messiah is given in the most graphic terms, worthy of a description of hell itself. But it also has application on the personal level to the day of ultimate judgement when a similar and eternal fate awaits all the wicked.

Most commentators rightly take this verse to be speaking specifically of national Israel, since it is addressed to them. Their unfaithfulness will be brought into the light of the Truth, when He comes. He will come unto His own and His own will not receive Him. He will shine as light in the darkness and the darkness that is Israel will not understand Him. This is not simply a condemnation of Israel, but also a clarion call to see the condition of all humankind. If this people who had all the advantages, the promises, the covenants, the law, the lovingkindness, the prophets - if these privileged people came to destruction what can be hoped for any of humankind? The Gentiles were in the outer darkness and had not received any of these graces.

All mankind is corrupt and altogether gone astray, including Israel. The external application of covenants and promises and shepherding and mercies and laws was demonstrated in God’s dealings with Israel to be of no avail in correcting man’s most basic problem - sin arising from the sin nature. Man can only sin. It is all he can do, unless God intervenes to give Him a new heart while he is still an enemy.

And this is why true Israel all along looked forward to the provision that God Himself would make to deal with the most fundamental reason why they sinned. God would deal with past sins that He had temporarily overlooked; {Ro 3:21-25} He would deal with the sin nature from which sin inevitably arose; He would deal with ongoing tendencies to sin through the process of sanctifying grace; He would ultimately remove all traces and tendencies towards sin by glorifying His people. And all of this was both contemplated and planned in Christ before the world began.

There would be a time in history when Christ, the focus of all history, would truly come in the flesh and would actually walk in path of perfect obedience, as had been ordained - and would suffer and die at the hands of sinful men - enduring on the cross the wrath of Almighty God upon their sin in place of His people.

But most of Israel would miss this. They would reject the true light despite the light they had been given. And God would judge them severely and justly for their wickedness. As a nation they were all but annihilated within 40 years (one generation) of rejecting their God. They were killed and enslaved and ultimately banned from Palestine altogether by the Romans. Under the administrative judgement of God they no longer had access to the promised land.

This all relates to Israel as a nation. Of course many Israelites believed both before and after the coming of their Messiah. But these were individuals. God saves people, not nations per se. In His dealings with the nation of Israel God brought the promised day which included burning like an oven when God judged the stiff-necked nation’s rebellion against Him, using that same attitude that they had towards Him in opposition to the ruling earthy power, making the Romans instruments of His judgement, in their ruthless and pitiless cruelty.

Since that time, and until 1948, the Jews were outside the land that they had been promised in the covenant - a nation without root or branch geographically and literally. But the symbolism is inescapable. The had rejected their true Root and the true Branch, which was Christ the Lord. So the prophesy was true not only on an historical but also on a spiritual level. The loss of the promised land exactly parallels the loss of the kingdom inheritance for national Israel.

And it is this parallelism that makes Israel’s history so relevant to the lives of the saints in the church of the gospel age - and to all men. For just as there was a flood in Noah’s day bringing God’s judgement on ancient mankind - and just as there was the destruction of Israel and the loss of the homeland in a judgement by fire - so also there is coming a final judgement by fire, for which the present world is stored up. {2Pe 3:10-12} And not only this, but there is also a lake of fire into which death and hell and the devil and his angels, along with all the wicked will be cast forever to suffer eternal conscious torment. {Mt 10:28 Mr 9:43-48 Re 20:9-15}

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

God's Navy
The lastest "Sermon of the Week" reminded me of that little piece I wrote a few years ago called "God's Navy". So I decided to republish it today just because I can. It is a (not so) subtle parable about how we are all humbled more and more by the wisdom and sovereignty of God as we go along in the Christian life.


God's Navy - A Devotional Parable

There is only one boat in God's navy. It is 450 feet long and made of Gopher Wood. I speak, of course, of the Ark. Getting into God's navy, and progressing through the ranks has been quite a bit odder than anything I have been used to.

Prior to being in the "Senior Service" I had been a confirmed landlubber. Like the people of Noah's time I looked at God's navy of one single boat, and then at the notable lack of water and I laughed myself silly. But one day a bunch of sailors from the boat came ashore and talked to me, and my fascination with things naval had begun.

Before I knew it I had somehow managed to get myself enlisted. Joining God's navy was great because apparently everybody who first signs on gets the rank of Admiral. I soon found that there was no shortage of Admirals on the Ark and felt right at home. I had the distinct impression that the whole navy was in desperate need of what I could do for them. I would soon have everything running like a top. Everybody on the boat, especially the junior officers, tolerated my high-handedness with a patience that was hard to explain. I laboured hard and long at controlling all aspects of naval operations, despite the conflicting orders of all the other Admirals aboard, but I became exhausted.

Fortunately, the First Sea Lord, whom I had never met face to face, had taken note of my efforts and I was promoted to "Captain". In my new capacity things seemed much simpler. I no longer felt myself responsible for the strategic concerns of the entire Navy. All I had to worry about now was the tactical performance of the boat. There were still a lot of Admirals around, but I had learned that nobody was really listening to them anyway. New Captains sometimes made that mistake until they realized that such orders were always contradictory and counterproductive. I laboured hard and long as a Captain, believing that my plans, ideas and efforts were going to keep the boat afloat when times got tough. At last I became weary in this position, too - and again the First Lord promoted me. This time I was made a "Chief Petty Officer".

Now, "Chief Petty Officer" was a title I could live with! I liked the "chief" part and I was pretty sure I could handle the "petty" bit, too. And boy was I right! I found that I could nit-pick at the minutest details of the condition of the boat and the work of other sailors. I did the job with great relish for a long period of time, truly believing that I would soon whip all those shipmates into shape and get them seafaring, as they ought to be. My ambition was that they should become just like me - perhaps as petty, if not as "chief". When the ratings below me resisted my best efforts to transform them, I came close to a nervous breakdown, but the First Lord came to my rescue again - just in time to avoid my being keelhauled. I was promoted to "Able Seaman."

As an "Able Seaman" it was impossible to think of myself as anything but "able". Wasn't that what the title said? It had to be true. I was put to work below decks doing menial things, but I did them so ably that I was very proud of myself. I was thinking that, though I was not in charge of very much any more, at least the work I was doing would make a difference. Some of the officers who were still waiting for a promotion like mine assured me that my work was pivotal to the whole security of the boat. Without my small but crucial efforts, I believed, the whole kit and caboodle might suddenly plunge to the bottom of the ocean. With this in mind I obsessed and slaved over my small tasks until they became a strain, and eventually a drudgery. I became a shadow of my former self. My strength began to fail me and I wondered if I would even be discharged for inability to perform my duties. But the First Lord was on my case. I supposed by now that He must be a sort of Godfather or a relative of mine to take such an interest in my career. He promoted me once more - this time to "Seaman Third Class."

As "Seaman Third Class" I began to understand that all the things I could do would only ever be "third rate" by Admiralty standards. I would, of course, do them to the best of my ability, but I had come to see that my own abilities were useless indeed for the task at hand. I was no longer responsible for the entire navy, or for the boat - not even for the other men on the boat. I was only responsible for doing my best with what was assigned to me.

It was then that I finally met the First Sea Lord. I didn't recognize Him at first, because he was cleaning out the bilges in the bowels of the boat. When at last it dawned on me who he was I was stunned. He told me he had been managing my career every step of the way, ensuring that I would eventually be promoted to a level that was ideally suited to my abilities. He said he didn't need any help with the bilge or any other naval matters either, but he would welcome my working along with him just for the joy of the experience. And He promoted me on the spot to the pinnacle of my naval career. I became a "Cadet". This position was wonderful because it was to be permanent, even after the war was over.

Somehow, the mere fact that I was at last where He wanted me to be, doing what He wanted me to do and doing it right alongside Him was liberating. I was free at last to leave the whole Navy in His hands, where it had actually been all along, and give Him all my attention and obedience, trusting Him for all the results.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Malachi 3:16-18 - Clues to Sheep and Goats

Malachi 3:16-18 - Clues to Sheep and Goats

Malachi 3:16-18 Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. 17 "They shall be mine," says the LORD of hosts, "in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him."

By contrast with the impious, the apostate, the blaspheming, the indifferent - the lost majority of Israel - there were, even at this time those that feared the Lord. By "feared" is encompassed a reverential awe and worship through faith, in spirit and in truth. God has saved Himself a remnant in Israel and in all of humankind. The remnant knows Who it is that has saved them. There is no quibble - no argument and no hedging of terms. God alone saved them when they were dead in trespasses and sins, and the obedience of their faith (though they are responsible for walking in it) is entirely due to the grace of God in the Redeemer.

The children of God come together and speak of the Lord. They don’t meet to rave over the latest chariot, or their horses, or the newest drama at the local Greek theater. They don’t come together to talk about hockey or the economy or to complain about the government or the weather. Their hearts burn to be talking of Jesus. They stand out. They are regarded as fanatical, over zealous, so heavenly they’re no earthly use, on another planet, “a bit tetched”, having a one-track mind, impractical, unbalanced, too religious, out of touch with reality and in need of "other interests".

There is no denying the plain language here. Some feared God. God took notice of their regard for Him. God entered their names in a book of remembrance. It would be tempting to think that God is speaking here of saving those who take the pains to seek Him. But that would fly in the face of so many scriptures related to election and grace that the Bible would have to contradict itself if this was actually what was in view. But we know that the Word of God cannot contradict itself. When it appears to do so then the problem is with our understanding, and not with the unity and truth of the Word of God.

So it is wise not to conclude that the book of remembrance spoken of here is the same thing as the Book of Life, in whose pages the names of all the elect were written before the foundation of the world. That is the Lamb’s Book of Life. It pertains to those who, in the secret and eternal counsels of God, were chosen by Him to be found in Christ, and to be saved from their corruption, and the corruption of this present world, to live with Him forever in love.

Instead the passage might be regarded as referring to rewards. God rewards those who diligently seek Him {Heb 11:6} and we do well to remember this - so long as we never forget that no natural man ever seeks God {Ps 14:1-2} In other words, those that seek God seek because they are drawn, {John 6:44} because they have been given a new heart, {Eze 36:26} because the inclination of their will has been changed, {Eze 36:27} because they have been granted repentance {Ac 11:18 2Ti 2:25-26} and faith {Eph 2:8} by walking in which they are pleasing to God - who then rewards them.

All those that God has truly saved have received the power (right) to become the children of God. It is because they are in Jesus Christ, as they were ordained to be from eternity. And since all things belong to Him, then in Him we are co-heirs of all things. All the blessings of God our ours in Him. We are regarded as obedient sons, even though we were His enemies until He gave us new life, and even though we are oftentimes disobedient still. It is not so much a matter of what we are like, but a matter of to Whom we belong. Christ purchased us with His blood. We are His and in Him we are regarded as if we were as perfect as He is. And the true saints do not abuse this momentous fact. Rather, since they have been given a new heart by God Himself, they continue to repent of their sins for the rest of their lives and walk the narrow way by the grace of God.

God Himself has indicated that the true servants of God will be known by their fruit (though the term is not used here). This is not a passage that says they will be known by their great humanitarian undertakings, nor even by their good works per se. God says that they will be known because they are beloved of Him. God’s blessings and grace and mercy and love rest upon His people and it will be clear that this is so. But not in a Kenneth Copeland prosperity kind of way. It will be that God is in them both to will and to do of His good pleasure, and the fruit of that will be plain in their character - for God has undertaken to form Christ in His people.

But the unregenerate will have none of this. Salvation will be hidden from them due to their own sinfulness and their hearts bent upon rebellion and disobedience. It will be equally obvious (to the spiritually discerning) as to those in whom the Lord is not at work. I say "not at work", though we always have hope and we pray for those in whom God has not revealed His Son, in the hope that they too will be granted to find grace and mercy and repentance and faith.

So it will not be about justice delayed or about the blandishments of this world, but about the Lord Jesus Christ calling, saving and sanctifying His church by indwelling them. He is their salvation, their treasure and their exceeding great reward. And He is the judge of all the earth who will by no means clear the guilty. The saints know this. They look forward to it. They hate what He hates because they love what He loves.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sermon of the Week
The Flood

Here is an interesting sermon from Voddie Bauchan of Voddie Bauchan Ministries speaking at the church which he pastors, namely Grace Family Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.

In this sermon, he uses the flood account to draw out points about the dangers of our wrong expectations and how they can lead to the sort of error that is rife in the Word/Faith movement.

I generally try not to be too picky about sermons I publish here, but I did find his reference to the righteousness of Noah "getting him on the ark" to be misleading. Sure, Noah was a righteous man - but the Biblical term needs to be explained so that folks don't go off and start thinking of people getting into the ark of God's salvation by WORKS righteousness. I know this isn't what the preacher meant, but it might sound as though it was to a novice .

That carp aside, I liked the way the flood was unapologetically presented as an act of judgment, rather than as a cute little kids story about animals and a big boat. Enjoy...

The Flood - Voddie Bauchan

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Calvinistic Methodism Speaks
This is one reason among many others why I admire the doctrine of election and am convinced that it should have a place in gospel ministrations and should be insisted on with faithfulness and care. It has a natural tendency to rouse the soul out of its carnal security. And therefore many carnal men cry out against it. Whereas universal redemption is a notion sadly adapted to keep the soul in its lethargic sleepy condition, and therefore so many natural men admire and applaud it.

George Whitefield
in answer to Mr. John Wesley's sermon entitled, "Free Grace"
(in which he had attacked certain aspects of Reformed confession)

Friday, September 04, 2009

Malachi 3:13-15 - Clueless Self-Deceit

Malachi 3:13-15 - Clueless Self-Deceit

Malachi 3:13-15 "Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’"

Here is another use of the rhetorical device of question and answer posed by the one person. The idea is to illustrate the state of mind and heart of the people. It is not so much that they actually said what Malachi attributes to them as it is that the Holy Spirit, though Malachi, is uncovering their innermost attitude.

Sin hardens the heart. And since we are all inveterate sinners we all have naturally hard hearts. But it is by means of the Word of God that God Himself moves in the heart through His Spirit to bring about the obedience of faith in those whom He is saving. Yet, for reasons not immediately apparent to we mere mortals, even believers undergo times of relative hardening and relative zeal. This is a wonderful mixture of outward evidences by which unregenerate people particularly cannot make a distinction between themselves and the saints. There is something (actually Someone) at work in the saints but the truth of that working is spiritually discerned. Hard hearts cannot perceive it because they cannot admit to it. They are prejudiced against it. But if it pleases God, He can use the light in His saints as a tool in His own hands, and to be the means by which others are opened up to the truth. Or, He can simply get glory for Himself through the continued ignorance, denial, repression or even persecution of that Truth in others.

The Israelites have hardened their hearts against God. Some of them are true Israel even though they are not without fault. Most of Israel was, however, lost. Most did not believe. There was a remnant - as there always had been - that God saved for Himself. Note God saved them and He saved them for Himself. {1Ki 19:18 Isa 43:25 Ro 11:4} But here our faithful God faithfully keeps to His part of the covenant with Israel despite Israel’s constant failure to hold to their part. So He speaks to both the dead, so to speak, and to the living in Israel, pointing out the depravity of their hearts.

He shows them that they are so far gone that they haven’t even a clue as to why God is offended in them. They think that they are compliant, obedient, good, holy ... safe! But they are worldly, carnal, largely unregenerate, certainly apostate and in peril of their souls. Because they think that they stand they are already fallen - for they have departed from He Who is able to make them stand {Ro 14:4} and to keep them until the end. They claim to have entered the narrow gate but they are actually traveling on the broad way that leads to destruction.

These people have given up in their hearts. Malachi uses the rhetoric to show them what they cannot see about themselves. They have lost faith in God. They no longer feel that He is just. While they go about abstaining from all the pleasures in the world as a self-sacrificing gift to God out of their own piety, others are living the good life, cheating and getting wealthy by unrighteous means, without the slightest hint that God is unhappy about it all. So why not join them?

Recognize the thinking? Read Romans Chapter 2 and 3 to get a sound grasp of "I’m not as bad as them" theology and a touch of the "I’m OK because I’m religious" ideology. There is a unity in the Bible that yields to study and this attitude revealed in Malachi is precisely the attitude execrated by Paul in the beginnings of his great treatise on the gospel.

What this, and all unbelief, amounts to here is an accusation against God. It is the old lie, "Indeed did God say..." dressed up in new circumstances. All unbelief is sin and all sin springs from unbelief. {Ro 14:23} Let’s unpack some of the attitude displayed here to actually see the root of sin in the "response" of Israel.

What is the profit of keeping His charge? Whoever said there was to be profit in obedience? Obedience is the duty of all God’s creatures. God is owed obedience simply on the basis of the fact that He is God - Maker of heaven and earth and Sustainer of all things. The Alpha and Omega. The final arbiter. This is before we even consider the beauty and glories of His Person; His holiness, justice, lovingkindness and forbearance. These characteristics, inasmuch as they are known to our hearts, make it not only a duty but a sheer joy to know Him and to obey Him for His Own Name’s sake.

(What is the profit) … of walking in mourning before the Lord? This displays a double-minded thinking - and we know what God says of such thinking. {Jas 1:6-8} How is it double-minded? It sees obedience as a sacrifice of something that their hearts are fixed to. They give up something they want and thereby get credit in their own minds for doing what they ought to have done anyway. They are still attached to the world. Their hearts belong to the world so that they see obedience as "giving something up." But if their hearts were changed they would see that the only One Who ever gives up anything is God alone. He gave up His Son. The Son (temporarily) gave up the glory He had with the Father before the world was made. And what does God require that we give up? The sin that kills us? Yet we can’t (because we won’t) even do that unless we have a new heart from God.

God is endless giving. Blessings and mercies and wonders issue forth from Him as virtue eternally. Every moment of life for the saint is blessing, and every moment for the unbeliever is forbearance and common grace towards them - all because of the Lord Jesus Christ’s cross-work.

But when men’s focus is upon things below and not on things above then they will naturally fall into the mindset that sees God’s forbearance towards evildoers as unjust. They have missed the "long view" of existence. They have shut up God to the vapor of time that comprises their own earthly existence - or even the blink that is all human existence from Adam until now. Compared to eternity these things are mere hiccups. What God does is for ever. What appears to be injustice is a momentary forbearance for the eternal good of His purposes in Christ Jesus.

Evildoers will not escape God’s eternal justice. When the last of God’s elect is brought into the body of Christ and the Lord returns to rule with a rod of iron and to requite the wicked, then all will be made clear. Are we looking forward to that day? The saints do. Even the Old Testament saints did with a far greater degree of understanding than many professing faith today. Job understood. {Job 19:26} David understood. {Ps 23:5-6}

The sheep are not entirely to be blamed in this day and age because the eternal view is fruit of the preaching and teaching of the whole counsel of God. If the men claiming to be raised up by God as leaders for the body had themselves this heavenly view, and actually believed and practiced it, then the people would be edified. Jesus Christ would be laid before them in all His glory and truth and they would be able to choose whom they would follow. To the degree that this is not done, there will be a reckoning and, if I were a such a minister of the gospel, I would tremble at the prospect.

But those who profess to know Christ and live for this world are at best impoverished saints and at worst are still lost.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

It's All Over...
My visitors have been and come and gone and went, as it were. And I am exhausted.

We went to Penetanguishene, Wasaga, The Big Smoke (Toronto) and Niagara Falls - and a few points in between. We rushed around, chopped and changed our schedule more than once and managed to get everyone together at least once for my Dad to revisit and/or for them both to meet for the very first time.

For those who care, here are a few (low resolution) pictures of the visit...

Four Generations (Jason and Brooklyn, me and Jacob, Dad and my brother, Peter)

The Grandkids (Jacob, Brooklyn, Kalissa and Tristian)

Dad and my brother, Peter (Dad will be 90 in March - D.V.)

The usual suspects with my younger son, Richard (in front)

The infamous visitors with my daughter, Cheri and her brood (Kalissa and Tristian)

As I said, I am exhausted. I am not used to having so many people around, nor living at quite so hectic a pace. So I'll be getting back into the swing gradually. Malachi is approaching its conclusion, which will arrive by mid-September - and then I will be taking another hiatus before beginning what may be my final series which will be on Hebrews. I hope to start that one around early October. After that I don't know if I will continue, but that may just be my exhaustion speaking. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Malachi 3:10-12 - You Have Nothing to Give
Malachi 3:10-12 - You Have Nothing to Give

Malachi 3:10-12 Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.

As men we see tithes as a test of our faith. But God sees them quite differently. He sees tithes as the means of our putting Him to the test. Not in a wicked way, which is specifically forbidden in scripture, but in a way that demonstrates His faithfulness. He has promised certain things and the way to prove His faithfulness is to act upon the condition that qualifies the promises. "If you do this," God says throughout scripture and history to His people, "Then I will do something." God is faithful. God is reliable. God is to be trusted because He is the true and good and just and changeless and unfailing sovereign of all creation.

It was this way from the beginning and it was always a matter of faith. Adam showed a lack of faith when he took the fruit that Eve gave to him. He disbelieved God in a number of ways. He mistrusted God. He chose his wife over his Maker. Eve was deceived but Adam’s act of rebellion was pure will. It spoke defiance. It spoke disbelief in either God’s will to punish sin or the goodness of His nature in prohibiting something so seemingly harmless. (In fact, the fruit was utterly harmless. Believing otherwise is the mistake of many a cult. It was not the fruit that harmed, but the disobedience in eating it when it was forbidden.)

But we must always be careful to properly identify the true mover and the true object. Why do all Israelites, indeed all those professing to be descendants of Jacob, upon hearing the command to tithe simply not tithe rightly, if at all? Why do some (a remnant) fear God and the majority not? What makes one to differ from another? What dictates that some will have faith and others not? The scriptural answer can only be that it is God Who does this. {1Co 4:7 Ro 9:20-28} God commands all men to obey, and He holds all men accountable for their disobedience - but those who do obey know that it is an ongoing work of God upon their hearts that has brought them to it and will keep them in it. That is faith. It is how faith works. Faith is not in our own ability to obey, but in the God of all power to lead and keep us in the obedience that pleases Him.

And so the command is heard with understanding by the sheep. "My sheep hear my voice," says the Lord, "And I know them and they follow Me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand." {John 10:27-28} But the goats, though the sounds fall upon their ears just the same, never hear with understanding - for the Word of Truth both hardens and further condemns them through their own unwillingness and defiance.

Thus, God’s people grow in grace, for grace upon grace is granted to them. They are the ones who have - and being found having, more is given unto them. True children of God grow in grace because God grows them using His preordained means. The Word, the Spirit and His sovereign providence nurture, guide and draw His sheep in the Way because they are His sheep and not so that they may become His sheep. Faith is the instrument - the obedience of faith - but this itself is also His gift.

When once we see the Godness of God and come to understand what it must mean for us that there is indeed a Supreme Being Who is in fact in all things (including the human will) actually and effectively supreme, then the "if you do this I will do that" statements and commandments in the Bible begin to be seen not as our cause affecting God’s action (or causing His reaction) - but as God working in His people to bring them to conformity with the image of His Son. Many desire and love to believe in God and are happy to grant Him some worship - but let once the underlying and inevitable sovereignty of His Person be seen to over arch their own supposed free will and the hatred, resistance and rebellion that still resides will flare up like a long-suppressed volcanic eruption. People love God so long as He either has no demands or no absolute power over them. But let God be God and then you will see the cat amongst the pigeons.

But we are limited human beings and we have varying degrees of light. Some are mature and some are babes in Christ. Some have come to understand the deeper things and some have not yet grown up into them. Sadly many actually prefer to stay in the nursery and even more sadly some are kept from graduating because their teachers are uninformed themselves. In any event some simply take the face value of statements like this and see the promise as contingent upon their action alone.

But these things actually show that God is so in love with His true church that He provides the means of their growth in grace and in the knowledge of their Lord and Savior by choosing to reveal to them the glories of His character through the obedience of their faith. It’s not about us - it’s all about God. Get this - it’s not even partly about us and partly about God. For us it is all about God from start to finish. It is about the revelation of the fullness of the glories of His nature in His Son, that we, the redeemed in His Son, might eternally glorify Him and enjoy Him forever through the magnification of His Name in praise and thanksgiving.

Is God promising to reward obedience here? Yes. Are the obedient thinking that they are, of themselves, doing something that makes them better than the disobedient in their own eyes? In the eyes of men? In God’s eyes? Why does obedience please God? I believe that the answer to that lies in Jesus Christ the Lord. For when God the Father sees fruitful obedience in any of His children He is seeing the fruit of His Son manifested in the people for whom He died. It makes no difference pre-incarnation or post incarnation - for all who receive eternal life receive it on exactly the same terms - a free gift of God by grace through faith in His salvation, provided in the Messiah.

Did Israel in fact bring all the tithes into the storehouse? History says not - for within about 480 years they had rejected Messiah and been utterly uprooted as a nation. There was no blessing in any general sense. Individuals obeyed and were blessed - as had always been the case. But the nation as a whole continued its slide into humanism, religiosity and apostasy. The remnant was saved, as God had planned from eternity.

Is there a lesson for the gospel age in this? Is tithing for today? Many a pastor gives his annual sermon on this text. Or when times of financial stress appear in church funding this sermon gets pulled out and laid upon the flock. Remember what tithes were. They were given to the Lord by donation to the Levites who administered the priestly offices. Sacrifices were conducted by the priests. They were without inheritance in Israel. They were separated unto God in place of the firstborn sons of every family in all the tribes of Israel.

Is there any longer a sacrificial system? Is there a priesthood that offers up sacrifices and cares for the things of the temple? Or is the reality here of which these things are now mere figures? Each believer must find the way in these things through study and prayer. But it seems clear that true believers understand the radical nature of their conversion and, as they come into the fullness of the understanding of their position in Christ such things are not a focus of inner debate. A true believer owns nothing and knows that everything belongs to God. What a man keeps, he keeps by the grace of God. What he gives, he gives by the grace of God - all in Jesus Christ.

Preachers who turn passages like this into a means of laying guilt upon the congregation for the "new building project" or the "general fund shortfall" are in danger of returning to the old sacrificial system where obedience to certain laws and precepts actually justifies a person in God’s eyes. They are in danger of making flesh their arm and of using human means to try to bring about spiritual ends. Clear distinctions must always be made between the fruit of righteousness and the cause; between the effect and the source. If preachers spent more time putting forth the whole counsel of God in the power of the Holy Spirit the true sheep would be kept and grown and opened up like flowers to the purposes and will of God, and giving would be as natural as breathing because they would be abiding in the Giver of all things. They would hear the voice at their shoulder saying, "This is the way, walk in it." {Isa 30:20-21}

To a believer the whole earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. We may be stewards called to responsible use of what God lends us - but He is always free to take away that which is His - be it material or relational {Job 1:21}. To think in terms of "this is God’s and this is mine" is a fundamental error that springs from a wicked heart. It disbelieves God as owner and ruler of all. It ascends the sides of the north. It rises up. It fails to apprehend reality. It is religious without being the least bit spiritual. It not of faith and it cannot please God. Such thinking can lead to a nit-picking, unresponsive, self-righteous and unspontaneous lack of generosity worse than anything seen in heathens, because it is mixed with the hypocrisy of death. If all things are held lightly and in trust, and the believer is listening for call or alert to the tug of the yoke, then legalities dissolve in a spiritual union with the Law-giver Himself, from Whose very essence these precepts and graces spring.

Nevertheless, there is no denying the experiences of believers throughout the ages. Some say, "You can’t out give God." They have experienced something. They have proven God. They have found blessing in obedience. But what danger also lurks in such thinking. How short a distance between giving out of love for God and a sincere desire to be conformed to His will on the one hand, and giving in order to receive some greater material thing back from God on the other hand. In such thinking the blasphemous and wicked teachings of Kenneth Copeland and his ilk find their root. The false prophets who peddle the prosperity gospel on television make the Name of Christ a byword among the heathen. The concept "seed money" has nothing to do with the teachings of the Bible.

God does promise to rebuke the devourer and to pour out heavenly blessings upon Israel if they are obedient is this matter of tithing. And God has blessed many a faithful servant who has obediently given for the advancement of the kingdom, as the Spirit has led. Too many have received from God in this way, including myself, for it to be denied, even in the age of grace. There is a principle at work that consumes without profit what we withhold without faith. And there is a principle at work that supernaturally blesses the obedient return to God of the things that are His. I will not call it giving, for what has any one that he might give anything to God?

Only let these things not be overlaid with carnal and worldly principles that begin with us giving God something of ours and getting a tit-for-tat - or even a "double portion" - of material enhancement back. That is not blessing. Material increase is not blessing. Blessing is being enabled to see the hand of God upon one’s life through the obedience of faith that is produced in us by the Holy Spirit because of the work of Christ. Sometimes this is a material blessing. Often it is a supernatural sufficiency regardless of supply - something we just can’t quite understand but nevertheless experience. Sometimes it is a blessing utterly unrelated to physical needs or wants. In all cases, though, it is always the revelation of the character of God in Jesus Christ at work in us and the world around us. To see Him is to be blessed. To see Him is to love Him - and what greater blessing can there be than that, considering where we are coming from?

Blessed indeed, then, is the nation of true Israel. They see God. Remember the beatitude that says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God?" Do we now understand that this does not only (nor even mainly) mean that we shall see Him in eternity - but that we shall see Him at work in the world and in ourselves whenever we decrease and He increases; when we abide in the truth - when we truthfully apprehend, understand and see - our own absolute poverty and it dawns upon us that all our riches are in Christ Jesus - and all our righteousness. He is our purity and our righteousness.

It is the fruit of the Spirit of God testifying to the Lord Jesus Christ in every believer that causes the world to call the saints blessed. O, they may not express it that way, but they will note the difference between us and the world and they will either give glory to God or hate us for displaying what they do not have. Again, it all finds its nexus in Jesus Christ.