Agonizomai: May 2010

Monday, May 31, 2010

Heb 13 - 09-12 - Christ - Pierced for Our Iniquities

Heb 13 - 09-12 - Christ - Pierced for Our Iniquities

Heb 13:9-12 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 we have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

Strange and diverse teachings are those which differ from what was delivered in and by that Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday and today and forever. And there is absolutely no shortage of such perverse teachings. They sprang up in the Apostles’ time and they continue to spring up to this day. They are all variations upon a theme. New heads for the hydra - lop off a couple and they grow back, but they’re all still the same snakes. Judaisitic legalism and Gnosticism got the ball rolling in the 1st century, but Marcionism, Arianism and Pelagianism soon followed, with others not far behind.

In the present day elements of Montanism live on in the fringes of the charismatic movement, Arianism in the oneness religions like JW’s, and practical Pelagianism in some sectors of "evangelical" community that have progressed beyond mere Arminianism. These are the same heresies that were dealt with in times past by the great councils of the church and by early church fathers like Augustine, Tertullian and Iranaeus.

But the strange teachings spoken of here are those of a nascent asceticism akin to the old Jewish legalism. It was being bandied about by some that certain dietary regulations would improve a person’s spirituality, if followed. This is, of course, just another form of enslavement. There is only one food by which the Christian is truly sustained, and that is the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ made known to us through the Word by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Christ is the bread of life. And the written word is God’s ordained means of breaking Him unto us that we may be nourished and grow.

We must meditate upon the work of Christ from the creation, through the redemption and on to the eventual consummation of all things. And as we learn and marvel at how all things not only hold together in Him, but are from Him and through Him and to Him and for Him - how all things, including life and death, heaven and hell, saved and lost are for His glory. They are to the praise of the glory of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, or to the praise of the glory of His judgments. The wonders of Christ may start at the cross for we time-bound mortals, but they extend into eternity in all directions, from eternity past to eternity future. And God has drawn back the curtain on some of these things enough, in the here and now, for us to by awed, and strengthened and encouraged by them.

The writer once more draws his audience back to the contrast that exists between the old ways to which some of them are being redrawn, and the entirely new Way, which is Christ. Thus he states quite categorically and (for today’s tastes) rather insensitively, that those who follow the old rituals have no right to partake of the new sacrifice. There is finality here. Closure. Exclusion. Exclusivity. They can’t have it both ways. {Ga 5:2} The old has been done away with and the new has replaced it completely. If you follow the one, then you cannot partake of the other. No fallen human contribution can be mixed with the grace that justifies the believer. None.

It is this exclusivity of Christ that is so often the cause of hatred and retribution by unbelievers. In past days, those worshiping idols were sometimes quite disposed to any religion, so long as it would admit that it was no better a way than all the others. The Romans were not opposed to almost all of the religions of the countries they conquered. They had a sort of pantheon exchange with them. And the Athenians, as we have seen in Acts, were quite disposed to allowing every imaginable god in their philosophy, including the unknown god, just as long as its adherents would get along with all the others. But let once the cry of "Christ is the only way" go forth, and every weapon in the arsenal of hell will be brought to bear through the agency of unbelieving people to ridicule, ostracize and - eventually - to crush and eradicate those holding true to that faith.

Was it not so with Christ Himself? He Who declared "I am the way," and not "I am a way" was hated and despised and cast outside the camp. He was sacrificed outside the holy city of Zion where the old religion held sway. He was rejected by His Own - He came to them and they received Him not. Yet the amazing plan of God used even this rejection, this desire not to pollute the holy city with this "usurper’s" blood, as the very fulfillment of the prefiguration of the act itself in the foreshadowing Levitical sacrifice. O, the wisdom of God! The means of His rejection was the instrument of the salvation of many.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t just skip over this. It is profound. It is Christ, the power and the wisdom of God manifested and hung out there for all to see - utterly cast aside and debased by the foulest and most cruel means mankind had been able to invent until that time. Persian impaling brought to perfection by Roman cruelty. And this was all that mankind could do to Him, though it was not all that was done.

Had he been just a man then it would have been cruel and tragic but nothing particularly exceptional. Hundreds of thousands have died on crosses or by impaling - and millions more by other sadistic cruelties. “So - another one bites the dust. In the end, it’s sad, but - oh well, I’ve got my own stuff to worry about!” “O, but he was a really nice man, loving and harmless and he died unjustly.” I’ve got news for you. In purely human terms people die unjustly every day, many of them children. Many a good person has been wrongfully accused, persecuted for no good reason and died for a noble cause. So what’s one more?

Well, you get the point. It’s not how Christians think, but it is how the world thinks - and it is even sometimes how we ourselves portray Christ. The movie "The Passion of the Christ" was to many Christians a moving reminder of the physical torments of their Saviour. But touting it as a means of evangelizing the lost was a bit like talking Swahili to a cockney, or Newfanese to an Ontarian and expecting them to understand. The lost see a man suffering. The saved see the Son of God. The lost see the outward cruelties, the saved see the most wrenching cut of all - separation from His Father. And in that separation, the Divine wrath poured out upon His very soul for the endless indignities perpetrated upon the infinite and eternal God through the rejection of His creatures. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, where His love for His people satisfied His wrath at their culpable wickedness.

These are spiritual things, unknowable to the natural man because he cannot receive them. He can look at a representation of Christ on a cross and be moved to tears, can cover his eyes and be sickened by the carnage - he can even have an emotional response that attaches to this "Jesus" person for a season - until the shocking imagery wears off and the cares of the world once more consume his being. But the missing component is the Spiritual birth that implants the godly seed by which that person is made alive and kept alive in Christ forever.

But let once a human soul see Christ, the Eternal Son of God, holding Himself upon that cross with the nails He made, and on the wood He grew, found in the agony of soul that He sustained, keeping Omnipotence utterly helpless at the centerpiece of existence and history - eternal God surrounded by eternity and casting into eternity the just wrath He rightly bore towards those He came to save. The only Help in the universe, holding Himself helpless. The only truly eternally holy Being (that is from and to eternity) becoming sin for us. How could it be? How can holiness and sin be reconciled in God? If we think we know we are fools. We know, but we don’t really know. Our knowledge is found in the gift of faith in what God has said happened there. But the depth and dimensions of what truly happened is something for our eternal contemplation.

Now, knowing this, though it is known but in part and poorly, how could any professor of Christ go back to mere sheep and bulls and ceremony? As the writer to the Hebrews would say, "Give me a break!"

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Blasts from the Past
Faith's View of Christ

Here is a sermon from Robert Murray M'cheyne, who lived from 1813-1843, dying of Typhus just a few weeks short of his 30th birthday. He was a Presbyterian minister in Scotland and a friend of Andrew Bonar.

There is a great deal of exhortation and encouragement in this sermon, together with a few quite direct warnings and/or rebukes. By today's standards, the rebukes might be considered harsh or rude by some - but not by me. And not by anyone whose heart is tender enough to know we all need at least periodic, if not constant, admonishment. Enjoy this one...

Faith's View of Christ

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Eden, Avatar and the Kingdom of Christ
Here we have Dr. Al Mohler, President of SBTS holding a panel discussion with other eminent theologians and teachers regarding Christianity and culture in general, and the movie Avatar and Christian thinking in particular.

The discussion ranges broadly and often with great humor and sometimes irony. These are largely academics in an academic environment, but many of them also have practical pastoral experience. Nevertheless, their conversation addresses the broader issues and seems light to me on practical application - or even in proposing Biblical guidelines regarding an approach to culture.

And although Dr. Mohler quotes numerous past theologians as being opposed to such things as novels and movies, he seems to avoid identifying fellow Baptist C.H. Spurgeon as one who anathematized the theater. (/smile) Enjoy this one....

Friday, May 28, 2010

Heb 13 - 07-08 - Christ - Unchanging Forever

Heb 13 - 07-08 - Christ - Unchanging Forever

Heb 13:7-8 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Many a legalistic, controlling, fundamentalist Southern Baptist minister would rejoice at words like this. "Give me your brains, along with your allegiance and your obedience. Toe the line no matter what I do and say, and even if I don’t do as I say, you jump when I say so because I have the authority of God on my side."

Well, I’ve got news for such people. You have God’s authority only inasmuch as you act and teach responsibly and truthfully. I’m not following you if you teach heresy. I’m not winking when you do things that you would discipline others for. But when you speak the truth I will strive to apply it, even if you don’t.

Now that’s just my orneriness and rebellion peeking through. But a careful reading of these verses clearly shows that leaders are to be "remembered" (for which read the old fashioned word "minded") only because or only insofar as they both delivered truth and lived it.

But the imitation of the faith of true and faithful ministers - far from being the idolization of mere men - is a harkening to Christ. For we are not imitating men, but imitating their faith. By "their faith" is meant both what they believed and how that belief was worked out in their lives. Now, what they believed and how they lived is more a question of Whom they believed and Who was manifested in them. This is why verse 8 draws our attention immediately not to the Apostles and prophets and ministers themselves, but to He Who never changes. He is what they all had in common. He was the unifying factor, the common (actually the uncommon) denominator, the Shekinah glory in the temple, the power at work in and through them.

They were witnesses to Christ - no more. Christ is the one witnessed to, attested to by all the saints in all the ages. Christ, not men. Christ the Rock, the Lord, the Almighty, the Creator and Redeemer of men. The same Christ through whom the universe received its existence still sustains it by the Word of His power. He did in olden times. He did while hanging on a cross. He does today. He was God then and he is God now. In the past, he brought things to pass according to his purposes and plans, as determined in the councils of eternity - and in the present and the future the same truth holds. Alpha and Omega. Beginning and end.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thy Will Be Done...

Do I believe that God "works all things after the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11) or not? If so, then why would I exclude the Fall?

This "all things" includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

John Piper

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Heb 13 - 04-06 - Christ - Our Faithful Helper

Heb 13 - 04-06 - Christ - Our Faithful Helper

Heb 13:4-6 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

So then, what if a Christian falls into immorality? It’s no use saying that it could never happen because it plainly does. David remains the perpetual poster-boy for this particular profanation. So, in the context of Christian community the notion of judgement here cannot refer to eternal condemnation. All Christians have been born again and already have eternal life (as opposed to eternal death) and God is not going to condemn in that way one He has already re-created in His Son.

But Christians who sin are certainly not exempt from discipline. God will judge in this way the Christian who dishonours Him and His Son by walking in the old way. Neither are they exempt from a loss of reward. And David’s life after his initial adultery was troubled by the temporal judgements of the loss of his infant son and a lifelong household strife with Absalom, characterized by rebellion and immorality. In that case, what a man sowed he clearly reaped - and this was indeed a temporal judgment of God given to David for discipline and not for punishment in the strictly condemnatory sense.

But the real question can only ultimately be answered by God. A person’s relationship to God will not make them sinless as long as they live upon the earth. There is no Christian perfection in this sense. All Christians sin, and if they deny it then they make God a liar, as well as themselves. But God knows those who are His. They will stumble, and they will sometimes have only the faintest pulse of belief or obedience, but the true sons will always keep coming back. They will despise their sin even while they commit it. There will be no real pleasure in it. We are kept, in the end, not by ourselves, but by the power of God - even if God chooses to do it through the exercise of the obedience of faith. And this is our hope - that our salvation is entirely from Him, and in Him and through Him. This is faith - not that we sin, but that there is forgiveness in Christ when we do.

God will indeed judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. He will judge those who do these things as lost pagans, as professing Christians and as disobedient sons. And every person must examine himself to see if he is truly in the faith, for if he clings to sin - if he steers deliberately close to the line in order to tempt himself - then he may find a death by inches gradually darkens his soul, and what he thought was eternal life will turn out to be, for him, an even greater condemnation than for those who never had light. This is not loss of salvation. It is the demarcation of what true salvation is - what it does - it bears fruit in perseverance. The truly saved never go back because they cannot go back. But we must all sometimes agonize upon these thoughts.

Verse 5 "Keep your life free from love of money" is the mission statement verse for those speaking to American secular philosophy and for its paramour in the professing church - the Word/Faith movement. God does not want us to be rich - he wants us to be content with whatever we have. But won’t this lead to indolence, lack of ambition, lack of invention and vision? My father always thought of Christianity in this way - that it was the means by which the powerful kept the masses happy with their meagre share of the world’s resources. He was a victim of Marxist ideology - or a watered down socialist version of it. And remember that Marxist principles are founded in Christian commands - but they are taken out of context, carnalized and used for worldly ends.

But Christian contentment is far more than indolence or a lack of motivation or creativity. Christian contentment arises from a whole life submitted to the will of God in which diligence, responsibility and hard work are performed as unto the God of the universe. Far from being lazy and second-rate passivists, they are all the more fervent due to the underlying motivation - the service of God. But being content also takes into account the overarching providence of God. Opportunity, ability, circumstance - all these things are factors controlled - even ordained - by God as the means in our lives by which God produces the fruit of His Son in His people. So there will be disappointment, failure and want right alongside achievement, apportioned to each as God has seen fit. Our duty is to strive for His sake, and God’s promise is to fit us for heaven.

For us, this life always looks beyond the immediate towards the true end, through the eyes of faith in the God of our redemption and sanctification. As such, our focus is not to end up in a love for the things of the world, such as money, even though we must strive to make money in order that we may live. Whether we make more or less is irrelevant to the end, which God knows. Our part is to do all as unto Him. Then poverty will not make us resentful and success will not make us unwatchful and proud.

Neither Karl Marx, nor any other pagan could understand this. The focus of worldlings is upon worldly things. It is about keeping score down here because this is all there is. "He who dies with the most toys wins." "Eat, drink, for tomorrow we die." "You’re a long time dead." But the Christian lives in eternity even in the present world, and his life and values and aims are focused there.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How the Wordle Works
It's been a while since the last Wordle check - so here is the latest. Perhaps this is fitting as I approach the closing down of Agonizomai for at least the summer and possibly forever.

At least we still seem to be producing subject matter that honors God and His Word - though I suppose the words "King" and High Priest" ought to be found here. If Wordle covered the entire history of this study then those words would certainly be there - but Wordle doesn't care what I have done for them, but only what I have done for them LATELY. That's how the world (and Wordle) works. [/smile] Double click the image for a larger picture.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Heb 13 - 01-03 - Christ - In His Messengers and Saints

Heb 13 - 01-03 - Christ - In His Messengers and Saints

Heb 13:1-3 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.

This is a sermon to the Hebrews. Consequently the exhortation to "let brotherly love continue," though also in the Christian context, is encouraging them to love their fellow Jews. The Writer has spent considerable time detracting from Old Testament Judaism, showing it as inappropriate for the gospel age, but he is careful not to put down the Jews on the basis of their nationality alone. He is simply criticizing the idea of a return to Judaisitic practices now that the Messiah has come and fulfilled all things. But the Jews themselves are beloved for the sake of the fathers, to whom the promises were given, and ought to be loved by all who hold fast to Christ. And, of course, in the larger Christian context, we are to show love and mercy to all men, especially to the household of faith.

The Hebrew Scriptures contained many instances of theophany or of angelic visitation. Abraham on the plains of Mamre comes to mind, {Ge 18:1-9} just before the destruction of Sodom. Angels appearing in a form of human disguise, or in such a form as to be misidentified as human, are not the same as angels appearing in their unveiled glory, as happened to Mary and Zacharias. It is possible for angels to pass among us unnoticed until their message has been delivered. And it is possible for Christian brothers to cross our paths without us knowing their kinship in Christ - either because they have not yet been revealed in Christ, or because they have not revealed themselves.

Angels are messengers of God, and their appearance, covert or otherwise, is principally as messengers; they have a message to deliver. Yes, they carry on invisibly in the spiritual realm, waging war in the heavenlies in ways which we can only glimpse through divine revelation, as did Elisha’s servant, {2Ki 6:15-17} but in the realm of men their appearance is usually connected to the deliverance of a message.

And the ultimate message comes in the "disguise" of the ultimate Messenger. Jesus came in his prophets. And Jesus comes in his saints to bring Himself as the message. All Christian brothers are indwelt by Christ. This is not an overt thing. We often cannot tell by outward appearance, nor sometimes even by demeanour, whether a person is a Christian or a pagan. Our duty, then, is to be hospitable to all, lest we do injury to one in whom Christ comes to us. {Mt 10:40-42 25:34-36}

And we go on to the question of those in prison. Now, while I respect those today (like Chuck Colson) who do evangelism in the form of prison ministry, I would emphasize that is not what is being referenced here. "Remembering" those in prison harks back to a prior acquaintance. It was the saints who were being imprisoned for their faith. And it was easy to neglect them for fear that visitors would also come under scrutiny. It was the same with those who were being openly persecuted, or had been punished corporally. Open association with such people was identification with them. Yet the saints were to love their brethren enough to comfort and, if necessary, share in their suffering and persecution. After all, all the saints share in common the fact that, while we are citizens of heaven, we still dwell in mortal flesh and are all likewise subject to the same sufferings at the hands of men.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sermon of the Week
How Could a Loving God Send Someone to Hell?

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of SBTS, is heard here speaking at Idlewild Baptist Church in Florida.

Somehow, Mother Teresa, Hitler and Jonathan Edwards all get incorporated into this one. But it is a good Biblical response to the question and a firm admonition to all of us who profess to believe. When it comes to me, he is preaching to the choir but even the choir (some might say especially the choir) needs to be constantly reminded of what the gospel truly is.

Dr. Mohler illustrates for us just one more example of how much of the present day Western church fails in starting its theology with man, rather than with God. Powerful stuff. Enjoy....

How Could a Loving God Send Someone to Hell?

Here is his text:

Rev 20:11-21:09 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.
12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.
14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.
7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Truly Sovereign God

Do I believe that God "works all things after the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11) or not? If so, then why would I exclude the Fall?

This "all things" includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

John Piper

Friday, May 21, 2010

Heb 12 - 25-29 - Christ - A Consuming Fire

Heb 12 - 25-29 - Christ - A Consuming Fire

Heb 12:25-29 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

This is a repetition in a different form of the admonition not to fail to obtain the grace of God. By refusing God’s ultimate self-revelation, which is Christ, the Hebrews would be failing to obtain or to abide in God’s grace. It is true that God’s grace toward us both elects and preserves by granting both faith and repentance - but it is also true that this grace is manifested in the very faith and repentance we are to exercise. Our failure to hear and to receive Christ at any point ought to sound a warning bell in the soul. A flag should go up. Have I in fact received the grace of God, or am I fooling myself? Have I been fooling myself all along?

God spoke to Israel as a nation at Horeb and they trembled, asking that Moses be the intermediary. But they nevertheless did not listen and perished in the wilderness. God has now spoken a more perfect Word because he has spoken in His Son. The manner of speaking is full, complete, mature, and perfect. It is the ultimate revelation of God that fallen earth-dwellers can receive. It is the Word made flesh, dwelling among us, full of grace and truth. It is God as a man. It is all that fallen men will ever be given because no more can be added to Christ.

This Christ comes from heaven, speaks with the authority of heaven, communicates heaven and represents heaven. I mean "heaven" as the presence of God, not merely a place with feathery-winged angels and a lot of nice people.

The Hebrews, in their vacillation, in their temptation to lose heart, to give up, to stumble at the end, needed to heed the example that God plainly wrote for them in their own history. Ignoring the imperfect, partial, pre-figurative revelation at Horeb brought the weighty judgement of God. How much more a severe judgement would come upon those who rejected the complete, full-orbed, glorious and final revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

God is no less a consuming fire in this gospel age than he was at Sinai. In fact he is more so on account of the fact the fuller revelation of his nature has been made in the Incarnation. Judgement is no less a certainty under this dispensation than it was in the wilderness of the exodus. In fact, it is both more certain and more severe because the dividing line between good and evil has been more clearly marked. Good is to be found in Christ and all else is from evil. {Mr 10:18} George Whitefield understood this and it greatly exercised him. He was reluctant to preach at all because of the certain knowledge that, by bringing the light, he would be adding to the condemnation of all those upon whom his words fell, yet who did not heed the call and the warnings.

The two kingdoms are once more illustrated in this admonishment. The earthly kingdom of outward rules and conformity - justly and rightly imposed - was but a picture of the heavenly, unseen kingdom that is in Christ and through Christ. The prior kingdom was temporary, shakeable, finite, perishable and made for destruction. The new kingdom is imperishable, and unshakable - established forever because it is founded upon the rock of the righteousness of God. In the end, this is all that will remain. Only God’s righteousness - only that which was wrought in it and by it and through it will endure the consuming fire of his holy judgement and the destructive force of his wrath. That includes what we do, but it also includes what we are, because what we do necessarily springs from what we are.

If we are in Christ we are a new creation and we produce, by nature, the fruit of the righteousness of God, which dwells in us as the Son, by the Spirit. This everlasting fruit is the righteousness of God in us, as a gift of his grace, received through faith in the means (Christ) by which it is delivered to us. This is so stupendous and incredible a gift that we rightly are exhorted to worship, reverence and awe. God excites this in us and leads us into it as our freely given response to his freely given grace.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

UNturning the Gospel on its Head
"The gospel begins and ends with what God is, not what we want or think we need."

Tom Houston

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Heb 12 - 22-23 - Christ - Mediator of a New Covenant

Heb 12 - 22-23 - Christ - Mediator of a New Covenant

Heb 12:22-23 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

By contrast, all those who truly believe have come not to Sinai, but to Zion. But not the earthly Zion - not the City of David; they have come to the heavenly City of David which the earthy foreshadowed, a city in the intangible, spiritual, but real, heavenlies. Zion is the City of David and the City of God. David was the King of Israel, but God in Christ is the King of spiritual Israel and Lord of all the earth. His City both is and is not yet. The kingdom has both come and is coming. The King has come from heaven and returned there, is here in Spirit now, and will come again bodily at the last. And wherever the King is now honoured as King, there the kingdom is truly manifested - though not in the way that it will finally be.

These Hebrew professors needed again to have reinforced to them the fact that their history, their ceremonies and their covenant were gap-fillers until the perfect which they foreshadowed had come. But now that the real had come, of which these were merely markers, to turn back to the shadows would be folly. In fact, they would be in an even worse situation than before. Before they were condemned because they could not keep the law; now they would be doubly condemned if they rejected the grace that came in Jesus Christ.

All of those ceremonies and histories and laws - all of the stories about deliverance and about the past heroes of the faith, true as they were - accurate as they were - were written by the finger of God through the lives of the subjects, so that we who now live in the gospel age might be able to understand the heavenly things that were finally revealed in Christ. This all harks back to the sermon introduction, {Heb 1:1-2} and to other mentions of precedent by the Apostolic writers {1Co 10:11}

Note the language referring to the throng of heavenly angels in festal gathering from the Greek word paneguris from which we get "panegyric" in the English; all the heavenly host gathered together for a public celebration of praise. Added to this is the assembly of the firstborn - whether meaning those belonging to, and found in, the Firstborn of all creation (Jesus Christ) or those who are the inheritors of eternal life (through Him, which amounts to the same thing). These are gathered in the presence of God and of His Christ, as perfected saints - the church victorious and glorified. The Hebrews, and all the saints militant, have (note the language) have come (perfect tense - meaning something accomplished once for all in the past and not needing to be repeated) to all of this. Yet they are not yet in heaven bodily, or temporally, or spacially; yet they are there already through faith by virtue of their relationship to Christ, by the grace of God.

So, the believers stand in this place by faith in Jesus Christ under a new covenant. The Hebrews are taken back even beyond Moses to the second generation of humanity, knowing that the blood of Abel cried out to God from the ground - a cry for justice and judgement; "innocent" blood spilled onto the dust from which we are made, in Adam. Yet the believers are called in this new covenant to a cry from the ground of which we are made that does more than call for judgement or justice or vengeance; it is an eternal voice that cries out that justice has been done and judgement has been satisfied. This voice of Christ dwells in earthen vessels and calls out to the Father, testifying of completed atonement and of reconciliation.

This is positional salvation pictured. We already stand in this assembly by faith. It is sure. It is certain. God will bring it to pass and we must hold fast that certainty to the end. Enduring faith confirms what God has done. Remember - the point is to encourage the Hebrews to see beyond the merely temporal by holding fast to what they first believed, by wearying not in faith or in well doing. This passage alone is enough to refute the insidious and persistent heresy of "dominionist" (and now, some in emergent) theology by which misguided and deceitful professors attempt to bring about this heavenly perfection through the exertion of "spiritual" effort on earth. They try to make the earth a fit place for Jesus to return to in victory. Meanwhile, He is forced to wait until we get our act together. Heresy!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Glory and Conviction of Sin
"The man who does not glory in the gospel can surely know little of the plague of sin that is within him.

J.C. Ryle

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hebs 12 - 18-21 - Christ - The Jehovah of the Law

Heb 12 - 18-21 - Christ - The Jehovah of the Law

Heb 12:18-21 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”

The writer now embarks upon a contrast between law and gospel, between the outward and the inward, between the carnal and the spiritual. Two mountains are invoked - the first by implication and the second by actual name. These mountains are Sinai and Zion. At one the covenant of the law was given through Moses, and at the other, the covenant of grace was established in history by the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Redeemer. This contrast continues the writer’s theme of reminding the Hebrews of the superiority of the gospel of Christ over the law and the traditions of Israel.

In this first part, the outward nature of things past is highlighted. These were things that could be touched and seen. They represented heavenly things as figures, or they heralded things to come, or they showed the need for a more excellent way. They terrified the hearers by revealing the unattainable holiness of God and pointing to the miserable corruption in the hearers which always caused them to fall short. They illustrated the unbridgeable gap that existed, the chasm between God and man that was brought about by the fall of mankind in Adam and the fruits of that fall in all of Adam’s seed.

The law was the law, but it could not bring peace with God. Instead it brought terror. Even Moses trembled, though he was the mediator between God and Israel. But what was needed was a true mediator that could not only stand between God and man, but could also bring true and eternal peace to man from God. Moses trembled because he was only a figure of that true Mediator Who was to come.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sermon of the Week
A Study of John 6
Here again is Dr. James White speaking at a small church conference. In this one he sets out to compare the teachings of Paul in Romans Chapter 9 (the dreaded "potter and clay section) with the actual teachings of Jesus Christ. I think he makes the point that there is no difference between what the Lord Jesus taught concerning the sovereign grace of God in election and what Paul later espoused.

Contrary to what some in the church might be saying, there is no New Perspective on Paul needed, since he expresses the exact same gospel as Jesus, from Whom he learned it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Reaping What is Sown
"When the church forbids what God allows, it soon allows what God forbids."

J. Gresham Machen

Friday, May 14, 2010

Heb 12 - 15-17 - Christ - To Be Obeyed Through Faith

Heb 12 - 15-17 - Christ - To Be Obeyed Through Faith

Heb 12:15-17 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

It is not within our power to ensure that God’s grace is obtained by everybody. That is not the meaning here. It is not that we can effect the result, but that we are responsible for pressing into the desired result. We are to apply the means by which grace can be manifested. Note that this is the responsibility of all the hearers - not just the pastors. The church family consists of individuals who are all responsible for the corporate welfare. All are their brother’s keepers.

Nevertheless, this section is much more than simply an exhortation to individual saints. To see it as solely a personal call to holiness would be to misunderstand badly. Roots of bitterness are ultimately an individual responsibility, but are the fruit of disharmony or offense between two parties. The church’s responsibility as a corpus is to seek the peaceable, charitable settlement of all disputes. Individual peacemakers are blessed in this, but the church body as a whole (through its elders) is enjoined and commanded to guide, rebuke, exhort and reprove the flock.

Sexual immorality is no less a wound upon the whole body when it is perpetrated, and especially if it is tolerated. Unrepentant persons are ultimately to be disfellowshipped (and then evangelized) so that they might learn repentance or have the body destroyed.

These exhortations are to the flock to watch the backs of their fellow saints. Not as busybodies, but out of genuine love for their souls. While it is true that none can fall away who truly belong to Christ, it is also true that Christ has appointed the means by which they will be kept. And these means involve the right and proper use of the sacraments of preaching, the Lord’s Supper and church discipline, as well as genuine, wise, Biblical and loving support between individual saints.

It may well have been that Esau was never elect of God and was always a vessel destined for destruction, but that was for God to know. The Esaus in our lives and congregations do not have sign upon their foreheads declaring them persona non grata. They are souls who are perishing, or who are in danger of wandering away. They are often indistinguishable from the Jacobs. In many ways they may appear to be better people. And some who are true Jacobs (true Israel) may stumble and falter to the very brink of perdition and seem for all the world to be beyond the pale and without hope of restoration. This is why we must let God be God. We are servants and not masters. We have the means to employ to rescue some - but they are means that are to be applied to all. God decides who will be both saved and kept - and He alone knows the end from the beginning.

Lastly, there is the individual’s personal responsibility to not be found in wilful disobedience or in gross sin. It is dangerous to wander at all, but to wander to the point where conscience is knowingly suppressed and the Spirit is grieved is to enter an area where the assurance of salvation is lost or, as stated previously, where salvation is demonstrated not to have been received. Though it can be a good thing for clarity to be brought to bear, the problem here is that it is a clarity that is apparent to observers, but not to the individual who is embracing the sin. We must never tempt God because, if we do, we can never truly know if our own perversity is not the very means that God uses to give us over to the perdition that we were always reserved for. Sin is deceitful. Better to flee.

A word on Esau. The Bible states that whoever calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. If men would but turn from their evil ways the Lord would hear them. So why is Esau not heard when he repents? It is because he does not truly repent. From the viewpoint of God’s eternal decrees, Esau was not granted repentance. From his own human perspective, he never expressed it. The text says that he sought it, not that he did it. It is all a question of motivation. Esau rued the loss of his inheritance and blessing. Now, he did quite well in life and was blessed by God in tangible ways with worldly goods, power and prestige. But he did not have the primary blessing of the firstborn son and he knew it, having despised it due to the uncontrolled passions of his flesh.

And that is the point of the illustration here. A moment’s uncontrolled passion might ruin a life. There is no guarantee that if we abandon ourselves to sin we shall ever find repentance and restoration. Our human responsibility is to strive for holiness. To strive, not to attain. When we are found striving, we will know that our ultimate attaining was guaranteed beforehand by the eternal purposes of God. Do you see the disconnect here? Do you see that justification or even sanctification by works is excluded? When we strive we enter into an already existent assurance that was prepared for us from eternity. Our striving is the means by which God realizes what He has already decreed.

But this striving itself finds its birth and impetus in God. Unless He decreed it we would not do it. Faith is the scarlet thread that connects these things in a chain. Faith apprehends, seizes and applies. Faith understands, assents and obeys. Everything can be faked. In all things deceit, especially self-deceit is possible. The Esaus of this world, and those within the visible church, have many of the outward appearances of religion but ultimately they lack that faith which is the gift of God. Their motivation may look genuine but inwardly it is self-directed and not God derived. God derived faith seeks not self, but the glory of God. It leads to humility, self-denial and holiness.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Things the God of Open Theism Might Be Overheard to Say
1. Ooops
2. Doh!
3. Uh, oh.
4. Oh, no.
5. Dang it!
6. Shucks!
7. Let me get back to you on that.
8. Wow, that was a surprise.
9. I hope it works out.
10. Oh no, now what is he going to do this time?
11. No, I haven't heard the joke about the open theist.
12. Please, oh please, please, please believe in me.
13. I'll not do that again.
14. That didn't turn out to well, did it?
15. I'll try and get it right next time.
16. I'd answer your prayer but I don't know what is going to happen.
17. Hey, I just learned something.
18. Well, I can always go to plan B.
19. Well, I can always go to plan C.
20. Well, I can always go to plan D.

With thanks to CARM

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Heb 12 - 14 - Christ - Peace and Holiness Expressed Through Us

Heb 12 - 14 - Christ - Peace and Holiness Expressed Through Us

Heb 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Part of "making straight our paths" is also ensuring that there is no known sin in our lives. The Hebrews are admonished that all this learning through tribulation and suffering is of no avail if sin is entertained at the same time. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. {Ps 66:18} Not only will he not hear me, but I will not hear Him.

Love cannot be hateful. It cannot be strident. It is peaceable. There is a time for war also, but only at God’s leading. We are all to be looking to be at peace with everyone. Note it says "strive for peace" and not "be at peace". Some people are implacable and some situations (in God’s providence, not ours) require confrontation. It is a question of motivation.

And we are to be "other" as God is "other." There is to be a transcendence about us. We are to be "cut" from the world and worldliness and separated unto righteousness. So when the writer states that we should "strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" how are we to understand it? He cannot be implying that we must work to justify ourselves before God, or to earn a place in heaven. That would contradict the idea a salvation by grace alone.

Yet we also remember the words of Jesus himself commanding us to strive to enter in at the strait gate. {Luke 13:24} Without striving to enter, and instead just wishing to enter, then an entry cannot be made. The words of Luther come to mind from that great hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," where he says, "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. "

So, for the Christian, striving for holiness is not an attempt to earn God’s favour, but the fruit of His presence in the believer. The means by which this fruit is brought forth is the obedience of faith to the word of God received through personal study, preaching and prayer. (Older divines and many sound churches today would say - through the right understanding and proper application of the preaching of Christ, the Lord’s Supper and church discipline) Holiness is Christ manifesting Himself in us as we abide in Him through faith.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Attraction of the Gospel
"There is nothing attractive about the gospel to the natural man; the only man who finds the gospel attractive is the man who is convicted of sin."

Oswald Chambers

Monday, May 10, 2010

Heb 12 - 09-13 - Christ - Both Knows and IS the Way

Heb 12 - 09-13 - Christ - Both Knows and IS the Way

Heb 12:9-13 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

Now the comparison is extended in order to show how far short of God’s design and reality mere earthly parentage falls. Earthly fathers can be somewhat arbitrary. They are often inconsistent. They are certainly fallible. But God’s love for his children is perfect in wisdom and care. He is working upon eternal things for us. He is perfecting us in the realm of the whole person, from the inside out, with infallible purpose and power.

Nobody is claiming that discipline of any sort does not involve suffering, nor that suffering is not a hard and difficult thing to bear. But, remember, we are looking to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who both walked the way before us and is the Way for us. His suffering was unjust in that he bore our griefs and sorrows and not his own. He made ours His. Our suffering, on the other hand, is perfectly just because it is we who have wandered and rebelled. But don’t misunderstand here - the discipline God measures to his people is not judgment and our suffering is not payment. It is just that our attitude can and ought to include the thought that we deserve to suffer, as well as the knowledge that we have been delivered from punishment. Between these two poles lies the narrow way. We had it coming until Christ took it for us. Now, whatever we must endure, we endure through the faith he both fashioned for and imparted to us, so that it may be received in love for our good.

And, as the Apostle said, our present sufferings cannot be compared to the glory that lies ahead, when the work is finished. {Ro 8:18} And even in this present life, we are enabled to see, if we endure, the fruit of suffering unto the good of our souls. Suffering weeds out of us pride, self-glory, self-reliance, anger, impatience and an endless list of other sins - some subtle and some blatant. It does so through the endurance that only faith in Jesus Christ can give. Apart from this faith, suffering can make us bitter and vengeful, depressed and resentful - like the world. We must be careful, therefore, to abide in Christ in the midst of tribulation - to faint not, neither to weary, but to keep our eyes fixed upon him.

In light of all this, the Hebrews (and all believers) are exhorted to bear up in prayer and praise, and to draw strength not from their own thinking, but from Christ. To abide in the love of God in Jesus Christ through faith, in the present circumstance, whatever that may be. Whatever it is, it is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. {1Th 5:16-18}

Proper training necessitates the completion of the course. There can be no passing grade until the course is ended and the marks tallied. This is why endurance is needed and also how it is formed. That is, through trusting in God as we persevere in the present difficulty. But once the tribulation has passed and we are found standing, then in that matter we have learned Christ - learned how to abide in him by trusting him. And our spirit has been sensitized to the manner of His wisdom, so that the next testing of our faith will produce even more fruit.

So this God we serve is the one who wounds and heals, and who kills and makes alive. {Deut 32:39} he wounds us in order to heal us and he kills us in order to give us life. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! {Ro 11:33}

The last exhortation here seems to be a group exhortation. As a group - a church – the Hebrews are encouraged to take heart and to put their confidence in Christ and to make straight paths for their feet. Surely this means to follow the straight lines that God lays down, which might seem skewed to the carnal perception, but which is the true straightness that the world both cannot see and does not know. Apart from God, we all see with crooked eyes what God declares to be straight. Straight paths are not hewed by dint of our effort, but through faith - through looking to Jesus, hearing his voice and following him in and as the Way. He walked the straightest path of all.

And it is by walking the straight way - the narrow way - which is impossible without faith, that we are healed. That straight way may lead through many a dark and foreboding vale {Ps 23:4-5} but it is by walking through it that healing is forged in our being. Refusing to walk in the Way - failing to appropriate Christ by the faith we have been given in the circumstance that His providence brings us to - is to further injure ourselves. God will not abandon us, but we will learn the hard way. The yoke is easy to those who submit under His mighty hand, but it will chafe and burn those who kick against the goads until they learn patient obedience.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Blasts fron the Past
The Sinfulness of Original Sin
William G.T. Shedd

This is the second time something from Shedd has been posted here. This time Shedd addresses the innate condition of all those born of Adam - that of "Original Sin", a condition and a doctrine often neglected by modern preachers. Indeed, a refusal to embrace this doctrine lay at the heart of the heresies of Morgan, the Celtic monk who later became known as "Pelagius".

Morgan was from the "midst of the sea" (the British Isles) and hence bears the name Pelagius, like the pelagic fish which live their whole lives in mid-ocean and not close to the shore. Be that as it may, he was a very moral man who lived an exemplary life of moderation and good works. On visiting Rome in the fourth century, he was, in fact, so scandalized by the moral laxity and corrupt practices of the church that he put much of it down to the teaching of "(sovereign)grace" in the salvation of souls. He thought that such a concept removed the responsibility from men to live holy lives.

Interestingly, this Pelagianism has remained with us throughout history, despite the fact that Morgan himself was twice condemned as a heretic by the church and his teachings were forever anathematized at the Second Council of Orange in 529AD. In fact, many professing Christians today are at least SEMI-Pelagian in their thinking which I believe is because they have never been properly taught, or have not accepted, the Doctrine of Original Sin and the principles of Federal Representation which are present everywhere in Scripture.

The question for them is this - "If you didn't incur guilt in Adam as your Federal Representative then how can you be justified in Christ, the second Adam, as your Federal Representative?"

But enough of me and my gripes - listen to Shedd instead as he is much better at theology, preaching and exposition than I....

The Sinfulness of Original Sin - William G.T. Shedd

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Mercy and Grace - Roxylee

Mercy and Grace

That day is fast upon us now
The puzzle pieces falling
The grace of God is near to you
Can you not hear Him calling?

When strife and turmoil cloud us in
Our hearts can be despairing
Yet in the presence of the Lord
Is joy and peace and caring

I once was ruled by all I felt
Desire, fear, depression
Sin was the master over me
And guilt from my transgression

But Jesus washed that all away
Forgave me so completely
Who was, and is, and is to come
His Spirit now within me

His mercy and his grace appeared
To give to me salvation
This is a gift from God on high
The author of Creation

So if you hear his voice today
I pray your heart won’t harden
The risen Lord will give you life
His love will freely pardon

Praise God! Praise God!

So if you hear his voice today
You may not have tomorrow
Repent from sin and turn to God
He’ll give you joy for sorrow

[Visit Roxylee's music site here.]

Friday, May 07, 2010

Heb 12 - 08 - Christ - Proving His Love and Grace Through Our Tribulation

Heb 12 - 08 - Christ - Proving His Love and Grace Through Our Tribulation

Heb 12:8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons

If familial discipline proves sonship then, by the same token, the suffering of the saints is evidence of salvation. How often the worldly view turns this concept on its head! The Pharisees of Jesus’ time would have always been quick to equate suffering with being under God’s special disfavour. For the saints it is precisely the opposite - it is the sign of His deep, abiding and eternal love.

One has only to remember the story of Dives and Lazarus to see that the outward appearance means nothing. The Jews would have thought of Dives as blessed with wealth, fine clothing and sumptuous provisions. Lazarus, on the other hand, seemed cursed. He was weak, beggarly, poor, sick and unable even to keep the disgusting unclean dogs from licking his sores. How God must have been angry with him! Not so. God loved Him with a love that brought him all the way to heaven.

But only faith can perceive this. Only faith moves, dwells and sees in the realm of the spirit. And it does so by the light of God in Jesus Christ. Worldly values and worldly sight bring worldly perceptions and wrong conclusions. To the worldling, personal tribulation is a disaster to be avoided and mourned at all costs, and an occasion for self-pity; the tribulation of others, however, is judgement upon their inferior morality. But to the godly, tribulation is the hand of God purifying his beloved children. This is why the church flourishes under persecution and languishes in times of blessing. God achieves two things in bringing tribulation to the saints. He builds up the saints and He purifies His church by running off the pretenders.

But see! The writer has a better hope for the Hebrew believers. Their troubles are the sign of God’s chastising love. If they dwelt in peace and contentment, if they were made at ease in the world, then they would not be sons, for it would be a sign that God didn’t care. It would indicate that God had left them to their sin, or that they were never truly His to begin with.

Does this mean that the believer should court tribulation and persecution? Of course not! Neither does it mean that we should despise those who have the world’s goods. It simply means that we should look for the hand of God in all that befalls us and, when such things cannot be avoided by the normal means to hand, or by applying the means of grace, then we are to say with the faithful, "It is the Lord, let Him do what seems good in His sight." And then to receive and rejoice in His discipline, with thanksgiving.

We don’t yank the reins from God’s hands and decide for ourselves how we should suffer, for that would not be a cross. It would be a self-made and self-directed glory. (Yes, men - even unregenerate men - can be willing to suffer or to die for entirely the wrong reasons). No - we rather submit ourselves to His hand and await His sovereign will as we live by seeking Him. We watch and wait, for He is always "coming". But do we see Him? And when He comes, does he find the faith on earth? Does He find it in us?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Afflictions of the Righteous
"Too much honey does turn to gall; and too much joy, even spiritual joy—would make us wantons. Happier a great deal is that man's case, whose soul by inward desolation is humbled, than he whose heart is through abundance of spiritual delight lifted up and exalted above measure. Better it is sometimes to go down into the pit with him, who beholding darkness, and bewailing the loss of inward joy and consolation, cries from the bottom of the lowest hell—My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? than continually to walk arm in arm with angels, to sit as it were in Abraham's bosom, and to have no thought, no cogitation, but—I thank my God it is not with me as it is with other men."

Thomas Hooker

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Heb 12 - 04-07 - Christ - Dispenser of Discipline to Disciples

Heb 12 - 04-07 - Christ - Dispenser of Discipline to Disciples

Heb 12:4-7 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

The writer has focused thus far on the struggle against sin in the world - that sin which resists and rebels against the truth, and which slanders, persecutes and even murders those who hold it fast, and who exhort others to come to a knowledge of it. But even the sin in the world is to be resisted only through looking to Jesus, and not by natural human means. Our ways do not work.

But God works in manifold ways. He accomplishes many things simultaneously in one circumstance. Thus, the persecutions and ridicule and resistance of the world, when they bring suffering to us, come to us through the loving hands of a sovereign Saviour, and are worked together for our good. Our meagre efforts, our inadequate and blind bumblings are the means by which God makes Christ known in the darkness yet, at the same time, our failures and successes - our rejection or acceptance - our sufferings and our joys - are all used to train us to bring forth the peaceful fruit of righteousness, if we persevere. God sanctifies his people even as he uses them. Nobody in the church is a Saint, but they are all saints.

The Hebrew saints had persevered thus far. They had passed the first flush of deliverance and wandered in the wilderness - they had entered the land of promise and engaged the foe; all these things were done in the Spirit, just as their forefathers had also lived the typology of the Christian journey out in history. But some were wavering. They had come thus far and would they now turn back? Not if they remembered their history.

To be disheartened is human. To allow that natural tendency to become the sort of despair that turns away from Christ altogether is sin. It is sin because it is unbelief. And the (final) fruit of unbelief is damnation. Sooner or later all sin feeds unbelief because it is born of unbelief. And while we are walking in the Spirit (believing) it is impossible to sin. The problem is that we don’t walk in the Spirit perfectly. We not only fail in what we do know, but we fall short because of ignorance and because we must grow in grace.

And this brings the writer to the Hebrews to the question of discipline. Instead of being disheartened and discouraged by their troubles they ought to be encouraged! Their difficulties are evidence of God’s discipline, if they will believe - if they will remember their faith and place it rightly, which is in God and not in themselves or their faith.

Long out of fashion in our society, but well understood by the people of the first century, is the idea of disciplining children. It was accepted not as abuse, but as an expression of love. Discipline could take many forms, up to and including corporal punishment, but it was administered (ideally) for the ultimate good of the child. The writer to the Hebrews uses this figure to bring forth the marvellous truth that discipline proves sonship. {Pr 3:12,Re 3:19} This is good news, but it is counter-intuitive. The rebellious, natural principle in us, even as believers, balks at being disciplined. We don’t always see, right off the bat, that it is for our good. But the saint believes all things are working together for good to them. So discipline is received and endured and finally welcomed and embraced through faith. And this thinking applies equally to the human agent who is the dispenser of our discipline.

Along with all this is the necessity of understanding that the struggle against sin is more than the struggle against personal sin, but it is never less. God has chosen to leave at work in us a sin principle which is to be overcome through faith. Not only are the world and the devil inveterate and hateful enemies of the saints for Christ’s sake, but the sin principle at work in the flesh of believers is simultaneously warring against the spirit. This is ongoing. It never stops until the death of the body.

And we might begin to think how well we do if, while resisting the world we also manage to curb our lusts. Fools that we are! If we think that we stand we have deceived ourselves. We can only stand in weakness - that weakness which leans upon the God who is able to make us stand. Looking to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith...

The battle against inward sin is personal, but not always private. It can’t be. Firstly our sin always affects others. It bears fruit. Secondly, no child of God is an island unto himself, but a vital member of the mystical body of Christ. If one suffers then all suffer. If one member is drowning then all suffer loss. Thus, with the wisdom that only God can bring, we are to bear one another’s burdens, to lift up the wavering (as the writer does here), to admonish the wandering, to discipline the disobedient - in all things praying in the Spirit for the health of the body and of those individuals who make it up.

This does not mean that we must tell every person our deepest and darkest secret sins. God forbid that there should be “gossip by public prayer meeting” because we pray in public for what others have confided in us in private. But there is a need for honesty in the church. When people ask on a Sunday morning, "How are you?" it ought to be more than a custom. It ought to be born of a sincere caring for the state of that soul (body, mind and spirit) and not a trite greeting and the means of avoiding any serious involvement in their lives.

Conversely, when we are suffering and struggling, God has appointed means in the church by which we are to be comforted and uplifted, encouraged and guided. At some point we must be honest with people so that they can seek from God how to minister to us. So we mustn’t miss the fact that God uses means in the church, as well as in the world by His general providence, to purge us and to scourge us - so that we may become better sons.