Sunday, August 24, 2014

A LETTER ON COVENANT THEOLOGY


The following is a letter I wrote a number of years ago on the subject of Covenant Theology.
 
Dear…
 
I wish I had more time to delve into some of the things written in the "Covenant Theology" paper (more accurately, Dispensationalist Theology). However, I've got seven new potential members coming to a membership-class tonight with Bible Study hard on its heels!
Anyhow, no disrespect to the great O Palmer Robertson, but it astounds me that such a learned man denies the basis of all covenants, i.e. the Eternal Covenant. He seems to deny it because it doesn't fit his definition of a covenant as "a bond in blood sovereignly administered." I wonder if he has considered the meaning of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" Rev. 13:8b when looking for blood (not that I want to go down that road). Anyway, it's also unhelpful to Covenant Theology to hear another great such as John Murray tell us not to confuse "promise" with "covenant". He needs to tell this to all the Westminster Divines, and also Charles Hodge who says that "a covenant is a promise suspended upon a condition". If viewed as a "conditional promise" the Eternal Covenant, the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace, or any other covenant for that matter, Biblical or otherwise, is not easily misunderstood or confused.
That the Eternal Godhead (represented by the Father) made an everlasting covenant (or conditional promise) with the Son (representing the elect) is spelled out very clearly, e.g., in John chs. 14-17. Try John 17:6 where Jesus says to the Father, "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word". When did the Father first plan to give Jesus these men? What was the condition set for Christ to receive them from the Father? Why was Jesus obedient to the Father unto death on their behalf?
Robert Lewis Dabney in his Systematic Theology is very good at spelling out the fact that Christ represented the elect in the Covenant of Grace. Fallen man does not and cannot represent himself - he needs a Mediator! Before the Fall Adam needed no mediator in the sense that we need one after the fall. Adam represented man(kind) in the conditional promise or covenant God made with him. To say that there was no covenant here is to say that the covenant was never made with the Seed of the woman, Christ. In the Covenant of Works we should never look at Adam apart from Christ, because Christ is the second man, the Last Adam. Yes, everlasting life was offered or promised to Adam upon condition of works, i.e. perfect obedience to God's Law, which Ten Commandments were written upon his heart (albeit in positive terms) see Rom. 2:13-15 e.g. The tree was the outward test of his obedience.

The quote from Klooster in the paper is a good one. Covenant Theologians DO believe in two ways of salvation. 1. By keeping our God's Law perfectly. 2. By Christ's keeping God's Law perfectly. Gen. 2:16b, 17 "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die", Lev. 18:5, "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgements, which if a man does, he shall live by them...", Gal. 3:12 "Yet the law is not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them'" etc. Of course Adam blew it by breaking the conditional promise of life (everlasting life) thereby closing the door to all his sinful offspring, e.g. Isa. 5 "The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant". However, the door for this way of salvation was closed ONLY for sinners: but the good news is that the Last Adam, the Seed of the woman is not a sinner. Unlike the first Adam He kept the everlasting covenant. He saves us THROUGH faith in His good works, not BECAUSE of faith.
In summary, all Christians whether Dispensationalist or Covenantal need to always look to Christ to understand Covenant Theology (see e.g. Westminster Confession of Faith, 7:3). After all He is the Mediator of the covenant, He IS the Covenant (Isa. 42:6, 49:8). He is God and man in an everlasting covenant in One Person with two natures. When did God decide He was going to become also a man? Or put another way, when did He decided to covenant with man in the Person of Jesus Christ? The two natures of Christ cannot and must not be separated by us. No doubt the everlasting covenant in eternity past has a different application to the Son of God as God than it does to the Son of God as the Son of Man. However, Christ is not divided. However, as far as the covenant concerns us, He is God's representative to us and our representative to God - the Mediator.
Whichever way we look at it, the conditional promise of the covenant of Works or the covenant of Grace is all the same to you and me. The condition is faith in the One who keeps on keeping, and has kept the covenant of Works, i.e. our blessed Saviour and covenant keeper Jesus Christ. Faith in Him and His good covenant works is the condition for our salvation. This "conditional promise" is the same before and after Christ. 
The "Old" covenant was that made with Adam which he broke, but is again clearly spelled out and pictured in the Mosaic administration of the covenant of Grace showing the impossibility of fallen man keeping it perfectly. The "New" covenant was that which began to be revealed to Adam and Eve directly after the Fall, continued with Noah, confirmed with Abraham, and yes, Moses, also David, etc.
So, yes, as the Scriptures say, the Old Covenant is the Mosaic covenant, which is simply a dispensation (better to say "administration" because of the confused Dispensationalists) in which the way of salvation by works was shown to be still open BUT ONLY TO THE RIGHTEOUS ONE OF PROMISE, i.e. the promised covenant keeper, and not to those shown up to be bankrupt sinners by the Law! The Mosaic Covenant shows the great need of a Saviour, a Substitute, a Representative, a Mediator, i.e. a covenant keeper.
In conclusion, to claim that there is no "Eternal Covenant" is to open up the pit and release the hydra-serpent of Dispensationalism. However, the sword of defence is the unadulterated Gospel which cuts off all of its ugly heads. The Gospel is merely the proclamation of the Covenant of Grace (Hodge). This covenant is the Eternal Covenant formed in the Godhead in eternity past and overarches all those renewed and confirmed promises or covenants in Scripture.
 
For Christ's Crown and Covenant,
 
Neil
 
PS. A useful summary of Covenant Theology and of how the Westminster Divines understood it is given in "The Sum of Saving Knowledge" at the back of the Free Presbyterian edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

See also my e-book "Covenant Simplified" - http://www.amazon.com/COVENANT-SIMPLIFIED-Neil-Cullan-McKinlay-ebook/dp/B008AGU2KY/ref=la_B006NTVAWY_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408868793&sr=1-8
 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

THE CHURCH & CULTURE



The following is excerpted from my e-book "On the Church" - http://www.amazon.com/CHURCH-Neil-Cullan-McKinlay-ebook/dp/B00M4QDIM0/ref=la_B006NTVAWY_1_21?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408518831&sr=1-21

THE CHURCH & CULTURE

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” Romans 12:2.

Introduction
The preaching of the Gospel is transformative. Indeed the Apostle Paul when writing to the Romans says that “The gospel of Christ… is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Romans 1:16b. Paul is speaking at the time when the Church was transitioning from being predominantly Jewish in nature to becoming all inclusive, which is to say that the national Church, (i.e., Old Testament Israel), was beginning to include other nations (such as the Greeks) to become the New Testament Church.

This, of course, is in the course of the ongoing fulfilment of the “Cultural Mandate” which was given by God to Adam (as Mankind’s representative) and Mankind as recorded in Genesis, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Genesis 1:27-28.

The Tower of Babel episode made sure that mankind would start spreading throughout the whole world. There the Triune God said, “‘Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.” Genesis 11:7-8.

Cultural Influence
The word “culture” comes from the Latin cultura meaning “growing, cultivation.” The verb “cultivate” is taken from the Latin colere meaning “tend, cultivate.” It will be remembered that Adam was to “tend and keep” the Garden. As he cultivated the garden he was also cultivating his own mind horticulturally, botanically, zoologically etc.

We, of course, now live in a fallen world, a world in which sin, misery and death are ever present. However, it is into this world that God speaks His Word. He uses the “foolishness of the message preached” (i.e., the Gospel) to speak His Word (1 Corinthians 1:21).

In the 1980s Glasgow began to transform itself from being a smoky industrial city to being voted “the European Capital of Culture” for 1990. Glasgow’s motto is “Let Glasgow flourish” which in full is “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of Your Word, and the praising of Your name.” Of course as one would expect while living in a fallen world there are those who would not credit God and His Word for the cultivation of Glasgow. However, Glasgow has indeed flourished!

The Scottish bard wrote, “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as others see us!” We agree with Robert Burns: Seeing ourselves as others see us “wad frae mony a blunder free us.” But let us say that some Power gave us the gift to see a whole nation as others see it. Would that not be something? Well, when the Almighty opens someone’s eyes he or she is able to see the nation, even the whole world, as Christians see it.

Having been born of God’s Spirit how would a Christian view a nation? And can this view from many a blunder free it? Take any Western nation. Western cultures are Christianised cultures. Some more, some less – a lot less! To be Christianised does not mean that everyone in the nation is Christian. It simply means that they are under the influence of the so-called Judeo-Christian ethic (i.e., the Christian ethic). In other words, the teaching of the Old and New Testaments, i.e., the Bible, permeates that culture – to a greater or to a lesser extent.

Culture is religion externalised. Language, poetry, music, food, mode of dress, politics, architecture, art et al are expressions of culture, of a nation’s religion. Says Henry Van Til,

Through sin man fell away from God and his religion became apostate, but through Christ man is restored to true religion. It is therefore more correct to ask what the role of culture is in religion that to put the question the other way around … Man, in the deepest reaches of his being, is religious; he is determined by his relationship to God ... Hutchison … says, “For religion is not one aspect or department of life besides the others, as modern secular thought likes to believe; it consists rather in the orientation of all human life to the absolute.” Tillich has captured the idea in a trenchant line, “Religion is the substance of culture and culture is the form of religion.”[1]

Christian religion in its Calvinist form is true religion. Henry Van Til ties the development of the West to John Calvin where he says,

Now Calvin proclaimed alongside of church and state a third realm, an area of life that has a separate existence and jurisdiction. It is called the sphere of the adiaphora, the things indifferent. This is the court of conscience. No pope nor king may here hold sway.
This area is not restricted to a few insignificant matters of taste and opinion among individuals, but it includes music, architecture, technical learning, science, social festivities, and the everyday question, ‘what shall we eat and what shall we drink and where-withal shall we be clothed?’ Now Calvin proclaims freedom from church and state for this whole large area of life in his doctrine of Christian liberty, making man responsible and accountable to God alone in his conscience.[2]

The teachings of Christianity influence culture for the better. Christianity does not destroy culture. Using the Bible as its blueprint, Christianity transforms culture, making it more wholesome in the realm of morals without being moralistic. In other words, Christianity helps cultures and whole nations think Christianly. Therefore, on account of its positive influence, Christianity frees nations from making too many blunders before God! Regarding America says Ronald Kirk,

Early Americans exalted a Biblical education as the foundation necessary to build and maintain a Christian culture – an expression of Christ’s prayer, Your Kingdom come; Your will be done on earth. The Christian seminaries worked to ensure a literate and capable pastorate. Pastors were then the best educated among the people, not limiting their studies to things usually considered spiritual things, but to the sciences, literature, and the arts as well. Why? The Bible itself teaches, every subject belongs to God and is worthy of study (e.g., Job 37:14; Psalm 85:11).[3]

Culture & Language
Language plays a major role in the development of any culture. Indeed, any culture that loses its native language loses its identity! One only has to travel to Scotland or Ireland to find a people suffering from cultural amnesia! Many of the hills, glens, towns and villages have Gaelic names of which many of the natives, because they have lost their native tongue, are unable to relate to placenames. Thus, they are (like those living in Babel at the time when the great Tower was destroyed), linguistically confused and have become somewhat detached from their environment. With the social fabric unravelling, the cultural cohesion thus weakened and in many ways the idea of “belonging to the land” thus destroyed, makes it easier for a disinherited populace to migrate.

According to the Old Testament historian Alfred Edersheim, using the Biblical chronology, Bishop Ussher dates the year of creation (at least the creation of man) as 4004 BC. Therefore barely 6,000 years have passed since God formed man from the dust of the ground. Ussher’s chronology is the view held by Christian orthodoxy (to which I adhere). He dates the great Deluge, when God wiped out all of mankind (bar the eight on the Ark), as 2348-9 BC.

Getting to where I want to go, Ussher dates the confusion of Tongues at Babel as 2233 BC. Therefore barely 115 years had passed since the earth started to be repopulated by (Noah's three sons) Shem, Ham, and Japheth (and their respective wives!) Of course, treating this as factual history tends to cause derision in those who operate under Evolutionary presuppositions! But, be that as it may, we are here at the moment talking about the Christian view of history. Therefore since we are dealing with a real historical event (as recorded in the historically dependable and therefore accurate Bible – in Genesis 11 – we can presume that the population that gathered to build the Tower of Babel would not have been that great of a multitude.

At this time, according to the Bible, at the time of the building of the Tower, “the whole earth had one language and one speech.” Genesis 11:1. Literally the Hebrew has: “Now had the whole earth one language and words few.” (John Joseph Owens) The Hebrew word for "words" in this passage is of course “dabar-im” (the “im” ending in Hebrew being for the plural). Those at the Tower of Babel literally were men of few words!

Part of the Cultural Mandate given in Genesis 1:26-28 to mankind in Adam, and repeated when Noah et al exited the Ark (Genesis 9:1-7), is the cultivating of language, which necessarily includes the coining of new words. It should be remembered that God Himself in the very beginning, by merely speaking His Word, created things that are (e.g., space, time, and matter) from things that are not (Genesis 1; Hebrews 11:3). Thus, when God confused the languages at Babel, in order to spread man over the face of the whole earth, He was ensuring that man would cultivate the new language that each (family group?) had been given. It is at this juncture that we are faced with a problem – if our thesis (that Hebrew was the original or pre-Babel tongue) is to hold up.

We believe that when Moses wrote the Pentateuch (i.e., the first five books of the Bible - Genesis to Deuteronomy) he made use of written records of genealogies and such like that Noah had preserved from the Flood. E.g., pre-Deluge Genesis 5:1 states, “This is the book of the genealogy of Adam.” If Moses was able to read and utilise this book and such like records, then he was familiar with the original language. Since Moses wrote in ancient Hebrew, we believe that the pre-Babel spoken and written-language was ancient Hebrew. Of course all this only accounts for one of Noah's three sons, i.e., the Hebrew-speaking Shem - from which we get the Semites. A descendant of Shem is of course Eber, from whose name we believe we get the title of the people referred to as the Hebrews (Genesis 10:21).

The three main clans then at the time when God confused the original language of the men of few words were Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Here is what Alfred Edersheim has to say about this (apologies for its length!):

In accordance with the general plan on which Holy Scripture is written, we read after the prophecy of Noah, which fixed the future of his sons, no more of that patriarch than that he “lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years” and that he died at the age of nine hundred and fifty years.
Regarding the division of earth among his three sons, it may be said generally, that Asia was given to Shem, Africa to Ham, and Europe to Japheth. In the same general manner a modern scholar has traced all existing languages to three original sources, themselves, no doubt, derived from a primeval spring, which may have been lost in the “confusion of tongues,” though its existence is attested by constant and striking points of connection between the three great families of languages. The more we think of the allotment of Europe, Asia, and Africa among the three sons of Noah, the more clearly do we see the fulfilment of prophecy regarding them. As we run our eye down the catalogue of nations in Genesis 10, we have little difficulty in recognising them; and beginning with the youngest, Japheth, we find of those known to the general reader, the Cymry of Wales and Brittany (Gomer), the Scythians (Magog), the Medes (Madai), the Greeks (Ionians, Javan), and the Thracians (Tiras). Among their descendants, the Germans, Celts, and Armenians have been traced to the three sons of Gomer. It is not necessary to follow this table farther, though all will remember Tarshish or Spain, and the Kittim, or “inhabitants of the isles.”
Passing next to Shem, we notice that he is called “the father of all the children of Eber,” because in Eber the main line is divided into that of Peleg, from whom the race of Abraham sprang, and the descendants of Joktan. The descendants of Shem are exclusively Asiatic nations, among who we only notice Asshur or Assyria, and Uz, as the land which gave birth to Job.
We have reserved Ham for the last place, because of the connection of his story with the dispersion of all nations. His sons were Cush or Ethiopia, Mizraim or Egypt, Phut or Lybia, and Canaan, which, of course, we know. It will be noticed, that the seats of all these nations were in Africa, except that of Canaan, whose intrusion into the land of Palestine was put an end to by Israel. But yet another of Ham’s descendants had settled in Asia. Nimrod, the founder of the Babylonian empire.[4]

For “Scythians,” see e.g., Colossians 3:11. My old professor Francis Nigel Lee would hyphenate the word so that it read “Scyt-hians” or Scot-ians? mentioned by Edersheim are also, I believe, mentioned as the forefathers of the Scots in the historical discourse in Scotland’s “Declaration of Arbroath.” Edersheim (above) mentions that “a modern scholar” (I do not know who) traces all existing languages to three original sources (Shem, Ham, and Japheth?), “no doubt, derived from a primeval spring.” Thus, according to Edersheim (and other reputable scholars) there is evidence of a linguistic “primeval spring.” I venture that this primeval spring (as I noted above) is ancient Hebrew. Thus, one would expect to find a residue of the ancient Hebrew spoken by those pre-Babel men of few words (dabar-im) even in contemporary languages.

Says Francis Nigel Lee,

From the Ancient-Irish Leabhar Gabhala (alias The Book of Invasions), we glean that at least some of the early inhabitants of Ireland had come from Iberia alias Spain. They called their new habitat ‘New Iberia’ alias ‘Hibernia’ – later abbreviated first to ‘Ierne’ or ‘Erne’ and then to ‘Eire’ and ‘Erin.’ The feasibility of the above claims can to some extent be seen in the ancient languages concerned. Quite apart from the Celtic source of many ‘Later-European’ words, one should also consider the grounds there may be for tracing many Hebrew words to an origin similar to the source also of Celtic. Both Proto-Celtic and Proto- Hebrew can to some extent be seen to derive from common roots – either Pre-Babelic or Early-Postbabelic. Thus Crawford’s Ereuna – subtitled: Investigation of the Etymons of Words and Names, Classical and Scriptural, Through the Medium of Celtic. Moreover, as Crawford further remarks, Japheth shall be found to dwell in the tents of Shem. Genesis 9:26f. In Herodotus, the oldest of historians, it is mentioned that the Celts were the most western people of Europe. They had, in fact, penetrated to the most remote recesses of the British Isles. Colonists from Phoenicia were the founders of States in Greece – and even as far as Britain. Doubtless they brought their customs and language with them. The early language of Phoenicia seems to have been understood by Abraham, who conversed with her inhabitants without an interpreter. Consider the identity or similarity of some of the commonest words in Hebrew (H), in Anglo-Saxon (A), in Irish (I), and in Welsh (W). There is: ab (HI), father; adon (HW), lord; and ain (HI), eye. Ish (H) is comparable to aesc (A) & eis (I), man. Asaf  (H) and osap (I) both mean: gather. Arur (H) and airire (I) mean: curse. Ben (H) and bin (I) mean: son. Then there is berith (H) and breith (I), meaning: covenant. Dag (HI) means: fish. Dad (H) and did (I) mean: breast. Gever (H) and gwr (W) mean: strong man. Tan (HA) means: basket. Malal (H) and maelan (A) mean: speak. Phar (H) and fear (A) means: bull. rosh (H) and reswa (A) mean: chief. And ur (HI) means: fire.[5]

At the heart of all languages one would also expect to find revelation of Christ the Word (Hebrew Dabar) Himself, for it is He that gives all words (dabar-im) their true meaning (John 1:1; Col. 1:17). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” John 1:14. The Spirit of Christ goes with us. Abraham Kuyper could, perhaps, be called a Theologian of Culture. He poetically writes,

The word is the material with which poetry is created, yet the word itself is not spiritual, but it is the material garment of the spiritual thought.”[6]

Christian Influence
Christianity influences nations primarily from the pulpit, i.e., from preaching to the church congregation. The Bible is expounded from cover to cover, which is to say that the Gospel is proclaimed while the Law is explained (and the congregation members take what they are taught and gradually disseminate it in their respective communities). The Gospel brings liberty to the nation, by setting the individuals in it free from bondage sin, self and Satan, and the Law, properly understood and properly applied, enables the Christianised (i.e., the Gospelised) nation to retain that liberty. Healthy pulpit: Healthy nation.

Where the Gospel is stifled, God’s Law is flouted. By Gospel we mean the Good News that Jesus Christ died for sinners, i.e., for breakers of God’s Law. By Law we mean the Ten Commandments that show that all of us are sinners, and therefore that we are in need of the Saviour of sinners, Jesus Christ. Not only does the preaching of God’s Law expose us as sinners in need of salvation in Christ, but, as well as showing Christians how to live their lives in demonstration of their gratitude to God for saving them, it also shows us how to restrain evil in our nation. Christianity helps us to see the nation as God sees it and helps to free that nation from many a blunder!

Many pulpits in the West preach another gospel, which is not the Gospel. They preach what is known as the Social Gospel. This message of the Social Gospel has more to do with Marxism than the salvation of the individual by grace through faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Others preach a gospel that is devoid of God’s Law. Indeed they preach against the Law, as if the Ten Commandments were something evil, something to be rejected! Either way, the Gospel is robbed of its power. In this limp condition it cannot transform the individual and certainly not the nation!

Conclusion
Christians ought to pray that God will raise up gifted preachers; preachers able to proclaim and explain the Gospel with the Law, so that the lives of its hearers will be transformed by its power, so that they will transform the nations in which the live, so that their culture will be a Christian culture. Yes, God redeems individuals, but by an individual at a time, He eventually redeems whole nations! May your culture be Christian! Bottom line: Healthy pulpit: Healthy nation!


[1] Henry Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture, Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, 1959 (Reprint 2001), p. 37.
[2] Ibid, p. 99.
[3] Ronald W Kirk, Thy Will Be Done – When All Nations Call God Blessed, Nordskog Publishing, Ventura, 2013, p. 56.
 
[4] Alfred Edersheim, Old Testament Bible History, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1876-77, (1890 reprint in 1980), pp. 58-59.
[5] Francis Nigel Lee, Roots & Fruits of Common Law, CH. 5: COMMON LAW AMONG THE VERY ANCIENT MIGRANTS TO THE BRITISH ISLES, http://www.dr-fnlee.org/docs/cl/cl-03.pdf
[6] Abraham Kuyper, (Prime Minister of the Netherlands 1901-5), Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace In Science & Art, e-book.
 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY (Part 1)

(I inadvertently deleted this post which is Part 1 of a three part series)

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY (Part 1)

Who can speak and have it happen
    if the Lord has not decreed it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that both calamities and good things come?
Why should the living complain
    when punished for their sins?
Lamentations 3:37-39 (NIV)

Introduction
In the army there is a hierarchical system that runs all the way from the Commander-in-Chief right down to the Private. If you were to view the rank structure as a ladder, the Private is at ground level. First rung up would be Lance Corporal. The next rung would be Corporal, then Sergeant and so forth all the way up to Warrant Officer Class One. From there it’s Sub-Lieutenant, Lieutenant, Captain, Major and so forth all the way up the ladder to the General who is the Chief of Army.

That is roughly how it is in the Army. Everyone all the way down to the ground level, whether they realise it or not, is in the process of implementing the Chief of Army’s intent. The Chief of Army calls the shots and the Army implements them.

However, in ordinary everyday life, as Scripture says, “God is in heaven and you are on earth” (Ecclesiastes 5:2), which is to say that you are on the ground level and God is in Heaven. Therefore, you are not even on the ladder! But, every last one of us, whether conscious of it or not, is in the process of implementing the Most High’s intent.

The bottom line is that God is sovereign. He is the Most High. There is none above Him. There is none His equal. He is the Creator. We are His creatures. God is God and we, His creatures, need to learn to let God be God! However, letting God be God is easier said than done!

In the following, as we consider God’s sovereignty, we shall attempt to let God be God. We’ll see that God’s sovereignty is confronting, covenantal and comforting.

1. God’s Sovereignty Is Confronting
God is the great Commander-in-Chief. He is the One that calls all the shots.
“Who can speak and have it happen
 if the Lord has not decreed it?” Lamentations 3:37. This is a rhetorical question, which is to say that no one can speak and have it happen if the Lord Himself has not commanded it!

Think about it: The eternal Triune God spoke creation into being from nothing: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1. Why? Why did God create the heavens and the earth? Was it because He was lonely? How can the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit ever be lonely when They have each Other from eternity unto eternity?

This is where it starts to get confronting. The Almighty, all-knowing, and ever present God created the heavens and the earth for His own glory, full stop; period; end of story. What? As the line in the pop-song asks, “What about me? It isn’t fair…” Well, not so fast with all your “It isn’t fair” talk! It’s not about you. It is about God!

I hear you say, “Well, if I were God there would be no tears, no death, no mourning, no crying and no pain! God can’t be sovereign. He can’t be in control because I can see suffering all around. There’re wars going on. There’re people killing and raping, kidnapping and robbing. God is not sovereign. For a sovereign God would not allow evil to flourish!” Such is the thinking of some.

God’s sovereignty is very confronting. How can Scripture say, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” Lamentations 3:38. If you were to look at the way this verse is worded in ye olde KJV you’d read, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil proceed?” Good and evil coming from God? Surely this cannot be!

Before any of us start doing mental gymnastics and brain contortions to try to make sense of the idea of evil proceeding from the mouth of God let us try to get things into some sort of perspective.

The population of Australia has the highest incidence of melanomas. Sorry for anyone who has had one, but was the doctor being evil by surgically removing it? From the doctor’s perspective he was doing a good thing. And every sensible human being understands that the surgeon is inflicting pain for the greater good. However, let’s say you are a little baby, infant or a young child getting inoculated against measles or chicken pox or whatever. All you see is someone coming at you with a needle and inflicting pain on you. You do not understand why someone is causing you pain.

The doctor wants a world without disease. Therefore, he/she has to inflict some pain and some suffering to bring about that end, doesn’t he? Well, so it is with the Sovereign God. God is working all things together for good, including evil things or calamities. 

So then, right from the very first word God uttered when He spoke creation into existence He knew that there would be pain and suffering. “Then,” I hear you ask, “Why did He do it? If God knew that there was going to be all this pain, suffering, death and misery, why did He go ahead with creation?” Now, we all, I’m sure, know someone who has died or has suffered or is presently suffering. God’s sovereignty is really confronting when we think about someone suffering, isn’t it? Why God? Why the pain?

Perhaps something of an answer may be found in the words of Joseph when he said to his brothers who had sold him into slavery in Egypt,You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Or as that verse is rendered in ye old KJV, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Genesis 50:20.

So we see then that, even though people do bad things, evil things, to each other, the sovereign God means that evil or calamity for good.

Let’s summarise before we move on: The sovereign God created a creation in which evil, calamities, pain, suffering and death presently exist. He created creation for His own glory. And even though we suffer in this life and die, as Paul puts it in that well-known verse of Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Bottom line: Even if we do not understand why, whatever evil or calamity comes upon us comes upon us for our own good (at least for those who love Him), from out of the mouth of the sovereign God. He is the One who decreed or commanded it.

In the Book of Job neither Job nor his wife understood why God did what He did to them (albeit by permitting Satan free-rein and open slather). Job’s wife said to him, “‘Curse God and die!’ He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble [“evil” KJV]?’” Job 2:10.

Okay, we’ve seen that everything that happens happens because God has decreed, i.e., commanded it to happen. God is Commander-in-Chief. Therefore, everything that happens happens because it is His intent.

How are we to make head or tail of this? How are we to understand God’s intent at a ground level?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RIVERS


Rivers

Rivers flow all through the Bible. Beginning in the Garden in the second chapter of the first book they end in the Garden City in the last chapter of the last book. I grew up next to a river, the River Leven which flows out of Loch Lomond and into the River Clyde. The Clyde made possible the great commerce of the 18th and 19th centuries and the shipbuilding of the 20th in the City of Glasgow. Many towns and villages sprang up along the banks of the Clyde. Rivers can play an important role in cultural development. They can bring whole cities to life.

Long ago someone wrote a curious jingle about Glasgow’s city crest upon which are a bird, a tree, a bell and a fish, Here is the bird that never flew / Here is the tree that never grew / Here is the bell that never rang / Here is the fish that never swam. Glasgow’s motto is a microcosm of what God had in mind for His creation beginning in the Garden of Eden. It is, Let Glasgow flourish. The full version, (which in 1631 was embossed on the Tron Church’s bell), says, Lord, let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of Thy Word and praising Thy name!

Perhaps it is symbolic of God’s Cultural Mandate to mankind to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ that the river that watered the Garden, (in which was the Tree of Life), flowed out and split into four riverheads. As mankind flowed out of the Garden to the four corners of the earth the whole planet was to flourish through the preaching of God’s Word and the praising of His name. However, the dynamic of the Cultural Mandate changed because Adam rebelled against God and ate of that other tree in the Garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Therefore, God expelled mankind and barred the way back into the Garden. Then came the judgment of God in the form of a global flood. Only Noah and seven others crossed over from the old pre-flood creation into the new (with the animals) aboard the ark. ‘In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism…” 1 Peter 3:20b-21a, NIV. Noah and his family were dry in the boat while those outside of the ark perished in the flood waters (as did the Egyptians at the parting of the Red Sea when the people of Israel crossed over on dry land.) At the time of Moses those babies the Egyptians submerged in the Nile perished. However, Moses was saved in an ark. Pharaoh’s daughter named him Moses, ‘Because I drew him out of the water’ Exodus 2:10b.

Rivers are barriers. At the time of Joshua the flooded Jordan River separated Israel from the Promised Land. Their crossing over on dry ground (after God had stopped the river’s flow) is reminiscent of our entrance into Eden’s Garden. After Christ was baptised with the Spirit and with water from the Jordan River He began to preach God’s Word and praise His name. He then went to the cross where ‘the flaming sword which turned every way’ (Genesis 3:24) was turned upon Him. Thus, He opened the Garden gate, so that ‘he who believes and is baptized will be saved’ Mark 16:16a. Baptism symbolises crossing over, going from the old to the new, from death to life, entering into the City of God where there is ‘a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb, and either side of the river was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.’ Revelation 22:1-2.

Friday, August 1, 2014

GO WITH THE FLOW


It’s far easier to exit a stadium at the end of a big game than to enter it. It’s the same with a busy one way street. Go with the flow and life will be easier and safer. Christians are being trampled underfoot by Secular Humanism in the West and Islam in the East. Christians face ridicule and are even being martyred for the Faith! What else is new? Christians have always gone against the flow! Wouldn’t it be easier if we all just conformed to this world and went with the flow instead of against it? Jesus said to His audience, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and there are many who go by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13. Jesus was correcting the false teaching of the Pharisees when He said these words. They were leading the people of Israel to the destruction of Hellfire back in those days.

If, as the Bible clearly teaches, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, then how come the way that leads to life is so hard? The short answer is that it is because it is far easier to go with the flow, but that way leads to destruction! The Pharisees were going with the flow and they wanted everyone else to go with them. However, according to Jesus, they were taking the easy way. He illustrated this when He said, ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ Matthew 19:24b. Can a camel fit through the eye of a needle? Only if you shred it and mince it! This was what the Pharisees had done to God’s way of salvation. They had replaced it with their own way. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death’ Proverbs 14:12.

God’s remedy for our sin is paradoxical. Every human being believes that whatever we have worked for deserves payment. This is the way of the world. This is even taught in the Bible: ‘The labourer is worthy of his wages’ Luke 10:7. The trouble is that this does not apply to salvation! Salvation never ever could be worked for! Working for salvation is akin to a camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle! It is impossible! ‘When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”’ Matthew 19:25-26. Entering by the narrow gate to the way that leads to life is difficult because, as human beings, we go with the flow, we labour for wages. Therefore, we work for the reward of salvation. But, ‘“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD’ Isaiah 55:8.

What’s our way of salvation? Through the things we do. What’s God’s way of salvation? Through the things He has done. Surely this must mean that if God has done His bit then now I need to do my bit? No! That’s to go with the flow! It is difficult, isn’t it? Why can’t we simply believe the Good News of our salvation? Well, it means that we have to enter by the Gospel-gate, and that gate’s too narrow for us! You’re the camel and the gate’s the needle’s eye! You won’t fit unless God makes you fit! Through Jesus Christ and His cross He has done what is humanly impossible. He saves everyone who believes in Him for salvation!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

FRIENDS


Friends

Nowadays it is so easy to keep in touch (almost instantaneously!) with friends all over the world. Gone perhaps are the “Nights in white satin / never reaching the end. Letters I’ve written / never meaning to send. (Moody Blues). Few take the time to put pen to paper anymore. Now it is finger to keyboard or touch-screen to “like” or to “share” as you dialogue with friends. And it only takes the press of a button to “unfriend” someone you have gone off! Old acquaintances from schools and hometowns are being renewed. Like never before people are catching up the missing years and decades via the Internet. It is all so easy to reunite with long-lost friends.

I can relate to Joseph M Scriven sending letters from Canada to his mother. In one letter he wrote some words that were to become the well-known hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” Scriven, for his mother’s comfort, penned the words of that hymn. But how many nowadays refuse to have Jesus as a friend, or witnessing little or zero activity or interaction from Him in their lives “unfriend” Him?

I still get teary whenever I think of the pain I caused my own (now deceased) mother. I found out many decades later that she spent three days in heart-broken sobs in her room after she had farewelled me to Canada. Alas! and she never got to see her grandchildren growing up. Now a grandparent myself I can see how much my spirit of wanderlust deprived her of that honour and joy! Oh that I could have written such comforting words to mother as in “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

God called Abraham and Moses “friends” and God-with-us calls His disciples “friends.” He never “unfriends” us. Once reconciled to God by Jesus Christ His friends are His friends forever. Never will He leave us or forsake us. He is with us always. If I could have only one friend I would make sure that friend was Jesus.

As the pre-incarnate Christ He went with Abraham on his travels and even sat down to a meal with him. He spoke to Moses from a burning bush and met with Him on the mountain speaking to him face to face. He travelled with them in the pillar of fire and of cloud.

Friends, true friends displaying true friendship, are but faint pictures of Jesus and those for whom He shed His blood. He died for His friends. Nay, He died for His enemies so that He could make them His friends! Yet He invites all of us to be His friends. We can confirm or decline His “friend request.” Who is Jesus to you? Is He just some religious guy you were briefly introduced to as a child at church, school or Sunday school? Was He just an acquaintance of your parents perhaps?

With Jesus as a friend you are in touch with God instantaneously! As a friend He will not judge your every move. For your comfort as a friend He has sent you the letters He has written. In them He shows you how much He loves you as a friend. If you are His friend you have everlasting life and will be raised bodily on the Last Day to dwell with Him and the rest of His friends forever on the New Earth.

Yes, what a friend we have in Jesus!  

Monday, June 9, 2014

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY (A Triune Publication – Part 3)


God’s Sovereignty is Comforting

There was a scene in a movie about “Stonewall” Jackson, a Christian general during the American Civil War. He and his men were in the open and there were bullets and shrapnel flying all around them. “Stonewall” calmly sitting on his horse said, “One place is as safe as another!”

Look, if there is something we can do we should do it. But if there is nothing we can do then we might as well trust the providence of God. However, we are not to be fatalists. As Oliver Cromwell said to his men who were ready for battle, “Trust God and keep your powder dry.” In other words, though God is 100% sovereign, He holds you and me 100% responsible for our actions. We are in God’s Army! He wants us to trust Him. We might not understand what is going on at any given point in our life but we are to trust in His leadership!

Alfred Tennyson wrote that famous poem called “The Charge of the Light Brigade” about a cavalry charge against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 in the Crimean War.

2. “Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

3. Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Now, the good news is that not all of the six hundred (actually it was 666!) lost their lives. Apparently one hundred and ten of them died! Be-that-as-it-may, what about the line, “Not tho’ the soldier knew / Someone had blunder’d: / Theirs not to make reply, / Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die.”?

Someone may have “blunder’d” in ordering the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. However, unlike the light-horsemen (at least the way Lord Tennyson portrays them), God wants us to “reason why”! He says in Scripture, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be as red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isaiah 1:18.

How does God reason with anyone living today? Covenantally! – which means simply that we are to search the Book of the Covenant, i.e., the Scriptures for the answers. By Covenant we mean a promise, i.e., a conditional promise. The Good News is that God keeps all the conditions of His promise for us. How so? “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.

It is by His grace that the sovereign God opens our hearts to believe. He gives us the gift of faith. Therefore, are you believing in Him? Are you really believing in Him, even when you see misery, suffering and death around you? Do you believe that God is in control, sovereign control?

Listen to the writer to the Hebrews, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.’” Hebrews 12:5b-6.

Or, as it says in Lamentations 3:39, “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins?” Why indeed! To complain would only be to grumble against God’s sovereignty!


God’s sovereignty is confronting. However, when understood covenantally it becomes comforting! In the words of David in the Shepherd’s Psalm, Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4.

And what about the glorious future He has promised us? “Then I saw a new heaven and new earth … He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:1a; 4.

Trust in God. Trust in His sovereignty. Think about it: If God were a pool-player and the universe a pool-table He would sink every ball on the table non-stop. He knows the end from the beginning. He knows every contingent event, every ricochet! For He is the One who made creation and He made it for a purpose – His own glory! Therefore let us continue to glorify God and continue to enjoy Him forever! Let us applaud Him! Let God be God!

(Listen to the full sermon at): http://wavellpc.org.au/resources/bibletalks/