Friday, July 25, 2014

THE CHURCH & CULTURE

(The following is part of a larger work called "On the Church" - check Amazon for my e-book of this title) - http://www.amazon.com/CHURCH-Neil-McKinlay-ebook/dp/B00M4QDIM0/ref=la_B006NTVAWY_1_21?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406413546&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. 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!

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 and cultural cohesion thus weakened and in many ways the idea of “belonging to the land” destroyed makes it easier for the 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. Ushher’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.

The “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 theEtymons of Words and Names, Classical and Scriptural, Through the Medium of Celtic. Moreover, as Crawford further remarks,4 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.[2]

At the heart of all languages one would also expect to find revelation of 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.”[3]

Christian Influence
Christianity influences nations primarily from the pulpit, i.e., from preaching. The Bible is expounded from cover to cover, which is to say that the Gospel is proclaimed while the Law is explained. The Gospel brings liberty and the Law, properly understood and properly applied, enables the Christianised 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. By Law we mean the Ten Commandments that show that all of us are sinners, 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 the 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] 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
[3] Abraham Kuyper, (Prime Minister of the Netherlands 1901-5), Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace In Science & Art, e-book.
 

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/
 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY (A Triune Publication – Part 2)


God’s Sovereignty is Covenantal
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)

Okay, in my last post we saw 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?

Creation, Fall, Flood, Redemption, Resurrection, New Heaven and Earth is all covenantal. The Bible is the Book of the Covenant. God has a grand plan, a covenant plan. For us who are “the boots on the ground” the Bible is God’s command to us to “Repent and believe the Good News.” Mark 1:5.

What Good News? The Good News that we can escape the punishment for our sins! As the verse in Lamentations says, “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins?” Lamentations 3:37-39 (NIV) Yet complain we do!

Why is God punishing us, i.e., the living, for our sins? Well, before we consider the “why?” question we first need to acknowledge again that, even though my neighbour might swing the punch that hits me on the nose or the Devil may blow my house down, the decree, command or order has come out of the mouth of God beforehand.

Yes, we’re left with the mystery of how God is not the author of evil when He lets Satan kill Job’s sons and daughters and destroy his property and livelihood. However, there is not a speck of sin on God’s righteous garments!

Take Adam: Scripture likens His Old Testament peoples’ rebellion against God to Adam’s breaking the covenant. Listen to what God says He did to His people. “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth—then my judgments go forth like the sun. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:4-6. Then the Lord says, “Like Adam, they have broken the covenant; they were unfaithful to Me there.” Hosea 6:7.

Now, I have to tell you that some theologians don’t like the thought of there being any covenant between God and Adam in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. So, even though it is perfectly permissible to translate into English the Hebrew words the way we have just read them, they would rather Hosea 6:7 say, “As at Adam, they have broken the covenant” or “Like human beings, they have broken the covenant.”

Look, to break covenant with God is to suffer everything Adam suffered, viz., sin, misery and death. Where do sin, misery and death come from? From Adam’s disobedience to God: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Romans 5:12.

Next question: What is sin? 1 John 3:4 gives the answer, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” Therefore, sin, misery and death came to us from Adam’s sin. Sin is the breaking of the law. Thus Adam sinned by breaking God’s Law. Adam was unfaithful to God, which is to say that he broke the pre-Fall covenant.

Now, if God truly is sovereign would He not have known that Adam was going to be disobedient to Him and in so doing bring all creation into a state of bondage? Romans 8:20-21 gives the answer, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

Right, so we see that God had a plan. The plan was this: God would covenant with Adam who would represent the whole of mankind. Adam would exercise his freewill and choose either everlasting life with God or everlasting death without Him. In other words Adam would remain either faithful to God by keeping the covenant and receive everlasting life, or he would break it and receive death (including the rest of mankind to come).

When Adam sided with Satan and then rebelled with him against God by eating the forbidden fruit (which was the outward test of the covenant) he ended up where each of us is today, i.e., in a state of sin and misery and in need of a saviour, THE Saviour!

Enter Jesus as per God’s Covenant. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:23. If Adam had kept God’s covenant for the undisclosed period he would have received the gift of life and not the penalty of death that all humanity receives!

Jesus is the new Man, the replacement Adam. He did what the first man failed to do. He kept God’s covenant perfectly. He kept every jot and tittle of God’s Law as representative of those who believe in Him for salvation. Jesus perfectly kept the covenant Adam failed to keep.

Where’s the sovereign God in all of this? Well, Scripture speaks of Jesus as, “The Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” Revelation 13:8. Did you get that? God had in His mind the picture of His Son slain as a human being right from the very beginning of creation!

Therefore, everything went right according to God’s eternal plan, His Covenant. In eternity past the Father covenanted with the Son as witnessed by the Spirit, that should the Son become also a human and keep the Law perfectly unto death, the Father would give Him a people innumerable and a place where the Lamb and His Bride could live with each other forever, i.e., on the future New Earth.

Let’s summarise: God’s sovereignty is very confronting when you have no idea what is going on with misery, suffering and death in creation. However, the apparent chaos becomes ordered when reality is viewed covenantally, i.e., in terms of God’s covenant.

God has a plan, a covenant plan. Though He’s not the author of it, the evil we see around us has been factored into that plan. Everything is on course for the future New Heaven and Earth, which includes the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day.

Can we receive any assurance, any comfort from God’s sovereignty?

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

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

SANCTUARY!


Sanctuary

Though more popular in past centuries some seek to escape the law by claiming ‘sanctuary’ upon entering a church building. The Old Testament Tabernacle and then the Temple contained a room called the ‘sanctuary’ or the ‘Holy of Holies.’ This was where the presence of God was. It was where God ‘dwelt.’ In the sanctuary was the ark of the covenant. The ark was a box containing the tablets with the Law, i.e., the Ten Commandments. The lid of the box was the ‘Mercy Seat’ attached to which were two angelic beings with wings outspread looking down on the seat. God dwelt between these cherubs.

It will help us to understand what the ‘Holy of Holies’ represented if we keep in mind the picture of a human being fleeing into a church building to escape justice, i.e., by seeking ‘sanctuary.’ Now, before we get into the thick of it let us remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘If I have told you earthly things and you cannot believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?’ John 3:12. We are about to talk about heavenly, i.e., invisible or spiritual things.   


The Old Testament ‘sanctuary’ ‘was a copy and shadow of heavenly things’ (Hebrews 8:5). Therefore, God, by giving instruction for the building of the Tabernacle/Temple, used physical things to illustrate spiritual truths. God, ‘the Judge of all the earth,’ (Genesis 18:25b) dwelt in the Sanctuary. How do we escape the condemnation of His Law? Now that the Temple is gone is there a sanctuary to which we can flee for protection from His justice upon our sins? Let us look again at the physical things in the Temple's Holy of Holies.  

God cannot look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13), yet, with the cherubs, He looked down on the Mercy Seat under which were the Ten Commandments (which all of us have broken), in the ark of the covenant. Therefore, once a year only one man, the high priest, was allowed to come behind the veil into the sanctuary. However, he, after he had been washed, had to bring the blood of sacrificed animals with him and sprinkle the blood on the Mercy Seat. ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no remission’ Hebrews 9:22b. The shed blood covered the sins of the people each year, that is, until the One being pictured entered the sanctuary with His own blood.

We have God’s Law written on our heart, which is to say that our conscience tells us that we have broken His Commandments. We all have lied and lusted, cursed and coveted. God looks upon the heart. Our hearts are calloused and corrupt and the Law He wrote upon them when we were conceived and born is hardly discernable. God cannot live with us or in us. Our sin separates us from God. We need to flee the wrath to come. We need to find the shed blood. We need ‘sanctuary’!

The Temple and everything in it pointed to Jesus. The physical pointed to the heavenly. We need to come to Jesus. ‘Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new a living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.’ Hebrews 10:19-22.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

My Mother & The Robin


My own mum, Catherine McKinlay (nee Nugent) went to be with the Lord over twenty years ago (17th Nov, 1989). I was living in Canada at the time and went back to Scotland for her funeral. The following is an excerpt from my From Mason To Minister book. It tells a little of the story:

“My mother would feed the blackbirds pieces of cheese as they came to the kitchen window for handouts. One of her favourite birds was the little robin who would appear from his travels at a certain time each year. She seemed to have some sort of mystical rapport with the birds. A red-breasted robin entered through her bedroom window and perched on the foot of her bed the day she died. I penned the following while living in Canada:

Blackbird’s on the telegraph pole,

Singing songs of love,

Songs that elevate the soul,

Tunes from up above,

My mother’s in the kitchen cooking,

Singing harmony,

The music drifts across the miles to me.”

(P. 7, “From Mason To Minister: Through the Lattice,” Nordskog Publishing, 2011).

My eldest brother, Fearghas, on the morning of my mother’s funeral went outside the house to put something into the bin. A robin red-breast fluttered in his face! He came back into the house only to hear me talking to a brother-in-law about the American Robin displayed on the back of the Canadian $2.00 bill I was holding up! I was saying that the American robin is different to the Scottish one. I mentioned something about the robin getting its red breast from being splashed with Christ’s blood or being pierced by a thorn on His crown of thorns.

After the funeral we all climbed into the back of funeral car. Fearghas said, “Look! A robin!” We all looked out the car window to where he was pointing. There was a little robin red-breast on the end of a branch about a metre away peering in the car window!

Shortly after this time I moved to Australia. Many times when I thought of my mum I would shortly afterwards see a robin or rather a picture of a robin, be it on a roadside billboard or television or whatever! When I moved to Tasmania I was on top of Mt Wellington when a robin appeared! I managed to snap a photo of it!

I know it is rather subjective but I just take it that God, by the robin-appearances, is showing me that all is well with my mum. It all seems too fitting to be coincidental.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

SIGNPOSTS


Signposts

Signposts engender different responses from different people. For some a ‘Wet Paint’ sign is merely an invitation to touch the paint. ‘Keep off Grass’ may bring out the rebel in us. However, because of possible consequences ‘Thin Ice’ or ‘Beware of Dog’ signs tend to be obeyed more readily. Failure to see a street sign can get us lost. Ignoring a speed sign can get us fined. From traffic-signs to street-signs, whether warning signs or information signs, signposts are designed to assist us.

From Paradise to Patmos the Bible is full of signposts. The opening chapter informs us that God put lights in the heavens ‘to serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.’ Genesis 1:14 NIV. The sun, moon, planets, and stars are signposts pointing to God’s existence. ‘“To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.  Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing.’ Isaiah 40:25-26. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.’ Psalm 19:1. ‘Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.’ Romans 1:20. Who are without excuse? All human beings including those who ignore the signposts that point to God.

Then there are those who confuse the signpost with the thing signified. For example, creation is a signpost to God, but some worship creation and the creature instead of the Creator. (Romans 1:25). Others confuse the signposts of Old Testament Circumcision (Romans 4:11) and New Testament Baptism (its replacement, Colossians 2:11-12) for that which they signify, viz., salvation. Perhaps this could be illustrated by Magritte’s ‘The Treachery of Images’ painting of a pipe which has the following caption underneath, ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’, (‘This is not a pipe’). The idea being that it is merely an image of a pipe and as such is not a real pipe! Circumcision was merely the image of the removal of sin through the shedding of blood by the Promised One who was to come from the loins of Abraham. Biblical Baptism is merely the image that the Promised One has removed our sins by shedding His own blood. Water baptism is a picture of Jesus pouring His Spirit and His blood upon the recipient as per the Promise of the Father. ‘[Jesus] commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ Acts 1:4-5. Thus baptism pictures the outpouring of the Spirit who comes to the redeemed to apply the benefits of Christ’s cross, i.e., that which the blood He shed on the cross accomplished. The poured out or sprinkled water on the recipient is merely an image of the ‘Promise of the Father’ who cleanses us of our sins. (Acts 2:38-39). The rainbow in the raincloud is a signpost to that same promise. (Genesis 9:11-17). The Flood was the removal (i.e., the circumcision) and cleansing or washing (i.e., the baptism) of redeemed flesh. Every human being (albeit distorted by the Fall) is a signpost (i.e., an image) of God. (1 Peter 3:18-22; 2 Peter 3:6)

What kind of response do God’s signposts engender in you?