Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: John Bunyan”Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”

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Bunyan: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners[1]

In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, during his incarceration, Bunyan writes a spiritual autobiography, where his conversion to Christ is contrasted from his former idolatry.  The son of a traveling blacksmith, Bunyan in 1653 was incarcerated for 11 years because he refused to refrain from preaching.

He starts his autobiography by explaining the former darkness that bound him (Eph. 2: 2, 3) such that a sinful lifestyle became second nature to him.  Yet, thoughts of coming judgment and hell tormented Bunyan around nine or ten years of age.  However, until he married, all manner of vice drowned out the aforesaid fears as he gave himself over to satisfy his every lust.

Experiencing Guilt Yet Not Converted

Bunyan was much vexed with guilt after hearing a sermon on keeping the Sabbath, and in a mystical experience, he heard a voice (supposedly from Christ) challenging him to leave sin for heaven or embrace hell for sin, despair gripped Bunyan, believing that he was beyond Christ’s forgiveness.  After this experience, Bunyan noticed that his speech went from swearing to leaving that pleasantly behind (this happened before he knew Christ).  Yet, while experiencing some outward manifestations of reform, Bunyan was not converted.  He had religion, but without Christ, he was outwardly righteous, but inwardly wicked.  He was pleased with his own righteousness, while ignorant of Christ’s righteousness.  That is, until it was initially revealed to him through women conversing about the new birth and as Bunyan read the Scriptures, his thirst to truly know God grew.

The Gift of Faith

As Bunyan read (1 Cor. 12: 8, 9) regarding the gift of faith, he wondered if he could receive it, moreover, if he actually had it, but simultaneously was puzzled as how to verify whether or not he had faith.  He then wondered how he could know if he was elect which tormented Bunyan, for he understood Romans 9: 16 to say that one’s election is grounded not on one’s desires, nor on one’s willingness, but on God’s mercy.  Hence, unless God elected him, he knew that hell awaited.  The Tempter tormented Bunyan much with this issue, discouraging his soul deeply, but eventually God’s sweet mercy and calling became real to him (Mk. 3:13).  In his soul, Bunyan understood Romans 8:39 and assured him of God’s love for him.

Struggling with Christ’s Exclusivity

He then had to deal with doubts about Jesus being the only Savior, for the Turks also have their scriptures and their savior is Mahomet.  Yet, something within his spirit allowed Bunyan not to doubt Jesus and the Scriptures he had.  But he still had many bouts with doubt, which caused Bunyan much unrest.  Yet scriptures such as (2 Cor. 5:21; John 14:19; Rom. 8:31; Heb. 2: 14-15) comforted him regarding salvation and the rescue from death, all of which are grounded on God’s goodness toward his creatures.

Called to Ministry

Now concerning his call to ministry, Bunyan offers a brief account explaining among other things how his peers recognized God’s hand on him and gladly desired to hear him preach.  After fasting and prayer, he was appointed to a more ordinary and public ministry of preaching.  Bunyan understood that God desired men with gifts to use them for the Masters glory, rather than bury them.   The following Scriptures encouraged him to labor diligently in the ministry of the word (Acts 8: 4; 18:24-25; 1 Pet. 4:10; Rom. 12:6) and also those of church history (Foxes Acts and Mounments).

Moved for the People

When he preached, Bunyan was moved for the people, as they were confronted with the gravity of their sin before a holy God.  In touch with his own wretchedness, Bunyan was amazed and humbled that the people loved him, and that God was using him for preaching the word.

Mode of Preaching

His mode of preaching focused first on the problem of sin in mans’ hearts, and the terror that awaits the ungodly.  Having been under the torment of such a reality himself, Bunyan understood his duty to warn people of God’s coming judgment and Christ’s rescue.  While he received opposition from the doctors and the priests, Bunyan did not shrink back from proclaiming the gospel.  He was not a polemical preacher, but focused primarily on the redemption that is only found in Christ.

Bunyan sensed God’s leading before he embarked going to any particular place.  Moreover, he also understood that where God lead him, the Devil would meet him trying to oppose the work of the gospel.  He desired to go into the darkest places spiritually speaking and preach the gospel among those who had not heard it, interceding much for them.

[1] Bunyan, Graces Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Dr. Alan Gomes, Spring 2002 Biola University, Reformation & Modern Theology Selected Readings, CD ROM Pp. 1-58).

 

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: Arminius Declaration of Sentiments

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Arminius Declaration of Sentiments[1]

In his Declaration of Sentiments, Arminius deals with the doctrine’s of predestination, Divine Providence, the freedom of the will, God’s grace, Christ’s deity, and man’s justification before God.

Many Facets to Predestination Obtain

The bulk of his treatise deals with the many facets of predestination, holding that Calvin’s view on many points is false and impertinent.  Arminius rejects the notions that the decree of God is the foundation of Christianity, salvation, and one’s certainty.  For predestination is not the foundation of the Gospel, Christ is through whom believers are built up into Him.  It’s neither the grounds for salvation, nor it’s certainty, for only those who believe shall be saved.   Arminius sees that the Gospel of Christ and of the Apostles after the ascension is one of repentance and belief, followed by a promise to forgive sins and realizing eternal life. But predestination belongs to neither of these injunctions and is not necessary for a doctrine of salvation; as an object of knowledge, belief, hope, or performance.

The Councils and Divines of the Church Never Held This Predestination View

Arminius continues and points to the early Councils[2] and to the Divines/Doctors of the church, while holding orthodox views, and defending God’s grace against Pelagius, never brought this doctrine forward or approved it.  Moreover, this doctrine is not found in the volume of Geneva[3] and is debatable in others.[4]  And as such, more tolerance of those opposing Calvin’s view should obtain.

Calvin’s Predestination View is Repugnant in View of God’s Nature

Arminius found the doctrine repugnant in view of God’s nature.  It is repugnant concerning God’s wisdom seeing Him decreeing something that is not good nor can be. Concerning His justice it counts against God loving righteousness and hating evil.  And concerning His goodness, it’s repugnant showing God to will the greatest evil.

Again, Arminius understands this doctrine to be contrary to man’s nature, for being created in God’s image with free will, certain commands to obedience cannot be excited in man if he can choose no other alternative (Rom. 10: 5; Gen. 2: 17).  Along the same lines, Arminius sees that determining man’s actions is inconsistent with creation by preventing the free exercise of liberty.  This predestination is totally opposed to the Act of Creation, for that which is by nature good, turns out to be a the determined perdition of the creature.  Reprobation is an act of hatred (Mt.26: 24) creation is the converse.  Creation is a perfect act of God whereby His goodness, wisdom and omnipotence are manifest.

Calvin’s Predestination View is Hostile to the Nature of Eternal Life

This predestination is both hostile to the nature of eternal life (Mt. 5:12; Tit. 3:7; Jn. 1:12), and to the nature of eternal death (Rom. 6:23).  It’s further inconsistent with the nature of Divine Grace because it denies that: grace can be resisted (Acts 7:51); that man can receive or reject it; and that man cannot freely exercise his will.

There are many more disagreements to Calvin’s views that Arminius expresses such as; this doctrine is hurtful to man’s salvation, it’s dishonorable to Jesus Christ, it’s openly hostile to the Gospel’s ministry, it’s subversive to Christianity in particular (dealing with supralapsarianism), etc.  Arminius then deals with a second and third kind of predestination and then positively affirms his position on the doctrine.

God’s Providence Generally and Specifically

He then deals with God’s Providence seeing in it the general care of God for the whole world and particular care for His intelligent creatures and of those who should be heirs of salvation.  For Arminius, his view of providence does not attribute see God as the cause of sin.  Concerning man’s free will, only the regenerate can perform what is truly good since they are delivered from sin’s power.  Concerning God’s grace, Arminius held men could reject it.  Concerning the perseverance of the saints, they can resist Satan and persevere to the end only through the Holy Spirit’s power.  However, certain passages seem to say that one can fall away from the faith, but many other passages buttress the contrary.  Concerning the assurance of salvation, Arminius holds that one can know with certainty that they are saved, but not with the same certainty that we know God exists.

Arminius then concludes with the believer’s perfection, Christ’s divinity, man’s justification before God and ends his treatise with a plea for toleration from those differing with him, for Christianity has had enough schisms.  Said schisms should be diminished and their influence ought to be destroyed.

[1] Arminius, Declaration of Sentiments, Dr. Alan Gomes, Spring 2002 Biola University, Reformation & Modern Theology Selected Readings, CD ROM Pp. 1-36).

[2]  The first six centuries after Christ.

[3]  Which is done in the name of the Protestant and Reformed Churches

[4]  The Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: Trent on Justification (Discussion) & (Canons)

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Trent, On Justification (Discussion)[1]

Pope Paul the III presided over the Council of Trent, which focused on clarifying the significance of Justification.  They understand that man in his state of original sin is incapable of self-rescue.  Said rescue can only be realized through faith in Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice as one appropriates the benefit of his death personally.  This justification is derived from God’s prevenient grace, which one can reject.

The justification of the impious has God as the final cause, God’s mercy as the efficient cause, Jesus Christ as the meritorious cause, the sacrament of baptism is the instrumental cause, and Gods justice as the alone formal cause.  We are freely justified by faith.  It’s the genesis of human salvation.  However, if one demonstrates confidence in that their sins are forgiven, they are not.  For nobody can have such certainty of faith or of perseverance.

Moreover, justification is realized not forensically, but dualistically as faith and good works manifest in a believer.  Furthermore, it is necessary and possible to keep the commandments, for works of righteousness are the means to realize final salvation.  If one falls away from justification, he can again be justified through the Sacraments of penance, confession of sins, sacerdotal absolution, fasts, alms, etc.  And finally, the ultimate fruit of justification is merited eternal life.   

Trent, On Justification (Canons)[2]

The Canons lay out a plethora of anathemas to those in disagreement with Trent’s views.  Such anathemas include those holding: that man’s image in Adam’s was erased, rather than effaced; that God is the cause of evil in man; that justification is by faith alone; that men are just without Christ’s righteousness; that by faith alone absolution and justification are realized; that perseverance is certain, unless divinely revealed; that Jesus is the Savior but does not need to be obeyed; that one cannot lose their salvation; seeing good works as fruit of being justified, rather than the grounds thereof, etc.

[1] Document retrieved through Hanover College, History Department,  Comments to: luttmer@hanover.edu

[2] Ibid.

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: Calvin On Predestination (Institutes)

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Calvin On Predestination (Institutes)[1]

The Doctrine of Election

In Calvin’s treatise On Predestination, he first addresses the doctrine of eternal election, where some are predestined to salvation and others to destruction.  He begins by affirming that neglecting this doctrine essentially impairs God’s glory and produces pride in the individual.  He admonishes both the inquirers and those shunning the doctrine of predestination, to stay within the bounds of scripture, rather than venture into what God has concealed, for everything we need to know is contained therein.  When God ceases revealing, we cease wanting to be wise.  Calvin understood that profane men would scoff and cavil this doctrine, but it is not to deter one from its inquiry.  For scoffers will always find something to poke fun at.

Predestination is the Eternal Decree of God

For Calvin, predestination is “the eternal decree of God by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man,” God testifying his election of Israel in (Dt.32: 8, 9; 4: 37; 7: 7, 8; 10: 14, 15; Ps.47: 4; 33: 12; 1 Sam. 12:22; Is. 41:9 etc.).  God also shows His rejection of Ishmael, Esau, Saul, and Ephraim (Ps. 78: 67, 68; 147: 20; Mal.1: 2, 3; Rom. 9:8; Gal. 3:16; etc.).   Though in the line of Abraham, they were rotten, not the remnant.  Hence, in God’s eternal and immutable council some were elected for salvation, and others to perdition.

Calvin makes a case for election from Scripture contra those who interpret election, as those who God foreknew would not be worthy of his grace.  His election is certainly not based on man’s inherent worth, for it precedes works.  As Paul declares God’s choosing us (i.e., believers) before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4, 5; Col. 1:12; cf., 1 Tim. 2:9).  Jesus himself explicitly demonstrates God choosing us not based on past merits, but on God’s mercy (John. 15:16).  Again, Paul shows that the origin and cause of election proceed not from works of merit, but from God’s good pleasure (Rom. 9:11).  Calvin disagrees with those that assign election to past or future works, for he understands that God finds nothing in man to show him kindness (Rom. 9:15).

Moreover, Peter accentuates God accomplishing the believer’s salvation by his own determinate foreknowledge in Christ’s death (Acts 2:23).   Election is further supported by the Father’s donation to Jesus, “All that the Father gives me shall come to me” (John 6: 37, 39, 44, 45; 17:9; 12; 13:18;).  These texts demonstrate God’s gratuitous adoption of those whom according to his good pleasure, he wishes to be his sons, because God is contented with his secret pleasure.  Calvin then considers the church fathers on this issue (Ambrose, Origin, Jerome, Augustine, and Aquinas) understanding that Augustine got the doctrine correctly in his later years and continues dealing with objections to his position.

Responding To Objections

Calvin deals with several objections to his view and responds accordingly.  He first addresses those who object that God makes anyone reprobate, and reminds his dissenters that Paul does not try to defend God, but simply reminds us that it is unlawful for the creature to argue with the Creator.  Calvin further shows that the reprobate, are those trees not planted by the Father who are doomed to destruction (Mt. 15:13).

A second objection is that it seems unjust and capricious for God to doom some to destruction before they have committed any wrongs.  Calvin’s response is that because of God’s ontological status (being righteous), he does not commit any lawlessness, and by the mere fact of his willing (in election), is necessarily right.  A further objection is that God seems to be a cruel judge by preordaining the reprobate’s sin.  But, Calvin defends the justice of God with Paul’s words, “…O man, who are thou that replies against God…” (Rom. 9:20-21).  This passage couches God’s infinite mind, to man’s finitude.  The last objection we will consider is the charge that Scripture nowhere declares that God decreed Adam’s fall.  Calvin responds that Scripture proclaims all mankind was in Adam, made liable to eternal death.  The decree is dreadful, but it is impossible to deny that God foreknew man’s end before being created.  To do so, is rash and not advised.

Election Confirmed by God’s Calling

Calvin deals with election confirmed by God’s calling and the reprobate bring upon themselves the righteous destruction to which they are doomed.  Calvin admits that election is God’s secret, but is manifest in his effectual calling.  He then deals with the metaphysics of said calling and concludes that it is founded on God’s free mercy.  He then illustrates aforementioned and understands that this calling is grounded on Christ.  He further considers objections to his position that the elect sometimes fall away and responds accordingly (e.g., the son of perdition passage, many are called but few are chosen, etc.)

[1] Calvin’s Institutes: Chapters 21-24, (This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College. Last updated on May 27, 1999. Contacting the CCEL).

Reflections From 1st Corinthians Chapter 6: HOW IS INEPT JUDGMENT BASED ON IGNORANCE and WHAT MAY RESULT? (Vs. 1-11)

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In this chapter Paul continues the theme of how believers are to properly judge one another in the church.  He does this by; first shaming those who don’t judge (for they will even judge angels), and secondly by warning those who live cavalierly of the shaky ground they are on:

“Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?

Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren.  Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

First, Paul uses an “a fortiori argument” (from the lesser to the greater, or with greater force all the more[1]) in order to point out the gravity of what’s occurring with believers, namely they are “suing each other”.

These whom the apostle calls; “saints” are acting like “aint’s”.  Those whom Paul describes as “called” are living like the “not called”.  Their inability to properly make judgments within the church (Chapter 5) spills over into the court of a heathen judge.  Their moral ineptness to make righteous distinctions was lamentable and occurred because of their ignorance regarding final salvation (e.g., the future judgment of angelic beings and the world they were to execute).  Thus, if the forthcoming judgments are weightier, these present judgments should be much simpler.  But for them it was not the case.

Paul here seems to undermine (perhaps mock) their (lack of) “knowledge and wisdom” about ultimate issues and say something that may seem to be contradictory.  In chapter 5:12-13 Paul says that believers judge insiders and God judges outsiders:  “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges,” yet in chapter 6:2 he says that believers will judge the world.

If world means angelic and human beings (v.3)—supporting said notion, then the issue is not if, but when we are to judge these beings—in the future.  Thus, presently, we are to focus on our own, God will deal with the non-believer.  But I’m still puzzled about future judgement.

Presently we are judging whether or not something is in accord with godliness or not, whether it is sinful or righteous.  In the future, sin will be no more, so what then will we judge?  I think the answer is that we will judge not over what is righteous or wicked, but on how righteousness will inform our distinctions (e.g. the wiser way to rule and reign perhaps?).

That is, the present judgments we are to presently make have a moral texture to them.  Distinguishing between what is good and evil.  However, in the future (in the new heaven and the new earth) these judgments will have an application to righteousness alone, for the former world of sin death and corruption will be no more.

I think this makes sense because God is the fountain and eternal source of just judgments before creation and after it.  As the redeemed creation and community of God, in the future there will no longer be slavery to wickedness, only the freedom to make righteous judgments.  I’m aware of the weightiness and nuanced intricacies of the aforesaid, but that seems to me a reasonable view.  So, Paul uses an argument from the lessor (i.e., judge among yourselves) to the greater (i.e., since, or because you will judge angels and the world).

Second, Paul shames the Corinthians because of their ignorance (i.e., they are the redeemed community of God the Righteous Judge) and subsequent ungodly dealings with one another.  These people thought more highly of themselves then they should have, blinded by their own pride, instead of being wronged or defrauded, they executed lawsuits against each other before unrighteous judges.  Both parties (the perpetrators and the victims) were guilty of unrighteousness according to the apostle.  This state of affairs was a bad sign of the genuineness of their faith.

Third, Paul warns them to not be deceived, and then describes those who will not enter God’s kingdom (neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers).  Paul reminds the Corinthians that once they were practiced these things, but now exhorts them to leave it all behind, and embrace Christ in their life, in how they live.

I see Paul alluding to the topic of new birth which brings about new life, and includes the real battle of sin each believer contends with (Romans 6-7).  Paul confronts the Corinthians wickedness with gospel truth and he calls them back to live in light of their identity.  The real followers of Christ will eventually return to Christ, the hypocrites ultimately won’t.

So, it could be said that inept judgment is based on ignorance.  That is, ignorance of our identity in Christ and our inheritance in Him inevitably results in a community that flounders rather than flourishes.

God give your church the grace to courageously, compassionately and swiftly deal with the strays within our own ranks as we entrust those outside the fold to You; the Just Judge who always does what is good beautiful and true.

(SDG)

[1] Peter Angeles, The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy, pg.5, © 1992 by Peter A. Angeles

Summary of “THE MARK OF THE CHRISTIAN” by Francis Schaeffer

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In his book The Mark of the Christian Schaeffer points out the great Commandment to love God and neighbor is at the core of our message and it must be lived out if two things are to occur.  First, if men are to know that we are Christ’s disciples, there must be the humble preference toward one another that Jesus demonstrated to the disciples when he washed their feet in (John 13).  Love among the brothers lets the watching world see if we actually belong to Jesus or not.

We may very well be his, but if our actions are contradictory then the unbeliever has the right given by God to judge us.  This kind of life is costly, painful and accompanied by great loss, but our love for the Savior and for the lost must be what motivates us.

Second, we must be unified with believers so that our evangelistic endeavors are not hindered and the world may know that the Father sent the Son (John 17).  This unity must be evident in word and in deed.  Even when there are differences among us, and there will be, it’s critical that forgiveness, repentance, humility and kindness be evident when we part ways with our brothers and sisters.

This unity, according to Schaeffer, is not organizational, nor our mystical union with Him, it’s not our positional unity in Christ, not even a legal unity before Him.  But it’s a real, observable, practical unity that practices both God’s holiness and love.  Schaeffer rightly accentuates that this unity is never to be separated from His propositional truth (scripture) for it is these propositions that believers are called to live out before the world.

Reflections on ISAIAH 2: “GOD’S TERROR & GLORY IN THE LAST DAYS…”

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In light of the Vegas shootings this past week, and the seeming senseless killing of people by another human being, many are asking, ” What’s this world coming to?”  I can assure you friends it is both terrifying and glorious.  Not because of finite creatures, but because of the LORD God, the self-existent One who alone upholds all that exists by the word of His power and who will right all wrongs justly and mercifully.

I recall when I first heard of God’s end time coming when His saints would be taken up into glory and the wicked would endure God’s fury.  It jolted my soul.  Isaiah certainly proclaims the glory and horror of the “Last Days”.   

On the one hand, the last days are a time when the mountain of the LORD is filled with all the nations being taught of God through His law, Yahweh will be the Judge of the nations, and wars and conflicts will finally cease :

“Now it will come about that In the last days The mountain of the house of the Lord Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war.” (Vvs.2-4)

But between the Last Days and now, Israel, the house of Jacob was not walking with the LORD.  They abandoned the Holy One of Israel and exchanged the worship of the invisible God with the idols of earthly wealth:

“Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.
For You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob, Because they are filled with influences from the east, And they are soothsayers like the Philistines, And they strike bargains with the children of foreigners. Their land has also been filled with silver and gold And there is no end to their treasures; Their land has also been filled with horses And there is no end to their chariots. Their land has also been filled with idols; They worship the work of their hands,
That which their fingers have made.
” (vv.5-8)

What’s frightening is that Jacob abandoned the LORD in chapter one and in this chapter God is the one who has abandoned wayward Israel because of their sin.  On the other hand, the day of reckoning approaches when:

 “The proud look of man will be abased And the loftiness of man will be humbled, And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.” (v.11)

 The pride of man’s heart will be crushed on the day of the LORD’s reckoning:

“For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning Against everyone who is proud and lofty And against everyone who is lifted up,
That he may be abased.
13 And it will be against all the cedars of Lebanon that are lofty and lifted up, Against all the oaks of Bashan,
14 Against all the lofty mountains, Against all the hills that are lifted up, 15 Against every high tower, Against every fortified wall, 16 Against all the ships of Tarshish And against all the beautiful craft. 17 The pride of man will be humbled And the loftiness of men will be abased; And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day” (Vv.12-17)

Moreover, the terror of the LORD and the splendor of His majesty will arise as He makes the earth tremble:

“Men will go into caves of the rocks And into holes of the ground
Before the terror of the Lord And the splendor of His majesty,
When He arises to make the earth tremble.
20 In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats Their idols of silver and their idols of gold, Which they made for themselves to worship, 21 In order to go into the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs Before the terror of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty, When He arises to make the earth tremble.” (Vv.19-21)

This majestic splendor of power will cause God’s enemies to retreat into caves and mole holes, but such terror can’t be avoided and will be met out to rebellious humanity including people of the “Book”.  The prophet concludes with a command because of the Day of the LORD:

“Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils;
For why should he be esteemed?”   (V.22)

The influence of the nations with their “goodies” and temporal pleasures, their LORD-less worldview and commitments to finite treasures should not cause God’s people to spurn the Infinite One whose fury will decimate the ungodly on the appointed day, the Last Days!

LORD, in view of this text and your prophets’ warning, prepare us to meet You, embolden us to proclaim the coming terror of the majesty of Your splendor, for this fleeting life is about to come to an abrupt end to all the earths’ people.

LORD, teach us Your ways and embolden us to walk in Your truth, season our lips as it were with salt so that we may know how to speak to each individual as we ought.

SDG

Summary of “THE CHURCH BEFORE THE WATCHING WORLD” by Francis Schaeffer

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In his book The Church before the Watching World, Schaeffer makes as some very penetrating observations concerning the Christian in this world.  First, in the chapter Adultery and Apostasy: The Bride and Bridegroom Theme he insists that we remember our union to the Bridegroom and consider how we live in light of our loyalty to our husband—Christ Jesus.  To commit apostasy is equal to spiritual adultery, which is to be whoring around, and this grieves God, it saddens Him and often dooms us forever.

Second, in the chapter Practicing Purity in the Visible Church, he holds that to practice purity in the visible church, three things are essential which if removed, then the practice of purity can’t be realized.  First, there must be church discipline for those who hold not to historic Scriptural orthodoxy and the creeds.  Second, exiting the church or the denomination has its place (Mic.6:8) and third, we must remember that the world is under God’s judgment—on fire!  So, we must exemplify a commitment to scriptural historic Christianity, a commitment to courageous loving discipline, a commitment to a winsome departure when necessary, and a commitment to a lost and dying world.

Third there are Absolute Limits that must be maintained if our witness will remain faithful to Christ.   There are again three essential pillars that must be upheld for our view to be truly Christian.  They come under the pre-fall and post-fall categories and can be stated as Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.

Pre-Fall: First, The truth of the Trinitarian God who is there, who is the ultimate Creator and sustainer of everything that exists.  Post-Fall: Second, Human rebellion is real and consequently needs genuine rescueThird, the God/Man is the Redeemer of man by virtue of his life, death, and resurrection and his work secures the believers hope.  Lastly, final judgment is assured.  For believers this means life, for non-believers eternal torment.

To jettison absolute truth is to dispose of the Historic Christian faith as a system of thought.  Hence while disagreements obtain among true believers, there still remains a circle of orthodoxy that has boundaries.  These lines must be clearly maintained so that the essence of Christianity is not lost.

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 5: HOW TO PROPERLY APPROACH GOD

This chapter starts off warning against being foolish when approaching God in worship:

“Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.  When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God. (Vv.1-6)

Our demeanor here seems to be foolish and evil if we think that our primary function of worship is to “offer” religious duty to God (as if He needed anything from us).  The sacrifice of fools prevents them from principally “hearing” the law of the LORD when it’s read and explained.  There are several lessons I have derived from this text.

First, my heart must first be instructed through God’s self-disclosure in Scripture through my mind before any offering I give is acceptable to God.  That is, clear instruction on God’s intended meaning in Scripture precedes and is to inform the worshipper on how to approach this great God.

Second, if primacy to the aforesaid is not given, then idolatry will follow which at its core takes God’s name in vain (i.e., misrepresents His nature and character) and leads the devotee into bondage because God’s truth is substituted for a lie.  Right doctrine is necessary for right living.

Third, the fool apparently parades his folly through much “speech”.  That is, the fool has forgotten to consider that true worship can’t be bifurcated or separated from the knowing and doing dynamic.  It is the two-sided coin of acceptable worship before God for when we don’t follow through on what we have vowed (promise made), sin results.  For as the standard of truth, goodness and beauty, God always does what He says and says what He does.  His people are to follow suit.

What a difficult concept for us to consider and live out in a culture that largely de-values truth telling on the one hand (e.g., P.C. speech), but deeply longs for it on the other hand.  Jesus said that believers must be people whose word can be counted on:

33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”   (Mt.5:33-37)

The fourth lesson is that it’s better to refrain from speaking than to proceed and to sin (v.6).  I have often dishonored people and God with my speech.  This human malady has been around since the beginning of time and is out of control through our social media forums.  Believers need to be very careful how they speak about people with whom they disagree for human beings are precious image bearers not accidents of evolutionary theory.

Of all the created order, what separates human beings from it is the capacity we have for communication through words.  It is the instrumentality of words that the soul reveals ideas which have the power to either edify or decimate individuals, communities, provinces and even nations.

Like many of you, I’m prone to much speech.  My tone, timing, and audience make the art of communicating well difficult to master.  But believer and unbeliever alike will give an account to God for every idol word that comes out of our hearts.  This is sobering and worthy to consider.

(SDG)

 

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 2: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS—VANITY Part 2

In my struggle and acquaintance with failure concerning every sector of existence (E.g., moral, practical and contemplative) the Preacher’s outlook is not re-assuring but utterly depressing.

Vanity, futility, empty, meaningless are all man’s endeavors under the sun and thus so is his life.   The Preacher indulged himself with pleasure and came up empty whether sexual, intellectual or acquisitional pleasure, it’s all empty:

“I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?” I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves and I had home born slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men—many concubines.(2.1-8)

He became greater than all of his predecessors and still his activities are considered useless (Vv.9-11).  There’s no boasting here but deprecation of all the things worldly men (of which I once numbered) would die for!  Wine, women and song, riches and pleasures galore—empty says the preacher!

He understood that wisdom far excels folly as the light conquers the darkness and yet even this to him is vain because like the fool so the wise man will die and his memorial will be forgotten:

“So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done? 13 And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both. 15 Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.” 16 For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die! 17 So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.”   (2:12-17)

The herald understanding his plight completely despaired of life, his legacy and his toil, the accumulation of which is vanity (2:18-23).  Yet, he reflects on the good life and considers that its basis is found in God alone and happiness is to be had in Him alone:

“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? 26 For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” (2:24-26)

God gives wisdom to the wise and good person but for the sinner (who in this context is the opposite) their task is gathering and collecting for those God sees as good.  The struggle and restlessness this nihilistic Preacher is enduring is horrible to bear.  The Preacher is saying that existence without God is empty, a breath not worth taking, toil that leads to “nowhere” in the blink of the eye.

What a dark hole his soul sank into, what an empty chasm he’s fallen into, what a dingy dungeon is his abode, the abyss has (almost entirely) swallowed him up.

God and the meaning of life is the question for the man who has wandered from the paths of righteousness.  His plight is a warning to all who do shun God, deny his existence and indulge in fleeting pleasures—emptiness is the reward.  Why?  Because all pleasures in life that put God at the periphery are vain being He is the giver and sustainer of life in whom there is no darkness at all.

The Preacher is warning me to flee all pleasures that have not God at the hub, to consider the vanity of life without Him and to pursue Him in my gloomiest hour for He alone will not disappoint.

(SDG)