Reformation History Lectures From Carl Trueman

November 24, 2014 5 comments

A few weeks ago I learned about a good church history series, posted at the “Domain for Truth” blog: a 33 part lectures series from Carl Trueman on the History of the Reformation.

I have now going through this series, past the first 5 messages, and am impressed with the level of detail including theological points, philosophy, and political factors. Most church history series do an overview treatment covering the highlights: Luther’s earlier life and the famous date Oct. 31, 1517, but then jumping forward to the Diet of Worms and then on to the next Reformer. This series spends more time in just the Reformation itself, with the first 15 messages mostly in Luther’s life, exploring Luther’s own development of theology and looking at actual Reformation-era doctrines.

Some interesting points: as SlimJim noted, that Luther was a medieval man – and the difference in overall thinking between medieval men (their rural background complete with superstitions) and the later Reformers who were of the Renaissance age and its scholarship and humanism (of the 16th century type humanism, not today’s “secular humanism”). Though the Reformation placed much emphasis on the doctrine of justification, another important issue was that of medieval sacramentalism — dealing with the actual issue of Roman Catholicism’s 7 sacraments.  Luther’s early work, “Babylonian Captivity of the Church” (1520) addressed this issue, and Luther reduced the seven down to two or three:  baptism, the Mass, and penance (then, in the conclusion Luther added that penance wasn’t a sacrament either).

Also of note: the 95 theses were really not all that radical – Luther had an issue with the abuse of indulgences rather than the issue of indulgences themselves; true repentance (like John the Baptist calling people to true repentance before they came to be baptized by him) was to Luther a necessary part of getting an indulgence, rather than just purchasing something without any heart change. Trueman relates this to the issue of pastoral concern, and the problems that a church pastor observes going on with his local congregation.

In September 1517 Luther had put forth more radical ideas, yet no one took notice then: his Disputation Against Scholastic Theology, “in which he critiqued the whole way in which medieval theology had been done for centuries. That disputation, however, passed without a murmur. Indeed, humanly speaking, it was only the unique combination of external factors—social, economic, and political—that made the later disputation the spark that lit the Reformation fuse.” In between Oct. 31, 1517 and the later Diet of Worms, several events took place, including the Heidelberg Disputation meeting in the spring of 1518, and this series spends several messages detailing these years.

Topics in the series include full lectures specifically about Luther’s “The Bondage of the Will,”  (which I read several years ago, good reading concerning the nature of man’s will), and “Luther and the Jews.”  Two lectures consider Calvin’s view of the Lord’s supper, which I have only heard briefly described (as in this post).  I look forward to these upcoming lectures as I continue through the series.

Regarding the Old Testament: Covenantal, Dispensational and NCT Views

November 18, 2014 3 comments

A little over a year ago (summer 2013), a passing comment in David Murray’s blog post caused a bit of uproar from Calvinist Dispensationalists. Included in a list of 7 reasons why the Old Testament is neglected was this 4th reason: “Although unintended, the dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the Church, and of the individual Christian.” The Cripplegate blog, and a guest post from Dan Phillips at David Murray’s blog addressed some reasons why dispensationalists do study the Old Testament.

From my studies concerning dispensationalism, and covenant theology (including Baptist covenant theology and covenantal premillennialism) and its contrasts with New Covenant Theology, here are some further reflections on the overall issue of people’s interest in the Old Testament – and how it relates to their theological reference system.

Dispensationalism

Murray’s original comment noted what was introduced with classic dispensationalism, “the division of Scripture into different eras,” and thus greater supposed differences between OT saints and the church age. Though current-day dispensationalists tend to downplay the specific number of dispensations, often they will emphasize the historical covenants that relate to the different time periods – especially the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, and thus study that part of the Old Testament. “The division of Scripture into different eras” also includes, as with NCT (discussed below), the traditional definition of antinomianism (Christ taught a new “higher law” beyond the original Mosiac Ten Commandments, and regarding law, only what is taught in the NT is for “church age” believers). Generally, though, dispensationalists put more emphasis on the prophetic word – of which there is much content from the Old Testament. This includes study of the historical covenants, as well as all that the Old Testament scriptures say related to promises for Israel’s future. The dispensationalist’s interest in the Old Testament also overlaps with that of overall premillennialism in study of the many Old Testament prophecies regarding the future millennial age, an intermediate phase followed by the eternal state, as well as the prophecies that speak of a future regathering and restoration of the people of Israel.

Covenant Theology

The CT view sees much more unity (than the other two groups) in the Bible as one people of God, with much in common between the believing community of Israel and the NT church. Old Testament saints had the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them (though in less measure) and we can learn from their examples, from what is often referred to as “the Jewish church.” Also, the moral law, the natural law which was summarized in the Ten Commandments/ Decalogue, goes back to creation, as law from God for all peoples living in all times – not just something that began with Moses and only for Israel through the 1st century. All believers, from all ages, understand the same precepts and delight in God’s law, and we learn from everything in God’s word, the unity of the scriptures. Within covenant theology, some teachers emphasize the law, grace, and sanctification, while others (such as covenantal premillennialists) teach on this issue as well as eschatology.

NCT (New Covenant Theology)

The third group, NCT, combines some elements from dispensationalism and other ideas associated with Covenant Theology, to end up with something that could be considered (as others have expressed it) “the worst parts” from these two systems. Here I refer primarily to the “majority view” within NCT, that seems to “get both things wrong” in reference to both the nature of law AND their eschatology. (There are a few exceptions; one well-known NCT proponent holds to historic premillennialism and thus more interest in the Old Testament for that reason.) It is this group that appears to take the least amount of interest in the Old Testament; and I have observed “hard-core NCT” proponents actually say this, that the OT has so little value and that from now on they only do their evangelism from the New Testament.

On the one hand, NCT teaches – and emphasizes — the discontinuity of dispensational theology: a sharp division between Old and New Testament believers. The Decalogue was only for Old Testament believers, and moral law for us is only true if it is repeated in the New Testament. This group further maintains (again, at least some of its adherents) that OT Israel was never really a believing community, apart from the very few characters set forth for us, essentially the prophets, King David and a few other godly kings.

NCT also takes very little interest in eschatology, as a secondary issue not worth much consideration, but a “default” position of amillennialism generally associated with extreme “partial preterism” (all prophecy except Christ’s return, the general resurrection, general judgment, and eternal state, was completed by A.D. 70). Given their view of OT Israel as not really a believing community, it is not surprising to hear the claim, as I recently heard at an NCT local church, that “Israel never had any sovereign election to begin with, it was only a type of our individual election in the NT age” – in complete ignorance of what even the NT teaches, such as in Romans 9:4-5 (They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.)

* * * * * * * * *

In summary, both “systems” of covenant theology and dispensationalism can find at least some benefit in studying the Old Testament, whether from a viewpoint of continuity or an interest in the prophetic word.  However, when both of these ideas (CT and DT) are rejected — in favor of sharp discontinuity regarding OT and NT saints and overall sanctification, law and grace, combined with very little (if any) interest in eschatology/millennialism– the resulting theological system becomes something that sees little if any benefit in studying the Old Testament.

 

Charles Spurgeon: Sermon Application of Leviticus 11

November 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Charles Spurgeon’s textual preaching style brought forth some rather interesting — and sometimes unusual — ideas that appear quite different from the result of expository (“verse by verse”) preaching of the actual text. And in some cases I agree with Spurgeon’s sermon points while thinking he could have preached from a better, more direct, text. Still Spurgeon often brings out interesting items for consideration.  This weekend’s Spurgeon reading, number 499  (from spring 1863) dealt with an Old Testament Jewish law text: Leviticus 11:2-3, about clean and unclean animals.

Regarding the basic understanding, that the Jewish laws were especially meant to keep them separate from other people, as a unique people to God – and by application, a call for us to come out and be separate from the world, a wonderful summary from Spurgeon:

When the Jews were put away as the people of God for a time, then the Gentiles were grafted into their olive branch, and though we did not inherit the ceremonies, we did inherit all the privileges to which those ceremonies point. Thus all of you who name the name of Christ, and are truly what you profess to be, are solemnly bound to be forever separated from the world. Not that you are to leave off your daily dealings with men. Our Savior did not do so. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, yet, you know, He was always in the company of sinners, sitting at their table, seeking their good, and hunting after their souls. He was with them, but He was never of them. He was among them, but always distinct and separate from them—not conforming Himself to them, but transforming them to Himself!

Spurgeon expands beyond this with another interesting point about the Jewish man’s experience of life and the law, with an idea he notes is from Bonar (probably either Andrew or Horatius Bonar):

An Oriental Jew, sensible and intelligent, walks out in the fields. He walks along close by the side of the high road, and what should he see but a string of camels going along? “Ah,” he says to himself, “those are unclean animals.” Sin, you see, is brought at once before his mind’s eye. He turns away from the road, and walks down one of his own fields, and as he goes along a hare starts across his path. “Ah,” says he, “an unclean animal again. There is sin in my path.” He gets into a more retired place; he walks on the mountains; surely he shall be alone there. But he sees a Coney burrowing among the rocks—“Ah,” he says, “unclean. There is sin there!” He lifts his eye up to Heaven—he sees the osprey, the bald eagle, flying along through the air, and he says, “Ah, there is an emblem of sin there!” A dragonfly has just flitted by him—there is sin there. There are insects among the flowers; now every creeping thing and every insect, except the locust, was unclean to the Jew. Everywhere he would come in contact with some creature that would render him ceremonially unclean, and it were impossible for him, unless he were brutish, to remain even for ten minutes abroad without being reminded that this world, however beautiful it is, still has sin in it!

Additional ideas from this text: an analogy of how the animal “chewing the cud” is like our inward life of meditating upon God’s word; and the animal having a parted/divided hoof as like our Christian walk, our outward behavior. Just as the clean animals for the Jews must have both parts, so a true Christian must have both the inward life with God AND the outward walk:

You cannot tell a man by either of these tests alone—you must have them both. But while you use them upon others, apply them to yourselves! What do you feed on? What is your habit of life? Do you chew the cud by meditation? When your soul feeds on the flesh and blood of Christ, have you learned that His flesh is meat, indeed, and that His blood is drink, indeed? If so it is well. And what about your life? Are your conversation, and your daily walk according to the description which is given in the Word of believers in Christ? If not, the first test will not stand alone! You may profess the faith with in, but if you do not walk aright without, you belong to the unclean. On the other hand, you may walk aright without, but unless there is the chewing of the cud within, unless there is a real feeding upon the precious Truths of God in the heart, all the right walking in the world will not prove you to be a Christian! That holiness which is only outward in moral, and not Spiritual, does not save the soul! That religion, on the other hand, which is only inward is but fancy—it cannot save the soul, either. But the two together—the inward parts made capable of knowing the lusciousness, the sweetness, the fatness of Christ’s Truth, and the outward parts conformed to Christ’s image and Character—these conjoined point out the true and clean Christian with whom it is blessed to associate here, and for whom a better portion is prepared hereafter!

Presuppositions in Evaluating Early Church History

November 3, 2014 1 comment

In my overall reading and research concerning the Lord’s Day/Sabbath and its historical development, I have come across some interesting material that also serves to show the existence of presuppositions and how we interpret historical data.

An example of this (and how our presuppositions distort our conclusions) comes from Samuele Bacchiocchi, a 20th century Seventh Day Adventist historian, whose book From Sabbath to Sunday does include some good historical data, excerpts from the writing of many early church fathers, following their writings from the 2nd century through the development of Roman Catholicism. The work does have some interesting points, including the development of a “spiritualized” sabbath beginning in the 4th century Constantine era and developed especially by Augustine plus further agreement from later Catholic Popes, to the effect that “This is why we accept in a spiritual way and observe spiritually what is written about the Sabbath. For the Sabbath means rest and we have the true Sabbath, the very Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ” (Pope Gregory I, late 6th and early 7th century A.D.)

Yet in closely reading both the actual early church ideas and this Seventh Day Adventist’s “explanation” or “interpretation,” the following erroneous idea comes out. “The fact that the typology of the eighth day first appears especially in the writings of anti-Judaic polemics, such as the “Epistle of Barnabas” and the “Dialogue with Trypho,” and that it was widely used as an apologetic device to prove the superiority of Sunday over the Sabbath,” therefore – according to this writer with a presupposition of seventh day worship, trying to prove that the early Christian Church really did not have a consensus on what day to meet for worship – this “suggests, first of all, that Sunday worship arose as a controversial innovation and not as an undisputed apostolic institution. The polemic was apparently provoked by a Sabbath-keeping minority (mostly Jewish-Christians) who refused to accept the new day of worship.”

Really? Justin Martyr and other early apologists were really trying to defend their own doctrines to fellow believers? Even basic encyclopedia entries (and not just Wikipedia) as well as article and book references readily acknowledge the basic audience of these writings: some to Gentile non-Christians, and other writing to Jewish non-Christians. False presuppositions (and forcing a predetermined outcome to agree with that presupposition) drive a modern writer to reject the plain and obvious audience of these works and instead conclude that a doctrinal issue was “controversial” within the Christian community itself. By that reasoning, everything they wrote about – including Justin Martyr’s statements about the then orthodox view of chiliasm – was really uncertain and controversial among Christians, and nothing of truth was decided except by the force of these 2nd century writers “decreeing” what the Christian Church “ought” to believe.

Here I recall also the difference (misunderstood by some) between what are considered “controversial issues” among Christians versus “controversial” for non-Christians, as in this previous post.  An excerpt from what I wrote then – Are cultural issues in the world really debatable points to Bible-believing Christians?  … The same goes for abortion, or any other social issue that the world is uncertain about:  God’s word does not change, and the true Church of professing believers does not feel the need to debate these issues – surely also applies regarding the “issues” of the early church. An idea which may be considered questionable by unbelievers, or even something that unbelievers hold a different/opposing view about, does not at all mean that the same issue was a “controversial innovation” by the believers of that time.

As with this rather obvious example, of how a group outside of the mainstream Christian church (SDA) imposes their false presuppositions on historical data, it behooves us to carefully analyze what we read, especially as this material comes up easily in online search results and it is not always easy to tell, at first glance, the presuppositions of a particular writer.  And when (as I have seen done at a local church) a church pastor/teacher casually references the “Christian Sabbath” issue and asserts for their own position that the Seventh Day Adventists have “proved” this one and they have it right about the seventh day Sabbath — well, “think again” and consider the source and  their presuppositions.

Old Testament Saints and the Holy Spirit

October 27, 2014 13 comments

From basic dispensational teaching I heard that — per John 7:39 and later references to Christ sending the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) – Old Testament saints were regenerated but did not have the permanent indwelling Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit only came upon them from time to time, for special empowerment, whereas we now have the permanent indwelling.  Yet I wondered about it, as something that didn’t make sense: how could people be regenerated and yet NOT have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? In daily Bible reading of the Old  Testament, we come across so many descriptions of believers who have “a different spirit” and a relationship to God in so many ways like ours.  John 3 tells us that OT believers were regenerated, as this was something that Nicodemus was expected to already know as a present reality, and Luke 1 and 2 (the birth narrative) include many references to godly people and the Holy Spirit present in their lives, before Christ’s birth.

As I’ve recently learned, the Protestant/Reformed understanding is that OT saints had the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the same salvific relationship to God (their understanding on the hope of what God would accomplish; and Christ’s work on the cross is applied to those who lived before Calvary).

The following posts from David Murray’s blog address this very question, of the difference between the Old and New Testament indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Regarding the original idea above (OT believers regenerated but didn’t have the indwelling Holy Spirit) I especially appreciate his point in the first post, that if Old Testament ‘believers’ believed by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit but kept believing without the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, then Old Testament believers were not as depraved as we are, as they did not need the ongoing indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. (And in some ways, this debate really is a debate about the nature of human depravity in the Old Testament. Could anything less or other than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit keep a believer believing, repenting, hoping, obeying, etc?)

I also find helpful the analogy of the sponge with a water dropper, versus a sponge with a pressure washer. The difference in the Holy Spirit experience of OT and NT believers is one of degree and extent, not of quality or type. The OT believers had a small amount to sustain them in their personal lives, but after Pentecost the Holy Spirit flows out in excess, giving believers greater joy that overflowed and led to great missionary zeal and desire to share the gospel with unbelievers – and the amazing (humanly speaking) spread of the gospel during the 1st century and beyond.  As shown in the many quotes in the last post linked above, many commentators throughout history, as far back as Augustine and including also the Reformers as well as 19th century preachers including J.C. Ryle, have affirmed this as well, that OT believers did have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the difference between then and our age post-Pentecost is one of degree and extent.

As a side note here, I find it interesting that this same difference of degree between the OT and NT — of the great spread of the gospel in the NT – is said by amillennialists to be the result of a supposed “binding of Satan” allowing the gospel to spread unhindered. Yet as premillennialists have pointed out, what really hinders or allows the spread of the gospel is the Holy Spirit – as evidenced in the book of Acts, where the Holy Spirit did not allow Paul to travel east to Asia or Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). Understanding the difference between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Old and New Testament times (the water dropper versus the pressure washer) fits the biblical data much better, both in relating to the OT saints continually sustained by God and His presence, as well as the results of the great spread of the gospel that began at Pentecost.

Nathaniel West on Postmillennialism’s Creative History

October 21, 2014 1 comment

An idea which really did not take hold until the early 1700s, which in earlier years was referred to as “Whitbyism” for its originator, post-millennialism – a doctrine of peace-time that departed for awhile after World War I — is again returning to favor among at least some people. The current version includes a new idea of “redeeming culture” by reconstruction and revision of history, as demonstrated in Fred Butler’s recent blog posts; see “Christmas in the hands of reconstructionists.”  It seems also that the 21st century postmillennialists do not know the history of their doctrine and all the earlier ideas suggested to “date” the pre-Second-Coming millennium and/or explain how we are now in that millennium.

Historic premillennialist Nathaniel West, writing at the close of the 19th century, gave sharp and strong critique to the idea itself, both in its various forms and its false hermeneutics. West’s “The Thousand Year Reign of Christ” is a very in-depth work, not for the casual reader, with many chapters and details regarding all of scripture and the thousand year kingdom. The first part of the full “The Thousand Year Reign of Christ,” “The Thousand Years in Both Testaments,” is available in electronic format here, but much of the print book is unfortunately not available in e-book format. One of these later chapters includes an interesting section detailing why the 1000 years mentioned in scripture are not merely symbolic, but are a true measure of real and historic time still future. In West’s day (1899, 15 years before World War I began), postmillennialism was in vogue, and so West primarily interacted with that, as well as the overall idea of the millennium somehow existing during history BEFORE Christ’s return.

Past “Dating” Attempts of this Millennium, and a few excerpts from West’s commentary:

  • It Began At The First Advent, and Represents the Whole Church Age

This was the view of Augustine, Euseubius, Jerome and the State-Church after the martyr age, continuing into the Medieval Church.

The absurdity of this view is seen in that it makes the Millennial reign on earth, which begins with our Lord’s return, to be that of His Sojourn in Heaven, a Millennium during which the bodies of God’s saints are still under the empire of death, and the “Times of the Gentiles” are still running on; times of affliction and woe, and God-opposed world-power! … The Apostasy is still deepening, the tares yet ripening among the wheat. Antichrist is still undestroyed, the Nations, as Nations, are still raging, the whole tide of church-corruption, a false philosophy, false science, swelling to its height; a millennium of boundless ambition, avarice, and lust of military conquest in the name of religion and missions … a millennium begun by devoting the Apostles to the axe, Christians to the lions and the flame, and sending John to Patmos, as a prisoner for the truth and testimony of Jesus, to write his great Apocalypse!

  • It Began With Constantine, A.D. 312

It is not necessary to dwell on the fact that post millennialism dates the 1000 years from Pentecost, from the Destruction of Jerusalem A.D. 70, and from the Death of each individual believer! … Plainly, it was too much to be long believed, that 300 years of bloody persecution and pagan torture of God’s saints should belong to the Millennial age of righteousness and peace, and “war no more.” Accordingly, the commencing date, the a quo, of the 1000 years, was advanced 300 years along the line of history, so excluding the martyr period. … It is essentially the Augustinian view, and amenable to the same objection.

  • It Started with Charlemagne, A.D. 800 (the invention of Hengstenberg)

The Beast, or Antichrist, is not the Pope, but God-opposed Heathenism and Barbarism, not to be destroyed under judgment, at the personal appearing of Christ, but gradually converted and peacefully overthrown by the preaching of the gospel. … The 1000 years, therefore, began Christmas, A.D. 800, when Pope Leo III imposed the crown on the head of Charlemagne as the true successor of the Christian Caesars, and revived the “Holy Roman Empire.” That was considered a great piece of work in those days, although it required the lapse of the whole millennial age before Hengstenberg rose to let the world know how great it was! The Nations had never dreamed that Satan was chained! The Turk was not aware of it!.. But nevertheless, the Devil was bound, Christmas A.D. 800, and remained in Pit until A.D. 1789, when loosed from his chain, he came forth and began his old arts in the French Revolution, and the Wars that followed. … modifying this view, Keil, the last great representative of Hengstenberg, goes back to the Constantine date, and holds that “so long as the State-Religion exists, the 1000 years exist,” which, of course, rules out the United States, where Church and State are independent, from all share in the glories of the Millennial age!

  •  “Future Pre-Advent Millennialism” – the common postmillennial view of our day, that “the 1000 years date from somewhere, indefinitely,–in the future, i.e., from some unknown point 1000 years next preceding the Second Advent … which may be either, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, or 365,000, according to the uncertainties, or necessities, of the case. This one shows us future pre-advent millennialism.” From the several pages of commentary regarding this idea, a few excerpts.

 Enormous in pretention, as unfathomable in the mystery of its way, it yet, while decking itself with the garments of a world-harlotry, proposes to itself a plan and a purpose which, already, the mouth of God has declared to be false. All the social and moral plague-spots, oppressions, and crimes, national, and international, which 1800 years of advancing Christian endeavor have been powerless to avert, and with all its revivals powerless to extirpate, our “Civilization”; and all the darkness and pollution of the degenerate human heart, ever the same from generation to generation in the birth of every individual, the millions multiplying by an increase that outstrips even the progress of Christianity; and all the vice embedded in our “culture;” and all the wickedness of Heathendom, less wicked than Christendom; it proposes to remove by “a continuous process” of the same Christian and Church development which for 1800 years has shown itself utterly incompetent to achieve the task.

. . .

Alas! It is a deep falsehood; a beguiling “lie.” It is that “finer form of Chiliasm” which lauds the “Star-Spangled Banner, long may it wave!” and has taken possession, bodily, of what it calls our “American Christianity,” so unlike the Apostolic sort! It is the ordinary Millennialism of the spiritualizers, and of the pulpit, press, and platform, the millennialism ventilated in Church-Courts, Conventions, General Assemblies, Alliances and Associations, and framed in special sermons, addresses, reports, and resolutions, published for the health of the soul. Discussion of it, there is hardly any, for “prudential reasons.” It is that “fine Chiliasm,” false as fine, which, in common with the “coarse,” or “Jewish,” holds to a Millennium *before* the Advent and the Resurrection of the just; … a millennium sprung from Origen, a Universalist, perpetuated by Rome all Arminian, fathered by Whitby, a Socinian, and adopted by many godly and scholarly Protestants, who, mistaking error for exegesis, spiritualize all the prophecies concerning Israel, or end them in Maccabean, or early Roman times; a millennium without Christ to introduce it by judgment and deliverance; a millennium of saints in the flesh, and of the holy still in the grave … Not a solitary text of scripture is produced in its support, though challenged a hundred times, except “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” It rests on a mistaken view of the purpose of God, and of the promise of the Spirit, violates every principle of exegesis, depends for its success upon the ignorance of its hearers, and the daring of its preachers, and is one of the chief stimuli in mass-meetings for prayer, where the leader, watch in one hand, gavel in the other, times the action of God’s Spirit, calling for petitions “two minutes prompt,” “short and to the point,” “next meeting this evening seven sharp!”

Horatius Bonar: God’s Way of Peace and Way of Holiness

October 16, 2014 3 comments

In my studies of the classic premillennialists, I continue to read the covenantal premillennial authors, including their many works on other doctrinal topics. Lately I have been reading several of Horatius Bonar’s books, available online as well as in audio book format (available through sermon audio). Bonar’s “God’s Way of Peace” and “God’s Way of Holiness” are interesting, fairly easy to read and in a conversational, question and answer style, with evangelistic zeal to seekers interested in the Christian faith.

God’s Way of Peace addresses salvation and justification, and here Bonar addresses more subtle errors of thought, such as focusing on the “thought” of our salvation and faith rather than the faith itself; and the error that we must love God purely for who He is rather than the “lower” selfish motive of what He has done for us.

It is not wrong to love God for what He has done for us. Not to do so, would be the very baseness of ingratitude. To love God purely for what He is, is by some spoken of as the highest kind of love, into which enters no element of self. It is not so. For in that case, you are actuated by the pleasure of loving; and this pleasure of loving an infinitely lovable and glorious Being, of necessity introduces self. Besides, to say that we are to love God solely for what He is, and not for what he Has done, is to make ingratitude an essential element of pure love. David’s love showed itself in not forgetting God’s benefits. But this ‘pure love’ soars beyond David’s and finds it a duty to be unthankful, lest perchance some selfish element mingle itself with its superhuman, super-angelic purity.

Here I also see a response to an attitude that Bonar’s contemporary, Charles Spurgeon, also noted (see this previous post): the idea that our coming to God requires some level of “fitness,” some level of repentance and feeling.

I find that the apostles shut up their hearers to immediate faith and repentance, bringing them face to face with the great object of faith, and commanding them in the name of the living God to believe, just as Jesus commanded the man with the withered arm to stretch out his hand. … The Lord did not give him any directions as to a preliminary work, or preparatory efforts, and struggles, and using of means. These are man’s attempts to bridge over the great gulf by human appliances; man’s ways of evading the awful question of his own utter impotence; man’s unscriptural devices for sliding out of inability into ability, out of unbelief into faith; man’s plan for helping God to save him; man’s self-made ladder for climbing up a little way out of the horrible pit, in the hope that God will so commiserate his earnest struggles as to do all the rest that is needed. Now God has commanded all men everywhere to repent; but he has nowhere given us any directions for obtaining repentance. God has commanded sinners to believe, but has not prescribed for them any preparatory steps or process by means of which he may be induced to give them something which he is not from the first most willing to do.

God’s Way of Holiness  looks at sanctification, including emphasis on studying God’s word and recognizing the difference between morality and the way to Christ:

 Is it the case that the sinner cannot be trusted with the gospel? In one sense this is true. He cannot be trusted with anything. He abuses everything. He turns everything to bad account. He makes everything the minister of sin. But if he cannot be trusted with the gospel, can he be trusted with the Law’? If he cannot be trusted with grace, can he be trusted with righteousness? He cannot be trusted with an immediate pardon; can he be trusted with a tardy one? He cannot be trusted with faith; can he be trusted with doubt? He cannot be trusted with peace; can he be trusted with gloom and trouble? He cannot be trusted with assurance; can he be trusted with suspense, and will uncertainty do for him what certainty cannot? That which he can, after all, best be trusted with, is the gospel. He has abused it, he may abuse it, but he is less likely to abuse it than anything else.

Bonar’s view is Reformed/Covenantal regarding the Moral Law, emphasizing the unity of the law in the Old and New Testament, and the difference between love and law, complete with many quotes from Calvin, Luther and others. Here Bonar appears to be addressing some type of antinomianism (it’s not clear exactly from where this teaching was coming), yet showing again the timelessness of Christian truth and that in every age the issues of sanctification, grace, and law must be explained.

 We do not undervalue love because we say a man is not justified by love, but by faith. We do not discourage prayer, because we preach that a man is not justified by prayer, but by faith. When we say that believing is not working, but a ceasing from work, we do not mean that the believing man is not to work; but that he is not to work for pardon, but to take it freely; and that he is to believe before he works, for works done before believing are not pleasing to God.

 

These are the commandments of the Holy Ghost, and they are law just as truly as that which was proclaimed in Horeb amid fire and darkness. And the true question with us (as we have seen) is not whether we are to obey this law or that law, but any law at all. If obedience to apostolic law be not legalism, then neither is obedience to the moral law; and if our oneness with Christ exempts or disjoins us from the moral law, it exempts and disjoins us from all law whatsoever, for everything in the shape of law, or precept, or commandment, contained in Scripture, is from the one Spirit of God, whether in the book of Exodus or the epistle to the Romans. …

 

Of angels this is said to be the highest felicity, that ‘they do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word’ (Psa 103:20); just as of those from whom the Lord has removed transgression as far as the east is from the west, it is said that ‘they remember His commandments to do them’ (Psa 103:12,18). But if this theory of the total disjunction of the law from believers be true, then angels must be in bondage, and they also to whom Paul refers as specimens of the blessed men whose transgressions are forgiven by the imputation of “righteousness without works” (Rom 4:6).

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