The Book of Nature and Its Proper Use

April 22, 2016 1 comment

In my reading of Spurgeon recently, I was reminded of something I briefly blogged on a few years ago: the idea of “two books” from God, one of which is the “book of nature.”

I first heard the term “two books” a few years ago in an online discussion with an old-earth creationist (in a dispensationalist group) – and later posted an excerpt from Dr. Jason Lisle (in Institute for Creation Research’s Acts & Facts magazine) that responds to this error, of trying to claim the “book of nature” for proof of an old earth:

It is not something that is comprised of statements in human language. It is not something that a person can literally read or interpret in the same way that we interpret a sentence. … The advantage of a book is that it is comprised of clear statements in human language that are designed to be understood by the reader. The meaning of a book is the intention of the author. But that’s not the case with nature. What does a rock mean? What does a fossil mean? They don’t literally mean anything because they are not statements made by an author who is intending to convey an idea. …. a record is an account in writing that preserves the knowledge of facts or events. Rocks and fossils are not in the written form and are, therefore, not a record. … the primary purpose of nature is not to teach, but to function. Consequently, the world is not comprised of statements that are easy to understand. Moreover, nature is cursed due to sin. Therefore, God gave us a clear, inerrant account of the major events of history in writing so that we can begin to properly understand nature.

Charles Spurgeon’s sermon #633 (from the 1865 volume, no specific date) comes a much earlier reference to “two books” of which one is the book of nature.  Characteristic of Spurgeon, this usage of the term is quite different from the modern thinking regarding creation science and evidences for age in what we see around us.  Here is a great summary of how the book of nature should be thought of – looking at God’s attributes as seen in the world around us, what man knows but suppresses (Romans 1), the general revelation about the God who specially reveals Himself in His word:

if you ask me how I know it is God’s Word, I can take you in vision to Nineveh. See the excavated cities and palaces, the winged bulls and lions buried in the rubbish—all which tell us that that Book which spoke of them, before they were discovered, must have a high antiquity. And the volume which, written in the times of their glory, yet told of their tremendous fall, must have had an inspiration in it not belonging to common books.

The best proof of this inspiration is, perhaps, to be found in this—that we know that God wrote another book, the book of nature, and as the two works of one author are quite sure to exhibit some common points in which you may find out the author’s idioms, so every student of nature and revelation has been able to say that the two volumes bear marks of the same writer. And the more they have studied both books, the more they have said, “We find the same God in the one as in the other.” The God of nature is kind and good, and so is the God of revelation. The God of nature is the terrible God of the avalanche and thunderbolt, the tempest and the whirlwind; and the God of this Book is terrible out of His holy place when He comes to judge the sons of men. We find that the very same official approval which is set upon the book of nature is also stamped upon the Book of God. We would be glad, therefore, if you could believe this, and believing this you would soon, “Come and see,” for mark you, the best way of knowing about Christ is to try Him, to experience Him, and since you want to know if He can forgive sins, trust Him to forgive yours.

The Law: Seven Different New Testament Uses/Meanings

April 19, 2016 1 comment

Continuing through the 1689 Exposition series, in chapter 19 on the Law of God, comes this lesson: a look at the different ways in which the word “law” is used in the New Testament.  Our English words can have various meanings depending on the context (as for example the word “set,” many different meanings); a look at New Testament scriptures shows seven different uses/meanings of “law.”

  1. To refer to all of the scriptures (which at that time was the OT). Here, consider John 10:34 —   Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? – Yet He quotes from a Psalm.  Also Romans 3:10-21:  quotations of numerous Old Testament scriptures, including several from the Psalms; then Paul refers back to these quotes:  Now we know that whatever the law says.  Both Christ and Paul in these texts are using the term law in its broadest sense, all of scripture.
  2. To refer to the Pentateuch (the books of Moses, which are not all actual laws), as seen in wording of “the Law and the Prophets.” Examples here include Luke 24:44 and Romans 3:21.
  3. To refer to the time period of the Old Covenant, the whole Mosaic economy. Examples here include Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3 – note Galatians 3:17-24, and references to “the law” as that time period when the law was a guardian.
  4. Referring to the ceremonial / sacrificial law: Hebrews 10:1   “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come”
  5. As the penalty of the law – similar to how we refer to a fugitive, that “the law is after him,” or “his is running from the law.” Romans 6 includes this use of the law.  Per Romans 6:14 we are “not under law but under grace.”  But as 1 John says, sin is lawlessness.  Paul is not saying we are not “under law” in any sense, that we are lawless.  The context of Romans 6 is the penalty of the law.
  6. The word “law” as a rule, principle, or an axiom. Romans 7 contains multiple meanings of law, and in some of these verses “law” is an axiom.  Consider Romans 7:21-23:  in verse 21, “So I find it to be a law” (a principle or axiom), and again in verse 23, “but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind.”
  7. To refer to the moral law, the Decalogue. This is seen in passages which cite one or more of the moral laws, as in Romans 3:19-21:  Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  Other references to the law as the moral law:  Romans 7:22 (I delight in the law of God, in my inner being), also Romans 7:7-14 (reference to the commandment about not coveting), Romans 13:8-10, and Ephesians 6:1-4.

Study: The Christian and the Moral Law

April 12, 2016 25 comments

The topic of the Law of God and its relationship to the Christian has come up frequently in my recent studies and daily life. Currently in the 1689 Confession Exposition series I’m in chapter 19, the Law of God, and now in the sixth commandment section of the “Ten Commandments” study from Tom Chantry.

Since last week, the blogosphere has been reacting to Stephen Furtick’s recent claim that “God broke the law for love.”  For reference here, I find Tom Chantry’s post the most helpful in response to the overall evangelical celebrity scandal issue.  His post includes links to several other responses, including the most helpful for the issue as this one from the “Mortification of Spin” blog, as well as Tim Challies’ response.

As I continue through the lessons in both the 1689 Confession and Ten Commandments series, studying various aspects in some detail, I am especially struck by the shallow and superficial (and just plain wrong) arguments and rhetoric of the New Calvinist / New Covenant Theology group, with its anti-Reformed view of the law.  As just a few examples, from a recent local-church NCT conference and some anti-Tim Challies / anti-covenant theology comments at a blog post:  1) rejection of any type of covenant made with Adam in Genesis 2, because “I don’t see the word covenant there” (really? is the word “Trinity” ever found in the Bible?), 2) dislike of Covenant Theology as “those baby baptizers” (will you ever consider that CT includes a credobaptist version, and decide to meaningfully interact with THAT form of CT?  No, it’s easier to resort to name-calling and broad-brushing about how CT is wrong because they’re baby baptizers…), and 3) the stated claim that the moral law was something that started (and ended) with Moses, and thus the only moral law for Christians is what is stated in the New Testament.

As just an aside on point #3:  I find this hermeneutic, that something can only be true for us in the NT era if it’s explicitly stated or “confirmed” in the New Testament, quite frankly, bizarre.  On the question of premillennialism and Israel’s future, dispensationalists (as well as classic/historic premillennialists) recognize the problem with this NT-priority hermeneutic and its implications: a God who changed His plan and changed His promises and His revelation, such that Old Testament believers did not have the same understanding of scripture as we do.  My problem with the NCT group is doubly-compounded in that they get both parts wrong: they apply the NT-only hermeneutic to the moral law (in agreement with dispensationalism) AND apply the NT-only hermeneutic to the question of Israel, rejecting anything of God’s future plans for Israel.  At least dispensationalists get half of it right; and confessional/CT amillennialists get the other half, about the moral law, correct.

Anyway… here are some interesting points from my studies on this topic:  scriptural considerations for why the Ten Commandments are different from the rest of the Mosaic law.

  1. The Ten Commandments were introduced before the rest of the law. They were given directly from God, literally inscribed by God onto the tablets.  These two tablets alone were placed into the Ark of the Covenant.  The civil and ceremonial laws were not put in the Ark.
  1. The summary content of the Ten Commandments is found in existence prior to Moses, going all the way back to creation.  The creation ordinances contain, at least implied, the basics of God’s moral law.  Marriage as a creation ordinance relates to the 7th commandment (adultery and other sexual sins), as well as the 8th commandment (not to steal another man’s wife) and the 10th commandment to not covet your neighbor’s wife.  Dominion over the earth pertains to the 5th commandment: God’s authority and our authority structure, in families and all of life’s social structures.  The seven day week pattern establishes the matter of a time for worship, which is the essence of the 4th commandment; and implied in the 4th commandment, of the schedule/time for worship, are the first three commandments about Who we are to worship, how to worship Him, and with what attitude.  The other part of the 4th commandment, the six days of labor, was also in place in the garden.  Adam was there to work the garden.  The part about working “by the sweat of the brow” was added after the fall, but work itself began before that.  Related to the labor part of the 4th commandment, comes the 8th commandment again:  work to provide your daily needs, and do not steal.  The 6th commandment is specifically referenced in Genesis 9, in God’s covenant with Noah after the flood, with the institution of capital punishment for murder.
  1. God’s moral law, as codified/summarized in the Decalogue, was always concerned about the heart. It was never just about the mere letter of the law.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was not adding anything to that law, but was expositing and restoring the understanding of the law back to what it had always been–away from the Pharisees’ mistaken notion of an external compliance only.

Note here:  when the Israelites had so apostasized that God ejected them from the land, as described in the later prophets including Jeremiah and Ezekiel, it was their violation of the moral law (what is summarized/codified in the Ten Commandments) that angered God.  In fact, the Israelites in the time of Jeremiah (and even earlier, Isaiah’s day also)  were fully complying with the ceremonial law—in outward form.  It was their outward performance of the ceremonial law, without having the right heart attitude, that was the problem.

This point can also be seen in the Pentateuch, in God’s application of the moral law to the Israelites and their civil law.   Immediately after the giving of the Decalogue in Exodus 20, comes Exodus 21 with an interesting, detailed section of laws for Israel’s government.  Exodus 21:12-36 contains specific laws regarding cases where one person  is killed by another – application of the sixth commandment —  and distinction is made between killings done where the one person meant harm to the other, versus truly accidental deaths, including the provision of the cities of refuge which a person who had killed another could flee to—before the avenger of blood killed the man, and for the priest to judge the situation.  Understood throughout this section is that Israel would need a system of courts and judges, and that they would need to be able to investigate a crime and its circumstances.  This investigation would need to involve considering motives:  the motives and thoughts of the person who had killed another, as this is necessary information for determining if a death was accidental, or a case of what we would call 1st or 2nd degree murder.

The above is but a sampling, of scriptural issues to consider regarding the question of the moral law: what it was in the Old Testament era, and why it is God’s unchanging moral law from creation–and not something “only for Israel and the Mosaic administration” and thus no longer relevant to Christians in the New Testament age.

More next time:  the different usages/meanings of the term “law” in the New Testament.

 

Biblical Meditation, and God our Solid Rock and Ground

April 1, 2016 3 comments

Earlier this year in the 1689 Confession study I looked at the topic of Christian meditation (as related to chapter 13 of the confession, Sanctification)—and a recommended Puritan work on the topic, Thomas Watson’s “A Christian on the Mount,”  available from Gracegems here.

For a modern-day summary of biblical meditation, present-day author Michael P.V. Barrett, in the book I’m reading through, observes:

The word meditate has the idea of being consumed or preoccupied with something.  The blessed man just cannot get the law out of his mind.  .. Whereas worldly meditation seeks to empty the mind of everything, biblical meditation seeks to fill the mind with the word of God.  According to that biblical definition, there is precious little meditation in the average Christian’s life.  … Devotions sadly consist of little more than a few verses before leaving home at the beginning of a busy day or a few verses before going to bed after a busy day.  There is just so much to do, and we feel guilty if we are not busy doing. … Very simply, meditating is thinking, and here is the proverbial rub.  Thinking takes time; thinking is work.  But thinking time is not wasted time.

Watson (as always) has some great quotes about what meditation is:

The memory is the chest or cupboard to lock up a truth, meditation is the palate to feed on it. The memory is like the ark in which the manna was laid up, meditation is like Israel’s eating of manna.

And, for one meditation topic (what he called the category of Occasional, sudden occasions):

When you look up to the heavens, and see them richly embroidered with light, you may raise this meditation. If the footstool is so glorious, what is the throne where God himself sits! When you see the skies bespangled with stars, think, what is Christ The Bright Morning Star!  Monica, Augustine’s mother, standing one day, and seeing the sun shine, raised this meditation, ‘Oh! if the sun is so bright, what is the light of God’s presence?’

The “deliberate meditations” (Watson’s term) — in terms of finding a regular time each day for meditation/devotionals; and, per Hodgins’ (1689 series) suggestion, of finding a specific text or idea to meditate on and stay on that one idea throughout the day – haven’t worked out so well for me lately – the busy-ness of daily life does often get in the way, as Barrett observed.  Yet I have found certain ideas to frequently think upon in recent days: to be content with life’s situation and trusting in God’s providence, recognizing God as the First Cause of everything.

For nearly a month now, since returning from a week-long cruise, I continue to feel what is sometimes called “sea legs,” the sense of still being on a boat, the ground unsteady and moving.  Per material available online, this is the Mal De Debarquement syndrome, which affects some people for months and sometimes even years.  It often starts immediately after a cruise or other motion experience; per the description at this website I’m at the 3-4 severity level (thankfully, sometimes down to the 1-2 level).  In the midst of this ongoing feeling of movement, what often comes to mind are scriptures about God as our solid Rock, our solid ground, and the great events that will come to pass on this earth at Christ’s Return (reference Hebrews 12:26-29 about the removal of things that are shaken; also 2 Peter 3:10-13).

Even the sense of standing on solid ground on this planet, as we go about our daily life, can be taken away.  Regardless of what the brain and/or inner ear recognizes about our sense of balance and the world around us, this world and this creation is temporary and passing, and our hope and trust must be in God, the only solid ground, the One who will shake this world and remove everything that can be shaken (“things that have been made”), as we look forward to the coming Kingdom, that which cannot be shaken, and all the promises, our great inheritance and blessed hope.

 

Current Views About Charles Spurgeon

March 25, 2016 Leave a comment

Spurgeon is of course well known as one of the great Reformed/Puritan-style preachers that still has influence today, and his name frequently comes up in theological discussions.  Seemingly every position wants to claim him as one of theirs—even Arminians like him; the Seventh Day Adventists cite Spurgeon for “support” from his use of types regarding Jesus and the archangel Michael; and amillennialists/postmillennialists to this day want to have Spurgeon on their side (he was historic premillennial, of the classic type with future restoration of Israel, as well documented in Dennis Swanson’s essay here) or at least claim that Spurgeon was inconsistent and “optimistic like a postmill.”

Those well-studied in Spurgeon – his preaching, writing, and overall life – recognize that even Spurgeon was not perfect; he had his weaknesses.  Arden Hodgins, in one of the 1689 Confession series lectures, observed that Spurgeon so over-worked himself and neglected his own physical health—(from the human perspective) had he not neglected his own health, he would have lived longer, for more years or service.  I can certainly see some validity in that observation, having read for myself places where Spurgeon – still in his late 20s – was so focused on doing God’s work that he disdained the idea of even any time on the Sabbath being put to simple physical rest; he must be busy doing the Lord’s work on that day as well, to not allow any time to go to waste.

Similarly, Tom Chantry, in a blog series dealing with one of the points in the 1689 London Baptist Confession, addressed Spurgeon’s weaknesses and limitations—in response to others who brought Spurgeon into the discussion of Divine Impassibility.  Examining Spurgeon’s contradictory statements at two different points of his life, Chantry well observed the following regarding Spurgeon:

Yet knowing that no man is perfect, we know on some level he must be worthy of criticism. He rejected consecutive exposition, choosing instead to preach on random verses each Sunday. His sermon preparation was no model for young preachers, relying on his copious memory and prodigious talents rather than on careful, disciplined labor. As a result, probably, of both of the above, he occasionally dabbled in fanciful exegesis; read through Morning and Evening and see if you don’t repeatedly come to entries of which you say, “That cannot be what that text means!”…
… Spurgeon had certain disadvantages in his use of the Confession. He did not live in the London of the 17th century, when men from many congregations gathered to discuss the doctrines found in the confession. He did not even live in our day, when a resurgence of confessionalism has led to similar discussions. Instead, he labored more or less alone. It is hard to imagine who could have been Spurgeon’s peer, given his unique influence. He had many disciples, but few teachers. On the other hand, he observed the collapse of Baptist doctrine during his own lifetime. By the time he was called home, the Baptist movement was a ruin of its former self.

While reading one of Spurgeon’s sermons this last Lord’s Day (sermon #626, The Waterer Watered, from April 1865), I was reminded of another type of Spurgeon-criticism I observed a few months ago in a pastor’s sermon remarks.  I say “another type of criticism” because the comments simply do not ring true–comments which instead indicate very superficial and incorrect understanding regarding this subject (Spurgeon and his ministry).  This false criticism was the idea that “Spurgeon was such a genius,” and everyone just loved to hear him, and because he was so gifted, so extraordinary, thus Spurgeon was the cause for the idea that “everything centers on the preacher” instead of recognizing that all of the people in the church need to do their part.

That people by nature do tend to focus on the church leader, of course did not begin with Spurgeon.  Yet Spurgeon’s own view was quite the contrary, and he frequently exhorted his people to action and praised them for the work they were already doing: the Sunday School teachers and other laborers at the church, as well as their outreach in the community.  He fully recognized that the success of his church was due not only to himself, but to the work of many others there with him, including the many young men raised up to plant other churches.  The people in attendance at Spurgeon’s church likewise would not have believed such–as evidenced from Spurgeon’s own words to his congregation, about the great outreach done by people at his church.  Sermon #626 is not the first one in which Spurgeon spoke of this, but here are excerpts from this sermon, words specifically directed to the people at his church:

Now, dear friends, up to this time the policy which we have pursued has been this—if members of other churches want to know, we tell them, we have endeavored to water others. Your minister has journeyed all over the three kingdoms preaching the word, and you have not grumbled at his absence. We have undertaken many enterprises for Christ; we hope to undertake a great many more. We have never hindered our strength; we have undertaken enterprises that were enough to exhaust us, to which, by God’s grace, we became accustomed in due season, and then we have gone on to something more. We have never sought to hinder the planting of other churches from our midst or in our neighborhood. It is with cheerfulness that we dismiss our twelves, our twenties, our fifties, to form other churches. We encourage our members to leave us to found other churches—no—we seek to persuade them to do it! We ask them to scatter throughout the land to become the goodly seed which God shall bless. I believe that as long as we do this, we shall prosper. I have marked other churches that have adopted the other way, and they have not succeeded.  This is what I have heard from some ministers—“I do not encourage village stations or, if I do, I do not encourage their becoming distinct churches and breaking bread together. I do not encourage too many young men going out to preach, for to have a knot of people who can preach a little, may, very soon cause dissatisfaction with my own preaching.” . . .

While I speak thus much in your praise, my brethren, let me say, we must keep this up. We must not say, “We have the college to support, and we do as much as other churches for various societies, and we can be content to sit still.” This church will begin to go rotten at the core the moment we are not working for God with might and main. Sometimes I get a pull at my coattail by very kind, judicious friends, who think I shall ask you to do too much. My brethren are welcome to pull my coattail, but it will come off before I shall stand back for a moment!

So let us continue to appreciate Spurgeon and his remarkable insights–while recognizing that he did have faults.  Yet we should understand his actual weaknesses–instead of superficial, incorrect ideas which miss the real story regarding Spurgeon.

 

 

 

Covenantal Premillennialism: Author Michael P.V. Barrett

March 15, 2016 1 comment

I’m now back from vacation earlier this month and mostly caught up on normal, everyday life, and starting to return to the normal study routine. I haven’t had much time for the blog — now starting back to it.

I am enjoying the kindle book (half-way through) of Michael P.V. Barrett’s “Beginning at Moses: A Guide to Finding Christ in the Old Testament” (available on Kindle for 99 cents here). It’s written at a layperson level, and a lot of it is basic content about looking at the attributes of God and what to look for in the OT in reference to Christ – written by a covenantal premillennialist who affirms the future wide-scale salvation of ethnic Israel at Christ’s Return.  Among current-day authors this is quite rare – many current-day HPs are non-covenantal, often of the NCT or progressive covenantal variety, and/or of the one-text Rev. 20 view; and many see nothing for future Israel. Most of today’s CT proponents are amillennial/postmillennial, again with no future restoration of Israel. Barrett comes from a dispensational background–former professor at Bob Jones University, now at Puritan Reformed Seminary—so arriving at the historic/classic premillennial view from a different background than the standard Reformed teacher.

Contrary to what some dispensationalists may think (in a knee-jerk reaction to the title, Finding Christ in the Old Testament), this author does not get into allegorical teaching about how we can “spiritualize” the Old Testament to find Christ in “every verse.” The book description even states that we don’t find Christ in every verse. Instead, this author presents various attributes of Christ, including His roles as prophet, priest and king, including a good section on understanding the Old Testament references to the “Angel of the Lord” and the different features of the many theophanies and Christophanies throughout the Old Testament. The book also looks at the historical covenants (Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, and so on), as well as the prophecies about Christ’s First and Second Coming.

I like what I’ve read so far, and now have purchased another of Barrett’s 99 cent Kindle books — God’s Unfailing Purpose: The Message of Daniel. Amazon has several other books from Barrett, including one looking at the gospel in Hosea and another about the post-exilic era. A look at Sermon Audio also shows quite a few audio lectures available, including quite a few on the minor prophets.

 

The 4th (and all the other) Commandments, and the Conscience

February 19, 2016 1 comment

Continuing in Tom Chantry’s Ten Commandments series, comes the issue of how morality is defined (reference this lesson).  One of the arguments put forth by some who deny that the 4th commandment is moral, comes from the reasoning that our idea of what’s right and wrong must be innate, the things that we knew even in our pre-Christian life. After all, someone will say, “even as a lost man I knew that murder was wrong, that stealing and adultery are wrong; but I didn’t innately know the 4th commandment (of setting aside one day out of seven unto the Lord) – therefore, this commandment must not really be part of the moral law.” But is this really so?

In any society, children do not innately know that stealing or lying is wrong, or that it’s a good thing to share with others—these things must be taught. Furthermore: many adults today (in our society as well as elsewhere in the world) do not “innately” understand the 1st or 2nd commandments either – the fact that there is one God, and that we should not bow down to an idol. The tenth commandment (do not covet) is also often not innately understood. The conscience is a wonderful gift from God–that which can convict us of sin. But it alone, apart from revelation, cannot inform us of what is right or wrong. In unsaved people, the conscience becomes hardened as the truth is suppressed. As Hodgins noted in the 1689 Confession series regarding the conscience, we need to “gospelize” our conscience, to educate and correctly inform it regarding right and wrong; reference here also such passages as 1 Corinthians 8: someone can think that they are sinning when they eat meat that was sacrificed to idols.

As Chantry pointed out in this post from last year, Americans of a few generations ago DID have a sense of doing wrong and violating the 4th commandment. The children’s historical fiction story “Johnny Tremaine,” written in the mid-20th century, even includes this conscience regarding the 4th commandment, in the actual plot of a Revolutionary War story.

If your awareness of Christian practice goes back more than one generation, you’ll have to admit that the Sabbath once pricked the conscience of men. We are all familiar with the now-despised “blue laws” which prohibited certain activities on Sunday. Yes, America was once a place in which work on Sunday was not only uncommon, but illegal. Did such a practice have any relationship to the conscience?

If you haven’t read Johnny Tremain you really should; only rarely does children’s literature reach such heights. What is fascinating, though, is that Esther Forbes, an unbeliever writing in mid-20th century Boston, so clearly recognized that even the impious in her own city just two centuries before had known the pangs of conscience when they broke the Sabbath. She actually turned that guilt into a major plot device!

We also know well the myth of the noble savage, versus what primitive civilizations – without the influence of Christianity – are actually like. This further makes the point that our ideas of morality, what our conscience thinks of as right and wrong, actually come from our society and what we are taught. It is actually societal standards, and not our own general ideas, that provide the basic understanding of morality to unbelievers.

As Christians, then, we are not to look to our own conscience, what we “innately” realize about right and wrong, but to study the word of God.  Biblical morality is the morality set forth by revelation from God, what is contained in the word of God.

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