Dr. Alan Cairns, Historic Premillennialist

April 8, 2021 Leave a comment

A great resource I’ve recently become aware of, a Covenantal Historic Premillennialist, is the late Dr. Alan Cairns.  I had heard the name a few times, in connection with the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony (SGAT), and from online links and recommendations from a few others.  Dr. Cairns preached for 25 years at Faith Free Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC, before retiring in 2007, and then continued speaking at some annual conference events until as late as 2018.  

SermonAudio has a catalog of 6,390 sermons from Alan Cairns, content which is also available from the radio program / podcast ‘Let the Bible Speak Radio.’  

I’ve listened to a handful of messages from a few different series so far, and appreciate these sermons.  For premillennialism, this 5 part ‘The End Times’ series from an October 2011 conference is interesting.  Each SermonAudio page also includes a PDF file with outline notes of the content, such as this one in reference to the first lecture.  Cairns makes great points regarding many topics, looking at scripture texts including Daniel, Hosea, and other relevant scriptures, taking a futurist view regarding the unfulfilled prophecies and referencing some of the well-known SGAT resources such as B.W. Newton and S.P. Tregelles. 

In ‘The Millennium’ he briefly mentions his own view of Ezekiel 40-48, a particular sub-topic that has brought forth many different opinions even within historic premillennialism.  Some of the 19th century classic covenantal premillennialists saw these chapters as describing a future millennial church worship structure, such as Charles Spurgeon’s view — and I am here addressing only the issue of the temple structure itself, and not the question of the described animal sacrifices). However, Cairns took the idea I’ve heard from some amillennialists, that the temple was a description of what could be provided, conditionally upon Israel’s repentance; but that repentance did not happen, thus this temple was never built.  Personally, I do not find that idea satisfactory; but the overall material from Cairns is helpful and interesting.

Another series of interest is Millennial Milestones: six messages from the year 2000, with history highlights from the last thousand years, starting with an interesting history lesson from 11th century England, on down through the recent centuries.  In this series Cairns provided summary themes for these eras of time, such as describing the 17th century, with reference to the activities and events of the Pilgrims and the Puritans, both in the American colonies and in Britain, as “The Quest for Purity and Liberty.”  The lesson on the 20th century, Back to Babel, has a good summary of the modern ecumenical movement in its various forms, what Cairns saw — and this was over 20 years ago — as the boldest attempt yet to reverse God’s curse: the return to Babel, the great development of the ‘one world’ church movement with headship of the Roman Catholic Church.  “Watch the Jew” and “Watch Europe” are some key takeaways.

I’ve listened to a few other messages, such as a few on particular Psalms (including some of his series on Psalm 138), and a few messages on the later chapters in Luke’s gospel — part of his Life of Christ series, which included teaching on some but not all texts from Luke and the other gospels. From what I’ve listened to so far, I also appreciate Cairns for his depth of subject matter, including the experimental (he noted his dislike of the term ‘experiential,’ preferring “experimental”) focus of the Christian life, and his descriptions such as in his sermon about Jesus’ temptation, in the Garden of Gethsemane, by the devil, and the reality of demonic activity that affects believers.

So, as others have recommended Alan Cairns, I now add my recommendation as well, for this great resource for sermon listening.

Reflections on the Pandemic, and Signs of the Last Days

March 22, 2021 17 comments

What a year this has been.  It was a year ago, March 17, that I and co-workers first started working from home due to the pandemic lockdown, and we are still working from home for the foreseeable future.  As I reflect back on all the events of the last year, I frequently think of the term “apocalypse” in its broader, general meaning — as a “revealing,” and the revealing of the hearts and minds of people as a result of particular trials and afflictions, such as what the events of the last year have revealed.  

The people of Israel in Exodus 4:31 heard from Aaron and Moses, and believed them.  Yet one chapter later, in Exodus 5:21, the same people (a group within the overall group from Exodus 4:31) declared that the LORD should judge Moses and Aaron, for putting a sword in the Egyptians to kill them.  The different circumstance brought out a very different response. Likewise, in our day, the unusual events of the last year have been a revealing of people’s hearts under afflictions and difficulties.

A recent Wall Street journal article has considered how the pandemic has affected people — and the comments section at the Facebook posting also reveals the divide in the country and the experiences of many more.  A recent report from the Business Insider tells of at least a few cases where church pastors have left their congregations, due to radicalized conspiracy followers, and notes the high percentage of professing church-goers who hold to conspiracy ideas such as QAnon.  When fewer people returned to church services last summer and fall, it was speculated by those who were still attending (often at churches that considered face coverings optional) that the people at home viewing online would decide they preferred that instead of meeting in person.  Yet as noted in a recent survey, and observed locally, the vast majority, over 90%, do plan to return and already are returning to in person, now that a medical treatment, a vaccine, has become available.

A resource I’ve read from time to time over the last several years, the SGAT — the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony — has published a booklet, based on a set of sermons delivered on January 3, 2021, called “Where Are We In God’s Calendar?”  The booklet can be ordered online (I received it in the postal mail along with the latest two newsletters), and the original sermons, with some of the same content are online here, part 1 and part 2.  From the booklet comes this observation, regarding the signs of the times, and Christ’s Return:

Creeping Awareness

Is there not a creeping, growing awareness of things prophetic amongst a remnant?  …  Is there not a growing consciousness amongst true believers of the deepening apostasy, the universal rejection of God’s Word amongst those nations privileged for centuries to hear it proclaimed, and a recognising that, as never before, men are embracing everything that is unholy and ungodly?
There was a slow awakening to the wickedness of the World Council of Churches amongst evangelicals and likewise to the wicked departures of Billy Graham but light did finally dawn!
The darkness reigning over the nations is seen in that nothing seems to have been brought home to the multitude by this ‘Coronavirus’ plague.
Only a few have noted the ‘spirit’ of this day!
In the midst of the pandemic, the deaths and sicknesses, there has been little or no public reference to God.  Political leaders have purposely avoided any mention of Him altogether while the so-called ‘church leaders’ in the mainline churches have made such scant and irrelevant mention of Him, silence on their part would have been more beneficial!
Pulpits in evangelical assemblies are also largely silent on the matter, many with contempt dismissing the Covid virus as a mere ‘flu!
I believe that the events that are revealed by the opening of the first seal indicate the great need of this hour–a revealing of the approach of the Saviour’s return.
It is something for which we ought to be praying!  I will not be dogmatic about this but I think that what I say is worthy of some consideration.  If I am correct in suggesting that we are near to the opening of the first seal and the revealing and emphasising afresh to God’s people the great doctrine of the Saviour’s return in glory, then soon there will follow the events shown us here under the likeness of the opening of the pages of a book.  

God’s word tells us we should not be surprised, when we see ever deepening and widening apostasy, as we continue in these general “last days” and as we approach the days just before Christ’s return.  Just as the Jews of Jesus’ day were more focused on Christ’s Second Coming, His coming to rule and reign, so the NT church has focused mostly on His First Coming.  In Luke 18 Jesus observed, ‘when the Son of Man comes [His Return], will he find faith on earth?’  As I’ve been studying through the gospel of Luke, it is refreshing to read J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke, which has many great observations concerning our attitude toward Christ’s Return, and how we should be living, in light of this great truth. 
 
As indicated in texts such as Luke 18, also other accounts that describe even the people of God as “sleeping” and unaware and not looking for Christ’s Return, as the time lengthens and He has been gone for a long time — so it has unfolded in church history, that most are not looking to Christ’s Return in glory, nor thinking about the things that must take place before then.  It is said that dispensationalism has an imminent return of Christ, that He could return at any time, nothing has to take place before the ‘rapture of the church;’ the dispensationalist has some awareness of end times things that must occur, such as Israel back in the land — but tends to think that he/she will not be around to see all of these things that will take place.  The post-millennialists (a rare group nowadays, unlike the pre-World War I era) are looking for the world population to come to Christ, to become a Christianized world, a ‘golden age’ before Christ returns.  The amillennialist, and particularly the common form of preterist amillennialist, is the one with a strong “imminent” any-moment return of Christ, since in this view most of the “prophetic texts” have already happened, in the first century, and — in an odd way they have this much in common with dispensationalist — Christ can return at any moment: and even more so for them, no reason to look for the “general season” of things that will occur shortly before the Second Advent. 
 
Historic premillennialism, the view I hold to, affirms a non-imminent return, that certain things must take place before Christ’s Return:  at first, such things as Peter’s death prophesied, and the gospel going forth to other lands, and time to allow for prophecies indicating wars and rumors of wars; then, other “stage-setting” events that are implied in the descriptions of texts about the Lord’s return:  Israel regathered in unbelief, and a world with great technology such as we now see for our own eyes.
 
Among the prophetic texts are some lesser known passages that describe things that, if taken in their normal, plain language sense, could very reasonably occur in our day, with our 21st century technology.  For example, Revelation 11’s description of the two witnesses laying dead for 3 1/2 days and their bodies observed by people from all over the world, and the people of the world rejoicing and exchanging gifts with each other, all in the space of 3 1/2 days, could very well occur in today’s instant worldwide communication, a literal fulfillment that Horatius Bonar thought, based on 19th century technology, could not really mean 3 1/2 days.  Likewise, Revelation 13’s description of technology that limits people’s ability to transact business, is already occurring in some form, for some types of transactions, in China and possibly other totalitarian government countries.  It’s also interesting that at least some evangelical leaders are also realizing at least this much — such as a clear statement from Al Mohler in a podcast interview last fall, stating his belief that the technology exists today for the literal fulfillment of the biblical prophecies.
 
Another interesting thing I’ve observed recently in the overall culture:  people who do not even recognize and acknowledge anything of the providence of God, of “acts of God” events — such as weather storms or the spread of new diseases around the world.  As one example, the recent winter storm here in the American South, of a severity not seen in a lifetime, was actually considered by some TikTok users a “fake” storm perpetrated by the “powerful left” who somehow created something that looked like but wasn’t really snow.  The fact that some people actually ascribe such powers over the weather, or at least the ability to create a “fake” snowstorm — to mere man, rather than recognize what society has always understood as an “act of God,” is telling.  It appears that, more and more, our technological age has brought about what has been called the “social imaginary,” to the point where some are denying the reality of actual events that have occurred — a pandemic that has caused soaring hospitalization rates and higher than normal levels of death, and even severe winter storms — instead ascribing these to “fake” events caused by mere human political actors.
 
These are just some thoughts to consider, regarding the times we now live in.  In closing, a few selections from J.C. Ryle, from his Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke:
The disciples and all the Jews of our Lord’s time appear to have seen only one personal coming of the Messiah. They expected a Messiah who would come to reign, but not one who would come to suffer.
The majority of Christians, in like manner, appear to see only one personal coming. They believe that Christ came the first time to suffer. But they seem unable to understand that Christ is coming a second time to reign. Both parties have got hold of some of the truth, but neither, unfortunately, has embraced the whole truth. Both are more or less in error, and the Christian’s error is only second in importance to that of the Jew.
Also
It is well to know that He lived for us, and died for us, and rose again for us, and intercedes for us. But it is also well to know that He is soon coming again for us! … The course of this world shall not always go on as it does now. Disorder, confusion, false profession, and unpunished sin shall not always cover the face of the earth. … Let us wait patiently when we see wickedness triumphing in the earth. The time is short. There is One who sees and notes down all that the ungodly are doing!   
. . .
When the Lord Jesus left the world, He ascended up into heaven as a conqueror leading captivity captive. He is there sitting at the right hand of God, doing the work of the High Priest for His believing people, and ever making intercession for them. But He will not sit there always. He will come forth from the holy of holies to bless His people. He will come again with power and glory to put down every enemy under His feet, and to set up His universal kingdom on earth.
. . .
Jesus’ coming in person the first time to suffer, and Jesus coming in person the second time to reign are two landmarks of which we should never lose sight. We stand between the two. Let us believe that both are real and true.

Commentary on Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

February 11, 2021 Leave a comment

Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress has retained its popularity down through the ages, and even inspired a few commentary volumes (from Charles Spurgeon and others), illustrations, teaching series for adults and children, and even several movies. I recently read through all of Pilgrim’s Progress (both parts), along with an interesting commentary book, Lectures on the Pilgrim’s Progress and on the Life and Times of John Bunyan, a 19th century work by George B. Cheever.  I read the full Pilgrim’s Progress once, over 20 years ago as part of a Sunday evening church class series (on the first part), and had listened to Librivox’s free audio recording (again, of part 1) a few times, but this was the first time in many years to read the full book in print — and now, along with a full commentary.  Cheever’s book includes a section, almost half of the book, on John Bunyan’s life, a commentary on Bunyan’s autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.  Then Cheever continues with commentary on sections of Pilgrim’s Progress, in chronological sequence through part I, followed by one lecture on part II.

Cheever’s style takes some getting used to, but the content gets interesting after a while, particularly his discourse on each part of the story.  Pilgrim’s Progress is a book that ‘grows on you,’ with its depth of characters and depictions, the ‘layers’ of meaning, that I appreciate far more now than in my early Christian years.  After having been through more life difficulties myself, I appreciated the different characters, particularly identifying with some characters more so than others — a great gift from John Bunyan, why this book retains its popularity down through the ages, that every reader can find some characters they relate to.  For example, in part I Faithful tells Christian of his encounter with Shame [Christian himself met others but had not met Shame], a great passage with instruction on how to respond to shame’s temptations:

Faith. What? why, he [Shame] objected against religion itself. He said it was a pitiful, low, sneaking business for a man to mind religion. He said that a tender conscience was an unmanly thing; and that for a man to watch over his words and ways, so as to tie up himself from that liberty that the brave spirits of the times accustom themselves unto, would make him the ridicule of all the people in our time. He objected also, that but a few of the mighty, rich, or wise were ever of my opinion; nor any of them neither, before they were persuaded to be fools, to venture the loss of all for nobody else knows what. He, moreover, objected the base and low estate and condition of those that were chiefly the pilgrims of the times in which they lived; also their ignorance, and want of understanding in all worldly knowledge.  … … . But at last I began to consider that that which is highly esteemed among men is had in abomination with God. And I thought again, This Shame tells me what men are, but it tells me nothing what God, or the Word of God is. And I thought, moreover, that at the day of doom we shall not be doomed to death or life according to the spirits of the world, but according to the wisdom and law of the Highest. Therefore, thought I, what God says is best—is best, though all the men in the world are against it. Seeing, then, that God prefers His religion; seeing God prefers a tender conscience; seeing they that make themselves fools for the kingdom of heaven are wisest, and that the poor man that loves Christ is richer than the greatest man in the world that hates Him; Shame, depart! thou art an enemy to my salvation. Shall I listen to thee against my sovereign Lord? how, then, shall I look Him in the face at His coming? Should I now be ashamed of His way and servants how can I expect the blessing? 

It’s a commentary on many topics, from Christian’s experiences and other characters encountered.  Spiritual growth over time, one lesson brought out in scenes from Part 1, includes this insight from Cheever, about ‘Hill Difficulty’:

We see plainly that as a clear-sighted Christian looks back upon his own experience he sees himself in many aspects, and through the prism of his own nature he sees a thousand others; he sees through and through the motives, thoughts, feelings, veils, and hiding-places of every possible variety of the children of this world, because he has been one of them.  He sees some stopping with their characters in perfection at one stage of his own experience, and some at other stages; some more advanced towards the point where he himself really set out to be a Christian, and some less; but many he sees, through the perfect knowledge he has of his own past refuges of lies, evidently trusting in the same refuges; refuges where he himself would have stopped and died as a pretended Christian had not God had mercy on him.  On the other hand, a man of the world, a wicked man, an unconverted man cannot see beyond the line of his own experience; the things of the Christian are hidden from him, for he has never gone into them; it is a world unknown, a world hidden by a veil that he has never lifted, a region of blessedness, knowledge, and glory, where his feet have never wandered; a region of sweet fields and living streams and vast prospects, of which he knows nothing and can conceive nothing.  It is all like the unseen future to him.

Pilgrim’s Progress Part II is quite different, and tends to be neglected in comparison to the well-known first part.  Cheever’s lecture points out that the second part can be understood as the journey of many ordinary believers, as contrasted with that of the spiritual giants, the famous Christian teachers such as Bunyan himself.  At times, part II seemed harder for me to relate to,  as it portrays the women and children having a relatively easy life, and with good counsel and guidance all through their journey. Christiana’s four boys even grow up and all marry godly Christian women, the characters are doing works of charity, and all is pleasant with no great challenges.  As the commentary points out, this was Bunyan’s interest in affirming God’s positive purpose for marriage (in the Lord) and the local church.  As such, it reflects the experience of those who are given these blessings from God, strong marriages with godly partners, and solid local churches that rightly teach God’s word and have healthy leadership and communication.  Bunyan’s church era instead faced great persecution, which included his 12 years in prison, and possibly the churches of that era, the late 17th century, did not experience, or at least to as great an extent, the problems we are familiar with:  churches where great error is taught, and/or abuse of authority from the leadership. 

In the women and children characters, Pilgrim’s Progress Part II also describes the every-day believers that have been given more common grace including calm temperaments, and personalities and social skills within the normal range.  They are naturally more easy-going and more humble, such that the famous places where Christian had extreme difficulties (the Valley of Humiliation, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for instance) are much easier for them.  Here I am reminded also of an observation from Joni Eareckson Tada, in The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking with Jesus: in her ministry work, she had observed two children who had lost their legs in an accident and would never walk again, yet their attitude was much more accepting and positive, than her own very negative reaction and struggle with God about what had happened to her.

Then again, part two includes many other characters (Cheever likens the variety of pilgrims to that of The Canterbury Tales) and describes other personality types, or parts of our personalities.  One such example is Mr. Fearing, a great contrast from the superficial characters such as Talkative, Ignorance, and Self-Will.  The actual description from Bunyan is quite detailed, and then Cheever spends two full pages of commentary, pointing out the problems taken to excess with Mr. Fearing, as well as his strengths.  In response to the simplistic attitude that would exhort believers, ‘Don’t be a Mr. Fearing’, it is worth noting that Bunyan included this reason, as to why such a believer should go about in the dark all his life:  the wise God will have it so; some must pipe, and some must weep.  The Apostle Paul also described the different types of believers, a verse often referenced in the topic of counseling:   1 Thess. 5:14, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

Pilgrim’s Progress and Cheever’s Lectures on the Pilgrim’s Progress are great works for re-reading and reference, with a lot of observations regarding various trials and temptations, and different aspects of the Christian’s personality and experience.

Bible Timeline Chart/Map of History

January 27, 2021 1 comment

Here is something interesting, which I recently learned of:  Adams’ Synchronological Chart or Map of History.  It’s available in book fold-out form from book publisher sites such as this one.   A gift from an online friend, this fold-out chart shows all human history, from a biblical timeline perspective starting at creation at 4004 BC, up through 1878, a look at most world history up to the last 140+ years.  At a glance it shows in parallel, a synchronization, of each century in the timeline (with smaller divisions of 10 years within each century), to show major Old Testament events along with all other known secular history events and the rulers of the Gentile nations in the world.  (A major update, to bring it into the 21st century, would be nice, but has not been done as far as I know.)

It’s a fascinating view of world history, sometimes referred to as His Story: the work of God through the years, from creation and antiquity, through to near-modern times.  For instance, the section on the High Middle Ages will show, at a glance, the names of all the different Kings and Queens of Europe at any given time, a helpful addition to my study (several years ago) through English Medieval history.

 

The early pages include the lifespans of the major biblical figures, including Adam, Methuselah, and Noah, and show how their lives spanned across so many years from creation, through the flood, until the first several hundred years after the Flood.  This link includes a photo (sideways on a computer screen) of the full chart. 

Another interesting resource, available also in PDF online, is Floyd Nolen Jones’ The Chronology of the Old Testament: A Return to the Basics.  I’ve only glanced through a few sections so far, but it’s a very detailed look at dating the Old Testament chronology, including the ages of the patriarchs and dates of  Old Testament events, looking at all the evidence and various views.  This work also argues for the creation date of 4004 BC., and (same as Adams’ Synchronological Chart) has the Exodus lasting 215 years; the 400 years of affliction started with Abraham’s seed, before they actually went to Egypt.  A few years ago I first came across this idea (up to that time I’d thought of the 400 years as meaning 400 years actually in Egypt), mentioned in this previous post.  Another section addresses the Genesis texts concerning Jacob’s age, that he was 77 at the time he came to Laban; I recall discovering this several years ago, from basic math on the years of Jacob’s age at various events.

Here are links to a few other of my posts on creation, with the focus on the earliest writings and early history of the nations:

2020 Reading in Review: Reformed Confessions Study

December 18, 2020 2 comments

A year ago I reviewed the 2019 books and looked forward to a year long study through the Reformed Confessions. Now I’m nearing the end of this study, which included reading through the Westminster Daily readings, a calendar schedule to read through the Westminster Confession of Faith and its two catechisms, WLC and WSC, along with:

From my original plan at the end of 2019, I completed Spurgeon’s devotional Faith’s Checkbook as well as Thomas Boston’s Crook in the Lot.  I added Thomas Watson’s Body of Divinity as commentary reading along with some of the questions from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, but found that I could not keep up with the Charnock’s Existence and Attributes of God in addition to the Confession commentaries — so I plan to resume reading that in the near future.  I’ve also heard of Thomas Manton’s work on Psalm 119 as highly recommended, another to start on for 2021.

A few thoughts on these Confession commentaries:  A.A. Hodge’s is a straightforward read, covering the basic doctrine, and understandable, and not too lengthy; the reading can tend to the dry side, just basic academic reading, but at the layperson level.   This commentary includes a section of questions to be answered, at the end of each chapter of the confession — useful for a group study with assignments or discussion, or perhaps for family worship and use with children. 

Ursinus’ 16th century commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism is interesting in that it comes from the main author of this well-known catechism.  It is far lengthier (PDF over 1000 pages), and the writing style and content rather tedious; some of this is of course the older English writing of this edition, the public domain one available from Monergism and elsewhere (as far as I know, this one has not been recently republished in a modernized form).  The content includes statement of each Heidelberg question and answer, followed by an exposition of that question/answer; the exposition frequently includes a number of ‘objections’ and answers to these objections–some of which may be familiar to current-day readers (and many that are not as clear, from long-forgotten objections that Ursinus was familiar with).  Ursinus’ commentary has some good sections in response to, say, antinomians, Anabaptists, and a group called ‘Ubiquitarians’ (which I learned was the 16th century name for what we refer to as Lutheranism), regarding such things as God’s moral law and the Reformed interpretation of the Lord’s Supper (as contrasted with Lutheran / Ubiquitarian Consubstantiation).  The objection responses are phrased in terms of major and minor propositions, with terms such as affirm, deny, and syllogisms, and sometimes these objection-abswer sections are rather lengthy, providing ‘too much information’ for the average 21st century Christian, issues about particular doctrinal points not necessarily relevant to understanding the original Catechism question.  

One off-putting aspect especially of Ursinus’ writing, is his occasional references to eschatology, in which he states amillennial assumptions as though a given, assumptions stated in passing and as though not to be questioned — when a clear exegesis of the text clearly does NOT support that view. As for example, this section, at the beginning of section III. WHAT IS THE RESURRECTION, AND WHAT ARE THE ERRORS WHICH ARE ENTERTAINED CONCERNING IT? (page 513 in the Monergism PDF file)

The word resurrection sometimes signifies in the Scriptures man’s conversion, or his resurrection from sin, as, “This is the first resurrection.” (Rev. 20:5.)

Overall, the reading this year, the Reformed Confessions along with commentaries, has been a good study, covering the many different doctrines in the confessions and commentaries, and thus becoming more acquainted with the documents and the writings of these theologians from previous centuries.

The Christian Mindset: Proverbs 3 Study

November 24, 2020 Leave a comment

When Christians think of the term ‘worldview’ or ‘mindset,’ it’s common to associate this with the objective truths of the gospel, of a set of Christian truths and their application — possibly encompassing apologetics, a Christian “worldview” conference, or a church class on the errors of CRT or other false teachings infiltrating the evangelical church.  But there is another way to think of this, not in terms of the objective, external doctrines of Scripture, but the inner life, the “orthopraxy” that is manifested outwardly from the inner heart attitude, the fruit of biblical wisdom. 

The general, national evangelical scene of recent years, and the trials that the country and world have faced, have revealed a disconnect, with widespread shallow thinking and lack of discernment among many in professing Christendom. In response to this, the current local church recently taught a 12-part Wednesday night series on “The Christian Mindset.”: a study in Proverbs 3:1-12 and its five key teachings, as a helpful study to improve one’s biblical focus and discernment.

These 12 verses in Proverbs 3 start with an introduction (verses 1-2), the setting of Solomon teaching his son, imploring his son to remember his father’s teaching, for the benefit of keeping his commandments:  long life and peace.  Then, verses 3 through 12 come in five sets, or stanzas, key ideas, such that this scripture passage can be seen as a meta-narrative on the Christian life.

  • REMEMBER God’s steadfast love and faithfulness (verses 3-4)
  • Trust in the LORD, acknowledge God (verses 5-6)
  • Humility:  Fear the LORD, turn from evil, do not be wise in your own eyes (verses 7-8)
  • Honor the LORD with your wealth (verses 9-10)
  • “Kiss the rod” and submit to the LORD’s chastening and pruning (verses 11-12)

Several lessons emphasized the foundation, the significance and importance of remembering God’s great steadfast love (Hesed) and Faithfulness (Emet) to us.  These terms appear in scripture, and frequently together, throughout the Old Testament.  Hesed, which translates to seven different English words including the words mercy and steadfast love, occurs about 250 times total and over 100 times in the Psalms.  God’s love is also compared to a rock — rock-like stability and protection to His people — such as in Deuteronomy 32:4.  Interestingly, the Hebrew word for Love, Ahove, is the term that describes sentimental love, from one person to another, also referring to the human love of things, such as Esau’s food that Isaac loved.  Yet steadfast love is a different word with a much deeper and stronger meaning.  

Other Old Testament texts expand the picture of what is taught in Proverbs 3:3-4, such as the importance of remembering what God has done, as shown in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.  The Israelites were to rehearse before the priest their history and what God had done for them. and to praise God for His goodness and the bounty that God has given—the land flowing with milk and honey. 

The next two verses (5-6) about trusting in the LORD:  additional verses include Isaiah 12:2, Psalm 112:7, and Psalm 125; Those who trust in the Lord are like mount Zion, which cannot be moved.  The study here also referenced John Piper’s “Future Grace” teaching:  gratitude works for past events, but “malfunctions” as a motivator for the future.  Thus, our primary motivation for living Christian life, is confidence in future grace.  Cross-reference also James 4:13-16, “if the Lord wills,” along with “lean not on your own understanding.”

Verses 7 and 8 , on humility: Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking about yourself less. There is a proper fear of the LORD, and even a proper dread (see Isaiah 8:13), as we are to fear God, the one who has power to throw both body and soul into hell.

Then comes the part about money and stewardship, verses 9-10:  honor the LORD with your money.  It’s not a particular quantity or percentage, but the heart attitude and sacrificial giving.  Again, Proverbs 3 is supplemented with many other scripture texts:  1 Timothy 6 about the love of money, Jesus’ words that we cannot serve two masters.  It’s about honoring the LORD in this way, and here we can also reference 1 Samuel 2:30, the LORD’s words to Eli the priest:   for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.

The fifth, last stanza is the topic of discipline, also referred to as discipline, chastening, or pruning, a topic I recently explored in this recent post, a look at a Charles Spurgeon devotional and Hebrews 12:7-8.  This truth is likewise addressed in many places, including here in the Proverbs 3 “summary statement.”

The full “hymn” here in Proverbs 3 is a great summary of these five key emphases that we should all aim at in our daily Christian walk, as the Christian mindset.

Suffering, Spiritual Growth, and the Biographies of Saints

November 13, 2020 4 comments

Over the last several years I’ve learned, through experience as well as study, the purpose of suffering in the Christian life, as well as the difference between afflictions sanctified and non-sanctified.  For it is not the affliction itself that causes growth, but the response to it, as a spiritual growth opportunity, a point brought out often in the “Gospel According to Habakkuk” series over the last few months. 

Another aspect of suffering, for Christians, is the relationship we have to our heavenly Father, the one who brings the trials into our lives–it is done with God’s loving care, measured, with a limit, and not to the end of wrath and punishment.  In reading Charles Spurgeon’s Faith’s Checkbook devotional, the reading for October 19 especially speaks to the measured chastisement, with this interesting observation:

As many as God tenderly loves He rebukes and chastens: those for whom He has no esteem He allows to fatten themselves without fear, like bullocks for the slaughter. It is in love that our heavenly Father uses the rod upon His children.

This truth is referenced often in the Psalms and in Hebrews 12:7-8, that we often observe the wicked and the ungodly having great prosperity without great trials or difficulties, while the godly are often regarded “as sheep to the slaughter” with many difficulties in this life.  It’s easy to see this in those who do not show any outward interest in Christianity, yet prosper.  But sometimes this even shows up in the lives of well-known “celebrity” Christians–wealth and success in life and in ministry, an easy going life of  common grace, without great trials or difficulties.  Yet, this may well be an indication that the “successful Christian” may actually be an “illegitimate son” exempt from the discipline that all God’s true children have participated in.  Certainly within a pastor’s ministry, before any hardship and subsequent spiritual growth, such a case shows a person who is unable to relate to and help others in need–and in a pastor, great insensitivity in any type of pastoral /  counseling ministry.  

Here I recall David Murray‘s testimony of early ministry years, when he had not yet had any great trials–and it showed in his lack of sympathy and inability to provide counseling to the members of his congregation.  In time, God did bring a great trial, through which he learned and changed to become far more effective in his ministry.  Charles Spurgeon found a similar positive effect from the great trials he went through during his early years as a pastor in London–the intense trials at first taking him by surprise, leading him to study the topic of suffering and why it was happening, and then later seeing the positive benefit to his ministry.

The negative examples, such as “celebrity” pastors in ministry for many decades without experiencing any great suffering – whether internal (such as mental depression) or significant external events of loss or failure — accordingly, give us pause to consider and discern for ourselves, if such people are really God’s children after all.  Unbroken success and wealth, without any significant suffering, reveals shallow characters that show great arrogance and lack of concern for the well-being of their sheep, the people in their congregation, and so they fit into Spurgeon’s description (above):  those for whom He has no esteem He allows to fatten themselves without fear, like bullocks for the slaughter.

Certainly Christians can be blessed with great wealth and success, yet we can observe the overall balance of their lives and their experiences.  Christian singer / songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman, for example, has been blessed of God with great financial success–yet such success was moderated by an extreme tragedy, that got his attention and brought about spiritual growth — and also proving the other part of Spurgeon’s observation:  As many as God tenderly loves He rebukes and chastens.

So, in our own lives, let us apply this teaching of scripture, this point brought out in many places such as the Spurgeon devotional.  Also, by continuing to draw near to God; and if we haven’t learned the lesson from previous afflictions, to let the current ones (or ones soon to come) tesach us, that these would become sanctified afflictions.

Steadfast Love and Truth/Faithfulness – Meditation from Spurgeon

October 23, 2020 Leave a comment

I often find that my weekly reads of Charles Spurgeon sermons are a great treat, for the richness of thought, and a great benefit to the Lord’s Day experience.  Some of his sermons have more meaning and impact than others, and often some of his examples and historical references are dated, and require additional online search regarding some terms and historical references.  One sermon I read this summer, for instance, included several descriptions of a then-current events that reminded me of a piece of “encyclopedia” trivia I’d come across in the past, that Charles Dickens had died in 1870 — and a google search indeed confirmed what I’d suspected; Spurgeon’s sermon had been delivered on the very day that a prominent speaker had especially honored the late Charles Dickens, June 19, 1870.   A recent sermon I’ve read, sermon 956, from October 1870 mentioned a Saxon king who refused baptism to go the way of his pagan ancestors, and “impudent as to foretell the future with all the brass of a Sidrophel, a Lilly, or a Dr. Dec.,” all references and terms that were presumbly understood by his audience, but not commonly known to us today except by online search of the terms Sidrophel and Lilly.

Yet the main points, aside from these dated references, are timeless truths of Scripture and the reality of God, His works and attributes and person.  Sermon #956, “Think Well and Do Well,” is an exposition of Psalm 26:3 — “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness” — and a great example of Christian meditation, to consider God’s steadfast love and faithfulness/ truth.  As usual, Spurgeon brings out many different aspects of the text, in the two parts, a simple outline:  the mind occupied with a fruitful subject; secondly, the life ordered by a right rule; and thirdly, the link which connects the two.  Interestingly, this also ties in with a current local church teaching on the Christian mindset, which has also referenced these two points, as the root of the Christian life:  hesed (Hebrew for Steadfast Love) and emet (Hebrew for faithfulness/truth).  As pointed out in that series, the terms are found together in the Old Testament quite frequently, and so Psalm 26:3 is one of many such examples.   

Spurgeon starts with the mind, which should be occupied with spiritual nutriment — otherwise, like the body, the mind will feed upon itself:

Observe that when the mind does not receive holy matters to feed upon, as a rule it preys upon itself. Like certain of our bodily organs which if not supplied with nutritive matter, will soon begin to devour their own tissues, and then all sorts of aches, pains, and ultimately diseases will set in — the mind, when it eats into itself, forms doubts, fears, suspicions, complaints; and nine out of 10 of the doubts and fears of God’s people come from two things—walking at a distance from God, and lack of spiritual nutriment for the soul. … 

If you, believer, do not meditate upon some scriptural subject, your minds will probably turn to vanity or to some evil within yourselves, and you will not long think of the corruption within without becoming the subjects of a despondency which will turn you into Mistress Despondencies or Mr. Feebleminds; whereas by musing on the promises of the Holy Spirit you would grow into good soldiers and happy pilgrims. 

Continuing in this meditation, Spurgeon also considered duty, in connection with thinking upon God’s loving-kindness, the past and future blessings of God’s loving-kindness (back to eternity past and eternity future), and the “wondrous library” we can combine — from the book of revelation (God’s word in scripture), the ‘book of providence,’ and ‘the book of your inward experience.’  God’s loving-kindness is indeed the root and core of our life, both in the inward meditation and outward walking in truth.  Another great quote here links God’s love to doctrinal knowledge and what motivates us (in truth) to further doctrinal study:

Everlasting love, love without beginning towards unworthy worms! Well now, what comes of it? Why, naturally, the moment the heart gets into the enjoyment of it, it cries, “I will walk in God’s truth! This great doctrine leads me to receive other great doctrines. I am not afraid, now, of doctrinal knowledge; if it is so that God has loved me before the world began, and has blessed me with all spiritual blessings accordingly as He chose me in Christ Jesus, then I am not afraid to consider the doctrine of the covenant of grace, the doctrine of His foreknowledge, and of His predestination, and all the other doctrines that spring therefrom! The brightness of this one gem has attracted me to enter into the mines of divine thought, and I will seek from now on to be conversant with the deep things of God.” Many would be much sounder in doctrine if they meditated more upon the eternity of divine loving-kindness.

After considering these and so many other aspects of God’s loving-kindness and faithfulness, Spurgeon brings it back to the daily experience — the remedy for times when we feel dull and weary.  Yes, the Holy Spirit is the quickener, who first gives life and continues that life, but Spurgeon well summarizes the means for us to use:

Brothers and sisters, depend upon it that you shall find each of you when you get dull and flagging in the practical part of your religion, that the proper way to revive it is to think more than you have done upon the loving-kindness of God.  …

What is the best way to quicken one’s self when you have got to be just a mere inanimate mass, and cannot awaken yourself into life? Of course, the Holy Spirit is the quickener, but what means shall we use? “Why,” says one, “turn over your sins and begin to think of them.” Well, I have known some become more dead than they were before through that, and the little life they had seemed to go out of them as they saw their transgressions! I believe there is no reflection that has as much, under God the Holy Spirit, of quickening power in it as a remembrance of the loving-kindness of the Lord!

and this final quote:

I have said unto my soul, “You are dull and heavy today, my soul, but Jesus did not love you because of your brightness and liveliness; you have, at any rate, a desire not to be so dull. Who gave you that? Was not it His grace that made you hate yourself for being so dull and stupid? And He loves you just the same.”

Philip Ryken, and J.C. Ryle, on the Gospel of Luke

October 2, 2020 5 comments

A weekly Bible Study at church has started on a study of the gospel of Luke this year, and included Dr. Ryken’s Commentary in the list of recommended resources. So I’m listening to the next best thing to the commentary: the volumes of sermons from Dr. Ryken that form the basis of his commentary, a set of 14 volumes from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ podcast “Every Last Word,” available at ReformedResources.org.  The first three volumes cover the first 5 chapters of Luke, and are straight-forward sermons with exposition and application, on the wide range of topics within these first chapters of Luke’s gospel.

One pleasant surprise has been the frequent references to J.C. Ryle, with quite a few quotes from the great 19th century Anglican bishop.  In fact, in the early chapters at least (I’m currently in Luke 6) of Ryken’s sermon series, J.C. Ryle is one of the most (or possibly the most) frequently cited resources — along with quotes from a few others such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and at least one quote from existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

That brings me back to reading J.C. Ryle, several years after I read  his books such as Practical Religion, Holiness, and his book on prophecy, Coming Events and Present Duties.  Over the years I’ve read selected portions from his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (full e-book in PDF, Kindle, and EPUB formats available here), and now it’s been refreshing and enjoyable to read sequentially through J.C. Ryle’s full commentary on the gospel of Luke, alongside Ryken’s sermons each week.

Ryle’s writing style here is similar to other works, a devotional and educational commentary, simple and clear statements packed with truth, and always very quotable.  He well described the faith of the Old Testament saints, with the original, plain historic understanding that believers always had the Holy Spirit indwelling, though in less measure (quantity) — unlike several modern day teachers who want to come up with innovations, even such as a few who would come up with a “spirit of Christ” that indwells New Testament saints in contrast to Old Testament saints that were regenerated but not actually Spirit indwelled (since, supposedly, the Spirit of Christ did not exist in that earlier era).

Ryle’s Expository Thoughts also addresses the basics, with great application of texts, to exhort believers on the importance of Bible reading and study, evangelism, and diligence and hard work in our occupations and callings.  His comments on the Lord’s Day Sabbath, at the beginning of Luke 6, are also spot-on, instructive regarding Christ’s teaching on works of necessity and works of mercy brought out in the text, and in response to the same Sabbath criticisms in our day:  We live in days when anything like strict Sabbath observance is loudly denounced, in some quarters, as a remnant of Jewish superstition.  We are boldly told by some people, that to enforce the fourth commandment on Christians, is going back to bondage.  Let it suffice us to remember, when we hear such things, that assertions are not proofs, and that vague talk like this has no confirmation in the word of God.   J.C. Ryle elsewhere wrote an excellent short summary tract, Sabbath: A Day to Keep, referencing  many scriptures and how they relate together; but the additional comments in his Luke 6 commentary add to the full picture.

Just in going through the first chapters of Luke, it’s also interesting to see his clear statements regarding the future millennial era and ethnic Israel’s future, as with this sampling:

Christ was indeed “the glory of Israel.” The descent from Abraham–the covenants–the promises–the law of Moses–the divinely ordered Temple service–all these were mighty privileges. But all were as nothing compared to the mighty fact, that out of Israel was born the Savior of the world. This was to be the highest honor of the Jewish nation, that the mother of Christ was a Jewish woman, and that the blood of One “made of the seed of David, according to the flesh,” was to make atonement for the sin of mankind.  . . .

The day shall come when the veil shall be taken from the heart of Israel, and all shall “glory in the Lord.” (Isaiah. 45:25.) For that day let us wait, and watch, and pray. If Christ be the light and glory of our souls, that day cannot come too soon.  . . .

“and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever.” The literal fulfillment of this part of the promise is yet to come. Israel is yet to be gathered. The Jews are yet to be restored to their own land, and to look to Him whom they once pierced, as their King and their God.  . . .

The full completion of the kingdom is an event yet to come. The saints of the Most High shall one day have entire dominion. The little stone of the Gospel-kingdom shall yet fill the whole earth. But whether in its incomplete or complete state, the subjects of the kingdom are always of one character.

Also, a sampling of general application from passages in Luke’s gospel:

We do not expect a child to do the work of a full-grown man, though he may one day, if he lives long enough. We must not expect a learner of Christianity to show the faith, and love, and knowledge of an old soldier of the cross. He may become by and bye a mighty champion of the truth. But at first we must give him time.

and

In every calling, and vocation, and trade, we see that great effort is one prominent secret of success. It is not by luck or accident that men prosper, but by hard working. Fortunes are not made without trouble and attention, by bankers and merchants. Practice is not secured without diligence and study, by lawyers and physicians. The principle is one with which the children of this world are perfectly familiar.

Habakkuk, Genesis 3:8, and ‘A Day of the Lord’?

September 14, 2020 2 comments

A recent sermon series, “The Gospel According to Habakkuk,” has included a lot of good points on the law, gospel, trials and suffering, judgment, and more — all from the minor prophet Habakkuk.  Going through the first complaint-response and then Habakkuk’s second complaint, up to the beginning of chapter 2, includes many issues in Habakkuk’s struggle.  One’s basic orientation / disorientation, and reorientation toward life (after working through a very difficult time) is seen in Habakkuk’s experience, and often in the lament Psalms.

One of Habakkuk’s issues, of judgment, relates to understanding of the term apocalypse, which (as we know) means to uncover or reveal something.  Revelation is the actual English translation of the Greek term of apocalypse.  Here, though, one idea seems rather novel, something that I haven’t come across in the historic Reformed and Puritan commentaries:  the idea of many small ‘Day of the Lord’ judgment events — a wide definition that even includes Habakkuk’s experience.  In this sense, any event in one’s life that brings trials and difficulties, is a small ‘Day of the Lord’ event, one that helps each of us prepare for the coming final Day of the Lord.  The term ‘Day of the Lord’ thus refers to many different historic events, occurring throughout history and not limited to the future Second Coming.  Overall, yes, this makes sense, in that every difficulty presents itself as a growth opportunity, with a choice of faith or pride; we can humble ourselves, look to God in faith, and learn what God would have us learn (I especially think of Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot), or answer with pride and self-righteous anger.  As pointed out in this series, the recent events (including the response to the covid-19 pandemic) have revealed a lot of shallow and superficial Christianity, a lot of self-righteous pride, rather than humbly considering what it is that God wants us to learn.

Then we come to Genesis 3:8, which describes Adam and Eve hiding from LORD God in the cool of the day.  The new idea mentioned here takes a different interpretation:  this was not a comment on the weather, but God coming in judgment to Adam and Eve; the term ‘cool,’ sometimes translated as wind, can also mean spirit, and so this verse is describing a terrifying judgment scene rather than a casual conversation with God.  The sense of Genesis 3:8 is quite different than what is found from reading Reformed and Puritan commentaries such as John Calvin, Matthew Henry, or John Bunyan’s (unfinished) commentary on Genesis 1-11.  The text here is compared to other Old Testament texts that describe the terrifying experience such as what Moses and the Israelites heard on Mt. Sinai, and references in the prophets — such as Jeremiah 46:10 (about Egypt), Ezekiel 30:2-4, Joel, and Zephaniah 1:14-16.  Joel 2 — again, according to this view — is fulfilled in Acts 2.  This view then makes an even greater leap, to state that all of the Old Testament ‘Day of the Lord’ prophecies were fulfilled at the Cross.  Only the New Testament passages about the future Day of the Lord are still considered relevant, referring to Christ’s Second Coming.  Further, Revelation 1:8, which describes John being in the spirit “on the Lord’s Day” is equated with the Day of the Lord.

From all of this, it seems to me that general application of scripture — about how we learn and grow from our trials, as events that reveal our hearts and provide opportunities to repent and grow in faith — has been mixed in with doctrinal teaching about the prophetic scriptures that address the Second Coming of our Lord.  Both ideas are important and should be taught, yet that does not require conflating the two ideas as done here.  I’m also reminded of other modern-day doctrinal innovations such as this previous post coming out of the ‘Redemptive-Historical’ school of thought.  Again, I don’t find such ideas in the Reformed and Puritan commentaries, and wonder why modern teachers seemingly have the desire to come up with new interpretations rather than standing by traditional, historic teaching.

In closing, I appreciate this commentary excerpt from John Bunyan on Genesis 3:8:

“And they heard the voice of the Lord God.” This voice was not to be understood according, as if it was the effect of a word; as when we speak, the sound remains with a noise for some time after; but by voice here, we are to understand the Lord Christ himself; wherefore this voice is said to walk, not to sound only: “They heard the voice of the Lord God walking.” This voice John calls the word, the word that was with the Father before he made the world, and that at this very time was heard to walk in the garden of Adam: Therefore John also saith, this voice was in the beginning; that is, in the garden with Adam, at the beginning of his conversion, as well as of the beginning of the world (John 1:1).
“And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” The gospel of it is, in the season of grace; for by the cool of the day, he here means, in the patience, gentleness, goodness and mercy of the gospel; and it is opposed to the heat, fire, and severity of the law.