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Backsliding, versus Sanctification: Quotes from S. Lewis Johnson and J.C. Ryle

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

S. Lewis Johnson:  Backsliding

From a message on Isaiah 55, the following thought from S. Lewis Johnson:  who will backslide

the one thing above everything else that has impressed itself upon me with regard to backsliding is this: the man who does not continue in the word of our Lord is the man who would backslide — in almost every case (with some exceptions, where Christians are overtaken in some sin that seems to be a sin of an immediate character).  In most of the cases, it is because men have not continued in the word of God.  They have not been students of the Bible.  I don’t mean just devotionally reading it at the breakfast table.  I mean to do some real study of the word of God.

If people will not study the word of God, they are going to need spiritual medicine.  They are going to need a spiritual physician, and I think that through the years the thing that has impressed me in the church is that those Christians who are the least problem to the elders are the Christians who are growing in the knowledge of the Bible.  If you could just get a group of Christians in a church together in which everyone was daily growing in the knowledge of the word of God, the elders could set it out and twiddle their thumbs because it would be a healthy, happy, growing, fruitful body of Christians.  This is so fundamental because the word is powerful and God sees that it accomplishes His purposes.  It is when we neglect the Bible that we begin to drift, becoming indifferent, lose our love, become overtaken and entangled in sin.

How true it is — we need to continue in the word of God, the daily manna to grow in the knowledge of God’s word.  I can see the backsliding effects in other professed believers who give minimal attention to the Bible, with their hearts occupied with the cares of this world.  I can see it in my own past, the years of mere casual Bible reading but no growth in Bible knowledge.  The neglect of the Bible brings out indifference and loss of our first love.  How tragic it is too, to see in loved ones an attitude of indifference to God’s word: the post-modern attitude that only certain parts of the Bible are important (soteriology) and all the rest is up for interpretation and it’s arrogant to say that we know for sure what God’s word means (and therefore why bother to study God’s word?)

Here I turn to words of great comfort and counsel, from J.C. Ryle’s Holiness (chapter 12, The Ruler of the Waves), for my own trial of living with a backslidden person:

How should you know who are true Christians, if following Christ was the way to be free from trouble? How should we discern the wheat from the chaff, if it were not for the winnowing of trial? How should we know whether men served Christ for His own sake or from selfish motives, if His service brought health and wealth with it as a matter of course? The winds of winter soon show us which of the trees are evergreen and which are not. The storms of affliction and care are useful in the same way. They discover whose faith is real and whose is nothing but profession and form.

How would the great work of sanctification go on in a man if he had no trial? Trouble is often the only fire which will burn away the dross that clings to our hearts. Trouble is the pruning–knife which the great Husbandman employs in order to make us fruitful in good works. The harvest of the Lord’s field is seldom ripened by sunshine only. It must go through its days of wind and rain and storm.

If you desire to serve Christ and be saved, I entreat you to take the Lord on His own terms. Make up your mind to meet with your share of crosses and sorrows, and then you will not be surprised. For want of understanding this, many seem to run well for a season, and then turn back in disgust, and are cast away.

If you profess to be a child of God, leave to the Lord Jesus to sanctify you in His own way. Rest satisfied that He never makes any mistakes. Be sure that He does all things well. The winds may howl around you, and waters swell. But fear not, “He is leading you by the right way, that He may bring you to a city of habitation” (Ps. 107:7).

Parallels Between Israel’s Exodus and Christ’s Second Coming

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Ezekiel 20:35-36 — And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. 36 As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the Lord God.

As has often been observed by Bible teachers, and I’ve noticed in my own Bible readings, the similarities between the book of Revelation end-times judgments, and the past judgment plagues on Egypt, are striking.  Both accounts involve descriptions of ruined water, famine and pestilence, locusts, and frogs, for instance.  As a biblical response to naturalist-minded believers, this parallel is a strong argument for the very supernatural power behind the future judgments.  These events will not be the result of man’s technological innovation, nuclear war fallout or any other disaster that man can inflict on this planet — any more than the plagues in Egypt were of man’s doing.  The fact that the people in Revelation 6 cry out for the rocks to fall on them and hide them from the wrath of God, from the wrath of the Lamb, ought to be obvious enough proof that the people there realize just Who is responsible for their plight:  not mankind in some global nuclear warfare.

All of the above texts show implicit similarities and parallels — we can see the similarities, but nothing explicit in the texts to link Egypt with the future.  In my recent Bible readings (in a modified Horner Bible Reading), though, I noticed a direct mention of the similarities between the two events.  I especially noticed Ezekiel 20:36 — which makes an explicit comparison between the Exodus from Egypt and the Second Coming judgment.  Where Exodus and Revelation describe actual plagues on the land and people, and the rest of the Pentateuch describes the wilderness wanderings, Ezekiel 20 tells us that Israel will face judgment, at the Second Coming, similar to that previous one.  So here we even see a parallel sequence between the two events:

Past (Exodus) Event Future (Second Coming) Event
1. Great plagues of judgment on the Egyptians Great plagues of judgment on the whole world
2. Israel removed from its land of sojourning Israel removed from its land where it was gathered in unbelief
(Daniel 9:27, 2 Thess. 2:4, Matt. 24:15-21, Rev. 11:2)
3. Israel tested and tried in the wilderness Israel regathered (ref. Matt. 24:31) and tried/judged in the wilderness
(Ezekiel 20:35-36)

It’s an interesting parallel, if I read and understand the scripture correctly.  However, I checked a few commentaries, such as the MacArthur Bible Commentary and Thomas Constable’s online commentary, and these both see verse 35 as referring to the Jewish dispersion of the present age. Yet Constable’s commentary, citing Scofield, does see verses 36 to 38 as referring to the future Great Tribulation:

“The passage is a prophecy of future judgment upon Israel, regathered from all nations . . . The issue of this judgment determines who of Israel in that day will enter kingdom blessing (Ps. 50:1-7; Ezek. 20:33-44; Mal. 3:2-5; 4:1-2).”  (The New Scofield.)

When taken as a whole, I don’t see how verse 35 is referring to the present day scattering, when the previous verse (20:34) clearly begins a section describing a gathering of the people who had been previously scattered:  I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out.  In verse 35 they have already been regathered, so the commentary notes for verse 35 in the MBC and Constable don’t make sense of the narrative sequence.  Instead, it seems that verse 34 begins with the current situation (the countries where you are scattered) and takes us into the future, when they are brought out and gathered — a yet future event.  It even could be said that all of this is future, since some biblical texts indicate a scattering of the Jews during the tribulation:  a first gathering in unbelief (begun in 1948) to allow the building of the tribulation-era temple and the seven year covenant with antiChrist, then a scattering at the mid-point of that 7 year covenant, followed by a regathering (in belief) during the Great Tribulation / Day of the Lord and preparation to enter into the Millennial Kingdom.  Such is my original understanding, as shown above, and so I still find this an interesting sequence, especially considering the parallel to the Exodus from Egypt and its sequence.

Luke 1 and Premillennialism: Christ’s Kingdom Upon the Earth

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s the Christmas season again, so I just listened to S. Lewis Johnson’s message on Luke 1:26-38 (the announcement to Mary, of the birth of the Messiah).  In the midst of this message, delivered in 1970, comes the following great words concerning Christ’s future kingdom:

I am constantly surprised that people can read the Bible and do not see that our Lord is to have a kingdom upon this earth.  I do not see how it is possible to freely read the word of God and not come to that conclusion.  I think of a story which I read almost twenty-five years ago of a conversation that took place between a Jewish man who had studied a little bit of the New Testament and a Christian clergyman who was a believer in Jesus Christ but was an amillenialist.  That is, he did not believe that there would be an earthly kingdom in the future.  And he was trying to get the Jewish man to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

And the Jewish man turned to Luke chapter 1, verse 32 and he asked the clergyman, he said, “Do you believe that what is here written about the Messiah is to be literally accomplished, that God is going to give unto him the throne of his father David?” and the Christian minister said, “No I do not.  I rather take it to be a figurative language, descriptive of Christ’s spiritual reign over the church.”  Then replied the Jew, “Neither do I believe literally verse 31 in which it is stated that ‘a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son and they shall call his name Jesus.’  I rather take this to be merely a figurative manner of describing the remarkable character for purity which the Son of God, according to this text, shall have.  But why” the Jew continued, “do you take verses 32 and 33 figuratively, while you believe implicitly that verse 31 is to be fulfilled literally?”  And the clergyman replied, “I believe in the virgin birth because it is a fact.”  And the Jew said, “Ah, I see the difference.  You believe in Scripture because it is a fact, I believe in Scripture because it is the word of God.”  And the Jewish man had overthrown the Christian clergyman.

Isaiah 53: The Five Stanzas, and the Five Offerings of Leviticus

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

With Isaiah 52:13 -53:12 the S. Lewis Johnson Isaiah series reaches a high point in Biblical prophecy: the most quoted and referenced passage from OT prophecy, in the New Testament.  This is a well-known text, and yet even here I learned many interesting things from the SLJ Isaiah series.

This passage consists of 5 strophes, or stanzas — 5 facets of the saving work of Jesus Christ.  Each set contains three verses, and the verses increase in length as we go through all five.  The first words of each of the stanzas sets the theme for the verses that follow.

  • Isaiah 52:13-15 — The Suffering Messiah, Successful:  “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.”
  • Isaiah 53:1-3 — The Suffering Messiah, Misunderstood:  “Who has believed what he has heard from us?”
  • Isaiah 53:4-6 — The Suffering Messiah, Substitutionary  (or, A Substitute):  “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”
  • Isaiah 53:7-9 –The Suffering Messiah, Submissive:  “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,”
  • Isaiah 53:10-12 —  The Suffering Messiah, Foreordained (or Planned, or Purposed):  “it pleased the Lord to bruise/crush Him”

These five stanzas also show similarity to the five Old Testament offerings as described in Leviticus 1 – 5.

  • The Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1):  this offering illustrates the one who is whole-hearted to do the will of God.  Here in Isaiah 52:13-15 we see the will of God: Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension and cession
  • The Meal Offering (Leviticus 2):  the meal offering represents, in the fine flour, the perfect humanity and character of Jesus Christ.  Great Christian men of our history, such as Luther and Calvin, were not as fine flour, but had their faults, their coarseness.  Jesus is a “man of sorrows,” the fine flour.
  • The Peace Offering (Leviticus 3):  In Isaiah 53, the substitute is smited — a violent striking.  The peace offering represents an atonement that issues in peace.  Isaiah 53: “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
  • The Sin Offering (Leviticus 4):  In the sin offering, the transgression of Israel was covered.  Part of the animal burned, but the body taken outside the camp and destroyed.  Jesus was the sin offering, executed outside the city.
  • The Trespass (Guilt) Offering (Leviticus 5):  In Isaiah 53:10 “when his soul makes an offering for guilt,” the same Hebrew word for guilt is used here, as the Hebrew word for the guilt offering in Leviticus.

 

S. Lewis Johnson: Lessons from Isaiah 48 – 50

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment

What follows are several interesting observations from the S. Lewis Johnson Isaiah series.

Isaiah 48
In Isaiah 48 we learn that truth has priority over miracles.  God sometimes allows a false prophet the ability to perform a miracle, but that does not necessarily mean the prophet is of God.  But God alone holds the truth, and He alone can tell the beginning from the end and tell us in advance of the fact.
Isaiah 48:10 deals with God’s testing and trying Israel, though not as silver.  Silver was refined through a process much harsher than other metals, so here is a note of God’s mercy in how He deals with Israel.  S. Lewis Johnson here noted the three types of discipline from God:

  1. Retributive, as with David’s judgment following his sin with Bathsheba; “the sword shall not depart from your house…”
  2. Preventive, as in Paul’s thorn in the flesh, to prevent Paul from becoming conceited
  3. Educative, as in the cases of Job and Jonah, the psalmist’s struggle to understand.  Educative discipline is intended to lead us onward, to another step up in the Christian life.

Isaiah 49
Isaiah 49:1 speaks of the Messiah’s mother  (ESV: The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.), and S. Lewis Johnson here points out that the scriptures never speak of Messiah’s father, but only of His mother.  Consider Psalm 22:9-10 and Micah 5:3.  Again we remember that, because of the prophecy in Jeremiah 22:30, the Messiah had the legal descent of Joseph but could not be descended physically from him.

Passages Concerning the Suffering Servant
The following passages in Isaiah reveal different aspects of the Servant of Jehovah:

  • Isaiah 42:1-8  The Program of the Suffering Servant’s Ministry
  • Isaiah 49:1-7  The Purpose of His ministry
  • Isaiah 50:4-9   The Preparation to which the Servant was submitted in His earthly life

 

J.C. Ryle’s Holiness: Six Marks of Growth in Grace, Five Means of Growth

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Chapter six in J.C. Ryle’s Holiness has a lot to say on the subject of Christian growth, noting that the Christian’s graces admit of growth, progress and increase.  It should be obvious to all that a newly-converted person does not have as strong a faith, hope, knowledge, or holiness as an old-established believer.  Yet we all have room for improvement:

We can never have too much humility, too much faith in Christ, too much holiness, too much spirituality of mind, too much charity, too much zeal in doing good to others. Then let us be continually forgetting the things behind, and reaching forth unto the things before (Phil. 3:13). The best of Christians in these matters is infinitely below the perfect pattern of his Lord. Whatever the world may please to say, we may be sure there is no danger of any of us becoming “too good.”

Ryle follows an outline that includes six marks of religious growth, and five “means of growth.”

The six marks of growth in grace:

1.  Increased humility.

2.  Increased faith and love towards our Lord Jesus Christ.

The man whose soul is growing finds more in Christ to rest upon every year and rejoices more that he has such a Savior. No doubt he saw much in Him when first he believed. His faith laid hold on the atonement of Christ and gave him hope. But as he grows in grace, he sees a thousand things in Christ of which at first he never dreamed. His love and power, His heart and His intentions, His offices as Substitute, Intercessor, Priest, Advocate, Physician, Shepherd and Friend, unfold themselves to a growing soul in an unspeakable manner. In short, he discovers a suitableness in Christ to the wants of his soul, of which the half was once not known to him.

3.  increased holiness of life and conversation.
4.  increased spirituality of taste and mind.

The ways and fashions and amusements and recreations of the world have a continually decreasing place in his heart. He does not condemn them as downright sinful, nor say that those who have anything to do with them are going to hell. He only feels that they have a constantly diminishing hold on his own affections and gradually seem smaller and more trifling in his eyes. Spiritual companions, spiritual occupations, spiritual conversation appear of ever–increasing value to him.

5.  increase of charity.

His love will show itself actively in a growing disposition to do kindnesses, to take trouble for others, to be good–natured to everybody, to be generous, sympathizing, thoughtful, tender–hearted and considerate. It will show itself passively in a growing disposition to be meek and patient towards all men, to put up with provocation and not stand upon rights, to bear and forbear much rather than quarrel. A growing soul will try to put the best construction on other people’s conduct and to believe all things and hope all things, even to the end. There is no surer mark of backsliding and falling off in grace than an increasing disposition to find fault, pick holes and see weak points in others.

6.  increased zeal and diligence in trying to do good to souls.

The five means of growth:
1.  the use of private means of grace:  private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, private meditation and self-examination
2.  the use of public means of grace
3.  watchfulness over our conduct in the little matters of everyday life:  Our tempers, our tongues, the discharge of our several relations of life, our employment of time
4.  caution about the company we keep and the friendships we form:  Let us seek friends who will stir us up about our prayers, our Bible reading, and our employment of time, about our souls, our salvation, and a world to come.
5.  regular and habitual communion with the Lord Jesus

This chapter also makes the following important observations regarding growth in grace:

  • it is one secret of usefulness to others
  • it is a duty upon each believer to not quench the Spirit:   Neglect of growth robs him of privileges, grieves the Spirit and makes the chariot wheels of his soul move heavily. Whose fault is it, I should like to know, if a believer does not grow in grace? The fault, I am sure, cannot be laid on God. He delights to give more grace; He “has pleasure in the prosperity of His servants” (James 4:6; Ps. 35:27).
  • it is bound up with the use of means, within the reach of all believers; growing souls are those that use these means

Another great observation from J.C. Ryle, concerning growth in grace and our communion with God:

We must not be content with a general orthodox knowledge that Christ is the Mediator between God and man, and that justification is by faith and not by works, and that we put our trust in Christ. We must go further than this. We must seek to have personal intimacy with the Lord Jesus and to deal with Him as a man deals with a loving friend. We must realize what it is to turn to Him first in every need, to talk to Him about every difficulty, to consult Him about every step, to spread before Him all our sorrows, to get Him to share in all our joys, to do all as in His sight, and to go through every day leaning on and looking to Him. This is the way that Paul lived “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” “To me to live is Christ” (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21). . . . But it is the man who lives in this way, who keeps up constant communion with Christ—this is the man, I say emphatically, whose soul will grow.

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Horatius Bonar: Living in and for the Future

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Horatius Bonar Quote on “Our Blessed Hope” Blog — Click Here

It is no fanaticism to live both in and for the future. It is faith, for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Unbelief would dwell in the present, faith leads us into the future.  It displaces the visible, and brings forward the invisible. It lays hold of every thing that will open up more of the future. It prizes the prophetic word, as being its guide through that region to which it so specially lays claim as its proper portion and heritage. It treasures up every fragment of information given respecting days or ages to come, casting aside nothing, but pondering all; not shrinking from details or dates, in so far as these have been recorded by the Spirit of truth.

Horatius Bonar, Quarterly Journal of Prophecy volume 1, “Our Connexion with the Future.”