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The Leaven in the Three Measures of Flour: Matthew 13:33

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment

A recent devotional reading from John MacArthur (Life of Christ volume 1), looked at Matthew 13:33 and expanded on the verse as a positive reference to the great work of Christianity.  Since in recent years I have heard the opposite view concerning this parable (the leaven is symbolic of evil, and this refers to the growth of apostasy in the church), this prompted me to look at the passage and what has been said about it by others.  On the Grace to You site I found MacArthur’s full sermon on the verse, which expands on his positive view along with his reasons for rejecting the negative-leaven interpretation.  I checked a few other online references and found that Alexander MacLaren gave a similar interpretation.  Both men emphasize the spread of Christianity from its small beginnings (120 in Acts 1), through the centuries.  MacLaren also linked this parable to the idea of Christians being salt and light in the world, preserving and penetrating the darkness, even calling for Christians to be involved in public life.

S. Lewis Johnson held to the Scofield view, that leaven only represents evil and so this parable is in reference to the growing apostasy within the church as it approaches the last days.  Certainly this point is clear from other texts including the first parable in this section of Matthew 13, about the wheat and the tares growing alongside each other until the end.  Yet as I read Scofield’s notes for Matthew 13:33, it seemed that he was primarily rejecting a post-millennial interpretation that would have the whole world gradually conformed to Christianity and thus bringing in the golden age (the kingdom) before Christ comes.

That may have been one big error of Scofield’s day, but it seems that MacLaren and MacArthur, at least, were not arguing for such — but rather, seeing the increase and spread of Christianity throughout history, always being there as salt and light — the great spread of the gospel as described in Acts, and afterwards.  Yet, both being premillennial, they would never try to make the claims that Scofield was disputing.

I found yet a third view of this parable, from J.C. Ryle’s “Expository Thoughts on the Gospels” series.  In the treatment of Matthew 13 he omitted discussion of the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven, but took these up in the parallel passage in Luke 13.  J.C. Ryle took the view that:

The parable of the mustard seed is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the WORLD.   The parable of the leaven is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the heart of a BELIEVER.

Ryle’s approach mirrors similar comments in his other books, Practical Religion and Holiness, emphasizing sanctification, the progress in a believer’s life as he avails himself of the means of grace and grows in grace throughout his lifetime.  John Gill also points this out in his commentary of Matt. 13:33:  so the Gospel reaches the conscience, pierces the heart, enlightens the understanding, informs the judgment, raises and sets the affections on right objects, subdues the will, and brings down all towering thoughts, to the obedience of Christ, in particular persons.

From all of this discussion of one parable — with at least three different interpretations — I remember well the admonition of good hermeneutics:  never draw theological conclusions that are based solely upon parables.  (See, for instance, Dr. Reluctant’s “Parameters of Meaning, Rule 7”.)  The doctrines themselves may be found in the parables and types, but must also be supported by other, stronger, biblical texts.  In the case of Matthew 13:33, all the views mentioned here (except the postmillennial view disputed by Scofield) have biblical support elsewhere.  The “negative” view of the decline of the church throughout this age is found in the parable of the wheat and tares (one that Jesus did give the interpretation of); as well as in New Testament texts such as in Acts 20:29-30, 1 and 2 Timothy and Jude — warnings regarding false teachers who will come into the church, of people with itching ears gathering teachers to suit themselves.  The “positive” view of believers as salt and light has its support also in the Sermon on the Mount.  J.C. Ryle’s view has its support in the many exhortations in the NT epistles concerning practical Christian living, plus texts such as Philippians 1:6.

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Unbelief: Those Who Say “It is Not Necessary to Believe . . .”

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

From listening to S. Lewis Johnson teaching through Matthew 4, the temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness, comes the following gem:

You’ll notice also as you ponder ways in which men have attacked the faith, when they are guided by Satan, they do not, as a general rule, attack point blank the revelation that is found in the word of God.  They usually come with some kind of questions that suggest doubt concerning the Scriptures.  Ordinarily, you do not have a man who does not believe in the virgin birth stand in the pulpit and say, “I do not accept the biblical accounts of the virgin birth; the Lord Jesus was not born by a virgin.”  They do not normally say that.  They usually will say, “There are those who believe the Lord Jesus was born of a virgin, and there are those who believe the Lord Jesus was not born of a virgin; it is not necessary that we believe this doctrine.”  That is the usual way in which unbelief appears.  It is the kind of expression that casts doubt upon the word of God:  “it’s not necessary.”

How true this is:  the real enemy of biblical Christianity is not the overt anti-Christian message of atheists — it is those who come in among the church and take issue with some of the doctrines of the faith.  Where the scripture itself is clear and to the point, such individuals will come in and declare that belief in such-and-such a doctrine is optional — “not all Christians believe this,” and “Christians can believe this other way…”  It goes back to Satan’s word to Eve in the garden — questioning God; did God really say thus?

I can especially relate this to the so-called “second order” doctrines — truths clearly revealed in Scripture, part of God’s overall revealed word yet not part of soteriology — nonetheless doctrines that all true believers will love because they are in God’s book the Bible.  “God’s people are not offended by God’s word.”  Yet how many professing believers will come forth and proclaim that, because such doctrines are not “necessary for salvation” therefore these are really fringe issues and thus we can treat these as optional.  I have in mind specifically the doctrine of biblical creation, something clearly taught (not at all vague or unclear language) in Genesis 1 — and explicitly affirmed again in Exodus.  Yet I still recall the satanic words of a local church preacher on this point:  that not all Christians believe in a young earth, and we can still be Christians even though we don’t believe this.

Some might object to my calling this “satanic words.”  But what else can this really be called?  How is this any different from the example quoted above, or from the spirit of Satan’s words to Eve?  Even Peter once said the words of Satan, and Jesus rebuked him appropriately:  “get thee behind me, Satan.”

ICR’s (Institute for Creation Research) recent devotional also addressed the matter of “fringe issues” as compared to secondary doctrines that are revealed in scripture, observing that “Perhaps the rule might be, if it’s an essential doctrine, teach and defend it at all costs; if it’s a secondary doctrine, teach it in “meekness” and love (2 Timothy 2:25).” and concluding:

Is creationism a fringe issue? No! Few doctrines are so clearly taught in Scripture. Is it crucial to salvation? No! But it is essential to adequately understand the great primary doctrines for it is foundational to them all. Furthermore, it is the subject of origins which the enemy has identified as a major battleground, vowing to destroy Christianity over this issue. Here we must stand, if we are to guard our faith.

A Spurgeon Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2010 2 comments

From Charles Spurgeon, sermon #2392, delivered on December 24, 1854

Now, a happy Christmas to you all and it will be a happy Christmas if you have God with you! I shall say nothing, today, against festivities on this great birthday of Christ. I hold that, perhaps, it is not right to have the birthday celebrated, but we will never be among those who think it as much a duty to celebrate it the wrong way as others the right!  But we will, tomorrow, think of Christ’s birthday. We shall be obliged to do it, I am sure, however sturdily we may hold to our rough Puritanism. And so, “let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Do not feast as if you wished to keep the festival of Bacchus!  Do not live, tomorrow, as if you adored some heathen divinity. Feast, Christians, feast! You have a right to feast.  Go to the house of feasting tomorrow! Celebrate your Savior’s birth. Do not be ashamed to be glad—you have a right to be happy. Solomon says, “Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts your works. Let your garments be always white and let your head lack no ointment.”—

“Religion never was designed
To make our pleasures less.”

Remember that your Master ate butter and honey. Go your way, rejoice tomorrow, but, in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem—let Him have a place in your hearts, give Him the glory, think of the virgin who conceived Him—but think, most of all, of the Man born, the Child given! I finish by again saying—  “A HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!”

Our Conversion: For the Conversion of Others

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

In my recent Sunday morning sermon reading, came some rather unusual remarks from Spurgeon.  This was at the beginning of Volume 4, #169 (“What Have I Done?”), delivered at the year-end of 1857 as he reflected back on Christian service by believers during the past year.  The words sound very much like something an Arminian evangelist would say, and taken by themselves apart from Spurgeon’s other writings, should indeed be troubling.  A brief excerpt:

I will, however, ask a pointed question—are there not many Christians now present who cannot remember that they have been the means of the salvation of one soul during this year? Come, now. Think—have you any reason to believe that directly or indirectly you have been made the means this year of the salvation of a soul? I will go further—there are some of you who are old Christians and I will ask you this question—have you any reason to believe that ever since you were converted you have ever been the means of the salvation of a soul? . . . And yet there are some of you here who have been spiritually barren and have never brought one convert to Christ! You have not one star in your crown of glory and must wear a starless crown in Heaven!

Perhaps one point in properly understanding the above, is his wording “directly or indirectly.”  For at the surface, at least, these words suggest that we should all be actively talking to others about Jesus — and 20th century terms such as “street evangelism” come to mind.  In contrast to this idea, though, I think of the oft-quoted saying from St. Francis of Assissi:  “Preach the gospel daily.  Use words if necessary.”

But soon after considering Spurgeon’s “What Have I Done?” sermon, I read the following great passage from J.C. Ryle, in Holiness chapter 17.  Here is a better explanation concerning our role as Christians, converted not only for ourselves but to lead to the conversion of others:

I believe that just as ‘no man lives unto himself’ (Rom. 14:7), so also no man is converted only for himself and that the conversion of one man or woman always leads on, in God’s wonderful providence, to the conversion of others. I do not say for a moment that all believers know it. I think it far more likely that many live and die in the faith, who are not aware that they have done good to any soul. But I believe the resurrection morning and the judgment day, when the secret history of all Christians is revealed, will prove that the full meaning of the promise before us has never failed. I doubt if there will be a believer who will not have been to someone or other a ‘river of living water,’ a channel through whom the Spirit has conveyed saving grace. Even the penitent thief, short as his time was after he repented, has been a source of blessing to thousands of souls!

a. Some believers are rivers of living water while they live. Their words, their conversation, their preaching, their teaching, are all means by which the water of life has flowed into the hearts of their fellow men.  …

b. Some believers are rivers of living water when they die. Their courage in facing the king of terrors, their boldness in the most painful sufferings, their unswerving faithfulness to Christ’s truth even at the stake, their manifest peace on the edge of the grave—all this has set thousands thinking, and led hundreds to repent and believe. Such, for example, were the primitive martyrs, whom the Roman Emperors persecuted. Such were John Huss and Jerome of Prague. Such were Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Hooper and the noble army of Marian martyrs. The work that they did at their deaths, like Samson, was far greater then the work done in their lives.

c. Some believers are rivers of living water long after they die. They do good by their books and writings in every part of the world, long after the hands which held the pen are mouldering in the dust. Such men were Bunyan and Baxter and Owen and George Herbert and Robert MCCHEYNE. These blessed servants of God do more good probably by their books at this moment than they did by their tongues when they were alive. Being dead they yet speak (Heb. 11:4).

d. Finally, there are some believers who are rivers of living water by the beauty of their daily conduct and behavior. There are many quiet, gentle, consistent Christians, who make no show and no noise in the world, and yet insensibly exercise a deep influence for good on all around them. They ‘win without the Word’ (1 Peter 3:1). Their love, their kindness, their sweet temper, their patience, their unselfishness, tell silently on a wide circle, and sow seeds of thought and self–inquiry in many minds.

The last category is certainly the ideal that the St. Francis quote above upholds, and one we can all aspire to.

In category A I think of the “celebrity preachers,” especially those who have influenced many others by their great teaching and preaching, such as John MacArthur, as well as lesser but still prominent names of good preachers whose audio sermons are regularly updated to the Internet, and/or whose online writings encourage many.

By the very nature of things, most of us will not fit in categories B or C.  Perhaps some of us will yet be “rivers of living water” as martyrs in yet unknown persecutions, but the Lord alone knows that matter.

In reading item C and the list of names, I thought of J.C. Ryle himself, another great saint to add to the list of those who continue to guide believers today — “being dead they yet speak.”

As one plenty guilty of Spurgeon’s words above, having never directly shared the gospel with unbelievers (well, except within the format of “Evangelism Explosion” one year in my early Christian days), I yet take comfort in J.C. Ryle’s observation that it is “far more likely that many live and die in the faith, who are not aware that they have done good to any soul” but that even the dying thief on the cross, by his testimony, has brought comfort to many.  It is enough to trust in the Lord and hold steadfast to Him throughout the daily trials, doing even little things in service each day — even the simple blog format as a way to share my insights and encourage others.

Hebrews 1:6 — A Reference to Angels at the Second Coming of Christ

December 20, 2010 Leave a comment

S. Lewis Johnson often remarked that he was always learning something new in the Bible, even after so many years of studying. He also observed that the way to prevent backsliding in Christianity is to continue in the Word, really studying it and continuing to learn new things.

Here is one “little” yet interesting thing I recently learned, concerning Hebrews 1:6  (compare the ESV and NASB).  The “Drawing Near” devotional (author John MacArthur) for December 13 highlighted this verse (citing the NASB), and pointed out that angels at present do not fully understand God’s redemptive plan — reference 1 Peter 1:12.  But as Hebrews 1:6 promises, when God again brings Christ into the world, the angels will — at His Second Coming, the angels will worship Him:

Notice that Hebrews 1:6 says, “When He again brings the first-born into the world” (emphasis added). God already brought Christ into the world once–at the second coming He will bring Him into the world in blazing glory. Then the fullness of the prophecy of Psalm 97:7 quoted in Hebrews 1:6 will come to pass: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.”

In His second coming Christ is revealed in full glory as the Son. More than ever we have reason to join the heavenly chorus in declaring, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).

In my ESV Bible, as with the KJV and NIV, the text reads “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”  I had never thought that much about it, other than that it’s referring to Christ’s incarnation.  But sure enough, the NASB, as well as some other versions including the HCSB, say “when He again brings…”

In S. Lewis Johnson’s exposition of this verse, he explains the future reference in more detail.  The second part of Hebrews 1:6 is a direct reference from Deuteronomy 32:43, from a great prophetic chapter.  The text is also found in Psalm 97.  Both of these Old Testament passages have the context of the coming in judgment and ruling, and so we have biblical support for Hebrews 1:6 being “when He again brings the firstborn into the world.”  S. Lewis Johnson states a few additional reasons, including the Greek grammar and the issue of inheritance:

Now, the scholars discussed this back and forth and have, ever since the earliest days, all the way back.  But there are two or three things that make it very, very, I think, almost certain, that this should be attached to “bringing in the firstborn.”  And we should read it, “But when He again bring the firstborn in.”  In the first place, the position of the adverb in the Greek text would support that.  The tense of the Greek verb would support it, also, as an indefinite relative clause, referring to the future.  And so we’re taking it that way.  We’re taking this as a reference to the Second Advent.

. . . the word “brings into” is a legal term for bringing an heir into his inheritance.  And so since he’s already been said previously here to have been appointed heir to all things, it would be natural then to speak of him being introduced to his inheritance.  Part of his inheritance is the worship of the angels of God; that is his legal heir-ship.  Part of it.

He is also called “the firstborn.”  Now we don’t have time to look at Psalm 89, but that’s what David’s great king is called in Psalm 89.  So in other words, this is a little passage, in Deuteronomy 32, that may be tied in to the Davidic Covenant in that way.  When he brings the “firstborn” the one who inherits the Davidic Covenant into the world, he says, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.”  Firstborn is a term that does not speak temporally so much as it speaks of position.  The idea of priority passes into the idea of superiority with heir-ship and probably, I say, with Davidic associations.  You could look at Psalm 89, verse 27, and see that.

So much to think about, and so much depth contained in God’s word — and Hebrews 1:6 expands on the joy to be experienced in Revelation 5.  The angels are finally in full action, rejoicing and praising and worshiping Him when He finally comes to rule the earth!

Let us also rejoice in God’s word, and the thought expressed by so many great saints, as in this great quote from J.C. Ryle:

Let us learn the high authority of the Bible, and the immense value of a knowledge of its contents. Let us read it, search into it, pray over it, diligently, perseveringly, unweariedly. Let us strive to be so thoroughly acquainted with its pages, that its text may abide in our memories, and stand ready at our right hand in the day of need. Let us be able to appeal from every perversion and false interpretation of its meaning, to those thousand plain passages, which are written as it were with a sunbeam. The Bible is indeed a sword, but we must take heed that we know it well, if we would use it with effect.

Isaiah 65: The Millennial Kingdom or the Eternal State?

December 17, 2010 Leave a comment

S. Lewis Johnson’s Isaiah series dealt with a text that I had often wondered about: the description of the New Heavens and New Earth in Isaiah 65.  Is it talking about the Eternal State, or the intermediate state of the Kingdom?

Verse 17 says “create a new heaven and a new earth,” a phrase which sounds similar to the description of the eternal state (Revelation 21-22:5) — as in the words of Revelation 21:1.  Yet the context of the next several verses is clearly describing an intermediary state, in which people still experience death (after longer lives).   Evidently this passage even puzzled Scofield, whose Study Bible says that verse 17 refers to the Eternal State, but verses 18 to 25 to the Kingdom age.

S. Lewis Johnson observes here that the Hebrew word used here, for “create,” does not have to refer to a totally new creation. The word used there could as easily refer to the renewal of the earth.  We do have a New Testament precedent:  2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that we are “a new creation in Christ.”  Of course, we realize that we are not yet completely new creations, as we still are in our mortal, corruptible bodies and still awaiting the resurrection and our totally new, glorified bodies.  Yet we have been renewed and regenerated in our spirits — just as creation itself (Romans 8:21) will be renewed in the next age.  So SLJ’s explanation here, in reference to our new creation in the New Testament, and Isaiah’s “new heavens and new earth,” makes better sense of the overall passage verses 17 – 25.

Why Israel is Not a Type of the Church

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a response to my “Reformed,” God-is-through-with-Israel family member (though he’ll not see this, his heart being uninterested in considering this subject) — yet it is nice to articulate and understand the position, for those who are curious about the matter.  This response is to the typical vague idea, without any specifics, that Israel is part of the “types and shadows” of the OT, and therefore obsolete now in the New Testament era.

First, though, it is necessary to observe definitions of terms, including: what “types” actually are (and see this article also)  — and types are not allegories.  Allegories, such as John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, are never found in the Bible.  The one place the word allegory is used in the Bible (in Galatians 4:24), the word translated as allegory in the KJV and ESV is actually the word for illustration — as used in the HCSB version.

A type (another word for “illustration” or “example”) has specific characteristics:  it is rooted in historical fact and includes correspondences between people, things (or institutions), or events.  Many things from Israel’s history are indeed types, such as its leaders as typical of the Messiah King, and especially events from the life of King David.  From a recent S. Lewis Johnson Matthew 2 sermon, as another example, Hosea shows how Israel’s exodus out of Egypt was a type of something that also happened in the life of Jesus Christ.  Types need not be restricted to only those which are explicitly pointed out in the New Testament — but they must still follow the pattern established by the definition above: a historical person, thing or event that has direct correspondence to something in the New Testament.

So the general argument that “Israel is a type and shadow and has no further meaning” is vague and meaningless.  For one thing, the topic of Israel as a nation is simply too broad to offer specific direct correspondence to any particular New Testament teaching.  To say Israel equals the Church makes no sense in typology, for where are the one-to-one likenesses and correspondences?  As just a few points here:  1)  Israel brought forth the Messiah.  The Church did not bring forth the Messiah — the Messiah brought forth the Church. (Matthew 16:18).  2)  Israel followed a specific code of law that they were placed under.  The Church was never placed under any code of law.  3)  Israel was separated from the nations and put in a special covenantal relationship with God.  Believers in the New Testament age are scattered among many different nations — by its very nature, the Church cannot be a covenant nation.  None of the nations in the world (except Israel) have ever been in a covenant relationship with God — rather, believers are living amongst the nations, those called by God living side-by-side with the non-elect in the various nations.

Now to additional scriptural reasons why Israel is not a type of the Church or of New Testament believers:

1.  Promises were made to Abraham, and later to David, concerning the nation of Israel — unilateral covenants with unconditional promises.  (Genesis 15:5, 18; Genesis 17:8; 2 Samuel 7:10).  The “types and shadows” rendered obsolete came from the Mosaic economy and its sacrificial system that pointed to Christ’s sacrifice.  This has nothing to do with the fact of ethnic Israel itself.

2.  Even in New Testament times, Israel and the Church, and Jews and Gentiles, are separate terms and continue their specific meanings.  Throughout the book of Acts, after the Church begins in Acts 2, the two groups are kept distinct.  The Apostle Paul in his epistles keeps the terms separate, always distinguishing between Gentiles and “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).  Romans 11 clearly makes distinction between three groups:  believing Jews, unbelieving Jews, and Gentiles.  Paul especially contrasts unbelieving and believing Israel, yet both are distinct from the Gentiles who are the wild olive branches that have been “grafted in” to the natural olive tree.

Then in Revelation we again see reference to Israel, even to the twelve tribes and their names:  Revelation 7:4-8.  In Revelation 21:12-13 we learn that the gates of the New Jerusalem have written upon them the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Yes, the church gets its inclusion in verse 14, the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.  But again, why continue the distinction between the two groups all the way through Acts, the New Testament Epistles, and Revelation, if Israel is an obsolete type and shadow?

3.  Israel is in their land.  Spurgeon, McCheyne, Jonathan Edwards and many other Christian preachers in centuries past read their Bibles and predicted that Israel would be regathered to their land — an idea scoffed at and thought impossible at the time.  Even John Reisinger, still happy to be an amillennialist, has admitted that several things about the amillennial position bother him — and this is one of those “problems.”