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Devotional Reading

January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Along with my Bible reading (90 days modified Horner System), I’m now regularly reading from a few devotional books / emails.  A well-known one, which I receive by email, is Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening — available here.  I usually only read the morning one, since that’s when I’m in front of the computer reading email.

Another good one I’ve recently discovered is ICR.org’s “Days of Praise”.   Apparently the devotionals come in three-month booklets, and unlike Spurgeon’s devotional book the content changes from year to year.  The archives from previous years are available on the site as well.  Written by Henry H. Morris as well as a few other writers, these devotionals often deal with texts upholding the importance of God’s word, as well as some that relate to science and/or creation.  Recent devotionals have included texts such as 2 Timothy 3:16 (Jots and Tittles), several of the Psalms, and Genesis.  One devotional on Genesis 2 pointed out that Eve was really formed from “Adam’s side” (not merely a bone, a rib) — and saw this incident as a prophetic foreshadowing of the deep sleep which would come upon on “the last Adam”:

As Adam’s sacrifice gave life to his bride, so did the death of Christ quicken “the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

In the evenings I usually read an entry in John MacArthur’s “Readings from the Life of Christ, volume 2,” a hardbound devotional book I received through the Grace to You mailing list, and part of a three-volume set of devotionals focused on the gospel accounts.  As with MacArthur’s other devotional books, three of which are available online (no archives, only the current day), the entries are only from the New Testament:  in this case, from the gospel accounts.  MacArthur’s devotionals have more of a teaching style, bringing up specific technical points concerning a passage.  Often these are interesting and point out new things I had not noticed — as in a devotional from Hebrews 1, mentioned in this previous blog.  The readings also highlight some more MacArthur-specific ideas that I don’t always agree with, but they at least provide opportunities to further study such texts.  My next blog (for Thursday) will consider one such matter:  MacArthur’s definition of “types.”  I would also point out here that the epilogue “application” parts are not as useful, and often seem a forced format to “apply” the good teaching to something completely unrelated.

My day’s routine is not complete without the J.C. Ryle quote of the day.  I’ve just subscribed to the Octavius Winslow devotional, and will see if I enjoy it as much as the J.C. Ryle quotes.

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Unlearning and Relearning Some Things About the Lord’s Prayer

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

S. Lewis Johnson in his Matthew series (1975) has some interesting points concerning the well-known “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-15), including corrections to popular notions and uses of this text.

First, this prayer really should not be called “The Lord’s Prayer” — seeing as how our Lord himself never prayed it.  SLJ observes that John 17 would be a more appropriate passage to call the “Lord’s Prayer.”  The prayer in Matthew 6 could be called the “Disciple’s Prayer,” but as Johnson concedes, popular tradition will never leave and so we must refer to this as “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Next, this prayer was never intended to be prayed as such, but rather was intended as a model for prayer.  Note verse 9:  “Pray then like this” (ESV), or “After this manner therefore pray ye” (KJV).  It certainly was never intended to be recited, week after week in endless repetition as is done at so many mainline churches.  S. Lewis Johnson experienced that at his church growing up — and the same was done at the church I attended as a child (during the same time period when he preached these messages).

Also, this prayer is a Messianic prayer — a prayer that anticipates our Lord’s return to establish His kingdom upon the earth.  But as SLJ noted, in the church age this has become confused, and “kingdom” has become a church word.  In S. Lewis Johnson’s words:

Now of course, when we think of the statement, Thy kingdom come, now it is usually colored by the fact that the term, kingdom, has become a church word.  And, often, it is identified with the church.  The church and the kingdom are confused in our thinking as a result of this common misconception.  But when this petition was first given by Jesus Christ, and he said, “Thy kingdom come,” he understood that word kingdom – as did those who heard him offer this model prayer – in the Old Testament sense of the Messianic kingdom that had been promised through many, many centuries of prophetic teaching.  They looked forward to the time when the Messiah would come and establish an earthly kingdom.  The length of that kingdom is not given in the Old Testament; it is given in the New.  But they spoke of the grandeurs of the time when God would reign upon the earth.

Now words in the New Testament are often interpreted in the light of the sense that they had in the developing revelation of God – that is, in the sense in which they had in the Old Testament.  So when we read here, Thy kingdom come, we are to understand that this is a petition for the coming of our Lord’s rule and reign over the earth.  Now I dare say that in most of our congregations in which this Lord’s Prayer is repeated Sunday after Sunday all over this land (just to mention the United States), that petition is not understood.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven:   Here we ask regarding God’s preceptive will, which is now done in heaven.  God’s preceptive will, the things that please God, is not now being done on earth; His decretive will is what is now done on earth.  In the future millennial kingdom, God’s preceptive will is what will be done, as evidenced in several of the Psalms that describe that age.

Forgive us our debts:  this speaks of “paternal forgiveness” rather than judicial and eternal forgiveness — the forgiveness of a father toward his children, to restore them into communion and fellowship.  The union is there, but forgiveness is needed to restore the relationship.

SLJ:

I realize that a great deal can be said on the other hand, but in my opinion, from the study of the Scriptures, there is such a thing as the paternal forgiveness, the forgiveness that a father renders to a child.  It is to be distinguished from the judicial and eternal forgiveness that we receive when we believe in the Lord Jesus.  When we see Christ as the one who has died for our sins, and when we have put our trust in him and receive the forgiveness of sins, that forgiveness of sins covers the past, the present and the future.  But, it has to do with the guilt of that sin; it has to do with that which destroyed the relationship that existed, and it makes it possible for the relationship to be restored – the relationship of union with God.

But within the family of God, just as within our own families – our own children – our own children may do things that displease us.  Now, this does not destroy the relationship, but it certainly destroys the communion.  It destroys the fellowship, and that, I think, is what is taught in the word of God, that when Christians disobey the Father, it destroys the fellowship.  It does not destroy the relationship.  It destroys the communion; it does not destroy the union.

What I continue to appreciate from S. Lewis Johnson is the depth of teaching — teaching that looks past the obvious surface level and draws out distinctions to help our understanding.  Many people get tripped up concerning God’s will, for instance, and fail to see the difference between God’s decretive will and preceptive wills.  Study of Samson (Judges 14-16) is a good case in point, as I noted previously concerning that topic.

The different types of forgiveness, judicial/eternal versus paternal, also help for understanding this model “Lord’s prayer.”  As with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, this prayer is for believers in this age, those awaiting God’s kingdom  — and so the prayer starts out with our addressing God as “our Father.”  The phrase “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” is thus in the context of a family, with a father and children, as well as how we as believers forgive each other — brought out more clearly in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18: 23-35.  I also can relate this to 1 John 1:9 and other passages  which talk about believers in fellowship with God.

Understanding these distinctions keeps us from error and confusion.  Knowing about the two wills of God, decretive versus preceptive, we can answer those who might suggest that Samson was obediently doing God’s will when he married a non-Israelite, or that David was just as much in God’s love and will when he sinned against Bathsheba as when he fought Goliath.

The distinction between judicial forgiveness and paternal forgiveness helps to avoid another misunderstanding:  that the Lord’s Prayer is one in which we continually lower ourselves to worse and worse points of despised wretched sinners worthy of God’s eternal wrath.  That is certainly the message needed for unbelievers, but not for those in God’s family (and not from this text at any rate) — but it distorts the Lord’s prayer while missing what the prayer does say about the love of God and our relationship to Him as His children.

The Salvation of Infants That Die: Scriptural Evidences

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Nearly a year and a half ago I first blogged on the doctrine of the salvation of infants who die.  I had only recently considered this, a new subject to me, and now after further thought feel even more certain, from a scriptural basis, concerning the matter.  I also see a great contrast between those who understand the mercy of God displayed here, versus those who lack such understanding of God’s character.

Here, in summary, are several scriptural evidences:

1.  The case of David’s infant son that died, versus Absalom’s death — I first heard this from MacArthur, but recently learned that Spurgeon also noted this contrast.  MacArthur expanded a few sentences on the point, but perhaps he originally learned of this example from Spurgeon’s sermon.

2.  The frequent mentions in the gospels, that you must be like little children in order to see the kingdom of God.  The statement is a comparison, that the believer must be “like” little children — but the thing being compared to must agree for the comparison to make any sense.  If little children are only awful sinners that will only go to hell unless they grow up and receive Jesus, then why make a comparison between believers and “little children”?

3. The nature of the Great White Throne judgment:  those at the judgment are judged according to their works, and they understand why they are sentenced; infants would not understand why they are in hell and suffering torment.

4.  Ezekiel 16:20-21 is an interesting account that Spurgeon noted.  The Israelites had been sacrificing their infant children to the pagan god Moloch, and God speaks of those dead infant children as “My children,” saying “you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them?”  This one I find especially compelling — for God, throughout the Bible, clearly distinguishes between the wicked and righteous, even among the people of Israel.  If these children were merely “baby snakes” that must go to hell for their infant-sinfulness, then why does God refer to these now deceased infants as His children?

5.  We know that God is capable of putting His spirit (new birth, regeneration) into even young children, even in those still in the womb as in the case of John the Baptist.

6.  The vast number of saved souls in heaven, as described in Revelation, at least implies the salvation of many more people than can be accounted for from just the known adult believers throughout world history and even the Church Age.  Spurgeon often noted this, including in his sermon about the salvation of infants that die.

While this doctrine is admittedly one of the “lesser points,” still the root of it points to one’s conception of God, one’s understanding of how we are truly saved (by God alone, nothing on our part) and of God’s mercy.  Consider Spurgeon’s very strong words to those who would charge Calvinists as ascribing such cruelty to God:

As for modern Calvinists, I know of no exception, but we all hope and believe that all persons dying in infancy are elect. Dr. Gill, who has been looked upon in late times as being a very standard of Calvinism, not to say of ultra-Calvinism, himself never hints for a moment the supposition that any infant has perished. He affirms of it that it is a dark and mysterious subject but that it is his belief and he thinks he has Scripture to warrant it, that they who have fallen asleep in infancy have not perished, but have been numbered with the chosen of God and so have entered into eternal rest.

We have never taught the contrary and when the charge is brought, I repudiate it and say, “You may have said so, we never did and you know we never did. If you dare to repeat the slander again, let the lie stand in scarlet on your very cheek if you are capable of a blush.” We have never dreamed of such a thing. With very few and rare exceptions, so rare that I never heard of them except from the lips of slanderers, we have never imagined that infants dying as infants have perished—but we have believed that they enter into the Paradise of God.

It seems that many of today’s Reformed-Calvinist believers have forgotten many basic things of their forefathers, including a full understanding of God’s sovereignty in election along with His mercy.  For instance, a certain pastor I’ve mentioned before (messed up theology in many areas), when asked about the salvation of babies who die, cited the then-recent case of the woman who killed her five young children because she believed that babies would go to heaven if they die.  He added that, if that’s true (what the crazy woman believed) then “the sooner the better” and we should go out and kill all babies so as to guarantee their ticket to heaven.   Here I can only think of Paul’s words in Romans — “God forbid!” in the King James language, or “By no means!” — in response to a similar careless attitude that we should just sin all the more so that grace will abound more.

In my original post on this, I noted a correlation between this topic (salvation for infants that die) and understanding of a future salvation for Israel, and listed several names under each category.  I now can add several more names, to only confirm that correlation:  Hyper-calvinist John Gill, as well as S. Lewis Johnson and J.C. Ryle, who understood the salvation of both groups.

On the other hand, today’s amillennialists with no future for Israel, seem to have an especially hard time with the issue of God’s sovereignty in election (kind of like Arminian free-will thought), which touches on both matters.  They somehow still only want God’s election for themselves:  Gentile adults of every race who come to awareness of their own need for God and receive Christ.  But (for them) somehow it’s not fair that infants and young children automatically “get a free ticket” or that descendants of Israel (and again, not every single one of them, but a large number of them as scripture clearly teaches) automatically get special favor.

Perhaps some amillennialists out there — those who see no future salvation, much less a kingdom for Israel — do hold to the salvation of those who die before the age of accountability.  I haven’t met any, but certainly welcome them — but the two issues do seem to correlate.

The Believer’s Rewards: Matthew 5

January 20, 2011 1 comment

I have interacted with professing believers who are uncomfortable with the idea of Christians getting rewards.  It seems to them that such an idea implies works, or that some believers are higher ranked before God than others — and of course that can’t be true because we are all sinners and equal in the sight of God.  I’ve noticed too, that those who most emphasize our equality before God (and hence no rewards) also have a problem with several other biblical teachings — including the future of ethnic Israel and our Lord’s future kingdom of God upon the Earth.  I think of, for example, the pastor who denies any teaching concerning rewards, who even thinks that believers will be judged according to their works at the Great White Throne judgment (supposedly, to show that we’re just as unworthy as unbelievers, except for Christ’s imputation of us in the book of Life)– and the same one who denies the believer’s rewards also denies biblical creation, the future salvation and kingdom for Israel, as well as less obvious teachings such as the Angel of the Lord and the (election) salvation of infants who die.  Others I know that deny the teaching on biblical rewards are consistent in also rejecting at least some of the above doctrines, with special emphasis on how we’re all equal before God.  Reference also my recent blog, concerning those who profess belief in the basic doctrines yet emphasize their salvation and that “it’s not necessary to believe such-and-such doctrine.”

I’ve been listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Matthew series, and chapter 5 (starting the Sermon on the Mount) has a lot of good material including the matter of rewards.  Consider Matthew 5:12, or  Jesus’ strong words upholding the importance of scripture in Matthew 5:17-18.

I like how S. Lewis Johnson explained the nature of the Christian’s rewards:

Now, a reward in the Christian faith is not a prize.  Rewards in the Christian faith are quite different.  There is a reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it, and it’s quite foreign to the desires which ought to accompany these things.  Money is not the natural reward of love.  And so if a man marries a woman because she’s a wealthy woman, then what do we call that man?  Well, we call him mercenary, to use a nice word.  Now, marriage is the proper reward of a real love, and so when marriage takes place between two individuals who love one another, then we do not say those individuals are mercenary for desiring to be married.  There are rewards, and then there are rewards.

… Now a general who fights and fights well in order to become a lord is mercenary.  But a general who fights for victory is not mercenary.  In other words, when we talk about rewards, true rewards are the activity itself in its consummation – in its natural consummation.  So, in the Bible, when we talk about being given a reward, it’s not like a man who tries to marry a woman for her money, and he gets something entirely different from that which he’s been doing.  But it’s the natural consummation of everything that he has been doing.  So just as marriage is the natural consummation of true love, and is the reward of true love for both of those who are involved, so Christian rewards are not something tacked on like a prize because we’ve learned all of Beethoven’s sonatas, or because we have done this or that, but because it is the natural consummation of the Christian life.  And so rewards are those things that are the natural end of faithfulness in Christian life and ministry.

Just a few messages later, Johnson again mentions the difference between salvation and rewards.  It does play a part in the issue of how we respond to and accept the various teachings of the Bible:

But there are individuals who say, I can accept the Bible, but I can’t accept that.  I don’t know if you really believe the Bible.  That is so plain and so clear.  And when we read in the very next verse about the inviolability of Scripture, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments,”—I grant that that’s not as important as the atonement.  I grant that’s not nearly so important as the doctrine of unconditional election.  But nevertheless, it is one of the least commandments of the word of God at least, and he said, (Matthew 5:19) “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.”  Salvation may not be at stake, but your place in the kingdom of heaven, the rewards that Christians have, is at stake.

Reading through The Bible in 90 Days (a Genre Plan): Reading Update

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

As with the standard Horner Bible Reading System, reading through the scriptures following this 14-chapter per day plan (described here) yields some interesting parallels.  The Horner Bible Reading plan so lends itself to modifications, because any combination will show some parallels, though different ones in each case.

So far, this 90 day plan, starting with Genesis and going forward, follows the biblical time sequence:  Genesis, then Joshua-Judges, then 1 Chronicles (time of King David), then Isaiah (King Hezekiah), then Daniel (Babylonian exile).  Job and the Psalms provide a break for other Old Testament readings, followed by the New Testament sequence: gospels, then Acts.  The readings won’t always follow the chronological sequence — in some cases the second reading from the prophets will be earlier in the time sequence, and Jeremiah and Ezekiel reflect a later time period — but it’s great so far.

Anyway, here are some good reading parallels I’ve noted from the readings so far:

  • Genesis 12:8 mentions Ai and Bethel.  Joshua 12:9 also mentions these places, on day 12.
  • Genesis 11 and Daniel 1 both reference “the land of Shinar,” Babylon — where pagan religion started and continued through Daniel’s day
  • Psalm 16, and Acts 13:35 (quotes from Psalm 16), on day 8
  • Matthew 10, in which Jesus speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah, along with Genesis 19, on day 10
  • Daniel 6 — Daniel in the lions’ den — and Psalm 22:21 (save me from the mouth of the lion!), on days 11 and 12
  • Daniel 3:18 — contrasted with Job 8:3-6, on day 8.  The Hebrew children recognized that God might not deliver them, whereas Job’s friends understood a God that only brought harm on the wicked
  • Genesis 26:4 (the promise confirmed to Isaac, Abraham’s son) and the reminder of that promise to the unfaithful Israelites in Judges 2:1 on day 13
  • Judges 1:21 (Jerusalem and the Jebusites) on day 13, after 1 Chronicles 11:4-6 (David’s men conquering the same) on day 11
  • Isaiah 26:15 (day 13)  provides a wonderful contrast, that glorious future day, as compared to the days of unfaithful Israel in Judges.
  • Job 13, especially verses 15 and 25,  is answered with the better New Testament day, Matthew 13:17 (day 13) and Matthew 12:20 (from day 12)
  • Genesis 34 — land of Shechem, and Hamor and his son Shechem; then Judges 9, set in Shechem.  Note especially verse 28, which mentions “Hamor the father of Shechem.” — Day 17

Anyone else have some interesting reading parallels to share, from this 90 day plan?  Or from the original Horner or other modified versions?

The “Little Horn” of Daniel’s Visions

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

From studying Daniel with S. Lewis Johnson, I have learned of the different views concerning the identification of the “little horn” in chapters 7 and 8.  The “standard” explanation of the text, as taught in the Scofield Bible as well as by popular present-day teachers (for instance, John MacArthur and others associated with the Masters Seminary) is that the “little horn” in chapter 7 is the AntiChrist, but the same character in chapter 8 is Antiochus Epiphanes.  The position is well summarized by John MacArthur:

But you must keep a distinction for this reason. The little horn in chapter 7 comes out of the Roman Empire. The little horn in chapter 8 comes out of the Greek Empire. And so they are to be kept distinct. One is the antiChrist, and the other is one that prefigures the antiChrist. Now all of the commentators who study the Bible, with almost little or no exception, see this individual as a man named Antiochus. Antiochus Epiphanes. He was the eighth ruler of the Seleucids from General Seleucus’ area. And he reigned from 175 to 164 before Christ, BC, in what is known as the intertestamental period. The Old Testament shut down at 400 BC. The New Testament picked up at AD, the time Christ. In those 400 years, you have a Biblical time of silence. And it was in that time that this Greek power dominated the land of Israel. And at that time, this man Antiochus rose to a place of prominence.

That sounds fine at first glance — how can the same “little horn” come out of two different empires?  But S. Lewis Johnson brings out several more details from the relevant texts of scripture, to support an understanding of the same little horn.  As to the difficulty of each horn coming from a different empire, we also understand that Greece (third kingdom) was included within the overall fourth kingdom of Rome.  The Romans borrowed, or carried forward, the strengths of the Greeks:  their literature, their intellectual skills.

Scripture itself, though, adds additional support.  The interpretation itself, given by Gabriel later in chapter 8, tells us (in verses 17, 19 and 26) that the vision (just given) concerns the last days.  Consider verse 19,  “what shall be at the latter end of the indignation, for it refers to the appointed time of the end” and verse 17, “that the vision is for the time of the end.”  Johnson notes that the Hebrew word translated “the indignation” is a technical term used elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe the Great Tribulation period, the special time of trouble for Israel — a word also used in Isaiah 10:24-25 and  26:20, in Ezekiel 21:31 and Daniel 11:36.  Antiochus Epiphanes, obviously, did not come at the time of the end.  In keeping with our understanding of Old Testament types (illustrations or examples), it is clear that Antiochus is a type, a foreshadowing of the future AntiChrist–but not the primary reference in Daniel 8.

Another strong indicator concerning the Grecian origin of the AntiChrist comes from Revelation 13. In Revelation 13:2 the beast is described as “like a leopard.”  The leopard is a reference to Daniel 7, the third kingdom (Greece).

From the book of Daniel we can understand that the prophecy hype about a European antiChrist, and a 10 nation confederacy in the European Common Market, is somewhat misguided.  As S. Lewis Johnson pointed out earlier in the Daniel series, that ten nation group is worldwide, not something focused solely within the western world or confined to Europe specifically.  We can also look for the AntiChrist to arise from the Middle East, rather than from Italy (Rome).

More Illustrations from Daniel: Chapters 4 and 6

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Continuing with S. Lewis Johnson’s Daniel series, here are some highlights from Daniel 4.

In the application part of Biblical Interpretation, we can learn these 5 things from Nebuchadnezzar’s experience (Daniel 4:34-35):
1.  The eternal self-existence of God:    He praises the Most High and honors Him who lives forever
2.  God has an eternal kingdom and eternal throne:   For His dominion … His kingdom endures
3.  The Nothingness of Mankind:   All the inhabitants of earth are accounted as nothing
4.  The Divine Power is at Work Sovereignly:  He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth
5.  God’s Fiat / God’s Decree is Irresistible:   No one can strike against His hand.

Another good point:  how long must we endure the discipline?  As long as it takes for you to learn the lesson.  In Nebuchadnezzar’s case it was 7 years — but sometimes God’s hand of discipline lasts even longer than that.  Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, and no time limit is specified for how long he had to endure it.

Back to SLJ’s use of typology, we come to Daniel 6, the well-known story of Daniel in the Lions Den, and some interesting similarities between Daniel’s story and God’s people Israel.  Daniel’s personal experience here parallels that of human history, in that other people are often jealous of the Jews, as the other governing leaders were of Daniel.  Daniel also represents those placed in captivity (Israel), among the lions (the Gentiles).  The overall story also suggests the future Great Tribulation and the deliverance of the Jews from it.