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Spurgeon: What is Done on Earth is Known in Heaven

April 30, 2011 Leave a comment

From Spurgeon sermon #203, The Sympathy of the Two Worlds:

But I have no doubt, Beloved, the thought has sometimes struck us that our praise does not go far enough. We seem as if we dwelt in an isle cut off from the mainland. This world, like a fair planet, swims in a sea of ether unnavigated by mortal ship. We have sometimes thought that surely our praise was confined to the shores of this poor narrow world— that it was impossible for us to pull the ropes which might ring the bells of Heaven—that we could by no means whatever reach our hands so high as to sweep the celestial chords of angelic harps! We have said to ourselves there is no connection between earth and Heaven. A huge black wall divides us. A strait of unnavigable waters shuts us out. Our prayers cannot reach to Heaven, neither can our praises affect the celestials. Let us learn from our text how mistaken we are! We are, after all, however much we seem to be shut out from Heaven and from the great universe but a province of God’s vast united empire and what is done on earth is known in Heaven! What is sung on earth is sung in Heaven! And there is a sense in which it is true that the tears of earth are wept again in Paradise and the sorrows of mankind are felt again, even on the Throne of the Most High.

Lordship Salvation Views: Matthew’s Gospel

April 28, 2011 6 comments

As an online friend once commented, it’s interesting to see how different preachers treat the same scripture passages, revealing their own distinctive views and emphases.  As one recent example, considering Matthew 16:24-27, I’ve noticed that one’s ideas of salvation and discipleship come into play and affect our understanding of Jesus’ words.

In this text Jesus says “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  In S. Lewis Johnson’s teaching on this text, he notes that this can be taken in two different senses:

1.  As referring to salvation and the gospel, “that every true Christian is a person who denies himself and takes up his cross and follows the Lord Jesus.”  — or —
2.  Referring to discipleship:  Jesus here is speaking to disciples, and the phrase “come after Me” differs from the basic gospel message, “come unto Me.”

Though the term “Lordship Salvation” is never mentioned here, the concept was clearly in SLJ’s mind as he noted the two views, pointing out that he did respect those who hold to the first view and that “a truth is expressed by what lies back of that interpretation.”  He then continued to emphasize the discipleship that is conveyed here.

By contrast, a message from John MacArthur‘s Matthew series assumes the first view without really addressing the other interpretation, as in this excerpt:

Now, what does He mean “if any man will come after Me?” Basically just this, if you want to be a Christian, if you want to follow Jesus, if you want to be a disciple, if you want to come to Christ…it’s an evangelistic word here. You say, “Well, then why is He giving it to the disciples?” Well, the evangelistic thrust goes to the multitude. But it also has a tremendous message to the disciples because it’s easy for us having understood that total commitment to the Lordship of Christ and submission to Him when we got in, to eventually begin to try to take back some of our own rights. … this is not only a word for those who need to know how to come to Christ to start with, but this is a word for those who having come may have forgotten what they said they came for in the beginning. So if you come to follow Jesus Christ, you come on His terms.

Later in this same Matthew 16 message SLJ also brought up the story of Lot, one who was a true believer yet had no fruit or influence.  Again, discipleship is better and the desirable state for believers, but is it really scriptural to say that only mature believers are truly saved?  In the previous post I referenced J.C. Ryle as one who clearly did recognize this distinction between types of believers.  As Johnson pointed out, Charles Hodge is another one — and from my googling online I found references to that fact.

Recognizing this distinction between justification and sanctification, and between two types of believers, the carnal immature versus spiritual mature, of course does not mean that Christians should evangelize with Arminian-style “decision cards” or tracts promoting the idea that it’s okay to be a carnal Christian.  Throughout history the gospel has always been proclaimed through preaching and teaching of the Word, proclaiming gospel salvation to lost sinners, and the results are born out in the lives of those who respond to the gospel message and come to faith in Christ.  God’s word convicts a person of his own sinfulness and brings regeneration and faith to that person, who afterwards begins attending at a local church — sanctification beginning in the believer’s life.  Yet scripture and church history clearly show that some believers do not mature to the extent that others do.  God alone understands why this is so, but He is the one who has consigned all of us over to disobedience so as to have mercy — on so many of us.

Finally, the following article, the conclusion from S. Lewis Johnson’s 1989 paper concerning Lordship Salvation (“QT: S. Lewis Johnson on Lordship Salvation”), is quite helpful towards a proper perspective.

Lordship Salvation Views: The Carnal Christian

April 25, 2011 13 comments

In recent online articles, and in my own sermon listening, I continue hearing about the “Lordship Salvation” issue and the never-ending controversy.  In March, the Bible Prophecy blog posted a brief article by Andy Woods, “What is Wrong With Lordship Salvation?” Since then, another blogger (Airo-Cross blog) has posted his own lengthy seven-part “rebuttal.”

From brief readings of all the above, I am again inclined to agree with S. Lewis Johnson, that we must define our terms of what we are talking about.  For many words have been wasted in dispute while each side is talking about different things.  The overall topic is too broad for my purposes, but here I will address one key issue:  the “carnal Christian.”

“Lordship Salvation” proponents, as in this article on John MacArthur’s GTY site, associate the carnal Christian idea with easy-believism and questionable methods of evangelism: the well-known “altar calls” and signing of decision cards that lead to many false conversions of people misled into thinking they are saved because they “made a decision” for Jesus at some evangelistic crusade.

The “carnal Christian” as defined by Ryrie, and similarly described in S. Lewis Johnson’s sermons, has nothing to do with that idea — and understands such individuals as the seed sown on rocky ground, who received the Word with great joy but fell away over time and when persecution came: because they had no root.  Rather, this definition of “carnal Christian” reflects the scriptural truth — observed in our church experience — that many saved people do not really live up to the great standard of holiness and maturity; they reach a saving knowledge and truly believe, but never progress in their sanctification beyond a certain point.  An important point to stress here is that such a condition is never desirable, does not please God and would not have pleased the apostle Paul–and invites God’s divine discipline on such believers, as in 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 John 5:16-17.

Scriptural evidences regarding this type of “carnal Christian” include the life-story of Lot, as well as the Corinthians, saved people acting like unbelievers.  When preachers get past the labels they recognize this, as John MacArthur did in his preaching about the CorinthiansNow let me summarize: Christians are positionally spiritual. They can be practically carnal. And that is the case of the Corinthians.

It does no service to truth, though, when someone feels the need to whitewash the scriptural record concerning Lot and the Corinthians.  Consider the following from the Airo-Cross blogger:

Dr. Woods takes one example from Lot’s life and extrapolates a whole category of Christians who live in continuous, wanton sin. However, just as he did point out, Lot was declared righteous by God (2 Peter 2:7-8). If Lot was called righteous by God, his life would have been marked by the habitual practice of righteousness (1 John 3:4-10). We cannot take one instance in Lot’s life and develop an entire doctrine around it, such as perpetual carnal Christians. This is a gross abuse of the Scriptures. The truth is, Lot hated lawlessness and was “greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked” and tormented “his righteous soul over their lawless deeds”. That does not sound like a man who habitually practiced a lifestyle of sexual immorality, lest he was a hypocrite and had no right to judge the acts of these wicked men.

It is true that Lot never knowingly committed flagrant immoral sin.  He was married to one wife, did not engage in the homosexual practices of the wicked men around him, and by all accounts was a fine, upstanding citizen.  Lot’s problem was worldliness, loving this world and trying to get all it offers — but in the end he had no influence and no fruit.

Ironically, the writer also lists J.C. Ryle among the great names in his cause, later even quoting J.C. Ryle on sanctification.  But anyone who has read Ryle’s “Holiness” chapter 9 (Lot–A Beacon) understands what I mean concerning whitewashing the truth of scripture.  Here are excerpts from J.C. Ryle’s teaching about Lot:

a. Let us mark, then, that Lot did no good among the inhabitants of Sodom. . . .
b. It is also telling that Lot helped none of his family, relatives or connections toward heaven  … —there was not one among them all that feared God! . . .
c. Lot left no evidences behind him when he died. We know but little about Lot after his flight from Sodom, and all that we do know is unsatisfactory. His pleading for Zoar because it was “a little one,” his departure from Zoar afterwards, and his conduct in the cave—all, all tell the same story. All show the weakness of the grace that was in him and the low state of soul into which he had fallen.

The Scripture appears to draw a veil around him on purpose. There is a painful silence about his latter end. He seems to go out like an expiring lamp and to leave an ill savor behind him. And had we not been specially told in the New Testament that Lot was “just” and “righteous,” I verily believe we should have doubted whether Lot was a saved soul at all.

But I do not wonder at his sad end. Lingering believers will generally reap according as they have sown. Their lingering often meets them when their spirit is departing. They have little peace at the last. They reach heaven, to be sure; but they reach it in poor plight, weary and footsore, in weakness and tears, in darkness and storm. They are saved, but “saved so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:15).

J.C. Ryle also observed the following concerning such believers (the term “carnal Christian” was not around then, but the idea certainly was):

And yet, incredulous as it may appear at first sight, I fear there are many of the Lord Jesus Christ’s people, in fact Christians, very much like Lot. Mark this well! There are many real children of God who appear to know far more than they live up to, and see far more than they practice, and yet continue in this state for many years. Incredibly, they go as far as they do and yet go no further!

They hold the Head, even Christ, and love the truth. They like sound preaching and assent to every article of gospel doctrine when they hear it. But still there is an indescribable something which is not satisfactory about them. They are constantly doing things which disappoint the expectations of their ministers and of more advanced Christian friends. It causes one to marvel that they should think as they do and yet stand still!

They believe in heaven and yet seem faintly to long for it, and in hell and yet seem little to fear it. They love the Lord Jesus, but the work they do for Him is small. They hate the devil, but they often appear to tempt him to come to them. They know the time is short, but they live as if it were long. They know they have a battle to fight, yet a man might think they were at peace. They know they have a race to run, yet they often look like people sitting still. They know the Judge is at the door, and there is wrath to come; and yet they appear half asleep. Astonishing they should be what they are and yet be nothing more!

And what shall we say of these people? They often puzzle godly friends and relations. They often cause great anxiety. They often give rise to great doubts and searchings of heart. But they may be classed under one sweeping description: they are all brethren and sisters of Lot. They linger.

Later Justin says concerning the Corinthians:

These “carnal believers” were operating according to their flesh in this one area regarding the resolution of personal conflicts, but nowhere in this text do we see they continued to operate as carnal believers in the whole of their life. On the contrary, we see in chapter 1 that Paul thanked God for their faithfulness and acknowledged they lacked no spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 1:4-9). In this particular instance, Paul was admonishing and instructing them as infants in Christ because they were acting in the flesh with regard to conflict.

In answer, I would say to keep reading the rest of 1 Corinthians, including chapter 11 (gross mishandling of the Lord’s table), and chapter 14 (concerning orderly worship) and their immaturity in 2 Corinthians.  We cannot ignore the example of the Corinthians by saying that it was only in this one matter, of preferring Apollos or Paul or Cephas, etc., that they were behaving carnally.  MacArthur likewise recognized the truth concerning the Corinthian believers, as referenced in his sermon mentioned above.

Finally, and to reiterate the point:  carnal Christians (as defined here) do exist, scripturally and in our experience.  Yet this does not mean we condone or take pleasure in the fact that they exist.  I’ll close with this position as expressed by S. Lewis Johnson:

Is it possible for us to say that there are divisions of mankind that we can call non-Christians, Christians, and carnal Christians?  A lot of, to my mind, foolish things have been said about this, and people have made some statements that probably could be justly criticized, but this certainly says that there is such an individual as a believer who is living in a carnal way.  So it would seem, from Paul’s own language here, that one could say, with reference to a person, that it appears that there is such a thing as a carnal Christian, and you may know such that you feel reasonably sure there are such because some even talk in a way that reveals that that’s precisely what they are.

But to say that this is acceptable to God is something else.  And it is true that it is often conveyed in the way in which this kind of person is referred to, the idea that that’s acceptable.  In fact, I’ve known of individuals who will say, if you want to stir them up to take an advance and to learn a few of the theological doctrines of the word of God other than they have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, they frequently say or have said, “Well, I’m just afraid that I’m not interested in that.  If there is such thing as a carnal Christian, I’ll just be a carnal Christian.” The apostle would have been very unhappy with that.  God would be very unhappy with that.  Carnal Christians exist.  That is, they are babes, he says, and they are in Christ, but they’re walking in a fleshly way.

J.C. Ryle: The Workers in the Vineyard

April 23, 2011 Leave a comment

J.C. Ryle, from Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew.

Text:  Matthew 20:1-16  (The parable of the workers in the vineyard hired at different hours of the day.)

Let us beware of supposing, from this parable, that the distinction between Jews and Gentiles is entirely done away by the Gospel. To suppose this is to contradict many plain prophecies, both of the Old Testament and New. In the matter of justification, there is no distinction between the believing Jew and the Greek. Yet Israel is still a special people, and not “numbered among the nations.” God has many purposes concerning the Jews, which are yet to be fulfilled.

Let us beware of supposing, from this parable, that all saved souls will have the same degree of glory. To suppose this, is to contradict many plain texts of Scripture. The title of all believers no doubt is the same–the righteousness of Christ. But all will not have the same place in heaven. “Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor.” (1 Cor. 3:8.)

Studying the Minor Prophets

April 21, 2011 2 comments

Among people I’ve talked to, who read or have read using the Horner Bible Reading plan, often I hear a common frustration:  that it’s hard to just read through some of the books (for instance, the minor prophets) when I really don’t understand them.  How should we follow the Horner reading plan and yet do specific-verse study?  The answer, of course, is not an “either-or” but “both – and.”  The Horner Bible reading plan is the groundwork layer, overall reading to become increasingly familiar with the Bible as a whole, but not intended as its own end with nothing else.  In addition to the genre-style reading, add additional study of different scripture texts — and the overall Horner reading will suggest many ideas for such further, in-depth study.

As with anything we have questions about in Bible reading, it’s best to pick a particular Bible book, find a good commentary or sermon series, and start listening/reading it through sequentially, through all the chapters of the study along with the actual Bible book chapters.  For commentaries and other resources, the “Precept Austin” site compiles good listings, on a Bible book basis.  At this point I prefer audio sermon series, and S. Lewis Johnson taught through most of the minor prophets.

From my general reading and sermon listening (through Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, and some of Jonah), here are some of my observations concerning the prophets.

Not everything in the Bible was written to us (in the church age) as the primary audience.  We can certainly make application from the reading, while still recognizing the original intent.

Expanding further on this point, consider the wise words of J.C. Ryle (from Practical Religion, chapter 5)

Determine to take everything in its plain, obvious meaning, and regard all forced interpretations with great suspicion. As a general rule, whatever a verse of the Bible seems to mean, it does mean. Cecil’s rule is a very valuable one, “The right way of interpreting Scripture is to take it as we find it, without any attempt to force it into any particular system.” Well said Hooker, “I hold it for a most infallible rule in the exposition of Scripture, that when the literal construction will stand, the furthest from the literal is commonly the worst.”

Anyone who confuses the church with Israel, who does not understand Israel’s unique situation and the covenants established between God and Israel (the Abrahamic /Davidic as well as the Mosaic law), will likely become confused.  Likewise, anyone who comes to the text with the general idea, taught at too many churches, that all prophecy was fulfilled at Christ’s First Coming, will be confused over many specific things said in the prophets.  Instead, let the text speak for itself and do not try to “fit” what is said to any preconceived idea of how the prophecy is about something accomplished in the distant past (i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.).

We can make many applications from the overall minor prophet themes.  For instance, in Hosea and Amos — both written at about the same time period, to the northern kingdom of Judah — we can relate to people living in a very prosperous, and very secular and worldly society, a time of formalism in worship.  How often that indeed relates to our day, of worldly entertainment-oriented churches, with many people only observing the outward forms of Christianity but lacking the true heart substance.  In Jonah we see the attitude of the self-righteous who think God should only bless “us” and not our enemies.

As a general rule, the first books in the minor prophets section are thought to be “earlier” in time than the later books:  Hosea and Amos were contemporaries in the 8th century B.C.  The last few books in the set — Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi — are the post-exilic prophets, and the book just before those (Zephaniah) was just before the exile, contemporary with Jeremiah and King Josiah.  Sometimes, as with the smallest book of Obadiah, we know very little about the book’s time setting (other than the general idea that it probably was written earlier during the prophets), and yet we can take comfort in the fact that it’s not necessary to know such details in order to understand the message of the book.  In Obadiah the prophecy is Edom’s doom, and we know about Edom from earlier in the Bible, especially in the Genesis section dealing with Jacob and Esau.

Also generally, the prophets first speak of judgment — and spend a great deal more time there — followed by briefer yet certain promises that God will not forever abandon His people.  Amos contains 8 1/2 chapters of judgment, followed by the wonderful future promise in the last part of Amos 9.  Hosea too is mostly focused on the judgment.  We find the prominence of judgment rather discouraging, but here I remember also that Jesus spent far more time talking about hell than He did about heaven.  Before we come to the great news of salvation and our glorious future, we must recognize our tremendous sin guilt, to be confronted and warned to flee from the wrath to come.  Yet we can also hold on to these treasures, the promise of redemption and that God will not forsake His people forever (with meaning specific first to the Jews, but also to all the people of God, including us who have been grafted into the Romans 11 olive tree), of the wonderful things yet to come.

The “Crumbs” of Scripture

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Among all the riches of God’s word, sometimes we have to search diligently, exhausting the depth of scripture verses, to find treasures, even to the “crumbs” of God’s word.  Spurgeon used the term in reference to seemingly obscure verses — not the ones we typically remember — that, even so, bring great insights, such as his reference to Ezekiel 16:20-21:

Where we have but little, we must pick up even the crumbs and do as our Master did—gather up the fragments that nothing is lost

Likewise, sometimes Bible teachers will expand on the seemingly trivial pieces of information found in scripture, grasping at the crumbs, as for instance John MacArthur did with the writings about the “12 Ordinary Men” and the “12 Extraordinary Women.”

But now to a particular case in the Bible where someone literally grasped at the crumbs provided in God’s plan:  the Syro-Phoenician woman of Matthew 15:21-28 (parallel passage Mark 7:24-30) who asked for the crumbs that fall from the children to the dogs under the table.  S. Lewis Johnson’s Matthew series provides some good teaching concerning this often misunderstood incident.

In my early Christian years, the view I heard at church was that Jesus acted as He did to make a point to the disciples who were annoyed at the woman:  first acting like them, then showing them the proper response and to not be so exclusive.  In the more recent church setting, the general emphasis (repeated frequently) is the fact that Jesus called her a dog (with no distinction as to the type of dog), just an unclean wild animal, and how we all are as unclean dogs so unworthy before God.  Such superficial, incomplete (and wrong) conclusions often reflect a person’s own bias rather than a serious look at the text:  the one view from a people-oriented teacher interested in our relationships with one another, the second from one who is not a “people-person” and who has a rather negative and distorted concept of God.

As S. Lewis Johnson noted, this particular incident cannot be understood apart from an understanding of God’s Purpose of the Ages, sometimes referred to as the Divine Purpose, a fundamental aspect of dispensationalism.  The underlying issue here is the priority of the gospel:  as Paul says in Romans, “first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.”  As earlier in Matthew (Matthew 10:5-6), Jesus sent the twelve disciples out — only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.  Christ came into the world, to the Jews first:  to confirm the promises made to their fathers — and then (next in the sequence), in order that the Gentiles would glorify God for His mercy (Romans 15:8-9).

Jesus’ silence towards the woman here is not one of harshness, the type of silence He showed towards His enemies beyond hope of redemption (the Pharisees, Pilate and Herod) but one of serious contemplation over this matter of God’s priority in redemption.  Jesus knew that the woman had faith to receive the healing of her daughter: she called Him “son of David,” (she understood something of the Davidic promise) and showed all the other indications of faith as previously shown in others (Jews) who had been healed.  Yet here he wanted to point out the order of salvation: first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.  The woman — her name according to tradition was Justa, and her daughter Bernice — accepted this.

The parallel account in Mark includes an extra statement, before the line It is not right to take the children’s bread and  throw it to the dogs: “let the children be fed first.”  The woman seized on this “crumb” of truth, recognizing the idea of a “doggie” under the table, which is the type of dog described here (not the wild, wolf-type pack dogs).  We know the rest of the story, that Jesus proclaimed “great is your faith!” and answered her petition.  This woman’s “crumb” turned out to be pretty important after all: the healing of her demon-possessed daughter.

Spurgeon: A Present Religion

April 16, 2011 Leave a comment

From Sermon #196, “A Present Religion” — May 30, 1858

Very differently, however, do we act with affairs of the present life—things that are sweet to us become the more sweet by their nearness. Was there ever a child who longed for his father’s house who did not feel that the holidays grew more sweet in his estimation the shorter the time was that he had to tarry?

What man is there who having once set his heart on riches, did not find his delight in the thought of being rich increase with the nearness of his approach to the desired objective? And are we not, all of us, accustomed when we think a good thing is at a distance, to try if we can shorten the time between us and it?

We try anything and everything to push on the lagging hours! We chide them, wish that Time had double wings, that he might swiftly fly and bring the expected season! When the Christian talks of Heaven, you will always hear him try to shorten the distance between himself and the happy land. He says—
“A few more rolling suns at most
Will land me on fair Canaan’s coast.”
There may be many years between him and Paradise, but still he is prone to say—
“The way may be rough, but it cannot be long.”

Thus do we all delight to shorten the distance between us and the things for which we hope. Now let us just apply this rule to religion. They who love religion love a present thing. The Christian who really seeks salvation will never be happy unless he can say, “Now am I a child of God.” Because the worldling dislikes it, he puts it from him! Because the Christian loves it, therefore its very fairest feature is its present existence, its present enjoyment in his heart! That word, “now,” which is the sinner’s warning and his terror, is to the Christian his greatest delight and joy! “There is therefore”—and then the sweetest bell of all rings—“there is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.”