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Spurgeon’s Practical, Close-to-Home Sermons

April 27, 2012 2 comments

A well-known blogger, who also likes Spurgeon, has often pointed to a shortcoming in Spurgeon, that he never preached on practical matters, only high doctrine.  I understand his point, in that Spurgeon excelled in textual preaching, and even when preaching from “practical” texts dealing with Christian living, Spurgeon would take off in another “textual” direction instead.

In a different sense, though, Spurgeon was very practical and encouraging, with hard-hitting messages and many illustrations of daily life.  I’m now reading through Spurgeon’s volume 6 (1860) sermons.  Numbers 320 and 321 I found especially encouraging, as ones that hit very close to home.  The first of these, Contentment, includes great reminders of God’s sovereignty and wisdom in placing us exactly where we need to be in our daily circumstances of life:

You kneel down in the morning and you say, “Your will be done!” Suppose you get up and want your own will and rebel against the dispensation of your heavenly Father—have you not made yourself out to be a hypocrite? The language of your prayer is at variance with the feeling of your heart; let it always be sufficient for you to think that you are where God put you.

In the second message, The Jeer of Sarcasm, and the Retort of Piety, Spurgeon takes a longer than usual (for him) passage:  3 full verses, 2 Samuel 6:20-22, the occasion of Michal’s criticism of David after he danced before the Lord while bringing in the ark.

You may suppose there is very little suffering for Christ now—I speak what I know—there is still a vast deal of suffering! I do not mean burning, I do not mean hanging, I do not mean persecution by law. It is a sort of slow martyrdom. I can tell you how it is effected. Everything a young man does is thrown in his teeth; things harmless and indifferent in themselves are twisted into accusation that he does wrong. If he speaks, his words are brought up against him. If he is silent it is worse. Whatever he does is misrepresented and from morning to night there is the taunt always ready.

How accurate Spurgeon was, in the descriptions of “slow martyrdom” for those who face such persecution from a close family member, even a wife or husband.  The jeer of sarcasm may not happen every moment or even every day.  Likewise Michal only made this specific jeer on this one occasion.  But it does come up frequently, providing a definite barrier and limitation to free communication in one’s own home, and in a way similar to what Spurgeon described.  Remain silent, saying nothing about your own beliefs and that which you love (great doctrines from the word of God), and be accused of “not being any fun” and a “boring person to be around.”  Quietly spend time reading God’s word before breakfast and the workday begins – oh that’s too fanatical, and you should just get more sleep, don’t try to do all that.  The jeerer — a nominal Christian like David’s Michal, focused more on form than substance — cannot understand such behavior as anything other than “being legalistic” and “thinking you know everything.”  Personal sanctification – as practiced in the desire for entertainment that is more edifying, eschewing secular music and books that include foul language – is likewise seen as arrogance and legalism.

I like the term he used, “slow martyrdom,” and recall what I considered on this matter a few years ago: the feeling that it would be easier to endure a sudden, one-time event that led to martyrdom, since tradition martyrdom does involve a brief incident with a generally known “end date” at which time the person is free from the persecution, away from the body and at home with the Lord.  By contrast, the continual day-in-day-out life with an unbeliever doesn’t have a known end-point and “quick escape,” but a long delay and continued trials and persecution, and still having to live in this world.

Spurgeon recognized these types of people, the jeerers (Michal) and the pious (David), acknowledging that some believers, in God’s providence, must experience this type of “slow martyrdom” in their own homes, even as others are spared that particular trial.  He also noted that it happens just as much with husbands critical of godly wives as vice versa, and made great application from the David and Michal situation.

In closing, another excerpt of encouragement from this Spurgeon sermon:

Ah, Brothers and Sisters, you need not fear, you can bear witness for the Truth of God whatever is said—you must bear with the slanderer and forbear. If they throw anything in your teeth, still stand up for your Lord Jesus.  Don’t yield a single inch, and the day shall come when you shall have honor even in the eyes of those who in the world once laughed at you and put you to open shame.

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The Romans 7 Struggle: Prone to Wander, but also ‘Prone to Worship, Lord, I feel it’

April 18, 2012 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Romans series, a few interesting illustrations regarding the Romans 7 struggle:

Salvation is of the Lord

Take Jonah as an illustration.  There he was in the belly of the great fish.  When did he get delivered?  When he had given up all hope of delivering himself.  If you’ll read the 2nd chapter of Jonah, he was in great misery.  He prayed.  He was still in the belly of the great fish.  He cried.  He was still in the belly of the great fish.  He promises, “I will look again toward Thy holy temple.”  He’s still in the belly of the great fish.  He moralizes.  He sacrifices.  He vows, but he’s in the belly of the great fish still.  At length he finally says, “Salvation is of the Lord.”

Mr. Spurgeon said, “He learned that line of good theology in a strange college.”  “Salvation is of the Lord.”  And, the very next verse, he’s on dry land.

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

(Speaking about Lewis Sperry Chafer at a Bible conference in Alabama in the 1940s):  in the midst of one of his messages he said, now Campbell Morgan, who has traces of Arminianism in his teaching, changed a verse of a well-known hymn that we often sing. …  Dr. Chafer said, “Campbell Morgan had traces of Arminianism.”

Now I heard that.  I didn’t know exactly what that meant but it sounded bad. [Laughter] And so I paid attention.  He said, “I know that hymn has a verse in it that reads, ‘Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.'”  But he said, “Campbell Morgan who has traces of Arminianism changed it to ‘Prone to worship, Lord I feel it.  Prone to serve the God I love.'”  And then Dr. Chafer turned to the audience and he said, “Now how many of you think that Campbell Morgan was right?”

Well, we heard that clause, “that has traces of Arminianism,” and that sounded bad and so nobody raised their hand.  He said, “How many of you think the hymn writer was correct?  Prone to wander?”  And so we all raised our hands, and that little smile came over Dr. Chafer’s face.  He was a man before his time.   He had a mustache.  Anyway, a smile came over his face and he said, “Both were right.”  And of course, he was right, because it is true there is an aspect of each one of us as believers that is prone to wander.  And there is also an aspect of us as a result of our conversion that is prone to worship.  We are divided persons.

Observations Concerning the Titanic Disaster

April 16, 2012 2 comments

I’ve been following the special Titanic shows with renewed interest, after my original interest in the late ’90s.  I enjoyed the ’97 Wonders Titanic Exhibition in Memphis, complete with the Exhibit book (available here from Amazon), and then read a few other books about the Titanic and its discovery.

The Titanic story is of course one of those  that still fascinates so many.  From a biblical perspective, the story is one of man’s high confidence and pride brought down by God in His providence.  Man put so much faith in his technology, in this case the watertight compartments, a clear case of “pride goeth before a fall.” God responded (as so many times throughout history) in such a clear, unmistakeable way.  How easy it was, too (from the divine perspective).  What seemed practically impossible from the human perspective came about by a few simple acts of providence:  a patch of icebergs and calm waters, but also the “little” things of man’s folly — forget to bring binoculars, and telegraph operators overwhelmed with the commercial business of passenger-issued telegrams (the way for the upper class to keep in touch with friends and family in those days before cell phones and wireless Internet aboard cruise ships).

From the judgment aspect, Jesus’ words in Luke 13:1-5 come to mind:  do not think that those who perished when a tower fell on them, or the ones Pilate executed, were worse sinners than everyone else, for unless you repent you will all likewise perish.   As one church pastor observed in his email devotion shortly after September 11, 2001: all the people who died in that sudden event were going to die at some point.  We notice it when a large number perish in a catastrophic event, but the end fate of those individuals was the same regardless of whether they perished in the towers or through other natural causes of death: the saved went to be with the Lord, the rest to their eternal punishment.

Some good recent blog posts about the Titanic:

Dispelling Common Myths of Dispensationalism

April 12, 2012 2 comments

Often I grow weary of the continual misrepresentations concerning biblical dispensationalism.  In the blogosphere, recent references include posts from Michael Vlach How Two Covenant Theologians View Dispensationalism  and Clearing Up a Misrepresentation in regard to Christ’s Prophetic Plans; also Dr. Henebury’s Misrepresentations of Dispensationalism  with discussion reference to Vlach’s posts.

The Cripplegate blog also periodically discusses biblical dispensationalism and what it really is.  The negative stereotypes persist in spite of the overwhelming information available both positively (what dispensationalists believe) and in refuting the myths and lies.  From the comment activity at a recent Cripplegate blog post, for instance, a few people suggested (apparently recalling the evangelical scene of many years ago when the majority of dispensational churches were Arminian and doctrinally light) that “this view”(what Matt Weymeyer sets forth, in his review of Michael Vlach’s book about Dispensationalism) is an ideal that doesn’t really exist, what dispensationalism should be but isn’t really, or even that this view is somehow unique to the Masters Seminary.

In answer to that particular idea, I observe that many churches and individuals around the world hold to “this view” of dispensationalism, people not at all associated with TMS, as for instance Believer’s Chapel in Dallas, with the full archive from the late S. Lewis Johnson (a generation before John MacArthur); Dan Phillips (blog writer here and also here, see also this church site); Jim McClarty, Steven Lawson, and Bob DeWaay.  Refer also to the churches listed here.  This, the biblical understanding of dispensationalism, is widespread and not some ideal of “what should be,” and is far from something restricted to Weymeyer, Vlach and TMS.

Another common response is to mention the “popular effect” on evangelism from the likes of LaHaye and Jenkins.  Here, refer to Dan Phillips’ classic post, 25 Stupid Reasons For Dissing Dispensationalism, #14.  LaHaye and Jenkins do not speak for all of dispensational thought, and certainly not for serious and scholarly work. Every doctrinal viewpoint has its “undesirables,” the crack-pots who misrepresent those who seriously believe the true teaching. Harold Camping is amillennialist, but dispensationalists do not routinely criticize CTers by telling them that they believe everything that Harold Camping believes.  Just because people like to continue repeating the same myths — which are not fair or accurate representations of what the majority of dispensationalists believe — does not make those ideas true.

Others of course like to point to some aberrant teaching of Scofield and Chafer, but again that does not relate to biblical Calvinist dispensationalists.  And as to the claim that dispensationalism teaches two ways of salvation, that the Jews were saved by following the law, refer to this article from Tony Garland.

One person actually came up with another objection, a less common one that I had not yet come across:  Supposedly Dispensational Premils believe in “progressive revelation” BUT when they come to the NT despite there being no mention in the NT of a 7 Year Tribulation, no mention of a pre-trib Rapture, no mention of a rebuilt Temple, no mention of Christ reigning on earth where sin and death still oppress they affirm these things regardless.  If Dispensationalists truly believed in progressive revelation they would recognize that the NT progressively reveals nothing about the above realities as a part of the future.

The obvious answer to that involves knowing our Bibles (and for a good reading plan to regularly read a lot of God’s word, I recommend the Horner Genre Reading plan and variations on it).   In answer to that person’s claims, here are several NT texts that specifically address these very issues:

  1. Reference to the great tribulation:  Revelation 7:14
  2. Time-references to the tribulation period: Revelation 11:2-3; 12:6; 12:14;13:5
  3. Pre-trib rapture:  the timing of the rapture is never explicitly taught in scripture, but can only be inferred from other texts, and at any rate it is not essential to dispensationalism.  Yet the concept of the rapture is taught in the NT, 1 Thess. 4:17.
  4. Rebuilt temple  (the tribulation-era temple): Matthew 24:15, 2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 11:2
  5. Christ reigning on earth where sin and death still oppress:  Revelation 20:4-10

It turned out that this last person was a preterist, one who had not only redefined his own reading of the scriptures but insisted that his “interpretation” of scripture is the only literal, true and correct meaning, thus “proving” his point that dispensationalists do not have any NT texts in support of their view. Really??  Even noted amillennial and postmillennial theologians of the past have at least accepted and acknowledged the fact that if the Bible were interpreted literally it would lead one to conclude that these prophecies must be literally fulfilled in the future. (Reference, for instance, Floyd Hamilton and Loraine Boettner, and quotes from Hamilton and O.T. Allis here.)

S. Lewis Johnson’s Romans series: Sanctification Expressed in Four New Types of Union

April 10, 2012 Leave a comment

In my study through Romans, I’ve completed the first five chapters, which deal with justification.  These chapters emphasize our salvation from the penalty of sin, from the power of sin, and from the presence of sin.

Included in this is the great doctrine of justification by faith, that act by God by which he declares the believer righteous by virtue of the imputation of the merits of Jesus Christ upon faith.  It is something done for us, and done for us by a substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Chapters 6 through 8 cover sanctification, and 6:1 through 8:17 is considered the biblical normative passage for Christian living.

Here Paul stresses four new things, depicted in different types of union:

  •  Dynamic union: Romans 8:1-17

After the sanctification passage, the latter part of Romans 8, verses 18 – 39, could be called an “Eternal Union”: a subject which Johnson also spoke of in other studies.

The first section, the judicial union, emphasizes Christ’s payment of the (judicial) penalty.  Our Lord has died, has been buried, has been raised again and we are judicially regarded as having been in him.  When he bore the penalty for our sin we are reckoned to have been in him and bearing our penalty in him.  And when he was raised again from the dead we are reckoned to have been raised in him.

The moral union points to the fact that we are no longer slaves to sin, but are now the slaves of Christ and slaves of righteousness.

In the marital union, we were married to the old man.  Now we are married to the new man who has been raised from the dead.  In being married to Christ we are delivered from the old sphere in which the Law of Moses operated.  Johnson further points out some interesting parallels to the marriage idea.  The physical marriage produces fruit (children), and similarly our spiritual marriage, our marriage union to Christ, produces fruit: our Christian lives, what Paul refers to elsewhere (Galatians 5:22) as the fruit of the Spirit.  Also, among the three types of relationships (acquaintances, friends, and marriage), the marriage relationship only allows two; if a third enters it, a serious problem results: adultery.  Likewise, we are married to Christ, and so to have anything else enter into that picture is to commit adultery: idolatry, covetousness (which is idolatry), friendship with the world.  We commit spiritual adultery when something else comes into that marriage union with Christ.

Finally comes the dynamic union, the new power in life.  The true power of the Christian life resides in the Holy Spirit, the wonderful message of Romans 8, which concludes this key passage on sanctification.

Michael Vlach: Has the Church Replaced Israel?

April 5, 2012 11 comments

A friend sent me a copy of Vlach’s recently published book, “Has the Church Replaced Israel?”  I don’t often have opportunity to read current books, and so I’ve enjoyed reading this one.  Vlach’s book is one of only a few that give serious treatment to the scriptural and theological issues of biblical dispensationalism. I’ve read some of his online articles at his website (Theological Studies.org), so it was nice to read this book also.  I’ve not completed the book yet, just the first ten chapters, and so the following is from my observations thus far.

Vlach notes the standard objection from those who don’t like to use the term “replace,”  and establishes the definition from the fact that, regardless of what term people want to give for their belief, that belief does involve replacing one promise to one people group with another promise to a different group.  The well-known amillennialist story of a dad promising his son a set of wheels, so that he expects a car, and instead gets a super-duper sports car, is told here, with the clear point that the illustration is not accurate.  In supersessionism, the dad gives the fancy sports car to someone else instead of to his son.

After establishing the definition, several chapters cover church history, from the 1st century to the present, and provide great detail concerning the church-replacement views of various theologians.  The basic content here is similar to Barry Horner’s coverage in his “Future Israel” book (which Vlach also mentions among his sources), though with different coverage in some of the details.  I had forgotten some of the details from Horner’s book, and Vlach’s material is likewise refreshing.  Among the important points, Vlach brings out the fact that church replacement was already well entrenched by the time of Justin Martyr, who was only saying in his own words an idea not original with him.  Vlach also emphasizes the difference between “strong supersessionism” (no future for national Israel) with “moderate supersessionism” (future large-scale salvation for Israel, associated with the Second Coming), and he presents good evidence that throughout history the majority of the church have held to moderate supersessionism.  Only Martin Luther, in some of his later writings, is especially noted as taking a strong supersessionist view.  From the historical case Vlach further suggests that strong supersessionism is a minority view.

Next, Vlach considers the theological and hermeneutical issues, including treatment of specific passages.  This book covers very well the overall distinctions, such as the difference between the supersessionist  “either-or” and the “both-and” view of non-supersessionists.  A NT passage can have application to us in the church age, but that in no way negates the original prophecy and its meaning.  Vlach also discusses the idea of partial-fulfillment, and so it appears he takes more of a “progressive dispensationalist” approach regarding some of the specific texts he addresses:  partial fulfillment of a text “in some way” by the church, with future complete fulfillment.

Another good topic covered is typology, an issue which supersessionists rely heavily on for support of their replacement view.  Again, Israel is not a type of the church, even if some aspects of Israel’s experience have application for us in the church today.  Vlach (like John MacArthur) takes the more limited definition of typology, that only those things explicitly revealed in the NT as “types” can be called types – and “types” are something different than illustrations.  I considered this matter last year (this post), and now better understand the different definitions of “types.” Vlach is among those who see two categories, “types” versus “illustrations,” whereas some like-minded teachers view all illustrations as types (the words being synonymous): regardless of whether an explicit mention is made in the NT, a type/illustration follows the rules regarding the parallel correspondences.  The main problem with supersessionist typology, as I see it, is the broadbrushing without addressing specific passages.  It’s not enough to just say “Israel is a type of the church, God’s people” and disregard most if not all of the Old Testament as not worth serious study.  Types (regardless of whether they are specifically called that in the NT) involve specifics: a specific Old Testament passage, and specific correspondences between the original event, person, or institution and the New Testament equivalent understanding.

What I learned and found especially interesting is the treatment of specific passages, and the different variations of interpretations even amongst non-supersessionist theologians.  For instance, Vlach’s handling of Acts 15, where James cites Amos during the Jerusalem council, seems rather weak as compared to other expositions of that passage (see this post and this follow-up). Here, he does point out the importance of looking at the overall context, that Acts 15 is not a passage talking about eschatology; the main topic is the acceptance of Gentiles as Gentiles rather than Jewish converts, and so no one should use that text to prove the amillennialist view.  He also notes that James only says that “this agrees with” rather than citing fulfillment.  But then Vlach takes what appears to be a middle-road approach, that James must have seen this as somehow a partial fulfillment “in some sense” of the original Amos passage.  Yet I did not see where he further explained what he meant there.

Despite a few shortcomings (such as the handling of Acts 15), though, I have enjoyed reading Michael Vlach’s book, Has the Church Replaced Israel?  Vlach gives a good read overall, concerning the basic issues and answering the overall reasons that supersessionists give for their interpretation.

The Rise and Fall of Nations: General Christian Morality versus a Biblical Perspective

April 2, 2012 8 comments

As I come across various statements from Christians I know, I often tend to evaluate their words from the biblical point of view, as part of the continual process of the renewal of our minds, that we may grow in discernment (Romans 12:2).

Consider the following example, casual words from a church pastor.  Upset about the ever increasing wickedness of our society, he mentioned a particular news story that especially shocked him, and then declared that we surely deserve the same judgment as Sodom; and if we don’t get that (judgment, what happened to Sodom) we’ll have to do some apologizing to Sodom.

From the biblical perspective, however, two thoughts come to mind.  First, God promised Abraham (Genesis 18) that if even ten righteous persons were found in Sodom, he would spare the place for their sake.  Obviously, as bad as things now appear in our society, through God’s great mercy and gracious provision our society has far more than just ten righteous people.

Then, too, I thought about the nature of divine judgment, and an important point that S. Lewis Johnson made at least a few times, including in his Genesis and Romans series.  (I previously blogged the quote here.)  People today look at increasing wickedness in our society, including homosexuality and other sins mentioned in Romans 1, and think: surely we will experience God’s judgment upon our nation.  However, the biblical way to understand it, as Paul described in Romans 1, is that the increasing wickedness IS ITSELF the judgment of God.  It is not that the country is likely to experience judgment, but that we as a society already ARE under God’s judgment.

The weaker person — focused on this world and morality, and lacking strong biblical knowledge (and a generally low view of scripture) — sees the obvious moral breakdown in society, and talks of how nice life was 50 years ago and how society has completely turned itself upside down since then.  Again, though, the Bible and actual world history give us a much clearer picture:  the world is getting worse, not better; yet our society’s immorality is nothing new.  Ancient and medieval civilizations flourished and then fell into serious moral decline, yet for the most part (with rare exceptions such as Pompey in A.D. 79) they did not experience the particular judgment of Sodom: this is the age of grace, after all, in which God is calling out His people (the church) from among the nations (and each of these societies presumably had at least ten righteous people).

A right understanding of the kingdom theme, especially as taught in Daniel 2, helps us understand the normal rise and fall of the Gentile nations, in this the age of the Gentiles.  From my overall experience, the people I’ve interacted with, I would further argue that the premillennialist has the best understanding of this very issue.  After all, since non-premillennialists think that Daniel 2 is referring to what happened at Christ’s First Coming — a spiritual kingdom in the midst of those ancient human kingdoms — along with a simple concept of this life, then death and heaven, then the resurrection and Eternal state, the Bible (in this mindset) has no connection to real world history.  Since the New Testament has prime importance, and the Bible is deemed to be primarily about soteriology, the non-premillennialist has less reason to even consider and study the Bible beyond such limited scope – and why bother, since God’s word really doesn’t have anything to say beyond the message of salvation.