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The Tender Conscience and Assurance: J.C. Ryle and S. Lewis Johnson

March 25, 2014 5 comments

In going through S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 John series, here is a section I can especially relate to: study of one aspect of Christian living can lead the “tender conscience” to discouragement and doubting one’s salvation, if the teaching is not properly balanced. Indeed, the superficial teaching at a local church several years ago (including its approach to 1 John), with emphasis on external, outward religion and our good works as evidence of salvation, affected me in just this way. In-depth teaching is always the remedy for proper balance on this (and any) issue, and I still remember the impact to my understanding, when I first read similarly encouraging words a few years ago, in this excerpt from J.C. Ryle’s Holiness:

The only righteousness in which we can appear before God is the righteousness of another — even the perfect righteousness of our Substitute and Representative, Jesus Christ the Lord. His work, and not our work — is our only title to Heaven. … For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). “Obey your parents . . . for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). “We . . . do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22). Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comforting doctrine.
Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy, or walking across a room — so is our Father in Heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle and intention of their actions — and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye — He is well pleased.

From Dr. Johnson’s 1 John series, a good analysis of the believer’s conscience, exposition of 1 John 2:12-14:

one can see that a person with a tender conscience might be tending to discouragement at this point because, if you feel as I do, and I don’t say that I have a tender conscience, but sometimes I have something like that, and when I read some of the statements of Scripture that say we know that we know him if we keep his commandments — I recognize that in my life there are many of those commandments that I have questions about whether I’m really keeping them.

And I’m not always sure that I’m always walking in the light. In fact, at times, I know I’m not walking in the light. We talked about that and how the Christian life is a sin-judged life, and that characteristic of the Christian life is the necessity of continual confession of sin. So I can understand that a person with a tender conscious might have problems, and then when this apostle says that, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now,” that really comes home because I must confess that I have had problems with some of my brethren, that is my professing brethren in Christ. And I have often had to get down upon my knees, and ask God to give me the strength to love, and the mind to love this brother or sister, as the case may be. So I can see that someone with a tenderer conscience than mine might have questions about his salvation.

He might really say, “I don’t think I’m keeping the commandments. I know I fail in loving my brothers and my sisters. Perhaps I’m not a Christian at all.” And so, I think that what John writes now is a kind of interlude in which he wants to encourage people like me, and maybe even more so, those whose consciences are even more tender than mine. I think, therefore, it’s very fitting that in this brief paragraph, this apostle of love, the elderly apostle, the last of the apostles still living — the apostolic age is drawing to its conclusion — assures the ones to whom he writes these very strong words of test, that he is confident of their faith and life.

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Thoughts on Theological Labels: “Futurist Premillennialism”

March 21, 2014 4 comments

For today, just some thoughts concerning the particular doctrinal ideas often associated with larger “doctrinal labels.”  A currently popular term is “futurist premillennialism,” often considered synonymous with “dispensationalism”:  a definition of premillennialism with several defining characteristics as “essentials of dispensationalism.”  This term and definition have especially gained popularity (and perhaps were developed/created) through the work of scholars associated with a well-known seminary that teaches dispensationalism.  Though likely it was not intended, it appears that at least some people now confuse terms, such that “futurist premillennialism” (to them) means dispensationalism — as though to suggest that only the dispensational form of premillennialism is futurist in its view including recognition of a future for national, ethnic Israel.   Such use of “futurist premillennial” often comes up in online group discussions, or in online articles such as this recent post, which notes in passing “the abundance of scholarship from notable Calvinists who ascribe to futuristic premillennialism (dispensationalism).”

But consider the actual words “futurist” and “premillennial.”  Technically, futurist refers to the belief that the end times events especially as described in Revelation are to occur in the future  (see this post about millennial views and future/present/past), a concept not limited to premillennialism (there are at least a few amillennial futurists, though certainly more common for premillennialism). Also, premillennialism itself encompasses the basic ideas of a plain language “literal” hermeneutic, a future restoration of Israel as a nation, and a future literal thousand year period of time during which Christ reigns upon the Earth over the nations populated with mortal (non-glorified) peoples.

So I maintain that “futurist premillennialism” as such is not really synonymous with dispensationalism, nor limited to or exclusive to dispensationalism, but should be understood to encompass overall classic/historic premillennialism.  Though what often passes today for “historic premillennialism” is the relatively recent development of (George Ladd) one-text premillennialism, including (as for instance with author James Hamilton) a historicist approach to Revelation, many premillennialists – in the age before dispensationalism was introduced and became popular – took a clearly literal, futurist view of eschatology.  The early church fathers recognized a future literal 3 1/2 year period of Great Tribulation after which Christ would return (see the quotes in this post, for instance).  Though Protestant premillennialism began with the historicist view common to the Reformers’ amillennial historicism, the 19th century — and notably, this was before dispensationalism was popularized (Darby’s teaching, to the later Scofield Bible) — brought several premillennialists who were also futurist in their understanding regarding Daniel’s 70th week and the Great Tribulation events.  Recommended works from earlier, pre-dispensational and futurist premillennialism include  Benjamin Wills Newton’s The Antichrist Future (1859).

Despite the seeming predominance of the George Ladd view on the one hand, and the popularity of “Calvinist Dispensationalism” on the other, the classic, futurist premillennial view has its proponents today, as for instance the teachers at the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony (more details in this post), and the (past as well as present-day) writers of online articles at Providence Baptist Ministries. The historic premillennialist speakers at the SGAT monthly meetings,  and their quarterly magazine, feature the same topics supposedly unique to dispensationalism, as for instance: the rebuilding of a literal Babylon, the future of Israel and the nations and the millennium; and literal hermeneutics in response to the problems with amillennialism.  Other resources include the teaching at this website, and a Facebook discussion group for classic premillennialists, which includes present-day non-Laddian style historic premillennial pastors and laypeople.  Consider also the many believers (as evidenced by many online discussion groups) from non-Calvinist/non-Reformed background; these generally come from a baptist Arminian Dispensational background, yet now identify as historic premillennial (not as dispensational) and are familiar with the historic premillennial writers from the early church as well as 19th century premillennialists: clearly futurist with respect to the Great Tribulation, agreeing with the literal (plain language) hermeneutic, the future restoration of Israel, and the role of Israel and the nations during the 1000 year kingdom.

So let’s help spread the word, that dispensational premillennialism is not the only form of premillennialism that is futurist, adheres to a literal plain language hermeneutic, and sees a future restoration of Israel (the basic tenets of supposed “futurist premillennialism aka dispensationalism”).

Old Testament Studies: Promise of A New Eden

March 13, 2014 2 comments

In my recent studies in the Old Testament I’ve looked more closely at the theme of return to creation, a return to Eden.  Previous material (reading and sermon teaching) often emphasized the Abrahamic covenant and everything that flows out from it – the Davidic and then the New Covenant – and our salvation which is rooted in the Abrahamic promises.  But as others have pointed out, the promise of redemption starts much earlier even than Abraham, back to the seed promise in Genesis 3; and the concept of covenants pre-dates Abraham, back to Adam and then Noah.

James Hamilton, in God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, frequently notes the link between the early nation Israel and Eden, the Promised Land described as a new Eden (as in the following, cited in this previous post):

the Promised Land almost becomes a new Eden. The Lord will walk among his people in the land, just as he walked in the garden (Gen. 3:8; Lev. 26:11–12; Deut. 23:15). Like the fertile garden of Eden, the Promised Land will flow with milk and honey. On the way to the Promised Land, the camp of Israel is even described in Edenic terms.

Also this interesting reference, from David Baron’s Israel in the Plan of God, commentary on Isaiah 51:3 (“​​​​​​​For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord.”)

How glorious a transformation! From a state of total barrenness into another Eden, with all its fertility and beauty, and instead of its present condition of utter desolation it shall be like “the garden of Jehovah,” as glorious as if it had been directly planted by Himself for His own joy and delight.

Searching through the Bible for references to Eden, or the garden of the Lord, reveals more of this theme in the prophets, that restored Israel will be “like the garden of Eden”  (Ezekiel 36:35, Isaiah 51:3), like a watered garden (Isaiah 58:11 and Jeremiah 31:12).  The same figure is used in reverse as well, as in Joel 2:3:  “The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them.”  Ezekiel and Zechariah’s description of the future restoration of Israel and its temple structure includes a river flowing out, another likeness to the garden of Eden, bringing everything at the end back to the beginning in Eden.

Hamilton further notes the correspondences between Eden and Israel itself.  Compare Numbers 24:6, Balaam’s description of Israel, with Genesis 2.  Both passages mention the Lord God, and the words planted, garden, river, and trees:  Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the Lord has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters.  Also consider the following correspondences between the description of Eden (Genesis 2-3) and passages about the tabernacle (in the Pentateuch) and the temple (including the description of the future temple):

(From God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, Table 2.3. Correspondences between Eden and the Tabernacle and Temple.)

Correspondences Eden Tabernacle/Temple
God walking among his people Gen. 3:8 Lev. 26:11–13; Deut. 23:14; 2 Sam. 7:6–7
Holy tree/blooming lampstand Gen. 2:9 Ex. 25:31–40; 1 Chron. 28:15
Gold and precious stones Gen. 2:11–12 Ex. 25:7, 11, etc.
Entered from the east Gen. 3:24 Num. 3:38
Guarded by cherubim Gen. 3:24 Ex. 25:10–22; 26:1; 1 Kings 7:29
Food/bread Gen. 2:9 Ex. 25:30; 1 Kings 7:48
Priest who “works and keeps” Gen. 2:15 Num. 3:7–8; 8:26; 18:5–6
Rivers flowing out Gen. 2:10–14 Ezek. 47:1; Joel 3:18; Zech. 14:8

Typology and Parallels Within the Old Testament: Exodus and the Conquest of Canaan

March 7, 2014 2 comments

Continuing through James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, I’m now reading the section on the former prophets.  Hamilton’s work brings out an interesting aspect of typology:  not merely the illustrations and pictures (types) concerning the correspondences between Old Testament persons, events, or institutions, and New Testament fulfillment.  Typology can also include correspondences between one Old Testament event and a later Old Testament event.  Herein we observe the central theme of scripture, repeated throughout the unfolding story of God’s work with the nation Israel:  God’s Glory as the ultimate purpose of His works, accomplished in Salvation through Judgment.

Considering the Old Testament “Prophets” section and its beginning chapter (Joshua), Hamilton observes several interesting parallels between the Exodus experience and the later conquest of Canaan:

1. Explicit comparison between the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus) and the later crossing of the River Jordan (Josh. 4:23)

2. The judgment of circumcision:  Moses’ sons in Exodus 4:24-26.  Then, the conquest generation in Joshua 5; Through the judgment of circumcision, the reproach of Egypt is rolled away (Joshua 5:9).

3. Angel of the Lord appearances of God: to Moses (the burning bush); then to Joshua in Joshua 5, the meeting with the Captain of the Host of Yahweh

Just as Moses drew near and inspected the burning bush, Joshua draws near the man with the drawn sword (5:13). Just as Moses was instructed to remove his sandals because of the holy ground, so Joshua is told to remove his (5:15). These historical correspondences connect the beginnings of the triumphant exodus to the beginnings of what is hereby guaranteed to be the triumphant conquest. There might be an escalation of significance in that whereas Moses was resistant to what Yahweh commanded him to do and is not said to have worshiped, Joshua not only does not question and object, as Moses did, but he worships (5:14)

4.  Likeness to Eden

This man with the drawn sword stands to the east of the land, at its entrance, creating an intriguing connection between the land Israel is crossing over to possess, and the land from which Adam and Eve were expelled.15 The way to Eden was guarded at the east by a cherubim with a flaming sword (Gen. 3:24). Similarly, Balaam likened the camp of Israel to a garden planted by Yahweh (Num. 24:6), and as he made his way to their camp, he met the angel of Yahweh, who had a drawn sword in his hand (Num. 22:22–35). With Yahweh in their midst, Israel has recaptured something of the Edenic experience. As they cross into the land, Israel moves in the direction of the reversal of the curse.

5.  Yahweh pursues His glory: He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus) to accomplish His purpose of the Exodus.  Then He hardens the hearts of the Canaanite kings of the land, to accomplish His purpose of bringing the people into the land, the conquest.

As well summarized, God’s purpose in these great events:

The typological connections between the exodus and conquest set forth in Joshua 4:23, where the crossing of the sea is compared to the crossing of the river, and 5:13–16, where, like Moses, Joshua unshods his feet on holy ground, join with other features in the text17 to indicate that Yahweh’s goal at the conquest is the same goal He had at the exodus. There He wanted all to know that He is Yahweh. He pursued His glory—the proclamation of His name—by saving Israel through the judgment of Egypt. At the conquest, Yahweh causes the inhabitants of the land to know that He is God (2:9–11), He makes Israel know that he is among them (3:10), and He makes the peoples of the land know His might (4:24). Just as Yahweh hardened the heart of Pharaoh to accomplish His purpose at the exodus, so He hardens the hearts of the kings of the land at the conquest (11:18, 20).18 Just as Yahweh demonstrated His glory at the exodus by saving Israel through the judgment of Egypt, He demonstrates His glory at the conquest by saving Israel through the judgment of the peoples of the land.