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Old Testament Stories, Life Application and Doctrine


As I continue studies in Old Testament lessons, from Reformed sources such as Charles Spurgeon sermons and Tabletalk magazine monthly studies, I appreciate the depth of content related to so many biblical doctrines, and life application—from what seem, on the surface, as mere children’s stories.  In fact, one of the Tabletalk articles from July 2007 — a study through Genesis, now on the life of Joseph – points out this very fact, that the stories of the patriarchs are more than just tales for children.  They are accounts of actual, historical events that occurred in time and space history, involving real people and real problems that are applicable to us today.  The story of Joseph and his brothers teaches us many things:  about dysfunctional families and family favoritism, about the consequences of our sin; but above all, the truth of God’s providence and God’s sovereignty, and God’s purposes – and the hope that gives us:

Our mistakes and transgressions cannot derail God’s purposes. We do not take this truth for granted and use it to excuse our sin (Rom. 6:1–2), but we also must never come to the place where we believe we have fallen to the point where our Father cannot use us. Through faith and repentance we can be blessed as our sovereign Creator works out His will in history (Deut. 30:1–10).

Spurgeon took a similar in-depth approach of good application and even doctrinal instruction from the Genesis stories, the lives of the patriarchs.  A few recent examples from my Spurgeon sermon reading include these sermons from the 1868 volume:

  • Sermon #837, Jacob’s life, and his complaint of unbelief in Genesis 42:36

and this three-part sermon series links on the life of Abraham

In the first of these, Spurgeon connected the (King James Version) expression ‘all these things’  to point out: 1) the exclamation of unbelief (Jacob’s unbelief in Genesis 42:36), 2) the philosophy of experience (Isaiah 38:16), and finally, the triumph of faith (Romans 8:37).  From Jacob’s life w­e see the example of how we are all so prone to react to trials and difficulties:  bitterness, exaggeration, and anger towards God.  In Jacob’s case it was at most three things – Joseph, Simeon, and Benjamin, yet:

Jacob was, in the expression before us, even bitter towards God! There is not a word like submission in the sentence, nothing of resignation, nothing of confidence; he knew very well that all things came from God, and in effect he declares that God is, in all these things, fighting against him! God forbid that these tongues, which owe their power to speak to the great God, should ever pervert their powers to slandering Him! And yet if our tongues have not spoken unbelievingly, how often our hearts have done so; we have said, “Why has God dealt thus with me? Why are His strokes so multiplied? Why are my wounds so blue? Oh, why am I thus chastised?

The later two texts show the positive movement from Jacob’s unbelief, to enlightened experience:  “In all these things is the life of my spirit.”

Jacob would hardly have been fit for the luxury of Egypt, if he had not been trained by his griefs; that happy period before his death, in which he dwelt in perfect ease and peace, at the close of which, leaning upon his staff, he bore such a blessed testimony to the faithfulness of God, he would not have been fit to enjoy it—it would have been disastrous to him if he had not been prepared for it by the sorrows of Succoth. … Be of good comfort, and instead, from now on, of concluding that outward trials are against you, agree with Hezekiah in this wise sentence, “By these things men live.”

To finally the triumph of faith, the experiences of the apostle Paul:

The list is just as comprehensive in the best text as in the worst. No, poor Jacob’s, “All these things” only referred to three; but look at Paul’s list: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword—the list is longer, darker, blacker, fiercer, sterner, but still we triumph, “In all these things we are more than conquerors.”

Old Testament ‘Calvinism’: Election, Justification, and Sanctification from the Life of Abraham

Beyond life application of relational difficulties and resolution, Spurgeon also well-demonstrated that the important doctrines of the Calvinist, Reformed faith can be taught not only from the New Testament epistles, but directly from Abraham’s life in Genesis.  After all, Paul (such as in Romans and Galatians) referenced key points in Abraham’s life; thus, common exposition on these doctrines will focus on Paul’s writings directly.  Yet here Spurgeon departed from his usual style of completely unrelated texts from week to week, by teaching the doctrines of calling/election, justification, and sanctification, all from different points in Abraham’s life as told in Genesis.  Each sermon looked at the details and considered Abraham’s actual daily life experiences, with detailed descriptions of what Abraham’s calling, later justification and later sanctification looked like.   Thus, we see his calling/election in Genesis 12:5, justification in Genesis 15:6, and sanctification in Genesis 17:1-2.  Abraham’s calling included key features such as God’s sovereignty, divine application of it, and a call to separation; and similar expansion of details regarding his justification and sanctification.  Along the way Spurgeon even adds descriptions of related truths such as perseverance and assurance, that God will complete what He is doing:

If our text may very well illustrate effectual calling, so may it PICTURE FINAL PERSEVERANCE.   “They went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and to the land of Canaan they came.”  …

two or three thoughts in this text worth remembering. “They went forth.” Energetic action! Men are not saved while they are asleep; no riding to heaven on feather beds! “They went forth to the land of Canaan.” Intelligent perception! They knew what they were doing; they did not go to work in a blundering manner, not understanding their drift.

And

To close the whole, the Lord gave to Abram an assurance of ultimate success. He would bring his seed into the Promised Land, and the people who had oppressed them, He would judge. So let it come as a sweet revelation to every believing man and woman this morning, that at the end they shall triumph, and those evils which now oppress them shall be cast beneath their feet!

Of particular interest (in the second sermon), is the connection between Abraham’s justification and his understanding of sacrifice and the covenant – how much was revealed to Abraham, that he could and did understand; we need not dismiss the Old Testament people as being completely unaware of these doctrines such that the New Testament is required in order to understand the Old:

Abram, after being justified by Faith, was led more distinctly to behold the power of sacrifice. By God’s command he killed three bullocks, three goats, three sheep, with turtle doves, and pigeons, being all the creatures ordained for sacrifice. The patriarch’s hands are stained with blood; he handles the butcher’s knife; he divides the beasts, he kills the birds; he places them in an order revealed to him by God’s Spirit at the time. There they are. Abram learns that there is no meeting with God except through sacrifice. God has shut every door except that over which the blood is sprinkled; all acceptable approaches to God must be through an atoning sacrifice—and Abram understood this.

Perhaps even more important was the next lesson which Abram had to learn. He was led to behold the covenant. I suppose that these pieces of the bullock, the lamb, the ram, and the goat were so placed that Abram stood in the midst with a part on this side, and a part on that. So he stood as a worshipper all through the day, and towards nightfall, when a horror of great darkness came over him, he fell into a deep sleep. Who would not feel a horror passing over him as he sees the great sacrifice for sin, and sees himself involved? There, in the midst of the sacrifice, he saw moving with solemn motion, a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp answering to the pillar of cloud and fire which manifested the presence of God in later days to Israel in the wilderness. In these emblems the Lord passed between the pieces of the sacrifice to meet His servant, and enter into covenant with him; this has always been the most solemn of all modes of covenant.

…Know and understand that God is in covenant bonds with you; He has made a covenant of grace with you which never can be broken; the sure mercies of David are your portion.

The Tabletalk studies as well as Spurgeon sermons provide great insights into all aspects of the Christian life, from the details of the Old Testament narrative accounts.

  1. Gerrymandered
    August 22, 2018 at 5:36 am

    Hi Lynda:

    Another interesting post sister.

    After I was converted and realized that I had relied foolishly, unlike the Bereans, on the “experts” to tell me what God’s Word meant, I began to study and consider what it meant for myself.

    One of the first things the Holy Spirit showed me was the very things you mention with respect to the Old Testament dealing with practical examples of results of sin in the life of Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Noah, etc.

    Family favoritism, multiple “wives”, or adultery as it is properly called, covetousness (Jacob), worldliness (Lot and his wife) pride, Election (Essau vs Jacob), separation (Abram), assurance (Noah, Abram, Jacob, etc). etc., are all dealt with in the most obvious and practical ways.

    And I agree that it is not necessary to study the NT to understand the Old as is so often taught.

    I found myself consciously discarding false doctrines I had been taught in order to
    properly understand the full implications of the lessons taught by the lives of the Old Testament saints and their internal and external enemies.

    But what light and understanding it brought!

    Far from mere “children’s stories”, it was for me an eye opener in true and essential lessons of life.

    One area in which these lessons, it seems to
    me, has been missed my modern Reformed teaching is that having to do with the necessity of assurance and a personal encounter with God.

    The enemy of souls has successfully convinced many that such is no longer necessary since we have a more complete written record.

    Bunyan and Hopeful’s reproof of Ignorance with respect to this issue in Pilgrims Progress, it is hoped, would have dispelled such erroneous teaching, but sadly that is not the case!

    In Him
    Gerry

    • August 22, 2018 at 11:07 am

      Thanks again for your comments, Gerry, and good points. Yes, a lot of modern ‘Reformed’ or perhaps, really more broadly Calvinistic, teaching is more limited in scope to just the objective facts of the gospel, and not the Christian experience and the meatier doctrine of assurance. It was something that the Puritans, and those in the Puritan tradition such as Charles Spurgeon, excelled at — the experiential aspect of the Christian life.

  2. Lance Wonders
    August 22, 2018 at 10:08 am

    Gerry and Lynda — I encourage you to purchase the new book coming out in October from Baker Books: “How ‘New’ Is the New Testament?” by Donald Hagner. It wrestles, book by book, with how the NT both continues and also re-orients the OT Scriptures and its contents after Messiah’s fulfilling and completing work, to shift believers since the outpouring of the Spirit into a “new key” of walking in accordance with the Lord Himself and His purposes. Blessings, LANCE WONDERS — dean, ACTS Bible College, Blaine, MN USA

    • August 22, 2018 at 10:57 am

      Thanks for the info, Lance. I am not familiar with Donald Hagner and his theological background; apparently his background includes Fuller Theological Seminary. I’m not sure from your description, what it means that the NT ‘also re-orients the OT Scriptures and its contents’.

    • Gerry
      August 22, 2018 at 12:50 pm

      Hello Lance:

      Thank you for your recommendation, but, with Lynda, I wonder what you mean by reorientation of the OT scriptures, or for that matter a “new key” of walking according to the scriptures.

      I assume, because of your allusion to the outpouring of the Spirit, your reference is to this.

      If so, while I would agree that the scriptures do indicate that “the promise of the father” is now available in a way different from that in OT times, I do not agree in any way that this supports or validates the charismatic excesses that now run rampant in some quarters of professors of Christ.

      My study of the history of revivals in the church reveals that where genuine believers have indeed embraced correct doctrines of salvation, as best exemplified in what are now referred to as the doctrines of grace, and then sought to live a holy life empowered by the Spirit, the Lord has been pleased to indeed pour out that Spirit in extraordinary ways.

      However, whenever such legitimate outpourings have occurred, Satan has also moved to counterfeit and corrupt those outpourings in order to discredit and confound the true Work of the Spirit, which he hates.

      A careful study of Jonathan Edwards analysis of the Work of The Spirit in The Great Awakenings of which he was a primary instrument of the Lord, along with many other orthodox servants of God, clearly demonstrates the validity of this assertion.

      One key passage I would direct you to in this regard is Luke 11:11-13:

      11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?
      12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
      13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

      I fear that what has happened in charismatic circles in recent times, just as what happened in “enthusiastic” circles as they were called in Edwards day, is that little to no attention has been paid to the Word “son” in verse 11.

      You see, the promise of The Spirit is here given to true “sons” or true believers only.

      Those who reject the true doctrines of salvation as outlined in the doctrines of grace are not indeed sons of God, as our Puritan and Reformer predecessors were not loathe to point out.

      As such, though such may earnestly believe otherwise, and seek this blessing diligently they will not receive it, but may indeed receive “another spirit”, or as it is referred to here in Luke 11:11&12 “a scorpion or a serpent”.

      This I believe has been the case sadly in all to many instances.

      In Him
      Gerry

      • Lance Wonders
        August 22, 2018 at 1:54 pm

        My comments were addressed to all believers in the NT Messiah Jesus, not to “charismatics”. In my experience, there are two kinds of charismatic Christians: Evangelicals who are open to the gifts and working of the Spirit today, like Martyn Lloyd Jones was, R.T. Kendall, Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and Robert Saucy. I count myself as being within their ranks. There are also, however, “Latter Rain” charismatics, who stray in trying to “supplement” the Scriptures with “new revelation” that allegedly comes from modern-day apostles and prophets. Most of these would claim that they give the Bible the greater weight, but tend to misinterpret it in certain places (especially in areas of pneumatology, ecclesiology, and eschatology) We could debate about whether one has to have “perfect doctrine” in order to be saved — I believe personally that so longa s one embraces the real Jesus as God and Savior and trusts in His finished work at the Cross as one’s ultimate hope of eternal life with the Father, then one can still be “saved” in spite of other areas of “bad” theology (though one should TRY to get one’s theology “fixed” to reflect the Truth as much as possible!) — but many whom you likely would “reject” as not being fellow believers I would likely count as genuine brothers and sisters, but brothers and sisters who need doctrinal “rehab” rather than being permitted to teach broadly within the body of our Lord on earth! (You can double-check this, Gerry: Charles Spurgeon sometimes received supernatural “words of knowledge” in the midst of his preaching, and would call errant folk to repent, ON THE SPOT at times!, before continuing on with his sermons. Lynda O., as a Spurgeon “expert”, can, I am sure, vouch for this and alert you to the proper sources. Sound theology and the gifts of the Spirit are meant to GO TOGETHER, not “compete” with one another! The same Holy Spirit who is still at work today was, of course, the original author of every bit of Scripture that we have and trust our souls to today.)

  3. August 22, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    Regarding Spurgeon and “charismatic” tendencies, this has previously been addressed by others — a good summary on this issue is this post from the Cripplegate blog several years ago: http://thecripplegate.com/spurgeon-impressions-and-prophecy/
    with a link in it, to Phil Johnson’s catalogue of incidents, direct link to that one is http://phillipjohnson.blogspot.com/2005/11/spurgeon-on-private-prophecies-and-new.html

    • Gerry
      August 22, 2018 at 6:17 pm

      Thanks Lynda:

      That was interesting.

      I especially enjoyed the discussion of Agabus’
      prophesy. I didn’t realize that the continuists had tried to say his prophesy was incorrect.

      It was his interpretation of The Spirits purpose, not the prophesy itself that was fallible, as is pointed out by the Cripplegate writer.

      As to Spurgeons use of impressions, I find no great surprise in this and wouldn’t confound it with the charismatic errors so prevalent today.

      Charismatics have tried to use Edwards and Bunyan and many others to support their unfortunate take on the power and working of the Spirit today.

      These men knew and walked closely with God and did not deny the extraordinary communion with God that the Word clearly teaches, but they scrupulously avoided the errors we see now in those who claim sign gifts and other temptations and excesses associated with spiritual pride.

      They “trembled at Gods Word”, having “known the terror of the Lord”, and the proper uses of the Law.

      I do not see these things in today’s charismatics, neither in their writings nor in my interactions with them over the last 30 years.

      May the Lord give them light!

      In Him
      Gerry

  4. Gerry
    August 25, 2018 at 10:58 am

    My dear friend:

    You needn’t convince me of the inerrancy of Gods Precious Word as The Spirit blessedly did that long ago, and renews that knowledge regularly, for which I am forever grateful.

    That is not the question, Rather, the question is always how one interprets and applies that Word to life.

    As to it’s interpretation, the most fundamental concept in order to correct interpretation and avoidance of error is, as I am sure you know, that one reconcile ALL the various scripture which bears on a given doctrine, or Truth, before one advances and teaches it.

    Psalm 119:160 in the OT and Romans 12:6 both teach this principle, and Paul in Acts 20:27 made this the basis of his claim to a ministry of integrity.

    It is this “shrinking back” or “drawing back” “from declaring the whole counsel of the Word of God”, because of the fear of man, that always leads to error.

    This is the constant temptation of the preacher, one which Peter fell victim to such that Paul had to rebuke him “to his face”, and this after Peter had worked miracles and walked closely with God as a foremost apostle.

    Surely, then, it is a fearsome temptation to you and I also.

    You may feel that John Bunyan was a “smug Pharisee” because he was not afraid to insist on the preaching and application of the whole counsel of the Word of God.

    But for my part, I am most greatful to the Lord, The Spirit for leading me to him and his works and impressing upon me powerfully and supernaturally, or “immediately” as Edwards described it, many things that I have found in those works as the precise meaning of that Spirit in His Precious Word.

    Has there been an attempt to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water in modern Reformed (and some older) teaching when it comes to the works of the Spirit today?

    Sadly, yes.

    Has there been an over reaction to that sad tendency in charismatic and Pentecostal teaching? Sadly, yes.

    Is there a place where neither error exists today?

    I have not found one in my search of modern ministries, though perhaps one is out there that I am not aware of.

    But I do not find this problem in the best of the best of Puritan writers and their successors.

    Men like Bunyan insisted on the supernatural working of the Spirit in conversion and and subsequent walk and they featured it in their works as you will find in Pilgrims Progress, Holy War, Grace Abounding to The Chief Of Sinners, to mention but a few of Bunyan’s works. Edwards wrote extensively about these things in his works on the great awakenings of which he was an active instrument as well as chronicler and proponent.

    Men like Cheever, Scott, Maguire, and many others studied Bunyans works and wrote commentaries on them mining the truths given there allegorically (ever wonder why?) and explaining Bunyan’s allegorical wisdom for diligent searchers. Few bother with such today.

    P. Dodrige wrote a work called “The Life Of Colonel Gardiner” in which he reports of this man’s vision of Christ, something most conservative modern Reformed men deny as possible, citing a distortion of cessationism as there argument.

    But what Doddrige does is emphasize the RESULTS OF THIS VISION, and subsequent communion with Christ, by Colonel Gardiner in enabling a Holy, self denying, walk with God, and an emphasis on the correct doctrines of salvation.

    THAT IS WHY GOD GIVES SUCH VISIONS.

    I see little of such love of holiness of life in today compared with the Puritan authors I read.

    Not just any profession of christ will do.

    Many believe in Jesus, the question is it the Jesus described on God’s Word, or, as Paul put it, “another Jesus”?

    When Christian and Hopeful in Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress dialogue with a character called Ignorance about the basis of his faith they reveal his ignorance of sin, himself and God.

    In Bunyan’s Holy War he expounds the nature of tearing down our strongholds of false beliefs about sin, self, and God, again addressing this key triune of knowledge that The Word emphasizes as key to eternal life.

    I am and will be forever greatful that The Spirit led me to these works and opened my eyes as to their essential practical role in receiving eternal life and persevering in the faith once delivered to the saints.

    May the Lord also convince you, or some other who may read this, is my prayer,

    In Him
    Gerry

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