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Studies on The Lord’s Prayer

April 8, 2019 4 comments

The Lord’s Prayer is a familiar scripture passage, one of the most memorized passages (along with Psalm 23 and a few other verses such as John 3:16).  From Christian contemporary music (when I listened to it in the late 1980s through mid-1990s) two song versions come to mind, from Tony Melendez and Steve Camp.

The Sunday School class has been studying Al Mohler’s book on The Lord’s Prayer (The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down), and so a blog post about this and related resources is fitting.  Mohler’s book is a good layperson resource, with good introductory material, many quotes from Martin Luther (especially his words addressed to his barber, Peter Beskendorf), J.I. Packer and others, and examination of the theology involved in each clause of this prayer (from Matthew 6 and Luke 11).

Classic Puritan recommended resources (from others in online reading groups) include Thomas Watson’s The Lord’s Prayer (free e-book available from Monergism.com) now on my list to read.  Martyn Lloyd Jones’ series through the Sermon on the Mount ,and other expositions on the Sermon on the Mount / The Lord’s Prayer, are also recommended studies.

From the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, the 2002 PCRT conference has an interesting 4-part series with messages by Richard Phillips and Hywel Jones: “Lord, Teach Us to Pray”. Dr. Jones’ three lectures provide exposition of Luke 11:1-13, of the prayer itself and the related parable.  Among the highlights from this series, Hywel Jones exposited Luke 11:1, the introductory words that we usually do not think about, which provide the setting and the fact that Jesus was praying in a certain place and for a specified time.  The Luke 11 account is shorter than the Matthew 6 parallel, but Luke’s version should not be considered incomplete; it has the same basic content that is expanded on in the Matthew 6 version.  This prayer has some similarity, along with important differences, to other 1st century Jewish prayers in its form.  The Lord’s Prayer (a model prayer for us to follow) fits the common pattern, yet includes a personal touch:  the word “Father” and “my” personal father, and that we are to forgive others “as we have been forgiven.”

I do not see these concepts as really absent from the Old Testament.  Throughout the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Prophets, for example, we have many instances of Israel in a corporate relationship with “Our Father,” yet this God is personally prayed to by the psalmist.  Though the Old Testament does not use the explicit terminology found in the New Testament, certainly texts such as in Proverbs point out the need of forgiveness for ourselves as well as extending mercy and kindness (and forgiveness), instead of holding grudges or doing wrong to our neighbor.  Certainly it is true, though, that the gospel texts of The Lord’s Prayer set out clearly the things that are more implied in the Old Testament, as to our prayers and the right perspective.

These lectures provide a good overview of the Lord’s Prayer, with consideration of the two passages (Luke and Matthew) and the overall historical context.   For a more in-depth, book study, Mohler’s The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down is good for basic theology as related to the clauses of this prayer — easy reading, yet very instructive on so many areas of theology.  A sampling of a few quotes:

All we can learn about God from his revelation is designated his Name in Scripture…. A name is something personal and very different from a number or a member of a species. It always feels more or less unpleasant when others misspell or garble our name; it stands for our honor, our worth, our person, and individuality. … There is an intimate link between God and his name. According to Scripture, this link is not accidental or arbitrary but forged by God himself. We do not name God; he names himself. … Summed up in his name, therefore, is his honor, his fame, his excellencies, his entire revelation, his very being. – Herman Bavinck

Prayer and praise are like a bird’s two wings: with both working, you soar; with one out of action, you are earthbound.  But birds should not be earthbound, nor Christians praiseless. – J.I. Packer

Mohler’s book, the PCRT lectures, and the classic Reformed Puritan resources all contribute to a good study on this model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer — a few verses in scripture, yet packed with so much meaning, truths that we can never exhaust and will always be learning and gaining new insights.

Christian Theology and Classics: Augustine, William Perkins, and Millennial Views

February 13, 2018 3 comments

In the 2018 Challies Reading Challenge, my recent reading has included writings from the 4th and the 16th centuries:  Augustine’s Confessions as a book about the early church, and Volume 1 of the Works of William Perkins, as a book by a Puritan.

Both of these were featured in Puritan Reformed Seminary’s 2017 conference:  Carl Trueman’s talk about Augustine’s Confessions  and Joel Beeke’s summary of William Perkins.  Augustine’s Confessions was an interesting read, my first such reading of early church writings, and I noted the parts mentioned by Trueman:  Augustine as a youth stealing figs from a fig tree; and a much later event that happened to one of Augustine’s friends (who resolved to never go to the gladiatorial games, was taken there by force by his friends; he kept his eyes closed, determined not to look; but the sounds aroused his curiosity so that he looked –and was then ensnared again in the games).  Trueman had noted here, the power of the visual image.  Other interesting parts included references to the other Christian leaders of the time including Ambrose of Milan and his role in Augustine’s later conversion, as well as descriptions about worship services including the singing of hymns.

As others who have read Augustine’s Confessions have noted, the last few chapters are strange, getting into Augustine’s Platonic philosophy, with a lot of repetitive thought as Augustine considered the meaning of time, memory and forgetfulness.  In this tedious reading, I also observed that the Librivox volunteer readers must have had similar difficulty; the majority of the recording, through Augustine’s conversion, was read by one or two authors. Then, for each ‘track’ section of the last few (weird) chapters, it was a different reader for each segment.

William Perkins

Volume one of Perkins is over 800 pages and three treatises. I read a little of the first treatise, all of the second one, and about a third of the last and very lengthy treatise (the Sermon on the Mount).  The first treatise was about biblical chronology and dating of early Bible events; after a while it was too detailed and tedious.  Here I first learned the idea that the Israelite stay in Egypt may have been only 215 years instead of 430 years—the 430 years starting from the time of Abraham instead of the actual time in Egypt.  I have always thought that the stay was 400 years in Egypt, from the narrative reading and my old NIV Study Bible dates.  From checking online articles, though, apparently this is an area of differing views, and some do take the 215 years view regarding the Egypt stay.  At this point, the 430 years in Egypt seems more reasonable to me, given the large population at the time of the Exodus and allowing for gaps in the genealogies, which occurs often even in later Old Testament genealogies.  For further reading and study on this, are these two articles:

The second treatise was of a manageable length and more interesting:  Perkins’ exposition of Matthew 4:1-11 and the parallel account in Luke, the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  Good points brought out here include Perkins’ look at the scientific understanding of the human ability to live without food and water, that the human body has a limit of about 14 days­.  This event was supernatural, and necessary for Christ to experience, in similar fashion to the previous 40 days and 40 nights fastings of both Moses and Elijah.  Perkins adds, to any who might reason that ‘why did Christ not do double the length of time, 80 days?’, that Christ also must be shown to be human, and a fast of 80 days would have us question His humanity.  Another of Perkins’ ideas, though, seemed rather strange (again, the first time to hear this idea, for me):  the temptation of Jesus standing on the top of the temple in Jerusalem, was accomplished by Satan’s moving Christ’s body, slowly through the air, from the desert to the actual temple location.  Here again Perkins considers the known natural laws, and reasons that a human body could not physically withstand such flight movement through the air at very high speeds, but that Satan certainly could physically carry Christ a short distance at a slow speed.  I haven’t read other commentaries on this matter, but have always thought of this temptation as done in a vision, not actually there; if Christ were actually there, surely there would have been other people around to notice a man standing up on the top of the temple structure.   But Perkins reasoned that a temptation by vision would not be a real temptation.

The third work in volume one is a detailed exposition, with many excurses, of the Sermon on the Mount.  The reading is straightforward enough to follow, and similar in style to the later Puritans (who held Perkins in great esteem and were greatly influenced by him), with the outline format of different observations and ‘uses’ for application – as noted by J.I. Packer in his summary lecture series on the Puritans .  Throughout the reading, though, at several points I was turned-off by one particular aspect of Perkins’ views: his anti-millennial interpretations.  This comes out in such places as his exposition of Matt. 5:5 (the meek shall inherit the earth), in which he cites four ways in which the meek are said to inherit the earth.  The last two of these, Perkins considered as the primary ones:  3) inheritance in Christ in which ‘all things are yours, whether it be Paul or Cephas, or the world, things present or things to come’ (1 Cor. 3:21-22) and 4) that the meek will be made kings and ‘rule and reign’ (Rev. 5).  Before that, however, he considers that “if it fall out that meek persons die in want or banishment, yet God gives them contentation, which is fully answerable to the inheritance of the earth.”  As a premillennialist (and here I recall Spurgeon’s strong words about this text) such an idea misses the mark:  to say that a poor person being contented with what God gives him or her in this life “is fully answerable to the inheritance of the earth” is to seriously underrate and misrepresent the wonderful future promise of really inheriting the earth.  Elsewhere in the exposition, Isaiah texts about the millennial era are applied to what we have spiritually here and now.  At a point about various views regarding our neighbors and revenge, Perkins writes:  “Now the devil perceiving this to be their [the Jews’] natural disposition, makes God’s doctrine of salvation seem to them a doctrine of earthly benefits, for he caused them to dream of an earthly king for their Messiah, and of an earthly flourishing kingdom under him.”  Such statements reveal the standard European anti-Semitism along with an apparent hatred of the premillennial doctrine itself, implied in the idea that an earthly kingdom is somehow evil, carnal and unspiritual.  Premillennialists recognize the both/and of a future literal, earthly kingdom that is also spiritual in character, and that both physical and spiritual can co-exist, as in us believers today; and that the Old Testament did promise a future literal, earthly kingdom. The Jews had the basic idea correct; their error was in failing to recognize the two-stage purpose of God, the cross and then the crown, what is described in 1 Peter 1:10-11: the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.”

The criticisms aside, both works — Augustine and William Perkins — are good for overall reading of classic and Reformation-era thought, as both provide interesting ideas and points for further thought.  They both serve the purpose of reading “the classics” of Christian theological works, and variety in reading, to go beyond the comparatively shallow and superficial nature of many modern-day books.

The Kingdom Offered at Christ’s First Coming

July 2, 2013 2 comments

Alva McClain’s “The Greatness of the Kingdom,” in chapter 23 (Christ’s Ministry in Preparation for the Interregnum) considers in some depth the question of Jesus’ offer of the Kingdom to Israel at His First Coming.  Addressing the controversy behind that idea, McClain well observes:

Those who cavil at the idea of an offer which is certain to be rejected, betray an ignorance, not only of Biblical history (cf. Isa 6:8-10 and Ezek 2:3-7), but also of the important place of the legal proffer in the realm of jurisprudence.  (p. 344)

Indeed this is one of those teachings with apparent contradictions. S. Lewis Johnson expressed the many questions and difficulties as he addressed his audience with these questions, interacting with the audience response (in this message): Was it really offered?  Was it foreknown that it would be rejected, this offer?  Was it foreordained that they should reject it?  Could Israel have responded at the first coming?

Or, as Dr. Johnson summarized it here:

Unfortunately, many people gained a great deal of credence among evangelicals by affirming that our Lord really offered a kingdom apart from a cross.  He never offered a kingdom apart from a cross, but He did offer a kingdom.  He offered the kingdom, however, through the cross.  It’s possible to make the other error, and that’s to say He never offered an earthly kingdom at all.  These are two errors, it seems to me, one on one extreme, the other, the other. He did offer a kingdom, but it was through the sufferings.

As an example of one of these two errors — in the first eschatology audio MP3 series I listened to a few years ago (a very lengthy one), the teacher rejected the idea that Jesus actually offered a kingdom, objecting to the Classic Dispensational (and Arminian) idea that “Jesus offered the kingdom to the Jews, and if they had accepted it He would have brought the kingdom then — but instead He had to switch to plan B.”  He noted one of the parables that taught the idea of a postponed kingdom, and the point that Jesus “even refused it when the people tried to push it.”

But the issue is more complex than that, as noted above.  As to the specific point that Jesus “refused it when the people tried to push it,” that is one of the very things McClain brings up.  Yes, in Jesus’ earlier ministry He refused it (John 6:15), but something changed at the Triumphal Entry: an occasion where the people did openly praise and refer to Him as king; the Pharisees noted what His followers were saying and objected to it, asking Jesus to silence them; and Jesus noted that if these were silent the very rocks would cry out.

From this chapter in McClain’s Greatness of the Kingdom, the following specific points show the genuine, official offer made to Israel, at the Triumphal Entry:

  1. The Journey to Jerusalem: the significance of that city as the royal city of the King
  2. The Preparation for His arrival – the nation was largely represented; 70 messengers sent ahead, taking time over a period of up to 5 months before the event.
  3. The Royal Entrance into Jerusalem.  On pages 347-348 McClain notes:  “It has been said by anti-millennial writers that the animal ridden by our Lord was intended to show humility and indicate that the Kingdom He came to found would accomplish its purposes by “peaceable” means and wholly without the use of force…. If Christ had wished merely to display His humility, He would not have ridden at all, for it would have been humbler to walk with the disciples.”

Regarding that Royal Entrance into Jerusalem:

  • Sending two disciples to a nearby village to get the colt of a donkey.  Matthew only quotes the first part of the full prophecy in Zech. 9:9-10.  If Matthew had believed in a ‘present Messianic reign’ ushered in by the first coming of the King, here would have been the time and place to cite in full the details of Zech. 9:9-10, but he says not a word about the wondrous things of verse 10.
  • Actions and praises of the people: awareness of the regal meaning of His entry into Jerusalem.
  • Deep significance in the very language with which the multitude expressed their joy, with references to the King of Israel, the son of David.
  • The very protest of the Pharisees against the acclamations of the multitude.  The Pharisees knew that previously our Lord had requested silence upon His disciples with reference to public acclamation of His regal claims and that He steadfastly resisted the popular movement to “make Him a king” (John 6:15)
  • The answer of Christ: a radically new junction has arrived in His career upon earth.  No longer is there any place for verbal silence. If these keep quiet, even the stones would cry out.
  • The moving lament of our Lord as He beheld the city, and the judgment He pronounced upon it, prove that a crisis-point is reached here in the history of Israel in relation to the Kingdom.
  • The acts of our Lord immediately following His entry into the city – cleansing of the temple, followed by other physical wonders.

Christ Born, But Also Sent Into the World

December 18, 2012 2 comments

At this time of year we especially celebrate Christ’s birth, the incarnation. Great Christmas hymns often mention “glory to the newborn king,” “Christ is born”  and “the babe, the son of Mary.”  We remember too the infant narratives that indeed describe the human birth of the Christ child, as for instance:

  • Matthew 1:16:  of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
  • Matthew 2:1-4, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem”…”where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” and “where the Christ was to be born.”
  • Luke 1:35– therefore the child to be born
  • Luke 2:7–  she gave birth to her firstborn son
  • Luke 2:11–  For unto you is born this day

Yet beyond these references, it is interesting to note how elsewhere Christ is described, by Himself and others, in terms so very different from all other people.  For instance, we usually refer to a “mother and her child.” Matthew 2, in sharp contrast, several times mentions “the child and his mother.”

Another interesting thing, that I had never thought about before listening to S. Lewis Johnson (something he often mentioned):  only once did Christ refer to Himself as having been born.  It’s part of our everyday conversation for all of us to say “I was born in “ such and such a year, or “I was born in “ (fill-in-the-blank) city or state location.  Christ repeatedly referred to Himself as being sent, as having come into the world.  Only once did He say that He was born – in John 18:37, to a Gentile king, Pilate, who would not have understood Christ’s normal language.  Even then, immediately after saying He was born, Jesus quickly added “and for this purpose I have come into the world.”

Excerpts from S. Lewis Johnson on this interesting point:

This verse is very interesting …  This is the only instance in which the Lord Jesus says that he was born.  His characteristic expression is that he was sent into the world or simply that he came into the world.  And this is the only time that he said that he was born.  And strikingly, of course, he said it to a heathen man.  And then quickly modified it by saying, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world.”  In other words, it was characteristic of him to say words that suggested his preexistence.  He was sent.  And he came.  This one time he was born.  And of course the reference is to his human nature.

and

Only once does the Lord Jesus ever say that he was born.  Did you know that?  Well it’s alright to say that, but only once does he ever say that he was born, and do you know, do you remember to whom he said, he was born?  He said it to a man who had no theological understanding at all.  He said it to Pontius Pilate.  He said, “For this cause was I born,” and then in order to not confuse people like me and like you who were such great theologians, he said, I have a word for you, for this cause was I born and for this purpose came I into the world.  That’s the only time he ever said he was born, and it was said to the Roman Curator, Pontius Pilate.

Psalms At the Passover: Matthew 26:30

July 11, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of Matthew series, an interesting item from Matthew 26:30 (“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”)  I had never really thought about that brief statement and what it referred to, but here we have more background concerning the Passover and the Psalms that were sung.

The Great Hallel, Psalms 113-118, was sung at every Passover:  Psalms 113-114 at the beginning, and Psalms 115-118 at the end of the service.  This set of psalms is also called the “Egyptian Hallel” according to the MacArthur Bible Commentary, which also mentions two other Hallels in scripture, Psalms 120-136 “The Great Hallel” and Psalms 145-150 the “Final Hallel.”  All agree that Psalms 113-118 were sung at the Passover service.

So reading through Psalms 115 through 118 help us focus on the thoughts of the Lord Jesus and his disciples that night.

  • Psalm 115 begins with focus on God’s glory:  Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, But unto Your name give glory.
  • Psalm 116 is the story of a passing through death to life and service.  Consider the following great verses:

The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

and verses 15-16:

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
​​​​​​​​O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.

  • Psalm 117 (only two verses) is the psalm of universal praise following upon that passing through death to life and service.
  • Psalm 118 has the refrain, “His steadfast love endures forever,” and ends on that note.

As G. Campbell Morgan observes, “Thus the King came to the darkness of the Cross singing of the enduring loving-kindness of GOD.”

Was Jesus Mistaken? Did He Really Say That He Would Return In the First Century?

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Amongst Christian circles, liberals like to point to Bible texts that talk of Jesus returning soon (for instance, in Revelation 1 and 22, and Matthew 24 (“this generation”), and say that Jesus must have been mistaken, since 2000+ years have now elapsed.  “Where is the sign of His coming?” they challenge, just as surely as the apostle Peter prophesied they would.

Then Preterists, including partial preterists, came along with the desire to “rescue” Jesus from liberal criticism, by coming up with a scheme to support the idea that Jesus was not mistaken and that He really did return (in secret, or in judgment) in 70 A.D.  R.C. Sproul, influenced by the theological liberalism of his education, is one such proponent, and has admitted that he had this starting point.

But in my study through the gospel accounts, and especially the parables, comes another teaching.  As S. Lewis Johnson points out in his Matthew series  — and is also evident in many other parables, such as in Luke’s gospel — Jesus repeatedly emphasized the fact that a long time period would elapse between Christ’s First and Second Coming.

In Matthew’s “Parables of Rejection,” Jesus first hints at this long period of time.  The master of the house (Matthew 21:33-41) set up a vineyard, leased it to tenants, and then went away into another country.  The parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-10) sets forth a future time when the actual wedding feast will take place — and in Jewish custom several years elapsed between the initial engagement (by the parents) and the actual time of the wedding — again to indicate an unknown time gap; the invited guests meanwhile had gone off to do other “more important” things.  By themselves these parables are certainly not conclusive, but neither do they contradict a long period of time.

The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24) tells much more information, including the fact that enough time will elapse for nations and kingdoms to rise up against each other, and for wars and rumors of war to continue.  Later in Matthew 24, Jesus indicates the importance of being prepared, again hinting that such a long time will elapse (Matthew 24:48-50) that the servants will not be expecting Him, and that wicked servants will notice that “my master is delayed.” The two parables that follow, of the ten virgins and the talents (Matthew 25:1-30), also show a lengthy delay: all of the virgins fall asleep; the master giving the talents goes away on a long journey, and in verse 19 returns “after a long time.”

Luke’s gospel has similar parables and words from Jesus, indicating a lengthy time before His return.  Consider Luke 12:35-40 and the admonition to keep your lamps burning, to be ready whether He comes in the second, third or even the fourth watch of the night.  Then, the parable of the persistent widow (which in context has eschatological reference), which concludes with Jesus’ words: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) Just as all the virgins fell asleep, here the question arises again:  after such a long time (the continued persistent prayers of the faithful), will believers still be found, ready and anticipating His return.  In Luke 19, He tells the parable of the Ten Minas because the people believed that the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately (v. 11). The following parable is similar to the talents one in Matthew 25, again with the point that the nobleman went into a far country before returning.

Luke 21, another account of the Olivet Discourse, includes additional information regarding the time gap:  verses 20-24 speak of the destruction of Jerusalem, the people being led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem being trampled underfoot by the Gentiles “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”  (See my previous blog concerning this text:  Luke’s Gospel and Eschatology.) Then verse 25 resumes the narrative related to future events as paralleled by Matthew and Mark.

The gospels contain so many of Jesus’ teaching, and make the point clear.  Jesus clearly set forth the idea of a long wait, that He did not think He was going to return soon in terms of elapsed time.  Rather, He continually pointed out the ideas of perseverance, waiting and preparedness, along with parables regarding his absence for a long period of time.  Certainly no one could have realized that this delay is now 2000+ years, but the biblical record is clear enough that liberals deserve a better response than that of Preterists, those who too readily agree with the liberals’ premise and then try to force other scripture into a mold it was never intended to fit into.

The Parables of Rejection: Matthew’s Gospel

June 9, 2011 1 comment

As many know, the gospel of Matthew is arranged topically, with all related material together in one section of the gospel, followed by another section for a few chapters, and so forth — in contrast to Luke’s gospel which follows a more chronological pattern.  In my study through the gospel of Matthew with S. Lewis Johnson, I now come to the section dealing with events of the last week before the Crucifixion, and particularly to chapters 21 and 22 — which introduce a series of three parables containing the theme of the rejection of Christ by His people Israel.

The first parable (Matthew 21:28-32) tells of two sons asked to go work in the vineyard. One said he would not go, but afterward repented and went.  The other said he would go, but did not go.  By direct application this parable contrasts the rulers of the people (the second son) with the common people (the tax collectors and harlots), and by extension applies to the overall nation of Israel as compared to the Gentiles.

The second parable (Matthew 21:33-45) tells of a householder, a very wealthy man who planted a vineyard and prepared it for fruit and then went off to a far country, expecting his fruit to be given in its season.  This parable has much in common with Isaiah 5:1-7, and therefore familiar terminology to the Jews; but here Jesus adds the element of the man sending his servants (the prophets), and finally his son, to the tenants to collect his fruit.

The third parable (Matthew 22:1-14) is that of a Marriage Feast. Those who had been invited are now called to come, but they refused — and so the king extended the invitation to many others out on the main road, to fill the house with guests.

These parables have different emphases, but all teach the same main points:
1.  The empty profession leads to judgment:  the man who says, I will go and work — but does not go, can expect only judgment.  The judgment theme is further developed in the second parable:  the man who does not respond to the owner of the household, to give Him his fruit, is likewise exposted to judgment.  The third parable shows a man at the wedding feast, but without the wedding garment:  an empty profession is not enough.

2.  God’s Program for the Nation Israel and the Gentiles shall undergo a dramatic change–by virtue of the fact that the Nation Israel, to whom the promises had been given, has now evidently refused the Son at His coming.

The first parable teaches that the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you — and likewise, the Gentiles shall precede this generation into the kingdom of God.  Note that even here God is still very gracious and leaves the door open:  they shall enter “before you.”  The door has not been permanently shut, and there still is opportunity for you.  Thus has been the case down through history:  the church has been composed of a majority of Gentiles, but still some Jews.  Even in the book of Acts we learn that some of the Pharisees, and some of the priests, did indeed come to faith in Christ — one of the evidences we see for answer to Christ’s prayer from the cross, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The second parable is even more clear:  the kingdom of God shall be taken from you (those who did not bring forth fruit to their master) and given to the Gentiles.  Then in the third parable, the chosen people do not even want to come, and so the servants of the king go out to the highways and gather as many as they can find.

Those that have been invited to the feast, the Nation Israel, because of their rejection of the Son did not come, and so he goes out into the highways and selects all, as many as they find, both bad and good, and they come to the feast.  That’s His way of telling in a simple illustrative story that there is a tremendous transformation taking place in the program of God at the first coming of the Lord Jesus.

The parables also have different emphases:  work for God in the first parable, stewardship and the particular relationship of trustee in the second parable, and the joy of a marriage feast in the third parable.  Yet each of these parables convey great truths, in the illustrative way that only our Lord Jesus Christ can relate these things to us, for our greater understanding.

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: Salvation at Different Ages of Life

May 23, 2011 2 comments

How nice it would be, we often think, if everyone who was saved came to salvation at a young age, with a full life of service and opportunities for service.  It is easy enough to regret the lost years, no matter at what age God brings us to saving faith, and plenty has been said concerning the virtue of salvation among youth — even to statistics showing that the vast majority of believers are saved at a younger age, especially by college age, some before age 30, but then in ever decreasing numbers after that age.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), a great parable about God’s Sovereignty in Rewards, has application in this very issue: believers saved when they are young (hired the first hour), versus those saved at later hours in the day: the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour, and even the 11th hour.  In this teaching — directly following Peter’s attitude of “we have left everything to follow you? What are we going to get out of this?” (Matt. 19:27) — our Lord makes clear that is the quality and not the quantity of our service that matters.  Also, that “many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

S. Lewis Johnson pointed out these issues, from the parable and its context.  He was saved as a businessman in his mid-twenties — and though he had already completed an undergraduate degree and embarked on a career in the insurance business, still God had other plans for the rest of his long life ahead.  Certainly God has mightily used some men who were saved as youths:  John MacArthur, for instance, and especially Charles Spurgeon.  Yet others were saved at even later ages and used mightily by God.  As SLJ pointed out, Scofield was saved at a relatively late age (36), a lawyer and alcoholic, and yet his Scofield Bible, for all its shortcomings, “was used of God in the lives of many, even in my life.”  Johnson also mentioned a man who had heard the preaching of John Flavel years before at age 17, yet was not brought to the Lord until 86 years later at the age of 103.  For three years he lived as a Christian; you can find his tombstone today.  It reads something like this:  “Here lies a babe three years old by grace, who died at age one hundred six by nature.”

From my own experience over the last few years, I consider several cases of salvation coming to older people: a man at church here, saved and baptized only a few years ago at about age 70; my late great-uncle’s second wife — who had remained single all her life, fully consumed in a feminist, career life until she married my great-uncle late in life — and also came to salvation then, past the age of 80.  Then an online friend saved in her early 50s, and her mom saved at age 87.

Or consider the case of the dying thief:

Now it’s not a very good place from which to carry out your Christian service hanging on a cross, but nevertheless, he did, and he did precisely that, because if you’ll remember, he gave testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ … and vindicated him by saying, “This man had done nothing amiss.”  He worshipped the Lord calling him Lord, and then gave us a magnificent prayer, “Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom,” which has caused numerous interpreters to believe that at the moment of his death he probably understood more about theology than any man living at the time, including the apostles, because he saw the nature of the Messianic kingdom.  He saw that our Lord was the Messianic kingdom.  He knew that when he passed from this life, he would have life beyond the grave.  He knew that the greatest thing in life was not the stay here, but to go there.  He didn’t say, “Let me come down from the cross,” but he said, “remember me when you come in your kingdom.”  Now what a magnificent Christian service this man rendered at the last few moments of his life, and what tremendous quantity it had, because down through the years, men such as I have been proclaiming the gospel contained in the words of this magnificent servant of Jesus Christ, called at the eleventh hour to the service of the Lord.

Now, some closing thoughts from J.C. Ryle (from Holiness, chapter 17) about how we all do some good to other souls while here:

I believe that just as ‘no man lives unto himself’ (Rom. 14:7), so also no man is converted only for himself and that the conversion of one man or woman always leads on, in God’s wonderful providence, to the conversion of others. I do not say for a moment that all believers know it. I think it far more likely that many live and die in the faith, who are not aware that they have done good to any soul. But I believe the resurrection morning and the judgment day, when the secret history of all Christians is revealed, will prove that the full meaning of the promise before us has never failed. I doubt if there will be a believer who will not have been to someone or other a ‘river of living water,’ a channel through whom the Spirit has conveyed saving grace. Even the penitent thief, short as his time was after he repented, has been a source of blessing to thousands of souls!

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.

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.