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Dr. Alan Cairns, Historic Premillennialist

April 8, 2021 5 comments

A great resource I’ve recently become aware of, a Covenantal Historic Premillennialist, is the late Dr. Alan Cairns.  I had heard the name a few times, in connection with the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony (SGAT), and from online links and recommendations from a few others.  Dr. Cairns preached for 25 years at Faith Free Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC, before retiring in 2007, and then continued speaking at some annual conference events until as late as 2018.  

SermonAudio has a catalog of 6,390 sermons from Alan Cairns, content which is also available from the radio program / podcast ‘Let the Bible Speak Radio.’  

I’ve listened to a handful of messages from a few different series so far, and appreciate these sermons.  For premillennialism, this 5 part ‘The End Times’ series from an October 2011 conference is interesting.  Each SermonAudio page also includes a PDF file with outline notes of the content, such as this one in reference to the first lecture.  Cairns makes great points regarding many topics, looking at scripture texts including Daniel, Hosea, and other relevant scriptures, taking a futurist view regarding the unfulfilled prophecies and referencing some of the well-known SGAT resources such as B.W. Newton and S.P. Tregelles. 

In ‘The Millennium’ he briefly mentions his own view of Ezekiel 40-48, a particular sub-topic that has brought forth many different opinions even within historic premillennialism.  Some of the 19th century classic covenantal premillennialists saw these chapters as describing a future millennial church worship structure, such as Charles Spurgeon’s view — and I am here addressing only the issue of the temple structure itself, and not the question of the described animal sacrifices). However, Cairns took the idea I’ve heard from some amillennialists, that the temple was a description of what could be provided, conditionally upon Israel’s repentance; but that repentance did not happen, thus this temple was never built.  Personally, I do not find that idea satisfactory; but the overall material from Cairns is helpful and interesting.

Another series of interest is Millennial Milestones: six messages from the year 2000, with history highlights from the last thousand years, starting with an interesting history lesson from 11th century England, on down through the recent centuries.  In this series Cairns provided summary themes for these eras of time, such as describing the 17th century, with reference to the activities and events of the Pilgrims and the Puritans, both in the American colonies and in Britain, as “The Quest for Purity and Liberty.”  The lesson on the 20th century, Back to Babel, has a good summary of the modern ecumenical movement in its various forms, what Cairns saw — and this was over 20 years ago — as the boldest attempt yet to reverse God’s curse: the return to Babel, the great development of the ‘one world’ church movement with headship of the Roman Catholic Church.  “Watch the Jew” and “Watch Europe” are some key takeaways.

I’ve listened to a few other messages, such as a few on particular Psalms (including some of his series on Psalm 138), and a few messages on the later chapters in Luke’s gospel — part of his Life of Christ series, which included teaching on some but not all texts from Luke and the other gospels. From what I’ve listened to so far, I also appreciate Cairns for his depth of subject matter, including the experimental (he noted his dislike of the term ‘experiential,’ preferring “experimental”) focus of the Christian life, and his descriptions such as in his sermon about Jesus’ temptation, in the Garden of Gethsemane, by the devil, and the reality of demonic activity that affects believers.

So, as others have recommended Alan Cairns, I now add my recommendation as well, for this great resource for sermon listening.

Reflections on the Pandemic, and Signs of the Last Days

March 22, 2021 17 comments

What a year this has been.  It was a year ago, March 17, that I and co-workers first started working from home due to the pandemic lockdown, and we are still working from home for the foreseeable future.  As I reflect back on all the events of the last year, I frequently think of the term “apocalypse” in its broader, general meaning — as a “revealing,” and the revealing of the hearts and minds of people as a result of particular trials and afflictions, such as what the events of the last year have revealed.  

The people of Israel in Exodus 4:31 heard from Aaron and Moses, and believed them.  Yet one chapter later, in Exodus 5:21, the same people (a group within the overall group from Exodus 4:31) declared that the LORD should judge Moses and Aaron, for putting a sword in the Egyptians to kill them.  The different circumstance brought out a very different response. Likewise, in our day, the unusual events of the last year have been a revealing of people’s hearts under afflictions and difficulties.

A recent Wall Street journal article has considered how the pandemic has affected people — and the comments section at the Facebook posting also reveals the divide in the country and the experiences of many more.  A recent report from the Business Insider tells of at least a few cases where church pastors have left their congregations, due to radicalized conspiracy followers, and notes the high percentage of professing church-goers who hold to conspiracy ideas such as QAnon.  When fewer people returned to church services last summer and fall, it was speculated by those who were still attending (often at churches that considered face coverings optional) that the people at home viewing online would decide they preferred that instead of meeting in person.  Yet as noted in a recent survey, and observed locally, the vast majority, over 90%, do plan to return and already are returning to in person, now that a medical treatment, a vaccine, has become available.

A resource I’ve read from time to time over the last several years, the SGAT — the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony — has published a booklet, based on a set of sermons delivered on January 3, 2021, called “Where Are We In God’s Calendar?”  The booklet can be ordered online (I received it in the postal mail along with the latest two newsletters), and the original sermons, with some of the same content are online here, part 1 and part 2.  From the booklet comes this observation, regarding the signs of the times, and Christ’s Return:

Creeping Awareness

Is there not a creeping, growing awareness of things prophetic amongst a remnant?  …  Is there not a growing consciousness amongst true believers of the deepening apostasy, the universal rejection of God’s Word amongst those nations privileged for centuries to hear it proclaimed, and a recognising that, as never before, men are embracing everything that is unholy and ungodly?
There was a slow awakening to the wickedness of the World Council of Churches amongst evangelicals and likewise to the wicked departures of Billy Graham but light did finally dawn!
The darkness reigning over the nations is seen in that nothing seems to have been brought home to the multitude by this ‘Coronavirus’ plague.
Only a few have noted the ‘spirit’ of this day!
In the midst of the pandemic, the deaths and sicknesses, there has been little or no public reference to God.  Political leaders have purposely avoided any mention of Him altogether while the so-called ‘church leaders’ in the mainline churches have made such scant and irrelevant mention of Him, silence on their part would have been more beneficial!
Pulpits in evangelical assemblies are also largely silent on the matter, many with contempt dismissing the Covid virus as a mere ‘flu!
I believe that the events that are revealed by the opening of the first seal indicate the great need of this hour–a revealing of the approach of the Saviour’s return.
It is something for which we ought to be praying!  I will not be dogmatic about this but I think that what I say is worthy of some consideration.  If I am correct in suggesting that we are near to the opening of the first seal and the revealing and emphasising afresh to God’s people the great doctrine of the Saviour’s return in glory, then soon there will follow the events shown us here under the likeness of the opening of the pages of a book.  

God’s word tells us we should not be surprised, when we see ever deepening and widening apostasy, as we continue in these general “last days” and as we approach the days just before Christ’s return.  Just as the Jews of Jesus’ day were more focused on Christ’s Second Coming, His coming to rule and reign, so the NT church has focused mostly on His First Coming.  In Luke 18 Jesus observed, ‘when the Son of Man comes [His Return], will he find faith on earth?’  As I’ve been studying through the gospel of Luke, it is refreshing to read J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke, which has many great observations concerning our attitude toward Christ’s Return, and how we should be living, in light of this great truth. 
 
As indicated in texts such as Luke 18, also other accounts that describe even the people of God as “sleeping” and unaware and not looking for Christ’s Return, as the time lengthens and He has been gone for a long time — so it has unfolded in church history, that most are not looking to Christ’s Return in glory, nor thinking about the things that must take place before then.  It is said that dispensationalism has an imminent return of Christ, that He could return at any time, nothing has to take place before the ‘rapture of the church;’ the dispensationalist has some awareness of end times things that must occur, such as Israel back in the land — but tends to think that he/she will not be around to see all of these things that will take place.  The post-millennialists (a rare group nowadays, unlike the pre-World War I era) are looking for the world population to come to Christ, to become a Christianized world, a ‘golden age’ before Christ returns.  The amillennialist, and particularly the common form of preterist amillennialist, is the one with a strong “imminent” any-moment return of Christ, since in this view most of the “prophetic texts” have already happened, in the first century, and — in an odd way they have this much in common with dispensationalist — Christ can return at any moment: and even more so for them, no reason to look for the “general season” of things that will occur shortly before the Second Advent. 
 
Historic premillennialism, the view I hold to, affirms a non-imminent return, that certain things must take place before Christ’s Return:  at first, such things as Peter’s death prophesied, and the gospel going forth to other lands, and time to allow for prophecies indicating wars and rumors of wars; then, other “stage-setting” events that are implied in the descriptions of texts about the Lord’s return:  Israel regathered in unbelief, and a world with great technology such as we now see for our own eyes.
 
Among the prophetic texts are some lesser known passages that describe things that, if taken in their normal, plain language sense, could very reasonably occur in our day, with our 21st century technology.  For example, Revelation 11’s description of the two witnesses laying dead for 3 1/2 days and their bodies observed by people from all over the world, and the people of the world rejoicing and exchanging gifts with each other, all in the space of 3 1/2 days, could very well occur in today’s instant worldwide communication, a literal fulfillment that Horatius Bonar thought, based on 19th century technology, could not really mean 3 1/2 days.  Likewise, Revelation 13’s description of technology that limits people’s ability to transact business, is already occurring in some form, for some types of transactions, in China and possibly other totalitarian government countries.  It’s also interesting that at least some evangelical leaders are also realizing at least this much — such as a clear statement from Al Mohler in a podcast interview last fall, stating his belief that the technology exists today for the literal fulfillment of the biblical prophecies.
 
Another interesting thing I’ve observed recently in the overall culture:  people who do not even recognize and acknowledge anything of the providence of God, of “acts of God” events — such as weather storms or the spread of new diseases around the world.  As one example, the recent winter storm here in the American South, of a severity not seen in a lifetime, was actually considered by some TikTok users a “fake” storm perpetrated by the “powerful left” who somehow created something that looked like but wasn’t really snow.  The fact that some people actually ascribe such powers over the weather, or at least the ability to create a “fake” snowstorm — to mere man, rather than recognize what society has always understood as an “act of God,” is telling.  It appears that, more and more, our technological age has brought about what has been called the “social imaginary,” to the point where some are denying the reality of actual events that have occurred — a pandemic that has caused soaring hospitalization rates and higher than normal levels of death, and even severe winter storms — instead ascribing these to “fake” events caused by mere human political actors.
 
These are just some thoughts to consider, regarding the times we now live in.  In closing, a few selections from J.C. Ryle, from his Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke:
The disciples and all the Jews of our Lord’s time appear to have seen only one personal coming of the Messiah. They expected a Messiah who would come to reign, but not one who would come to suffer.
The majority of Christians, in like manner, appear to see only one personal coming. They believe that Christ came the first time to suffer. But they seem unable to understand that Christ is coming a second time to reign. Both parties have got hold of some of the truth, but neither, unfortunately, has embraced the whole truth. Both are more or less in error, and the Christian’s error is only second in importance to that of the Jew.
Also
It is well to know that He lived for us, and died for us, and rose again for us, and intercedes for us. But it is also well to know that He is soon coming again for us! … The course of this world shall not always go on as it does now. Disorder, confusion, false profession, and unpunished sin shall not always cover the face of the earth. … Let us wait patiently when we see wickedness triumphing in the earth. The time is short. There is One who sees and notes down all that the ungodly are doing!   
. . .
When the Lord Jesus left the world, He ascended up into heaven as a conqueror leading captivity captive. He is there sitting at the right hand of God, doing the work of the High Priest for His believing people, and ever making intercession for them. But He will not sit there always. He will come forth from the holy of holies to bless His people. He will come again with power and glory to put down every enemy under His feet, and to set up His universal kingdom on earth.
. . .
Jesus’ coming in person the first time to suffer, and Jesus coming in person the second time to reign are two landmarks of which we should never lose sight. We stand between the two. Let us believe that both are real and true.

2020 Reading in Review: Reformed Confessions Study

December 18, 2020 2 comments

A year ago I reviewed the 2019 books and looked forward to a year long study through the Reformed Confessions. Now I’m nearing the end of this study, which included reading through the Westminster Daily readings, a calendar schedule to read through the Westminster Confession of Faith and its two catechisms, WLC and WSC, along with:

From my original plan at the end of 2019, I completed Spurgeon’s devotional Faith’s Checkbook as well as Thomas Boston’s Crook in the Lot.  I added Thomas Watson’s Body of Divinity as commentary reading along with some of the questions from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, but found that I could not keep up with the Charnock’s Existence and Attributes of God in addition to the Confession commentaries — so I plan to resume reading that in the near future.  I’ve also heard of Thomas Manton’s work on Psalm 119 as highly recommended, another to start on for 2021.

A few thoughts on these Confession commentaries:  A.A. Hodge’s is a straightforward read, covering the basic doctrine, and understandable, and not too lengthy; the reading can tend to the dry side, just basic academic reading, but at the layperson level.   This commentary includes a section of questions to be answered, at the end of each chapter of the confession — useful for a group study with assignments or discussion, or perhaps for family worship and use with children. 

Ursinus’ 16th century commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism is interesting in that it comes from the main author of this well-known catechism.  It is far lengthier (PDF over 1000 pages), and the writing style and content rather tedious; some of this is of course the older English writing of this edition, the public domain one available from Monergism and elsewhere (as far as I know, this one has not been recently republished in a modernized form).  The content includes statement of each Heidelberg question and answer, followed by an exposition of that question/answer; the exposition frequently includes a number of ‘objections’ and answers to these objections–some of which may be familiar to current-day readers (and many that are not as clear, from long-forgotten objections that Ursinus was familiar with).  Ursinus’ commentary has some good sections in response to, say, antinomians, Anabaptists, and a group called ‘Ubiquitarians’ (which I learned was the 16th century name for what we refer to as Lutheranism), regarding such things as God’s moral law and the Reformed interpretation of the Lord’s Supper (as contrasted with Lutheran / Ubiquitarian Consubstantiation).  The objection responses are phrased in terms of major and minor propositions, with terms such as affirm, deny, and syllogisms, and sometimes these objection-abswer sections are rather lengthy, providing ‘too much information’ for the average 21st century Christian, issues about particular doctrinal points not necessarily relevant to understanding the original Catechism question.  

One off-putting aspect especially of Ursinus’ writing, is his occasional references to eschatology, in which he states amillennial assumptions as though a given, assumptions stated in passing and as though not to be questioned — when a clear exegesis of the text clearly does NOT support that view. As for example, this section, at the beginning of section III. WHAT IS THE RESURRECTION, AND WHAT ARE THE ERRORS WHICH ARE ENTERTAINED CONCERNING IT? (page 513 in the Monergism PDF file)

The word resurrection sometimes signifies in the Scriptures man’s conversion, or his resurrection from sin, as, “This is the first resurrection.” (Rev. 20:5.)

Overall, the reading this year, the Reformed Confessions along with commentaries, has been a good study, covering the many different doctrines in the confessions and commentaries, and thus becoming more acquainted with the documents and the writings of these theologians from previous centuries.

Philip Ryken, and J.C. Ryle, on the Gospel of Luke

October 2, 2020 5 comments

A weekly Bible Study at church has started on a study of the gospel of Luke this year, and included Dr. Ryken’s Commentary in the list of recommended resources. So I’m listening to the next best thing to the commentary: the volumes of sermons from Dr. Ryken that form the basis of his commentary, a set of 14 volumes from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ podcast “Every Last Word,” available at ReformedResources.org.  The first three volumes cover the first 5 chapters of Luke, and are straight-forward sermons with exposition and application, on the wide range of topics within these first chapters of Luke’s gospel.

One pleasant surprise has been the frequent references to J.C. Ryle, with quite a few quotes from the great 19th century Anglican bishop.  In fact, in the early chapters at least (I’m currently in Luke 6) of Ryken’s sermon series, J.C. Ryle is one of the most (or possibly the most) frequently cited resources — along with quotes from a few others such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and at least one quote from existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

That brings me back to reading J.C. Ryle, several years after I read  his books such as Practical Religion, Holiness, and his book on prophecy, Coming Events and Present Duties.  Over the years I’ve read selected portions from his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (full e-book in PDF, Kindle, and EPUB formats available here), and now it’s been refreshing and enjoyable to read sequentially through J.C. Ryle’s full commentary on the gospel of Luke, alongside Ryken’s sermons each week.

Ryle’s writing style here is similar to other works, a devotional and educational commentary, simple and clear statements packed with truth, and always very quotable.  He well described the faith of the Old Testament saints, with the original, plain historic understanding that believers always had the Holy Spirit indwelling, though in less measure (quantity) — unlike several modern day teachers who want to come up with innovations, even such as a few who would come up with a “spirit of Christ” that indwells New Testament saints in contrast to Old Testament saints that were regenerated but not actually Spirit indwelled (since, supposedly, the Spirit of Christ did not exist in that earlier era).

Ryle’s Expository Thoughts also addresses the basics, with great application of texts, to exhort believers on the importance of Bible reading and study, evangelism, and diligence and hard work in our occupations and callings.  His comments on the Lord’s Day Sabbath, at the beginning of Luke 6, are also spot-on, instructive regarding Christ’s teaching on works of necessity and works of mercy brought out in the text, and in response to the same Sabbath criticisms in our day:  We live in days when anything like strict Sabbath observance is loudly denounced, in some quarters, as a remnant of Jewish superstition.  We are boldly told by some people, that to enforce the fourth commandment on Christians, is going back to bondage.  Let it suffice us to remember, when we hear such things, that assertions are not proofs, and that vague talk like this has no confirmation in the word of God.   J.C. Ryle elsewhere wrote an excellent short summary tract, Sabbath: A Day to Keep, referencing  many scriptures and how they relate together; but the additional comments in his Luke 6 commentary add to the full picture.

Just in going through the first chapters of Luke, it’s also interesting to see his clear statements regarding the future millennial era and ethnic Israel’s future, as with this sampling:

Christ was indeed “the glory of Israel.” The descent from Abraham–the covenants–the promises–the law of Moses–the divinely ordered Temple service–all these were mighty privileges. But all were as nothing compared to the mighty fact, that out of Israel was born the Savior of the world. This was to be the highest honor of the Jewish nation, that the mother of Christ was a Jewish woman, and that the blood of One “made of the seed of David, according to the flesh,” was to make atonement for the sin of mankind.  . . .

The day shall come when the veil shall be taken from the heart of Israel, and all shall “glory in the Lord.” (Isaiah. 45:25.) For that day let us wait, and watch, and pray. If Christ be the light and glory of our souls, that day cannot come too soon.  . . .

“and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever.” The literal fulfillment of this part of the promise is yet to come. Israel is yet to be gathered. The Jews are yet to be restored to their own land, and to look to Him whom they once pierced, as their King and their God.  . . .

The full completion of the kingdom is an event yet to come. The saints of the Most High shall one day have entire dominion. The little stone of the Gospel-kingdom shall yet fill the whole earth. But whether in its incomplete or complete state, the subjects of the kingdom are always of one character.

Also, a sampling of general application from passages in Luke’s gospel:

We do not expect a child to do the work of a full-grown man, though he may one day, if he lives long enough. We must not expect a learner of Christianity to show the faith, and love, and knowledge of an old soldier of the cross. He may become by and bye a mighty champion of the truth. But at first we must give him time.

and

In every calling, and vocation, and trade, we see that great effort is one prominent secret of success. It is not by luck or accident that men prosper, but by hard working. Fortunes are not made without trouble and attention, by bankers and merchants. Practice is not secured without diligence and study, by lawyers and physicians. The principle is one with which the children of this world are perfectly familiar.

Study on Baptism (Review: J.V. Fesko’s Word, Water, and Spirit)

July 18, 2020 Leave a comment

A book I’ve seen recommended in online discussions, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism, by J.V. Fesko, is one that I have found very helpful and informative.  Its three sections cover a lot of historical theology as well as review of many scriptures and scripture themes related to the sacraments and especially baptism, and development of redemptive-historical/biblical theology of baptism, with exposition of New Testament passages such as 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 and 1 Peter 3:20-21.

The overall style is more scholarly and sometimes repetitive — yet the repetition, and frequent use of ‘in other words’ with a restatement in simpler words, assist the understanding.  The history section seemed too lengthy, with more details than I wanted, though the early history along with the section on the Anabaptist history were more interesting.  The chapters in parts II and III were well-written and helpful, a series of expositions on several biblical texts–and relating all the separate parts to the overall narrative flow of scripture, the covenants, and the continuity of the main themes in God’s word.  From the entirety of it, I now have a much clearer understanding of the different views such as the medieval baptismal regeneration and infusion of grace, and the different emphases and nuances of the Reformers regarding the sacraments, the roles of the sacraments along with the written Word, and the idea of the blessing and judgment “double-edged sword” sides regarding the benefits (to the true, invisible church of believers) versus judgments (to the professing but false visible-only church) within the overall covenant community.  As a scholarly-type work, Word, Water, and Spirit includes copious footnote references, and Fesko interacts with the views of past theologians including Luther, Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus (who wrote a Heidelberg Catechism commentary, which I am also reading through this year in calendar-week sequence), explaining where he agrees or disagrees with them.

One section addressed a question/comment from someone who had made a comparison between John the Baptist’s baptism and the later New Testament Christian baptism, wondering what type of participants (individuals vs families) were involved in each.  While a common idea is that Christ instituted baptism by His example of being baptized by John, Fesko contends that Christ instituted baptism in the Great Commission and not in His submission to John’s baptism.

Three key differences noted here:

  1. The redemptive-historical timeframe for John’s ministry: This baptism was not a perpetual rite for Israel but a special sign for that terminal generation  John’s baptism epitomized the particular crisis in covenant history represented by John’s mission as the messenger bearing the Lord’s ultimatum.
  2. John’s ministry was preparatory for the ministry of Christ; his baptism was also preparatory.
  3. John’s baptism was one of repentance, whereas the baptism instituted by Jesus was to be administered in the name of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Fesko asserts that there is no textual support for Calvin’s claim that John baptized “into the name of Christ.”

Fesko here focuses on the typical (John’s baptismal ministry) and its fulfillment—Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit, as well as the significance of baptism into a name:  the triune God name (also referenced in the shortened form baptized into the name of Jesus, in some instances in the book of Acts), also Paul’s reference in 1 Corinthians that the people were not baptized into his name, the name of Paul (1 Corinthians 1:13-15)

The book is comprehensive, considering many different scriptures and views, and even provides brief treatment (a full chapter) on the issue of paedocommunion, outlining the main scriptures against this idea.  Another book I’ve received (free from a book drawing) and hope to read soon, Cornelis Venema’s Children at the Lord’s Table?, addresses that topic in more depth.  It was interesting to read here, though, of the parallel between the Lord’s Supper and Exodus 24 (not Exodus 12)– The Passover was not an end in itself, but pointed to the covenantal goal of Exodus 24, worshipping and fellowshiping in God’s presence.

Finally, one more interesting thing I liked is that the author consistently and correctly used the scriptural term “last Adam,” rather than the frequent variation of “second Adam.”  As S. Lewis Johnson liked to point out, the scriptural terms Paul used are “the last Adam, and the second man.”  Johnson mentioned one of his teachers, perhaps Chafer, who had added his notes in a book he owned, that it’s “not the second Adam, but the last Adam.” SLJ then pointed out that the term “second Adam” would imply that a third could come along–no, Christ is the last Adam.  Yet I’ve seen it too often in current-day Christian books and articles, the mixing of terms to say “second Adam” rather than “last Adam/second man.”

Overall, Word, Water, and Spirit is a thorough and informative reference work, addressing many scriptures from the Old and New Testament along with historical theology and the views of many theologians down through church history.

 

Continuing through Revelation with James M. Boice

July 3, 2020 7 comments

Continuing in Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, One Lord, here are some highlights from Boice’s commentary.

Revelation 2 and 3 follow the standard overview regarding this generally narrative section:  the history and situation of each of the seven churches, and highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. The church at Ephesus, with the instruction to remember and repent, prompts a great summary about Paradise regained:

Ever since Adam and Eve lost Paradise because of their sin, sinners have tried to build their own paradise on earth.  Cain tried it first by constructing the city of Enoch in the land of Nod.  Some tried to do it at Babel by building a tower that they hoped would reach to heaven.  The Greeks tried to make Athens a paradise.  The Romans tried to do it in Rome.  We do it too, supposing that we can have our own paradise here on earth–even in our churches.  But the cities of men are doomed to destruction.  They will all fall away.  The only true paradise is in heaven, where it has been prepared only for those who love God.  For they alone are able to overcome, “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev. 12:11)

Smyrna is noted as one of the two (out of seven) cities that still exist:  the modern-day Turkish city Izmir, and the home of Polycarp, the twelfth martyr in Smyrna—and one of the original Revelation 2 readers.

The exhortation to Thyatira (Rev. 2:24-25) (any other burden) has a reference to Acts 15:28-29 –the early church history and instructions that went out to the Gentile churches.  Here is presented again that same general advice:  Live free in Christ, but do not compromise with the idolatry or sexual immorality of the surrounding culture.  Verse 28 has a later reference in this same book (Revelation 22:16), where Jesus identifies Himself as “the bright morning star” – a likely allusion to Numbers 24:14-20 , the ‘star’ that would arise out of Jacob to crush God’s enemies.  Here in Revelation 2, this is applied to the saints who have already been promised to rule with Jesus on the basis of Psalm 2.

One of Sardis’ early bishops, Melito, is the first known commentator on the book of Revelation.  Boice, while teaching on the church in Sardis, also makes reference to 2 Timothy 3:5 (see this previous post) with application to the current-day church (now 20 years ago, a situation worsened another 20 years):

… here is the shocking thing.  Having described this evil worldly culture by its vices, Paul further describes its members in verse 5 as ‘having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.’  This cannot be referring to pagans.  Paul would never have described the pagans of his day as having ‘an appearance of godliness.’  …. it must be describing the church.  In other words, the problem that Paul saw is not that the world will be wicked in the final days before Christ’s return but that the church will be like the world—as it is today.  The church will be indistinguishable from the world and will be equally corrupt—at least when you look beneath the surface.

In Revelation 4 and 5, Boice addresses the subject of worship, including songs in our worship.  Another interesting point is God’s throne–mentioned about 40 times in Revelation, and in 19 of the 22 chapters (all except chapters 2, 8 and 9).  Regarding the emerald rainbow description in Revelation 4:3, a quote from William Hendriksen notes a biblical reference:

the only biblical significance of the rainbow is that it was the sign of the covenant that God made with Noah following the great flood of Genesis 6-9.  It signifies a covenant of grace, and its reappearance in Revelation–coming at the very end of the Bible, as it did at the beginning–indicates that God is eternally the same.  He is and always has been a covenant-making, covenant-keeping God.

Another great quote from Hendriksen is shared in Revelation 5, in reference to John’s tears in verse 4    :

You will understand the meaning of these tears if you constantly bear in mind that in this beautiful vision the opening of the scroll by breaking the seals indicates the execution of God’s plan.  When the scroll is opened and the seals are broken, then the universe is governed in the interests of the church.  Then, God’s glorious, redemptive purpose is being realized; his plan is being carried out and the contents of the scroll come to pass in the history of the universe.  But if the scroll is not opened it means that there will be no protection for God’s children in the hours of bitter trial; no judgments upon a persecuting world, no ultimate triumph for believers, no new heaven and earth, no future inheritance.

In Revelation 6 commentary, Boice considers the identity of the rider on the white horse (the first of the seven seals).  After describing the two common views – the rider is Jesus Christ, or the rider is the antiChrist – Boice selected a third option, that the rider “merely represents the spirit of conquest or militarism that leads to the evils that are symbolized by the riders that follow him.”  His view on the seals overall is that they describe the general characteristics of this age (the last 2,000 years).  In exposition of the rest of the seals, Boice provides interesting commentary on the martyrs, including a section on Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and stories from the Huguenot martyrs of the 18th century.

Boice was able to complete all of Revelation 6, all verses – all of the seals, so exposition of everything up through the end of Revelation 6 and the question of the ‘end times’ events being symbolic or literal (he opted for the literal, the fuller meaning of these descriptions—relating what we already have experience with, the destructive power of even individual earthquakes and one volcanic eruption (such as Mount St. Helens in 1980).  Then the book abruptly ends, with brief end comments from Philip Ryken.

As shown in the afterword, this book is Ryken’s tribute to his predecessor, James Montgomery Boice. This commentary on the first six chapters of Revelation is readable and instructive, and the tribute ends on the positive note, of Boice’s last days with his congregation as God was preparing him for the worship of heaven.  This work, including Ryken’s ending tribute, is an enjoyable read, very informative with many anecdotes and treatments of several doctrinal truths.

Revelation, The Rapture, and James Montgomery Boice

June 25, 2020 3 comments

Continuing from the last post, which introduced Boice’s posthumous Revelation book (covering the first 6 chapters of Revelation) with a look at his comments on Revelation 1, I’m continuing through the later chapters (Revelation 2 through Revelation 6).  For this time, I’ll address a question/issue raised in the comments of my last post:  Boice’s pre-trib(?) eschatology.

I’m not aware of Boice’s teachings from earlier years, as to anything he said then regarding dispensationalism and the rapture.  As Donald Grey Barnhouse’s successor at Tenth Presbyterian Church, it’s likely that he at first continued with similar teachings.  As an interesting sidenote here, two great Calvinist Premillennial teachers of the mid-to-late 20th century were both directly influenced by Dr. Barnhouse:  S. Lewis Johnson and James M. Boice.

From the ‘next generation’ ministry, I’ve observed that SLJ retained more of Barnhouse’s dispensationalism, teaching at DTS in earlier years, and preaching at a Calvinist Dispensational Baptist church for many years (though in later years he moved away from some aspects of dispensationalism)—while studying Genesis on his own and changing his view to young earth, recent creation.  He appreciated his mentorship from Barnhouse, from whom he learned the Gap Theory Old Earth view–but respectfully disagreed and from scripture taught why the young earth view was true, rather than the Gap Theory.

James Boice, on the other hand, moved further away from dispensationalism, to the point of his very different teaching on the book of Revelation (more details below) – while retaining Barnhouse’s Gap Theory Old Earth teaching.  That is one area that I personally wish Boice would have reformed his view on, instead of continuing with the view he inherited from Barnhouse.  Yet even in this Revelation teaching from the last months of his life, Boice has over two pages (in Revelation 4) of commentary about astronomy with old-earth assumptions.  (As we all like to say about someone who has departed and now in heaven – Boice knows the truth now, as does S. Lewis Johnson in doctrinal ideas he was wrong about.)

Now to the chapter details regarding Boice on this topic, which reveal that Boice was not at all interested in teaching or promoting dispensational views, or even a pre-trib rapture.  For Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Boice’s commentary selections for quotes include G.K. Beale and John Stott.  In chapters 4 and 5 he quotes from William Hendricksen and G.E. Ladd.

Boice gives very little time to Rev. 3:10, not even mentioning the dispensational interpretation of this verse regarding the rapture.  By contrast, the late S. Lewis Johnson – in his later ministry years when he had moved away from dispensationalism, though still teaching at a dispensational church — taught two full messages,  providing both the “post-trib” and the “pre-trib” rapture arguments when he reached this text in his Revelation series (see this previous post).

The case is clearer in Boice’s commentary on Revelation 4:1, where he mentions and repudiates the dispensational view:

… the view of the dispensationalists, who see John’s being taken up into heaven as a picture of the supposed rapture of the church before the tribulation.  J.A. Seiss is quite dogmatic at this point, though not all dispensationalists are as certain as he is.  John Walvoord admits that the rapture is not explicitly taught in this passage, though he finds it represented as a type.  Why should dispensationalists see John’s being taken up into heaven in this light?

The obvious reason is that dispensationalists are committed to the idea of a rapture for other reasons, even before they get to Revelation, and this is the best place for them to insert it.  They interpreted the letters of chapters 2 and 3 as a preview of the history of the church and the judgements of chapters 6 through 16 as that final period of intense tribulation from which most of them believe the church will be delivered.  They argue that ‘after this’ means ‘after the church age.’

But there is no reason to interpret any of these words in that way.  John’s experience of being caught up to heaven is not the rapture of the saints—even assuming that there is such a thing as the rapture.

In Revelation 5, Boice presents five common views regarding the seven-sealed scroll in Rev. 5:1, himself preferring the fifth one – Ladd’s view that the scroll contains God’s total plan of judgment and redemption.  Here he shares Ladd’s description of this view.  The first view he mentions, that the scroll represents the “last will and testament of Christ,” may be the view favored by dispensationalism.  At any rate, both S. Lewis Johnson and John MacArthur, in their Revelation series, took this first view of the Roman last will and testament, expanding on the idea to include a contract.

I’m still reading, in the second half of Revelation 5, and overall very impressed with this publication: a lay-person reading, yet very thorough in exploring the lessons in the text.  Throughout, Boice brings out great truths:  the historical situation of the churches and their praise and rebukes from Christ; the attributes of God; theology of redemption and the atonement; God as the God of history; as well as worship and how we worship God through songs.  Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, One Lord: Lessons from the Apocalypse has all this and more, from the first 6 chapters of the book of Revelation.

The Apocalypse: Revelation Commentary from James M. Boice

June 3, 2020 11 comments
A lot of “stage-setting” for the end times scenario has occurred within the last several decades:  Israel back in the land (regathered in unbelief), and the worldwide travel and instant communication technology indirectly prophesied in Rev. 11:9-10 (see this previous post).  Very recent news is starting to look more and more apocalyptic:  a worldwide pandemic (the above two pieces were not in place during previous pandemics), killer hornets, riots and anarchy around the country, and even articles about the world leaders looking for someone to take charge and lead the world in dealing with covid-19.  (Note:  I am not saying that any of these things ARE end-times events; yet these events are interesting, in terms of what God is working out in this world, in His providence, in preparation for Christ’s Return.)
The Second Coming and our Blessed Hope  is always an important doctrine — oft-neglected, especially when the world appears to be stable and status-quo.  In the current world situation, the year 2020 which has turned out to be far from the normal life, resources that point us to the end times are especially to be appreciated.  One such offering, from Dr. Phillip Ryken and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, is a newly published commentary from the late James Montgomery Boice on the first six chapters of Revelation.   Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, and One LORD is compiled from Boice’s last messages at Tenth Presbyterian Church, just before he learned the news of cancer; Boice went home to be with the Lord before completing the series.  I’ve been aware of Boice for several years, as a modern-times covenantal premillennialist, and have previously listened to and read some of his teaching, such as his Psalms commentary on book one, and a few other messages.  Recently I’ve also started listening to some of his lectures on the minor prophets, and it was refreshing to hear his very clear and sensible exposition of Zechariah 14, including his reference to David Baron.
As I’m reading the first chapters in this new commentary, on Revelation 1, the original plan to complete the series was in his mind, and thus comes a touch of sadness when reading page 21, where Boice mentioned the Hebrew number equivalents, noting “We will discuss this puzzle when we get to chapter 13 ….”  In this case as always, it was “if the Lord wills,” and clearly the Lord had other plans, to take Boice home before that point.
The commentary on Revelation 1 provides Boice’s two main guidelines, along with interesting connections between Revelation 1 and OT passages.  This Reformation21 post provides a good excerpt on the introductory material.  Another interesting part here is the count of OT allusions in the book of Revelation:  79 references to Isaiah, 54 to Daniel, 48 to Ezekiel, 43 to the Psalms, 27 to Exodus, 22 to Jeremiah, 15 to Zechariah, 9 to Amos, and 8 to Joel.  Of the 404 verses of the 22 chapters of Revelation, 278 contain one or more allusions to an OT passage.
Revelation 1 is interesting in many ways, including the numerous Old Testament allusions, such as these, pointed out by Boice:

Other interesting points:

  • the seven lamps in this vision are separate lamps, not attached to each other like the Jewish Menorah.  This represents the universal church.  Here, also reference Matthew 5:14-15, the city on a hill and a light set on a stand.
  • Revelation 1 portrays Jesus as a priest (standing among the lampstands and tending them) and as a prophet, who has come to impart the revelation to the apostle John

Boice was less concerned about the specific futurist/historicist/preterist interpretations, focusing instead on the pattern, repeated throughout the book of Revelation, of visions that show the scene in heaven, followed by scenes on earth.  The purpose of Revelation, something that is applicable to all believers in all eras of history, is to get Christians from all periods of history and in all circumstances to look at things from God’s perspective rather than from man’s and to draw comfort and strength from that perspective.

This quote from J.I. Packer (shared by Boice) well expresses the timelessness of God’s word, and the  immutability of our God:

Men sometimes say things that they do not really mean, simply because they do not know their own mind; also, because their views change, they frequently find that they can no longer stand to things that they said in the past.  All of us sometimes have to recall our words, because they have ceased to express what we think; sometimes we have to eat our words, because hard facts refute them.  The words of men are unstable things.  But not so the words of God.  They stand forever, as abidingly valid expressions of His mind and thought..  No circumstances prompt Him to recall them; no changes in His own thinking require Him to amend them.  Isaiah writes, ‘All flesh is grass … the grass withereth … but the word of our God shall stand for ever’ (Isaiah 40:6).

 

Horatius Bonar, the Blessings and Curses, and Hermeneutics and Application

May 7, 2020 12 comments

It’s been ten years since I read Horatius Bonar’s Prophetical Landmarks, and it’s time to revisit it, a good refresher, now that my overall doctrinal views in other areas – from the last several years of study – more closely align with the 19th century covenantal premillennialists.  (For reference, here are posts from 2010 on Horatius Bonar:  On Interpreting the Prophets  and On the Millennial Question.)

While reading through the Westminster Confession and catechisms (a calendar year reading), along with the scripture references, I noticed WLC question 28

Q 28. What are the punishments of sin in this world?

The punishments of sin in this world are either inward,
as blindness of mind,
a reprobate sense,
strong delusions,
hardness of heart,
horror of conscience,
and vile affections;
or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes,
and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments;
together with death itself.

The highlighted phrase in the answer, includes as scripture reference, a large section from Deuteronomy 28, verses 15-68 — which describes the prophecy regarding the nation of Israel in its apostasy.

Now, as I understand, the Westminster Divines added the ‘scripture proofs’ only upon request from the Parliament, and their intent was for people to focus not so much on the actual scripture proofs, but as a guide to their commentaries on the scripture references.  That would be the next step in a study here, to find and read their commentaries on this passage.  I understand the general application purpose—from apostate Israel and the temporal evils that befell them, to the general precept of what can happen, temporally, to unbelievers.  That unbelievers, along with the godly, suffer affliction in this life is clear from many places; Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot (which I’m currently reading), an exposition of Ecclesiastes 1:15, explains well the type of suffering experienced by everyone, and the purpose of that suffering in unbelievers, as contrasted with its purpose in the lives of God’s people.

Deuteronomy 28, though, includes very specific prophecies, regarding what would happen to the Jews in the centuries and millennia after Moses’s speech – specific things that were later experienced, including drought, defeated before enemies, property being given to the nation’s enemies, cannibalism, followed by being scattered throughout the world and even to the point that they would offer themselves as slaves to their enemies, but “there will be no buyer.”  If Deuteronomy 28 could be used as an application and a scripture reference for the temporal suffering experienced by unbelievers generally, then Deuteronomy 7:12-14 and 28:3-14 should equally apply in a general application sense to believers.   As both sets of passages apply to the same people group (in this case Israel, the Jewish church), I see that a general application could be made:  the one part, curses, applies to the unbelieving part of Israel (the visible members of the covenant community, who do not have the true inward saving faith), while the other part, the blessings, to the invisible church, those who actually are saved.  Yet the specifics of these passages, the primary meaning, has reference to the specific nation of Israel and its history, with specific, detailed curse events as well as detailed blessing events.

Horatius Bonar was writing in response to 19th century spiritualizing amillennialists, and provided a great lesson on plain-language literal hermeneutics and the treatment of prophecy in scripture, such as this chapter on Israel.  Regarding the idea of literal curses upon Israel (which were fulfilled, the curses mentioned in Deuteronomy 28) versus “spiritual” blessings in Christ, Bonar observed:

Up to this hour, then, everything respecting Israel has been literally accomplished. Nothing in what has hitherto occurred in their strange history gives the slightest countenance to the figurative interpretations for which some so strenuously contend. Why is Israel still an exile, an outcast, a wanderer, if there be no literal curse? Why is Jerusalem laid in heaps, and Mount Zion ploughed as a field (Jer. 26:18)? Why is the crown of Samaria broken, its ruins rolled down into the valley, and its vines all withered from the mountain side (Jer. 31:5; Mic. 1:6)? Why is Lebanon hewn down, the oaks of Bashan withered, the roses of Sharon gone? Why do the fields of Heshbon languish? Why is the vine of Sibmah uprooted, the summer fruits of Elealeh faded, and why is Carmel bare? Why is baldness come upon Gaza, and why is Ashkelon cut off? Why is Ammon a couching-place for flocks, and the palaces of Bozrah swept away? Why is Moab fled, Idumea become a wilderness, and Mount Seir laid desolate? Why is all this, if there be no literal curse? And why, if there has been such a literal curse, is the literal blessing to be denied?

It is foolish to answer, as many do, “The spiritual blessing is far richer; why contend about blessings of meaner value?” Why? Because we believe that God has revealed them; because we believe that as God has been dishonored by Israel’s being an outcast from the land of promise, so He will be honored by their peaceful settlement again; because as we know He was glorified in leading up Israel, His firstborn, out of Egypt, from the tyranny of Pharaoh, through the wilderness into Canaan, so we believe He designs to glorify Himself by a second exodus, and a second establishment in the land given to Abraham and his seed; because as He magnified His name and power in the sight of the heathen by bringing His people out from Babylon after seventy years’ captivity, so we believe He will magnify that name again by leading them out of Babylon the Great, and planting them in their ancient possessions to inherit them forever; never to be disturbed by the enemy; never to hear the voice of war again.

Among the general principles that Bonar sets forth for the literal interpretation of prophecies regarding Israel, is this one:

When their scattering and their gathering are placed together, and when we are told, that as they have been scattered, so they shall be gathered. Very striking and explicit are the prophecies to this effect in Deuteronomy, where the plainness of the style precludes the idea of figures. How, for instance, could the most ingenious spiritualizer contrive to explain away such a passage as this,—“If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will he fetch thee; and the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers” (Deut. 30:4)

Horatius Bonar’s Prophetical Landmarks is still good reading, with Bonar’s rich prose style and use of scripture, and its explanation of solid hermeneutical principles.

Our Ancient Foe: Essays From Reformed Theologians

December 10, 2019 1 comment

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has recently published essay type books from the content in some of their PCRT conferences.  I previously reviewed Only One Way, with a great selection of chapters dealing with the many ‘only one way’ doctrines and their implications for our lives as Christians.

Another in this series is Our Ancient Foe: The History, Activity, and Demise of the Devil (Best of Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology), with nine essays from selected conferences.  Last year I referenced some of the lectures in the actual “Our Ancient Foe” 2017 Quakertown conference, focusing on the lectures from Dr. Peter Jones.

The book version features some of the 2017 conference content, four chapters from two of the speakers – Kent Hughes and Tom Nettles – along with additional chapters from authors/theologians Joel Beeke, Derek W.H. Thomas, Sinclair Ferguson, Roger Nicole, and Ronald L. Kohl (the editor).

As with Only One Way, the chapters are very readable and interesting for the layperson audience, and include a lot of interesting teaching and great quotes.  Derek Thomas references the motivation for Christian living, that we need to see other motives besides basic gratitude, to the motivations understood in confessional Reformed theology (imperatives, indicatives, and the wrath of God).  Joel Beeke talks about our weakness and besetting sins:

“The frightening truth about Satan is that he knows us.  He observes our character, moment by moment, and he knows our weakest points.  Isn’t that true in your life?  Haven’t you noticed that the things that you easily stumble over surface repeatedly?  Satan keeps presenting them to you, and you often fall so easily that it’s embarrassing. … in our weakness, we stumble over measly little worms.  My friend, may I warn you in the words of Jesus today, ‘Simon, Simon, behold.’  Don’t eat the little worms of this world in the place of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Tom Nettles references the devil having the power of death, and the deeper mystery from eternity past, in a Narnia-esque passage (a similar point made in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” in reference to the White Witch and Aslan):

It’s not that Satan controls who lives and who dies.  It’s that he thinks that, because God is always true to His promises, he can hold the Word of God before God himself and say, ‘This is what you declared would happen and must happen.’  But God has a wisdom that Satan cannot foresee—that the redemptive purpose of God comes out in these interesting and sometimes baffling providential arrangements.  And now this deeper mystery, from before the beginning of time, has come to pass:  the death of the Son of God, who took our nature and was made like his brethren in everything.  In doing that, Jesus has fulfilled the particular verse that Satan has clung to as his ace in the hole—the verse he’s been holding before God: they sinned, they must die.

Sinclair Ferguson, on Satan’s final demise, provides an interesting simple perspective of Revelation as God’s “picture book”:
There is a sense in which the book of Revelation is the easiest, not the most difficult, book in the New Testament. It’s easiest because it is the book in which, more than in any other, God comes down to the simplest of us.  Instead of explaining the gospel to us in the great doctrinal expositions that we find, for example, in some of Paul’s letters, and instead of showing us the glory of God and the glory of the gospel … simply by means of words, God sits down beside us in the book of Revelation as though we were his little children and says to us, ‘Look at the picture book that I’ve made for you.’
 Our Ancient Foe is another great Reformed Conference series publication, a great reference with helpful and edifying content in an easy to read format, on an important doctrinal topic.