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Habakkuk, Genesis 3:8, and ‘A Day of the Lord’?

September 14, 2020 2 comments

A recent sermon series, “The Gospel According to Habakkuk,” has included a lot of good points on the law, gospel, trials and suffering, judgment, and more — all from the minor prophet Habakkuk.  Going through the first complaint-response and then Habakkuk’s second complaint, up to the beginning of chapter 2, includes many issues in Habakkuk’s struggle.  One’s basic orientation / disorientation, and reorientation toward life (after working through a very difficult time) is seen in Habakkuk’s experience, and often in the lament Psalms.

One of Habakkuk’s issues, of judgment, relates to understanding of the term apocalypse, which (as we know) means to uncover or reveal something.  Revelation is the actual English translation of the Greek term of apocalypse.  Here, though, one idea seems rather novel, something that I haven’t come across in the historic Reformed and Puritan commentaries:  the idea of many small ‘Day of the Lord’ judgment events — a wide definition that even includes Habakkuk’s experience.  In this sense, any event in one’s life that brings trials and difficulties, is a small ‘Day of the Lord’ event, one that helps each of us prepare for the coming final Day of the Lord.  The term ‘Day of the Lord’ thus refers to many different historic events, occurring throughout history and not limited to the future Second Coming.  Overall, yes, this makes sense, in that every difficulty presents itself as a growth opportunity, with a choice of faith or pride; we can humble ourselves, look to God in faith, and learn what God would have us learn (I especially think of Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot), or answer with pride and self-righteous anger.  As pointed out in this series, the recent events (including the response to the covid-19 pandemic) have revealed a lot of shallow and superficial Christianity, a lot of self-righteous pride, rather than humbly considering what it is that God wants us to learn.

Then we come to Genesis 3:8, which describes Adam and Eve hiding from LORD God in the cool of the day.  The new idea mentioned here takes a different interpretation:  this was not a comment on the weather, but God coming in judgment to Adam and Eve; the term ‘cool,’ sometimes translated as wind, can also mean spirit, and so this verse is describing a terrifying judgment scene rather than a casual conversation with God.  The sense of Genesis 3:8 is quite different than what is found from reading Reformed and Puritan commentaries such as John Calvin, Matthew Henry, or John Bunyan’s (unfinished) commentary on Genesis 1-11.  The text here is compared to other Old Testament texts that describe the terrifying experience such as what Moses and the Israelites heard on Mt. Sinai, and references in the prophets — such as Jeremiah 46:10 (about Egypt), Ezekiel 30:2-4, Joel, and Zephaniah 1:14-16.  Joel 2 — again, according to this view — is fulfilled in Acts 2.  This view then makes an even greater leap, to state that all of the Old Testament ‘Day of the Lord’ prophecies were fulfilled at the Cross.  Only the New Testament passages about the future Day of the Lord are still considered relevant, referring to Christ’s Second Coming.  Further, Revelation 1:8, which describes John being in the spirit “on the Lord’s Day” is equated with the Day of the Lord.

From all of this, it seems to me that general application of scripture — about how we learn and grow from our trials, as events that reveal our hearts and provide opportunities to repent and grow in faith — has been mixed in with doctrinal teaching about the prophetic scriptures that address the Second Coming of our Lord.  Both ideas are important and should be taught, yet that does not require conflating the two ideas as done here.  I’m also reminded of other modern-day doctrinal innovations such as this previous post coming out of the ‘Redemptive-Historical’ school of thought.  Again, I don’t find such ideas in the Reformed and Puritan commentaries, and wonder why modern teachers seemingly have the desire to come up with new interpretations rather than standing by traditional, historic teaching.

In closing, I appreciate this commentary excerpt from John Bunyan on Genesis 3:8:

“And they heard the voice of the Lord God.” This voice was not to be understood according, as if it was the effect of a word; as when we speak, the sound remains with a noise for some time after; but by voice here, we are to understand the Lord Christ himself; wherefore this voice is said to walk, not to sound only: “They heard the voice of the Lord God walking.” This voice John calls the word, the word that was with the Father before he made the world, and that at this very time was heard to walk in the garden of Adam: Therefore John also saith, this voice was in the beginning; that is, in the garden with Adam, at the beginning of his conversion, as well as of the beginning of the world (John 1:1).
“And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” The gospel of it is, in the season of grace; for by the cool of the day, he here means, in the patience, gentleness, goodness and mercy of the gospel; and it is opposed to the heat, fire, and severity of the law.

Thoughts on John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon

July 30, 2020 2 comments
Going through my ChristianAudio collection of past free monthly offers, I recently read the audio version of John Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.  It is also available online in text format, such as this one at monergism.  (The audio version ends with the Conclusion, and does not include the supplemental material, starting with the November 1660 imprisonment, continuation of the author’s life, through to the postscript.)  I’ve previously read short excerpts or heard about it, including — as for example, in several of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons — Bunyan’s time of great anxiety and fears, before God brought him to full sense and assurance followed by his later usefulness to the church in Bedford.

The audio book divides the work into chapters, different mp3 tracks; apparently such chapter division was not original to Bunyan’s work but added later.  The section dealing with his doubts and dark times of heavy conviction is here in ‘chapter 3,’ the longest section.  A few interesting observations:  from early in the book, Bunyan observes the idea of the clean and unclean animals, in reference to “chewing the cud” and people who “chew on” the word of God.  Bunyan also, in his early days, observed in people what we see in all ages: professed believers, who were very concerned with their fortunes in this world, and who also greatly grieved the loss of their loved ones,  who had their focus on this world rather than the next.

Bunyan shared his desire to read old books, from long ago and before his day–and then acquired a copy of Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians which he especially liked.   It’s interesting that in his day, which we look back on as the golden era of Puritanism, he wanted to read books from an earlier time.  Luther’s time to his was still relatively recent, about 130 years past.  The Reformers evidently had access to the really ancient books, of Augustine and the early church–because they knew Latin.  Presumably, the writings of the Patristic and medieval years had not — at Bunyan’s time — yet been translated into the common language of English, and so Bunyan and other laypeople had limited access, to a few of the Reformers’ works translated into their own language.  What a blessing and privilege it is to us in our day, to have ready access to English translations of so many early authors, going back 1500+ years.

The audio book ‘Chapter 3’ is the section often mentioned by others, Bunyan’s years of dark fears and heavy conviction.  For a period of a few years soon after coming to salvation, Bunyan seemingly obsessed over various biblical texts, identifying himself with profane Esau, or Judas Iscariot, fearful of having committed the unpardonable sin, and finding that somehow every other godly character in the Bible who had greatly sinned at some point in their life — such as David, Solomon, Manasseh, and Peter — was somehow of a different case and classification from his, one that seems to have included some confusion (at the time) regarding the continuity of scripture from Old to New Testament:  “these were but sins against the law, from which there was a Jesus sent to save them; but yours is a sin against the Saviour, and who shall save you from that?”

This lengthy section recalled to mind the important teaching, that I’ve read from Charles Spurgeon and elsewhere, that God’s people have differing experiences, and it is not necessary, and indeed not at all to be expected, that every person who comes to Christ should have the same lengthy, dark and strong convictions as Bunyan had.  Spurgeon mentioned this in several of his sermons, responding to people who held off from coming to saving faith because they were waiting to have this special ‘preparation’ similar to Bunyan’s.  A few excerpts on this point, from Spurgeon:

From sermon #1490 (August 1879)
Upon certain strong minds God lays a heavy load of conviction, as, for instance, upon John Bunyan, whose five years of inward contention you will find mapped out in his, “Grace Abounding.” But these cases are not the rule and in such instances the Lord means to make a peculiarly useful and experienced man. In the formation of a competent leader and a spiritual champion, the Lord exercises the man to make him expert in dealing with others. But He does not do this with poor, weak minds which are rendered still weaker by the assaults of Satan and their inward fears. “He gathers the lambs in his bosom, and does gently lead those that are with young.”

From sermon #1555 (August 1880)
John Bunyan gives a long story in “Grace Abounding,” and I am thankful that he does, but he never meant that we were to imitate him in his unbelief and harsh thoughts of God. Those hideous doubts and horrible fears were not the work of the Spirit of God. They were the work of John Bunyan’s vivid imagination and the devil together. They had nothing to do with the pardon of his sin except that they hindered him from finding it month after month. Your business, poor guilty sinner, is to believe that mercy is dealt out by God to sinners, not according to their despair and remorse, but “according to the riches of His grace.” Where has God commanded us to despair? Does He not command us to believe? Where has He ever commanded remorse? Does He not bid us hope in His mercy? We are to come to Jesus just as we are and trust Him and we shall be forgiv all trespasses in a moment by our loving, waiting Father.
From sermon #1824 (March 1885)
Therefore do not judge yourself by any man’s biography. Do not condemn yourself if, after reading John Bunyan’s “Grace Abounding,” you say, “I never went into these dark places.” Be glad that you never did.

A similar point is made in the 1689 London Baptist Confession chapter 15.1 in the teaching regarding those of ‘riper years’.  As noted in this post from a few years ago, this paragraph (copied from the Savoy Confession) addresses the more outwardly noticeable salvation experiences of older believers.  Again, we are not to compare our own conversion experience to that of other believers, for God works in different ways.  Arden Hodgins here mentioned the example of David Brainerd, who like John Bunyan had an especially strong and intense experience of his sinful condition; all believers will experience something of this in repentance, but not necessarily to the same depth; or sometimes the understanding is unfolded later throughout the believer’s life of ongoing repentance.

Throughout, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners is filled with scripture quotations, the evidence of a godly man fully acquainted with scripture, and a similar feature that I so love in Spurgeon’s sermons, the continual interaction with and use of scripture.  Bunyan’s Conclusion contains some excellent thoughts to consider, applicable to all of us in our walk with God:
I have sometimes seen more in a line of the Bible, than I could well tell how to stand under; and yet at another time, the whole Bible hath been to me as dry as a stick; or rather, My heart hath been so dead and dry unto it, that I could not conceive the refreshment, though I have looked it all over.
I find to this day seven abominations in my heart: 1. Inclining to unbelief; 2. Suddenly to forget the love and mercy that Christ manifesteth; 3. A leaning to the works of the law; 4. Wanderings and coldness in prayer; 5. To forget to watch for that I pray for; 6. Apt to murmur because I have no more, and yet ready to abuse what I have; 7. I can do none of those things which God commands me, but my corruptions will thrust in themselves. When I would do good, evil is present with me.
These things I continually see and feel, and am afflicted and oppressed with, yet the wisdom of God doth order them for my good; 1. They make me abhor myself; 2. They keep me from trusting my heart; 3. They convince me of the insufficiency of all inherent righteousness; 4. They show me the necessity of flying to Jesus; 5. They press me to pray unto God; 6. They show me the need I have to watch and be sober; 7. And provoke me to pray unto God, through Christ, to help me, and carry me through this world.

The Chiliasts (early premillennialists) and John Bunyan

July 17, 2014 9 comments

In my ongoing interests in premillennialism and church history, lately I have been looking more closely at the earlier premillennialists (pre-19th century), and particularly John Bunyan.  While searching on the Internet a few weeks ago, in reference to the question of “reformed Baptists” and historic premillennialism, I came across a recent article that explain a little of the history of the 1689 London Baptist confession and connection to premillennialism.  The following paragraph especially caught my interest:

Likewise, Nathaniel West tells us that “the English Chiliasts issued a public protest against both the conduct and principles of the revolutionary sect, a protest in which all true pre-millennarians were represented. (Neal’s Puritans, II. 221.) Eleven years after the Assembly adjourned, the English Baptists presented their pre-millennarian confession to Charles II., A.D. 1660, John Bunyan’s name among the number, declaring, ‘We believe that Christ, at His Second Coming, will not only raise the dead, and judge and restore the world, but also take to Himself His Kingdom, which will be a universal Kingdom and that, in this Kingdom, the Lord Jesus Christ will be the alone visible, Supreme, Lord and King of the whole earth.’ (Crosby’s History of the Baptists).

Prior to this, my primary knowledge of John Bunyan was his famous allegory, “Pilgrims Progress,” and related allegorical fiction, and a general impression that he did not write anything with specific reference to eschatology. Then I started looking at overall Puritan literature, including the John Bunyan volumes available at Bunyan Ministries, including Bunyan’s unfinished commentary on Genesis, which covered the first 10 chapters.  Recognizing that this was nearly two centuries before the 19th century controversy over evolution and the age of the Earth, still I was curious to find out what, if anything, John Bunyan had to say regarding the Earth’s age, in his writings about the early Genesis chapters.

Indeed, we won’t find anything in Bunyan’s writings in reference to the 19th century teaching of evolution or long, vast ages of earth history. But it was exciting and interesting to find this Puritan, hundreds of years before the more developed premillennial writings of the 19th century Benjamin Wills Newton and Nathaniel West variety, affirm the basics of premillennialism – and to specifically relate it to the doctrine of creation:

Which sabbath, as I conceive, will be the seventh thousand of years, which are to follow immediately after the world hath stood six thousand first: for as God was six days in the works of creation, and rested the seventh; so in six thousand years he will perfect his works and providences that concern this world. As also he will finish the toil and travel of his saints, with the burden of the beasts, and the curse of the ground; and bring all into rest for a thousand years.

Bunyan further understood the connection between the early Earth, the pre-flood era, and what is promised in the future millennial era, as in his comments on Genesis 5:

These long-lived men therefore shew us the glory that the church shall have in the latter day, even in the seventh thousand years of the world, that sabbath when Christ shall set up his kingdom on earth, according to that which is written, “They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev 20:1-4). They:—Who? The church of God, according also as it was with Adam. Therefore they are said by John to be holy, as well as blessed: “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God, and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (v 6). In all which time the wicked in the world shall forbear to persecute, as did also the brood of wicked Cain in the days of Adam, Seth, &c. Hence therefore we find in the first place the dragon chained for these thousand years.

Bunyan’s view was quite similar to that of the early church, including the “millennial week” idea of a day as a thousand years, thus six thousand years of history for the six days of creation, followed by the “seventh day” as the 1000 year millennial kingdom. “Historic premillennialism” as expressed in the last 200 years, carries forward many features of early premillennialism, except the millennial week. For a modern Bible teacher who holds to chiliasm, see these articles from Tim Warner (note: he is also rather anti-Calvinist, and not in the usual tradition of the 19th century Calvinist Premillennialists), the only one I know of who holds to chiliasm in modern times:

Bunyan also taught according to the literal, non-spiritualizing hermeneutic, as seen in his reference to Zechariah 14:4, in this work addressing the error of the spiritualizing Quakers:

And his feet shall stand in that day [the day of his second coming] upon the Mount of Olives’ (Zech 14:4). Where is that? Not within thee, but that which is without Jerusalem, before it on the east side.

Regarding premillennialism in church history, the following online works:

What’s Next: Commuting with John Bunyan and “Pilgrim’s Progress”

August 23, 2010 Leave a comment

In the last year of commuting time (which isn’t that long of a commute), I’ve enjoyed listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s “Acts” and “The Divine Purpose” series.  Next, I plan to listen to a Librivox recording of John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

I first read Pilgrim’s Progress in the late ’90s, when a church in the area had this book as their Sunday evening study topic. At that time I never purchased a print copy, but downloaded and printed off the online text from Gutenberg’s website of public domain books. Since then I’ve located a good free audio recording of it, from Librivox’s catalog of recordings — also available from Archive.org.  I’ve listened to a few parts of it, but never all the way through.  Another good media source, based on Pilgrim’s Progress, is the 2008 movie, a very good adaptation especially considering the usual quality of  low-budget Christian movies.  Steve Camp has also done a great song, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” with references to some of the characters and events in the book — click this link for a good YouTube presentation.

In the last year of reading Spurgeon sermons, I’ve again become aware of the great treasure to be found in Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,”  which Spurgeon often referenced in his sermon illustrations – a fact also mentioned by more recent great preachers including S. Lewis Johnson, and Phil Johnson.

It’s been a while since I’ve actually read the book, and so now I’m looking forward to these commutes: a good time to listen to sermons as well as good quality books.

Update:  The following link lists several online resources for Pilgrim’s Progress commentaries and study-guides:

http://bibchr.blogspot.com/2010/08/pilgrims-progress-study-guide_24.html