Lessons from Habakkuk

August 14, 2020 Leave a comment

I’m taking another look through the minor prophets, and particularly the book of Habakkuk.  Alistair Begg’s “No Simple Answers”, which I listened to last fall, provided great down-to-earth application.   Another good one is James Montgomery Boice’s 5 part series from a few decades ago.  Boice mentioned someone saying that he had never heard church sermons on Habakkuk; in our day sermons are more available, including more attention to this minor prophet.  A local-area PCA church is also currently doing a series on Habakkuk, a more detailed approach with 5 messages and still in progress. 

Boice’s series emphasized the overall theme of God’s Sovereignty, and God and History, and how we wrestle with problems and dealing with God’s answers.  Habakkuk was a deep thinker, and like us he remembered his nation’s better times — King Josiah’s brief revival, which turned out to be more from the top-down, an incomplete revival.  Habakkuk then saw the moral decline and wickedness of the nation, and wanted God to do something–very likely, he wanted God to send revival.  The answer was not what he wanted to hear; Boice likened it to God telling American Christians that His answer to American Christianity would be, “I’m not going to send revival, I’m going to send the communists.”  Ironically, a generation later, there is a lot of truth in that idea, as to the judgment that God has sent–though not in the obvious outward way that Boice, during the Cold War with the Soviets, probably thought of.

Referencing Martyn Lloyd Jones, who preached on Habakkuk in the years soon after WWII and later published a small book (which is unfortunately out of print, and used copies quite expensive), come these four points regarding history:

  1. God is in charge of history
  2. God causes history to follow His own plan, a divine plan
  3. History follows a divine timetable — “I am going to do something, in your day”; also Hab. 2:3.  God appointed the time.
  4. History is bound up with the divine kingdom.  The point here is that history was not about “the Babylonian problem.”  God is concerned with building His kingdom through His people.  Boice also referenced Matthew 24 and the general instruction to believers: watch out, do not be deceived; you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.

How did Habakkuk get to the point of Habakkuk 2:1, where he waits for God’s answer?  One view, from Martyn Lloyd Jones and shared by James Boice, demonstrates four steps in how we should approach all problems that we don’t understand:

  1. Stop, and think
  2. Restate the basic principles, the things you know; firm footing
  3. Apply the basic principles to your problem
  4. If, having done all this, you still don’t have answer to the problem: commit it to God and wait for Him to answer it in HIs own time. (Habakkuk 2:1)

The recent Habakkuk series (mentioned above) takes the view that Habakkuk in 2:1 is still in a hostile mindset, not really responding in faith.  Habakkuk uses a military term of watching, as though he is preparing himself to battle the Lord regarding this:  the judgment is so unfair.  When Boice gets to Habakkuk 3, he notes a similar thing (if perhaps less bluntly): Habakkuk at the end of chapter 1 had still been thinking in terms of himself, not yet seeing things from God’s viewpoint.  As brought out in the current series, Habakkuk 1 provides expanded lessons regarding the moral law of God and its three uses, the problem of self-righteousness, and judgment.  The wicked in Habakkuk 1:4 are a different group than the wicked in verse 13, showing Habakkuk’s comparative scale between his fellow countrymen and the pagan Chaldeans (Babylonians).  Habakkuk was among the righteous remnant, but it’s a small step to self-righteousness, when he complains (verse  ) “the law is paralyzed.”  Yet if the Law becomes the main thing, you’ll trip over it.

Both of these series are helpful, bringing in sound theology along with good illustrations and application to our time.  I look forward to the continuing lessons in the current Habakkuk series.  

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.

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.

 

Thoughts on Chesterton’s Orthodoxy: Patriotism and Paganism

July 15, 2020 Leave a comment

Some observations from recent reading and the Christian/Evangelical response to the pandemic situation.

In reading G.K. Chesterton’s classic work (published in 1908), Orthodoxy (online text and audio files available online here) I’ve noticed a similar thought style to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who were greatly influenced by Chesterton.  Additionally, Chesterton’s description of the right kind of patriotism, to me, brought forth the word-picture illustration of Tolkien’s The Shire (as for instance how Frodo described his love for the shire, without a particular reason, simply caring about it and its people):

The man who is most likely to ruin the place he loves is exactly the man who loves it with a reason. The man who will improve the place is the man who loves it without a reason. If a man loves some feature of Pimlico (which seems unlikely), he may find himself defending that feature against Pimlico itself. But if he simply loves Pimlico itself, he may lay it waste and turn it into the New Jerusalem. I do not deny that reform may be excessive; I only say that it is the mystic patriot who reforms. …If we love England for being an empire, we may overrate the success with which we rule the Hindoos. But if we love it only for being a nation, we can face all events: for it would be a nation even if the Hindoos ruled us. Thus also only those will permit their patriotism to falsify history whose patriotism depends on history. A man who loves England for being English will not mind how she arose. But a man who loves England for being Anglo-Saxon may go against all facts for his fancy. He may end (like Carlyle and Freeman) by maintaining that the Norman Conquest was a Saxon Conquest. He may end in utter unreason—because he has a reason. …Nowhere else is patriotism more purely abstract and arbitrary; and nowhere else is reform more drastic and sweeping. The more transcendental is your patriotism, the more practical are your politics.

Orthodoxy also brings out the lament concept, how we ought to respond in sadness, not rejoicing, at coming destruction and judgment.  Another interesting section is the contrast between paganism and its ‘non-binary’ sameness, versus the Christian expression of life with great diversity:

If any one wants a modern proof of all this, let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity, Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations. Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the Pagan empire would have said, “You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift.” But the instinct of Christian Europe says, “Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France.”

Chesterton’s observations echo today, more than a century later, with the significance of the ‘break the binary’ movement that has now ushered in rampant homosexuality and transgenderism.  I first learned of this connection between paganism one-ness and these cultural expressions of perversion, from two of Dr. Peter Jones’ lectures (reference this previous post).

Yet as Chesterton pointed out, world history itself stands as a great testament to this fundamental difference in worldviews, in which we see the geographically large and monolithic Eastern empires, as contrasted with the great variety of life, even in the fact of the much smaller European nations that developed from the ancient Roman Empire.

Orthodoxy is an interesting read–some of it dated with references to the political ideas of the day, yet also expressing timeless truths about the Christian worldview, especially in terms of basic social ideas such as patriotism (and optimism/pessimism) and one-ness versus diversity.

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.

Living in a 2 Timothy 3:5 World (and Thoughts on Thomas Boston)

June 17, 2020 6 comments

The last few months have been quite interesting, a time for serious consideration as to what God is doing in this world and in His church.  First came the pandemic, a judgment on the world and also on the church specifically, as churches were closed (and went to online services) for public health consideration.  Even now, though some churches have begun meeting again (with varying levels of social distancing or non-social distancing), many of us are still working from home, and continuing at home on Sunday morning, watching online services.

Among all the noise, ignorance, and politics, I have found especially helpful several articles such as these from Joseph Pipa and others at GPTS, addressing the issue of attending public worship, and God’s judgment on the church:

Corporately, God is refining His church. As Christians, we have repeatedly and rebelliously profaned God’s Holy Day with work and recreation (which God connects with idolatry, Ezek. 20:13-16); because of the virus, many are prohibited from working or playing every day of the week.
Increasingly, the church has substituted entertainment for holy Worship.  God has closed the doors of our churches. God’s people have grown satisfied with having one service on His day; God has removed all services. We have taken lightly the privileges of corporate worship; we are unable to worship corporately.

More recent events are addressed in this article, Pagan America Dressed in Christianity, which provides a good application (it has happened before at other points in history) of 2 Timothy 3:5: having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power — as seen in the rioters, the President, and the evangelical response.

I recently read Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot: God’s Sovereignty in Afflictions, an excellent, easy to read book (republished in modern English) that addresses so well the issue of trials, suffering, and pride versus humility — a very convicting read.  Along with describing how believers should benefit from their trials, Boston pointed also to the proud, the foolish, and unbelieving response of those who do not learn from the trials of life.  From expositions of passages in the wisdom literature – especially Ecclesiastes, also a few from Proverbs — this book is very helpful in explaining God’s Sovereignty in our afflictions, and that God is the Author of our afflictions.

How evangelicals have generally responded to recent events shows the great immaturity of the professed church, which increasingly looks (at best) like the Corinthian church.  It seems that many have identified their faith with politics, and specifically American Republican politics, and are interested in conspiracy theories, denial of the pandemic, and asserting of “my rights!” and the American constitution.  We still have the form, the outward shell of Christianity — but for many, sadly that is all they have, a form of Christian religion but denying its power.  Another bible verse also comes to mind:  Luke 18:8When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?  This is a time like that of the prophets of Israel, who continually prayed and desired for the peoples’ repentance, and for revival to come.  Yet, like Habakkuk, distressed at the evil of his people–instead of revival, God sends judgment.  But when the majority of the visible Church, the outward expression of Christianity (including the evangelical part and many of its leaders), is only a form without the power, one showing great hypocrisy to the watching world, how can genuine heart revival come?  Instead, though God has been very patient — judgment must come.  Of course we do not rejoice in the judgment, but lament – see this post, A Jeremiad.

A sampling of Boston’s observations, for further thought regarding what we’ve seen recently, both among unbelievers as well as in the visible, evangelical church:

The careless sinner is not concerned with discovering the design of Providence in the crook, so he cannot fall in line with it. Instead, he remains unfruitful in the trial, and all of the pains taken by the great Vinedresser on his behalf are lost.

Despite all of their trouble, they do not look or turn to God.
There they are ever suffering and ever sinning—still in the furnace but their dross is not consumed nor are they purified. And such is the condition of those who now cannot submit under the crook.

This is to be in the company of the proud, getting the lot altered by force to the mind. They are like those who, taking themselves to be injured, fight it out with the enemy, win the victory, and then divide the spoil according to their will.

There is no way they can abide the trial, so God takes them off of it, like reprobate silver that is not able to abide it.

Boston’s outlook is not at all negative, but The Crook in the Lot explores both sides: those who humble themselves under God’s mighty hand, who learn from their afflictions, as well as those who instead continue in pride, showing themselves as among those who divide the spoil with the proud (Proverbs 16:19).  His many exhortations and reminders to believers are of great encouragement, and accurately describe how life actually happens: the various types of trials (including long continuing ones, shorter more intense ones, some due to lex talionis) and the ‘partial lifting up’ that may occur — the removal of some particular difficulties (see this previous post), though a partial lifting, sometimes bringing other problems instead.  The full and final lifting up will not occur in this life, and so we wait patiently for the next life.

will nothing please you but two heavens—one here and another hereafter? God has secured one heaven for the saints, one place where they will get all their will, wishes, and desires. There will be no weight on them there to hold them down. This is in the other world. But must you have it both here and there or you cannot accept it?

Do not expect the lifting up to follow immediately upon your humbling. No, you are not to merely lie under the mighty hand, but lie still, waiting for the due time. Humbling work is a long work; the Israelites had forty years of it in the wilderness.

And whatever accomplishment of the promise happens here, it is not the essence of the promise, but a sample or a pledge. … The unmixed blessing is reserved for the other world, but this world will be a wilderness to the end, and there will be crying intermixed with the most joyful songs.

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).

 

Christology: David’s Son and David’s Lord (Review)

May 15, 2020 1 comment

I’ve enjoyed the Theology theme essay books recently published by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, compilations of lectures on various doctrinal topics.  Previous posts here include reviews of Only One Way and Our Ancient Foe.  The latest offering is on the topic of Christology —  David’s Son and David’s Lord: Christology for Christ’s People.  As Mark Jones observed in Antinomianism:  Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest (see this previous post), the errors of antinomianism and legalism, common among Christians today, are resolved by a solid foundation of Christology.  This volume contains 11 contributions, from lectures originally delivered at the 2018 Spring Theology Conference at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, from many theologians including Joel Beeke, Michael Barrett, G.K. Beale, Ian Hamilton, and several others.

A recent post included a close look at chapter 7 from this essay collection.  The other chapters are also helpful, with teaching on several points: Christ as our prophet, our priest, our king, His deity and pre-existence, His impeccability; also several essay expositions of particular texts such as Psalm 45, Isaiah 53, and Matthew 4.

It would be hard to pick one ‘best’ chapter, as this volume has many solid essays, including the chapter from the very quotable Joel Beeke, and Morales’ essay with parallels between Israel in the wilderness and Jesus’ later 40 days in the wilderness.  G.K. Beale’s writing, on the Genesis creation theme of being fruitful and blessings, a theme continued throughout the rest of the Old Testament, is also interesting.

Among the highlights, Joel Beeke (Deity and pre-existence of the Son of God; John 8:58) provided strong application, as in these selections:

Do you give Christ your heart in worship every day, and especially during Lord’s Day services?  To worship Him is to recognize that He is the One who meets all your needs and brings us true happiness.  He is worthy of your adoration and worship.  Tell Him, therefore, in public worship, as well as in private, that He is your highest love, your only Beloved without any competitors.

and

The fact that Christ has been faithful to His covenant and to His covenant people throughout the ages proves that He will be faithful to you now.  Can you recount the many times when Christ has shown Himself faithful to you?  The fact that Christ has been faithful to his covenant and covenant people throughout the ages proves that He will be faithful to you now and forever more.  Can you recount the many times when Christ has delivered you from trouble?  Sometimes doubts arise within us because of various trials we encounter.  Are you prepared to counter these doubts by recounting His many deliverances?  Keep a record of the ways God has brought you through difficulties in the past.  There is wisdom in the children’s song, ‘Count your blessings, name them one by one.’

Throughout the book are also many quotes from the Puritan and other past writers, such as this great one from Edward Griffin, on Romans 8:32:

What could you wish for more?  What change can you desire?  In what single circumstance would you move for an alteration?  Our blessed Jesus governs all.  Would you take the government of a single event out of his hands?  To whom then would you commit it?  To angels?  They never loved like Jesus.  To chance?  There is no such love in chance.  To men?  Men never died to save your lives.  To yourselves?  Jesus loves you better than you love yourselves, and knows infinitely better what is for your good.  Come then [to Christ] …. and rejoice that this redeemed world is governed by the matchless love of him who died to deliver it from Satan’s oppression.

The book ends at an appropriate place, with Ryan McGraw on Christ’s Return and its importance, and how we should live in light of the Second Coming.  This section especially reminded me of the similar point made by J.C. Ryle in his Coming Events and Present Duties, and McGraw mentions J.C. Ryle, who reportedly “would look out his window every morning and say, ‘maybe today Lord,’ and every evening and say, ‘maybe tonight Lord’.”  This chapter includes quotes from Thomas Manton and Sinclair Ferguson, and mentions the appointed means by which we reflect on the Lord’s Return, including baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the observance of the Sabbath.  McGraw also emphasizes the beatific vision of heaven–the more traditional view of heaven–as contrasted with the “New Creation” model (reference this previous post, about Derek Thomas’ book Heaven on Earth’).

“David’s Son and David’s Lord: Christology for Christ’s People” is another great selection in the conference lecture series essays.  The essays cover several topics within the overall theme, with great expositions of Bible texts, and solid application to the Christian life.

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.