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Reformed Baptists, Charles Spurgeon, and Israel

April 11, 2017 Leave a comment

 

A recent article, What is a Reformed Baptist, makes some good points as to the defining characteristics of Reformed Baptists, as distinguished from Reformed non-Baptists on the one hand, and non-Reformed (Calvinist) Baptists on the other hand.  Five distinctives are noted:  the regulative principle of worship, Baptist Covenant theology, Calvinism, the Law of God, and Confessionalism.  Overall, I agree with it and find it a helpful article.

Yet one point (under the second heading of Covenant Theology) provides an example of modern-day overreaction against one error (traditional dispensationalism), to the point that would negate the actual beliefs of at least some (pre-20th century) 1689 Baptists.  From the article:

According to the New Testament, the Old Testament promise to “you and your seed” was ultimately made to Christ, the true seed (Gal 3:16). Abraham’s physical children were a type of Christ, but Christ Himself is the reality. The physical descendants were included in the old covenant, not because they are all children of the promise, but because God was preserving the line of promise, until Christ, the true seed, came. Now that Christ has come, there is no longer any reason to preserve a physical line. Rather, only those who believe in Jesus are sons of Abraham, true Israelites, members of the new covenant, and the church of the Lord Jesus (Gal 3:7).  …

Baptists today who adhere to dispensationalism believe that the physical offspring of Abraham are the rightful recipients of the promises of God to Abraham’s seed. But they have departed from their historic Baptist roots and from the hermeneutical vision of the organic unity of the Bible cast by their forefathers. Baptist theologian James Leo Garret correctly notes that dispensationalism is an “incursion” into Baptist theology, which only emerged in the last one hundred fifty years or so.

Dispensationalism is indeed an “incursion” (introduced in the mid-19th century, as even its early teachers acknowledged) but that is a different issue from the question regarding any future purpose for physical, national Israel.  As I’ve noted a few times in previous posts, the doctrine of a future restoration of ethnic, national Israel to their land, to have a significant role as a nation during the future millennial era, is not limited to dispensationalism, nor a distinctive unique to dispensationalism.  The 19th century covenantal premillennialists, who predated dispensationalism (certainly before it was well-known and had gained popularity), taught the same idea which today is often dismissed out of hand (as being dispensationalism) – as for example, Andrew Bonar’s remarks in the introduction to his 1846 Commentary on Leviticus.

True, some of the covenantal premillennialists were from the paedo-Baptist form of covenant theology – notably, Horatius and Andrew Bonar, and J.C. Ryle.  But what about Charles Spurgeon, a well-known Baptist who affirmed and taught the 1689 London Baptist Confession at his church?  Several of his sermons specifically addressed the future state of Israel, and his sermon introductions (on prophetic texts that pertain to Israel’s future) included such comments – his brief exposition of the primary meaning of the text, before taking up his own textual-style approach in a different direction regarding the words of a text.

Regarding the specific view of “Abraham’s seed” and its meaning, a search through the Spurgeon sermon archives (at Spurgeon Gems) brings forth several sermons where Spurgeon addressed this.  Consider the following selection of sermons:

The following are a few excerpts which explain Spurgeon’s view of Abraham’s seed – a “both/and” view that includes believers in our age as well as a future group of literal Israel.

From #1369:

Now, our Lord Jesus has come to proclaim a period of jubilee to the true seed of Israel. The seed of Abraham now are not the seed according to the law, but those who are born after the promise. There are privileges reserved for Israel after the flesh, which they will yet receive in the day when they shall acknowledge Christ to be the Messiah, but every great blessing which was promised to Abraham’s seed after the flesh is now virtually promised to Israel after the Spirit, to those who by faith are the children of believing Abraham.

From #1962:

More than that, the Lord kept His friendship to Abraham by favoring his posterity. That is what our first text tells us. The Lord styled Israel, even rebellious Israel “The seed of Abraham My friend.” You know how David sought out the seed of Jonathan, and did them good for Jonathan’s sake, even so does the Lord love believers who are the seed of believing Abraham, and He still seeks out the children of Abraham His friend to do them good. In the latter days He shall save the literal Israel; the natural branches of the olive, which for a while have been broken off, shall be grafted in again. God has not forgotten His friendship to their father Abraham, and therefore He will return in love to Abraham’s seed, and again be their God.

Thus, a 1689 confessional, baptist covenant theology view does not necessitate a removal of one group (ethnic Israel).  Nothing here requires an “either/or” approach that removes and precludes a national future for Israel, as demonstrated in the “both/and” approach taken by Spurgeon (and other covenantal premillennialists).

Bible Reading: The Abrahamic Covenant’s Plural Offspring

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

In my recent reading through Genesis (list 2 in a modified Horner Bible Reading Plan), I noticed again the references to Abraham’s offspring, or “seed.”  Though Reformed Theology emphasizes the singular offspring (Christ), spoken of by Paul in Galatians 3, yet it is obvious from just reading Genesis 17 that some of the Abrahamic covenant texts use offspring in a plural sense, and a sense that clearly cannot be talking about God.  For instance, Genesis 17:7And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

I especially noticed the phrase “to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”  Of course this is not talking about Christ as the singular seed of Abraham, or of Christ being the true Israel — for that would be saying that God is “to be God” to Himself.  The very next sentence, verse 8, gives the land promise in terms that could not be plainer:  And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

Paul in Galatians 3:16 refers to “the promises” and Genesis 18:18, “and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.”  Just because Paul cites one aspect of the Abrahamic covenant in no way invalidates other aspects of that covenant.  The same principle is at work in other oft-cited passages brought forth as “proofs” of Church Replacement Theology:  just because the writer of Hebrews cites the full passage of the New Covenant from Jeremiah 31 does not take away from its meaning in the original text or change its meaning.  Acts 15, with James’ citation of Amos 9, is similar.  All that James says is that the words of the prophets “agree with” what was happening — which is clearly not the same as having the meaning changed to some unexpected “new meaning.”

Barry Horner, in Future Israel  (p. 98) further expands on the issue of singular and plural senses of “seed”:

… the promise of Genesis 12:3 is not made to Christ as the mediator, but to Abraham, and this Scripture overwhelmingly affirms. Further, the seed of Abraham having application to Christ according to Galatians 3:16, this in no way invalidates the “seed” of Genesis 12:1-3 being the nation of Israel anymore than does “seed” in Genesis 13:15; 17:7. The exegetical reason is that God says to Abraham, your “descendants [seed]” shall be as the innumerable stars of heaven (Gen. 15:5). These references clearly refer to the nation of Israel, and not exclusively Christ as an individual. Paul’s employment of Midrash, distinctive Jewish, applicatory interpretation, incorporates Christ as the root of promised blessing without at all denying the obvious promise of national blessing, the plurality of “Abraham’s descendants [seed], heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).  Plainly the terms of the curse/blessing in Genesis 12:2-3 principally refer to the national seed here, notwithstanding the attempted textual manipulation which betrays a difficulty that the obvious sense presents. To be sure, Christ is the ground of covenant blessing, but this does not nullify national blessing as is plainly indicated.

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The Whole Counsel of God: The Abrahamic Covenant

July 6, 2010 Leave a comment

What great treasures in God’s word are missed by the casual Bible teacher or student, by those who limit their study of God’s word to only certain parts and do not teach the whole counsel of God — justifying their neglect of the Bible by the notion that the only important thing is Christ’s First Coming, remembering the cross and how much God did for us at the cross.  Such a one, who concludes from 2 John that “there’s only one doctrine, the doctrine of Christ” also dismisses some biblical teachings as less important, saying:  (others would say) “oh let’s talk about Israel in prophecy, that’s more fun,”  — but that’s not important and that distracts from what’s really important, what Christ did at the cross.  Such an attitude appears to show great spiritual superiority, yet completely misses the important things that God has chosen to reveal to us– including the significance that Israel does have in prophecy (a large section of the Old Testament plus many New Testament references), as an important part in exalting and glorifying Christ, praising Him for the wonders He will yet do in the Divine Purpose of the Ages.  As I mentioned in this blog, the New Testament writers placed great emphasis on Christ’s return, often mentioning the prophetic word; they did not just look back, but eagerly awaited and desired His return.

Now to an important part of the whole counsel of God:  understanding the Abrahamic covenant, and the relevant passages in Genesis chapters 12, 15 and 17.  I have come across this topic a few times during previous studies from S. Lewis Johnson, such as his Eschatology series, and now in the “Divine Purpose” series he again briefly touches on the subject (while noting that he had previously covered this topic in many other series and suggested that people reference the tapes from those previous studies).  To those who would say that the basic promises in the Bible have to do with the cross of Jesus Christ, S. Lewis Johnson points out the connection, why studying the Abrahamic covenant is important:

what Christ did on the cross is the outgrowth of the Abrahamic promises and the outgrowth of the Davidic promises as well.  So we are contending that the basic broad promise of redemption is the Abrahamic covenantal promises.  The story of the Bible, we have said, is the record of the path along which Israel moves toward the fulfillment of these great promises. …  it’s in harmony with this that at the last of the whole of the Bible, that is, in Revelation chapter 22 in verse 16, the Lord Jesus’ connection with the Davidic covenant is again set forth and it’s the next to the last word that Jesus says.  He says, “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches.  I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star,” and his final word is, “and surely I come quickly.”

One new (to me) interesting thing concerning the account in Genesis 15:  verse 12 describes the deep sleep that fell on Abram — and “dreadful and great darkness.”  This was a nightmare, and the fact that it is associated with the ratification of this covenant indicates the future judgment, the horror and terror that would be required for the actual fulfilling of the covenant, the death of Christ on the cross.  Again from S. Lewis Johnson:

the fact that the terror and the horror of great darkness is associated with the ratification of this covenant suggests the judgment that is bound up in the ratification of it in reality in the future when the Lord Jesus Christ represented by this covenantal ratification dies upon Calvary’s cross.  So the terror and the horror of darkness is designed to suggest that the ratification of the covenant in reality not in type or not in illustration is a matter that involves the most serious and most painful of the divine judgmental discipline.

It is also biblically accurate to say that if we are to get any blessings from God, we have to get them through Abraham.  God chose Abraham, that the promised seed would come through him.  All the blessings involved in Jesus Christ come from Abraham, for Christ comes as the seed of Abraham.

A final note from S. Lewis Johnson about the importance of the Abrahamic covenant:

In fact, one of my teachers once said a long time ago that the way one looks at Abraham’s covenant more or less settles the entire argument in eschatology.  So it’s important to have a concept of what is taught in the Abrahamic covenant, its unconditional character and also the Scriptures that have to do with its future fulfillment.