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Extreme Replacement Theology: Treatment of James 1:1

October 28, 2016 3 comments

Summer continues to extend itself into now late October (I’ve never before seen temperatures in the mid-80s at the end of October), and the two Bible study series I was following are also extending their summer break.  So while continuing the adventures in Middle Earth (and Frodo and Sam have left the black gate of Mordor, soon to meet Faramir), I’m still looking for another good sermon audio series.  One possibility has been a study of the book of James, from a Reformed/covenantal view of the law, and a few weeks ago I began one such series, from a 1689 Reformed Baptist/historic premillennial church.

The first lesson started out well, an introduction to the book of the Bible, covering the basic points of any good Bible book introduction.  As noted, this is likely the earliest of the epistles, written by James the brother of our Lord.  But then, abruptly the reasoning changed, from plain sense to a non-literal idea completely unsupported by the words of the text:  the audience, “the twelve tribes in the dispersion.”  In what can only be understood as an extreme reaction against traditional dispensationalism’s “two peoples of God” idea, the teacher veered away from the plain sense, literal, historical understanding and went to great lengths (including reference to Galatians 6, “the Israel of God” and Romans 4 about “true Jews”) to assert that the book of James was actually written to all true believers, to the one people of God, and that these people were not at all Jewish but generically believers.  After this, I found another sermon on this text, from another Reformed Baptist church; its style was more preaching than Bible-study/teaching, but it also took this non-literal view that the audience is really the one people of God and not any particular audience in the mid-1st century.

One obvious problem is that, as already established by this point, the book of James was written so early in the New Testament age – at a point in time when, as is also well-known, the early church was predominantly Jewish–those early years before the Gentiles came in, long before the Gentile population of believers outnumbered the Jewish believers.

More to the point, though:  what is wrong with just being honest with the text, acknowledging the historical context of who these early believers were, including their ethnicity?  And then point out the application, that the book does apply to all of us as believers.  As the early church well expressed it, the words of Peter at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:11), “we  believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

These teachers have also departed from the teaching of the Reformed theologians of past centuries, as noted in the commentaries of men including Matthew Henry, John Gill, Thomas Manton, and Charles Spurgeon’s view (no commentary, but comments from Spurgeon can be found in this sermon).  All of these Reformed teachers (Thomas Manton’s commentary is listed in the top five for the book of James; commentary available online here) acknowledged the literal, plain sense meaning of James 1:1, and considered in detail the specifics of which dispersion the author (James) was referring to.  They note that some thought this was a reference to the dispersion that occurred after the persecution of Stephen (Acts 8) – yet this dispersion only reached to Judea and Samaria – and so more properly, James 1:1 referred to the dispersion that occurred in God’s judgment of exile first to the northern kingdom by Assyria, and then the southern kingdom exile to Babylon.  James’ audience was specifically those believing Jews who were part of the dispersion, and these commentators affirm God’s mercy and providence to His people in what happened to the Jews, as with this excerpt from Matthew Henry:

The greatest part indeed of ten of the twelve tribes were lost in captivity; but yet some of every tribe were preserved and they are still honoured with the ancient style of twelve tribes. These however were scattered and dispersed. 1. They were dispersed in mercy. Having the scriptures of the Old Testament, the providence of God so ordered it that they were scattered in several countries for the diffusing of the light of divine revelation. 2. They began now to be scattered in wrath. The Jewish nation was crumbling into parties and factions, and many were forced to leave their own country, as having now grown too hot for them. Even good people among them shared in the common calamity. 3. These Jews of the dispersion were those who had embraced the Christian faith. They were persecuted and forced to seek for shelter in other countries, the Gentiles being kinder to Christians than the Jews were. Note here, It is often the lot even of God’s own tribes to be scattered abroad.

As to be expected, the commentaries provide greater depth than even the best sermon/message, due to the overall format and expectations of commentaries versus the sermon preached at a local church.  Yet one ought to expect that the layperson-level sermon might at least touch on the issues brought up in the commentary:  instead of a tangent, a non-literal interpretation of the audience, harping about how we’re all one people of God, we’re all the “true Israel,” the better approach here would be to consider the true audience (believing Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire), and the lessons to learn — what is applicable to us all — from these individuals and their circumstances.  As a sampling, some excerpts from Thomas Manton, for further consideration, regarding “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”:

  • God looks after his afflicted servants: he moves James to write to the scattered tribes: the care of heaven flourisheth towards you when you wither. A man would have thought these had been driven away from God’s care, when they had been driven away from the sanctuary.
  • God’s own people may be dispersed, and driven from their countries and habitations. … Christ himself had not where to lay his head; and the apostle tells us of some `of whom the world was not worthy, that `they wandered in deserts, and mountains, and woods, and caves. … Many of the children of God in these times have been driven from their dwellings; but you see we have no reason to think the case strange.
  • There was something more in their scattering than ordinary: they were a people whom God for a long time had kept together under the wings of providence. That which is notable in their scattering is:—
  1. The severity of God’s justice; the twelve tribes are scattered—his own people. It is ill resting on any privileges, when God’s Israel may be made strangers.
  2. The infallibility of his truth; they were punished. In judicial dispensations, it is good to observe not only God’s justice, but God’s truth. No calamity befell Israel but what was in the letter foretold in the books of Moses; a man might have written their history out of the threatenings of the law.
  3. The tenderness of his love to the believers among them; he hath a James for the Christians of the scattered tribes, In the severest ways of his justice he doth not forget his own, and he hath special consolations for them when they lie under the common judgment. When other Jews were banished, John, amongst the rest, was banished out of Ephesus into Patmos, a barren, miserable rock or island; but there he had those high revelations. Well, then, wherever you are, you are near to God; he is a God at hand, and a God afar off: when you lose your dwelling, you do not lose your interest in Christ; and you are everywhere at home, but there where you are strangers to God.

Israel in the Plan of God: Joseph as a Type of Christ

February 20, 2014 8 comments

Recently I’ve been enjoying David Baron’s Israel in the Plan of God, his exposition and commentary on several Old Testament passages (Deuteronomy 32, Psalms 105 and 106, and Isaiah 51) which relate to God and His dealings with the nation Israel.  I had read a few of Baron’s writings online, especially his work addressing the Ten Lost Tribes error.  In my current reading, I appreciate even more his writing style: easy and straightforward exposition of biblical passages, with so many interesting observations.  I highly recommend his writing, and now especially look forward to reading his lengthier commentary on the book of Zechariah after I complete this shorter collection (about 300 pages total, with commentary on four chapters from different books).

Psalm 105 and 106 are an interesting set of Psalms, as I have noticed in my regular re-readings through the Psalms:  both describe the early history of the nation, the first Psalm from the perspective of what God did for Israel, then the contrast in the next Psalm of the many ways in which Israel went astray and rejected their God.  Expositing Psalm 105 involves analysis of the lives of the patriarchs, including a close look at seven ways in which Joseph’s life parallels that of our Lord. In going through S. Lewis Johnson’s Genesis series several years ago (see this post from 2009).  I learned of several such correspondences between the two, some of which are again presented here, along with more detail from David Baron’s exposition:

1)      Joseph as the specially-beloved son of his father.  Christ:  This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

2)      Joseph, because he was beloved of Jacob (his father), was hated by his brethren.  And it was the unique and peculiar relation of our Lord Jesus also to His heavenly Father, and the fact that He loved righteousness and hated iniquity …  the chief reasons why He was hated of those who were “His own” brethren, but who, as the result of a long process of self-hardening, were estranged in their hearts from God, who they also claimed as their Father.

3)      They hated Joseph yet more because of his dreams and his words – dreams which we realize were divinely sent prophecy from God:  prophetic revelations of his future exaltation.  The parallel in Christ: one chief cause of the ever-growing opposition and hatred on the part of the Scribes and Pharisees to our Lord Jesus was His clear, full, conscious testimony concerning Himself.

4)      Joseph was not only hated by his brethren, but ill-treated and abused, sold into slavery.  Reference “Christ the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief,” who was sold for 30 shekels of silver, sold into abuse, ill-treatment and the ultimate shame of crucifixion.

5)      For many long years, after they handed him over into the hands of the Midianites, Joseph’s brethren—indeed, Jacob’s whole family—thought and spoke of him as dead. … And even so do the Jews think of Jesus. According to them He is dead.

6)      But while his brethren thought and spoke of Joseph as no more, he was not only alive, but greatly exalted among the Gentiles, as the “Support of Life,” or “Deliverer of the World” before whom all had to “bow the knee” in humble allegiance.  Baron notes also a few possible meanings of Joseph’s Egyptian name “Zaphenath-paneah”: “the support of life,” “deliverer of the world,” or even “the revealer of secrets.” Any of these possible meanings are significant for the role that Joseph played and his similarity to Christ.   Even so is it with our Lord Jesus. Despised and rejected and counted as dead among “His own” people, He is not only alive for evermore, but exalted and extolled, having a Name which is above every name—before whom hundreds of millions in the Gentile world “bow the knee” in humble worship, because He is indeed the true “Support of Life,” being Himself the “Living Bread” which came down from heaven, of which if any man eat he shall live for ever.

7)      The separation and estrangement between Joseph and his brethren did not last forever. In the extremity of their need they were again brought face to face with him, and though at first, while yet unknown to them, he spake and dealt “roughly” with them, so as to awaken their conscience and bring home to them the sense of guilt, his heart was all the time full of yearning love and compassion for them.   Here is a great foreshadowing of what is yet to take place between Christ and the nation Israel.  In the extremity of their need, in “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” the Jewish people will yet be brought face to face with their long-rejected Messiah, and brokenheartedly confess “We are verily guilty concerning our brother”—Jesus—whom we handed over to the Romans to be crucified… And then Jesus will make Himself known to His brethren, and comfort them in their great sorrow, saying: I am Jesus, your Brother, whom you handed over to be crucified, and for so long thought to be dead; and now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, … for God sent Me before you to preserve life.”

Colossians: Christ’s Preeminence in Creation, the New Creation of the Church, and All Things

January 31, 2014 Leave a comment

I’m now going through S. Lewis Johnson’s Colossians series, and enjoying it even more than I expected to.  This is a great study on this epistle, complete with many quote-worthy comments and observations, so applicable to our day as it addresses the nature and being of Christ in answer to the heresies already developing in the 1st century.

From Colossians 1:15-20, Paul’s great Christology, the following observations:

The Lord of the First Creation

This section may have been part of an early hymn, perhaps written by Paul or someone else, or even composed by multiple people in the early church.  If it is a hymn, the hymn of the beloved Son begins in verse 15 with a statement concerning the essential basis of his Lordship, “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every”, or of the whole, “creation.” 

The description here is of the Lord Jesus as the unique perfect likeness and manifestation of God, the great and final theophany.  The Greek word for “image” suggests that He possesses the Divine Attributes.  Concerning the word eikon and its usage:

There is a related word to it formed of the same root entirely, absolutely, I should say, which was used of a photograph, and further, there is a word very closely related to it, one is eikon, and the other is eikonian, a diminutive of it, a little eikon which was used when individuals signed a contract in legal terms guaranteeing certain things to others.  For example, in an IOU, it was customary for when the contract was drawn up for an eikonian to be drawn up as well.  And what that meant was certain sentences which would describe the individuals who entered into the contract were set in the contract in order that there might be evidence of precisely who entered into the contract, so that there would be no misunderstanding.  That was called an eikon, that is, a description of the individuals involved.

This text presents Christ’s essential basis of His Lordship. Then, the last part of verse 15 presents the Economic Basis of His Lordship:  He is the firstborn of the whole creation.  As Dr. Johnson well notes, this does not mean He is a creature – the Arian heresy.

He’s not a creature.  He’s the creator of the creatures.”  And Athanasius convinced the early church, properly so, that the Lord Jesus may be called firstborn of the whole creation, but not in the sense that there was a time when he entered into existence, so far as his person was concerned.  In fact, the Lord Jesus is the eternal Son, and He is the creator of the creatures.  In Him the whole created universe came into its existence.  So the term firstborn then takes on the meaning that it had in other passages in the Bible: of sovereignty over.

So we have three prepositional phrases.  “All things were created in him.”  “All things were created by him.”  “All things were created for him.”

Lord of the New Creation

Paul moves from the cosmological (the physical creation), to the soteriological, our personal salvation.  Christ is the head of the body, and thus He controls the church, He owns the church, and has authority over the church.

Of course, that has great practical significance so far as our personal life is concerned too.  We are related to the Head who is in heaven.  And if we are to live a life that is acceptable to the Lord God, we must be submissive to the Head, the Lord Jesus in a personal sense.  And as a body of believers who are under shepherds, elders, it’s most important for them and for us to be under Him and to look to Him for control and guidance and authority in the things that we do.

Preeminent In All Things

Verse 18, “that in Him should all fullness dwell.”

I don’t think that the apostle, when he says, “All fullness,” here is referring simply to our Lord’s deity.  That doesn’t make sense in the context, that is, that He should have the preeminence because He’s firstborn from the dead because He’s God.  It should relate to His saving work by which He became firstborn from the dead.  So I suggest to you …. what I mean by “all fullness” … all saving fullness, all saving power, in grace, because He’s the covenantal head of the people of God.  So he says, “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all, ‘saving’ fullness dwell.”

This point is especially important to the Colossians, in answering the heresy of gnostic Judaism, which included the idea of a God so holy that He doesn’t directly create.  Gnosticism has a series of eons, angelic type beings, that come forth from God the father, each a little less holy, and Christ is one of these beings, not a divine being but a created, secondary being, a mediator that is secondary and not god himself.  Paul emphasizes this point, that it “pleased the Father” to have all saving power reside in Christ – Jesus Christ the covenantal head and having all saving power.  So there is not a hierarchy of mediators between God and men as the heretics were saying.  But by the fact that He is raised from the dead, there is evidence that He is the one and only saving mediator between God and men. 

Time, Eternity, and Everything Under the Sun (Ecclesiastes 3)

September 20, 2013 Leave a comment

From Dr. Barrick’s Ecclesiastes study, some interesting observations from Ecclesiastes 3.

The familiar poem in Ecclesiastes 3 – a “poem on time” – has a chiastic structure, and Barrick explains this.  I’ve seen similar descriptions of the chiasm structure as, for instance, in Dan Phillips’ God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, also in reference to Solomon’s writings.  See the full description in this PDF.  Verse 1 forms a chiasm:

A   for everything
…..     B  an appointed time
…..    B’  a time
A’   for every event

The following verses continue the chiastic structure, noting the contrasts, starting with the positives (giving birth and planting) then the negative (dying and uprooting). Verse 7 reverses the order: negative first, then the positive.  A few different ideas have been suggested regarding the last phrase, of throwing stones versus gathering stones, but we’re not entirely certain what Solomon was referring to on this point, only that one is a positive action and the other a negative one.

Themes throughout Ecclesiastes include the idea of eternity – set in our hearts, yet natural man cannot understand what God has done.  “Under the sun” is another common theme – and we are to rise above the sun, above the natural understanding of this world.

Regarding Solomon’s comments about those who are oppressed and have no one to help them, some commentators ask ‘how could Solomon understand oppression’?  After all, he was a king and if there were any oppression he could certainly do something about it.  But we understand the larger perspective of Solomon’s experience: he could travel anywhere and observe oppression elsewhere outside of his own kingdom. Even human kings are not omnipresent, but they appoint judges, governors over the people rather than directly deal with all the responsibility themselves – reference Jethro’s advice to Moses, as well as the account of Jehoshaphat’s government in 2 Chronicles  19:4-8.

Everyone has their disadvantages.  Solomon’s disadvantage was his great wealth and power, that he really could have whatever he wanted.  Like Solomon, we learn to turn our disadvantages into advantages.  Other relevant scriptures here include 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 about our God of all comfort  “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

The ‘Simple Gospel’? John 3:16 In Depth

September 2, 2013 1 comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s series in 2 Peter, comes the following (shared, from Dr. J. G. Vos, The Simplicity of the Gospel.) analysis of the “simple” verse John 3:16:

Alas, this favorite verse of millions of Christians fairly bristles with theological questions that have to be answered if the verse is to have a definite meaning for us.

The first clause, ‘For God so loved the world’:  Does it describe the extent of God’s love for mankind, or the intensity of God’s love?  Is the stress on that he loved so many people, or is the stress on the intensity of it that his love is so strong it would even love such a vile thing as the world? Is the idea of universality or that of wickedness?

Does it describe the extent of God’s love for mankind of the intensity of it?

That He Gave His Only Begotten Son: 

Does this mean that God gave his Son to become man to live a perfect life under the law, to suffer and die as a substitute for dinners on the cross, to rise again the third day?

If that is what it means then does not this little word gave involve in it’s meaning here the whole doctrine of the incarnation, the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, the atonement, Christ’s active and passive obedience in the covenant of grace?

Again why was it needful for God in order to put his love for the world in action to give his Son?  Was this because of the lost guilty and sinful condition of the human race?  If that’s the meaning then does not this verse in it’s true meaning really involve the whole doctrines of the creation of mankind, the covenant of works, the fall, original and actual sin, total depravity and total inability?

If God gave his Son in order to save men from sin, must we not know what sin is in order to grasp the real meaning and force of the word gave?

What is meant by referring to the Son as the only begotten?  Does that mean that Christ is the Son of God in a unique sense?  If so does not the phrase, his only begotten Son involve the doctrines of the eternal sonship and deity of Christ? And do these doctrines not in turn involve the doctrine of the Trinity if they are to mean anything?

The phrase ‘believes in Him’:

Does this mean what is called saving faith?  If so, what is the nature of saving faith, and how does it differ from other kinds of faith such as mere historical faith, temporary faith, et cetera?  If this expression ‘believes in Him’ is really to mean anything to us, do we not have to know the biblical doctrine of saving faith?

And what is the force of the words in him in the phrase ‘believes in Him?’  Does this phrase involve making Jesus the object of the believer’s faith?  If so, what is the difference between making Jesus the object of one’s faith and making Jesus one’s example as a man of faith?  In short, what is the difference between having faith in Jesus and having faith in God like Jesus’ faith in God?”

The original commentary continues further through this verse — but the above is just a sample of the depth of the “simple gospel.”  The final conclusion:

The person who rejects theology and says that he wants only the simple gospel of Christ only deceives himself.  What he calls simplicity is not really simplicity, it’s only vagueness, that’s what he wants, vagueness.  The person who wants to take John 3:16 just as it stands without facing any of the theological questions which this verse raises, may think he is insisting on simplicity and is religiously superior to other Christians who want definite and clear cut knowledge, but in reality he is only hiding his head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich, and saying the truth is not important.

Spurgeon’s Sermons in the Book of Job

May 9, 2013 3 comments

Common teaching through the book of Job, at churches with superficial teaching, may include pointing out the general and obvious teaching in Job: the legalism of Job’s three friends, assuming that Job is suffering because of his wickedness, along with general observations about how Job at the end intercedes for his friends, like how Christ intercedes for us.

But for real depth and meat in the book of Job, I have recently been finding many great treasures there, from a handful of Spurgeon sermons.  As mentioned here previously, Spurgeon was a textual preacher, who preached more in some books than others.  Spurgeongems.org reveals that Spurgeon preached 99 messages from texts in Job, and from 34 of the 42 chapters.  Three of these I have read recently, in Spurgeon’s volume 7 of sermons (#352, #404  and #406).  The book of Job, and sermons from it, provides such variety and material for our lives: the proper times of celebration, suffering, hope, God’s Divine Purpose, and prayer.

See this previous post for Spurgeon’s interesting “Merry Christmas” sermon from Job 1.  Sermon #404, from Job 42 (Job’s prayer for his friends) is a convicting one about intercessory prayer and its importance in our lives as well as in those we pray for:

 You and I may be naturally hard, and harsh, and unlovely of spirit, but much praying for others will remind us we have, indeed, a relationship to the saints, that their interests are ours, that we are jointly concerned with them in all the privileges of Grace. I do not know anything which, through the Grace of God, may be a better means of uniting us, the one to the other, than constant prayer for each other. You cannot harbor enmity in your soul against your Brother after you have learned to pray for him!

Sermon #406 is another excellent one, this time looking at God’s Divine Purpose: Job 23:13 — But He is of one mind, and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does. Here Spurgeon considers God’s great sovereign purposes, from the little details and our individual lives, to the big picture, even including His divine purpose for the nations:

 To enlarge our thoughts a moment, have you ever noticed, in reading history, how nations suddenly decay? When their civilization has advanced so far that we thought it would produce men of the highest mold, suddenly old age begins to wrinkle its brow, its arm grows weak, the scepter falls, and the crown drops from the head, and we have to say, “Is not the world gone back again?” The barbarian has sacked the city, and where once everything was beauty, now there is nothing but ruthless bloodshed and destruction! But, my Brothers and Sisters, all those things were but the carrying out of the Divine Plan! …

And so has it been with the race of men—Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome have crumbled, each and all—when their hour had come, to be succeeded by a better. And if this race of ours should ever be eclipsed, if the Anglo Saxons’ boasted pride should yet be stained, even then it will prove to be a link in the Divine purpose. Still, in the end His one mind shall be carried out; His one great result shall be thereby achieved. Not only the decay of nations, but the apparent degeneration of some races of men—and even the total extinction of others—forms a part of the fixed purpose of God!

Equality AND Submission: S. Lewis Johnson on Feminism and the Trinity

May 4, 2013 3 comments

From my recent studies with S. Lewis Johnson through the Gospel of John, and now 1 Corinthians 7, a good point often made by SLJ:  equality and submission co-exist within the same relationship.

1 Corinthians 7:1-7 tells us that equality exists between men and women in the marriage bed.  We find a parallel of both equality and submission within the Godhead: the Father and Son are equal, of one substance, both fully God – and yet at the same time the Bible also tells us that the Son is submissive to the Father.

S. Lewis Johnson’s observations here concerning feminism, submission and equality:

Now, we’ve had a lot of talk in our day about feminism, and it’s still going on and it has been introduced into evangelicalism.  And so today we have evangelicals who — or we have individuals who claim to be evangelicals — and I’m not denying that some of them are; maybe many of them are — who insist that what we think of as the biblical teaching of the relationship between man and wife has been patriarchal and contrary both to the Bible and to what it ought to be in society.  They have insisted that when we say that a woman is to be submissive to her husband and the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, we forget that, let’s just talk about the submission.  When it says that the woman is to be in submission to her husband; that’s contrary to equality.  In other words, you cannot have equality if you have submission.

Now, other evangelicals who are not feminist evangelicals have tried to point out that in the Bible there is a recognition of equality and submission as being in harmony.  For example, they’ve often pointed to 1 Corinthians chapter 11 where the apostle says:  “Now I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is the man and the head of Christ is God.”

Well, now we know that our Lord and the Father are equal.  And yet there is a submission of the Son to the Father.  We do not have any problem with that because if we felt that the Son was not equal to the Father in his being, then we wouldn’t have a divine Trinity; we wouldn’t have Christianity because Christianity must have the doctrine of the Trinity or else there’s no Christianity.   That’s why it’s always a test of faith to ask if an individual receives the Orthodox teaching concerning the Trinity, because only then do you have Christianity.  Those who suggest they are three people in the Godhead but they are not equal in power and authority and so forth are not Trinitarians.  But Christian theology is built around the Trinity.  But in the Trinity, in the time of our Lord’s mediation specifically, there is submission on the part of the Son of God but there is equality all the time.

So it’s not true to say that equality and submission cannot go together.

He Said in His Heart: David and Jeroboam

January 15, 2013 4 comments

From recent Bible readings in my Genre reading plan, I’ve noticed certain phrases often mentioned throughout the Bible. One to consider this time:  “Said in his heart” and similar variations such as “say in your heart.”

The phrase occurs first in Genesis 8:21, telling what the Lord said in His heart, in reference to God’s receiving Noah’s offering after the flood.  All other uses of the phrase tell us the human reasoning of certain individuals, indicating the person’s inner, secret thoughts: the thoughts of the spirit within a man, which we cannot know (1 Cor. 2:11) — except that in all these cases through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the writing of scripture, these thoughts are revealed to us.

I notice that whenever the phrase “said in his heart” refers to a person or people, the idea expressed comes from human reasoning not directed by the Lord God, an error in the person’s thinking.  The phrase, or similar wording such as “say in your heart,” is found in many passages including Deuteronomy 7:17, 8:17, 9:4, and 18:21; in Obadiah, about Edom, and Zephaniah 2:15 about the exultant and wicked city; Isaiah 47:8, about the wicked, and Isaiah 49:21 about God’s people when they return to Him; also in Jeremiah 13:22, Ecclesiastes 2:1, 15; and finally in Romans 10:6, quoting an Old Testament passage.

Two such occurrences are especially interesting, in the similar wording yet the great contrasts:  David, and Jeroboam.

“Jeroboam said in his heart” (1 Kings 12:26) — Here we see Jeroboam’s human reasoning, a fear that the people of Israel would go up to Jerusalem to worship and turn against Jeroboam — and the disastrous result, the introduction of idolatry to Israel.  It’s also the same phrase used of David in 1 Samuel 27:1 (Then David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul.”) which introduced David’s declension and backsliding away from the Lord for the next year and a half in Philistine territory.

Both men faltered, thinking something in their own heart that was contrary to the word of God.  Yet in David’s case, by God’s grace, David was later restored to fellowship with Him:  1 Samuel 30:6, “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God,” indicating David’s return to a right relationship with the Lord.  God did not do that for Jeroboam when Jeroboam said something in his heart.  I’m reminded also of the common contrast between Peter and Judas: they both committed a sin against the Lord, one denying the Lord, the other betraying; and yet one was saved, the Lord interceding for and restoring him to right relationship, and the other (Judas) was not.

Spiritual Discernment: S. Lewis Johnson, the Sheep Do Not Listen to Strangers

January 9, 2013 9 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series comes this timely observation.  It was true thirty years ago same as now: some professing Christians are easily led astray, going after first one teacher then another. This message from John 10:1-6 puts things into perspective, especially with all the interest in “discernment ministries” and the tendency of some to focus excessively on warning other Christians about false teachers.

Now, we read here, a stranger will they not follow.  So when Paul Tillich calls out we don’t respond.  When Moltmann calls out we don’t respond.  When Bultmann calls out we don’t respond.  When William Barclay calls out we don’t respond.  When Wolfhart Pannenberg calls out we don’t respond.  When Gerhart von Rott, we don’t respond.  When Eichrot, Jako, Kumal, all the great scholars of the present day who are not members of the body so far as we can tell, when they call out as shepherds of the sheep, the true sheep do not respond.  They do not follow the voice of a stranger.

Now that is a problem for me, because there are some people who do not seem to be able to distinguish the voice of our Lord from the voice of strangers.  Isn’t it a remarkable thing?  You probably know some Christians, professing Christians like that.  They hear something and they immediately run after it as if it were something great until they discover that’s not quite as great as it was, and they come back.  And then a new voice is heard and they rush after them.  That makes me wonder, because the true sheep do not follow the voice of a stranger.  They don’t run after Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy.  They don’t run after Ellen G. White.  They don’t run after Rutherford.  They don’t run after the false voices, they follow our Lord Jesus Christ.  They hear his voice.  They know him.  They follow him.  That should be a word of admonition to us.

Many of the names mentioned above are unfamiliar today, the scholars of liberal (unbelieving) Christianity.  But we can certainly add the current set of questionable teachers — such as Beth Moore, the Jesus Culture, and the latest from John Piper — to the same understanding: the true sheep do not follow the voice of a stranger, and will not be led into such deception.  Yes, sometimes true Christians are those who come out of cults and out of false teaching (who were not believers when they got into those cults).  Sometimes also young, immature Christians (the carnal babes, those recently saved — not the willful carnal) for a time will lose focus and not seek the best teaching.  But as S. Lewis Johnson so well observed here, true Christians will not continue to manifest such behavior; they will not rush after one voice, then to another voice, and so on.  We can trust in God’s sovereignty, that He knows those who are His, and rely on His promise, that His sheep will be able to distinguish our Lord’s voice from the voice of these false teachers.

Judges As Types: Why They Are Called gods

December 28, 2012 2 comments

Going through S. Lewis Johnson’s “Gospel of John” series, some great insights concerning Jesus’ statement in John 10:34-36:

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came-and Scripture cannot be broken- 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

Here Jesus cites Psalm 82:6, which refers to unjust human judges and calls them gods.  What exactly did Jesus mean here?  I’ve heard the general “lesser to greater” argument but hadn’t previously considered this text in depth.

one modern commentator has said that what our Lord is doing is simply using an a fortiori argument.  That is for a still stronger reason if mere men may be called gods then surely I may be called the Son of God.  And it’s not blasphemy for me to be called the Son of God if mere men, unjust judges should be called gods.

This isn’t a fully satisfying answer, though, since – as S. Lewis Johnson notes – after all they’re accusing him of claiming deity, not simply that he’s a God like other men are gods.

Another response given is that Jesus is repelling the technical charge, and that it’s not blasphemy to call someone God who really is God.   So if you can call human judges gods then surely you can call someone who is sanctified and sent into the world the Son of God. 

This may be the sense that was intended, but S. Lewis Johnson then goes a little deeper:  the typology of judges, as a type of God and representing God, and, in the type, showing the unity between the human ruler and God:

Why were judges called gods?  Now that’s not the only place.  In a couple of other places in the Old Testament they’re also called gods.  Why are they called gods?  Why is a judge called a god in the Bible?

Obviously it’s not God in the sense of one who possesses full deity, but yet there is some relationship.  There is some form of representative unity that exists between a human being called a god and the great Triune God in heaven.  Well, judges did have a relationship of limited union with God because they were their divinely delegated representatives.  In Israel, a judge was one who should judge under God, and should judge with the judgment of God.  In that sense they were in limited union with God, very limited union, similar to Paul’s statement in Romans 13 when he calls the magistrates of the cities, ministers of God.

Think of all of our political men.  Of all of the titles that you would think that are least applicable to them, what would stand out most?  Well, I won’t ask you to reply.  I’ll just reply for myself.  What is the least applicable title that I can think of for Senators, and Congressman, and Mayors, and Governors, ministers of God, and yet that’s what they are, ministers of God.  By the providence of God they serve in their office.  … You see they are magistrates of God.  There is a limited sense of union in that they serve ideally and responsibly before God as representatives of him.  They talk about representing the people, but they really are ideally the representatives of God.  That should be their first responsibility.  So there is a limited union then between a magistrate and the Lord God.

In this sense they are types and shadows of a deeper union to come.  All of these things were arranged by God so that they would lead up the great union that exists between the Son and the Father, the mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is absolutely on with the Father.  So the germ of the union between God and man existed in the law, even in unjust judges.  But the Lord Jesus is the one who has perfectly realized the union of God and man in his incarnation and atonement.  And that is indicated by the words, “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world.”  He perfectly realizes the union between man and God.

Now if you can call those little fellows gods, how much more is it proper and right for him to whom all of those limited unions pointed to call him Son of God?  They all pointed forward to him.  The prophets in the Old Testament had a limited union with God, but they pointed forward to the prophet.  The priests of the Old Testament had a limited union with God, but they looked forward to the priest, the eternal priest, the kings likewise to the King.  And the judges looked forward to the judge, and the judge who would do exactly what Psalm 82 said, “But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes,” when you do not respond to the truth of God.  It was a very affective thrust because it reminded them not only of the fact of his right to be called the Son of God, but also of his right to be the ultimate judge of all men including the judges, and especially the judges among the Pharisees and Sadducees who were before his face at this present moment.

It’s a magnificent reply.