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Thoughts on Missionary Work, and Christ’s Return

December 16, 2021 Leave a comment

The two things — the only things — to which I can look forward now are the coming of Christ and my going to the Waodani.  O, if Christ would only come–but how can He until the Waodani are told of Him. — Elisabeth Elliot, from her journal

Through the years I’ve picked up on some of the history of the “modern missionary movement” that started in earnest in the 19th century — such as the 19th century activities referenced in Spurgeon’s sermons (he occasionally spoke at special Society meetings for the purpose of missions work), along with things I learned in a visit to Hawaii in the early 2000s, and occasional reading about some of the great missionaries (such as Hudson Taylor and Adoniram Judson) and a few martyrs in historical accounts.

Another part of the missionary movement, though, is from the mid-20th century.  This last summer, taking advantage of an audio-book library, I read the audio versions of Elisabeth Elliot’s first book, “Through Gates of Splendor,” followed by Steve Saint’s “End of the Spear,” and learned the details of this event, the five martyred missionaries in Ecuador back in the 1950s; and it is an interesting story, along with Steve Saint’s follow-up several decades later.  Now I am reading a third book on this topic (a hard-cover book loaned from a friend at church), Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, part 1 of a biography of Elisabeth Elliot.  This book, by Ellen Vaughn and published in 2020, tells of Betty (Howard) Elliot, from early life, through her years at Wheaton College, then through the missionary years up through 1963 — and fills in a lot of the details of the events that Steve Saint had made mention of, how the American missionary women established contact with the Waodani tribe in the years shortly after the men were killed, and the spreading of the gospel to that remote jungle tribe — along with mention of the missionary work among other native tribes in South America. 

Nearing the end, I am enjoying this book even more — so many interesting things in it, and not least because of the applicability to my own situation– what I can so well relate to in my own experience,  seeing several personality characteristics in the difficult person she worked with (Rachel Saint) and similarity to someone in my own life.  Somehow it is encouraging to read about another believer who had similar experiences of being misunderstood and accused of unbelief and heresy, and finding that there have been others before who have such strong and difficult-to-deal-with personalities.

From the middle chapters in the book, the time soon after the murder of the five missionaries, comes an interesting statement from Elisabeth Elliot’s journal at the time — as she was still dealing with the trauma and the turmoil of thoughts, and seeking the Lord’s will after what had happened (from page 165): 

I long now to go to the Waodani.  The two things — the only things — to which I can look forward now are the coming of Christ and my going to the Waodani.  O, if Christ would only come–but how can He until the Waodani are told of Him. … Or if only I could die–what a blessed release.  But I do not ask to be released.  I ask to be made Christ-like, in the inmost part of my being.

Her theology was better than that, in recognizing God’s Sovereign purposes and that He has determined the time of His Return, and God cannot be manipulated by our actions.  (Though Betty still had much to learn through suffering, and God’s providence in the years ahead.)  Yet it fits in the overall picture of world events, and an interesting point,  as another of the end times indications.  Christ’s Return is now that much sooner than it was back in the 1950s, and along the way the native tribes of Ecuador, including the Waodani tribe, did indeed hear the gospel; and quite a few have come to saving faith.  Christ did say that this gospel would be proclaimed throughout the whole world, before His return, Matthew 24:14.

The preterists’ idea that this had somehow been accomplished in the 1st century — referencing the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 1:8, that “your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (and yes the gospel had been spreading throughout the general Roman world, so that people generally in those parts had at least heard something about the gospel) — really falls short of the full explanation, as such a narrowing and limiting of our infinite God, who has intended something far greater and far more extensive than what was done in the 1st century alone.  

On the other hand, a dispensational idea I came across several years ago — that Matthew 24:14 does not have any reference to the missionary work of spreading the gospel around the world throughout the ages, but instead is referring to a specific event that occurs in Revelation 14:6-7 — also misses the full truth.  Revelation 14:6-7 certainly will play its part too, during the Great Tribulation; yet Christ’s statement about the gospel being proclaimed throughout the whole world surely must, and does, include all of Christian history, including the worldwide missionary work of the last 200+ years.  Further, the professing, historic Church throughout the centuries has understood Matthew 24:14 as related to the Great Commission. 

The great story of how that has been accomplished, the spread of Christendom throughout the world, in the differing ways throughout the millennia, is itself quite interesting, a lengthy tale with many different particular stories, of all the many ways that God has used individuals at different places and times to save His elect people.  The gospel message indeed has been heard by all types of people — the great, the small, the rich, the poor — from “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.”  In medieval times it was accomplished by the conversion, at least outwardly expressed, of key leaders of the Gentile nations, after which it was understood and assumed that all of that nation would now be considered part of Christendom — Constantine with the Roman Empire, and later the conversion and civilizing of the Vikings, for instance.  The immediate effects of such efforts were to bring basic “Western civilization” to the heathen nations, to bring in the form and outward expression of serving the one true God.  Individual conversions of some of the people in those lands then followed.  The early centuries also saw the gospel reach to some groups in far east Asia, as far as India — though always as a minority there, never becoming the mainstream dominant religion there.  

The missionary work post-Reformation included the early work of John Eliot (no direct relation to the Jim Elliot of the 20th century) in 17th century Puritan New England, among the native tribes there — including his use of an “informant” who taught him their language, followed by his development of a written form of Algonquian and the first Bible printed on American soil, this one in the Algonquian language (as the first book printed, on the first printing press in the colonies).  John Eliot’s techniques were of course used later in the much larger-scale missionary work begun in the 19th century, with William Carey and later efforts, through the 20th century and the work of groups such as Wycliffe Bible Translators. 

That too is an interesting part mentioned in this biography of Elisabeth Elliot:  the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators was one of the missionaries who came to Central America in the early 20th century, with ambitious plans to print and distribute Spanish language Bibles – only to discover the great numbers of tribes there (and throughout Central and South America) that spoke many different languages, all unique, and that did not know any Spanish.  William Cameron Townsend, who founded Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1942, was among the characters in the events surrounding Betty Elliot (and the other missionaries in Ecuador) during her years there in the 1950s through early 1960s. 

This early years biography of Elisabeth Elliot touches on so many interesting aspects of the 20th century missionary work in Ecuador, in addition to the other items mentioned above.  It has been a great read, as a time for me to reflect on missions work as it relates to the season of these last days, and to appreciate and think again upon the spread of the gospel around the world, one of the great promises in God’s word that we have seen come about, in the story of Church History and to this day.  Yes, as Christ promised us, the gospel has been and is being preached throughout the world — “as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”  

Judges: Apostasy and Political Anarchy, and a Type for the Second Coming

December 9, 2021 Leave a comment

In my study through the book of Judges, now to consider the last 5 chapters, which serve as an appendix to the main book:  two stories of events that occurred at the very beginning — just before the events starting in Judges 3.  Joshua and the leaders associated with him had passed from the scene.  Before this study, these last 5 chapters were ones I read 1-2 times per year in my regular Bible reading, but did not think about too much, as to why these stories are here, their placement in the book, and the purpose they serve along with lessons to learn from them.

Alan Cairns’ final lecture on Judges is a summary overview of these last chapters.  Of particular significance:  the connection between spiritual apostasy and political anarchy.  Both of these are present in these last chapters:  there was no king, no one in charge, and so everyone did what was right in their own eyes.  As Cairns observed, wherever we find spiritual apostasy we also see political anarchy:  and wherever we find political anarchy, the spiritual apostasy is also there.  Though recorded in reverse sequence (the beginning, at the end of the book), it was the situation in these last chapters, encompassed in these two events, that caused the Lord to bring judgment and mercy to the people, to begin that cycle of apostasy – judgement – repentance by the people – a judge sent as deliverer.  

For further reflection, and to see a type here for our time and Christ’s Return:  we see increasing apostasy and increasing political stability, that which leads to anarchy.  Yet we have God’s word and His promises sure, regarding the end to come.  In the prophetic events yet to come, we will see the great punishment coming — the Great Tribulation.   But just as God had mercy upon the apostate Israelites, and did not leave them in that situation:  God will yet show His mercy after the judgment — the chastening — has done its work in His people, the elect.  In the time of the judges, God brought trial and tribulation, and then sent them judges — who were types of our savior God, the Lord Jesus Christ.  So, in this great OT type, along with the prophetic word regarding the future, we have the great hope of His return, in seeing our salvation drawing near  (Luke 21:28 ).  As the apostle Paul said, Romans 11:32, “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”

Judges 9: Abimelech as a type of the antiChrist

October 27, 2021 3 comments

Continuing in the book of Judges, both Alan Cairns and George Bush (commentary, “Notes, Critical and Practical, on the book of Judges”) have some interesting observations regarding the rather sordid events of Judges 9, the story of Abimelech and the people of Shechem.  

As George Bush noted, Jotham gives the first parable in the Bible — in this case, a fable.

this veiled form of instruction has always been in high repute, whether in conveying wholesome truths to the ear of power, or inculcating lessons of wisdom and justice and duty upon the obtuse and unreasoning multitude. … ‘The people of the East are exceedingly addicted to apologues, and use them to convey instruction or reproof, which with them could scarcely be done so well in any other way.  A short fable, together with its ‘moral,’ is more easily remembered than a labored argument or the same truth expressed in abstract terms, and hence it is that we find this vehicle of instruction so frequently employed in the Scriptures.

Alan Cairns, in his message on Judges 9 (February 1990), connects the account of Abimelech to prophecy and eschatology, and describes how Abimelech is one of several OT “vivid foreshadowings” of the antiChrist to come.  Abimelech comes in the line of OT types, starting with Cain who slew Abel; also, Nimrod of Babel; Pharaoh, and (after Abimelech) Goliath of Gath who defied the armies of Israel.  

Abimelech is, an outstanding picture or parallel of antiChrist, a message for the last days.  The scene is Israel in the midst of Baal worship, a time of great apostasy — Babylonianism, antiChristianity — so often seen in the book of Judges.  This apostasy and Baal worship is also seen throughout history, and is at the heart of Bible prophecy.  Cairns goes on to describe such apostasy, relating the events of Judges 9 to similarities with Revelation 17 and 18.  Just as this apostasy occurred in Shechem, known for the sordid events of Genesis 34, “where the virgin daughter of Israel lost her purity,” so the future great apostasy centers on a great city, a city of ancient immorality and with political power.  Cairns remarked on the modern-day Christian concern about communism:  but communism is not here to stay, it is not the final enemy of the people of God, and communism is not mentioned in the Bible. 

Cairns relates the items in Jotham’s fable to those who will not take part in the End Times apostasy:

  • The olive tree — its oil, which in God’s word represents the Holy Spirit; those who have this oil will have nothing to do with apostasy.
  • The fig tree — we should be fruitful, and we should be sweet; strong, and firm, but not bitter and contentious.  God’s people will not embrace the system of antiChrist, the rule of an Abimelech.
  • The vine — in Psalm 80, the vine is a picture of the redemption of Israel.   The redeemed want no part of apostasy.  Those who please God will not give up their new wine, which cheers God and men (Judges 9:13).

An additional parallels between Judges 9 and Revelation 17-19: in Revelation 17, the very nations and kings that raised her up, turn against her. In Judges 9, the great criminals of the apostasy were judged:  the men of Shechem, and then Abimelech.  Likewise, in Revelation 19 Babylon the system falls, Rome falls, the beast falls, the false prophets fall — all the great actors come under God’s judgement.

God’s sovereignty comes through:  God sent the evil spirit in Judges 9.  Our God is on the throne.  After Abimelech and that age of apostasy, we are shown the events of Judges 10.  God’s grace continues; God sent good judges after that evil time.  Jotham was vindicated, and the prophecy of Jotham was fulfilled.  So too, great things will occur during the future Great Tribulation — the two witnesses, and those who stand for God.  The Spirit of God is not and will not be removed from the world.  He’s the omnipresent God.  The Holy Spirit will be so active; God is moving to save a great number, an innumerable multitude, during the Great Tribulation.  Our God has not abdicated; His kingdom rules.  There  is a sense in which Christ will yet be crowned, and the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.  Yet He is reigning now also, at the right hand of God.

The commentary from George Bush also includes some great statements of wisdom, the greatness of God throughout the story of Abimelech:

There now lies the greatness of Abimelech; on one stone he had slain his seventy brethren and now a stone slays him; his head had stolen the crown of Israel, and now his head is smitten. O the just succession of the revenges of God!

The ephod [Gideon’s ephod] is punished with the blood of his sons; the blood of his sons is shed by the procurement of the Shechemites; the blood of the Shechemites is shed by Abimelech; the blood of Abimelech is spilt by a woman. The retaliations of God are sure and just, and make a more due pedigree than descent of nature.’

That they who thirst for blood, God will at last give them their own blood to drink.  The weak in God’s hand can confound the mighty, and those who walk in pride, he is able to abase.

Abimelech’s conduct, in this particular, affords but another proof that he who has a wicked purpose to serve will not stick at a lie to accomplish it, and that those who design ill themselves are ever ready to charge similar designs upon others.  Nothing is more common, in the providence of God, than for the revenues of sin to be made a plague and a curse to those that amass them.

Both Bush’s commentary and Alan Cairns’ series on Judges are helpful in this study through the book of Judges, showing so many interesting points as well as scripture parallels and types of Christ as well as other future things such as the antiChrist and the Great Tribulation.

Christ’s First and Second Comings:  In the Type of Ehud

September 10, 2021 7 comments

As I continue listening to Alan Cairns’ sermons, now in a series on the book of Judges, I notice a lot of similarities in the Spirit in him and qualities in Charles Spurgeon.  Cairns’ ministry was about 120 years after Spurgeon, yet many common preaching features. From a sermon on Judges 3:  allowing the Spirit to lead in determining what to preach on for any given Lord’s Day, rather than  rigid, scheduled, pre-planned series; and remarks about those who had sat under his preaching ministry for many years, and still unmoved and not saved.  Cairns, like Spurgeon, also believed Revelation 6, the first seal, was referring to Christ and not the AntiChrist (unlike most other premillennialists), and had a very optimistic view regarding the great spiritual blessings we now have.  Like Spurgeon, Cairns firmly stated his belief in the future millennial reign of Christ, yet expected great things of God, true revival, in this age.

Apparently Charles Spurgeon never preached a sermon on Ehud, the second of the Judges of Israel.  But if he had, the sermon would have been quite similar to this one from Dr. Cairns in 1989.  In “The Train of Christ’s Triumph” we see Ehud as a type of Christ, and both Christ’s First and Second Comings in the story of Ehud in Judges 3: Ehud’s individual work and victory over Eglon; and then, his blowing the trumpet to rally the people to follow him. In this type, we see freedom from sin and judgment, fellowship (they followed Ehud), and the people as followers in the king’s army.  

First, Ehud did the conquering work, slaying Eglon — like Christ’s defeat of Satan at Calvary.  Here, the mighty message of freedom; the bondage of sin broken by the power of Christ, and our reconciliation and redemption.Then, Ehud blew the trumpet, rousing the people to leave everything and to follow him.  The trumpet can be seen as a representation of the Lord Jesus Christ:  having triumphed at Calvary, calling to people to leave all and follow him.
Fellowship:  Ehud’s trumpet blast announced what he had done, and for the people to leave their sheepfolds, their earthly occupations, their fears and worries of Moab, to leave all–and come out in open fellowship with this mighty conqueror.  Christ’s victory, the reality of this type:  the victory only profits those who have been brought into fellowship with Him.

The Crusade of Victory:  Ehud’s leading the people, can be seen as a type of the progress and triumph of the Gospel.  Christ led His church, the New Testament church.  We are reminded of the essence of the Christian life:  to enter in experimentally, into what Christ has accomplished for us at Calvary.  Pentecost was their first taste of victorious service for Christ.  Then, in Acts 1:8, the apostles were given their commission:  in the conquest of Calvary.  They are going to conquer them (Jerusalem, Judea, the world) with the gospel.  He has gone into His Eglon, and come out victorious.  He’s the conqueror.  Those men could challenge the world, and conquer the world, and they did. 

Judges 3:27 describes the mountains of Ephraim; and the children of Israel went down with him from the mountains.  A spiritual application and type here also:  When God’s people spend time in the mount with their conqueror, then they come down with irresistible power.  

In the first part of Ehud’s story, he slayed Eglon.  Christ’s First Coming was in humiliation, largely unknown, unheralded.  In the second part of Ehud’s story, he blows the trumpet.  Here we have a picture of Christ’s Second Coming, with power, with hosts and armies of glory, and the blowing of the last trumpet. 

The full sermon is powerful, convicting, and well worth listening to.  Cairns brings home the importance of the Christian’s experience, the power of God for the Christian church, and the importance of serious prayer.  Cairns — again, very similar to Spurgeon’s sermons of optimism with reference to this age — noted that the church no longer had the vision of God’s word for His church, the vision had been lost — because of a peculiar notion of the Second Coming and millennial reign.  ‘Well, we can expect nothing too much in this day and age, and we’ve postponed all expectations until Christ’s victories until the millennium.'”  

Cairns considered the reason why we don’t see revival, but instead apostasy:  this is all an excuse for carnal laziness.  God had given a mandate to the apostles, and a message, and a promise of the mighty results that He would give.  

Nothing in scripture says that God has withdrawn the message, the mandate, or changed the promise.  A cloak in most cases, for our own carnality.  Cloaked in the respectable garments of theological language and theological excuses.  …. The Lord Jesus Christ is not coming back for a church in defeat, or a church in reverse-gear or a church that has only the memory and the theory of the power of the Holy Ghost.  He’s coming back for a church whose lamps are trimmed, whose witness is bright, whose experience of God is real, and whose knowledge of revival is intimate.  He has never changed that.

From our viewpoint today, over 30 years later and the apostasy of the professing church increasingly more apparent, I observe that, yes, God still has that message, mandate, and promise — and yet, clearly God has used that “carnal laziness” to bring about what He has purposed for the last of the last days, that this age would end in failure, in increasing apostasy– and not in revival.  Yes, God does have His people, who have real experience of God, the virgins whose lamps are trimmed.  But such will not be the characteristic of the majority, of the overall professing Church.  As God has also purposed and revealed in His word, the people at the Second Coming would be asleep (both the virgins with their lamps trimmed, as well as the others who did not have oil), and “when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”  (Luke 18:8

Amid his words about the trumpet, that call to challenge the world and to conquer this world for God, Cairns acknowledged that God is sovereign, and He does not promise that every day will be a Pentecost.  Along with mention of the 1850s Prayer Revival in the US, and emphasis on the importance of prayer, he related a story about a preacher in Romania (then behind the Iron Curtain) and their real persecution and hard suffering, and that man’s interaction with a Western-thinking evangelist.  The only places where revival occurs today, are places where people are poor, and where their lives are in danger.  It is not happening in the West, because of the carnality of God’s people at ease.

We are still in God’s good hands, in spite of this.  After all, in Revelation 5, it is the Lamb who opens the seals, it is He, the Lamb, who unfolds these terrible events.  We’re in the hand of our Savior.  The seven trumpet blasts in Revelation represent serious, solemn markers of God’s progressing purpose during the last of the last days, this last period before the return of Christ.  We look forward to the last trumpet, that time of deliverance from sin and bondage, and entering into the full enjoyment of that deliverance. 

Biblical eschatology must include Christ’s First coming.  Sensationalism comes from forgetting Christ’s First Coming and speculating about dates and ideas that are not even in the Bible–such as the notion of Russia being in the Bible (when it is not, the similar sounding word does not mean Russia), and since the US isn’t mentioned in the Bible it’s going to be blown to bits.  Here I also recall J.C. Ryle’s emphasis upon both “the cross and the crown.”

Some more great observations from this sermon, and the hope we have:

… those not premillennial, you don’t believe Christ will reign upon the earth.  I’m not too worried about it; you’re going to learn.  It won’t keep you from heaven, but will make life a little more difficult for you.  … the childish rubble they will come up with to try to deny that 1000 year reign of Christ.  He came, He conquered, He gives His church a mandate, a message, and a promise, and He’s coming back in mighty final glory.  Do you have that hope?  Has your soul ever been gripped with those things?

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.

Classic Premillennialism: Andrew Bonar’s “Redemption Drawing Nigh”

April 29, 2015 10 comments

Andrew Bonar

Andrew Bonar

In my ongoing study of historic premillennialism, here is another classic premillennial work from one of the covenantal premillennialists, Andrew Bonar (1810-1892, youngest brother of Horatius Bonar) – perhaps best known today for his biography of his friend and fellow Scotsman, Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

Redemption Drawing Nigh, A Defense of the Premillennial Advent was published in 1847. Its availability today is limited: through Google Play, which also has a PDF downloadable file. However, the PDF file is not of the OCR/text type (only image). No kindle book files exist, nor any print used copies from Amazon or other sites. Thankfully, the reading through Google Play is of good quality, and brings out the now-forgotten treasures from Andrew Bonar.

Similar to other works from the 19th century on this topic (as for instance J.C. Ryle), Bonar begins with consideration of the overall question of the Second Coming: why we should be interested in it, and what benefits it brings to the growing Christian. He bolsters his case with quotes from a then-contemporary antimillenarian scholar who likewise agreed regarding the importance of considering Christ’s Second Advent. Bonar also shows his mastery of scripture, with a chapter citing many oft-ignored references to the Second Coming (general references not specific to the millennial era), with several interesting references from the Old Testament –the Psalms, Proverbs, the Prophets, and even from the Song of Solomon (seen typologically as about Christ, the traditional/historic view of that book).

Later chapters deal more in-depth with topics still relevant today, including great quotes about hermeneutics and affirming the literal hermeneutic—and what that hermeneutic actually means.  So far the book is interesting, with strong emphasis on the importance of this doctrine (premillennialism and the Second Coming generally), references to the future of Israel, and insights on the Christian life and holiness.

A few excerpts to share:

 Holiness is “living soberly,” or occupying the position which a calm consideration of our gifts shows us to be fitted for; “righteously,” regarding our neighbor’s rights, loving him as ourselves; “godly,” regarding God’s demands, living in fellowship with Him. But even this, done under the motive of “grace,” is not all. Along with all this, a truly holy man sits loose to the world and longs for glory. … Uneasy at every remaining imperfection, troubled by every unattained degree of grace, vexed at a low state of feeling, the man who walks on the highway of holiness is ever looking forward into the bosom of the future— beyond even death, which only brings partial deliverance—to “that blessed hope.” This unceasing regard to the Lord’s Coming is surely one scriptural ingredient in all real holiness.

 

It is not enough that the lesson itself is Divine, we must also have a Divine instructor; not only a sharp sword, but an Almighty hand to wield it. It is so with respect to this doctrine of the Lord’s Coming. It may be learnt by carnal men as any other piece of knowledge; and it may be received and assented to by spiritual men among the other articles of their creed. But there is a spiritual reception of it which is the effect of the Holy Ghost’s teaching. As in conversion we need resurrection-power—the same power that raised up Jesus—to remove the barriers in our soul that hid a full salvation from our view; so ever after, when any new truth of a spiritual nature is to be taught us, it seems declared to us (Phil. 3: 15) that we need the very same power to remove the scale that blinded us to it.

and, on the topic of hermeneutics, the primary meaning and its application to us:

Let the man not be lazy and easy-minded in the things of God. Let him not say, “O it will do well to let the Assyrian stand as an Algebraic sign for ‘our spiritual enemy.’” Let him rather take the words literally, as referring to some national Jewish event yet future; and then let him say, “But he who is able to be Israel’s peace in that day, may well be mine now!”

“Israel and the Church” Views (4): Progressive Covenantalism

April 21, 2015 12 comments

Continuing in this series, the last view presented in this book is “Progressive Covenantalism,” by Brand and Pratt. I was unfamiliar with this view, which attempts a hybrid between covenant theology and Progressive Dispensationalism, and thus found the essay not as easy to follow.  The main points, as I understood by the end: one people of God, the promises to Israel fulfilled in Christ (and thus no future restoration of ethnic Israel), and yet post-trib premillennialism with a futurist view of the Great Tribulation. Perhaps the overall “progressive covenantal” view fits with some current-day premillennial teachers, such as Douglas Moo (referenced in this essay), though I do not know of any specifically connected with this view other than the two authors.  The essay is organized in three main sections:  the meaning of “biblical righteousness” for the people of God; Israel’s own experience in history “of that righteousness in her worship of the Lord;” and last, future eschatology.

As noted in the TD response, nothing is said here about hermeneutics; this system is based on an abstract idea of righteousness (along with a lot of discussion about the importance of the Holy Spirit, that “the marker of the people is the internal presence of the Holy Spirit”) coupled with N.T. Wright-group historical analysis of the Jews in the Intertestamental period through the 2nd century AD, along with reference to current-day premillennialists including Douglas Moo, Ladd, (and also Hoekema, a non-premill) that the future Great Tribulation does not involve anything to do with the nation Israel.  The first section is hard to follow at least the first time through, but starts with some basic errors in approach:  first, its claim that dispensationalism “virtually requires multiple pathways to this salvation” (a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of dispensationalism), and secondly, that CT “requires some form of halfway inclusion of those still unjustified in the visible people of God” — a reference to traditional paedo-baptist CT, but again, CT does not require this at all, as well-observed in the 17th century Covenantal Baptists (including John Bunyan plus many other lesser-known names), 18th century John Gill and 19th century Charles Spurgeon.

Responses: Robert Reymond’s response here mainly notes areas of agreement as well as his (again repeated) rejection of premillennialism, and stating his view of Preterism (regarding the Great Tribulation). Along the way he declares that all who reject infant baptism – including all “covenantal Baptists” –are really dispensational, again showing his ignorance in this complete falsehood that ignores the existence of non-dispensational, covenantal, confessional (Reformed) Baptists.

The responses from the two dispensational authors (Thomas and Saucy) help clarify this original essay, as they reference and correct the misunderstanding about dispensationalism requiring different pathways to salvation, and note inconsistencies in the essay, such as Thomas’ observation that they struggle with terminology to portray the church’s relation to Israel, suggesting and then rejecting such terms as “replacement,” “transformation,” “new creation,” and “age of the Spirit.” They seem to prefer the “new creation” terminology, but that puts them in opposition to their own “new creation” of the future.  Again I find Saucy the best at explaining and defending the biblical teaching of the future restoration of ethnic Israel, with good insights concerning Romans 11 such as the following, regarding the apostle Paul’s whole point about “has the word of God failed? (because Israel has rejected their Messiah):

if the NT writers taught that the church was the new or reconstituted Israel, everyone would have known that the Word of God has not failed.  For the church was now the new Israel and the promises of salvation for Israel were now being fulfilled in the Israel of the church.  But this is clearly not Paul’s response in these chapters.

In overall conclusion regarding this book, I find it only average or so-so, in that its scope is quite limited to only four views, of which only three are adequately represented — and yet the theological spectrum includes several more views on the issue, including at least two other “covenant theology” views, the amillennial NCT view and perhaps a few other views.  The author selected for the CT view is, frankly, a very poor choice, one who represents only one of many CT views and yet refuses to really engage the other views but is content with misrepresenting (and a rather arrogant and insulting attitude) the other views and only interacting with caricatures of dispensationalism while insisting that premillennialism CANNOT be true.

As a side-note: both Robert Reymond and Robert Saucy have passed away since their essays were written, before this collection was published.  So Reymond now “has his eschatology right,” and both men now surely have greater understanding of the issue than any of us still here.

The book was available at a discounted price on Kindle when I purchased it ($2.99).  Amazon currently lists it for $9.99, and I am not sure it is worth that price, at least for me.  For those interested in learning more about Progressive Dispensationalism, though, Robert Saucy’s essay and responses are particularly worthwhile reading, the best part of the overall content.

Israel and the Church, Part 3: Progressive Dispensationalism

April 8, 2015 1 comment

Continuing in “Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views,” Robert Saucy’s essay provides a good description of Progressive Dispensationalism as it relates to hermeneutics, partial fulfillments and “already/not yet,” and PD’s ideas concerning Israel and the Church.

Part of the essay addresses the question of Israel’s future restoration and the millennial age, and here I observe that the PD view, on this point, is similar to classic historic / covenantal premillennialism. Addressing Romans 11, Saucy also includes quotes from non-dispensationalist, CT author John Murray, that affirm Israel’s future, as with Murray’s commentary on Romans 11:12, “Gospel blessing [for Gentiles] far surpassing anything experienced during the period of Israel’s apostasy… occasioned by the conversion of Israel on a scale commensurate with that of their earlier disobedience.”

Saucy emphasizes on the one hand, unity and “one people of God,” while on the other hand stressing that the church is not Israel, with discussion of the NT texts which indeed never describe the church as “Israel” or “New Israel,” as he further notes that this idea only began with Justin Martyr in the 2nd century.  As with other non-CT views, PD thinks of the church as beginning in Acts: the standard discontinuity view rooted in the notion that Old Testament saints did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. In this essay at least, Saucy denies to the OT saints anything of regeneration, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or descriptions such as “born again” or “a new creation” to believers prior to Pentecost. My study on this issue agrees with the historic Reformed view, as noted in this previous post and well expressed in John Gill’s commentary on John 7:39: the apostles, and others, that had believed in Christ, and had received the Spirit, as a spirit of regeneration and sanctification; as a spirit of illumination and conversion; as a spirit of faith and adoption; but on the day of Pentecost they were to receive a larger, even an extraordinary measure of his gifts and grace, to qualify them for greater work and service. 

One serious blunder Saucy commits, is his incorrect assumption that CT only exists in paedo-baptist form, such that he asserts that the distinction between Israel as a nation and the church leads to a clear distinction with regard to entrance into the covenantal communities. The obvious problem here is that the 17th century Covenantal Baptists figured this out (who should and should not be baptized), long before dispensationalism arrived on the scene–and they didn’t need any special understanding about Israel and the Church to do so.

Responses:

Robert Reymond’s CT response is again, predictably, a disappointment: not interacting with the specifics of Saucy’s essay, but repeating his denial of premillennialism, only showing his own ignorance by his claims that only one text (Revelation 20) teaches premillennialism (even referencing premillennialists who agree with that idea, a limited group). His response sets forth the standard scripture interpretations for amillennialism including amillennial ideas regarding the “first resurrection.”  Again, though, the essay Reymond is responding to treats issues far more specific than the basics of premillennialism.  Seriously, this book should have had a better representative for CT, at least someone at the level of the many confessional CT believers (found in online Reformed groups) who recognize that the covenantal approach allows for three millennial views, one of which is (historic) premillennialism. Given the abilities of the other three writers, this is a serious drawback to this book. A solid CT writer could have interacted with the other positions and given good response concerning, for instance, the dispensational idea about OT saints not having the Holy Spirit.  Instead, such answers must come from other sources, and I continue to find these out in the reading of covenantal premillennialists.

The other two responses are adequate enough, from the viewpoint of each of their views and addressing areas of difference: for Thomas (traditional dispensationalist) the hermeneutical inconsistencies of PD; for Brand/Pratt, the presuppositions of PD they disagree with, in their idea that focuses on Christ as the fulfillment of Israel.

Next: the last essay, for the Progressive Covenantalism view.

 

 

Evangelism and ‘Revival’: God’s Divine Purpose

December 10, 2014 4 comments

From my recent readings, including George Mueller and the recent newsletter of the SGAT (Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony), comes a point often overlooked in our day, regarding God’s purpose in evangelism and missionary work. There is a difference between the salvation of individuals and “praying for revival,” and we understand this issue based on our interpretation of scripture including overall eschatology and the prophetic word.

George Mueller’s autobiography notes his establishment of the “Scriptural Knowledge Institute” in the early 1830s. He provided several scriptural-based reasons for this decision, to establish this new organization instead of working with existing missionary organizations. The first reason involved scriptural understanding of God’s purposes, as Mueller noted that the other missionary organizations referenced scriptures such as Habakkuk 2:14 and Isaiah 11:9 in support of their idea that the whole world will eventually be converted to Christianity. As Mueller well observed:

These passages have no reference to the present dispensation but to the one which will begin when the Lord returns.  In the present time, things will not become spiritually better, but worse.  Only people gathered out from among the Gentiles for the Lord will be converted. (Ref. Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; 2 Tim. 3:1-13; Acts 15:14.) A hearty desire and earnest prayer for the conversion of sinners is quite scriptural. But it is unscriptural to expect the conversion of the whole world.

From the latest issue (Jan-Mar 2015) of the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony newsletter, “Watching and Waiting” comes an article on a similar topic: “Did Noah Pray for Revival?” A look at several scriptures, including the time of Noah as well as Jeremiah’s day, shows indeed that it is not (always, or even usually)  God’s purpose to bring revival and save the majority of people at any given point in time. Select individuals were saved even in times of judgment, such as wicked King Manasseh (2 Chron. 33:12-20) and King Josiah, yet the nation as a whole faced judgment. There was undoubtedly a great measure of blessing, of revival and reformation, but the judgment brought on by the wickedness of Manasseh and his generation remained and was still going to be judged after the death of Josiah. The scriptures tell us similar for the future, of ever increasing apostasy within the church.

I was made to think of Noah and his circumstances as I listened to a Christian friend pray for the United Kingdom that God would send a mighty revival that would turn the whole land back to Him. Thinking upon this request, I pondered the fact that we are surrounded by an ever-increasing tide of apostasy. What are called the ‘main’ churches have abandoned all semblance to Bible religion and have embraced wicked doctrines to a degree never before witnessed in the history of Christendom. Furthermore, the remnant of true believers has never been smaller or weaker. This being so, it does seem likely that we cannot be far removed from the days of that last generation and the manifestation of the antichrist and the Savior’s return to earth to destroy him and establish His own Millennial Kingdom. That raises the question then: Is it the will of God for God’s people in the close of this age to pray for revival?

These facts serve to bring home to us that it is so necessary for God’s people to rightly divide the Word of God and so understand the signs of the times in which we live. It is through God’s Word that the final generation of believers in this age will know of the approach of the end and what it is we should be praying for and expecting the Lord to do. It is only by studying the prophetic scriptures and being informed of God’s will that we will be saved from praying and hoping vainly for revival when it is clearly the purpose and mind of God to bring down man’s rebellion and apostasy by judgment.