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Horatius Bonar, the Blessings and Curses, and Hermeneutics and Application

May 7, 2020 12 comments

It’s been ten years since I read Horatius Bonar’s Prophetical Landmarks, and it’s time to revisit it, a good refresher, now that my overall doctrinal views in other areas – from the last several years of study – more closely align with the 19th century covenantal premillennialists.  (For reference, here are posts from 2010 on Horatius Bonar:  On Interpreting the Prophets  and On the Millennial Question.)

While reading through the Westminster Confession and catechisms (a calendar year reading), along with the scripture references, I noticed WLC question 28

Q 28. What are the punishments of sin in this world?

The punishments of sin in this world are either inward,
as blindness of mind,
a reprobate sense,
strong delusions,
hardness of heart,
horror of conscience,
and vile affections;
or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes,
and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments;
together with death itself.

The highlighted phrase in the answer, includes as scripture reference, a large section from Deuteronomy 28, verses 15-68 — which describes the prophecy regarding the nation of Israel in its apostasy.

Now, as I understand, the Westminster Divines added the ‘scripture proofs’ only upon request from the Parliament, and their intent was for people to focus not so much on the actual scripture proofs, but as a guide to their commentaries on the scripture references.  That would be the next step in a study here, to find and read their commentaries on this passage.  I understand the general application purpose—from apostate Israel and the temporal evils that befell them, to the general precept of what can happen, temporally, to unbelievers.  That unbelievers, along with the godly, suffer affliction in this life is clear from many places; Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot (which I’m currently reading), an exposition of Ecclesiastes 1:15, explains well the type of suffering experienced by everyone, and the purpose of that suffering in unbelievers, as contrasted with its purpose in the lives of God’s people.

Deuteronomy 28, though, includes very specific prophecies, regarding what would happen to the Jews in the centuries and millennia after Moses’s speech – specific things that were later experienced, including drought, defeated before enemies, property being given to the nation’s enemies, cannibalism, followed by being scattered throughout the world and even to the point that they would offer themselves as slaves to their enemies, but “there will be no buyer.”  If Deuteronomy 28 could be used as an application and a scripture reference for the temporal suffering experienced by unbelievers generally, then Deuteronomy 7:12-14 and 28:3-14 should equally apply in a general application sense to believers.   As both sets of passages apply to the same people group (in this case Israel, the Jewish church), I see that a general application could be made:  the one part, curses, applies to the unbelieving part of Israel (the visible members of the covenant community, who do not have the true inward saving faith), while the other part, the blessings, to the invisible church, those who actually are saved.  Yet the specifics of these passages, the primary meaning, has reference to the specific nation of Israel and its history, with specific, detailed curse events as well as detailed blessing events.

Horatius Bonar was writing in response to 19th century spiritualizing amillennialists, and provided a great lesson on plain-language literal hermeneutics and the treatment of prophecy in scripture, such as this chapter on Israel.  Regarding the idea of literal curses upon Israel (which were fulfilled, the curses mentioned in Deuteronomy 28) versus “spiritual” blessings in Christ, Bonar observed:

Up to this hour, then, everything respecting Israel has been literally accomplished. Nothing in what has hitherto occurred in their strange history gives the slightest countenance to the figurative interpretations for which some so strenuously contend. Why is Israel still an exile, an outcast, a wanderer, if there be no literal curse? Why is Jerusalem laid in heaps, and Mount Zion ploughed as a field (Jer. 26:18)? Why is the crown of Samaria broken, its ruins rolled down into the valley, and its vines all withered from the mountain side (Jer. 31:5; Mic. 1:6)? Why is Lebanon hewn down, the oaks of Bashan withered, the roses of Sharon gone? Why do the fields of Heshbon languish? Why is the vine of Sibmah uprooted, the summer fruits of Elealeh faded, and why is Carmel bare? Why is baldness come upon Gaza, and why is Ashkelon cut off? Why is Ammon a couching-place for flocks, and the palaces of Bozrah swept away? Why is Moab fled, Idumea become a wilderness, and Mount Seir laid desolate? Why is all this, if there be no literal curse? And why, if there has been such a literal curse, is the literal blessing to be denied?

It is foolish to answer, as many do, “The spiritual blessing is far richer; why contend about blessings of meaner value?” Why? Because we believe that God has revealed them; because we believe that as God has been dishonored by Israel’s being an outcast from the land of promise, so He will be honored by their peaceful settlement again; because as we know He was glorified in leading up Israel, His firstborn, out of Egypt, from the tyranny of Pharaoh, through the wilderness into Canaan, so we believe He designs to glorify Himself by a second exodus, and a second establishment in the land given to Abraham and his seed; because as He magnified His name and power in the sight of the heathen by bringing His people out from Babylon after seventy years’ captivity, so we believe He will magnify that name again by leading them out of Babylon the Great, and planting them in their ancient possessions to inherit them forever; never to be disturbed by the enemy; never to hear the voice of war again.

Among the general principles that Bonar sets forth for the literal interpretation of prophecies regarding Israel, is this one:

When their scattering and their gathering are placed together, and when we are told, that as they have been scattered, so they shall be gathered. Very striking and explicit are the prophecies to this effect in Deuteronomy, where the plainness of the style precludes the idea of figures. How, for instance, could the most ingenious spiritualizer contrive to explain away such a passage as this,—“If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will he fetch thee; and the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers” (Deut. 30:4)

Horatius Bonar’s Prophetical Landmarks is still good reading, with Bonar’s rich prose style and use of scripture, and its explanation of solid hermeneutical principles.

Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’, and Our Love To God

August 27, 2018 3 comments

Christian Audio’s free download this month (for a few more days) is an audio recording of a classic work I had planned to read this year, so the audio book special was providential, good timing; I’m reading this one in audio format:  Jonathan Edwards’ “Religious Affections.”  It’s a more serious and careful read for audio format, sometimes requiring to rewind and re-listen to the last few sentences, but overall it reads well.  As noted elsewhere, Edwards wrote this after the time of great revival in New England, the Great Awakening.

Religious Affections first presents 12 signs that do not prove (or disprove) that affections are gracious, followed by 12 signs of truly gracious and holy affections, as summarized in this article.  Edwards’ writing at times can come across as hard and difficult, to a self-examination that wonders ‘am I then truly spiritual/saved?’, since the unbeliever’s versus believer’s affections are described in the full form without consideration of the partial, imperfect experience of the believer with still remaining sin; as noted in the above-linked review:  some of Edwards’ words may seem blunt and appear not to take into account that even the best Christians are very far from perfect.  We need to keep the full picture in mind, and as Edwards continues – especially in the second list of 12 signs, items 3, 4 and 5 (which I have just read) — additional descriptions of the true believer’s experience come through clearly.  As Arden Hodgins explained it in a 1689 Baptist Confession series, we don’t look within for sin or perfection in our heart, but we look for grace, realizing that yes, I now have a love for God and God’s word, that I once did not have.

I’m still reading it, but so far I do find one point of disagreement and a topic to further consider.  Edwards described gratitude as something that is not a Christian virtue but something that is present in natural (unregenerate) man.  He argues this conclusion at least partly from his own idea (presented as fact) that Nebuchadnezzar (after Daniel 4) was not a saved man but was only expressing thankfulness for deliverance from his physical circumstances.  Yet this assertion itself is not a proven fact, and many believers, past and present, have viewed the account as showing that Nebuchadnezzar did come to saving faith.  Consider the words of Nebuchadnezzar’s confession in the account in Daniel 4, as well as Daniel’s own attitude toward Nebuchadnezzar – and as contrasted with Daniel’s later words in Daniel 5 to Nebuchadnezzar’s successor Belshazzar; the point is especially made in Daniel 5:22-23, “And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 23 but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven.”  Thus, Edwards reasoned that an unregenerate man is actually capable of the type of understanding, praise, and humbling, that Nebuchadnezzar expressed, and yet still ‘miss the mark’ and not really be a spiritual person.

The section on gratitude comes across (at least in this first reading) as somewhat unclear.  On the one hand, unbelievers can have a natural type of gratitude to God.  Edwards grants that some unbelievers are without thankfulness and gratitude — and some people’s own experience of their before/after conversion makes it clear that in their pre-Christian life they really did not feel true gratitude to others or to God, that such feelings were really due to self-love — yet he maintains that “just because” some unsaved people were that unthankful, yet that does not mean that others in their natural state could not attain to true gratitude and thankfulness.  He also references Jesus’ words in Luke 6:32-34 — If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? —which is indeed scriptural truth regarding the feelings that unbelievers can have toward others.   However, as Edwards soon goes on to say, these unbelievers are actually thinking about God according to their own ideas, and worshiping and believing in a god of their own making, and not the true God.

Thus, the conclusion of these conflicting ideas is that unbelievers’ “gratitude” is actually directed not to the true God, but either in reference to their own self-interest or to some other notion, some other concept of god.  As is often mentioned in Christian teaching, a false concept of God, one that is not in keeping with the scripture-revealed true God, is a form of idolatry.

Edwards does writes in detail about self-love as contrasted with true love for God, and another interesting section explains the difference between natural and moral perfections.  Yet in presenting the highest perfection of the Christian, Edwards emphasizes that Christians should only have love for God in its highest motive:  without regard to self, or to any reward, but to love God for who He is in Himself, apart from our own interest in Him.  Yet we all know our own hearts, how often we fall short of this; though we do love God for who He is, our motives are often mixed, with lower motives as well as the highest motive present at various times in our Christian walk.  Here too, I am reminded of Arden Hodgins’ observations (from his 1689 Confession study) regarding our motives for sanctification;  each of us individually cannot compare ourselves to any other great saint and then conclude that “I must be lost” in comparison with another believer’s expressed higher level of devotion and love to God.  A specific example that Hodgins mentioned was the reading of David Brainerd’s biography – and here I find that reference interesting, due to the personal connection between Brainerd and Edwards.

It can also be argued that loving God only for who He is in Himself without regard to our own interest, is really not the highest type of love.  Horatius Bonar, writing in the next century in response to this “over-spiritualized” idea, well expressed it in God’s Way of Peace (page 171, shown at this link):

It is not wrong to love God for what He has done for us. Not to do so, would be the very baseness of ingratitude. To love God purely for what He is, is by some spoken of as the highest kind of love, into which enters no element of self. It is not so. For in that case, you are actuated by the pleasure of loving; and this pleasure of loving an infinitely lovable and glorious Being, of necessity introduces self. Besides, to say that we are to love God solely for what He is, and not for what he Has done, is to make ingratitude an essential element of pure love. David’s love showed itself in not forgetting God’s benefits. But this ‘pure love’ soars beyond David’s and finds it a duty to be unthankful, lest perchance some selfish element mingle itself with its superhuman, super-angelic purity.  Let not Satan then ensnare you with such foolish thoughts, the tendency of which is to quench every serious desire, under the pretext of its not being disinterested and perfect.

In spite of these areas of disagreement, Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections is still a great theological work, a classic work on a timeless issue, discerning between true spiritual and carnally minded people.  It is not the easiest writing style, but worth reading (or listening to) at least once.  The MP3 audio book is still available for free for a few more days, the rest of this week.

Horatius Bonar: God’s Way of Peace and Way of Holiness

October 16, 2014 3 comments

In my studies of the classic premillennialists, I continue to read the covenantal premillennial authors, including their many works on other doctrinal topics. Lately I have been reading several of Horatius Bonar’s books, available online as well as in audio book format (available through sermon audio). Bonar’s “God’s Way of Peace” and “God’s Way of Holiness” are interesting, fairly easy to read and in a conversational, question and answer style, with evangelistic zeal to seekers interested in the Christian faith.

God’s Way of Peace addresses salvation and justification, and here Bonar addresses more subtle errors of thought, such as focusing on the “thought” of our salvation and faith rather than the faith itself; and the error that we must love God purely for who He is rather than the “lower” selfish motive of what He has done for us.

It is not wrong to love God for what He has done for us. Not to do so, would be the very baseness of ingratitude. To love God purely for what He is, is by some spoken of as the highest kind of love, into which enters no element of self. It is not so. For in that case, you are actuated by the pleasure of loving; and this pleasure of loving an infinitely lovable and glorious Being, of necessity introduces self. Besides, to say that we are to love God solely for what He is, and not for what he Has done, is to make ingratitude an essential element of pure love. David’s love showed itself in not forgetting God’s benefits. But this ‘pure love’ soars beyond David’s and finds it a duty to be unthankful, lest perchance some selfish element mingle itself with its superhuman, super-angelic purity.

Here I also see a response to an attitude that Bonar’s contemporary, Charles Spurgeon, also noted (see this previous post): the idea that our coming to God requires some level of “fitness,” some level of repentance and feeling.

I find that the apostles shut up their hearers to immediate faith and repentance, bringing them face to face with the great object of faith, and commanding them in the name of the living God to believe, just as Jesus commanded the man with the withered arm to stretch out his hand. … The Lord did not give him any directions as to a preliminary work, or preparatory efforts, and struggles, and using of means. These are man’s attempts to bridge over the great gulf by human appliances; man’s ways of evading the awful question of his own utter impotence; man’s unscriptural devices for sliding out of inability into ability, out of unbelief into faith; man’s plan for helping God to save him; man’s self-made ladder for climbing up a little way out of the horrible pit, in the hope that God will so commiserate his earnest struggles as to do all the rest that is needed. Now God has commanded all men everywhere to repent; but he has nowhere given us any directions for obtaining repentance. God has commanded sinners to believe, but has not prescribed for them any preparatory steps or process by means of which he may be induced to give them something which he is not from the first most willing to do.

God’s Way of Holiness  looks at sanctification, including emphasis on studying God’s word and recognizing the difference between morality and the way to Christ:

 Is it the case that the sinner cannot be trusted with the gospel? In one sense this is true. He cannot be trusted with anything. He abuses everything. He turns everything to bad account. He makes everything the minister of sin. But if he cannot be trusted with the gospel, can he be trusted with the Law’? If he cannot be trusted with grace, can he be trusted with righteousness? He cannot be trusted with an immediate pardon; can he be trusted with a tardy one? He cannot be trusted with faith; can he be trusted with doubt? He cannot be trusted with peace; can he be trusted with gloom and trouble? He cannot be trusted with assurance; can he be trusted with suspense, and will uncertainty do for him what certainty cannot? That which he can, after all, best be trusted with, is the gospel. He has abused it, he may abuse it, but he is less likely to abuse it than anything else.

Bonar’s view is Reformed/Covenantal regarding the Moral Law, emphasizing the unity of the law in the Old and New Testament, and the difference between love and law, complete with many quotes from Calvin, Luther and others. Here Bonar appears to be addressing some type of antinomianism (it’s not clear exactly from where this teaching was coming), yet showing again the timelessness of Christian truth and that in every age the issues of sanctification, grace, and law must be explained.

 We do not undervalue love because we say a man is not justified by love, but by faith. We do not discourage prayer, because we preach that a man is not justified by prayer, but by faith. When we say that believing is not working, but a ceasing from work, we do not mean that the believing man is not to work; but that he is not to work for pardon, but to take it freely; and that he is to believe before he works, for works done before believing are not pleasing to God.

 

These are the commandments of the Holy Ghost, and they are law just as truly as that which was proclaimed in Horeb amid fire and darkness. And the true question with us (as we have seen) is not whether we are to obey this law or that law, but any law at all. If obedience to apostolic law be not legalism, then neither is obedience to the moral law; and if our oneness with Christ exempts or disjoins us from the moral law, it exempts and disjoins us from all law whatsoever, for everything in the shape of law, or precept, or commandment, contained in Scripture, is from the one Spirit of God, whether in the book of Exodus or the epistle to the Romans. …

 

Of angels this is said to be the highest felicity, that ‘they do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word’ (Psa 103:20); just as of those from whom the Lord has removed transgression as far as the east is from the west, it is said that ‘they remember His commandments to do them’ (Psa 103:12,18). But if this theory of the total disjunction of the law from believers be true, then angels must be in bondage, and they also to whom Paul refers as specimens of the blessed men whose transgressions are forgiven by the imputation of “righteousness without works” (Rom 4:6).

Terms and Distinctions: Reformed/Covenant Theology, NCT, and Covenantal Premillennialism

September 16, 2014 7 comments

Among some Christian circles today, especially Calvinists and dispensationalists, a more superficial understanding of theology persists, and the tendency to think that:

  • anyone who is not “dispensational” adheres to covenant theology
  • anyone who holds to amillennialism believes Covenant theology, and vice versa, AND
  • covenant theology equals “church replacement theology” (amillennial/preterist ideas)

Accordingly, some will use the terms “Calvinist” and “Reformed” interchangeably, though in discussion it becomes clear that what is actually meant is Calvinist soteriology aka the “doctrines of grace.” Yet as I’ve recently come to understand more clearly, 5-point baptistic Calvinism, as popularly seen in the “Sovereign Grace” movement characterized by smaller, non-denominational churches with informal affiliation — and often associated with amillennial or postmillennial eschatology — is but one component of what is included within overall “Reformed/Covenant  Theology.”   Covenant Theology aka Reformed Theology includes not only Calvinist soteriology, but also understanding and adherence to the 16th and 17th century Reformed confessions. The confessions include the teaching of the theological covenants (covenant of works, covenant of grace, and covenant of redemption), and understanding of the Old Testament law as having three parts (moral, civil, ceremonial) and a “third use” of the law (the moral law, the ten commandments), as a guide in sanctification (not salvation) for the believer.

Here I observe that some churches that affirm the “Doctrines of Grace” aka Calvinism and reference the term “sovereign grace,” may also hold to covenant theology.  But more often they actually hold to a “dispensational” understanding of the law, particularly with NCT, New Covenant Theology (which has developed within the last 30 years, about as old as progressive dispensationalism, both of which are more recent than classic or even revised dispensationalism). To add to the name confusion, some churches with “Reformed Baptist” in their name actually teach NCT instead of Reformed Baptist theology. The difference shows up while visiting church websites, that some reformed churches will specifically state their adherence to the 1689 London Baptist Confession (or another of the 17th century confessions, such as the 1644 Baptist one or, for paedo-baptists, the Westminster Confession); some of these will state qualified agreement “generally” or “in large part” while others state full agreement; whereas NCT “Sovereign Grace” churches usually will not explicitly mention their “NCT” belief (which is not one single, confessional belief and likely includes several variations).  With specific churches (as true for all doctrinal views) one must look carefully at the stated versus actual beliefs; in recent church-site searching I came across a few church websites stating agreement with the 1689 London Baptist confession but with sermon content of traditional dispensationalism.  Further: though NCT “Sovereign Grace” churches are also predominantly amillennial/ postmillennial, a few are historic premillennial (for instance Fred Zaspel and a few others), and a few that self-describe as “Sovereign Grace” are of the Calvinist-Dispensational variety.

Another important point regarding Covenant Theology and millennial views: though many who hold to “Covenant Theology” also are amillennial or postmillennial – with variations among themselves on the futurist-idealist-preterist line, CT itself does not at all require an anti-premillennial view, or even an anti-future Israel view.  Though the true history has been largely forgotten by many of today’s CT advocates… ironically enough, as noted in Nathaniel West’s “History of the Premillennial Doctrine” and in my recent “Premillennialism in Church History” series, many if not most of the Westminster Divines were in fact premillennial: a truth that returned soon after the Reformation and held sway throughout the early Protestant years.  Many great theologians of the CT tradition, down through the 18th and 19th centuries, were premillennial, and many of these also affirmed a literal future for regathered ethnic, national Israel.

Covenant theologians (such as Horatius Bonar, also J.C. Ryle and Charles Spurgeon) can well articulate BOTH the tenets of covenant theology and the reformed view of the law (see Horatius Bonar’s God’s Way of Holiness, especially chapter 6), AND affirm historic/classic premillennialism, including future restoration of ethnic, national Israel.

Here I note an example of modern-day CT writing which conflates teaching on the Reformed/Covenantal view of the Law, with eschatology and Israel, in this passing statement near the end of this otherwise helpful article about the third use of the law; but such is the author’s own confusion. The article’s statement – This is one eternally important reason why Israel received the Law in the Mosaic Covenant, with the associated typological promise of blessing and cursing. Christ, the antitype of Israel, takes the antitypical curse for the Covenant people and fulfills the righteous requirement of the Law to give them the antitypical (eternal) blessings by faith in Him. – actually has nothing to do with covenant theology itself, and only shows the author’s own confusion and mixing of unrelated issues with excessive spiritualizing. Perhaps, too, this statement could be taken as an illustration or analogy, yet the primary truth and primary meaning (of literal Israel still experiencing literal curses in this age, to be followed by literal blessings in the future) still remains.

To conclude, a selection from Covenant premillennialist Horatius Bonar:

It seems often taken for granted that those who assert the literal interpretation of the blessings promised to Israel, thereby exclude the spiritual. They do not. They assert the literal blessing, because they believe that God has promised it; but they maintain the superiority and necessity of the spiritual as firmly as do the others. They believe that Israel will be converted, and they rejoice in this as the glorious issue towards which the prophets point. But they believe more; they believe not only that they will be converted, but they will be restored to their own land. But does their literal restoration take from them one single spiritual blessing? Or does it prevent the Gentile nations from enjoying one of those innumerable blessings which are given to them for an inheritance?

The Literal Hermeneutic, Described by Historic Premillennialists

September 19, 2012 6 comments

For those who still associate any form of premillennialism with classic dispensationalism, and who think that premillennialists’ literal hermeneutic is wooden literalism (which never was the case) rather than normal, plain language: I am revisiting some great quotes from 19th century non-dispensational historic premillennialists:  Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, and Horatius Bonar.

Consider the following, in which these men in their own words describe and explain the literal hermeneutic along with specific examples from God’s word:

Charles Spurgeon, concerning the First Resurrection in Revelation 20:

… if the First Resurrection here spoken of is a metaphorical, or spiritual, or typical resurrection—why the next, where it speaks of the resurrection of the dead, must be spiritual, and mystical, and metaphorical too!  When you read a Chapter, you are not to say, “This part is a symbol, and is to be read so, and the next part is to be read literally.” Brothers and Sisters, the Holy Spirit does not jumble metaphors and facts together! A typical Book has plain indications that it is so intended, and when you come upon a literal passage in a typical Chapter, it is always attached to something else which is distinctly literal so that you cannot, without violence to common sense, make a typical meaning out of it! The fact is, in reading this passage with an unbiased judgment—having no purpose whatever to serve, having no theory to defend— … I could not help seeing there are two literal resurrections here spoken of—one of the spirits of the just, and the other of the bodies of the wicked; one of the saints who sleep in Jesus, whom God shall bring with Him, and another of those who live and die impenitent, who perish in their sins.

Also from Spurgeon, (full quote posted here) concerning Ezekiel 37:1-10:

If there is meaning in words this must be the meaning of this chapter! I wish never to learn the art of tearing God’s meaning out of His own Words. If there is anything clear and plain, the literal sense and meaning of this passage—a meaning not to be spirited or spiritualized away—it must be evident that both the two and the ten tribes of Israel are to be restored to their own land and that a king is to rule over them. “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen where they are gone and will gather them on every side and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king to them all.”

From J.C. Ryle (previously posted here and also here):

Beware of that system of allegorizing, and spiritualizing, and accommodating, which the school of Origen first brought in, in the Church. … Settle in your mind, in reading the Psalms and Prophets that Israel means Israel, and Zion means Zion and Jerusalem means Jerusalem. And, finally, whatever edification you derive from applying to your own soul the words which God addresses to His ancient people, never lose sight of the primary sense of the text.

and

What I protest against is, the habit of allegorizing plain sayings of the Word of God concerning the future history of the nation Israel, and explaining away the fullness of their contents in order to accommodate them to the Gentile Church. I believe the habit to be unwarranted by anything in Scripture, and to draw after it a long train of evil consequences.

Where, I would venture to ask, in the whole New Testament, shall we find any plain authority for applying the word “Israel” to anyone but the nation Israel? I can find none. On the contrary, I observe that when the Apostle Paul quotes Old Testament prophecies about the privileges of the Gentiles in Gospel times, he is careful to quote texts which specially mention the “Gentiles” by name. The fifteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a striking illustration of what I mean. We are often told in the New Testament that, under the Gospel, believing Gentiles are “fellow heirs and partakers of the same hope “with believing Jews. (Ephes. 3:6.) But that believing Gentiles may be called “Israelites,” I cannot see anywhere at all.

And from Horatius Bonar (previously posted here and here):

To attach a general meaning to a whole chapter, as is frequently done, shows not only grievous irreverence for the Divine Word, but much misconception of the real nature of that language in which it is written. Yet such is often the practice of many expositors of prophecy. They will take up a chapter of Isaiah, and tell you that it refers to the future glory of the Christian Church; and that is the one idea which they gather from a whole chapter, or sometimes from a series of chapters. Their system does not admit of interpreting verse by verse and clause by clause, and affixing an exact and definite sense to each. Bring them to this test, and their system gives way. It looks fair and plausible enough, so long as they can persuade you that the whole chapter is one scene, out of which it is merely designed that one grand idea should be extracted; but bring it to the best of minute and precise interpretation, and its nakedness is at once discovered. Many prophecies become in this way a mere waste of words.  What might be expressed in one sentence, is beaten out over a whole chapter; nay, sometimes over a whole book.

These expositors think that there is nothing in prophecy, except that Jew and Gentile are all to be gathered in, and made one in Christ. Prophet after prophet is raised up, vision after vision is given, and yet nothing is declared but this one idea! Every chapter almost of Isaiah foretells something about the future glory of the world; and every chapter presents it to us in some new aspect, opening up new scenes, and pointing out new objects; but, according to the scheme of some, every chapter sets forth the same idea, reiterates the same objects, and depicts the same scenes. Is not this handling the Word of God deceitfully?

What liberties do some interpreters take with the prophetic word! They find in every page almost what they call figurative language, and, under this idea, they explain away whole chapters without scruple or remorse. They complain much of the obscurity of the prophetic language. It is an obscurity, however, of their own creating. If they will force figures upon the prophets when they are manifestly speaking with all plainness and literality, no wonder that darkness and mystery seem to brood over the prophetic page. . . . Proceeding, then, upon this principle, that we must take all as literal till we are forced from it by something inconsistent or absurd, we shall find a far smoother and straighter way through the fields of prophecy than most men will believe. If we take the waters as we find them, we shall enjoy them clear and fresh; but if we will always be searching for some fancied figure at the bottom, or casting in one when we do not readily discover it, we need not be astonished nor complain that the stream is turbid and impure.

The True Historical Premillennial View: Not George Ladd’s Version

September 14, 2012 19 comments

From the material available online today, many would conclude that “historic premillennialism” refers to the teaching of 20th century theologian George Elton Ladd—and no other view.  See, for example, Michael Vlach’s article “How Does Historic Premillennialism Differ from Dispensational Premillennialism?”,  this “Eschatology Comparison” chart, and this article “An Historical Premillennialist Takes Issue With Pretribulational Dispensationalism.”

Similar to how many people associate the specific teachings of classic dispensationalism with any reference to dispensationalism, here too is a real point of confusion: the failure to recognize the different beliefs within the label of “historic premillennialism”–or any form of premillennialism other than “dispensational premillennialism.” Occasionally people mention “covenant premillennialism” to highlight the view of some, such as Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, who believed premillennialism yet who held to the theological covenants of Covenant Theology (as contrasted with the Calvinist disp-premill emphasis on the biblical covenants).   “Historic premillennialism” is the more common term, though, and yet George Ladd’s version of premillennialism could more accurately be called “contemporary (non-dispensational) premillennialism.”  As a commenter at the last link above pointed out, “Ladd’s overall position appears to be of more recent vintage than Classic Dispensationalism. Thus I find it ironic that he’s now considered to be the standard bearer for Historic Premillenialism. He departed significantly from the historic premillenialism of men like Horatius Bonar, J.C. Ryle and C.H. Spurgeon, just to name a few. None of the above men were pretrib, but they all believed in a physical restoration of the Jews to the land, which today is generally regarded as a dispensational distinctive.”

In recent years Barry Horner has done much in researching and publishing the history of millennial views, as in his “Future Israel” book and related website, as well as this work available online: “Judeo-Centric Eschatology: An Ethical Challenge to Reformed Theology.”  In this publication, Horner suggests another term to describe the truly historical premillennial view:  Judeo-Centric Premillennialism.  Chapter Five especially looks at the views of many premillennialists from centuries past, sketching out the details concerning “Israel and Judeo-centric Premillennialism beyond the Reformation” followed by “Israel and the Contemporary Historic Premillennialism of George Eldon Ladd.”

As Barry Horner explains regarding true historic premillennialism as opposed to the current day George Ladd version:

“… (then) explanation is made that one believes in a glorious future time when the redeemed people of God, distinctively comprising national Israel and the Gentile nations, will enjoy the consummation of their salvation on an earth of renovated spiritual materiality where the glorious, spiritually tangible and substantial Jesus Christ will reign from Jerusalem in the midst of Israel. At this juncture, the common response is that such a belief identifies one as a dispensationalist, especially since Ladd is said to have not incorporated such particularity concerning Israel within his premillennialism. In other words, if a person was an historic premillennialist, he would not retain any clear-cut distinction between Israel and the church, but especially within the one redeemed people of God in their future manifestation. When one then points out and specifically names a number of notable Christians who were not dispensationalists, such as Horatius Bonar, J. C. Ryle, and C. H. Spurgeon, even postmillennialist Jonathan Edwards, who nevertheless believed in the aforementioned scenario, that is, Israel and the Gentile nations retaining their distinctive identity under the earthly reign of Christ, the frequent response is that of a blank stare.”

…we will most definitely maintain that, in general, both historic premillennialism and progressive dispensationalism have upheld a diversity involving Israel and the Gentile nations within the redeemed people of God. Reluctance on Ladd’s part to bring Judeo-centric clarity and definition into his eschatology at this point places him outside the overwhelming emphasis of historic premillennialism. Hence, in this most important aspect of premillennialism, his perspective is decidedly not historic or normative.

The outline of this chapter further explains:

1. The two peoples of dispensational premillennialism:

… earlier belief in two new covenants was eventually abandoned by Walvoord, Ryrie, and presumably Fruchtenbaum, in favor of the one new covenant revealed in Jeremiah 31. … further development … has more willingly accepted the implications of this one new covenant for the redeemed, whatever distinctions they might incorporate…. Israel and the church are in fact one people of God, who together share in the forgiveness of sins through Christ and partake of his indwelling Spirit with its power for covenant faithfulness, while they are nonetheless distinguishable covenant participants comprising what is one unified people.

2. The one people of classic historic premillennialism: classic historic premillennialism, with exceptions acknowledged, nevertheless has specifically upheld the place of national Israel within the people of God of the church of Jesus Christ.

3. The one people of Jesus Christ’s assembly/church according to Scripture.

In a world where Gentile Christianity predominates, there is a necessity to offer some considerations here concerning the “Church” which name has, over the centuries, been “Gentilized” so that its mention is commonly identified with Gentile congregations, indeed a Gentile kingdom of God…. Hence the New Jerusalem shall not only acknowledge the twelve gates named after the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, but also the twelve foundation stones named after the twelve apostle, all twenty-four names being Jewish.

Speak, O Lord, Till Your Kingdom Comes: Church Praise Songs

July 28, 2011 Leave a comment

How common it is for wrong biblical ideas to enter through songs.  From church history I’ve heard that the error of Arianism spread easily through simple songs, such as one with the line “There was a time when the Son was not.”  That is a more extreme example, but even within American churches, many of us can recall the songs about having “a mansion” in heaven — whereas the reference — John 14:3 — is referring to many “rooms” in my Father’s house.

The general theme of church replacement / supremacy is of course well represented in the classic hymns, if in a subtle way:  all the refernces to Zion, as in “we’re marching to Zion, beautiful beautiful Zion” and “Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God,” or other songs where the word Zion, or even Beulah land, is used as a reference to heaven.

By contrast, apparently the only hymns with biblical reference to Israel and its great future, come from historic premillennialist Horatius Bonar.  He wrote seven such hymns, but I have never seen the sheet music that goes to those songs, nor seen these hymns in any church hymnal.

Among contemporary praise songs, the church-supremacy trend continues, as in the recent song (sung often at the local Reformed amillennial church) “Speak, O Lord.”  Most of the words are fine, and overall it is a great hymn, but the last verse includes the words “Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built and the earth is filled with your glory.” 

Of course, most people just sing the words and don’t really think about the words, or ask “is this biblical?”  The reference to the earth being filled with the glory of the Lord is in Habakkuk 2:14 — in the great chapter with the words “the just shall live by faith,” where we are also told of a vision that “awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end-it will not lie,” and describes both judgment to come as well as the great promise in verse 14:  For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  Even amillennialist John Reisinger has expressed his doubts, realizing that this verse contains more than just the influence of the church in this age.  To say “till your church is built and the earth is filled with your glory” of course suggests that the church, or the gospel going forth, is going to bring this about (classic postmillennialism), and of course is not scriptural, as something never taught explicitly or implicitly in the Bible.

As shown in this blog’s title, though, I suggest a scripturally correct wording, that fits the rhythm and syllables for the song:  Speak, O Lord, Till Your Kingdom Comes, and the earth is filled with Your glory.

Horatius Bonar: Living in and for the Future

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Horatius Bonar Quote on “Our Blessed Hope” Blog — Click Here

It is no fanaticism to live both in and for the future. It is faith, for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Unbelief would dwell in the present, faith leads us into the future.  It displaces the visible, and brings forward the invisible. It lays hold of every thing that will open up more of the future. It prizes the prophetic word, as being its guide through that region to which it so specially lays claim as its proper portion and heritage. It treasures up every fragment of information given respecting days or ages to come, casting aside nothing, but pondering all; not shrinking from details or dates, in so far as these have been recorded by the Spirit of truth.

Horatius Bonar, Quarterly Journal of Prophecy volume 1, “Our Connexion with the Future.”

New Blog Feature — Our Blessed Hope

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve just added a new feature to this blog — and a spin-off to a second blog, Our Blessed Hope.

At least a few times a week, the new category “Our Blessed Hope” will feature select quotes from several Christian names, including Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, Horatius Bonar, and others — concerning  eschatology, prophecy and its right interpretation, the future for Israel, the premillennial return of Christ, and more.

See the first post, C. H. Spurgeon:  Jesus the Ruler Over His People Israel,  as a sample, the first in this series.

Or stop by the new blog, a site dedicated to these quotes:

http://ourblessedhope.wordpress.com/

Studying Isaiah, Understanding Prophecy and Good Theology

September 17, 2010 Leave a comment

As I now work through a chapter-by-chapter Bible Study in Isaiah, with S. Lewis Johnson (up through Isaiah 8), the following words from Horatius Bonar concerning the prophets again come to mind:

To attach a general meaning to a whole chapter, as is frequently done, shows not only grievous irreverence for the Divine Word, but much misconception of the real nature of that language in which it is written. Yet such is often the practice of many expositors of prophecy. They will take up a chapter of Isaiah, and tell you that it refers to the future glory of the Christian Church; and that is the one idea which they gather from a whole chapter, or sometimes from a series of chapters. Their system does not admit of interpreting verse by verse and clause by clause, and affixing an exact and definite sense to each. Bring them to this test, and their system gives way. It looks fair and plausible enough, so long as they can persuade you that the whole chapter is one scene, out of which it is merely designed that one grand idea should be extracted; but bring it to the best of minute and precise interpretation, and its nakedness is at once discovered. Many prophecies become in this way a mere waste of words.  What might be expressed in one sentence, is beaten out over a whole chapter; nay, sometimes over a whole book.

These expositors think that there is nothing in prophecy, except that Jew and Gentile are all to be gathered in, and made one in Christ. Prophet after prophet is raised up, vision after vision is given, and yet nothing is declared but this one idea! Every chapter almost of Isaiah foretells something about the future glory of the world; and every chapter presents it to us in some new aspect, opening up new scenes, and pointing out new objects; but, according to the scheme of some, every chapter sets forth the same idea, reiterates the same objects, and depicts the same scenes. Is not this handling the Word of God deceitfully?

In teaching from Isaiah 6, S. Lewis Johnson brings out some important lessons concerning the value of good theology, as illustrated in Isaiah’s experience:  his sin,  cleansing, and commission.  Isaiah understood both sides of truth, the balance between two extremes.  On the one hand, we have total acceptance with God, yet we must also maintain a moment-by-moment relationship to God.

If we so stress our total acceptance with God that we forget the other, then we leave ourselves open to license.  If we so stress the necessity for this relationship moment by moment with God that we forget our acceptance with him, we come to the place where we are morbid, where we are unstable because we are not sure that we really are accepted with God.  That is the value of theology, because we do not go to extremes.  We know both sides of the truth.

SLJ spoke of a recent trend in his day (1968) towards emphasizing our total acceptance — without the need for daily confession of sin and repentance.  In my recent experience with Sovereign Grace, Reformed churches I have observed the opposite extreme of focus on the moment-by-moment relationship with God:  over-emphasis upon the need to confess our sins, remembering that we are creatures of wrath and God should have just stomped us out like a bug; and that God is still ticked off about the fall and Adam’s sin.  As SLJ said so well, such a view — that neglects teaching concerning our adoption, the great promises of the biblical covenants and God’s Divine Purpose — leaves us with overwhelming guilt and a lack of assurance concerning our acceptance before God.

One simple outline for Isaiah 6 is:  Woe, Lo, and Go.  The woe comes in verse 5, Isaiah’s sin, followed by “Lo” in verse 7 when Isaiah is cleansed, then “Go” in verse 8, Isaiah’s commission.

Another great excerpt from S. Lewis Johnson:

Now, I want you to notice that as Isaiah is cleansed he immediately hears the voice of the Lord.  One of the reasons we do not hear the voice of the Lord is because we have not bothered to be cleansed.  We have not cared for many others.  We have put our trust in Jesus Christ, and we know that our future is secure because of the cross and we like it that way and we do not really be want to be disturbed anymore.  We want to be sure that we are going to heaven and that is about as far as we want to go.  And furthermore, we even have some who say that it is hopeless to get beyond that.  It is hopeless to think about the growing in grace.  We do not want to become like the Pharisees and proud of our growth.  Of course not!  But our salvation is our means to grow.  We do not want to stay children all our lives, do we?  It is good to know the truth of the cross, that is where life begins — but that is the beginning of life.  It is not the end.