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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.

What Scripture Has to Say About the Nations

October 1, 2019 2 comments

Old Testament / New Testament Continuity is a topic I’m always interested in, especially in response to the confusion and errors so common in our day, such as the extreme discontinuity of classic dispensationalism and New Covenant Theology, and the error in the anti-confessional, Biblicist, minimalist doctrine view.  Associated with these errors is a simplistic and perhaps lazy attitude toward God’s word, that neglects the majority of the Bible and would generalize scripture down to a few basic concepts, sometimes “justified” with the use of allegorical/spiritualizing that ignores the actual content of scripture in favor of a simple, “broad brush” understanding that God is sovereign and He takes care of everything– a low view of scripture that does not really see the necessity of all of God’s word for all of life, where scripture is limited and boxed in, not something that truly transforms every aspect of our lives (a strong Christian worldview).

A recent example I’ve come across concerns the issue of nations:  the idea that Israel as a nation is meaningless and “not the point” of anything in God’s Word, even within the Old Testament context.  Instead, Israel was just a symbol of the reality of God and individuals and salvation for all of us generally; further, that the Bible is irrelevant concerning nations (Israel or any other), and so we shouldn’t get sidetracked into any Bible discussions about the nations, Israel or other.

This minimalist approach again shows a low view of scripture–and ignorance of what the Bible really does have to say about nations.  Even from the extreme discontinuity perspective that would “unhitch” from all of the Old Testament (see this article about Andy Stanley), the New Testament (even excluding the gospels!) has several things to say here, as for example:

  • Acts 17:26, in Paul’s speech at Athens: God’s purpose for mankind in the nations – and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation
  • Romans 3:1-2, where Paul describes the benefits to Israel as a nation: Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.
  • All of Romans 9, 10, and 11, concerning Israel as a nation, and the Gentiles
  • Revelation 21:12-14, which alludes to and expands on Ezekiel 47, including everything from Ezekiel 47:

It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.13 There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

  • Followed by the explicit reference to nations later in the same chapter, Revelation 21:24-26

24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it

These are just examples of what is explicit in the New Testament, and the point has been well made, and quite often, against the Marcionitish idea that would just ditch the Old Testament.  For the first century believers during Jesus’ day, and later during the early church, the Old Testament was their Bible; the later NT revelation does not replace the majority of the Bible.  The NT texts cited above, from Romans and Revelation, demonstrate the continuity, as these texts are not in isolation, totally new words, but reference what had already been said in the Old Testament.

Further, if the Bible is really just about God and individuals, and how we can be saved, then sermon preaching would be extremely limited.  Unfortunately there have been such pastors and preaching, which only deals with the individual’s salvation and God’s sovereignty – but the preaching range is indeed very limited, and contrary to the gospel imperative, that preachers and teachers are to expound the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).  Then too, lest anyone think that the above is the whole counsel of God, it is also very interesting that the apostle Paul spent only about three weeks in Thessalonica (reference Acts 17) and yet later was discussing the details of eschatology including the future man of lawlessness/sin and Christ’s return with the Thessalonian believers (1 and 2 Thessalonians).

If the point of the Bible is only about individual salvation, nothing about nations, then why all the content (Old, and again in the New Testament) about God’s judgment of nations?  God’s judgment of nations is a reality, a somber one that the people in those nations should be made aware of, from preaching the whole counsel of God.  Here I also recall some observations from Charles Spurgeon, from sermon #257  (The Scales of Judgment):

THERE IS A WEIGHING TIME for kings and emperors, and all the monarchs of earth, albeit some of them have exalted themselves to a position in which they appear to be irresponsible to man. Though they escape the scales on earth, they must surely be tried at the bar of God. For nations there is a weighing time. National sins demand national punishments. The whole history of God’s dealings with mankind proves that though a nation may go on in wickedness it may multiply its oppressions; it may abound in bloodshed, tyranny, and war, but an hour of retribution draweth nigh. When it shall have filled up its measure of iniquity, then shall the angel of vengeance execute its doom. There cannot be an eternal damnation for nations as nations; the destruction of men at last will be that of individuals, and at the bar of God each man must be tried for himself. The punishment, therefore, of nations, is national. The guilt they incur must receive its awful recompense in this present time state.

So yes, the nations – Israel specifically, as well as the many other nations – are important to God.  Though “the nations are as a drop in a bucket” to God (Isaiah 40:15), still He has much to say about them.  As noted in many online sermons I’ve listened to, and books I’ve read, it may seem strange to us that God would care about material, “unspiritual” things such as nations, and yet it is so.  Our God reveals Himself to us in scripture, the God who is involved in everything: the big things, the small things, and (even) the nations.

Reformed Baptists, Charles Spurgeon, and Israel

April 11, 2017 1 comment

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From #1369:

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

From #1962:

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

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

Challies’ Reading Challenge: Biography, Robert Murray McCheyne

February 16, 2017 Leave a comment

biography-mccheyneContinuing in the 2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge, I have now completed four of the books – classic novel, history, book about theology, and a biography  —  with two more in progress (a children’s book, The Hobbit; and Christian Living, J.R. Miller’s A Life of Character).  Of the four completed so far, I have most enjoyed the biography – Andrew Bonar’s classic that tells us of someone who might well have been forgotten, the life of an ordinary pastor who died at age 29 (lived May 1813 to April 1843).   As John Piper observed in this article, a tribute to McCheyne’s life,  Robert Murray McCheyne is one of church history’s amazing young people greatly used of God in their short lives:

It is amazing to me how God has raised up extraordinary young people with great impact and then cut them off in their youth, and then has preserved their impact with a book for decades to come, and centuries.

This biography was published about two years after McCheyne’s death, a compilation of McCheyne’s own personal journal and letters, combined with narrative from his friend Andrew Bonar.  The story is told chronologically, with brief information about McCheyne’s parents and upbringing, but really beginning the story at age 18, when he was saved, and continuing with the events of his life, including excerpts from McCheyne’s writings each year.  Illness and early death were more common in those days.  McCheyne’s oldest brother, David, died at 26, when Robert was 18; his brother was a godly man who had prayed for Robert, who up until that time had been worldly, interested only in the social life of a teenager.  David’s death had a profound impact on Robert, and was used of God to bring the younger McCheyne to salvation.

As Bonar relates, his friend was ill frequently throughout those short years that Bonar knew him.  McCheyne himself sometimes even expressed the thought, that he would not live as long as others.  The missionary trip to Palestine in 1839, which included McCheyne, Andrew Bonar and a few others, was done in part because of McCheyne’s health; and though he had one serious illness and almost died during that trip, overall the trip did restore McCheyne to better health, for a while at least.  When McCheyne took ill with the typhoid from which he died in the spring of 1843, Bonar again noted that McCheyne had often been ill before – and thus it surprised him and all his friends, they did not realize the danger and his soon death, until the last few days.

Along with biographical material, much of the biography is devotional, with many great quotes from McCheyne, such as the following excerpts from his journals and letters:

I am tempted to think that I am now an established Christian,–that I have overcome this or that lust so long,–that I have got into the habit of the opposite grace,–so that there is no fear; I may venture very near the temptation—nearer than other men. This is a lie of Satan. I might as well speak of gunpowder getting by habit a power of resisting fire, so as not to catch the spark. As long as powder is wet, it resists the spark; but when it becomes dry, it is ready to explode at the first touch. As long as the Spirit dwells in my heart He deadens me to sin, so that, if lawfully called through temptation, I may reckon upon God carrying me through. But when the Spirit leaves me, I am like dry gunpowder. Oh for a sense of this!”

and

One thing we may learn from these men of science, namely, to be as careful in marking the changes and progress of our own spirit, as they are in marking the changes of the weather. An hour should never pass without our looking up to God for forgiveness and peace. This is the noblest science, to know how to live in hourly communion with God in Christ.

McCheyne was ever focused outwardly on evangelism and doing the Lord’s work, while inwardly growing and studying in personal holiness.   The section on the trip to Palestine was especially interesting, for the descriptions of the Holy Land at that time as well as the simple background of how people traveled over 150 years ago – how long the journey actually took, and the physical hardships contrasted with the ease of traveling in our modern world:  extreme heat unknown in Scotland (and no air-conditioning), travel by camel (including an interesting description of how to mount and ride camels) and the ever-present fear of disease and death.  I had heard about this missionary trip, and after reading  about it in McCheyne’s biography, I am interested to read the actual published work about it (available online here  ), which Bonar also later mentions – the time that he and McCheyne set aside from their busy schedule, to complete the book for publication.  From McCheyne’s letters during the trip, here is one interesting description:

A foreign land draws us nearer God. He is the only one whom we know here. We go to Him as to one we know; all else is strange. Every step I take, and every new country I see, makes me feel more that there is nothing real, nothing true, but what is everlasting. The whole world lieth in wickedness! Its judgments are fast hastening. The marble palaces, among which I have been wandering to-night, shall soon sink like a millstone in the waters of God’s righteous anger; but he doeth the will of God abideth forever.” — Robert Murray McCheyne, 1839 — trip to Palestine.

Another topic presented in this book is a revival that began during their absence, and continued after their return at the end of 1839.  What little I had previously read about actual revivals was more historical observation, that evangelical Christianity up until about 1860 had a different view or mindset in reference to revival; revivals were more frequent, and more expected, but that the general trend changed starting in the 1860s—and Charles Spurgeon lived during this transition time, when modernism and liberalism began to take hold in the Christian church.  The presentation in McCheyne’s biography reflects this earlier time, and Bonar provided good insights into the actual revival and its impact, and the ending results afterward:

That many, who promised fair, drew back and walked no more with Jesus, is true. Out of about 800 souls who, during the months of the Revival, conversed with different ministers in apparent anxiety, no wonder surely if many proved to have been impressed only for a time…. The proportion of real conversions might resemble the proportion of blossoms in spring and fruit in autumn. Nor can anything be more unreasonable than to doubt the truth of all, because of the deceit of some. The world itself does not so act in judging of its own. The world reckons upon the possibility of being mistaken in many cases, and yet does not cease to believe that there is honesty and truth to be found.

McCheyne had a tremendously positive impact on the people around him – the many people who loved him, both at his own church as well as others who continually wanted him to come and speak at their churches, and his friends including Andrew Bonar.  This book provides a great introduction to this great young Christian man and his impact within the Christian church, and now his continued impact throughout history since his time.

Extreme Replacement Theology: Treatment of James 1:1

October 28, 2016 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Israel 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.

 

 

Israel and the Church (Book): the Second View (Dispensationalism)

March 31, 2015 3 comments

Continuing in “Perspectives on Israel and the Church,” the next view presented is “traditional dispensationalism.” This essay, by Robert Thomas, is well-written and presents Revised Dispensationalism, at least as it relates to the question of Israel and the Church. No mention is made of “classic dispensationalism” and its ideas such as the seven dispensations or two new covenants. The main points of the essay include a survey of various NT texts in support of the idea that Israel always means Israel and never “the church;” consideration of the historical covenants important to dispensationalism (Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants); and a look at several sections of the book of Revelation and how they reference both Israel and the Davidic covenant. Thomas also contrasts his ideas with those of three non-dispensational scholars – Greg Beale, David Aune, and Grant Osborne – with details concerning each of these men’s views of many texts in Revelation, often noting their inconsistent hermeneutics such as a mixture of futurism with idealism. More so than in Thomas’ response to the first (CT view) essay, this essay is well-grounded in scriptural references, with no generic phrases referencing dispensational presuppositions such as “the rapture of the church.” In fact, this essay makes no mention of the rapture or the dispensational idea regarding the Great Tribulation (the church gone and the separate group of “Tribulation” saints), instead writing only about the above topics.

For anyone interested in what traditional (revised) dispensationalism believes regarding Israel and the Church, I recommend reading of this essay, as one presenting the view positively and explaining its ideas with scripture references – as opposed to the many anti-dispensational presentations (as with the first essay, noted in the previous post) which only interact with ideas not even true of revised dispensationalism.

Responses to the Traditional Dispensationalism View

As before, I found the CT writer (Robert Reymond) rather disappointing: his response really did not interact with Thomas’ essay, but consisted of a look at the gospel passages which speak of Israel’s judgment for their unbelief, including some of Christ’s later parables, to “prove” that God is through with Israel, followed by general statements of theology (but really lacking in serious scripture references), as though saying it were enough to settle the matter, that nothing in the Bible agrees with and proves premillennialism or Israel’s future. This response ends with a “summary” of Jesus’ eschatology as envisioning two ages, including statements such as this one — this present (evil) age and the age to come of the new heaven and new earth—as comprehending the remainder of time as we know it. He said nothing about a third, intermediate period or millennial age following this age – followed by general statement about what is true and important regarding Christ’s return, and our hope is in the fact of Christ’s return.

Both the PD response (Robert Saucy) and the Progressive Covenantal response provide points of interest, notably regarding the idea of the One People of God. Both Saucy and Brand/Pratt note the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God, as with Ephesians 2-3, and disagree with the dispensational teaching that the Church is not presently participating in the New Covenant (only Israel in the future will participate in the New Covenant). The PD essay, predictably, notes the main point of difference between revised and progressive dispensationalism: the idea that Christ is presently reigning “in a spiritual sense” upon the Davidic throne – in addition to future literal fulfillment. Brand and Pratt give their reasons for why Christ in the gospel accounts did not mention the Old Testament land promises, point out the one people of God from Ephesians 2-3 as well as 1 Peter 2:9, and allow the possibility of a future millennial age and/or the eternal state, but emphasize Christ’s “fulfillment” of Old Testament Israel: The Servant who would bring about this transformation is the Lord, and that transformation is already-but-not-yet and will be finalized either in the millennium, the eternal state, or both. Another good point brought up in this response is one I noted from S. Lewis Johnson’s teaching a few years ago: in contrast to the dispensational view, the real “parenthesis” or intercalation is not the church age, but the Mosaic economy.

Next time:  Robert Saucy’s essay, the Progressive Dispensational View of Israel and the Church.

 

Israel and the Church (Book): The Covenantal View And Responses

March 26, 2015 3 comments

Following up on this previous post, my summary thoughts on the presentation of – and responses to – the first view, of (paedobaptist type) Covenant Theology.

I found this essay disappointing in several ways, most notably in its presentation of only one particular variation of CT (of which there are a few other variations) and its interaction with a non-standard version of dispensationalism.

As previously noted, this book omits the Baptist CT view. However, the CT view presented here is more specifically the paedobaptist, amillennial with no future for Israel (Romans 11 refers only to the salvation of Jews during this age) variety. This may be the most common view today (since most who hold to CT are paedo and amill), but more knowledgeable readers are aware of the variations within each of the systems, including the views held earlier in Reformed history. Yet this essay gives no indication of other variations, instead presenting just the one view and grouping together unrelated issues including even arguments against premillennialism itself (which is really a separate topic unrelated to the question of Israel and the Church).  Indeed, given that separate essays are provided for the three other views, all of which have a common starting point and certain things in common, I suggest that this book would have been better done as “Six Views,” with three “Covenant Theology” views: Paedobaptist CT, Baptist CT, and Covenantal Premill (its features unrelated to whether infant or believer’s baptism).

The CT essay further hinders its case – in terms of acceptance by those from a dispensational background – by addressing only a non-standard view of dispensationalism: the John Hagee view that current-day Israel is the fulfillment of OT biblical prophecy. Several paragraphs “refute” Hagee’s idea with the “answer” that those OT prophecies were fulfilled in the post-exilic period. The mention of Hagee, and no mention of or interaction with other notable dispensational teachers (as for instance John MacArthur), is a likely turn-off to the majority of dispensationalists, who do not agree with Hagee’s dispensationalism to begin with.

Responses to the CT essay

I find Robert Saucy’s response (Progressive Dispensational) the best written, both in its explanation of what PD believes and in addressing the CT essay misrepresentations. His scriptural references related to the future for ethnic Israel and basic premillennialism are explained well, and without reference to a “system” with “standard responses” – as contrasted with the Classic Disp response, which includes many such “standard response” statements, of “events” that “will transpire after the rapture of the church.”

Of interest, Saucy has no problem with the actual construction of the theological covenants of CT in and of themselves —  and further identifies the problem with the current-day paedo-construct of CT: the problem comes up when these theological covenants, which are essentially timeless—they apply to all human history—are made to level out all of the history of salvation. Though not dealt with in more detail, as I understand this is indeed the current-day paedo-CT approach, going beyond even what is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith (which references only the Old, Mosaic covenant): that all of the biblical covenants of the Old Testament are administrations of the covenant of grace, thus flattening all of Old Testament history to put undue emphasis only on soteriology. I do not agree with all of Saucy’s views, including what is implied in his statements about what OT saints did or did not understand, but his response-essay is excellent in its explanations regarding several topics of what PD believes, including the future restoration of Israel, premillenialism itself, and the PD understanding of Israel and the Church with emphasis on their functions (instead of strict and exclusive reference to salvation of both groups) within God’s purposes.

The “Progressive Covenantal” (New Covenant Theology) response was the least helpful, as it mainly focused on the issue of infant baptism, providing scriptural reasons in support of believers’ baptism and rejecting CT for its “genealogical principle,” a topic that the CT essay only briefly mentioned.  This response does briefly state its position regarding the church as neither a replacement nor the continuation of Israel “but as something unique, which requires that we think of ethnic Israel as distinct from the church,” an idea undoubtedly developed more fully in their own essay later in the book.  Still, with the main focus on refuting infant baptism, this group continues a pattern I have observed (as have others): a persistent unwillingness to engage the Baptist Covenant Theology view, an incorrect idea that CT is synonymous with paedobaptism (and thus CT does not exist apart from infant baptism), refusing to acknowledge that CT also exists in the credo-baptist form yet with the same basic ideas regarding the one people of God and continuance of the moral law.

Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views (New Book Available)

March 19, 2015 6 comments

4viewsbookA new book on an interesting topic, which I recently purchased for my Kindle:  Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views

The four views dealt with in this book: traditional (paedobaptist) Covenant Theology, classic dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism, and a type of “New Covenant Theology” variation, the “Progressive Covenantal” view. The book consists of four essays, one from the proponent of each of the views, along with three responses to each essay, one from each of the other three scholars. The scholars are not all that well-known, though Robert Saucy for the progressive dispensational view is a well-known name.

So far I have only read through the introduction and part of the first chapter; more posts to follow concerning any interesting points in the later reading.

It would have been nice to see the Baptist Covenant Theology view included: a traditional covenantal view that does not include the “genealogical principle” often mentioned in this book. As usual, the dispensational and NCT views here only interact with the paedo-baptist type of CT, with valid points in response to the covenant-child / infant baptism theology – yet ignoring the just as well-developed Baptist covenant theology. Other sources must supply the answer to that question (Israel and the Church) for CT baptists, such as the writings of Charles Spurgeon for one view, or Pascal Denault’s “The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology”  (which does briefly present an amillennial replacement idea, the Baptist CT “system” that rejects the literal fulfillment of the land promises).

Aside from the noted shortcoming, the book so far appears to be a good resource for general overview of this question: how do each of these “four views” think of Israel and the church and their relationship to each other?