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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.

Hermeneutics: The More Literal Your Understanding, the More Spiritual Your Condition

January 23, 2015 2 comments

Lately I have been reading through past issues of the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony’s “Watching and Waiting” quarterly newsletter (back to 2012), and find the following quote very insightful, a concise expression of many truths regarding hermeneutics and our Christian walk:

The antithesis of ‘spiritual’ is ‘natural.’ The antithesis of ‘literal’ is ‘figurative.’ We believe that these are important distinctions which God’s people should understand clearly. We would contend that the more literal you are in your understanding of God’s precious Word, the more spiritual is your state. We have always understood that God means what He says and says what He means. When a person puts a figurative interpretation on the words of Scripture (and calls it a spiritual interpretation) it is possible to make the Bible say anything. That is exactly what the modernist and liberal theologians love. — James Payne; quote in Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony “Watching & Waiting,” (Jul-Sept. 2012)

So well said, a very good point applicable to all biblical teaching – prophecy and many other areas. Certainly in discussion of doctrine with other believers, we can see a scale of relative degrees of literal understanding; many believers are inconsistent in their hermeneutics. Here is a list of several non-salvific doctrines, which some people interpret literally while others spiritualize/allegorize (“a figurative interpretation … and calls it a spiritual interpretation”). This is not an exhaustive list, and certainly it could be expanded to minor doctrines, such as whether one believes Jesus used literal wine – or spiritualized (figurative) to mean a non-alcoholic variation.

  • Creation (the beginning)
  • Eschatology (millennial views)
  • Israel in the purpose of God (including future)
  • The “Sabbath principle” of one day of seven set aside (Lord’s Day Observance)
  • Existence and purpose of Old Testament Israel (spiritualized by NCT that they never were a believing people but only a “type” of New Testament believers)

The quote from Payne notes the scale with a range — “the more literal….” — as well as the logical consequence of non-literal hermeneutics: that it is possible to make the Bible say anything. Here we also see the reason why the literal person is more spiritual: the root of trusting God in His promises, that God really “means what He says and says what He means.”

From my own admittedly small sample, of fellow believers in my daily life, I have observed the outcome of what Payne so well describes, including extreme cases of believers who spiritualize all five doctrines above. Many believers are inconsistent, taking a literal understanding of some doctrines but not of others; the common ground provides a basis for fellowship in that we at least agree upon some teachings. Calvinist dispensationalists typically will affirm four out of five of the above list (excepting the Sabbath principle), though even there some groups, such as the “Institute for Creation Research” also teaches that idea. Though many of today’s confessional Reformed Baptists reject premillennialism and a future purpose for Israel, yet — in keeping with overall Reformed Protestant teaching (only they have forgotten the premillennialism of the original Reformed including many of the Westminster Divines) and in contrast with today’s NCT Calvinist Baptists, affirm three of the five (creation, the Sabbath principle and the basic unity of God’s people: that the Mosaic economy really did include actual believers and that Israel really did receive the covenant promises).

But what about the person who takes a “spiritual” interpretation of all five of the above doctrines? Payne’s analysis seems especially “spot-on,” as it is this person who comes across as being very natural-minded in general life and attitude toward the scriptures. From the sample of people I know in this category: the plagues described in Revelation are the result of man’s technology (nuclear and/or chemical war instead of God’s wrath similar to His mighty acts in the book of Exodus); great reliance on man’s medical science to provide miracle drug cures (a correlation to their equal emphasis on man’s knowledge for old-earth creation ideas)– here reflecting the mindset of a person who does not really understand “God means what He says and says what He means.” What does it say about someone (in this category) who quips a reversal on a common saying: “most of us are too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good” (an assertion I would dispute; one may speak for himself, but should not assume that others really think in the same terms and thus conclude that most others are really “too earthly minded”)? Again this correlates to Payne’s observation: those who (in many doctrinal areas, not just one or two) put a figurative interpretation (the opposite of literal) and call it spiritual, are really making the Bible say anything — and showing tendencies toward modernist, liberal theology.

 

Prophecy and Application: Principle (Alva McClain) In Practice (Spurgeon)

March 20, 2013 2 comments

From my recent readings — Alva McClain’s The Greatness of the Kingdom and sequential reading through Charles Spurgeon sermons — comes a rather interesting parallel: a stated principle from McClain, followed by a good example of that principle in the same day’s Spurgeon sermon reading.

In McClain’s chapter concerning “The Nature and Interpretation of Prophecy,” (p. 141), comes this great point:

just as in any proper interpretation of Old Testament history Joseph is always Joseph and not Christ, even so in prophecy Israel is always Israel and never the Church. This does not mean that the preacher may never take a prophecy concerning Israel and apply it to the Church.  But he should always know what he is talking about, and make certain that his hearers know, so that there can be no possible confusion between the history and its typical application, or between a prophecy and any so-called “typical interpretation.” (emphasis in original)

Next came Spurgeon sermon #399, “A Peal of Bells.”
I’m not sure that Spurgeon necessarily made application specifically to the Church, but clearly he made application to our everyday lives in this age (and a very good and convicting sermon, too).  But before expanding on his application in his textual style of preaching, Spurgeon first explained the primary meaning and focus of his text, Zechariah 14:20:

There are days yet to come for whose advent we may well be eager!  There is the day when Ephraim shall not envy Judah, nor Judah vex Ephraim—for all the Church of Christ shall be one in spirit. There is the day when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. There is the day, too, when Israel shall be restored to its own land—when its country shall be called no more desolate, but Beulah; and no more forsaken, but Hephzibah shall its name be—for the Lord delights in it. There is specially the day of the Second Advent —that day of days for which I think all other days that went before were made, that day which shall be the summing up, the total of all ages—for the fullness of time shall come—and Christ, in the fullness of His Glory shall reign among the sons of men.

Yes, Spurgeon, as a covenantal premillennialist, described some things in different terms than I would use, such as the statement “for all the Church of Christ shall be one in spirit” at the end of the second sentence.  Still, though, he explained and expressed his understanding that these events are “days yet to come,” as contrasted with the now past events of the First Advent (in the sentences preceding the above quote).  The primary meaning and the application are thus both clearly presented.  Also I consider that if Spurgeon had immediately launched into his application part without first explaining the literal meaning of the passage, such approach would have greatly distracted me from appreciating the application, burdened with the though, “that’s not what the text is about.”

Spurgeon here further revealed his literal approach to the word of God, avoiding the time-compression error so well described by McClain a few pages earlier:

we shall find in Old Testament prophecy no absolutely continuous and unbroken chronology of the future.  The prophets often saw together on the screen of revelation certain events which in their fulfillment would be greatly separated by centuries of time. This characteristic, so strange to Western minds, was in perfect harmony with the Oriental mind which was not greatly concerned with continuous chronology.  And the Bible, humanly speaking, is an Oriental book.

The unyielding determination of numerous commentators to pour the events of Old Testament prophecy into a rigid mould of unbroken time, has led to disastrous results. … it has led directly to a scheme of interpretations which is the main foundation of highly erroneous eschatological systems.
(Concerning Isaiah 9:6-7):  now consider what happens if an unbroken mould of continuous time is clamped on the prophecy. Because the regal Child did not immediately take the literal throne of David to rule the world, it is argued that such a thing will never come to pass. And then, to preserve the assumption of unbroken time-sequence which cannot allow room for any literal fulfillment of the second part of the prophecy at some future time, the throne of David on earth is changed into the throne of God in heaven, and Messiah’s reign is reduced to the “influence of the Gospel or the rule of God in the “hearts of men.” (emphasis in original)

Hermeneutics: On Being “More Spiritual Than God”

January 21, 2013 9 comments

Recently in the comments at Fred Butler’s blog, an amillennialist expressed many thoughts including this one:

if the passages that speak of Israel in a kingdom in which they dwell in a land in which everyone “sits under a fig tree” for example is the real meaning of the Bible then I see that as a problem. If bearing fruit that glorifies Christ is reduced to having a fruit garden then I have missed the gist of the Bible. Far better for such passages to be illustrating the fruitful spiritual kingdom of the Spirit filled age in which through Christ we have been enabled to bear real fruit then to see the culmination of the ages as living over in Palestine.

The phrase referenced here is found in Micah 4:4, with a similar thought in Zechariah 3:10.  The first thing to note here, of course, is that we already have many scriptures that talk about our bearing spiritual fruit for God, as for instance Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 5, Colossians 1, and Philippians 1:10-11.

The Old Testament as well addresses this subject, especially in the book of Proverbs (in numerous places in that book alone), but even in places such as 2 Kings 19:30.  So the suggestion that a literal interpretation of Micah 4:4 and related Old Testament passages requires that “bearing fruit that glorifies Christ is reduced to having a fruit garden” is foolish.  Of course we recognize the truth revealed in the scripture, all of the scriptures including the importance and greatness of bearing spiritual fruit that glorifies Christ. A literal interpretation of “sits under a fig tree” in NO WAY takes away from that truth, but gives us additional revelation about another topic (since spiritual fruit-bearing has already been addressed in numerous other scriptures).  Our hermeneutics are not driven by an either/or but a Both/And — both the bearing fruit that glorifies Christ, and Israel having their kingdom and literal peace.  A further question to ask would be: what is the purpose of even having those Old Testament prophecies with descriptions about a wonderful time of peace, if all they have to tell us is the same thing we’ve already been told, in unmistakably clear language in many texts elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments?

Such a comment reminds me of Dan Phillips’ classic post (25 Stupid Reasons for Dissing Dispensationalism), reason #9: “It isn’t a spiritual hermeneutic.”  When God said Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), He knew it meant “house of bread” — but He meant the city anyway.  

Dan gives an example of what a spiritualizing hermeneutic would have done to the prophecies regarding Christ’s First Coming – and indeed we have the advantage of looking back, that we realize that all of the prophecies concerning Christ’s First Coming were fulfilled literally. (So why should anyone think that the prophecies of the Second Coming will NOT be fulfilled literally?) Christ really was born in Bethlehem, and He really did ride on a donkey, etc.  But to take the same symbolic hermeneutic applied to the Second Coming prophecies, to the First Coming prophecies, would come up with something like Dan well described: “What God is really saying would have been perfectly clear to the Jews. It was symbolic. Messiah would come from ‘the house for bread,’ from the storehouse of God’s spiritual nourishment, and He would give life, as bread does. Those wooden literalists who look for fulfillment in an actual city are perverting the Word to their carnal imaginations.’”

Why does God’s word include so many passages that seem to us very “unspiritual” (and even boring), such as the many sections in the Old Testament (and a few in the gospels) with nothing but genealogies and lists of names?  Could it be that God is actually interested in us human beings, even in our “carnal” lives, and He thinks these things are important and part of His revealed word to us?  Of course the Bible does not include only that which is strictly “spiritual” and non-physical, and we are not to twist the literal meaning of God’s word simply because we think a certain passage is too “carnal” and ordinary, insisting that that passage must have some greater, deeper, “spiritual” meaning instead.  Trying to be more spiritual than God is indeed a foolish thing to do.

Zechariah 14 and God’s Divine Purpose

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve just finished S. Lewis Johnson’s series through Zechariah.  Zechariah 14 is of course one of the great OT chapters with so much to say about the Second Coming and the Kingdom.  Dr. Johnson noted the problems of spiritualizing, and the importance of recognizing the difference between figures of speech used within a passage, and wholesale allegorizing or spiritualizing to alter the meaning to something else; Zechariah 14 is an especially difficult passage to spiritualize.

Here is a great quote from him, regarding the believers and the missionaries in Korea in the early 20th century  (from the later transcript, second series in Zechariah:

C. G. Trumbull who was at one time associated with the Sunday-School Times took a trip to Korea where a tremendous work of evangelization had taken place in the early part of this century.  In fact, there was a great revival there and Mr. Trumbull was interested in the way in which they had responded to the word of God concerning the second coming of Christ.  And so, he asked one of the Koreans whether the Korean Christians believed in the second coming of Christ.  And he received this answer, “Oh, yes, they believe the Bible.  It’s only when some missionaries come and tell them something different that they begin to have any doubts.”

When one reads the Bible and reads in its normal plain speaking then, I think, the answer usually is, we sense there’s going to be some great disturbances in the future, we see that the Lord Jesus Christ is going to come, we see that he is going to fulfill the promises that he has made to the nation Israel, and we see he’s going to rule and reign upon the earth.  That seems to be the simple reading of the word of God.

Actually, I agree that Zechariah 14 is difficult to spiritualize, and yet of course the allegorizers persist in doing so, since the imagination can come up with so much — yet such treatment leaves the text with nothing of its original plain meaning, becoming instead the inspired version of the “exalted” human teacher who tells us what God really meant to say.

Here are some great recent articles regarding Zechariah 14, from Michael Vlach:

As I’m finding out through a study through Hebrews (also with S. Lewis Johnson),  that book also has many references to the Second Coming, including the Kingdom age.  The OT scriptures quoted in chapter 1 are filled with references to the Davidic covenant and Israel’s future.  Hebrews 2 quotes Psalm 8, a great psalm regarding man’s intended dominion over the earth:  something begun in Genesis 1, but we do not now see it; we will see it in the kingdom.  S. Lewis Johnson specifically noted that in Hebrews 2:5 (which introduces the citation of Psalm 8 ) the words “the world to come” do not refer to this age (the church), and do not refer to the Eternal State, but to the kingdom of God upon the earth.

As Michael Vlach also noted in the third blog article link above:

These conditions of Zechariah 14 can only occur in an intermediate kingdom between the present age and the eternal state. While people from all nations are being saved in the church age, the nations themselves do not obey our Lord (see Psalm 2). In fact, they persecute those who belong to the Lord. In the coming kingdom Jesus will rule the nations while He is physically present on earth. The nations will obey and submit to His rule, but as Zechariah 14 points out, whenever a nation does not act as they should there is punishment. On the other hand, in the eternal state there will be absolutely no disobedience on the part of the nations. The picture of the nations in the eternal state is only positive. The kings of the nations bring their contributions to the New Jerusalem (see Rev 21:24) and the leaves of the tree of life are said to be for the healing of the nations (see Rev 22:2).

The Proper Way to “Find Christ in the Text”

June 2, 2011 Leave a comment

While listening to one of S. Lewis Johnson’s messages through the prophet Micah, I heard a sermon illustration — a story — that I’ve heard often at the local church.  Or rather, I thought I had heard that story before.  But Johnson included the full account, which makes far more sense than the shortened version, along with greater explanation.

Both versions have the first part: an account of a young preacher who preached a sermon in the presence of an older preacher.  The young man asked the older preacher what he thought of his sermon, and the old man told him it was a poor sermon; the reason was that the young man had not preached Christ in the message.  The young man replied that, well, Christ was not in the text.

Here, the shortened version, from a pastor known to allegorize and spiritualize texts to “find Christ” — including ways not at all clear from a text itself — simply adds that “you always find Christ in the text,” and that’s the first and most important thing to do.  Then follow a few sentences of praise about how wonderful Christ is, and that’s what the sermon must be about, the refrain about “nothing but Christ and Him crucified.”

But here is the full version:

The old preacher said, Don’t you know, young man, that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England there is a road that goes to London?

Yes, said the young man.

Aye, said the old preacher, and so from every text in Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures that is Christ.  And my dear brother, your business is when you go to a text to say: Now what is the road to Christ?  And then preach a sermon running along the road toward the great metropolis, Christ.  And he said, I have never yet found a text that had not a plain and direct road to Christ in it.  And if I ever should find one that had no such road, I’d make a road.  I’d run over the hedge and ditch but I would get at my master.  For a sermon is neither fit for the land nor yet for the dunghill unless there is a savor of Christ in it.

As SLJ then further explained:

I think that’s what our Lord meant when he was speaking in Luke chapter 24 and saying to the disciples on the Emmaus road, Don’t you realize that in all of the Old Testament we have teaching concerning Christ?  And beginning at Moses and the prophets, he spoke unto them in all things of himself.  Later on in that chapter, the psalms are mentioned as well.  So that all of the Old Testament is one vast testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ and ultimately it is difficult to find any text in the Bible that will not ultimately bring you to Jesus Christ.  He was right.  And if we miss that, we do miss something that is very important.

Mr. Spurgeon said that whenever he opened up a text, he always went straight across country to Jesus Christ.  That was the way he preached.  It’s proper of course to give the grammatical historical meaning of a text.  No one wants to skip that.  I surely don’t want to skip that.  But also, I want to be sure that what I am going to say about a text is ultimately going to have to do with him who makes all texts meaningful for us, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Heaven: Spiritual Vision or New Creation

May 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Michael Vlach’s recent blogs have articulated something I had sensed but was unable to define and put into words.  At the local church (and probably common at many churches), heaven is mentioned infrequently and in a somewhat-detached way:  we want to live out our lives here and go to heaven when we die, yet with no joy of the anticipation of our blessed Hope that Christ will return and bring us to Him (ref. John 14:3 and 1 Thess. 4).  The topic of heaven comes up (as recently), only when a few members of the congregation are afflicted with cancer and facing physical difficulties ahead.  We hear platitudes about how we must endure, that God be glorified in the lives of those afflicted with cancer, and talk about ultimately going to a place of peace and rest.  Yet throughout I get the distinct impression that they really would prefer living here as long as possible, that they are not really longing for heaven–only that the idea has been thrust upon them due to physical distress.  No mention is made of the resurrection and our physical bodies, but only of “heaven” — by which they mean the biblical place of paradise (our intermediate state, before the Second Coming and the resurrection).

Listening to such a seemingly disinterested perception of heaven, I am reminded of Barry Horner’s observation concerning the heavenly city Jerusalem.  Contrary to what the standard Reformed amillennialist thinks about Hebrews 11:10, nothing in that text states or implies that the “real” land of promise is only a spiritual name for heaven, or that the city Abraham was looking forward to is confined to a non-physical location up in heaven.  Rather, Abraham desired the place where God was — and such is not to be confined to a non-material place.  The real point is to be in the presence of God: and that can be here on the renovated Earth during the kingdom, or on the new Earth (Revelation 21), just as easily as in present-day heaven.

At Vlach’s site, two recent postings about “Models of Eschatology” have defined the two ideas regarding heaven:  the “Spiritual Vision” model  and the “New Creation” model.  The “Spiritual Vision” model describes the inherent philosophy and thinking behind such disinterested attitudes so commonly observed among church-goers:

The spiritual vision model was inherently linked to allegorical and spiritual methods of interpretation that were opposed to literal interpretation based on historical-grammatical contexts. Blaising also notes that the spiritual vision model “was intimately connected with practices of ‘spiritual interpretation’ that were openly acknowledged to be contrary to the literal meaning of the words being interpreted.”  “The long term practice of reading Scripture in this way so conditioned the Christian mind that by the late Middle Ages, the spiritual vision model had become an accepted fact of the Christian worldview.”

By contrast, the “New Creation” model describes the biblical view of heaven — that which Barry Horner has referred to as “spiritual materiality.”  This model “emphasizes the physical, social, political, and geographical aspects of eternal life. It emphasizes a coming new earth, the renewal of life on this new earth, bodily resurrection, and social and political interactions among the redeemed.”

This approach follows the language of passages like Isaiah 25, 65, 66; Revelation 21; and Romans 8 which speak of a regenerated earth. A new creation model emphasizes the future relevance of matters such as renewal of the world and universe, nations, kings, economics, agriculture, and social-political issues. In sum, a new creation model operates on the belief that life in the future kingdom of God is largely similar to God’s purposes for the creation before the fall of Adam, which certainly involved more than just a spiritual element. Thus, the final Heaven is not an ethereal spiritual presence in the sky. As Russell D. Moore points out, “The point of the gospel is not that we would go to heaven when we die. Instead, it is that heaven will come down, transforming and renewing the earth and the entire universe.”

Little wonder that so many church-goers are more focused on this life and enjoying it, when their notions of the after-life are associated with a very non-physical “spiritual presence in the sky.”  Certainly we cannot understand very much about heaven, thinking from our limited mortal understanding, but the “new creation” model — the view expressed in so many great scripture passages about the future kingdom and eternal state — gives us a few glimpses into wonders far greater than anything we can imagine, especially imaginations limited to non-physical Platonic ideas.

J.C. Ryle: The Lord Jesus During this Present Dispensation — Like David in 1 Samuel

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment

From “Coming Events and Present Duties,” chapter 2 “Occupy Till I Come”:

The Lord Jesus during the present dispensation is like David between the time of His anointing and Saul’s death. He has the promise of the kingdom, but He has not yet received the crown and throne (1 Sam. 22:1, 2).

He is followed by a few, and those often neither great nor wise, but they are a faithful people. He is persecuted by His enemies, and oft times driven into the wilderness, and yet His party is never quite destroyed. But He has none of the visible signs of the kingdom at present: no earthly glory, majesty, greatness, obedience. The vast majority of mankind see no beauty in Him: they will not have this man to reign over them. His people are not honored for their Master’s sake: they walk the earth like princes in disguise. His kingdom is not yet come: His will is not yet done on earth excepting by a little flock. It is not the day of His power. The Lord Jesus is biding His time.

Reader, I entreat you to grasp firmly this truth, for truth I believe it to be. Great delusion abounds on the subject of Christ’s kingdom. Take heed lest any man deceive you by purely traditional teachings about prophetical truth. Hymns are composed and sung which darken God’s counsel on this subject by words without knowledge. Texts are wrested from their true meaning, and accommodated to the present order of things, which are not justly applicable to any but the period of the second advent. Beware of the mischievous infection of this habit of text-wresting. Beware of the sapping effect of beautiful poetry, in which unfulfilled promises of glory are twisted and adapted to the present dispensation. Settle it down in your mind that Christ’s kingdom is yet to come. His arrows are not yet sharp in the hearts of His enemies. The day of His power has not yet begun. He is gathering out a people to carry the cross and walk in His steps; but the time of His coronation has not yet arrived. But just as the Lord Jesus, like the nobleman, “went to receive a kingdom,” so, like the nobleman, the Lord Jesus intends one day “to return.”

Luke 1 and Premillennialism: Christ’s Kingdom Upon the Earth

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s the Christmas season again, so I just listened to S. Lewis Johnson’s message on Luke 1:26-38 (the announcement to Mary, of the birth of the Messiah).  In the midst of this message, delivered in 1970, comes the following great words concerning Christ’s future kingdom:

I am constantly surprised that people can read the Bible and do not see that our Lord is to have a kingdom upon this earth.  I do not see how it is possible to freely read the word of God and not come to that conclusion.  I think of a story which I read almost twenty-five years ago of a conversation that took place between a Jewish man who had studied a little bit of the New Testament and a Christian clergyman who was a believer in Jesus Christ but was an amillenialist.  That is, he did not believe that there would be an earthly kingdom in the future.  And he was trying to get the Jewish man to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

And the Jewish man turned to Luke chapter 1, verse 32 and he asked the clergyman, he said, “Do you believe that what is here written about the Messiah is to be literally accomplished, that God is going to give unto him the throne of his father David?” and the Christian minister said, “No I do not.  I rather take it to be a figurative language, descriptive of Christ’s spiritual reign over the church.”  Then replied the Jew, “Neither do I believe literally verse 31 in which it is stated that ‘a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son and they shall call his name Jesus.’  I rather take this to be merely a figurative manner of describing the remarkable character for purity which the Son of God, according to this text, shall have.  But why” the Jew continued, “do you take verses 32 and 33 figuratively, while you believe implicitly that verse 31 is to be fulfilled literally?”  And the clergyman replied, “I believe in the virgin birth because it is a fact.”  And the Jew said, “Ah, I see the difference.  You believe in Scripture because it is a fact, I believe in Scripture because it is the word of God.”  And the Jewish man had overthrown the Christian clergyman.

Some Great Thoughts from J.C. Ryle

May 18, 2010 2 comments

Following are several excerpts from J.C. Ryle’s sermons, published in his book “Coming Events and Present Duties“.

And now, is there any one among the readers of this address who cannot receive the doctrine of Christ’s second advent and kingdom? I invite that man to consider the subject calmly and dispassionately. Dismiss from your mind traditional interpretations. Separate the doctrine from the mistakes and blunders of many who hold it. Do not reject the foundation because of the wood, hay, and stubble which some have built upon it. Do not condemn it and cast it aside because of injudicious friends. Only examine the texts which speak of it, as calmly and fairly as you weigh tests in the Romish, Arian, or Socinian controversies, and I am hopeful as to the result of your mind. Alas, if texts of Scripture were always treated as unceremoniously as I have known texts to be treated by those who dislike the doctrine of Christ’s second advent, I should indeed tremble for the cause of truth!

. . .

I believe it is high time for the Church of Christ to awake out of its sleep about Old Testament prophecy. From the time of the old Father, Jerome, down to the present day, men have gone on in a pernicious habit of “spiritualizing” the words of the Prophets, until their true meaning has been well nigh buried.  It is high time to fall back on the good old principle that Scripture generally means what it seems to mean, and to beware of that semi-skeptical argument, “such and such an interpretation cannot be correct, because it seems to us “carnal!”

It is high time for Christians to interpret unfulfilled prophecy by the light of prophecies already fulfilled. The curses on the Jews were brought to pass literally: so also will be the blessings. The scattering was literal: so also will be the gathering. The pulling down of Zion was literal: so also will be the building up. The rejection of Israel was literal: so also will be the restoration.

. . .

The Lord Jesus during the present dispensation is like David between the time of His anointing and Saul’s death. He has the promise of the kingdom, but He has not yet received the crown and throne (1 Sam. 22:1, 2).

He is followed by a few, and those often neither great nor wise, but they are a faithful people. He is persecuted by His enemies, and oft times driven into the wilderness, and yet His party is never quite destroyed. But He has none of the visible signs of the kingdom at present: no earthly glory, majesty, greatness, obedience. The vast majority of mankind see no beauty in Him: they will not have this man to reign over them. His people are not honored for their Master’s sake: they walk the earth like princes in disguise. His kingdom is not yet come: His will is not yet done on earth excepting by a little flock. It is not the day of His power. The Lord Jesus is biding His time.

Reader, I entreat you to grasp firmly this truth, for truth I believe it to be. Great delusion abounds on the subject of Christ’s kingdom. Take heed lest any man deceive you by purely traditional teachings about prophetical truth. Hymns are composed and sung which darken God’s counsel on this subject by words without knowledge. Texts are wrested from their true meaning, and accommodated to the present order of things, which are not justly applicable to any but the period of the second advent. Beware of the mischievous infection of this habit of text-wresting. Beware of the sapping effect of beautiful poetry, in which unfulfilled promises of glory are twisted and adapted to the present dispensation. Settle it down in your mind that Christ’s kingdom is yet to come. His arrows are not yet sharp in the hearts of His enemies. The day of His power has not yet begun. He is gathering out a people to carry the cross and walk in His steps; but the time of His coronation has not yet arrived. But just as the Lord Jesus, like the nobleman, “went to receive a kingdom,” so, like the noble-man, the Lord Jesus intends one day “to return.”

. . .

Beware of that system of allegorizing, and spiritualizing, and accommodating, which the school of Origen first brought in, in the Church. In reading the authorized version of the English Bible, do not put too much confidence in the “headings” of pages and “tables of contents” at the beginning of chapters, which I take leave to consider a most unhappy accompaniment of that admirable translation. Remember that those headings and tables of contents were drawn up by uninspired hands. In reading the Prophets, they are sometimes not helps, but hindrances and less likely to assist a reader than to lead him astray. 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.