Saturday, March 16, 2019

Providence

To understand God's providence more, let's look at 1 Samuel 23:

David is on the run from Saul, who wants to take his life. At the same time, the inhabitants of Keilah are being plundered by the Philistines. David does not know what to do, because fighting the Philistines is extremely dangerous, so he asks God. God tells him to fight. David does, and he wins. Here is an example of David willingly submitting his will to God's will. He asks what God's providence will be, and God tells him. He submits (23:1-5).

The next scene has Saul knowing about the deliverance of Keilah and amassing his army to go besiege David. This is such an interesting scene: Saul's will it to take David and destroy Keilah. David asks God what will happen. God tells him if he stays in Keilah, the people there will turn him over to Saul. David decided, on this information, to leave Keilah. Saul hears about it, and does not come to Keilah at all (23:7-14). It appears God has given David an alternate future, one that was conditional, and when David made his decision, God changed the future accordingly. Some theologians say this means the God not only knows the future, but he knows all possible futures as well.  After meditating on these verses, I have reached a different conclusion: God never sees the future; God causes the future to happen. Yes, he has foreknowledge, but his knowledge is of what he, himself, is going to do. Providence now transforms from a deistic, natural set of occurrences into a focused, powerful set of ordained actions on the part of God. God is not impotently sitting on the sidelines and waiting for us to make our moves, cheering us on when we make the right moves and crying when we make the wrong ones.  He didn't have two possible futures that he knew and let David decide his fate. No, he give David a deeper glimpse into providence to show him how it works.  If your will wins, he tells David, this is what would happen, but my will will always win. My will will have victory. Providence is God's will being played out without causing violence to our own wills.  But his will is always played out, because he wills the good of those who love him.

The third instance shows this. David has left Keilah and is running around in the wilderness to avoid Saul.  Saul has surrounded David, surely he will get him.  But then a messenger comes to Saul, telling him that the Philistines have made a raid on his own land. So Saul departs. Here is God's providence working itself out. He did not control Saul's actions.  He did not control David's actions. Capture was certain, but God's providence ordained the Philistines to attack Saul's land at that time, and the message came to Saul at that moment. God did not control the Philistines, but he made them, and he knows their nature, and he knew how they would act, and he set up secondary causes to influence their attack on Saul at that time.  God did not control the messenger, but he set up secondary causes so that the messenger would reach Saul with the news at the exact right time. This is how providence works. He caused the events to happen without infringing on the free will of the people involved.

David retreats to a cave and there writes Psalm 57, where he reveals his understanding of God's providence:

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches him who tramples upon me.
God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.

To God who accomplishes all things for me. Romans 8:28 reads, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose." We see this in the ultimate good for those who love God: namely the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In Mark 8:31, Christ teaches his disciples the he must suffer, and he must be rejected by his own people, and he must be killed, and he must rise again. This is not God predicting the future but ordaining it.  These things must happen. They will happen, and nothing we will can interfere with God's plan. In fact, God's plan is carried out with the aid of our wills, because he made our natures, and he knows how we will behave and act. When Peter attempts to exert his own will over Christ's, Jesus tells him to, "get behind me, Satan!" His will will not be infringed. Once again: God does not foresee the future. He causes the future to happen. We have free will, but God's will supersedes our wills.

Jesus did not force Judas to betray him. Jesus picked Judas to be an apostle, because he knew he would betray him. He didn't see Judas betraying him in the future. He knew Judas' heart, and knew it would be his nature and will to betray him. Think of someone stronger then you. His will is going to win in a battle, because he is more powerful. He has not taken over your will; he does not control your actions like a pawn on a chessboard. He just has his way. You are allowed to exercise your will to the extent where it doesn't interfere with his. Think of renting an apartment. You can decorate the apartment with whatever you wish, live your life in it however you wish, but you can never sell the apartment. It's not yours to sell; it is the owner's. And if he plans to sell it to a developer, who is going to tear it down, you have no say. You just have to leave when the time comes. If you decide to stay and go down with the building, the plan of destroying the building has not been altered in any way. You are merely destroyed as well. Your free will has not been infringed. This is how God's providence works.

Finally, God's providence will eventually be understood and clarified to the saints in the next life.  Christ tells Peter, when he is washing his feet, "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter (John 13:7)." Individual instances of providence will be revealed to us over the course of our lives, but when we are finally with the Lord, all of his providence will be revealed, and it will astound us.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Job's Friends' Error

Here is a paraphrased segment from Joseph Caryl's Practical Observations on Job, Vol 2:

Job has three friends that counsel him in his distress. One of the confusing aspects of this book of the Bible is that his friends' counsel seems doctrinally sound, but we know from the book's conclusion that they are in error.  How can this be? The answer is that there are actually four principles the friends and Job discuss, and the friends actually agree with Job on three of the four principles.  The fourth, however, and the most crucial, is where the error lies.  Here are the first three principles where Job concurs with his three friends:

1. All afflictions and calamities that befall man fall within the eye and certain knowledge of God.
2. God is the author and efficient cause, the orderer and disposer of all afflictions and calamities.
3. In regard of his most holy majesty and unquestionable soveriegnty, God neither does nor can do any wrong or injury to any of his creatures, whatsoever affliction he lays or however long he is pleased to continue it upon them.

The third one may be shocking, but let's look at them again in an even briefer context:

1. God knows all man's afflictions.
2. God causes all man's afflictions.
3. These afflictions are not wrong.

In other words, the afflictions which God ordains are for our good. Now, here is the fourth principle, which the friends hold with the other three, but which Job utterly denies. This fourth principle has two parts:

1. Whoever does good receives good reward to the measure of the good he has done, and whoever does evil is rewarded with evil equal to the evil he has done.  This is karma.
2. Whenever a wicked man seems to prosper, it is only momentary, and he will soon (in this life) be afflicted. Also, whenever a godly man faces adversity, it is only momentary, and he will suddenly (in this life) be blessed. Observation and experience reveal this not to be so.

This builds up the fourth principle: because Job is greatly and lengthy afflicted, therefore he is numbered with the wicked.

Job disagrees with this last principle, and Job's view is doctrinally sound.  It is this:

The providence of God dispenses outward prosperity and affliction so indifferently to good and bad, to the righteous and to the wicked, the no unerring judgment can possibly be made up of any man's spiritual estate by the face and upon the view of the temporal.

Afflictions happen to the godly and the wicked alike.  For the wicked, the afflictions are judgments. For the godly, they are disciplines that perfect the believer more into the likeness of Christ.

Original Sin

In this first Sunday of Lent, I want to look at what Original Sin is and how it differs from actual sin. To start, we have to look at Free Will, so let's start in Genesis:

1. God created man in his own image (1:26-27).
2. God created man very good (1:31).
3. God endued man with free will, the ability choose life or death (2:16-17).
4. Adam (man) chose death (3).
5. All of Adam's descendants are created in Adam's image (5:3).
6. This spiritual death is ingrained in the nature of all Adam's descendants (5:3).

So, there's this spiritual death, along with physical death, that is genetically passed down to all mankind. This death is also filled with selfish desire and sin: emnity against God and self-worship. Here is what Christ has to say about this original sin in the Gospel of Matthew:

1. Sins do not come from outside the body and then contaminate the spirit (15:11).
2. Sins come from the dead soul we are born with and come out of us (15:11).
3. In the heart is emnity against God. This is original sin from out of a dead soul (15:18).
4. From this emnity comes actual sins, such as evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders (15:19).

Paul gives us an overall view of the situation in Romans 5:

1. Through Adam, sin entered into the world (5:12).
2. This self-centeredness and rejection of God causes death (5:12).
3. All in the image of Adam (all humanity) are in this condition (5:14).
4. However, God has bestowed upon humanity a gift of grace in the from of Jesus Christ (5:15).
5. Jesus Christ is a second Adam, but instead of breeding emnity and death in the human soul, he removes the emnity and breathes life into the dead soul, making it alive (5:17).
6. So, Adam transfers spiritual death to his descendants, but Jesus Christ transfers spiritual life to all who put their faith in him.

All of this fits in with the whole gospel as expressed best in Ephesians 2:

1. Everyone, saved and unsaved, began dead in sins (2:1).
2. God is rich in mercy and makes us alive (2:5).
3. This grace from God is a free gift (2:8).

From all this we must know these important truths:

1. God is not the author of sin. He is not responsible for it, and therefore he is not responsible for the death that accompanies it.
2. God is responsible for the rescue of sinners from this state.

Keep these things in mind this lenten season.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Salt

In Matthew 5:13, Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth, and that if they lose their salt then they are no longer good for anything. What does it mean to be salt? It means that one's interaction with others is to gospel-filled: one's language, ideas, words, all must be biblical. Two aspects of salt are most apparent:

1. Salt keeps meat from rotting, and so in being salt, we bring the gospel to others to preserve their lives and keep them from perishing.
2. Salt adds flavor, so the conversation is deeper, more nourishing, and gospel-filled.

Now, what are some aspects of being salt to others? A good place to look at gospel-filled speech and interaction is from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter one. Here we learn:

1. Salt does not equal cleverness of speech, such cleverness nullifies the cross (1:17).
2. Salt is foolishness to those who are perishing (1:18).
3. Salt has power to those who are being saved (1:18).
4. Simplicity is wiser than academic cleverness (1:20).
5. God has arranged things so that the most clever and "smart" people, the academics, are farthest from knowing God (1:21)
6. The simplicity of "foolishness" of the gospel message--salt--has a saving effect on those who believe (1:21).
7. Christ crucified is a foolish message, a simple message, that makes no sense to the worldly (1:23).
8. This foolishness, in fact, is wiser than the most clever wisdom of the world, because it has power, whereas the wisdom of the world does not (1:25).
9. God actually used unlearned people to preach his message! Not the academics (1:26).
10. Even academics like Saul of Tarsus had to be humbled and unlearn all they they knew in order to be qualified to preach the gospel (1:27).
11. A salty man is a humble man (1:29).
12. Paul was humbled by God in order to proclaim the gospel (2:1).
13. Paul's message is reduced to two things: Jesus Christ and Him Crucified (2:2).
14. Paul came to the Corinthians weak and trembling (2:3).
15. This is key: because of the simple message, his words had no power to persuade in and of themselves, so the converting power of the message was completely on the side of the Holy Spirit (2:4).
16. This key aspect of salt puts all the power in God's hands and not in man's (2:5).

All this has to do with the preserving of men's souls from corruption, from death. This is the preserving aspect of salt. This is the salt that brings unbelievers into a state of believing.  It is entirely on the part of God the Holy Spirit that this occurs.  Our message is foolish, or simple, and has no power in itself to save. It is a lifeline cast out that may or may not be grasped. The Spirit of God is what turns the heart and draws the believer to the lifeline.

Now, the second aspect of salt, the depth and flavor of conversation--discipleship--is touched on by Paul directly after these verses in chapter two:

1. Among saved Christians, among maturing Christians, deeper things of God are conversed about (2:6).
2. This wisdom is deep, more complex, and "academic," but it is still not the wisdom of the world by any stretch of the imagination (2:6).
3. God's wisdom, his depth, is plumbed by searching the scriptures and unlocking the mysteries of God's doctrine for the continued sanctification of believers (2:7).
4. These mysteries are things the world cannot see. They are "white noise" to the unbelieving, but to the saved, they are rich revelations of truth (2:8).
5. These mysteries are revealed, again, through the Spirit, but now the Spirit dwells inside the hearts of believers (2:10).

Salt means the ability for a disciple to speak a simple, saving message to the world. It also means the ability to share deep and complex doctrines among fellow disciples. The thing both sides of saltiness has in common is that both revolve around Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. The cross of Christ saves the lost. The cross of Christ is also the mystery revealed in all the scriptures.

Now, being aware of this, examine texts like the Sermon on the Mount. Whenever Christ speaks complexly (like 5:13), this verse is meant for disciples, because it contains a mystery to be unlocked. When Christ speaks plainly (like 7:7), he is reaching the unbelievers on the outskirts of the crowd. The verse alone may not be complete for salvation, but it can be grasped easily and draw someone closer to faith. Once you see this distinction, you can find it everywhere in scripture.

Friday, January 25, 2019

What Christ's Baptism Means For Us

After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

We can talk about the details of this passage and stick to the surface, or we can go deep and see what it means for us. The surface discussion provides some interesting things.  For example, did only Jesus see the dove? Or was it Jesus and John? Or was it everyone? Once again, these are fascinating things to talk about, but the point of this passage, and all passages of scripture, is to glorify Christ and reveal to us what he has done for us by way of salvation.

So, I want to look at three aspects of this pair of verses and what they mean for us:

I. The heavens were opened,
II. The Spirit descended as a dove, and
III. The voice spoke from heaven.

I. The heavens were opened. What is up there? Vacuum? Emptiness? Void? Darkness and void were there before creation, and now we live post-creation. We are told by the world that in the heavens above is vast, empty space with scattered bodies like stars and galaxies and nebulae. For the most part, the implication is that space is mostly NOTHING. This is bleak and discouraging. However, with Christ, the heavens are actually opened up, and the reality behind the emptiness is revealed. When Stephen was being stoned in Acts 7, the heavens opened to him and he saw Christ seated at the right hand of the Father. The point is that Christ reveals to us that there is more to heaven than space.

There is not only a place to receive us after death, a place that is not vast emptiness, but it is a place opened for all believers, all who have a penitent and abiding faith in Christ. God's love and light come to us from above, and we are given boldness to enter into that holy place. Jesus Christ, we know, is the ladder upon which the angels ascend and descend from above. Through Christ we can communicate with God, have communion with God, and learn from God, obeying his divine commandments and repenting through Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

II. The Spirit descended as a dove. Christ did not need to receive the Holy Spirit as a believer does. But the guiding of his ministry is by the Holy Spirit, and so the Spirit is with him as he works. The Spirit is continually working in a guiding role for the Church, even as he works inside all believers. As Christ has the Spirit upon him, and as he is married to the church, the church therefore has the Spirit upon her. Gifts, graces, and comforts all come to the church by the Holy Spirit.

The dove is the prefect symbol of innocence and peace. Harmless and inoffensive, the Spirit enabled Christ's humanity to not cry out or fight back during his passion. The Spirit enables us to be peacemakers, to be mourners, essentially to fulfill all the beatitudes, just as Christ fulfilled them. The dove inspires penitence, living sacrifice, and purity. The dove brings good tidings, as it did to Noah, and it still does through the church to the world that God forgives and saves sinners. That reconciliation with God is not only possible but can be obtained only through Jesus Christ.

III. The voice of the Father from heaven. The Father is a vast mind, so it makes sense that one cannot see an image of him, but certainly, because the Word of God is so paramount, we can hear his voice. And what's more, the voice that we hear is eternally presenting the gospel. What does the gospel tell? This is my son. This is he. Right here. This is the way I have made for salvation. There is no other. From the beginning, I have planned this to be the only way to be saved, and now, everyone here can see that this is he, the messiah, standing before you. "This is my son," means. "this is my way." This is redemption. This way comes directly from God, like a son begotten from a father. He is mediator, the go-between for church and God. Once again, he is the ladder that connects heaven and earth. In him we find the elect, for he is elect, and his church is his bride, and therefore she is elect by marriage. He is the covenant of grace, in which all believers dwell. Finally, he is the sacrifice for our sins. His death brings us eternal life. He is the substitution for God's wrath. We find life and love only in him.

Note that the voice does not say, "with him I am well pleased," but "in him I am well pleased." God is pleased in him, and so God is pleased with all who are in him. All who are united to Christ by faith also share in God's pleasure. When we were outside of Christ, we were recipients of God's wrath, but now we are in Christ, and so his anger is turned away. We are accepted in the beloved. None come to the father except through the son. In him our living sacrifice is acceptable to God. In him the gospel can be successfully preached. In him our war against sin is possible and battles are finally won. With God, we should be able to say, "This is our savior, in whom we are well pleased."

Look to the heavens and know that there is not only something there, but what is there is the ultimate reality. See the dove and know that, by the Holy Spirit, reconciliation with God and peace with the world is possible. Look to Christ and know that redemption is real and has been given freely to all who put their trust in him. Look to me and be saved, all ye ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other (Isaiah 45:22).

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Marrow of Modern Divinity

25 parts of my reading of the Marrow are on YouTube so far, and I try to be regular about posting one part a day.  Check out the series for yourself:


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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Out of Egypt

Out of Egypt I Called My Son (Hosea 11:1)

God loves his church, like a husband loves his bride, and like a father loves his son. He has had great care in us before the foundation of the world, in his elect, and like a doting father he has loved us from the beginning.  When we were new children in Christ, when we were born again, he revealed himself to us as the creator of our souls and source of our rest. We were born into sin, because of our first father, Adam, and while we were yet sinners, in that state of unrepentant slavery to sin, God picked us up and took us into his arms.  That laborious drudgery of a fallen soul with nowhere to turn, lost in his own despair, cries out for salvation, and God, our father, loving us from when we were young, comes to our rescue.

Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, but our old man, our false king, our sinful master, who beats us and brands us his own, our Herod, hears about the true king, the real king, who has come to redeem his people, and he sets up a plan to destroy our salvator. Joseph is warned in a dream, and he takes his wife and newborn son down to Egypt to hide, until the sinful, old man is dead, the Herod who ruled over us in our lost state, is dead. The son comes back to Israel.  We cried out in Egypt and the son was brought near.  His blood spilled over the doorways to protect us from the creeping death.  Now that the old ruler of our hearts is dead, we are free to come home, but first we must travel through the wilderness.

The prophets warned us.  The prophets still warn the church.  They warned Israel.  Moses warned them, and then all the rest of the prophets over the centuries.  They called them to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  John the Baptist called them again in the time of Christ.  However, the Israelites rejected Moses.  They rejected the sound teachings of God.  They rejected his commandments.  The more the prophets preached, the more the church fled from the sound counsel of the Lord.  The more the church slipped in to idolatry.  We see this in history, and we see this in our own lives.  The time spent on YouTube could have been time spent with the Lord in his Word, and the more we are called to pray to God, it seems the more we run in the opposite direction and look for something damnable to do with ourselves.

Yet he taught us to walk. God held our hands and showed us how to step. And we repay him by walking in the wrong path.  We choose the wide path of destruction, not the narrow path of Christ.  He took us in our arms, and then we pushed him away.  He healed our hearts, and then we attributed the healing to worldly things and celebrated the darkness.  God restrains us from self-destruction and heinous ruin, and yet we complain that he fastened any kind of yoke to us, even though the bonds he gave us were easy and the burden light.  The cords he ties us with improve us, but our sin cries out that he has made our lives worse.  Every word that comes from his mouth is precious remedy for our souls, and yet we spit his word out of our mouth as if it were poison.

We will not return to the land of Egypt.  Our old lives are truly behind us, but many will attempt to return there, and what they will find is much, much worse than Egypt.  In Egypt, God was there, he sustained us and gave us good things, even in our adversity.  In Assyria, where the unrepentant sinner is bound, there is no solace from God.  There is no hope.  When we go to Assyria, we ask God to forsake us.  We ask him to remove himself from our lives forever, and when that happens, we realize how much God had been caring for us all along, now that it is gone.  We refuse to return, because the sanctifying wilderness is too rough, and we would rather return to our place of sin.  But now, our sin has overtaken us, and it is in complete control of our lives.  When all is sin, all is death, and all is sorrow.

But he will never give up his elect.  He will never surrender his true church.  He will never destroy us, and his heart breaks for us.  He is compassionate, slow to anger, and he is patient for us to awaken and return to him.  We will walk the narrow way, because he is fierce and strong, and he is our protector.  Like the child who is severely disciplined, he trembles and shakes as he returns to the father's side in repentance and awe.

Jesus died for our sins.  He came to Egypt to rescue us, and he led us away from sin and death.  He opened his arms and embraced us.  Now, we go through trials, we go through wilderness, and we are tempted to walk away from it all, back to our sins in Egypt, not knowing that we will not get Egypt but Assyria.  Go trembling to the side of the father through the love of the son.  Only through Christ is one redeemed.  He suffered all things on our behalf, so that we would not suffer again for eternity.