Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why Wait?

Behold, this evil is of the LORD; what should I wait for the LORD any longer?
These are the words of a wicked king of Israel, Jehoram, spoken in 2 Kings 6. We advise our readers to read the chapter to see the provocations Jehoram was under; Samaria was under siege, the people were starving, and he had just discovered a disgusting case of cannibalism. Everything seemed desperate. So he spoke these words.

We are today in the Church often tempted to say the same. Thank God that these words are in the Bible, even if they are the product of unbelief. But Jehoram was an idolater, a member of a doomed house upon whom the judgement of God would surely come. If we are Christians our situation is quite different, for we have many great and precious promises from God. Christ has promised to build His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The unbelieving king had reason to wait for God, for God had delivered his land before. God had brought Israel out of Egypt, and had driven out the Canaanites before them. He asked 'What should I wait for the Lord any longer?' and he was answered.
2 Kings 7.1: Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.
2: Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.

We are tempted to limit God as the lord on whose hand the king leaned did. But God CAN make windows in heaven if He so chooses, and pour out His spirit upon the Church. The Church has, as Chesterton said,
'Five times in the history of Europe the church has appeared to go to the dogs, and each time it was the dog that died!'

How shall we apply these words personally?
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8.28)
We know. How do we know? Do we know it merely intellectually? No! the Christian knows it by experience, as Israel knew God's protection. Not that He keeps us from suffering and trials, but that He keeps us in them, and uses them for our good.
Isaiah 43.1: But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.
2: When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
3: For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.
4: Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.
5: Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west;
6: I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;
7: Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.

Note the "When". Thou shalt pass through the fire and the waters, but God will be with thee in all these things, and that is enough. This evil is of the Lord, therefore we ought to wait for Him.
Begone unbelief, my Savior is near,
And for my relief will surely appear:
By prayer let me wrestle, and He wilt perform,
With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm.

Though dark be my way, since He is my Guide,
’Tis mine to obey, ’tis His to provide;
Though cisterns be broken, and creatures all fail,
The Word He has spoken shall surely prevail.

His love in time past forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last in trouble to sink;
Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review,
Confirms His good pleasure to help me quite through.

Determined to save, He watched o’er my path,
When Satan’s blind slave, I sported with death;
And can He have taught me to trust in His Name,
And thus far have brought me, to put me to shame?

Why should I complain of want or distress,
Temptation or pain? He told me no less:
The heirs of salvation, I know from His Word,
Through much tribulation must follow their Lord.

How bitter that cup, no heart can conceive,
Which He drank quite up, that sinners might live!
His way was much rougher, and darker than mine;
Did Jesus thus suffer, and shall I repine?

Since all that I meet shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet, the medicine is food;
Though painful at present, wilt cease before long,
And then, O! how pleasant, the conqueror’s song!

Monday, May 26, 2008

God's Judgements in the City

We wrote on Saturday about the dangers of viewing natural disasters as special judgements of God, rather than as God's voice to all who hear of them warning of the wrath to come. But we do believe that God judges the nations. We have seen in the United Kingdom recently an increase in violent crime, and laws passed that undermine the family, the basic unit of society. Are we calling down judgement upon ourselves? Yes, undoubtedly we are. But there is something worse here. These are not merely events that call for God's judgement, it is our opinion that they are themselves the Judgement of God.
We recall earlier this year, when we were preaching in London, standing in a room in the manse of a London church and looking out at the city. These words welled in our heart: "O London, London, thou who wert exalted unto heaven, how art thou cast down into the pit?"

London, the city of the Puritans, the city of Wesley and of Whitefield, of Huntington and Hart, of Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones, is now full of all manner of wickedness. But it is not London alone. It is the whole of the United Kingdom.
Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.

So it proves. We are seeing Roman 1.18-32 fulfilled before our eyes. As the nations that descended from Noah forsook God, so our nation has done the same.
18: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19: Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20: For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22: Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23: And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24: Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
26: For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
28: And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
29: Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
30: Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31: Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
32: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

And our American brothers should not be complacent. A wise minister has told us that he sees in America today the United Kingdom fifty years ago. What then shall we do? Let us give God no rest, let us repent of our sins and turn to Him, for He is gracious and will not leave the desolate to mourn.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The voice in the Wind and the Earthquake

We have just been treated in the UK to the John Hagee and John McCain thing. While some of what Hagee was criticised for was simply historic protestant beliefs that the Church of Rome is apostate as a body, what most shocked many of us was his statement that New Orleans was wrecked by hurricane Katrina because of the sin of the city. Well, certainly all those who died in the disaster were sinners, but that is because all men are sinners, "For all have sinned."
And what about those killed by Cyclone Nargis in Burma, or by the earthquake in China? Did the cyclone hit Burma because of the wickedness of the nation? or were those who perished in Sichuan Province being judged for their government's oppression of their fellow-citizens?
What saith the Scriptures? We read in Luke 13:
[1] There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
[2] And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
[3] I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
[4] Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
[5] I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

Do we see our Lord's point here? Yes, the earthquake and the wind are the voice of God's judgement, but they are not special judgements that have come upon those who have died because of their great sin, they are merely the in-breaking, as it were, of the wrath that is to come upon the earth, when the Judge of all shall come, and we all shall appear before the judgement-seat of Christ. So, as we look upon those terrible scenes of devastation, let us hear not a voice condemning only those who died, but let us hear that voice that sounded in Galilee, and that is now loud as the sound of many waters: "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." We do not want self-satisfied preachers gloating in the judgements that they suppose others have suffered for their sins, but men who know the plague of their own hearts, and feel the corruption within, who must look to Christ every moment for cleansing.
What, then, is the answer? How shall we escape in that great day? The Prophet Isaiah speaks: "a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." What mighty man is this? It is "the Man Christ Jesus", who is also "Over all, the ever-blessed God."
He is my Refuge in each deep distress;
The Lord my strength and glorious righteousness;
Through floods and flames He leads me safely on,
And daily makes His sovereign goodness known. (William Gadsby)

Here is the message to us. This world is passing, but Christ abides for ever. O that we could hold this world with a loose hand and be ready to drop into eternity at His voice.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Can you say that, reader? Do you want Christ to abide with you? Unless you do, you will face judgement for your sins, and who shall abide the Day of His coming?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Book Review: 'The Future of Justification'

John Piper is probably one of the best-known Calvinist authors writing today. This book is his response to Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham's take on the 'New Perspective on Paul. Written with all the passion and clarity that we have come to expect from Piper, it is an excellent book for those wishing to understand the 'New Perspective' according to its most well-known advocate.

Piper quotes extensively from Wright's works, comparing Wright with the Apostle Paul, whom Wright claims to have a superior understanding of. In this book Piper shows that Wright's understanding of Justification and righteousness is overly simplistic, and that in many places words such as 'Faith', 'righteousness' and 'justification' simply cannot have the meanings that Wright gives to them. He shows that Wright's understanding of the righteousness of God as God's doing what is right is simply not deep enough. It is not simply that God does what is right (although he certainly does so), but that He is righteous in nature.

This is primarily an exegetical book. Piper takes the principal texts dealing with justification and exegetes them, showing what the Bible means by Justification. He highlights concerns with Wright's views, and sets the reader thinking. This is not only a response to N.T. Wright, it is a defence of the Reformation understanding of the Scriptures. Highly recommended.

The Future of Justification is published by Intervarisity Press (UK), and is available here for £9.99.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

BB Warfield: Essays on his Life and Thought

This volume from Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing is a welcome study of a man whose writings are respected by practically all in the Reformed tradition. For too long BB Warfield has been to many simply the name on the spine of a book. In the Charismatic camp he has been attacked for his book Counterfeit Miracles, Among the more modernistically-inclined he has been ridiculed for his defence of inerrancy and the Westminster Confession of Faith.
For those of us who respect Warfield's scholarship and integrity it has been a source of amazement and irritation that no adequate biography of the great man whom Kim Riddelbarger has called 'The Lion of Princeton' exists. While this book is not such a work, it represents the first efforts towards one, and as such it is greatly appreciated.
This work consists of eight essays and an annotated bibliography. The essays cover Warfield's life, and key aspects of his theology, especially concerning apologetics and the doctrine of Scripture. The first essay, ''B' is for Breckinridge', deals with Warfield's maternal family and their relationship to Princeton. If a man is the product of his parental heritage, then Benjamin B. Warfield was a complex man indeed!
The essays dealing with Warfield as an apologist seek to repond to the charge of rationalism levelled against him, and in the opinion of this reviewer they do so very well. They reveal a man who was profoundly Biblical, and when he spoke of the reasonable nature of the Christian faith meant it in repect to reason regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

The essay on Warfield and Jim Crow is practically worth the cover price on its own. It shows how a man who was the son of slave-owners (though slave-owners who had favoured abolition) responded to the challenge of racism and segregation, especially in the Churches. It is ironic that those in the North who advocated abolition approved of or winked at a system of segregation that was not only racist, but fostered the fear and hatred of blacks. Warfield shows a balanced Reformed perspective that steers the line between white racism and Black Liberation theology.

In Chapter 7 Stephen J. Nichols gives a fascinating essay on Warfield, Machen and Fundamentalism, demonstrating how the two men were alike in their seeking not a minimalist platform, but to stand on the full-orbed Reformed faith of the Westminster Confession. We must confess that we have always found it rather ironic that both Fundamentalists and liberals sought shorter confessions in the 19th century, their only disagreement being HOW short these confessions should be. In fact the best defence is to stand on the historic confessions of our churches.

Gary Johnson's chapter on 'Warfield and C.A. briggs: Their Polemics and Legacy', is an illuminating and worrying chapter. It shows how Briggs was shrill and abusive, while Warfield was calm and collected in his scholarly debunking of Briggs' claims. What is worrying about the chapter is how Johnson documents several strands of modern 'evangelicalism' sound a lot like the liberal Briggs. Can it be that we still have much to learn from Warfield in this respect as well?

Warfield was not a Fundamentalist according to the modern definition, although he did write for the series of books that gave the movement its name. He was instead a historic Reformed scholar of the sort represented by Dabney, Hodge and Calvin himself. This volume is an excellent introduction to a man every bit as interesting as his own books.

BB Warfield: Essays on his Life and Thought, is available from Evangelical Press at£11.95 Here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On Church buildings, Seminaries and Bible Colleges, etc.

The End Times Deception blog has a post in which an article called 'The Nine Lies of Today's Church' is cited. While some of these are serious issues, we took issue with two:

2. Church buildings do not exist in the Bible. They were invented around 200-300 AD, when the church was in serious decline. Only a backslidden church could fall so far away from the simplicity of the early church. Church buildings are anti-New Testament, and bring with them a host of problems and traditions. It was basically when the church fell into the hands of Rome that this concept of the “cathedral” really took over. And we are still spending millions on these monuments today.

In fact the earliest known church building is a Messianic synagogue on Jerusalem's Mount Zion. As James in his Epistle uses the word 'Synagogue' (unhelpfully translated 'Assembly' in the AV), we can rightly say that there were such buildings even in the first century.

We do not contend for cathedrals, but living as we do in England, with our wonderfully varied climate, we are thankful for the existence of the humble chapels in which the Church gathers for worship. To suggest that the mere possession of a church building is a sign of apostasy is absurd in the extreme. Furthermore, to imagine that a church will be any more spiritual without its own meeting-house is simply silly. Church buildings developed out of a need, after the example of the Jewish Synagogue.
In the early Church, those congregations that did not possess a building set apart for worship nevertheless met in a stated place. Think of the references to the churches in houses in the New Testament. These were meeting 'in the house of' such-and-such. Practically, they had a church building, then. There is nothing improper in such a practice.

6. There were no Bible Colleges, Seminaries or degrees in the New Testament. The only people who seemed to have "Bible Schools" were the Scribes and Pharisees! The apostles were simple fishermen and tax collectors. It is likely that a number of them could not even read or write. What was their "qualification" for being in the ministry? Simply that they had SPENT A LOT OF TIME WITH JESUS. The fact that people expect a "professional clergy" today with degrees from Bible College has helped to make the church sicker and more unscriptural than ever. Simple humble people with a calling from God often cannot get to minister because they do not have a "piece of paper" to make them 'qualified'. -Yet another disaster for the church.

Now, we agree that intellectualism has been the bane of the Churches. Having studied the history of the decline of the Free Church of Scotland in the 19th century, we know how damaging liberalism in the colleges can be. But at the same time we know that anti-intellectualism is just as bad, if not worse. The man who is proud of his ignorance is worse than the man who is proud of what he knows, and is even more likely to discredit the Church. He gives the impression that learning is sinful, and he makes his people an easy prey for knowledge falsely so-called.

We agree that too much has been made of degrees and diplomas in some circles. The unbelieving academy has been pandered to by too many seminaries. Yet to suggest that we ought to do away with Seminaries because the Apostles did not go to them is absurd. First of all, they spent three years studying under the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, surely the best Bible-teacher who ever lived. Secondly, these men all knew Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, the languages in which the Bible is written (it is highly unlikely that Jewish men, who were expected to lead their families in reading from the Tanakh, would be illiterate. Tax Collectors had to know shorthand, and Peter, Andrew, James and John were all partners in fishing firms). On the whole modern men do not (unless they are Israeli or Aramean. We studied with an Aramean man at Seminary). The Apostles were completely familiar with the culture of Biblical times (as they lived in it), and divinely guided into all truth. Quite frankly, there are none today with such advantages. A seminary exists to make sure that ministers are trained in the Biblical languages, and to see the Bible as a whole. It does not exist simply to give a piece of paper. Mr Wesley, when he was rebuked for sending out his 'unlearned' lay preachers remarked that there were many men who went though the universities (the the eighteenth century the universities were the seminaries of the Church of England) and came out knowing nothing at all, while his lay preachers were reading theological books every morning. Better, obviously, the Wesleyan lay preacher with his real training, than the lazy university man who slept through lectures. We do not believe that a degree fits men to preach the Gospel. Nor do we believe that it unfits them.
Mr. Spurgeon had the right idea. When simple men with a calling from God, members of his congregation, began to preach in the open air, he set up his Pastors' College to train them, so they could teach the Word of God better. Rather than rubbishing all seminaries because some are indeed trying to manufacture ministers, we ought to labour to reform them.

We do not, and cannot, approve of 'Professional clergy'. All of God's people (laos) are also His Heritage (cleros). But those who teach the Word need some training to do so, whether informally through books, or formally, through some sort of training programme. In fact, one of the problems of the modern Church is that ignorant and unlearned men are thrusting themselves into the ministry and wresting the Scriptures to their own destruction. Pride is a sin, but pride of ignorance is at least as destructive as pride of learning.

Let the Church have humble, earnest, learned ministers, and then she will have what is best.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On Healing Revivals, Signs and Wonders, etc.

Last lord's Day we were in a church where we have preached (not a Reformed church), only to hear an announcement concerning the Florida 'healing revival'. We are inclined to scepticism by nature, holding a science degree from Liverpool University, and therefore take all claims of supernatural events with a pinch of salt (before conversion, we read a great deal about the UFO phenomenon). What is more, we are deeply concerned about announcements of divine healing without medical evidence. It tends to bring the Gospel into disrepute, and there is no Biblical warrant for such things. The Apostles did not hold healing meetings, they healed incidentally as they preached the Gospel.

In 1 Corinthians Paul says:
"For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

God showed signs and wonders in Egypt, yet we read of none converted through those signs and wonders, they only condemned. What is more, it is a fact that the great revivals of the past have all be centered on the preaching of the Word, of proclaiming Christ Crucified, not the healing of sickness. On the other hand Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science cult (neither Christian nor scientific), built a movement of thousands on the basis of claims of miraculous healing.

There is no promise in the Bible that we ought to always expect to be healthy and wealthy as Christians. On the other hand, Paul says:
"There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."

Otherwise what do we say to men like the blind preacher George Matheson? To those Christians we know 'In age and feebleness extreme'? To the suffering? That their not being healed is their fault? No, listen to Paul: "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

Our words are these: Beware of wildfire. 'Prove all things', 'believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.'

I do not want to see good men and women hurt by this thing, and so I give these few thoughts out of a love for Christ and His Church.