Monthly Archives: February 2011

Proverbial Hebrews?

The book of Hebrews does not contain the words “wise” or “wisdom” even one time.

Yet wisdom is nevertheless a major theme in Hebrews. Jesus learned obedience, we should have discernment of good and evil, and then there is the quoting of Proverbs 3:

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

But to think that Proverbs just shows up here is to miss the point. Proverbs is not quoted as a new thing. It is quoted to reveal what has already been going on. Consider the beginning of this section to which Proverbs 3 is quoted as a closing:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

The statement about faith and creation hearkens back to Hebrews 1.2: “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”

Proverbs has a lot to say about this:

The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man.

And this also is the key to why the author of Hebrews speaks of how faith must believe God “rewards those who seek him.”

Again, the key is Proverbs:

My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
guarding the paths of justice
and watching over the way of his saints.

And again:

I love those who love me,
and those who seek me diligently find me.

So faith seeks God and finds him not in obvious blessings but in trials that bring wisdom.

Finally, the issue of whether or not one will seek God is whether one trusts that God is worth it. The point of faith is to value the faithfulness of the one who promises. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10.23). It is about how one value’s God: “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.”

So in Proverbs the question is whether or not you value wisdom as highly as you should.

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.

What does Hell have to do with Love?

The most recent outbreak of worry that a prominent teacher is denying that God’s everlasting wrath (based on a publisher’s blurb? I’ll wait and see how things shake out after the book is released.), has got me thinking. I don’t think the Bible claims Hell is an exception to the rule that God is love. It is an application of that rule to those who insist on spurning God.

The Biblical doctrine of eternal conscious punishment as “fire” is premised on God’s love. God is loving and gracious and man responds to God’s love and grace with resistance and ingratitude.

Remember the warning attached to the Second Commandment:

I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me.

God’s wrath is His jealousy. Hell is his burning jealousy. Song of Solomon 8.6:

Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; [or Hell]
It’s flashes are flashes of fire,
The very flame of the LORD.

Proverbs 27.4

Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood,
But who can stand before jealousy?

God is loving and gracious. God pursues sinners. God offers forgiveness. But He will not be patient forever. And the very reason Hell is hot, is because such a great love has been spurned.

Hardboiled still speaks to me

I’ve been slowly re-reading Gene Wolfe’s epic, The Shadow of the Torturer, but today I was near a bookshelf holding Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and opened it up and looked at the first page.

I was hooked again.

It has been about two decades since I read the narration of “the continental op” (I’ve never even bothered with The Maltese Falcon or The Glass Key because they weren’t in first person) and Nick and Nora in The Thin Man. But the prose is still as pleasing and inspiring now as it ever was.

Sunday P.M. Post: Packer on the Importance of Reading the Gospels

Christ’s way was the way of resurrection experience following a death experience, and we must expect to find that he is constantly taking us along that same road in on or another of its thousand different forms.

Finally, we could then correct woolliness of view as to what Christian commitment involves, by stressing the need for constant meditation on the four gospels, over and above the rest of our Bible reading: for gospel study enables us both to keep our Lord in clear view and to hold before our minds the relational frame of discipleship to him. The doctrines on which our discipleship rests are clearest in the epistles, but the nature of discipleship itself is most vividly portrayed int he gospels. Some Christians seem to prefer the epistles as if this were a mark of growing up spiritually; but really this attitude is a very bad sign, suggesting that we are more interested in theological notions than in fellowship with the Lord Jesus in person. We should think, rather, of the theology of the epistles as preparing us to understand better the disciple relationship with Christ that is set forth in the gospels, and we should never let ourselves forget that the four gospels are, as has often and rightly been said, the most wonderful books on earth.

J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, p. 70, 71.

Sunday A. M. Post: Richard Baxter on Church members

In a few words, every man that doth heartily believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, by a faith that worketh by love, is a true Christian. Or every one that taketh God for his only God, that is his Creator, Lord, Ruler, and felicity, or end, and Jesus Christ for his only Redeemer, that is, God and man; that hath fulfilled all righteousness, and given up himself to death on the cross in sacrifice for our sins, and hath purchased and promised us pardon, and grace, and everlasting life; and hath risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, where he is Lord of the church, and intercessor with the Father, whose laws we must obey, and who will come again at last to raise and judge the world, the righteous to everlasting life, and the rest to everlasting punishment: and that taketh the Holy Ghost for his Sanctifier, and believeth the Scriptures given by his inspiration, and sealed by his work, to be the certain word of God. This man is a true Christian, and a member of the catholic church; which will be manifested when he adjoineth a holy, sober and righteous life, using all known means and duties, especially baptism at first, the Lord’s-supper afterward, prayer, confession, praise, meditation, and hearing the word of God, with a desire to know more, that his obedience may be full: living under Christ’s ministers, and in communion of saints, denying himself, mortifying the flesh and world, living in charity and justice to man; he that doth this is a true Christian, and shall be saved, and therefore a member of the catholic church as invisible; and he that professeth all this, doth profess himself a true Christian, and if he null not that profession, is a member of the catholic church as visible. These things are plain, and in better days were thought sufficient.

He that hath all that is contained but in the ancient Creed, the Lord’s-prayer and Ten Commandments, with baptism and the Lord’s-supper, in his head, and heart, and life, is certainly a member of the catholic church. In a word, it is no harder to know who is a member of this church, than it is to know who is a Christian. Tell me but what Christianity is, and I will soon tell you how a Church member may be known.

via “The Church” by Richard Baxter (1615-1691).

If justification by faith alone is not an ongoing justification then it is not justification by faith at all (Part 2)

CONTINUED

Abraham is not alone in the story of his justification. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” By that definition, Cornelius was justified before Peter preached to him.

As I have written:

In Acts 10.1-4 we have the introduction to the story of the gospel being preached to the Gentiles:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.”

Obviously, Cornelius is already regenerate and justified as we define those terms in our theological parlance. As Francis Turretin observes:

Although a Gentile by birth, Cornelius was yet a proselyte by religion. Although he could not believe that the Messiah had come and was that Jesus whom Peter preached, yet he could believe with the Jews from the oracles of the prophets that he would come. Thus he is not to be reckoned among the Gentiles, but among the patriarchs who looked for salvation from a Redeemer nor yet manifested. Hence by the advent of Peter, he did not receive a beginning, but an increase of faith.

We find the same thing in the case of Lydia,

And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us (Acts 16.13-15).

Lydia was, according to our theological definitions gleaned from the Bible as a whole, regenerate and justified before she ever met Paul. Paul worshiped with her because they worshiped the same God. God’s opening of her heart I think proves the necessity and reality of God’s effectual call by analogy and a forteriori argument, but the event shows first that even regenerate, justified, persons only pursue holiness and “increase of faith” by the Spirit’s monergistic work.

Just like Abraham was justified by faith before hearing about Christ, so was Cornelius. He needed to hear the good news but he was already a believer. Peter himself, by entering Cornelius’ house, was acknowledging that Cornelius was already right with God.

You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection…. Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Nevertheless,  Peter describes what happened after he proclaimed the story of Jesus, thus

Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.

Given the importance of this counsel to issues in Romans and Galatians, it is quite certain that “cleansed… by faith” is the same as justified by faith.  What Turretin calls not “a beginning, but an increase of faith,” Peter declares to have justified.

So, again, the similarity with Abraham is obvious. Both were justified believers. Both were given a message. Both believed that message. Both are described as justified by that believing in that instance.

TO BE CONTINUED

If justification by faith alone is not an ongoing justification then it is not justification by faith at all (Part 1)

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

So we read in Genesis 15 that Abra[ha]m was justified by faith.

Just like he had already been justified by faith before this event.

Thus we read in Hebrews 11:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

Not only do we have here a clear statement that Abraham had the faith “counted… to him as righteousness” before the events in Genesis 15, but he and his son and grandson also had the same afterward.

No surprise here. Paul himself describes Abraham’s faith not as a moment of conversion but as the belief that characterized his life:

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is [exclusively] the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

The “footsteps of the faith” were the footsteps began at least when Abra[ha]m left Ur in response to God’s call (Genesis 12.1-3). Paul deliberately quotes from both Genesis 15 (“so shall your offspring be”) and and an event many years later in Genesis 17 (“I have made you the father of many nations”). Further, the “no distrust made him waver” does not seem to refer to only one event, but an ongoing trust. So too, “he grew strong in faith as he gave glory to God.”

So Abraham (I’m dropping the silly brackets) was justified by faith alone that night recorded in Genesis 15.6 and he was justified by faith alone before and after.

TO BE CONTINUED

The population bomb was a hoax but the depopulation singularity is gathering strength

Mish reports:

I’s now official. Japan’s demographic time bomb has gone off. However, don’t look for a big crater, at least just yet, because this has started off with a whimper and not a bang.

Inquiring minds note the World’s Biggest Pension Fund May Sell Japan Bonds.

Read the whole thing.

And then read America’s One-Child Policy!

“Guest Post” by John Calvin on the Common Election as “Gate” to the Special

And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Moses said, “The Lord God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed in everything He says to you. And it shall be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.” And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways (Acts 3.17-26; ESV).

It is you who are the sons [v. 25]. He signifies that the grace of the covenant was appointed principally for them, which covenant God made with their fathers. And so as he goaded them forward to obey the gospel, by terrifying them with the terror of punishment, so he allures them now again to receive the grace which is offered them in Christ; so that we see how that God omits nothing by which he may bring us to himself. And it is the duty of a wise minister so to goad forward the sluggish and slow bellies, that he lead those gently who are apt to be taught; we must also note diligently this course of teaching, where Peter shows that the gospel is assigned and appointed to the Jews. For it is not sufficient to have the mercy of God preached to us generally, unless we also know that the same is offered to us by the certain ordinance of God. For this cause is it that Paul stand so much upon the avowing of the calling of the Gentiles (Romans 15.18; Ephesians 3.3-4) because, if any man should think that the gospel came to him by chance, when as it was scattered here and there, faith should quail ["quaver," "vacillate"]; yea, there should be a doubtful opinion instead of faith. Therefore, to the end we may steadfastly believe the promise of salvation, this application (that I may so term it) is necessary, that God does not cast forth uncertain voices, that they may hang in the air, but that he directs the same to us by his certain and determinate counsel. Peter tells the Jews, that Christ is promised to them after this sort, to the end they may more willingly embrace him. And how does he prove this? Because they are the children of the prophets and of the covenant. He calls them the children of the prophets, which were of the same nation, and therefore were heirs of the covenant, which belonged to the whole body of the people. For he argues thus: God made his covenant with our fathers; therefore we, who are their posterity, are comprehended in the covenant.

By this the doubting subtlety of the Anabaptists ["rebaptizers"] is refuted, who expound the children of Abraham only allegorically; as if God had had no respect to his stock, when he said, “I will be the God of your seed,” (Genesis 17.7). Certainly Peter does not speak in this place of the shadows of the law; but he affirms that this is of force under the kingdom of Christ: that God adopts the children together with the fathers; and so, consequently, the grace of salvation may be extended to those who are as yet unborn (Romans 9.7). I grant, indeed, that many who are the children of the faithful, according to the flesh, are counted bastards, and not legitimate, because they thrust themselves out of the holy progeny through their unbelief. But this in no way hinders the Lord from calling and admitting the seed of the godly into fellowship of grace. And so, although the common election is not effectual in all, yet may it set open a gate for the special elect.

Text silently modernized