Solid Food for God’s Children

Bible Revival

A review by Stuart Brogden41UQyMEDWAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

There are so many bad Christian books on the market these days that there is a good reason to shout PRAISE THE LORD! when one comes across a good Christian book. Such is the case with Kenneth Berding’s very good book, Bible Revival. This is a small book, in format and length – coming in at just over 100 pages. The premise of Berding’s jewel of a book is that we have a plethora of Bibles, with multiple good translations and formats in paper and digital so that we can have God’s Word with us virtually everywhere, all the time. And yet so many professing Christians are ignorant of and apathetic towards the Scriptures. Poor substitutes (there can be no other kind of substitute for the very Word of God) are things easily assimilated, such as mystical experience or religious video; not much thought or personal discipline required.

This too-short book is divided up into 6 chapters:

 

  1. A Revival of Learning the Word
  2. A Revival of Valuing the Word
  3. A Revival of Understanding the Word
  4. A Revival of Applying the Word
  5. A Revival of Obeying the Word
  6. A Revival of Speaking the Word

 

Each of these chapters does a very good job of stepping on the toes of the reader – for whom of us has any one of these critical traits properly developed and practiced? Each chapter has a section for digging deeper; this is where we are led to drink deeply of the Word.

 

In the opening chapter, Berding tells us what we know but would rather not acknowledge – we don’t learn the Word of God because we have other stuff we would rather learn. In days gone by, before the Internet and cheap books, people of God knew the Bible. Schools used it to teach children how to read and churches used it as teaching material as well as preaching material – long before programs replaced both in too many churches. Our author tells us of a time when Israel was under God’s judgment and His written word was withheld from them (Amos 8:11-12). He says, “In Amos they want it, but are not permitted it. In our case, although we have unlimited access, we often don’t want it. The irony is intense.” Massive understatement! He rebukes those who say since we don’t practice all we currently understand of the Bible that we should not read and study the Scriptures until we are fully in line. This pathetic perspective fails from the start because it assumes a perfection that we will be able to attain during this age. Our minds and our bodies are unable to practice all we know and the insight into the character of both God and ourselves contained in the Bible are beyond our finding out completely. And we commanded in Scripture to never stop growing in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3:18 is on-going process, not a one-time academic accomplishment). When we read and regard the Bible in the same way we do a newspaper (are those still printed?) or novel, we reveal something ugly of our priorities. We reveal that God’s Word is no more valuable than a cheap novel and His wisdom is no more useful than Doctor Phil’s – and that speaks louder than Oprah. Contrary to this common, unspoken perspective, the Bible is the revelation from Creator God about His redemptive plan for sinners – what is more important?

 

In the 4th chapter, about applying the Word of God, our author gives us a short list of questions to guide us in applying Scripture rightly.

 

  1. What does this passage illustrate about the character of God? (Rom 15:4-6)
  2. How does this passage point out sin? (Rom 3:20; 7:7)
  3. How does this passage lead to Christ? (Gal 3:24)
  4. Are there any other biblical themes this passage illustrates? (Matt 23:23)

 

In the “digging deeper” of this chapter, Berding advises, “The Bible itself holds out hope that there will be a transformation and renewal of our minds as we saturate ourselves in the things of God (Rom 8:5-8; 12:2). It is true that our interests affect how we approach the Bible, but we need to allow the Scripture itself to renovate our concerns so that our special interests become more and more like the interests found in the Bible.” (Italics mine) This insightful idea warrants our close attention – our “special interests” ought to reflect the Word of God, not the system of the world. This is a prime battleground for every Christian, for as the Spirit of God Who dwells within each of us never sleeps nor rests, neither does the evil trinity of our flesh, Satan, and the system of this world. We do not battle against flesh and blood but against the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. The Word of God, with illumination by its Author is our only defense. While men will mislead us and lie to us, the Spirit of the Living God will never guide us contrary to God’s will or His special revelation given to us in the Scriptures. We are limited and warped by sin – the Bible is not nor is its Author!

 

In discussing our obedience to the Bible, we read, “If no evidence exists in your life that your faith is showing itself in your actions – that unforgiveness is increasingly being displaced by forgiveness, that anger is being out by love, that passivity toward the Scriptures is being replaced by a love and commitment to the Scripture – then you probably don’t know Him.” And He likely “never knew you.” Ouch! He goes on – “Passivity toward the Word of God is a serious spiritual matter.” Amen! Let us comfort no professing Christian who displays a greater love for the world than for the Word of God, even if that person is loved one, even if it that person is self.

 

Lastly, we are encouraged to teach the Bible. “Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you know the Bible very well. … Besides, there is no quicker way to learn the Bible than to teach it to someone else!” (This is in the context of parents teaching their children.) In talking about our conversation in the world, Berding encourages us to be purposeful in talking to other about Jesus rather than trusting our behavior to draw them into asking us. Further, our public walk must line up (with the inevitable failures to be acknowledged humbly and contritely) with the Gospel we are proclaiming. He debunks the apocryphal notion attributed to Francis of Assisi, that one should witness at times, using words when required. This is an unbiblical perspective because the Gospel is a verbal proclamation of what Jesus has done to redeem sinners – it cannot be communicated by our actions. But our actions (and speech) must not contradict the godly message we should be telling to people who are perishing.

 

This book started its life as sermon series on the need to have a Bible revival. While only the Lord can bring revival, our dear brother Kenneth Berding has done us good by bringing this volume into our hands. It can be grasped by people of all ages and reading abilities. It is solid food for God’s people. And we should thank Him.

Blasphemy in Song

For those who know the background or meaning of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the following is a public service announcement.

Blasphemy in Song

by Laurence M. Vance
by Laurence M. Vance

This past weekend, since it was the closest weekend to the Fourth of July holiday that we observe today, churches all across America resounded with patriotic songs. Although the wisdom of singing patriotic songs in church is itself a debatable proposition, there should be no debate in any church about uttering words of blasphemy, whether spoken or sung. Yet, the patriotic song that is perhaps the one most frequently sung in the churches of America — for the Fourth of July or otherwise — is the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” But this so-called hymn is no Christian hymn at all — it is blasphemy in song.

Most Americans are familiar with the words of this “hymn”:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Chorus
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
Chorus
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.”
Chorus
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
Chorus
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me:
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Chorus
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Chorus

The chorus is, of course, as follows:

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

Although most Americans who are familiar with this “patriotic anthem” rightly connect it with the so-called Civil War, many probably don’t know who wrote it, and even fewer know anything about how it came about.

The author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was the abolitionist and social activist, Julia Ward Howe (1819—1910). The song first appeared, minus the last verse, on the front cover of The Atlantic Monthly for February 1862. That it originally had six verses can be seen by looking at her first draft, which was written on a scrap of Sanitary Commission paper. Christian hymnbooks that contain this song only include verses one, two, four, and five. The words as it was first published are slightly different than her original draft, which is transcribed here.

The tune is from a camp-meeting song with a “Glory Hallelujah” refrain by William Steffe, written about 1856. This tune was in turn used for what became the Union marching song, “John Brown’s Body,” the first verse of which begins by repeating three times: “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,” and ends with: “His soul goes marching on!” Other lines read: “They will hang Jeff. Davis to a sour apple tree!” and “Now, three rousing cheers for the Union.”

Read the remainder of this article here.

The Sabbath Complete

THE SABBATH COMPLETESabbath

a review by Stuart Brogden

The latter half of the 20th century has brought a growing interest in Reformed Theology, in striking contrast to the growing apostasy that has gripped many evangelical denominations. Many of my fellow Baptists aggressively and happily embraced the doctrines of grace and the great theological truths about God’s sovereignty and man’s true nature. I am a grateful Baptist who was introduced to this theological construct in the ‘90s and have come to see as foundational to the Christian faith the doctrines of the Reformation, especially the reliance on Scripture Alone for all things having to do with life and godliness and For the Glory of God Alone to keep us focused rightly in all we think, say, and do. And the mostly forgotten doctrine of our forefathers – Semper Reformanda – Always Reforming, because none of has it all together nor will we get it all together while we inhabit these tents of flesh. This brings me to this remarkable book – The Sabbath Complete, by Terrence D. O’Hare. This book is the result of our author “attending an Orthodox Presbyterian Church where various Sabbath-keeping applications were stressed.” (page xi) Prompted by his pastor, who urged his congregation to examine personal motives in religious practice, he decided to study the concept of the “Christian Sabbath”, which is widely popular in churches which hold to 17th century confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 London Baptist Confession. O’Hare’s study lasted as decade, producing this comprehensive analysis of this contentious issue. His desire, and mine, is that people on both sides of this issue acknowledge the human tendency to cling to traditions (some of which, he shows, are fine and biblical), which can lead to traditions displacing true worship of God and Christ. The thesis of this book is “that Sabbatarianism is a form of traditional pietism and that the acceptance of the fully ceremonial nature of the Sabbath, though shocking to some, is actually Christ-honoring.” (page xiii)

The Sabbath Complete is organized into 12 chapters which examine various aspects of the Sabbath – prototypes, initial practice, law, feasts; how it prefigures Christ in the rest He earned, the Gospel He preached, His resurrection; and a historical review of the practice which has come to be known in the confessions as the “Christian Sabbath.” Coming in at more than 350 heavily footnoted pages, this book is thorough, enlightening, and thought provoking. It is my prayer to whet your appetite enough so that you will buy this book and study it. May the Lord be our wisdom and His glory our goal.

In his examination of the Sabbatic prototypes given to us in Genesis, O’Hare observes (page 1) that “God’s provision for our physical rest is but a token of a more transcendent remedy for our spiritual privation” and follows up (page 6) thusly: “Though God’s rest after creation is a type of everlasting rest yet to come, it is more certainly a type of Jesus Christ, who has come, in whom the faithful rest in salvation.” This snippet shows O’Hare’s focus on Christ – His provision and sufficiency, which is a constant, welcome, perspective throughout this book. As an expression of God’s sovereignty and redemptive revelation, our author reminds us (page 7), “Jonah did not just happen to be engulfed by a great fish and later ejected as a random biological event, but this occurred as designed by the Lord to shadow forth the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. Likewise, the seventh day rest was not a random terminus of creation but a purposed end point to shadow forth the inevitable results of God’s work in redemption.” This sets the stage for a book that is best read slowly, with an open Bible and notepad.

In addition to each Christian studying the Bible for himself, learning from credible sources of church history is very helpful as this sheds light on when and by whom our beloved traditions were started. O’Hare has helpful advice in chapter 9, wherein he reviews the shift to calling Sunday the “Christian Sabbath.” One of the earliest post-apostolic apologists, Justin Martyr, sheds light on the common-place view of Christians in the second century:

And on the first day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read…But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.”

For this most ancient brother, the Lord’s Day was on the first day not as a new instance of the Jewish Sabbath, but in concert with a remembrance of God’s creation and Christ’s resurrection – wherein we have the promise of having our decaying bodies made new like His. Our author laments how Christian traditions were often started not on the Lord’s revelation to us as New Covenant saints, but by imagining connections to Jewish traditions – “such as circumcision giving way to baptism and the Lord’s Supper approximating the Passover, came the forced and fanciful system of religious holidays common in the Roman Catholic Church.” (page 222) He then provides a lengthy quote from famous Roman Catholic Thomas Aquinas, explaining his support for these practices and then comments (page 223), “This teaching blurred the differences between the old and new covenants and paved the way for works orientation. … It was fitting for a better covenant to have fewer ordinances: one, performed only once that identifies the child of God as an heir to the kingdom, and the second, a recurring and sustaining ordinance of remembrance of the life and work of Jesus Christ. Again, similarity does not connote identity. Baptism is not a Christian circumcision, and communion is not a Christian Passover, neither is the Lord’s Day a Christian Sabbath. This is as absurd as calling the new covenant the “Christian old covenant.”” Did I mention that a Presbyterian wrote this book? He goes on to say, “It is plain that the circumcision of the Christian is spiritual and not ritual, and that it is actually the death of Christ, which was His circumcision, into which we were spiritually baptized.” In response to several sabbatarian authors (such as Walter Chantry) who press the “Christian Sabbath”, in part, as a means to restrain evil and provoke (coerce?) Christian worship, O’Hare rightly observes (page 225), “If Christ can raise up rocks to sing His praises (Matt 3:9), why would it be so difficult for Him to raise up His beloved, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, to worship at the appointed time (Ps 116:18-19, 122:1-2)?” Amen! Saints of the living God don’t need a command to gather together for worship and fellowship – we, by definition, love Him, are drawn to Him, and we love the brotherhood!

Each chapter of this book delves into history and Scripture to determine the meaning and origin of the various aspects mentioned in the first paragraph. Each is compelling and enlightening. Chapter 4 – Sabbath Law, examines the Jewish laws and traditions tied to their Sabbath and points out inconsistencies in the practice of modern Christian sabbatarians. In nearly every chapter, the diligent reader will be awed by the realization of how detailed the Jewish religion is as given to them by God and how it is much, much more than merely a quaint religion for those people long ago. The Jewish religion, as the book of Hebrews tells us, is mainly a means of communicating God’s eternal plan of redemption to the people He called out of the pagan nations, to protect the promised seed and make His name known around the world. These two priorities – to glorify the Lord and declare the gospel – are consistently the highest order for us humans. This becomes more and more clear as each chapter is consumed.

To keep this review from running 20 pages or more, I will restrict myself to chapter 10 – The Sabbath in Church History. This will put the “Christian Sabbath” practice so aggressively promoted and protected into its proper context. My desire aligns with the author’s – to have readers of this book see the first day of the week in its biblical context, stripped of the accumulated baggage of 20 centuries of religion.

Chapter 10 begins with the apostolic teaching, with O’Hare stating (page 244), “There are three crucial distinctions between Christianity and its roots in Judaism: holy things, the law, and the customs.” He sees some continuity and some discontinuity in the connection between the old religion and the new, acknowledging the law is good, and “Yet these ceremonial laws isolated the Jews from their pagan neighbors, became the point of contention and ridicule, and represented a wall of separation between the two peoples. This was meant by God to display the isolation between sinners and Himself – the Jew included – so when Christ abolished the ceremonies of Judaism, the gospel of peace and the law of moral commandments would become the unifying theology and practice for Jew and Gentile alike (Eph 2:14-16). … At the beginning of the Christian Church, it was a stumbling block to require Gentiles to observe Jewish rituals: “to whom we gave no commandment.” (Acts 15:24)”

The review of the Didache (50 – 120 AD) reveals no evidence of Sabbath-keeping by Christians; the review of Ignatius’ writings (page 247) shows “he clearly distinguishes between Jewish conduct on the Sabbath and Christian conduct on the Lord’s Day, to indicate the superiority of being a disciple of Christ.” He walks us through the records of Mathetes (130 AD), Justin Martyr (114 – 165 AD), Irenaeus (120 – 202 AD), Tertullian (160 – 225), Origen (185 – 254), Eusebius (265 – 340), Sylvester, Bishop of Rome (314 – 335), the council of Laodicea (364); all of which provide no support for the “Christian Sabbath” and often denounce the idea as being a Jewish encroachment in the church.

By the time Gregory I was installed as pope of the then-emerging Roman Catholic Church, traditions now associated with that religion “were already taking root, such as the liturgical mass, a monastic life, symbolic outfits, ecclesiastical hierarchy, and declaration of days to honor saints.” (page 261) O’Hare provides a lengthy excerpt from a letter to Roman citizens in which Gregory I calls those who forbid work on Sunday (which he called the Sabbath day) “preachers of Antichrist” and sums up: “Gregory’s core understanding is that the Sabbath is a fulfilled ceremonial law that should no longer be literally applied.” (page 262) O’Hare quotes R.J. Bauckham’s claim that Peter Comester (a contemporary of Aquinas and Chancellor of Notre Dame in Paris) was the “first exegete to apply the Sabbath commandment literally to Christian observance of the first day”. (page 263) Our author reminds us (same page) that “While it is helpful to acknowledge the scattered, yet progressive, acceptance of a physical rest on Sunday, it is more important to understand the bases for these practices in empiricism and religious authoritarianism.” History tells us what happened and provides evidence as to motives. The Roman Catholic Church explored ways and means to better influence her subjects, working with the legal authorities to provide a day off work and advocating Christian observance of Sabbath principles. “Their expectation that all citizens attend Mass in this church-state led to the need to force compliance through the appeal to Sabbath law.” Thomas Aquinas further developed this line of thought, “asserting that the old law contains moral (emanating from natural law), judicial (laws regarding justice among men), and ceremonial (laws touching on worship, holiness, and sanctification) precepts; and that these three can be distinguished in the Decalogue as well.” (page 264) This appears to be the first teaching of what is now cherished reformed doctrine – that the Law of Moses can be separated into these three categories and dealt with appropriately for new covenant saints. There should be no denying these three elements are found in the Law of Moses, but, as O’Hare shows us with Aquinas, determining what is ceremonial and what is moral is the rub. Aquinas recognized a moral teaching in the Sabbath commandment – people should worship God; he also recognized the ceremonial component, specifically the date upon which such worship is to be given. “At this juncture, Aquinas took the first step toward Sabbatarianism by moralizing a ceremonial command” by asserting the moral necessity of giving time to God. (page 265) Aquinas agreed with Augustine that moral laws are revealed by nature, so all men are without excuse. But in order to get man to be at mass and give to the church due obeisance, Aquinas saw value in elevating that which had been rightly considered ceremonial to moral status.

We will step quickly through the early reformers to show how this idea progressed. Philip Melancthon is quoted as saying, in 1530, “Those who consider the appointment of Sunday in place of the Sabbath as a necessary institution are very much mistaken, for the Holy Scriptures have abrogated the Sabbath and teach that after the revelation of the Gospel all ceremonies of the old law may be omitted.” (page 274) “Luther vacillates between his definitions of the Sabbath as a ceremonial law bearing no external application for Christians and a binding law incurring God’s judgment if disobeyed.” (page 279) John Calvin also had trouble being consistent in his view on this matter. In asserting “that the Sabbath was ceremonial and is moral leaves us open to problems concerning the nature of its existence – it is both abrogated and legally binding. This was further complicated by the church-state relationship that sought to mimic a theocratic Israel and by Calvin’s misconception that the biblical Sabbath required all Israelites to assemble at the synagogue.” (page 281) In his commentary on the Heidelberg Confession, written in 1563, O’Hare lists eight failures on the part of reformers that led them to embrace the “Christian Sabbath” (page 288):

  • Failure to familiarize themselves with the teachings of the early church fathers regarding the Sabbath.

  • Failure to expand the understanding of how the Lord’s advent fulfilled each specific Sabbath command beyond “resting from one’s sins.”

  • Failure to be consistent in the treatment of ceremonial laws and types.

  • Failure to satisfactorily explain why the ceremonial Sabbath was placed with the body of the Ten Commandments.

  • Failure to recognize the limitations of the Ten Commandments as a means to inculcate Christian ethics.

  • Failure to differentiate the biblical Sabbath from the tradition of the synagogue.

  • Failure to emphasize the authority of the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to institute a new order of congregational worship.

  • Failure to distinguish the Sabbath from the Lord’s Day.”

In what may be the keystone paragraph in the entire book, O’Hare explains the meaning of the Sabbath commandment (page 289).

The Mediator is on the first table (of the Decalogue) because, unlike Moses, Christ truly comes from God and is fully God. Yet Christ, by becoming fully man, joins with man to make him complete. Man cannot become complete simply by keeping the law, but he must experience through faith a life-altering union with Christ. The ceremonial Sabbath is the evangelion within the Ten Commandments that addresses the redemption of man. It is Christ Himself who takes the place of the Sabbath in the Decalogue. The Lord’s Day is not a continuum of the Sabbath or its replacement; it is a fresh ordinance for the church of God based upon the completion of redemption that was twice sealed by the Lord, first by His resurrection and second by the descent of the Holy Spirit.”

This puts the Decalogue in the absolute best light for new covenant saints to understand it and relate to it. (Scripture never calls the Decalogue “The Ten Commandments”, but only and always “the ten words” – hence the term Decalogue. But “Ten Commandments” are much weightier in the mouths of religious overlords than are “ten words”. I would have liked O’Hare to address this aspect of the creeping incrementalism of religious lordship in the church.)

It was during this time that the early reformers also broke with the clear teachings of Scripture and the church fathers by beginning to teach the Sabbath as the product of a creation ordinance. This was taught by Ursinus who “may have adopted the theory of the Reformed Englishman John Hooper, who, in his widely published book, Declaration of the Ten Holy Commandments (1548), claimed that God instituted the Sabbath from creation. … So, only 300 years after Aquinas and fifty years after Luther, the admixture of the Sabbath and Lord’s Day developed into a general concept that the Lord’s Day is the Sabbath, fostering the idea that the Sabbath remains a viable force in Christian living.” (page 290) This creation-ordinance based “Christian Sabbath” was a major element used by state-churches on both sides of the Atlantic to coerce Sunday worship – just as Rome had learned to do, using the same unfortunate logic.

In 1973, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church published a report from a committee that had been formed to study the relationship of the Westminster Confession of Faith to the fourth commandment. In part, the committee reported:

The weekly Sabbath is an eschatological sign. This truth, central to the teaching of Hebrews 3:7 – 4:13 as well as fundamental to the entire biblical revelation concerning the Sabbath, does not find expression in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. The reason for this would appear to be that the Standards mention the Sabbath commandment primarily in terms of its bearing on the more specific matter of public and private worship.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith was not changed to reflect the eschatological import of the fourth commandment. O’Hare, having taught in this book the nature of moral law (unchanging and universal), observes “If the Sabbath is not ceremonial or typological, it is not eschatological.” “Where”, he asks, “”can it be shown that the Ten Commandments summarize the moral law given to Adam? Where can it be demonstrated that the Sabbath commandment is purely moral?” (page 291) “Was the fourth commandment, as God gave it to Israel, about the Christian Sabbath or the Jewish Sabbath? Was there anything else in the fourth commandment that was abrogated than merely the day of the week on which it fell? Where can it be shown that God abrogated the Jewish Sabbath and installed a Christian Sabbath in its place? … So, besides omitting fundamental truths about the Sabbath, the Westminster codified interpretive errors that budded with Aquinas and blossomed with early Reformers.” (page 292)

In closing this very provoking chapter, O’Hare shows us that the fourth commandment not only commanded rest, it commanded work for six days. The Hebrew word in this commandment is in the Qal imperfect tense, which implies an on-going action – “you work”. “But, if the fourth commandment moralizes the example of God for man to obey, then it is as much a sin to work on the day of rest as it is to rest on the days of work. … if someone completes their (sic) work in three days and does nothing more for three more days, what exactly are they ceasing from on the seventh day?” He instructs us on two types of rest: “1) God’s rest signifies the promise of eternal life, and 2) Israel’s rest signified her faith in God alone. God’s work is redemptive, so man’s work is meaningless apart from that redemption.” (page 309)

The early church correctly believed that the Sabbath was a ceremonial command and welcomed the ordination of the Lord’s Day as a commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection. However, the ascension of church power through the state and the influence of rationalism allowed the medieval church to begin to associate the fourth commandment with the Lord’s Day. The Reformed church, by perpetuating the error of Aquinas, eventually expanded the scope of applications of Sabbath law and increased its moral muscle, forcing the church to practice Sunday Sabbatarianism.” (page 311)

He gives us eight conclusions which are supported by Scripture and history (page 311):

  • The creation account is not about the Sabbath. It is about the primal peace with God that was lost through sin because of a lack of faith. The pattern of creation – six days of God’s work and the ensuing rest – reverberates through Scripture to demonstrate God’s sovereignty in effecting the work of redemption by grace through the faith of man.

  • When Israel left Egypt they were given the Feast of Passover; a few weeks later in the wilderness they were given the Sabbath. At Mount Sinai, Israel received her full calendar of feasts. The Lord devised this new system of shadow laws to prefigure the person and work of the Messiah.

  • The Ten Commandments are a summary of the Mosaic laws and therefore contain both moral and ceremonial laws.

  • Christ in His earthly ministry was born under the law and obeyed the ceremonial laws as well as the moral laws.

  • Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. His work of redemption – His incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection – is the fulfillment of all shadow laws, even though some of them are yet to be manifested in their entirety.

  • The redemption of Jesus Christ initiated the new covenant. It is the fulfillment of what the former covenants forecasted.

  • The apostles had divine warrant to establish first-day worship. Scripture unfolds the transition from things Jewish to things Christian. First-day weekly worship was the normative practice of the early church, it did not move the Sabbath to Sunday.

  • While there is no explicit scriptural mandate for this transition, we have scriptural foreshadowing and history of first-day significance, and rationale. Christ’s resurrection and the inaugural descent of the Holy Spirit – the most important events of the church age – occurred on the first day of the weeks in fulfillment of Israel’s shadowy calendar laws.”

There is much, much more in this book than I can even hint at in these few pages – which are too many for most, I fear. Buy the book. Study the topics, challenge the author (I found a few places where I consider him to be in error), challenge yourself – for none of us has arrived any more than did any of the Reformers.

At the end of it all, why doesn’t this book, or anyone else, show from Scripture why the Jewish Sabbath command is not meant for the new covenant church? This is the wrong starting point. We look to Scripture to see what is, what God has revealed to us; not to prove a point. What we see in Scripture about the Decalogue is that is was an integral part of the Mosaic Covenant and the testimony or witness of that covenant (Ex 31:18, 32:15, 34:27 – 29). This key aspect of the Decalogue being a testimony of God’s covenant with Israel is further developed in Ex 25 and 26, with the ark being the “ark of the testimony” (see Ex 25:22 for emphasis). This is reminiscent of Ex 16:33 – 34 when Moses was commanded to put manna in a jar as a testimony God’s promise of provisions, seen in Ex 16:4 – 5. These are the most (only?) explicit statements in the Bible regarding the reason and purpose for the tablets and the ark – as a testimony of God’s covenant with Israel made on Mt. Sinai. Ezekiel 20:12 tells us the Sabbath is a sign between God and the Hebrews – marking their exodus from Egypt. It is not listed as a sign for the church, any more than water baptism is a sign and seal of that New Covenant. The burden is on the backs of those who say the Jewish Sabbath was, as the confessions say, abolished and re-established on the first day of the week, given to the church as the “Christian Sabbath.” That assertion, is found in paragraph 22.7 of the Second London Baptist Confession, yet established by no Scripture. Yet we do see in God’s Word the admonition for Christians to be understanding and accepting of brothers who lean on the practice of old religion (Romans 14 and 1 Cor 8) as well as stern rebukes for those who want Christians to practice old religion as a requirement (Acts 15).

The Sabbath Complete provides a comprehensive review and analysis of myriad aspects of the Decalogue and the Sabbath; examining the Word of God, the languages, and the historical context. Let the reader humbly go before Holy God and plead for understanding rather than rely on his own “wisdom” or unexamined presuppositions that we all hold too closely. Remember those who went before us – they knew they were fallible, yet many of them acted as if they were complete in their understanding of God’s Word. Yet they stood under the banner of Sufficiency of Scripture and all for the glory of God – as we must. But let these slogans of an bygone era be not merely nifty phrases we use to show our credentials, let each of us also acknowledge that we must be reformed and reforming for the glory of God, for He alone sees and understands perfectly.

This book is available on Amazon and directly from the publisher, at a competitive price.

Futureville – A Bridge Too Far

Futureville – A Bridge Too Far

A review by Stuart Brogden

The premise behind Skye Jethani’s book, Futureville, is a good one – “What we think Futurevilleabout tomorrow matters because our vision of the future is what determines how we understand the present.” (page 3) Chapters 3 and 4 serve to provide common, but flawed, views of the created order and how it will be in the next age. In each of these, roughly showing the unrealistic golden age embraced by post-millennials and the pessimistic end of the world embraced by dispensationalists, the author provides historical and biblical support for his view of the flaws in each. In chapter 5, Jethani tells us what, in his opinion, the proper view of tomorrow is, with the remainder of the book examining various aspects of our lives that are impacted by our world view.

 

Chapter 2 begins a scene describing the 1939 New York World’s Fair, describing the image of the future presented by the mythical community of Pleasantville. The author uses this as a springboard to call the Christian focus of “last things” Futureville. This term is the title of the book, of course, and it becomes – for me – a tiresome term that is over-used. He contrasts the end of the age with the beginning – the Garden. In doing so, Jethani does well to explore the nature and meaning of the Garden of Eden, making very credible and solid connections with the New Earth. He tends to stretch points too far and does so with this statement (page 25): “Scripture affirms that humans require beauty to thrive. Beauty nourishes our spirit the way food nourishes our bodies.” He provides no footnote, no Scripture reference. The Bible tells me music has value but that only Christ can satisfy and nourish our souls. There is no substitute.

 

In keeping with his pattern of coming up with unusual terms for well known biblical concepts, Jethani calls the post-millennial view evolution and dispensationalism is evacuation. His descriptions of the effects of each of these views are well presented. Of the evolutionary view, he says (page 46) “The belief that we are responsible for the creating Futureville fueled many ministries and Christian initiatives.” Indeed, if we think we are to bring in “the golden age of Christianity”, we will behave far differently than if we believe it will all burn and nothing is worth saving. Jethani’s thesis is that a solidly biblical view of end times – where the heavens and earth (all that God created) will die in God’s judgment as Peter describes it. But as the body of Christ lie in the grave for three days and was resurrected in far better shape, so will the created order. That which was cursed by God as a result of Adam’s sin groans in anticipation of this resurrection.

 

The balance of the book covers his view of the resurrection of the earth and what that means, as well as our vocations, the order of God’s creation, the beauty and abundance thereof, finishing up with our hope – which is rightly rooted in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Jethani’s case for the resurrection of the earth, rather than the total annihilation of it, is credible and convincing. The conclusions he draws in these last chapters are less so. He refers to the God-declared beauty of the Garden of Eden and the God-ordained beauty of the tabernacle and then extrapolates that to thinking what man does is likewise valuable. He agrees with Richard Mouw that of “the artifacts and creations of pagan cultures, God will instead purify and redeem them for use in Futureville for his glory.” (page 95), going so far as to say, “In Futureville, King David may someday admire Michelangelo’s status of himself” (page 96). He comes too close to a post-millennial view in telling us “We have a role to play in God’s plan to unite heaven and earth, to advance the story of of the world to culmination, and to see the earth cultivated into the garden city.” (page 97) Jethani’s case for thinking the work of the unredeemed will be purified and used by God in “Futureville” is contrary to what the Bible tells us about those people and their “righteous acts”. Not all the works of Christians will pass through God’s judgment – why would anyone think some of the works of reprobates will? The trees in the garden and the tabernacle in the wilderness were God’s handiwork – He caused the Egyptians to give their wealth to the Hebrews, He gave the plans for the tabernacle to Moses, He gave wisdom and skill to various workers to build it. No work of man has these critical attributes – it is a bridge too far to say pagan art can be pleasing to God; that art generated by those who hate Him and are the objects of His wrath.

 

In describing the importance of social work and relieving the suffering of people, Jethani tells us there should be no tension between social justice and gospel evangelism – they are both vital (pages 122 – 124). In his discussion of this concept, he falls into the same pit many others have – putting more emphasis on that which can be measured, while claiming to extol evangelism equally; apparently forgetting the biblical injunction that godliness is a higher priority for the Christian than physical wellness or fitness (1 Tim 4:6-16). His post-millennial view shows up again (page 131) when he says “The Communion table looked forward to the coming day when all injustice would be made right in the garden city of God.” While the Corinth church was a hot-bed of selfishness and other problems, the message in 1 Cor 11 about the Lord’s Supper is a reminder that they who are in Christ are equal, without social standing or rank differences; a reminder that Christ earned His standing as the Lamb of God and bought us with His blood; a reminder that He has gone to His Father and will return to take us home. Being with Jesus where there is no sin or temptation thereto – that is what the table declares to us. It puts the sacrifice of Christ and our eternity with Him in terms of human value to claim Communion is about injustice coming to an end.

 

All in all, this book has much to recommend. But there is just as much to be wary of. It is a good thing if one wants to be properly oriented to the future so he will live rightly today. A better, more biblical approach would be to study the Idealist or Optimistic Amillennial perspective, using a good guide to Revelation such as Dennis Johnson’s Triumph of the Lamb. God’s people need to better understand His Word – for in it alone He has given us what we need for godly life and true worship of Him. And to bring Him glory is our highest aim in life – as it is for all creation.

Hell – Wrongly Presented

All You Want to Know About Hell  Hell

by Steve Gregg

a review by Stuart Brogden

From the not-so-fine folks at Westboro Baptist Church to Rob Bell, it seems that nearly everyone has an opinion about Hell and who will end up there. Steve Gregg’s book promises to tell us everything we want to know about the subject, claiming to present “three Christian views of God’s final solution to the problem of sin”. This leads the reader to expect a biblical defense and analysis of this topic. These three views are listed as the Traditional, Conditional, and Restorational views. I hope to show you how this works out so you can determine if this book will strengthen your faith in the biblical God.

The forward, ostensibly written by Gregg, reveals his bias early on as he asks the reader to conduct a thought experiment – If the Bible said nothing about hell, which of the three views would you expect God to choose based on what the Bible says about God; and then, “Based upon your character, which would you wish for Him to choose?” We will see this orientation repeated within this book – looking at creator God or some doctrine from a humanistic perspective rather than a biblical one. This is a recipe for trouble. The Introduction is a walk through various man-centered views about innocence and goodness and punishment, accompanied by the assertion that none of these three views about hell “denies any major affirmation of the gospel” (page 4). Prior to providing a summary of the three views, Gregg says, “I have come to believe that none of these positions can justly be called “heretical.” All are held by evangelicals who accept the authority of Scripture.” Gregg includes Roman Catholics, Christian liberals, and neo-orthodox within his overly broad category of “evangelicals” and he has a rather liberal view of “accepting the authority of Scripture.” This causes some of the author’s confusion on this topic. After describing these three views, he tells us his intention is not to promote any one view. The overviews provided in the Introduction include myriad proof-texts for each – a particularly unsatisfactory method of supporting a doctrinal position, as lack of context allows virtually any Scripture to be claimed by virtually anyone for virtually any argument. And a common thread throughout the book is one of questioning the traditional view.

One thing about our author which is very good – he is not blinded by what he was taught and does seek to prompt the reader to think about what he reads in Scripture. This is a good thing, one that I believe most folks pay little heed to. A case in point – many English Bibles carelessly use the word “hell” for the grave and for hell. The Apostles’ Creed doesn’t help in this particular case. We must be careful how we read.

Gregg starts off chapter 1 (page 17) saying, “Atheists find the doctrine (of hell) to be a strong deterrent to their belief in the God of Christianity.” Perhaps he meant to say that atheist claim this to be so, they hate God and will do what they can to judge the Judge of all creation. The truth about atheists is that they are dead in sin and unable to believe in Christ – unless the Spirit of God raise them up and give them faith. In his supposedly even-handed review of the Calvinistic view, Gregg actually ridicules it by describing this view of God as “a bipolar entity” who is “about equally divided between extreme love and extreme hatred”, and declare this not to reflect the biblical God (page 23). An honest reading of just about any book in the Bible shows the Creator, Sustainer, and Judge of all flesh as One Who saves whom He wishes and destroys whom He wishes. Romans 9 is a prime example of this dynamic picture of the only true God. Throughout this chapter our author portrays hell as the product of human thought, pulls Scripture out of context to make a point, and claims the Roman Catholic Church’s political campaigns known as the Crusades demonstrates how hellish Christians can be. Here’s that humanistic view – anyone who claims to be a Christian is to be accepted as one. Then, when some professing Christians do hellish things, we can drag the Bible through the mud with them. While any Christian is capable of doing pretty much any wicked thing, every true Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and not be at peace with sin. The decades-long Crusades do not represent Christians who got lazy and lapsed into sin. It was a deliberate series of acts that cannot be reconciled to Christianity, organized by a cult that has done more to kill Christians and keep the Bible locked up than the Muslims ever have.

In the last few pages of this chapter, titled, “Why Hell?”, Gregg (pg 47) claims “a punishment that never reaches an end can only guarantee that justice will never finally prevail. Unless the sinner’s sin actually deserves infinite punishment, such punishment must be inherently unjust.” In the next paragraph, Gregg notes that these points he just made “are the reasonings of mere men – but what other reasoning is at our disposal?” Yet on page 40, we were told the “approach that evaluates a teaching merely from the standpoint of human reactions to it is inferior, in that it is man-centered. To be authentic, Christian theology must be God-centered.” To this, all God’s children say a hearty AMEN! But, as I noted at the beginning, a humanist view pervades this book. He brings this chapter to a close observing that eternal punishment to satisfy God’s wrath is a “harder sell” than a hell that serves a redemptive purpose, then he quotes the liberal, Clark Pinnock: “The traditional view of the nature of hell does not cohere well with the character of God disclosed in the gospel.” If the character was only disclosed to us in “the gospel” (one cannot help but wonder if Mr. Pinnock knows the biblical gospel), then one might listen. But that’s not the case. The Christian accepts the Word of God as His wisdom revealed to us and we submit our minds to that, crying out to the Holy Spirit for understanding. We do not lean on our own understanding! Elsewhere Gregg acknowledges the notion that a creature sinning against an infinite Creator is viewed, by some, as justifying infinite punishment. He also mentions in his argument for the traditional view the reality that unredeemed sinners in hell do not stop sinning; therefore, their punishment doesn’t stop. Both of these aspects are worthy of consideration before one embraces a position promoted by a “Christian liberal.”

Gregg spills a lot of ink telling us that hell is not mentioned very much in Scripture and that hell was not a “front-burner” issue for the Savior or His apostles. “They must have found something other than terror to motivate them to obedience and service.” Our author laments gospel preaching that is basically a warning to escape the coming judgment of God – rightfully so, as that is not faithful preaching. The gospel is fundamentally about the redemption of sinners by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone – to be with Him forever on the new earth. Gregg is right (pg 61) to point out that repentance accompanies faith and should not be ignored in gospel preaching. Two pages later, he tells us of devout Christian man who testified that “he could not become a Christian (that is, he could not love God) until he actually came to disbelieve in the traditional doctrine of hell.” This is not the way a person is saved – this is the story of a man seeking a god made in his image because he does not like the God Who is. He quotes Pinnock again, propping up the notion that people must be convinced to save themselves, and then says “We must not allow pragmatism to drive our message. Our message must be the truth. Any deviation from what the Bible really teaches may produce undesirable and unforeseen consequences.” And yet he keeps on bringing up ideas and suggestions that God will not punish unrepentant sinners for eternity – sounding to me more like the serpent in the garden than a Christian theologian. And then he ends the chapter reminding us, “God alone is enough for those who seek and find Him.” AMEN!

Gregg’s personal bias shows forth in the chapter discussing Lazarus and the rich man, as he asserts (page 70) that the scene of demons emerging from the pit in Rev 9, 11, and 20 “is not properly identified with what we commonly think of as hell.” Two pages later we read, “Hades itself is destined to be cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14), so it obviously is not the same thing as the lake of fire.” Each of these scenes presents the abyss where demons come from and go back to – what I commonly think of as hell. I also see Revelation as a picture book of progressive parallel series of re-tellings of the church age, culminating with the return of Christ, the judgment of the people of earth, and the establishment of the new earth where He will reign with all the redeemed for eternity. Since John’s Apocalypse is apocalyptic literature, we need to see the word pictures as such and not take them literally. This helps one not fall into the problems that hound Gregg.

Chapter 5 is a word study on Gehenna and Aionios, and our author seems to be stuck in his literal interpretative mode, seeing this word refer to various places where people and trash were burnt, etc. and having trouble seeing that as a metaphor for the place where unrepentant sinners will be punished for eternity. Having previously told us, rightly, that a doctrine does not need to be repeated multiple times to be valid, Gregg now turns the other cheek and notes that Jesus spoke about hell very little. He sums up this teaching thusly (page 89): “We are told almost nothing about it (hell) in these places (the gospel accounts), except that bodies (footnote Matt 5:29,30; 18:9; Mark 9:43,45,47) can be thrown into “everlasting” and “unquenchable” fire there (footnote Matt 18:8; Mark 9:43,45,48), resulting in a fate worse than mere mutilation or martyrdom, involving the destruction of soul and body (footnote Matt 10:28).” He then laments that this does not seem to be enough detail or discussion about something as important as eternal punishment. If one has a biblical understanding of redemptive history, sees the curses in Deut 29 for anyone who fails to keep the law, grasps the picture of atonement, partially comprehends the holiness of God and His righteous hatred of sin, see how Christians are redeemed and rescued from the wrath of God by the Lamb of God – those few passages Gregg cited are more than adequate to show what will happen to all whose name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. The temporal references to punishment and fire are shadows of the eternal things they represent just as sure as the Levitical sacrifices were (Heb 8:5). It does the child of God no good at all to discount the seriousness of sin, making hell little more than a rehabilitation camp, and denigrating the perfection of Christ in the flesh and His atoning sacrifice for the elect.

In discussing the Greek word, aionios, Gregg again gets bogged down in literal, temporal uses and the definition that fits those circumstances – and then imposes that definition on the eternal, spiritual circumstances. This is done with the apparent aim of trying to show that eternal destruction means something less, something more bearable, something redemptive; something unbiblical. He rightly warns about the improper use of concordances, but (page 101) uses a footnote to tell us why we should not think of this Greek word as meaning eternal – because in 20 out of more than 320 uses it points to something in the past, but “rarely if ever to a limitless past.” More than 300 times the word indicates indefinite continuance, 20 times it points to the past. When it points to the past, it normally doesn’t mean limitless. So when this word points to the future and, in more than 300 instances, indicates indefinite continuance, we should think it doesn’t mean endless. It’s just not as explicit as Gregg would like it, not clear enough for those without spiritual eyes to see and believe.

Lastly, we’ll take a look at his defense of the traditional view – that hell is the eternal punishment of fallen angels and unrepentant sinners. He appears to have no problem with the idea that the soul of man is eternal. That’s his first point in defending this view. Next up is the nature of hell – fire can be figurative or literal, some think hell is simply being ignored by God (page 139). As noted above, we see both in what we are saved from and what demons and unredeemed are destined to suffer, those in hell are not separated from God, they are separated from everything except His wrath. And His wrath they will suffer under for an indefinite continuance – eternity. His 3rd point is that repentance will be unavailable in hell. How could there be, considering the judgment that determines destiny happens when man dies? Repentance is a gift from God to His redeemed – not something extended to those in hell. This is one reason unlimited atonement is wrong thinking – the blood of Jesus would not have been shed for anyone not predestined by God the Father and sealed by God the Spirit. The three holy persons of the Trinity are unified – why would they be at odds with one another in this greatest exchange? The 4th point is the right perspective that the saints’ joy in heaven (or the new earth) will not be affected or mitigated by knowledge of the damnation of the lost. Our joy will based on being with God, not on being forgetful of His justice on the wicked. There but by the grace of God go you and I.

In his cross-examination of this position, Gregg argues for temporal interpretations of passages such as Matt 3:10 & 12, insisting they are nor eschatalogical. But the student of God’s Word will know that many prophecies in the Old and New Testaments have a “near” and a “far” application – such as the famous citation in Matt 2:15, claiming Hosea’s prophecy for Jesus, that most certainly was written as a remembrance of the faithfulness of God in redeeming Israel from Egypt. And the same story of John the Baptist cited in Mark 3:10 is found in Luke 3, where verse 15 makes it clear that the winnowing John speaks of is eschatalogical. When Gregg discussed “the wages of sin”, he sides with liberals who think God would have spoken clearly to the ancient people if He intended them to know they might face eternal punishment (page 143). But the Bible tells us that, when Adam ate from the forbidden tree, his eyes were opened and he knew good and evil. From that point on, all human flesh knew right from wrong (Roman 2:12 – 15), just as Cain knew murder was wrong without ever being told. Do we believe the Word of God or a liberal that questions it? When the author ponders “the worm that does not die”, he argues that this is used to describe corpses – and corpses are not what traditionalists say are in hell. So Is 66:24 can’t be talking about hell. He skips right over Psalm 22:6 and Job 25:6 where man is called a worm – so we take our meaning from context and know that when the Bible refers to worms, it can mean men who are not corpses.

Once again, in his argument starting on page 178, Gregg acknowledges Revelation to be apocalyptic literature (page 179) and applies that to the “torment” described in Rev 14:10-11, but not so the “fire and brimstone”. He asserts (page 179) “However, “fire and brimstone” were previously seen in Revelation in connection with temporal judgment that are not associated with the lake of fire (Rev 9:17-18). He then quotes William Fudge, who was educated by the Church of Christ (at Abilene Christian College) and denies that man’s soul is immortal; because such a thing would require the traditional view of hell. The quote from Fudge: “It is not at all clear that Revelation 14:9-11 is even speaking about final punishment.” Let’s look at this passage and see. Here’s the cited text: Revelation 14:9-11 And a third angel followed them and spoke with a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name. Many people who see John’s Apocalypse in the idealist view see seven parallel and progressive retellings of the age between Christ’s two advents, with the end of this age being told several times – including the end of chapter 14. Read the balance of this chapter and it becomes clear we’re reading the end of the age and doom that awaits all who worship not the God of heaven and earth.

He continues to claim the temporal judgments, such as what God poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah, mean that references to them and the use of similar terms (like fire and brimstone) must not be eternal. But we do see how temporal things are signs and types of eternal things (such as in Hebrews 9:1-10). And since we know that the soul of man lives forever (Gregg has pointed us to some of these, such as Dan 12:2-3), and since unrepentant sinners have sinned against the perfect, absolutely holy God, and they will not stop sinning once in hell, their torment will be eternal. And one last comment on this book, because it is as the preacher said in Ecclesiastes 12:12, there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. Gregg quotes another liberal, as John Stott ended up, in observing that Rev 14:11 says “it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which ‘rises forever and ever’” – in making the assertion that people are not punished “forever and ever”. It’s only the smoke of their “light and momentary” torment that produces smoke which “rises forever and ever”. Every camper knows that the only way smoke will continue to rise is if the fire continues to have fuel. Without fuel, the smoke will dissipate and slowly stop – it will not continue forever and ever. And since the Lord Jesus described hell (Mark 9:44, 46, & 48) as the unquenchable fire, where Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. How much more clear can it be? Living man is described as a worm; in hell, the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. And the smoke of that fire which is not quenched as it burns those who dieing do not die, rise forever and ever – as they never repent but keep on cursing God throughout eternity. This is the biblical truth of hell that soft-headed liberals cannot face.

Holy God redeems some and saves us “from the wrath to come” (1 Thess 1:10). Those for whom He did not shed His blood He will reject, telling them ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’ On Judgment Day, those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (which were written before the foundation of the world – see Rev 13:8) will look for a place to hide from the Lamb of God – but there will be no place to hide, no deed done in darkness that will not be revealed. Just as Satan and his demons are thrown into the lake of fire, where they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 14:10), so will all those who were not predestined to eternal life be cast into the lake of fire. The Bible calls this “the second death” (Rev 14:14). Revelation 20:15 tells us And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Contrary to the question Gregg would to plant in our minds, in this one passage of God’s holy Word we see that those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life are thrown into the lake of fire, the same place Satan and his demon are thrown, where they all will be tormented forever – and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever. This is the second death that all men deserve. This is the wrath of God from which we who are in Christ Jesus are shielded (Romans 8:1). This is the doom that awaits all who do not believe and will not repent.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is all about Him. It is a reminder that all men have rebelled against Holy God and all deserve His wrath. But the Lord Jesus has gone before us – the Law-giver became the Law-keeper on the account of the Law-breakers. He has surrendered His perfect life as an atonement for people of every nation, tribe, and tongue – all those whose names were written in the Lamb’s Books of Life before He founded the world. We have a surety that cannot be taken from us – there is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And since there is no other name on earth or in heaven by which man must be saved, all those who do not place their faith and trust in Him, who do not repent daily and seek to honor Him will suffer the just reward for the sin they carry in their flesh as children of Adam and the sin they commit in their bodies because they are slaves to it. There is a penalty to pay and if Christ has not paid your debt, you will suffer for eternity racking up a bill that will never be marked, “PAID IN FULL!” Therefore, believe on Jesus, repent and seek Him while is it yet today!

Hell is not part of the gospel. The Bible does not give us a lot of details on hell, just as does not give a lot of details on heaven or the new earth, which will be the eternal home for Christians. That doesn’t mean these issued are unimportant, but it means they are not of first priority. “What I must do to be saved?” That is the question which must be answered. That is why the gospel is of first importance. We should not argue secondary issued with those who are “outside the camp”. They need to believe in Jesus, not figure out hell. We who are in Christ are to never stop growing in faith and knowledge of Him. All else is secondary. Think on heavenly things – that is where we are seated with Christ at this moment!

The Holy Spirit and Reformed Theology

Some books are a chore to read – because of content and/or style and/or the author’s competence as an author. Some books are a joy to read – the content is excellent, the style is engaging and the book is well written and Holy Spiritorganized. This book is such a book – joy unspeakable! Yet about this book, I will speak.

I received this book from a friend who manages a library at a Christian Seminary and wanted someone to read and review it. He got first peek at the review, ya’ll get it as a close “second”.

The Holy Spirit and Reformed Theology

edited by Joel Beeke and Derek Thomas

One area many reformed theologians tend to ignore is the person and work of the Holy Spirit. There is a legitimate concern by most preachers about exalting the Lord Jesus and being faithful to His gospel, but no preaching or evangelism or Bible study would be worthwhile if the Spirit of the living God did not faithfully attend each of these. This book – a compilation of articles on various works of the Holy Spirit, written by 9 Baptists and 9 Paedobaptists – is a wonderful examination of the biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It was written in tribute to the work He has done in the life Geoff Thomas, a faithful gospel minister who has served half a century in the local church our Lord called him to. I have personally benefited greatly from Geoff Thomas’ commentary on Daniel and was most eager to read this book.

The Holy Spirit and Reformed Theology is divided into four sections – Geoff Thomas: Faithful Instrument of the Spirit in part I; Salvation and the Spirit of Christ in part II; Growth and the Spirit of Holiness in part III; and Ministry and the Spirit of Counsel and Might in part IV. As you can see from the section titles, the authors recognize and highlight myriad functions and characteristics of the Holy Spirit. The reader will come away from this book with a heightened sense of the power and majesty of the third person of the Holy Trinity.

I will highlight one chapter to give you a taste of the quality and penetrating theology the authors provide. Fred Malone’s chapter, #6, is titled The Holy Spirit and Human Responsibility – a topic I think many Christians fail to properly comprehend. Malone opens with an observation from Geoff Thomas’ book, The Holy Spirit: Man is fully responsible for his behavior and God is fully sovereign in His work to conform man to the image of His dear Son. In stark contrast to the “higher life” movements which advocate a theology of “let go and let God” and the self-improvement psychology, a biblical view of sanctification acknowledges the tension Thomas proclaimed.

Infamously promoted by the Roman Catholic Church is the conflation of justification and sanctification, leading to confusion about both doctrines. Justification is completely monergistic – by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Sanctification involves man’s effort, so it is not the monergistic work of God alone – yet neither is it rightly called synergistic. This term conveys a process which depends on both elements – in the case of sanctification those are God and man. The truth of biblical sanctification is this: man cannot sanctify himself apart from the indwelling work and power of the Spirit of God; but the Holy Spirit can and does sanctify man without the man’s cooperation, though this should not be our aim. Our responsibility before God is to work with the Holy Spirit, not grieve Him.

In outlining this concept, Malone tells us, “Man does not regenerate himself; God does not repent and believe for man.” Sinners are made able and willing to repent and believe by the Spirit’s work of regeneration. Our nature is changed and we then “choose Christ” – because He first chose us. Our author points to Philippians 2:12-13, saying it “presents the earthly pursuit of Christlikeness as one hundred percent a sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit who works with us and also one hundred percent the work of man with his new God-given ability. If this two hundred percent sum sounds illogical, then we must bow to God’s Word, not man’s logic.” Let all the saints say, Amen!

Malone gives the reader a couple of wonderful paragraphs on the individual’s role in sanctification, with many Scripture passages (pages 76 and 77) and follows up with a short warning: “We cannot blame God for our lack of conformity to Christ.” He explains, “Every step we take forward in Christlikeness brings one hundred percent glory to God alone. However, if we are lacking in that conformity, we must take one hundred percent of the responsibility for that failure and press on by faith.” If this exhortation does not convict as it encourages us to trust all the more in the Lord, then “let a man examine himself to see if he be in the faith.”

This chapter ends by proclaiming the critical nature God’s Word plays in the justification and sanctification of God’s saints. As is pointed out elsewhere in this book, the Holy Spirit inspired the Scripture, equipped the men who put the Word into print, accompanies the reading and preaching of the Word to do His unique work in each predestined child who awaits (unknowingly) his redemption. “So Christians must give full attention to learning the Word of God to grow thereby (1 Peter 2:1-2).” Christian, do you value the Word of God? By this, I ask, do you read it with a humble heart seeking to meet with your maker and judge and Savior? I leave you with one more quote from Malone – “to the degree we live believing the indicatives of grace revealed in the Word – the love of God for us in Christ’s salvation, the unfailing faithfulness of God to His promises to work in us – so we grow in obeying the imperatives of the Word unto further sanctification and Christlikeness.”

Dear reader, the Holy Spirit is God and He works in and through His Word, to raise spiritually dead men to new life, to give them a new nature that loves rather than hates God, to cause us to want what is good and hate what is evil. This book provides a most valuable look at the depth and breadth of His work, highlighting what He does mostly in secret because His role is to bring honor and glory to the Father and the Son. Praise Him!

Strange Fire

Strange Fire by John MacArthur  strange-fire-the-danger-of-offending-the-holy-spirit-with-counterfeit-worship

a review

One area many – dare I say most – current day evangelicals have gone astray from orthodox Christianity is the topic of MacArthur’s latest book. From Southern Baptists to contemporary “Christian” radio, slogans and anecdotes fill space and airways with the message that it’s normal to hear from God. This is not the biblical message of “hearing” from God as you read and study His Word – it’s the dangerous practice of believing inferences and confirmations from myriad sources are God’s way of “speaking to your heart”. It is this claim of extra-biblical revelation that MacArthur addresses in Strange Fire. If your blood isn’t stirred up by the thought of reading and entire book detailing the train wreck of uninhibited charismania, it’s important, maybe more so – that this book also provides the child of God very good counsel on the identity, mission, and work of the Holy Spirit.

MacArthur’s book is comprised of 12 chapters on topics covering new apostles and prophets, gifts of healing and tongues, the work of the Spirit in salvation, sanctification, and the Scripture; the last chapter is an open letter to his continuationist friends. And he provides a handy appendix with several pages of quotes from the past on the topic of the continuation of spiritual gifts, in support of his claim that the current craze is not part of historic, orthodox Christianity. I’ve heard from some who think MacArthur has lumped all continuationists into one bucket of heresy – drawing equivalence between some respected theologians and the likes of Benny Hinn. But MacArthur’s letter to his friends is very clear that he sees much good in the work of these friends, as well as much thin theological ice that their “open canon” represents. He considers them dear brothers who need to be awakened to the danger they pose by sharing some views with flaming heretics – sometimes endorsing and appearing with them.

I will leave it to you to read the chapters detailing the train wreck of the strange fire doctrines, and focus some attention on the last third of the book. Citing an observation from A.W. Tozer, MacArthur says our “view of God is the foundational reality in our thinking, and it encompasses all that we believe about the Holy Spirit.” He points out the truth that while many miracle seekers flock after Benny Hinn and Todd Bentley, a true miracle takes place every time a spiritually dead sinner is raised to new life in Christ. This is too mundane for experience-based Christians, but is glorious to behold by those who inhabit the heavens – and ought to be recognized as such by us. The Holy Spirit works in the birth of new saints by a.) convicting the unredeemed of their sins, b.) convicting unbelievers of righteousness, and c.) convicts sinners that divine judgments are real and necessary. The Spirit of the living God then regenerates the elect – removes the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh by granting faith to believe the gospel. This is work man cannot do, any more than man can bring about his own natural birth. Salvation is of the Lord, as Jonah declared from the belly of the fish, and the triune God does not share His glory with anyone.

Still in this vein, the Holy Spirit also brings repentance to those He regenerates, liberating us from the power of sin and death and producing love for His righteousness. He enables fellowship with God and makes sweet the fellowship of the saints. We are heirs of the kingdom, free from the dread of God and drawn to Him as our Father, enabled to joyfully sing praises to Him. And here, then, is one biblical truth that cannot be reconciled with the “second baptism” doctrine: the Holy Spirit indwells every man, woman, and child He raises to new life in Christ. He is our Comforter and Helper; protecting, empowering, and encouraging us.

MacArthur delineates the difference between being filled with the Spirit of God and the heretical notion of being drunk on the Spirit. Drunkenness is irrational, out-of-control behavior, while filled with the Spirit is joyful, self-controlled submission to God. Being filled with the Spirit of God is an ongoing experience in the life of every Christian – not an occasional orgy with John Crowder. “Rather than being hopelessly distracted by charismatic counterfeits, believers need to rediscover the real ministry of the Holy Spirit, which is to activate His power in us through His Word, so that we can truly conquer sin for the glory of Christ, the blessing of His church, and the benefit of the lost.”

His last chapter on the true work of the Holy Spirit focuses on the Spirit’s role and identity in the Scriptures. MacArthur gives us a very quick run through history, highlighting a few of the faithful men used by God and several of those who fell or jumped into heresy and have misled countless simple folk. “By departing from the sole authority of Scripture, bot Roman Catholicism and theological liberalism became enemies of true Christianity, fraudulent versions of the very thing they claimed to represent. … Because He is the God of truth, His Word is infallible. Because He cannot lie, His Word is inerrant. Because He is the King of kings, His Word is absolute and supreme.” The Spirit inspired the writing of Scripture, provides illumination for the minds of Christians, and the Spirit gives power to the reading and preaching of Scripture. To reject the Scriptures is to reject the Spirit of God – and the entire trinity.

In his “open letter”, the last chapter, MacArthur observes that, “rather than confronting charismatic errors head-on, continuationists leaders find themselves flirting with aspects of a movement that is full of serious error and corrupt leadership.” These otherwise solid theologians allow the charismatics to set the vocabulary, changing the meaning of words and phrases from what the Bible and history show them to be, in order to justify the nonsensical babbling that passes for tongues in modern churches. “The continuationist position invites any personal impression or subjective feeling as a potential revelation from God. Moreover, it removes any authoritative, objective standard for questioning the legitimacy of someone’s supposed revelation from God.”

All in all, this should be a welcomed book in any Christian’s home. We do need to be provoked to think biblically – about gifts and the One Who gives them.