Friday, March 31, 2006

Christian counseling: Change versus Change - Jay E. Adams

When we talk about changing people, what do we mean? Because counselors do not all have the same kind of change in mind, it is not strictly correct to say that they agree on the need for changing counselees. Just as the word automobile conveys strikingly different images to owners of new BMWs than to owners of third-hand Toyotas, so also counselors, who agree on the need for modification in counselees, may have vastly different ideas and attitudes concerning that change.

What we are talking about as Christians is change that goes far beyond minimal or incidental modifications in a person's behavior. The superficial change offered by secular counselors will not do. Substantial change requires the Holy Spirit's alteration of the heart (one's inner life known only to God and oneself). Outward changes of any significance must begin there. Anything less is an unbiblical and inadequate view of change.

"But must change be dramatic? Can't I genuinely help people change in small ways?" Yes, you can. Biblical change - for instance, the steady growth of believers - is not always one drama after another. Between the great spiritual strides are many small steps, and seemingly minor changes, all of which are important because they flow from a heart transformed by God. Because a Christian's thinking, attitudes, and actions all pertain to his relationship to God, changes in any of those areas, whether large or small, are of central importance. That goes for changes both toward God and away from God. All counseling change is a matter of greater or lesser love toward Him. That is why the change that Christian counselors work toward is always crucial.

In other words, not about neutral change. The change for which Christian counselors strive has a spiritual direction, and their aim is to help people prosper in that direction. All change toward God is good, and all change away from God is bad. Sanctification, change toward God, is the goal of all Christian counseling. Successful counseling changes the Christian to make him more like Christ. Movement toward or away from the stature of Christ is a deeply moral issue, never neutral.

So, the change we are talking about is substantial change of a person's life. Brought about by the ministry of the Word, and blessed by the Spirit of God, it brings the counselee closer to the likeness of Christ. In short, it is significant change because it glorifies God.

How to Help People Change

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Without Excuse - Michael Horton

You finally have that opportunity to explain the gospel to that co-worker who has been asking a few questions of late. She tells you that one of the things that keeps her from taking religion seriously is that each one claims absolute, final truth. Obviously, they can't all be right, since they contradict each other at key points. Can a Japanese Buddhist really be held accountable for accepting Christianity if Buddhism has been his only frame of reference? How then can we continue to say that Jesus is the only way? How can we say that God cannot be truly known, at least in a saving way, unless one has been exposed to the Christian Scriptures somehow? Religion all seems hopelessly naive and impossible. More than that, it seems to fuel the religious strife that drives intolerance around the world. As a result, your co-worker has simply adopted the cultural dogma of tolerance that assumes a pragmatic view of religion. Buddhism "works" for one person, Islam for another, and Christianity for still others. The belief that religion is therapy more than truth seems pervasive, in evangelicalism as everywhere else.

Besides accepting religious pluralism, many Christians themselves have come to wonder how one needs to know and believe in the Scriptures in order to be "saved." This can be a form of Protestant works-righteousness. First, it assumes that faith is merely knowledge and assent to true propositions (the position that the reformers challenged), and it treats this "faith" as if it were actually a work. Instead of wondering how much I have to do to be saved, we now ask how much we have to believe to be saved. However, salvation is not the result of our willing or running but of God's mercy (Rom. 9:16). While faith surely involves knowledge and assent to certain truths, it is, properly speaking, a resting in the God who announces free forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. And while faith is a human response, it is given freely as a gift, without which we would harden our hearts against God's promise. Once we recognize that we are saved by the quality of Christ and his righteousness rather than by our own faith and its inherent qualities, we look outside of ourselves and receive the gift that is delivered to us in the gospel.

Of course, to exercise saving faith, there must be an object–that is, someone to be trusted, a message to be heard and embraced. Such communication obviously involves knowledge and assent, but instead of requiring them, the gospel actually creates them. Isn't this familiar to us in our everyday relationships? After all, we do not ordinarily begin a friendship or romance by interviewing the person in an effort to learn enough to justify our trust. Rather, we start out with trust, expecting that confidence to be confirmed along the way as we get to know the person better. This is what the medieval theologians meant by "faith seeking understanding." In the modern era, since the Enlightenment, this order was reversed to "understanding seeking faith," telling us that we shouldn't believe anything without sufficient evidence. Begin with radical skepticism and doubt, and eventually you will arrive at absolute certainty about things that cannot be doubted. However, this has never actually worked in the history of science any more than in relationships.

The more God communicates his saving will toward us in Christ, the more confident we become in his trustworthiness. The gospel creates and grows our faith. This gospel has content. In fact, so rich in content is this promise that it can be understood by a child and yet stagger the mind of the greatest theologians. The point is that we are saved by Christ who comes to us in the form of the gospel, not by the degree of our theological acumen or assent to propositions. We are neither saved by knowledge and assent nor without knowledge and assent; we are saved by Christ, who gives us saving knowledge of himself and in doing so creates trust in our hearts so that we embrace what is promised.

In the balance of this article, I would like to respond briefly to the two aforementioned examples. First, there is the challenge posed by your co-worker concerning religious pluralism and the claim that Jesus is the only way. Paul's teaching in Romans is very democratic in an important sense: everyone (Jew and Gentile) is equally condemned and all who are in Christ (Jew and Gentile) are equally redeemed. To establish the second point (Rom. 3:21; 11:36), the apostle defends the first (1:18-3:20).

Beginning with the Gentiles, Paul explains how God's judgment works. Even Gentiles have the moral law indelibly written on their conscience (2:15). Not only do they know the second table (duties to neighbors); they know the first table as well (duties to God). Therefore, God's wrath is not an arbitrary exercise of power against those who don't know any better. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest to them, for God has shown it to them" (1:18-19).

But how has God shown it to them if they do not have the scriptures? Paul answers that the whole creation is a revelatory witness to God's existence and attributes: "For since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead..." (v. 20). As our old theologians used to say, "God is not known as he is in himself (that is, in his incomprehensible majesty), but by his works." We cannot see God's hidden essence, but his "invisible attributes are clearly seen" through the visible creation: causes are known by their effects. Even skeptics sometimes express wonder at the elegance and intricacy of the universe. Paul says that through this revelation they actually know that there is a God and that this God has certain characteristics. So when people say that they do not believe in God because they cannot see him, they might as well refuse to believe in atoms and electrons. Yes, someone might reply, but with a powerful enough microscope one can see atomic and subatomic particles–not so with God, however. Yet Paul has already announced in his opening sentence that Jesus Christ "was born of the seed of David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (1:3-4). Just as we trust the witnesses who see atoms and electrons, we trust those who saw God incarnate.

Even apart from this special revelation of the gospel, there is a genuine revelation of God in nature. Who can deny the wisdom behind the obvious design and order inherent in the cosmos, without which science could not even begin its investigations? It is obvious that all of this is the execution of a marvelous architect, and this communicates real knowledge of God to everyone, "even [of] his eternal power and Godhead." It is true that Paul does not mention the divine attributes that are explicitly manifested in the gospel. The Alps reflect the praises of God's majesty but do not proclaim God's mercy to sinners. They are "without excuse" precisely because of what they do with this revelation that they have been given: "although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened" (v. 21).

One of the erroneous assumptions not only of our co-worker but of many theologians today is that the basic problem that human beings have with God is a lack of information. If people only knew how much God loves them; if they only realized how great God was and worthy of worship, they would embrace him. This is the assumption behind what is called the "moral influence theory" of the atonement: namely, that the cross saves chiefly by showing us how much God loves us and this moving picture is all we need to be brought to repentance. But, as Anselm countered in his eleventh-century critique of this position, "You have not yet considered how great your sin is."

In this passage, Paul is saying that the problem is a lot deeper than a lack of information. It is what we do with any piece of information that challenges our autonomy. Here, says Paul, you have a classic example of people having sufficient information to compel them to acknowledge God's existence and power, yet instead of responding with gratitude and delight, they "became futile in their thoughts and their foolish hearts were darkened." They willfully distort the evidence, intentionally misrepresenting God as Satan did in the garden, transforming light into darkness, truth into falsehood. In other words, it is not an intellectual problem at its root but an ethical one. "Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man–and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things" (v. 23). In other words, it's not that they started from a position of ignorance, but that they became silly in a morally culpable sense. They willfully "exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen" (v. 25). So "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven" not against the ignorant, but "against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (v. 18).

Unrighteousness, not ignorance; suppression of the truth, not insufficient data, is the real human problem. Thus, the apostle can correlate their intellectual rebellion against God with their ethical rebellion against even the ordinances he inscribed in nature itself for sexual relations (vv. 26-27). Not content with denying the explicit revelation of God in nature, they will remove any trace of God in their thoughts. This is how far unbelief will go to eradicate the knowledge of God: not even reason, common sense, or the obvious characteristics of human anatomy will be recognized to the extent that it reveals God as the source. But lest the rest of us feel left out of the indictment, Paul adds to the list of the effects from refusing "to retain God in their knowledge" (v. 28) the following that strike pretty close to home:

Continued Here

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Legacy of Charles Finney

Jerry Falwell calls him "one of my heroes and a hero to many evangelicals, including Billy Graham." I recall wandering through the Billy Graham Center some years ago, observing the place of honor given to Finney in the evangelical tradition, reinforced by the first class in theology I had at a Christian college, where Finney's work was required reading. The New York revivalist was the oft-quoted and celebrated champion of the Christian singer Keith Green and the Youth With A Mission organization. Finney is particularly esteemed among the leaders of the Christian Right and the Christian Left, by both Jerry Falwell and Jim Wallis (Sojourners' magazine), and his imprint can be seen in movements that appear to be diverse, but in reality are merely heirs to Finney's legacy. From the Vineyard movement and the church growth movement to the political and social crusades, televangelism, and the Promise-Keepers movement, as a former Wheaton College president rather glowingly cheered, "Finney lives on!"

That is because Finney's moralistic impulse envisioned a church that was in large measure an agency of personal and social reform rather than the institution in which the means of grace, Word and Sacrament, are made available to believers who then take the Gospel to the world. In the nineteenth century, the evangelical movement became increasingly identified with political causes--from abolition of slavery and child labor legislation to women's rights and the prohibition of alcohol. At the turn of the century, with an influx of Roman Catholic immigrants already making many American Protestants a bit uneasy, secularism began to pry the fingers of the Protestant establishment from the institutions (colleges, hospitals, charitable organizations) they had created and sustained. In a desperate effort at regaining this institutional power and the glory of "Christian America" (a vision that is always powerful in the imagination, but, after the disintegration of Puritan New England, elusive), the turn-of-the-century Protestant establishment launched moral campaigns to "Americanize" immigrants, enforce moral instruction and "character education." Evangelists pitched their American gospel in terms of its practical usefulness to the individual and the nation.

That is why Finney is so popular. He is the tallest marker in the shift from Reformation orthodoxy, evident in the Great Awakening (under Edwards and Whitefield) to Arminian (indeed, even Pelagian) revivalism, evident from the Second Great Awakening to the present. To demonstrate the debt of modern evangelicalism to Finney, we must first notice his theological departures. From these departures, Finney became the father of the antecedents to some of today's greatest challenges within the evangelical churches themselves; namely, the church growth movement, Pentecostalism and political revivalism.

Who Is Finney?

Reacting against the pervasive Calvinism of the Great Awakening, the successors of that great movement of God's Spirit turned from God to humans, from the preaching of objective content (namely, Christ and him crucified) to the emphasis on getting a person to "make a decision."

Charles Finney (1792-1875) ministered in the wake of the "Second Awakening," as it has been called. A Presbyterian lawyer, Finney one day experienced "a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost" which "like a wave of electricity going through and through me...seemed to come in waves of liquid love." The next morning, he informed his first client of the day, "I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause and I cannot plead yours." Refusing to attend Princeton Seminary (or any seminary, for that matter), Finney began conducting revivals in upstate New York. One of his most popular sermons was, "Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts."

Finney's one question for any given teaching was, "Is it fit to convert sinners with?" One result of Finney's revivalism was the division of Presbyterians in Philadelphia and New York into Arminian and Calvinistic factions. His "New Measures" included the "anxious bench" (precursor to today's altar call), emotional tactics that led to fainting and weeping, and other "excitements," as Finney and his followers called them. Finney became increasingly hostile toward Presbyterianism, referring in his introduction to his Systematic Theology to the Westminster Confession and its drafters rather critically, as if they had created a "paper pope," and had "elevated their confession and catechism to the Papal throne and into the place of the Holy Ghost." Remarkably, Finney demonstrates how close Arminian revivalism, in its naturalistic sentiments, tends to be to a less refined theological liberalism, as both caved into the Enlightenment and its enshrining of human reason and morality:

That the instrument framed by that assembly should in the nineteenth century be recognized as the standard of the church, or of an intelligent branch of it, is not only amazing, but I must say that it is highly ridiculous. It is as absurd in theology as it would be in any other branch of science. It is better to have a living than a dead Pope.

What's So Wrong With Finney's Theology?First, one need go no further than the table of contents of his Systematic Theology to learn that Finney's entire theology revolved around human morality. Chapters one through five are on moral government, obligation, and the unity of moral action; chapters six and seven are "Obedience Entire," as chapters eight through fourteen discuss attributes of love, selfishness, and virtues and vice in general. Not until the twenty-first chapter does one read anything that is especially Christian in its interest, on the atonement. This is followed by a discussion of regeneration, repentance, and faith. There is one chapter on justification followed by six on sanctification. In other words, Finney did not really write a Systematic Theology, but a collection of essays on ethics.

But that is not to say that Finney's Systematic Theology does not contain some significant theological statements. First, in answer to the question, "Does a Christian cease to be a Christian, whenever he commits a sin?", Finney answers:

Whenever he sins, he must, for the time being, cease to be holy. This is self-evident. Whenever he sins, he must be condemned; he must incur the penalty of the law of God...If it be said that the precept is still binding upon him, but that with respect to the Christian, the penalty is forever set aside, or abrogated, I reply, that to abrogate the penalty is to repeal the precept; for a precept without penalty is no law. It is only counsel or advice. The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys; or Antinomianism is true...In these respects, then, the sinning Christian and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground. (p. 46)

Finney believed that God demanded absolute perfection, but instead of that leading him to seek his perfect righteousness in Christ, he concluded that
...full present obedience is a condition of justification. But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed...But can he be pardoned and accepted, and justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not (p. 57).

With the Westminster Confession in his sights, Finney declares of the Reformation's formula "simultaneously justified and sinful", "This error has slain more souls, I fear, than all the universalism that ever cursed the world." For, "Whenever a Christian sins he comes under condemnation, and must repent and do his first works, or be lost" (p. 60).

We will return to Finney's doctrine of justification, but it must be noted that it rests upon a denial of the doctrine of original sin. Held by both Roman Catholics and Protestants, this biblical teaching insists that we are all born into this world inheriting Adam's guilt and corruption. We are, therefore, in bondage to a sinful nature. As someone has said, "We sin because we're sinners": the condition of sin determines the acts of sin, rather than vice versa. But Finney followed Pelagius, the 5th-century heretic, who was condemned by more church councils than any other person in church history, in denying this doctrine.

Instead, Finney believed that human beings were capable of choosing whether they would be corrupt by nature or redeemed, referring to original sin as an "anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma" (p. 179). In clear terms, Finney denied the notion that human beings possess a sinful nature (ibid.). Therefore, if Adam leads us into sin, not by our inheriting his guilt and corruption, but by following his poor example, this leads logically to the view of Christ, the Second Adam, as saving by example. This is precisely where Finney takes it, in his explanation of the atonement.

The first thing we must note about the atonement, Finney says, is that Christ could not have died for anyone else's sins than his own. His obedience to the law and his perfect righteousness were sufficient to save him, but could not legally be accepted on behalf of others. That Finney's whole theology is driven by a passion for moral improvement is seen on this very point: "If he [Christ] had obeyed the Law as our substitute, then why should our own return to personal obedience be insisted upon as a sine qua non of our salvation?" (p. 206). In other words, why would God insist that we save ourselves by our own obedience if Christ's work was sufficient? The reader should recall the words of St. Paul in this regard, "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing." It would seem that Finney's reply is one of agreement. The difference is, he has no difficulty believing both of those premises.

That is not entirely fair, of course, because Finney did believe that Christ died for something--not for someone--but for something. In other words, he died for a purpose, but not for people. The purpose of that death was to reassert God's moral government and to lead us to eternal life by example, as Adam's example excited us to sin. Why did Christ die? God knew that "The atonement would present to creatures the highest possible motives to virtue. Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted...If the benevolence manifested in the atonement does not subdue the selfishness of sinners, their case is hopeless" (p. 209). Therefore, we are not helpless sinners who need to be redeemed, but wayward sinners who need a demonstration of selflessness so moving that we will be excited to leave off selfishness. Not only did Finney believe that the "moral influence" theory of the atonement was the chief way of understanding the cross; he explicitly denied the substitutionary atonement, which "...assumes that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt, which we have seen does not consist with the nature of the atonement...It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of anyone" (p. 217).

Then there is the matter of applying redemption. Throwing off the Calvinistic orthodoxy of the older Presbyterians and Congregationalists, Finney argued strenuously against the belief that the new birth is a divine gift, insisting that "regeneration consists in the sinner changing his ultimate choice, intention, preference; or in changing from selfishness to love or benevolence," as moved by the moral influence of Christ's moving example (p. 224). "Original or constitutional sinfulness, physical regeneration, and all their kindred and resulting dogmas, are alike subversive of the gospel, and repulsive to the human intelligence" (p. 236).

Having nothing to do with original sin, a substitutionary atonement, and the supernatural character of the new birth, Finney proceeds to attack "the article by which the church stands or falls"--justification by grace alone through faith alone.

The Protestant Reformers insisted, on the basis of clear biblical texts, that justification (in the Greek,"to declare righteous," rather than "to make righteous") was a forensic (i.e., "legal") verdict. In other words, whereas Rome maintained that justification was a process of making a bad person better, the Reformers argued that it was a declaration or pronouncement that had someone else's righteousness (i.e., Christ's) as its basis. Therefore, it was a perfect, once-and-for-all verdict of right-standing at the beginning of the Christian life, not in the middle or at the end.

The key words in the evangelical doctrine are "forensic" (meaning "legal") and "imputation" (crediting one's account, as opposed to the idea of "infusion" of a righteousness within a person's soul). Knowing all of this, Finney declares,

But for sinners to be forensically pronounced just, is impossible and absurd...As we shall see, there are many conditions, while there is but one ground, of the justification of sinners...As has already been said, there can be no justification in a legal or forensic sense, but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law. This is of course denied by those who hold that gospel justification, or the justification of penitent sinners, is of the nature of a forensic or judicial justification. They hold to the legal maxim that what a man does by another he does by himself, and therefore the law regards Christ's obedience as ours, on the ground that he obeyed for us.

To this, Finney replies:

The doctrine of an imputed righteousness, or that Christ's obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption." After all, Christ's righteousness "could do no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us...It was naturally impossible, then, for him to obey in our behalf." This "representing of the atonement as the ground of the sinner's justification has been a sad occasion of stumbling to many" (pp. 320-322).

The view that faith is the sole condition of justification is "the antinomian view," Finney asserts. "We shall see that perseverance in obedience to the end of life is also a condition of justification." Furthermore, "present sanctification, in the sense of present full consecration to God, is another condition...of justification. Some theologians have made justification a condition of sanctification, instead of making sanctification a condition of justification. But this we shall see is an erroneous view of the subject" (pp. 326-327). Each act of sin requires "a fresh justification" (p. 331). Referring to "the framers of the Westminster Confession of faith," and their view of an imputed righteousness, Finney wonders, "If this is not antinomianism, I know not what is" (p. 332). This legal business is unreasonable to Finney, so he concludes, "I regard these dogmas as fabulous, and better befitting a romance than a system of theology" (p. 333). He concludes in this section against the Westminster Assembly:

Continued Here

Sunday, March 26, 2006

What Is Pelagianism? - R. C. Sproul

"The Pelagian Captivity of the Church." What are we talking about? Pelagius was a monk who lived in Britain in the fifth century. He was a contemporary of the greatest theologian of the first millennium of Church history if not of all time, Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. We have heard of St. Augustine, of his great works in theology, of his City of God, of his Confessions, and so on, which remain Christian classics.

Augustine, in addition to being a titanic theologian and a prodigious intellect, was also a man of deep spirituality and prayer. In one of his famous prayers, Augustine made a seemingly harmless and innocuous statement in the prayer to God in which he says: "O God, command what you wouldst, and grant what thou dost command." Now, would that give you apoplexy -- to hear a prayer like that? Well it certainly set Pelagius, this British monk, into orbit. When he heard that, he protested vociferously, even appealing to Rome to have this ghastly prayer censured from the pen of Augustine. Here’s why. He said, "Are you saying, Augustine, that God has the inherent right to command anything that he so desires from his creatures? Nobody is going to dispute that. God inherently, as the creator of heaven and earth, has the right to impose obligations on his creatures and say, 'Thou shalt do this, and thou shalt not do that.' 'Command whatever thou would' -- it's a perfectly legitimate prayer."

It's the second part of the prayer that Pelagius abhorred when Augustine said, "and grant what thou dost command." He said, "What are you talking about? If God is just, if God is righteous and God is holy, and God commands of the creature to do something, certainly that creature must have the power within himself, the moral ability within himself, to perform it or God would never require it in the first place." Now that makes sense, doesn’t it? What Pelagius was saying is that moral responsibility always and everywhere implies moral capability or, simply, moral ability. So why would we have to pray, "God grant me, give me the gift of being able to do what you command me to do"? Pelagius saw in this statement a shadow being cast over the integrity of God himself, who would hold people responsible for doing something they cannot do.

So in the ensuing debate, Augustine made it clear that in creation, God commanded nothing from Adam or Eve that they were incapable of performing. But once transgression entered and mankind became fallen, God's law was not repealed nor did God adjust his holy requirements downward to accommodate the weakened, fallen condition of his creation. God did punish his creation by visiting upon them the judgment of original sin, so that everyone after Adam and Eve who was born into this world was born already dead in sin. Original sin is not the first sin. It's the result of the first sin; it refers to our inherent corruption, by which we are born in sin, and in sin did our mothers conceive us. We are not born in a neutral state of innocence, but we are born in a sinful, fallen condition. Virtually every church in the historic World Council of Churches at some point in their history and in their creedal development articulates some doctrine of original sin. So clear is that to the biblical revelation that it would take a repudiation of the biblical view of mankind to deny original sin altogether.

This is precisely what was at issue in the battle between Augustine and Pelagius in the fifth century. Pelagius said there is no such thing as original sin. Adam’s sin affected Adam and only Adam. There is no transmission or transfer of guilt or fallenness or corruption to the progeny of Adam and Eve. Everyone is born in the same state of innocence in which Adam was created. And, he said, for a person to live a life of obedience to God, a life of moral perfection, is possible without any help from Jesus or without any help from the grace of God. Pelagius said that grace -- and here's the key distinction -- facilitates righteousness. What does "facilitate" mean?

It helps, it makes it more facile, it makes it easier, but you don't have to have it. You can be perfect without it. Pelagius further stated that it is not only theoretically possible for some folks to live a perfect life without any assistance from divine grace, but there are in fact people who do it. Augustine said, "No, no, no, no . . . we are infected by sin by nature, to the very depths and core of our being -- so much so that no human being has the moral power to incline himself to cooperate with the grace of God. The human will, as a result of original sin, still has the power to choose, but it is in bondage to its evil desires and inclinations. The condition of fallen humanity is one that Augustine would describe as the inability to not sin. In simple English, what Augustine was saying is that in the Fall, man loses his moral ability to do the things of God and he is held captive by his own evil inclinations.

In the fifth century the Church condemned Pelagius as a heretic. Pelagianism was condemned at the Council of Orange, and it was condemned again at the Council of Florence, the Council of Carthage, and also, ironically, at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century in the first three anathemas of the Canons of the Sixth Session. So, consistently throughout Church history, the Church has roundly and soundly condemned Pelagianism -- because Pelagianism denies the fallenness of our nature; it denies the doctrine of original sin.

Now what is called semi-Pelagianism, as the prefix "semi" suggests, was a somewhat middle ground between full-orbed Augustinianism and full-orbed Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism said this: yes, there was a fall; yes, there is such a thing as original sin; yes, the constituent nature of humanity has been changed by this state of corruption and all parts of our humanity have been significantly weakened by the fall, so much so that without the assistance of divine grace nobody can possibly be redeemed, so that grace is not only helpful but it's absolutely necessary for salvation. While we are so fallen that we can't be saved without grace, we are not so fallen that we don’t have the ability to accept or reject the grace when it's offered to us. The will is weakened but is not enslaved. There remains in the core of our being an island of righteousness that remains untouched by the fall. It's out of that little island of righteousness, that little parcel of goodness that is still intact in the soul or in the will that is the determinative difference between heaven and hell. It's that little island that must be exercised when God does his thousand steps of reaching out to us, but in the final analysis it's that one step that we take that determines whether we go to heaven or hell -- whether we exercise that little righteousness that is in the core of our being or whether we don't. That little island Augustine wouldn't even recognize as an atoll in the South Pacific. He said it's a mythical island, that the will is enslaved, and that man is dead in his sin and trespasses.

Ironically, the Church condemned semi-Pelagianism as vehemently as it had condemned original Pelagianism. Yet by the time you get to the sixteenth century and you read the Catholic understanding of what happens in salvation the Church basically repudiated what Augustine taught and Aquinas taught as well. The Church concluded that there still remains this freedom that is intact in the human will and that man must cooperate with -- and assent to -- the prevenient grace that is offered to them by God. If we exercise that will, if we exercise a cooperation with whatever powers we have left, we will be saved. And so in the sixteenth century the Church reembraced semi-Pelagianism.

At the time of the Reformation, all the reformers agreed on one point: the moral inability of fallen human beings to incline themselves to the things of God; that all people, in order to be saved, are totally dependent, not ninety-nine percent, but one hundred percent dependent upon the monergistic work of regeneration in order to come to faith, and that faith itself is a gift of God. It's not that we are offered salvation and that we will be born again if we choose to believe. But we can't even believe until God in his grace and in his mercy first changes the disposition of our souls through his sovereign work of regeneration. In other words, what the reformers all agreed with was, unless a man is born again, he can't even see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it. Like Jesus says in the sixth chapter of John, "No man can come to me unless it is given to him of the Father" --- that the necessary condition for anybody's faith and anybody's salvation is regeneration.

Entire Article Here

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

God's Mighty Promises

God's word is full of "very great and precious promises" (2 Peter 1:4). One of his most precious promises is found in Psalm 32:8, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you." Our gracious God has committed himself to teaching, guiding and caring for his children. This is his promise and he is not a man that he should lie.

Why do I begin with this promise? Simply for this reason: it is a promise that is intended to support and reassure God's people in a turbulent and confusing world. He has pledged himself never to fail us or forsake us. His promise is absolute and without any qualification: "I will... I will..." Do you begin to see how compellingly reassuring this promise is? We live in a mad, bad world. Life can be astonishingly frenetic. We are faced with choices concerning church, career, children, and marriage. We can so easily allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by our uncertainties, by our sense of inadequacy, by the important decisions that demand our response. Because of this, we lose sight of God's great promise to teach us and lead us in the way we should go. God's promise, however, is intended to take the "angst" and the uncertainty out of life. It highlights the theological atmosphere the Christian believer lives in, an atmosphere pervaded by the gracious sovereignty of God.

It would be wrong to think, however, that God's promise means that Christians will never and should never be perplexed, uncertain, fearful, or confused. God's promise is sure and certain, but we are sinners who do not always live by faith and not by sight. Too often our lives become circumstance centred rather than God centred. We see the way ahead with all its real and apparent obstacles; we see ourselves with all our doubts and fears; and we allow anxiety to replace trust. Jesus knew only too well the propensity of his disciples to "lose the plot." In Matthew 6:25ff he tells them not to worry about life, what to eat, what to wear. His antidote to corrosive worry and fear about the way ahead was to reassure them about God's fatherly goodness and his commitment to be their Father and supply all their needs. Who God is, is the antidote to all our fears, about ourselves, and what lies ahead of us in life. God's promise to guide his people flows from the grace of his love to his people.

Those of you who have looked up Psalm 32:8 will know that the next verse confronts us with a balancing truth: "Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you." God's promise is unequivocal, but we must guard against becoming stubborn and wilful. It is more than possible that you and I will not like or want to go God's way; we would rather map out our own way ahead. God's promise to lead and direct us and watch over us is not unconditional; it expects us to live in glad, loving obedience to our gracious God, to seek first his glory and honour and the extending of his kingdom.

Guidance today is the "great problematic" for many Christians. It has often been said that the seventeenth century Puritans did not write any books on guidance; they did however write many books on obedience. Obedience is the key to guidance. "Not my will but your will be done" is the pulse-beat of the believer whom God will unerringly direct in the way he would have them go. Guidance is God's responsibility - he leads, we follow. Does that appear to you naively simple? Perhaps. But it echoes the truth of God's own word, "My sheep listen to my voice (in Scripture); I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27).

Ian Hamilton - Pastor Cambridge Presbyterian

Monday, March 20, 2006

Matthew Henry's Commentary By S. M. Houghton

A few details about Matthew Henry's life (1662 - 1714) will be of interest. His grandfather was 'keeper of the orchard' at Whitehall, London, and he took his father's Christian name for his surname 'after the Welsh manner'. The earlier surname was Williams. Philip Henry, Matthew's father, achieved fame as a nonconformist minister and diarist. He was particularly noted for his 'purity of spirit and transparency of character'. When a youth of 17 he witnessed the execution of King Charles 1 outside the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall (Jan 30, 1648) and records the matter as follows:

'On the day of his execution I stood amongst the crowds in the street before Whitehall gate, where the scaffold was erected, and saw what was done, but was not so near as to hear anything. The blow I saw given, and can truly say with a sad heart. At the instant whereof, I remember well, there was such a groan by the thousands then present as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again. A troop (of soldiers) immediately marched from Charing Cross to Westminster, and another from Westminster to Charing Cross, purposely to disperse and scatter the people; so that I had much ado amongst the rest to escape home without hurt.'

Matthew Henry was born at Broad Oak, Flintshire, two months after his father had been ejected from his 'living' under the terms of the notorious Act of Uniformity (1662). As a youth he began the study of law at Gray's Inn, London, but shortly experienced a call to the ministry of the Word of God, and entered without delay upon the pastoral charge of a Presbyterian congregation in Chester (1687). He also held monthly services in five nearby villages and preached regularly to prisoners in Chester Castle. His study was a two-storied summerhouse in the garden of his house. He remained in Chester for 25 years and then moved to Hackney, London (1712), but died two years later and was buried in Chester. He was twice married and had one son and nine daughters.

The greater part of the following account of Henry's famous Commentary is taken from James Hamilton's Our Christian Classics, Vol. III: Matthew Henry did not live to finish his great undertaking (i.e. to comment on the whole of Scripture) but to the research of his biographers we are indebted for some interesting particulars regarding the commencement and progress of the work. It was a labour of love and flowed from the abundance of the author's mind. The Commentary was all in Matthew Henry before a word of it was written down. In his father's house the Bible was expounded every day, and he and his sisters had preserved ample notes of their father's terse and aphoristic observations. Then, during his whole Chester ministry, he went over more than once the whole Bible in simple explanations to his people. Like the Spartan babe whose cradle was his father's shield, it would be scarcely a figure to say that the Bible was the pillow of his infant head; and, familiar with it from his most tender years, it dwelt richly in him all his days. It was the cynosure round which his meditations - morning, noon and evening - turned, and whatever other knowledge came in his way, he pounced on it with more or less avidity as it served to elucidate or enforce some Bible saying. What has been remarked of an enthusiast in Egyptian antiquities - that he had grown quite pyramidical - may be said of the Presbyterian minister at Chester; he had grown entirely biblical. He had no ideas which had not either been first derived from Scripture, or afterwards dissolved in it. And as his shrewd sense, his kindly nature, his devotional temperament, and his extensive information, were all thoroughly scripturalized, it needed no forcing nor straining. It was but to turn the tap, and out flowed the racy exposition. 'The work,' he said, 'has been to me its own wages, and the pleasure recompense enough for all the pains.'

The following entry in his Journal announces the commencement of the work: 'Nov. 12, 1704: This night, after many thoughts of heart, and many prayers concerning it, I began my notes on the Old Testament. It is not likely I shall live to finish it, or if I should, that it should be of public service, for I am not parnegotio (equal to), yet in the sight of God, and, I hope, with a single eye to His glory, I set about it, that I may endeavour something and spend my time to some good purpose, and let the Lord make what use He pleaseth of me. I go about it with fear and trembling, lest I exercise myself in things too high for me. The Lord help me to set about it with great humility.' Yes - 'fear and trembling' and 'many prayers' - these are the secret of its success. All the author's fitness, and all his fondness for the work, would have availed little, had not the Lord made it grow.

In September, 1706, Henry finished the Pentateuch, and on the 21st November that year he writes: 'This evening I received a parcel of the Exposition of the Pentateuch. I desire to bless God that He has given me to see it finished. I had comfort from that promise, "Thou shalt find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man".' That volume came out separately, and though near her 80th year, his mother lived to see it, and, scarcely hoping to read all the volume, the good old lady began with Deuteronomy. The zest with which he began lasted all along. It was not easy to divert him from the employment; each possible moment was devoted to it. Even when roused from slumber by illness in the family, his eye would brighten at the sight of it, and he would draw in his study chair 'to do a little at the exposition'. Every second year produced another volume, till on April 17th, 1714, he records, 'Finished Acts, and with it the fifth volume. Blessed be God that has helped me and spared me. All the praise be to God'. Two months thereafter he ceased from all his labours. Dr. Evans and others took up the fallen pen; they completed a sixth volume but did not continue Matthew Henry.

It would be easy to name commentators more critical, more philosophical, or more severely erudite, but none so successful in making the Bible understood. And the question with sensible readers will always be, not, What did the commentator bring to the Bible? but, What has he brought out of it? And tried by this test, Henry will bear the perpetual palm. His curious inferences, and his just, though ingenious practical observations, are such as could only have occurred to one mighty in the Scriptures, and minute in the particular text; and to the eager Bible student, they often present themselves with as welcome surprise as the basket of unexpected ore which a skilful miner sends up from a deserted shaft. Nor must we admire them the less because detected in passages where our duller eye or blunter hammer has often explored in vain. Quaint old John Berridge calls a preacher a 'gospel baker'; in the same idiom, a commentator should be a 'Bible-miller'. Bread corn must be bruised; and it is the business of the skilful interpreter to enunciate the meaning, and make it palpable to every reader. This was what Matthew Henry did, and he left it to 'gospel bakers' to add the salt and leaven, or mayhap the spice and the exotic condiments, and make a sermon or an essay as the case may be.

It is not only through the glass doors of stately book cases that the gilt folios of the Commentary shine, nor on the Study shelves of manses and evangelical parsonages that its brown symbol of orthodoxy may be recognized; but in the parlour of many a quiet tradesman, and in the cupboard of many a little farmer, and on the drawers' head of many a mechanic or day labourer, the well-conned quartos hold their ancestral station, themselves an abundant library, and hallowed as the heirloom of a bygone piety. In the words of a beloved relative, 'it bids fair to be The Comment for all coming time. True to God, true to nature, true to common sense, and true to the text, how can it ever be superseded? Waiting pilgrims will be reading it when the last trumpet sounds, Come to judgment'.

As Appendix to the above, we quote remarks by George Whitefield on Henry's Commentary; (1736). But oh! what a delightful life did I lead there! (Oxford). What communion did I enjoy daily with God! How sweetly did my hours in private glide away in reading and praying over Mr. Henry's Comment upon the Scriptures! Whilst I am musing on and writing about it, the fire I then felt again kindles in my soul.

(1738: mid-Atlantic): "Had this sentence out of Henry much pressed upon my heart to comfort me in my retirement: 'The mower loses no time whilst he is whetting his scythe.'"

And again, remarks by C. H. Spurgeon: 'First among the mighty for general usefulness ... is Matthew Henry. He is most pious and pithy, sound and sensible, suggestive and sober, terse and trustworthy ... glittering with metaphors, rich in analogies, overflowing with illustrations, superabundant in reflections. He delights in apposition and alliteration ... he sees right through a text directly; apparently he is not critical, but he quietly gives the result of an accurate critical knowledge of the original fully up to the best critics of his time ... He is deeply spiritual, heavenly and profitable; finding good matter in every text, and from all deducing most practical and judicious lessons ...Every minister ought to read Matthew Henry entirely and carefully through once at least. Begin at the beginning and resolve that you will traverse the goodly land from Dan to Beersheba... As for thoughts they will swarm around you like twittering swallows around an old gable towards the close of autumn. If you publicly expound the chapter you have just been reading, your people will wonder at the novelty of your remarks and the depth of your thoughts, and then you may tell them what a treasure Henry is.'

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The True Confessor, and the False

"I have sinned," Matthew 27:4

This is confession; so far as words go; we shall see what it amounts to. God lays great stress upon confession in his dealings with sinning man. It is as a confessor of sin that he draws near to God; and it is as such that God receives him. This is the only position, the only character in which God can deal with him. Covering sin will do nothing for us. It doubles the transgression.

Confession is the closest and most personal of all kinds of dealing with God. As praise is the telling out what we see in God, so confession is the telling out what we see in ourselves. It specially comprises matters which can be spoken in no ear but God's. There is, no doubt, public confession; but the largest part of confession is private. Man cannot be trusted with it; man must not even hear it. Hence, the wickedness of any man setting up for a confessor. Hence the sin of a dishonest confession; and the necessity, of dealing honestly with God and our own consciences in a matter so entirely, private and confidential. The attempt to deceive God, or to hide anything from Him, is a dangerous as it is wicked and inexcusable.

There are two kinds of confession, a false and a true. We have instances of both of these in Scripture. They both make use of the same words, "I have sinned"; yet they do not mean the same thing, nor indicate the same state of feeling. Let us note some of the instances of the false.

There is (1) Pharaoh. Twice over he says, "I have sinned against the Lord" (Exo 9:27; 10:16). (2) Israel. After deliberate disobedience, and as a declaration of farther disobedience, "We have sinned" (Num 14:40). (3) Balaam. He said to the angel of the Lord, "I have sinned" (Num 22:34). (4) Achan. "Indeed, I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel" (Josh 7:20). (5) Saul. "Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord" (I Sam 15:24). (6) Judas. "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood" (Matt 27:4). These are examples of false confession. And its falsehood consisted in this, ---

(1). It was constrained. It was extorted by terror and danger. It was not spontaneous or natural. These men would rather not have made it; but they could not help themselves. It was merely the natural heart crying out in trouble.

(2) It was selfish. It was not the dishonour done to God, nor the injury to others, that they thought of; but the consequences to themselves. It was not sin, as sin, that was confessed and hated.

(3) It was superficial. It was not the conscience, the inner man, that was stirred; but the mere external part of man's being. The real nature of sin was unfelt. Self was not abased nor loathed. There was no broken nor contrite heart.

(4) It was impulsive. Some judgment smote, or was to be averted; some affliction overwhelmed them; some sermon roused them. And under the impulse of such feelings they cried out, "I have sinned."

(5) It was temporary. It did not last. It was like the early cloud, it passed away. The words of confession had hardly passed their lips when the feeling was gone.

Let us beware of false confessions. Let us not cheat our souls, nor lull our consciences asleep, by uttering words of confession which are not the expressions of contrition and broken-heartedness. Let us deal honestly, searchingly, solemnly, with God and our own consciences. Godly sorrow is one thing, and the sorrow of the world is quite another. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked." He wants real words.

But we have some examples of no-confession. We have Adam trying to hide his sin; Cain refusing to confess; and Lamech glorying in his shame. They are specimens of the immoveable and impenetrable; shewing the lengths to which a human heart can go.

But we have many notable instances of true confession; proclaiming to us the truth of the promise, "Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall have mercy" (Prov 28:13); "If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). David said, "I have sinned," and his confession brought forgiveness. Daniel said, "we have sinned," and he found forgiveness. Yes, true confession brings certain pardon. We have but one Confessor and one Confessional; and both are heavenly, not earthly; we need no more.

In true confession we take our proper place. We take the only place in which God can deal with us; the only place in which it would not dishonour him to pardon us, -- the sinner's place. And he who is willing to take this place is sure of the acceptance which the forgiving God presents. The Spirit's work in convincing of sin is to bring us to our true place before God. He who takes this but in part gets no pardon. He who tries to occupy a higher or better place must be rejected. He who tries to deal with God as not wholly a sinner, as something better than a mere sinner, shuts himself out from favour. He who goes to God simply as a sinner, shall find favour at the hands of him who receiveth sinners, who came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Everything depends on this. If he goes to God with some goodness to recomend him; some good feeling; some softness of heart; some excellence in his own faith or repentance to recommend him, he cannot be received. But he who goes simply as a sinner, will taste that the Lord is gracious.

In true confession we come to see sin somewhat as God sees it; and ourselves somewhat as God sees us. I say somewhat; because we cannot here fully enter into his mind regarding sin and the sinner; we see but in part, and feel but in part. It is but a faint glimpse we get of sin and of ourselves. But it is with this that we o to God, having learned something, though but in the remotest degree of what sin is and deserves, and of what he thinks of it. We take his report of what sin is, and of what we are, whether we feel it or not. We believe what He has said about these things; and accepting His testimony to the evil of sin, even in spite of our own want of feeling, we confess it before Him, and receive at his hands that forgiveness which, while it pacifies the conscience, makes sin more odious, and our own hearts more sensitive and tender.

We take the prodigal's words, "Father, I have sinned, against heaven and in thy sight." We turn our eye and our feet homewards. We remember the past; we look round us on the desolation of the "far country"; we listen to the good news of our Father's open door and loving heart; we arise and go. And at every step, as we draw near, our view of sin intensifies, our self-abhorrence increases, our sense of ingratitude deepens; and yet the certain knowledge of our Father's profound compassion and unchanged affection sustains us, cheers us; so that we draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith; knowing that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us.

Horatius Bonar

Friday, March 17, 2006

Does The Bible Teach A Blessed Future For Israel?

Today many think that the State of Israel is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, but keep in mind that, Abraham never possessed the land, not even enough ''to set his foot on'' (Acts 7:5). The patriarchs inherited the heavenly Canaan (Heb. 11:16), of which the earthly is but a type.

Hebrews 3:19 teaches that the Israelites "could not enter in because of unbelief." In Ezekiel 33:25-26 God asks the rhetorical question, "Ye eat with the blood, and lift up your eyes towards your idols, and shed blood, and shall ye possess the land? Ye stand upon your sword, ye work abomination, and ye defile every one his neighbour's wife, and shall ye possess the land?" Clearly impenitence and unbelief were barriers to inheriting the land, so how could unbelieving Jews possessing Palestine in 1948 be the fulfillment of prophecy?

To interpret prophecy with bald literalism requires consistency. Shall the Gentiles keep the feast of tabernacles at Jerusalem (Zech. 14:16-19)? Jesus indicates that geographically-determined worship will cease: "… believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father" (John 4:21). Wouldn't some future return to the feast of tabernacles be a step back into the shadows (Col. 2:17), and a turning again to the "weak and beggarly elements" of the law (Gal. 4:9-11)? Isaiah prophesies that ''it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set his hand the second time to recover the remnant of his people'' (Isa. 11:11). If this glorious promise, as some maintain, was fulfilled in 1948 with the establishment of a national Israel, where is the restoration of the Philistines, Edom, Moab, and the children of Ammon who are to be her vassals? These nations have disappeared and were not restored in 1948. A literal fulfillment of Isaiah 11 requires that Israel ''shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the west ... they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab, and the children of Ammon shall obey them'' (Isa. 11:14). God hated the Edomites and ''laid [their] mountains and [their] heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness'' (Mal. 1:3). Although the Edomites attempted to rebuild, God threw them down again (Mal. 1:4). Indeed, for Jacob's sake, whom He loved, God had indignation against the Edomites for ever (Mal. 1:4). That certainly rules out a literal restoration of Edom! Yet a literal future fulfillment of Isaiah 11 requires the restoration of the Edomites and the other obsolete nations (Isa. 11:14). To understand what Isaiah means by "the second time" that God brings back His people from captivity (Isa. 11:11), we should understand that the first time was the Exodus from Egypt (Isaiah 11:16). Logically, then, the second return was from Bablyon and not in 1948.

The New Testament sheds light on the Old Testament prophecies. How should we understand them since the literalist view leads to absurdities?

The New Testament, as indeed the Old, is chiefly concerned with spiritual Israel. The wider ''nation'' consisted of the elect (also called ''the children of the promise'' who were ''counted for the seed'' [Rom. 9:8]), and the reprobate (''the children of the flesh'' [Rom. 9:8] who often led the nation into idolatry). In every age, God willed to save spiritual Israel. In the Old Testament, spiritual Israel was found mainly in the nation of Israel. If non-ethnic Jews were saved, such as Ruth and Rahab, they joined the nation of Israel. In the New Testament spiritual Israel consists of all believers in Jesus Christ. New Testament Christians, although consisting largely of Gentiles, are ''Jews inwardly'' and are circumcised ''in the heart'' (Rom. 2:28-29; cf. Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4). Paul tells largely Gentile believers in Philippi, they are ''the circumcision'' (Phil. 3:3). Furthermore, Christians are citizens of heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26) and those who ''have come to mount Zion'' (Heb. 12:22).

An unbelieving ethnic Jew, although he may dwell in Jerusalem itself, is not a spiritual child of Abraham (Gal. 3:7) for "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel" (Rom. 9:6). John the Baptist, Christ and the apostles, who themselves were Israelites ''concerning the flesh'' (Rom. 9:5; Phil. 3:5), repeatedly pointed this out to the unbelievers in Palestine in their day, and they were certainly not anti-Semitic (Matt. 3:9; John 8:39; Acts 7:51; Rom. 9:7). In Christ there is ''neither Jew nor Greek'' (Gal. 3:28-29), for ''neither circumcision availeth anything, or uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love'' (Gal. 5:6).

''Israel'' will never cease to be a ''nation'' (Jer. 31:36) but the ''holy nation'' meant is the church (I Peter 2:9) consisting of Jews and Gentiles, the one spoken of in Matthew 21:43 which was to replace the old theocratic nation of Israel. God has always had a "holy nation." In the Old Testament it was mainly Jewish, but in the New Testament, that same "holy nation" has become catholic, or universal. All peoples, tribes and tongues are included, yet there is always a remnant of Jews saved with the Gentiles (Rom. 11:5).

Many evangelicals believe in a future for national Israel because so many Old Testament prophecies, when read superficially, seem to be speaking about the nation. For example, Amos 9:11-15 promises that the ''tabernacle of David'' will be raised up and re-built ''as in the days of old,'' and that ''the captivity of my people of Israel'' will be brought back.

Incidentally, the promise is also made here that Israel will "possess the remnant of Edom and of the heathen" (Amos 9:12). We have seen that the prophet Malachi rules out any restoration of Edom. It is also absurd to imagine that king David would be resurrected to rule in Jerusalem, and it is inconsistent for the literalist to say that David refers to Christ. Again, a literal interpretation demands consistency!

However, Acts 15:14-18 provides the authoritative, apostolic interpretation of Amos' prophecy. It has nothing to do with the establishment of a national Israel, and everything to do with the gathering of the Gentiles into the New Testament Church. Isaiah 54 is similar: ''Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited'' (Isa. 54:2-3). Why is the tent to be enlarged? So the Gentiles can come in! James (in Acts 15) uses the prophecy of Amos to make the same point.

Similarly, Hosea promises that the children of Judah and Israel shall be ''gathered together'' as the number of ''the sand of the sea'' (Hos. 1:10-11; 2:14-23) but this has its fulfillment in Romans 9:25-28 and I Peter 2:9-10, not in 1948 when the modern state of Israel was founded. Again, the new covenant made with ''the house of Israel; and with the house of Judah'' (Jer. 31:31-34) was fulfilled in the New Testament salvation of the church of Jesus Christ (Heb. 8:8-12; 10:16-17).

But why did the prophets not just say that? The church of the Old Testament was "under a schoolmaster" (Gal. 3:24). It was taught using figurative language (the land, the temple, reunification of the nation under David, etc). All the types and shadows of the Law were to teach the Old Testament church about Christ. ''Had the prophets spoken plainly of the New Testament age, without using figures, the Old Testament saints could not have borne such excess of light'' (W.J. Grier, The Momentous Event [Banner], p. 39). The New Testament therefore gives us the key to interpreting Old Testament prophecy: the prophecies are spiritual (for a spiritual people), not literal.

None of this (a denial of an earthly future for the Jewish people) is anti-Semitism. Jews will be saved in the same way as Gentiles, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is no other way of salvation for Jew or Gentile. It is not part of one's duty as a Christian to support the modern state of Israel, or to expect future blessings for it, but it is Christ's command to ''love thy neighbour'' and seek his salvation, no matter what his ethnicity may be.

Martyn McGeown

Romans Chapter Nine

1. Paul’s Sorrow Over Unbelieving Israel (Romans 9:1-5)

Augustine: "Hence, as far as concerns us, who are not able to distinguish those who are predestinated from those who are not, we ought on this very account to will all men to be saved ... It belongs to God, however, to make that rebuke useful to them whom He Himself has foreknown and predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son" (On Rebuke & Grace, ch. 49).

Calvin on Romans 9:2: "... the obedience we render to God's providence does not prevent us from grieving at the destruction of lost men, though we know that they are thus doomed by the just judgment of God; for the same mind is capable of being influenced by these two feelings: that when it looks to God it can willingly bear the ruin of those whom he has decreed to destroy; and that when it turns its thoughts to men, it condoles with their evils. They are then much deceived, who say that godly men ought to have apathy and insensibility, lest they should resist the decree of God."

Herman Hoeksema on Romans 9:3: "What the apostle means is: were I placed before the alternative that my brethren according to the flesh be saved, or I; were I permitted to choose between their salvation and my own, could I effect their salvation by my being accursed, I could indeed wish to be accursed from Christ in their behalf ... Without wishing to place ourselves on a par with the apostle, we may safely say that, in a degree, we can often repeat these words after him. Just imagine a parent who experiences the grief of seeing one or more of his children walk the way of sin and destruction. Just imagine a pastor, who, in the course of years becomes attached to his flock and earnestly desires their salvation, but who beholds many of them that are not the objects of God's electing love. And what is true of our own flesh and blood in the narrowest sense of the word and of the Church of Christ in the world in general can be applied to mankind as a whole. Out of one blood God has made the whole of the human race, and they are, according to the flesh, all our brethren. And we can understand a little, at least, of the attitude of the apostle when he speaks of the great heaviness that burdens his soul and says that he could wish to be accursed from Christ for his kinsmen according to the flesh. And in as far as we could wish in our present flesh and blood, we could indeed desire all men to be saved."

2. They are Not All Israel Which are of Israel (Romans 9:6-9)

Calvin on the organic idea of the Church: "We must at the same time bear in mind what I have reminded you of elsewhere - that the Prophet directs his discourse one while to the faithful only, who were then few in number, and that at another time he addresses the multitude indiscriminately; and so when our Prophet threatens, he regards the whole body of the people; but when he proclaims the favour of God, it is the same as though he turned his eyes towards the faithful only, and gathered them into a place by themselves. As for instance, when a few among a people are really wise, and the whole multitude unite in hastening their own ruin, he who has an address to make will make a distinction between the vast multitude and the few; he will severely reprove those who are thus foolish, and live for their own misery; and he will afterwards shape his discourse so as to suit those with whom he has not so much fault to find. Thus also the Lord changes his discourse; for at one time he addresses the ungodly, and at another he turns to the elect, who were but a remnant. So the Prophet has hitherto spoken by reproofs and threatenings, for he addressed the whole body of the people; but now he collects, as I have said, the remnant as it were by themselves, and sets before them the hope of pardon and of salvation" (Comm. on Zephaniah 3:9).

Calvin on the organic idea of the Church: "If one objects and says, that this statement militates against many others which we have observed, the answer is easy, and the solution has already been adduced in another place, and I shall now only touch on it briefly. When God distinctly denounces ruin on the people, the body of the people is had in view; and in this body there was then no integrity. Inasmuch, then, as all the Israelites had become corrupt, had departed from the worship and fear of God, and from all piety and righteousness, and had abandoned themselves to all kinds of wickedness, the Prophet declares that they were to perish without any exception. But when he confines the vengeance of God, or moderates it, he has respect to a very small number; for, as it has been already stated, corruption had never so prevailed among the people, but that some seed remained. Hence, when the Prophet has in view the elect of God, he applies then these consolations, by which he mitigates their terror, that they might understand that God, even in his extreme rigour, would be propitious to them. Such is the way to account for this passage" (Comm. on Hosea 11:8-9).

3. Elect Jacob & Reprobate Esau (Romans 9:10-13)

John Murray: "... the differentiation which belongs to Israel as a whole in virtue of the theocratic election does not meet the question the apostle encounters in this whole passage, namely, the unbelief of the mass of ethnic Israel. There must be another factor at work which will obviate the inference that the word of God has come to nought. This factor is found in the particularity of election, that is, in a more specific and determinative election than is exemplified in the generic election of Israel as a people."

D. M. Lloyd-Jones on "that the purpose of God according to election might stand" (Rom. 9:11): "That is it! It is the purpose of God; He is carrying it out Himself, nothing can frustrate it. And God, he says here, does it in this way through this process of election and selection, in order that it may stand, that it may never fall" (Romans 9, p. 130).

4. God's Hatred of Esau (Romans 9:13)

Augustine: "He who said, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,' loved Jacob of His undeserved grace, and hated Esau of His deserved judgment" (Enchiridion, xcviii).

Martin Luther: "the love and hate of God towards men is immutable and eternal, existing, not merely before there was any merit or work of 'free-will,' but before the world was made; [so] all things take place in us of necessity, according as He has from eternity loved or not loved ... faith and unbelief come to us by no work of our own, but through the love and hatred of God" (The Bondage of the Will, pp. 226, 228-229).

Calvin "the reprobate are hateful to God, and with very good reason. For, deprived of his Spirit, they can bring forth nothing but reason for cursing" (Institutes 3.24.17).

Jerome Zanchius: "When hatred is ascribed to God, it implies (1) a negation of benevolence, or a resolution not to have mercy on such and such men, nor to endue them with any of those graces which stand connected with eternal life. So, 'Esau have I hated' (Rom. 9), i.e., 'I did, from all eternity, determine within Myself not to have mercy on him.' The sole cause of which awful negation is not merely the unworthiness of the persons hated, but the sovereignty and freedom of the Divine will. (2) It denotes displeasure and dislike, for sinners who are not interested in Christ cannot but be infinitely displeasing to and loathsome in the sight of eternal purity. (3) It signifies a positive will to punish and destroy the reprobate for their sins, of which will, the infliction of misery upon them hereafter, is but the necessary effect and actual execution" (Absolute Predestination, p. 44).

Francis Turretin: "For as he who loves a person or thing wishes well and, if he can, does well to it, so true hatred and abhorrence cannot exist without drawing after them the removal and destruction of the contrary" (Elenctic Theology, vol. 2, pp. 237-238).

Robert Haldane: "Nothing can more clearly manifest the strong opposition of the human mind to the doctrine of the Divine sovereignty, than the violence which human ingenuity has employed to wrest the -expression, 'Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.' By many this has been explained, 'Esau have I loved less.' But Esau was not the object of any degree of the Divine love ... If God's love to Jacob was real literal love, God's hatred to Esau must be real literal hatred. It might as well be said that the phrase, 'Jacob have I loved,' does not signify that God really loved Jacob, but that to love here signifies only to hate less, and that all that is meant by the - expression, is that God hated Jacob less than he hated Esau. If every man’s own mind is a sufficient security against concluding the meaning to be, 'Jacob have I hated less,' his judgment ought to be a security against the equally unwarrantable meaning, 'Esau have I loved less' ... hardening [is] a proof of hatred" (Romans, pp. 456, 457).

A. W. Pink: "'Thou hatest all workers of iniquity -- not merely the works of iniquity. Here, then, is a flat repudiation of present teaching that, God hates sin but loves the sinner; Scripture says, 'Thou hatest all workers of iniquity' (Ps. 5:5)! 'God is angry with the wicked every day.' 'He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God' --- not 'shall abide,' but even now --- 'abideth on him' (Ps. 5:5; 8:11; John 3:36). Can God 'love' the one on whom His 'wrath' abides? Again; is it not evident that the words 'The love of God which is in Christ Jesus' (Rom. 8:39) mark a limitation, both in the sphere and objects of His love? Again; is it not plain from the words 'Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated' (Rom. 9:13) that God does not love everybody? ... Is it conceivable that God will love the damned in the Lake of Fire? Yet, if He loves them now He will do so then, seeing that His love knows no change --- He is 'without variableness or shadow of turning!’" (The Sovereignty of God, p. 248).

John Murray: "[Divine hatred can] scarcely be reduced to that of not loving or loving less ... the evidence would require, to say the least, the thought of disfavour, disapprobation, displeasure. There is also a vehement quality that may not be discounted ... We are compelled, therefore, to find in this word a declaration of the sovereign counsel of God as it is concerned with the ultimate destinies of men" (Romans, vol. 2, pp. 22, 24).

Homer C. Hoeksema: "All history, in which vessels unto honor or unto dishonor are formed, is the revelation and realization of the counsel of God according to which He loved Jacob and all His elect people, but hated Esau and all the reprobate."

James Montgomery Boice: "although hatred in God is of a different character than hatred in sinful human beings --- his is a holy hatred --- hate in God nevertheless does imply disapproval ... [Esau] was the object of [God's] displeasure ... Since the selection involved in the words love and hate was made before either of the children was born, the words must involve a double predestination in which, on the one hand, Jacob was destined to salvation and, on the other hand, Esau was destined to be passed over and thus to perish" (Romans, vol. 3, p. 1062).

D. A. Carson: "Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar, and so forth" (The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, p. 79).

5. Is God's Election Unrighteous? (Romans 9:14-16)

Herman Hoeksema: "A man wills because God shows him mercy. God does not show mercy because a man wills. But when God shows mercy to a man, the result is that he wills, he runs. His willing is not the cause, but the effect. God’s mercy is first. And although it is true that one cannot enter into the kingdom of God unless he wills, the cause of this willing is not in man, but in God. God’s mercy is sovereign." (Righteous By Faith Alone, p. 401).

6. Is God's Reprobation Unrighteous? (Romans 9:17-18)

John Calvin on hardening: "But the word hardens, when applied to God in Scripture, means not only permission, (as some washy moderators would have it,) but also the operation of the wrath of God: for all those external things, which lead to the blinding of the reprobate, are the instruments of his wrath; and Satan himself, who works inwardly with great power, is so far his minister, that he acts not, but by his command ... Paul teaches us, that the ruin of the wicked is not only foreseen by the Lord, but also ordained by his counsel and his will; and Solomon teaches us the same thing,---that not only the destruction of the wicked is foreknown, but that the wicked themselves have been created for this very end---that they may perish. (Prov. 16:4.)"

A.W. Pink on Pharoah: "It is clear that God raised up Pharaoh for this very end---to 'cut him off,' which in the language of the New Testament means 'destroyed.' God never does anything without a previous design. In giving him being, in preserving him through infancy and childhood, in raising him to the throne of Egypt, God had one end in view" (Sovereignty of God, p. 107).

John Piper on Romans 9: "There is a correspondence between 'Jacob I loved and Esau I hated' (9:13), on the one hand, and 'He has mercy on whom he wills and he hardens whom he wills' (9:18), on the other hand ... the implication that must then follow is that God's act of hardening is just as unconditional as the loving and hating of 9:13, which God determined 'before they were born or had done anything good or evil.'"

7. The Ultimate Theodicy (Romans 9:19-24)

Herman Hoeksema: "The vessels of wrath are so constituted that their entire make-up and design and institution serves the purpose of reaching that end of destruction. If we abandon the figure of the vessel, the meaning is that there are men so instituted as to their personality, their power and talents, their position in the world and their place in the whole of the works of God, that everything tends to their destruction, serves the purpose of leading them, not to temporal destruction, but to eternal desolation. Unto this they are fitted" (God's Eternal Good Pleasure, p. 93).

D. M. Lloyd-Jones: "'What if God, willing to shew his wrath ...' Now this word 'willing'... really means 'wishing', and it is even stronger than that; it could be translated 'What if God inclined to ...' And then even that is not strong enough because it means ‘a deep and a strong desire’ ... 'His holy will disposes Him not to leave unmanifested His wrath and His power.' That is a very good way of putting it. It is a paraphrase but it does bring out the meaning: 'Notwithstanding that His holy will disposes Him.' And it disposes Him very strongly. God, with this whole disposition of His nature, [wills to show his wrath upon the reprobate] ..." (Romans 9, p. 211).

J. M. Boice: "Every person who has ever lived or will ever live must glorify God, either actively or passively, either willingly or unwillingly, either in heaven or in hell. You will glorify God. Either you will glorify him as the object of his mercy and glory, which will be seen in you. Or you will glorify him in your rebellion and unbelief by being made the object of his wrath and power at the final judgment" (Romans, vol 3, p. 1108).