Book review: Sinclair B. Ferguson, “The Whole Christ”

Written by krkeyser on June 23rd, 2016

[I received a kindle copy for review from the publisher, Crossway.]

Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.

Brother Ferguson does an excellent job unpacking a fairly complex internecine controversy within 18th century Scottish Presbyterianism. As a Scottish born Presbyterian preacher and theology professor at various Reformed seminary campuses, he is well-suited for understanding and unpacking the historical and theological niceties of the “Marrow Controversy” – so named because it centered around Edward Fisher’s The Marrow Of Modern Divinity. The basic issue dealt with legalism, antinomianism, the biblical balance between faith and obedience. Ferguson explains it this way:

“On the surface the Marrow Controversy was about how we preach the gospel; what role, if any, God’s law and our obedience play in the Christian life; and what it means to have assurance of salvation. But those issues are always, at bottom, about the gospel itself. While these themes have taken center stage at particular periods in the church’s history, that is only the tip of the iceberg. They are perennially relevant because underneath them lies the most fundamental question of all: Who is the God whom we come to know in Jesus Christ (John 17:3)? What is he really like, truly like—deep down, through and through? The atmosphere that characterizes my Christian life will reflect my answer to these questions. That was the issue that lay deeply embedded in the Marrow Controversy. To that extent, reflecting on it can never be merely an antiquarian hobby or an academic exercise.” Kindle Loc. 241-47.

The implications of this debate touches on the nature of a believer’s assurance of salvation. In my estimation, brother Ferguson is at his best when unpacking biblical reasons for Christian assurance in contrast to the counterfeit assurance of legalism and antinomianism. I am not an adherent to Covenant Theology or Five Point Calvinism, so I could not agree with those views in this book. Nevertheless, I appreciate brother Ferguson’s clear prose and his careful exposition of the Scriptures. This is not a dry tome of church history; rather it is warmly pastoral, and aims to encourage true believers to grow in the true Christian life.

 

Book review: The Miracles of Jesus: How the Savior’s Mighty Acts Serve as Signs of Redemption

Written by krkeyser on March 28th, 2016

[Note: I received a complimentary review copy of the book in kindle format from the publisher.]

Vern Poythress, The Miracles of Jesus: How the Savior’s Mighty Acts Serve as Signs of Redemption. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.

  Given brother Poythress’ occupation and credentials – he teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA and possesses doctorates in mathematics and theology respectively – I expected this book to be somewhat highbrow. I could not have been more wrong! He writes in a lucid, everyday style that avoids technical jargon and sticks to analogies that any reader can understand. I also anticipated a philosophical discussion of miracles, somewhat on the order of a more modern version of C.S. Lewis’ classic Miracles. Once again I was mistaken. Brother Poythress focuses on direct exegesis of the text of the Bible, paying particular attention to the Lord’s miracles in the Gospels of John and Matthew. Along the way he gives a practical tutorial in using Edmund Clowney’s chart of interpreting miracles in their context, as well as looking at greater things pertaining to the gospel that are typologically shadowed in the different types of signs that Christ performed.

  Of course, I don’t subscribe to every bit of interpretation that brother Poythress puts forth. As one would expect from a brother of Presbyterian affiliation, his soteriology and eschatology are thoroughly Reformed (I’m premillennial, dispensational, so some of our future chronology differs, as well as our approach to Israel and the Church!) Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it as a good primer for studying the gospel miracles in their context. As always, be good Bereans (Acts 17:11) and prayerfully compare everything with the Scriptures themselves!

 

Book review: Barry G. Webb, Judges and Ruth

Written by krkeyser on March 22nd, 2016

Book review: Barry G. Webb, Judges and Ruth: God In Chaos. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015.

[Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in MOBI / Kindle format.]

  Part of Crossway’s Preaching The Word series, this devotional commentary does an excellent job of examining the major content of Judges and Ruth. Taking place in a difficult era of salvation history, these two books offer hope against the dark backdrop of Israel’s repeated spiritual and moral failures. Mr. Webb, a retired professor from Moore Theological College in Sydney Australia, does an outstanding job of explaining them in their historical context, while also making relevant applications to the modern situations faced by churches and individual believers.

Mr. Webb’s writing is lucid and interesting, and he has a keen sense of the drama of Judges and Ruth. He is also superb at bringing out reflections of Christ in the types and shadows of these Old Testament books. He brings out interesting insights from Hebrew word studies, biblical geography, and extra-biblical history without becoming bogged down in overly technical academic jargon or inconsequential details. Throughout his commentary Webb maintains a reverence for God and His word, and frequently makes gospel applications from the text. His style is expositional, yet it offers much spiritual heart-food for the reader who desires to contemplate the Lord’s glories. I heartily commend this book to anyone interested in Judges and Ruth – or even to someone looking for a good Christ-centered book.

Some choice quotations to whet your appetite:

On the “Minor Judges”:

“In the marathon of life there are few stars and many runners. The same is true in the history of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments. Thank God for stars like Othniel, Deborah, Barak, and Gideon who encourage and inspire us by their example. But thank God, too, for also-rans like Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon who remind us, by simply being there with their modest achievements and all too human failures, that little people, too, have a contribution to make to the great sweep of God’s saving purposes in the world that reaches its climax in Christ and flows on into our own day and age. Also-rans is what nearly all of us are! But praise God that we, too, have a noble calling and can be used to display his astonishing wisdom to a proud, incredulous world. May it be our joy to do so, with God’s help, and to his glory.” Webb, Judges and Ruth: God In Chaos, Kindle Loc. 3733-39.

On Samson:

“Given the heavy blend of passion, heroism, and tragedy it contains, it is not surprising that the Samson story has attracted the serious attention of great creative artists. No one can view Samson and Delilah (Rubens, 1577–1640) or Samson Killing the Lion (Léon Bonnet, 1833–1922) or hear Handel’s impressive Samson oratorio (1740) or read John Milton’s epic poem Samson Agonistes without being aware of both the creative power of the artists themselves and the greatness of the Biblical narrative that inspired such endeavors. Handel’s oratorio was composed in the same year as his Messiah, and Milton’s poem followed hard on Paradise Lost, and the treatment in both cases shows that they did not regard the Samson story as a piece of comic relief after the treatment of nobler themes. They took Samson seriously, and the author of Judges clearly means us to do the same. That is not to say that the story has no humor in it. The sight of Samson bursting out of Gaza at midnight, for example, like a crazed orangutan escaping from a zoo, taking the gates with him, is a moment to be relished—especially since the joke is on the Philistines. But beneath all the surface chaos and mad careening here and there of the wild-man hero there is a steady building toward a predetermined end of profound theological significance. Samson is God’s man, as Israel is his people, and neither he nor they can finally escape their destiny. Samson may be a testosterone-charged male behaving badly, but he is also much, much more. More space is devoted to him than to any other judge.1 He alone has his birth and destiny announced in advance by a divine messenger, and in his story the whole central section of the book is brought to a resounding climax.”

Ftnt. #1: It is longer than the Jephthah narrative of 10: 6— 12: 7. The Gideon-Abimelech complex as a whole (chaps. 6— 9) is longer than the Samson story, but the Gideon narrative itself (6: 1— 9: 28) is shorter. Webb, Judges and Ruth: God In Chaos, Kindle Loc. 3744-57.

On Ruth 2: “Ruth has not just left her native land and her father’s house, she has also left her foreign gods: ‘The LORD repay you . . . the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!’ (v. 12). We can almost see the wheels turning inside Boaz’s head at this point. Moabites had been placed under a ban of eternal exclusion for cursing and seducing them into worshiping their gods (Numbers 22:1–6; 25:1–3). But what of a Moabite who abandons those gods and embraces the Lord God of Israel? And what if she is also poor, an alien, and a widow—one of the very people the Law commanded Israelites to protect? What does it mean to truly keep the Law in these circumstances? Would Boaz be wrong to embrace such a one? The answer that seems to be forming in his mind and showing itself in his actions is that he would not. And the rest of the book confirms that he is right.” Webb, Judges and Ruth: God In Chaos, Kindle Loc. 4833-39.

 

Book review: “God has spoken” by Gerald Bray

Written by krkeyser on March 10th, 2016

Gerald Bray, God has spoken: A History of Christian Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.

I received a complimentary kindle copy of this book for review from Crossway Publishers. Gerald Bray is a theologian and researcher at The Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Alabama. Bray’s book is a tour de force of church history, theological controversies, & philosophy. His knowledge of these subjects is impressive, and his erudition is demonstrated by his many appropriate quotations from Patristic, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformed sources. He has knack for reducing complex arguments to easily understable prose. On the criticism side of things, I find his approach too ecumenical (e.g. he gives more legitimacy to Orthodox & Roman Catholic doctrinal positions, viewing them as part of “the church”.) When he comments on Scripture, I sometimes found his opinions to be contrary to the Bible’s teaching (e.g. he believes that Christ could have sinned – He didn’t, but He could have. A careful study of Philippians 2:5-11 & other passages show that the Lord was & is impeccable, i.e. God manifest in the flesh cannot sin!)

In summation, read this book for a survey of the development of the doctrinal positions of the various parts of Christendom. The book is particularly strong on the Trinity, and also has an outstanding section on the Enlightenment and the development of academic theology of the 18th – 20th centuries. But, like good Bereans, get your doctrine straight from the Bible!

 

Recycling Rubbish Into A Masterpiece

Written by krkeyser on January 28th, 2016
"Strange Fruit" by Thornton Dial (Public Domain - https://www.flickr.com/photos/cwphobia/8476343758)

“Strange Fruit” by Thornton Dial (Public Domain – https://www.flickr.com/photos/cwphobia/8476343758)

The New York Times recently printed an obituary for the artist Thornton Dial. He became an artist in midlife and employed a variety of innovative materials such as bones, scrap metal, and other discarded items to create sculptures and paintings that are featured in the collections of the Whitney, the Smithsonian, and other prominent museums of contemporary art. Mr. Dial’s propensity for turning discarded items into works of beauty is in fact a time-honored tactic of the greatest artist of all: God Himself.  As the Scriptures say: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Reclaiming The Worst

It is astonishing to think of the sin-wrecked, perverted, and defiled people that the Lord completely transforms into works of art. As another verse expresses it: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, emphasis mine.) People who were previously dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) are now recreated after a perfect template: the very image of the glorified Son of God Himself. Although the work is not yet finished, the Bible affirms that “. . . He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6.) At His coming, believers will be perfectly conformed to Christ’s glorious image (1 John 3:1-3; Phil. 3:21.) Romans 8:28-30 concisely pictures the saints’ transformation into glorious masterpieces:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Transformed Into A Multitude Of Masterpieces

God’s saving work will culminate in believers’ glorification with the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet someone might say: “Oh no, I’m too bad to be glorified. My life is so messed up, God can never make anything of me.” The Bible flatly contradicts this line of thinking. Truly, we must be born again through faith in Christ (John 3:1-21.) I will give a veteran preacher from a previous generation the last word on this matter:

Furthermore, you will say to me, ‘I desire to lead a new life.’ To do this you must be new yourself; for as the man is, so his life will be. If you leave the fountain foul the streams cannot be pure. Renewal must begin with the heart. Dear friend, the Lord Jesus Christ is able to make your life entirely new. We have seen many transformed into new parents and new children. Friends have said in wonder, ‘What a change in John! What an alteration in Ellen!’ We have seen men become new husbands, and women become new wives. They are the same persons, and yet not the same. Grace works a very deep, striking, and lasting change. Ask those that have had to live with converted people whether the transformation has not been marvellous. Christ makes new servants, new masters, new friends, new brothers, new sisters. The Lord can so change us that we shall scarcely know ourselves: I mean he can thus change you who now despair of yourselves. O dear hearts, there is no absolute necessity that you should always go downward in evil till you descend to hell. There is a hand that can give you a gravitation in the opposite direction. It would be a wonderful thing if Niagara when it is in its full descent should be made to leap upwards, and the St. Lawrence and the sea should begin to climb backward to the lakes. Yet God could do even that; and so he can reverse the course of your fallen nature, and make you act as a new man. He can stay the tide of your raging passion; he can make you, who were like a devil, become as an angel of God; for thus he speaks from the throne of his eternal majesty, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Come and lay yourself down at his feet, and ask him to make you new. I beseech you, do this at once![1]

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “Sermon for New Year’s Day,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 31. Originally preached on January 1, 1885. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1885), 8–9. [Italics original.]

 

A Voice from the past: “Unselfishness” By J.N. Darby

Written by krkeyser on January 10th, 2016

“One thing impressed my mind most peculiarly when the Lord was first opening my eyes – I never found Christ doing a single thing for Himself. Here is an immense principle. There was not one act in all Christ’s life done to serve or please Himself. An unbroken stream of blessed, perfect, unfailing love flowed from Him, no matter what the contradiction of sinners – one amazing and unwavering testimony of love, and sympathy, and help; but it was ever others, and not Himself, that were comforted, and nothing could weary it, nothing turn it aside. Now the world’s whole principle is self, doing well for itself. (Psalm 49:18.) Men know that it is upon the energy of selfishness they have to depend. Every one that knows anything of the world knows this. Without it the world could not go on. What is the world’s honour? Self. What its wealth? Self. What is advancement in the world? Self. They are but so many forms of the same thing; the principle that animates the individual man in each is the spirit of self-seeking. The business of the world is the seeking of self, and the pleasures of the world are selfish pleasures. They are troublesome pleasures too; for we cannot escape from a world where God has said, ‘In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread till thou return to the ground,’ etc. Toil for self is irksome; but suppose a man finds out at length that the busy seeking of self is trouble and weariness, and having procured the means of living without it, gives it up, what then? He just adopts another form of the same spirit of self and turns to selfish ease.

I am not now speaking of vice and gross sin (of course every one will allow that to be opposite to the spirit of Christ), but of the whole course of the world. Take the world’s decent, moral man, and is he an ‘epistle of Christ’! Is there in him a single motive like Christ’s? He may do the same things; he may be a carpenter as Christ was said to be (Mark 6:3); but he has not one thought in common with Christ.

As to the outside, the world goes on with its religion and its philanthropy. It does good, builds its hospitals, feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and the like; but its inward springs of action are not Christ’s. Every motive that governed Christ all the way along is not that which governs men; and the motives which keep the world agoing are not those which were found in Christ at all.

The infidel owns Christs moral beauty, and selfishness can take pleasure in unselfishness; but the Christian is to put on Christ. He went about doing good all the day long; there was not a moment but He was ready as the servant in grace of the need of others. And do not let us suppose that this cost Him nothing. He had not where to lay His head; He hungered and was wearied; and when He sat down, where was it? Under the scorching sun at the well’s mouth, whilst His disciples went into the city to buy bread. And what then? He was as ready for the poor, vile sinner who came to Him as if He had not hungered, neither was faint and weary. He was never at ease. He was in all the trials and troubles that man is in as the consequences of sin, and see how He walked! He made bread for others; but He would not touch a stone to turn it into bread for Himself. As to the moral motives of the soul, the man of the world has no one principle in common with Christ. If then the worldling is to read in the Christian the character of Christ, it is evident the world cannot read it in him; he is not a Christian; he is not in the road to heaven at all, and every step he takes only conducts him farther and farther from the object in view. When a man is in a wrong road, the farther he goes in it the more he is astray.” John Nelson Darby, “Unselfishness,” in The Christian Friend, Vol. 16 (1889), 51; electronic ed. accessed on 1/10/16 here.

 

The Desperate Need For “Heart Control”

Written by krkeyser on December 3rd, 2015
Photo by KRK

Photo by KRK

 

The San Bernardino mass shooting touched off the usual debates about gun control, law enforcement, intelligence-gathering, and so on; nonetheless, the real issue lies unmentioned: something must be done about the wicked human heart. “Heart control” is more essential than gun control. No legislation, education, or other societal means of influence can cleanse man’s inner being from the lusts and hatred that afflict all of us to one degree or another. While it is true that few people become murderers, all of us repeatedly demonstrate unrighteous thought-lives and frequent manifestations of sinful words and actions. As the Lord Jesus Christ said: “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.[1]

Spiritual Cardiology

Only the Lord Jesus can heal such a dreadful heart condition. His word diagnoses us all with the same condition, declaring: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[2] We must be legally justified from God’s righteous sentence of judgment against us, as well as liberated from the tyranny of sin at work within us. By His sacrificial death and resurrection, Christ provides justification – the declaration of one’s righteous standing before God – and sanctification – a new holy position and lifestyle that separates us from this world, empowering us to love what God loves and hate what He hates.[3]

C.H. Spurgeon, one of the most eloquent Bible teachers of the nineteenth century, described it this way:

The saved may well adore their Lord for his conquests in them, since the arrows of their natural hatred are snapped, and the weapons of their rebellion broken. What victories has grace won in our evil hearts! How glorious is Jesus when the will is subdued, and sin dethroned! As for our remaining corruptions, they shall sustain an equally sure defeat, and every temptation, and doubt, and fear, shall be utterly destroyed. In the Salem of our peaceful hearts, the name of Jesus is great beyond compare: he has won our love, and he shall wear it.[4]

A Fresh Start For The Heart

The Lord Jesus taught a fundamental lesson to one of the most notable first-century Israelite theologians when He said: “You must be born again.”[5] Years of religious observance could not wash Nicodemus’ heart – or that of anyone else for that matter. Only by experiencing spiritual new birth through faith in the Son of God may one be cleansed from their sin. People do not need minor adjustments or incremental improvements. Only a complete reboot resulting in a new spiritual condition can solve the dilemma of our evil hearts. He makes this new start a reality, but it is only available to those who turn from their old lives of wickedness and receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.[6]

Short of this, sins large and small will continue to proliferate in the world and dominate the headlines, and individuals will be slaves to personal and public sins.[7] Someday it will end, of course. The Lord has fixed a day when He will return to put down evil and physically establish His kingdom on earth.[8] So the choice is clear for every one of us: receive Christ by faith and reign with Him; or reject His offer of the free gift of salvation and suffer the eternal punishment that our sins deserve in the Lake of Fire.[9]

 

[1] Mark 7:20-23.

[2] Romans 3:23.

[3] Romans 1:18-5:11 emphasizes the truth of justification from God’s just judgment; while Romans chapters 6-8 detail the believer’s positional and practical sanctification, as well as his eventual glorification with Christ (Rom. 8:17-39.)

[4] C.H. Spurgeon, “Dec. 3 p.m.,” in Morning and Evening: Daily Readings. New modern edition. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006.) [Italics original.]

[5] John 3:7.

[6] Read John 3 and Romans 3. These passages in The Bible may be read online here & here.

[7] John 8:34.

[8] Acts 17:30-31.

[9] Revelation 20:11-15.

 

The Source Of Thanksgiving

Written by krkeyser on November 26th, 2015

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7.

Considering his wrongful imprisonment by the Romans, Paul’s admonition is astonishing. In the clutches of a legal system that was sometimes impaired by corruption, the apostle’s fears might well consume him. Instead, he puts his cares in the hands of his infallible and omnipotent Father in heaven, and so is able to exhort his fellow-sufferers to “be anxious for nothing.” In doing so, he reminds us of the true source of thanksgiving: God’s person and work.

Public Domain by KRK

Public Domain by KRK

Why Worry When You Can Pray?

Bobby McFerrin’s infectious 1988 pop hit “Don’t worry, be happy” expresses the philosophy of many people when they face the trials and troubles that inevitably attend life in this fallen world. Christians are not exempt from problems and fears, but they can cast their care upon the Lord, knowing that He cares for them (1 Pet. 5:7.) Rather than say: “Don’t be anxious,” full stop; Paul says “don’t be anxious – pray instead.” This reflects a confidence in God and is a tacit acknowledgement of His power and faithfulness. Because the Lord is both sovereign and good, the believer can trust Him to work out His purposes for their ultimate, eternal blessing (Rom. 8:28-29.) Spurgeon points out that He is the only proper ground of the saints’ trust:

Is his heart faint? Is his arm weary? Is his eye grown dim? If so, seek another God; but if he be infinite, omnipotent, faithful, true, and all-wise, why gaddest thou abroad so much to seek another confidence? Why dost thou rake the earth to find another foundation, when this is strong enough, and broad enough, and deep enough to bear all the weight which thou canst ever build thereon? Christian, be single in your faith; have not two trusts, but one. Believer, rest thou only on thy God, and let thine expectation be from him.[1]

Habitual Thanksgiving

This passage also exhorts believers to bring their requests “with thanksgiving.” Giving thanks should come naturally to them, as a couple of nineteenth century commentators declare:

‘The temper of the Christian should always be one of thanksgiving. Nearly every Psalm, however deep the sorrow and contrition, escapes into the happy atmosphere of praise and gratitude. The Psalms, in Hebrew, are the Praises. All prayer ought to include the element of thanksgiving, for mercies temporal and spiritual’ (Note by the Dean of Peterborough). The privilege of prayer is in itself an abiding theme for grateful praise.[2]

  Why does Paul link thankfulness with prayer and supplication? First, looking to our God for help reminds us of all He has done for us in the past. He purposefully created us and presently maintains our physical lives (Acts 17:28.) He providentially provides health, food, friends, and family (see Psalm 104.) Most of all one thinks of “His indescribable gift,” He provided His Son as a propitiatory sacrifice, offering a liberating redemption payment and giving a new righteous standing in the Father’s sight (2 Cor. 9:15; Rom. 3:21-26.) In the future, He will complete the work He began in believers by returning to take them to Himself and transform them into resurrected form. They will then reign with Him in the Millennial kingdom and the eternal state to follow (Phil. 1:6; Rom. 8:11-23; 1 Cor. 6:3; 1 John 3:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:4-6.)

Gratitude ought to be a daily, moment-by-moment attitude of human beings, yet it is often forgotten – especially in the presence of troubles. People often react to problems with introspection – or sometimes even self-absorption. But if one knows who God is and all that He does for us, then thankfulness is the logical and spiritual response. As Albert Mohler, Jr. recently wrote: “Thanksgiving is a deeply theological act, rightly understood. As a matter of fact, thankfulness is a theology in microcosm – a key to understanding what we really believe about God, ourselves, and the world we experience.”[3]

Ingratitude: A Native Human Weed

Historically, forgetting the Creator and ingratitude have gone hand in hand, as Romans 1:21 explains: “because, 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.” In fact the original fall of Adam and Eve may be seen as a lack of thankfulness towards God’s bounty and a corresponding desire to have fulfillment outside of obedience to His will (Gen. 3:1-6.) Fixing one’s mind on God cultivates thankfulness; ignoring Him leads to thanklessness and foolish independence.

Admittedly, not giving in to fear is sometimes easier said than done. One writer notes that “Be anxious for nothing” is “an admonition that touches the quick of every person.”[4] Yet these verses are practical, being battle tested in the cauldron of multitudinous sorrows. In prison cells, on sickbeds, and in the face of various tragedies large and small believers still demonstrate that the Almighty exchanges fear for faith and worry for peace. Only the reality of God’s power and love as manifested at the cross can give one the patience and equanimity to endure hard circumstances. Because the Son of God died and rose again defeating every enemy, there is no trial that can withstand His effectual working (1 Cor. 15:51-56.) Only His throne of grace is a sufficient place where one may take one’s cares and needs. Commenting on Philippians 4:6-7, F.B. Hole well summarizes this truth: “We may be anxious as to nothing, because prayerful as to everything, and thankful for anything.[5]

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “Words of Expostulation,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 7. Originally preached on January 20, 1861. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1861), 70.

[2] H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Philippians, With Introduction and Notes. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893, 112f. [Italics original.]

[3] Albert Mohler, Jr., “They Did Not Honor Him Or Give Thanks – Why Thanksgiving Is Inescapably Theological,” on the blog, accessed on 11/24/15 here: http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/11/23/they-did-not-honor-him-or-give-thanks-why-thanksgiving-is-inescapably-theological/

[4] Maxie D. Dunnam, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 31: Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon, ed. Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982, 308.

[5] F.B. Hole, Philippians. Electronic ed., accessed here: http://biblecentre.org/commentaries/fbh_54_philippians.htm#Philippians%204 Accessed on 11/28/11. [Italics original.]

 

Mercy in Everyday Tragedies – Or Why I’m thankful For The Lord’s Providential Plans

Written by krkeyser on November 17th, 2015

The horrible news of yet another terrorist attack – this time in Paris, the iconic “city of light” – fills the headlines globally. In this age of mass information and communication our screens are inundated with unwanted scenes of carnage and pitiable sorrow. Beyond globally publicized tragedies – some natural and some manmade – there are the innumerable smaller trials that afflict ordinary folks. We all know people that are ill with cancer; or dealing with the loss of a loved one; or struggling with the breakup of their families (divorce, wayward children, private addictions to multiple soul-destroying vices, etc.); or enduring financial reverses such as the loss of a job.

"Kain" by Lovis Corinth, image is public domain. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/Lovis_Corinth_Kain_1917.jpg, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lovis_Corinth_Kain_1917.jpg

(“Kain” (1917) by Lovis Corinth, image is public domain.) 

Seven Billion Sufferers In Need Of A Deliverer

   What can one say? Such difficulties are endemic in this fallen world and evil is all too real. That’s where the Lord’s faithfulness comes in: He is an inexhaustible salve to heal the wounds of a broken creation, filled with countless sad stories emanating from sinfully defective people. Only the knowledge of His sovereign control over the world, overruling wickedness and its attendant suffering, can give us peace to endure and confidence to overcome. Just as the Man of Sorrows who died on the cross is now the risen Lord of glory, even so this present world of calamity is going to give way to an unshakeable kingdom of glory, righteousness, and justice.[i]

A History Of Violence

   Earlier this week, as I devotionally read through a somewhat obscure genealogy in 1 Chronicles, I was reminded afresh of the Almighty’s providential mercies towards His people. Amidst numerous unfamiliar names, 1 Chronicles 7:20-24 this remarkable vignette appears:

The sons of Ephraim were Shuthelah, Bered his son, Tahath his son, Eladah his son, Tahath his son, Zabad his son, Shuthelah his son, and Ezer and Elead. The men of Gath who were born in that land killed them because they came down to take away their cattle. Then Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him. And when he went in to his wife, she conceived and bore a son; and he called his name Beriah, because tragedy had come upon his house. Now his daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon and Uzzen Sheerah.

The quotidian activities of earning a living in mundane agricultural pursuits were suddenly disrupted by violence. Cattle raiders murdered Ephraim’s sons – his heirs and earthly hope for the future. As a father, I cannot imagine the grief that such an event would bring. No stranger to this type of pain[ii], Matthew Henry writes: “Nothing brings the aged to the grave with more sorrow than their following the young that descend from them to the grave first, especially if in blood. It is often the burden of those that live to be old that they see those go before them of whom they said, These same shall comfort us.”[iii] Indeed, how could a father go on after such a tragedy? The passage offers some help:

  1. Ephraim was comforted by his brothers, 1 Chron. 7:22. In times of sorrow, physical family can offer help and comfort; how much more ought spiritual brothers and sisters offer to one another during trials? 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Col. 4:8, 11; 1 Thes. 5:11, 14.
  1. The Lord comforted him by giving him another son, 1 Chron. 7:23. True, this son was no replacement for the children who were gone – this is evidenced by the boy’s name “Beriah”[iv] – but it did ensure the preservation of his family line by giving him an heir.
  1. The Lord carried on His purposes for the Ephraimites, 1 Chron. 7:24-29. In spite of the murders and opposition, Ephraim and his descendants continued to develop the land and found notable cities like Upper and Lower Beth Horon. They would prosper, just as the patriarch Jacob prophesied.[v]

We’ll Always Have Paris

From The Getty Library, public domain.

(From The Getty Library, public domain.)

  Whether it’s a terrorist attack, a terminal illness, or another type of setback or trial, the believer can rejoice in the certainty of the Lord’s purpose to glorify His people. How ever horrible the catastrophe, the Lord will lovingly carry out His will for those who have received Him through faith in Christ. As Romans 8:28-39 famously expresses it:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Crime And Punishment

   Were the murderers of Ephraim’s children ever brought to justice in this world? The Scriptures are silent on this point. Nevertheless, God’s word repeatedly declares that those who flout the mercy that He offers in Christ will inevitably stand before a higher tribunal: The Lord’s own Great White Throne.[vi] For those who have trusted Christ, He has already suffered judgment in their place.[vii] This is the only way to evade eternal punishment for our sins. One way or another, no one escapes the providential dealings of the holy God.

ENDNOTES

[i] Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Acts 2:22-36; 1 Corinthians 15; and 2 Peter 3:10-13.

[ii] Henry’s first wife died in childbirth; he also had three children die in infancy. For more information, see here http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bhenry2.html Accessed on 11/17/15; or the excellent biography, Allan Harman, Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence, available here: http://www.christianbook.com/matthew-henry-his-life-and-influence/allan-harman/9781845507831/pd/507831?event=ESRCG

[iii] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 566. [Italics original.]

[iv] The translators’ offer these meanings of the name: “On misfortune” NASmg.; “Beriah sounds like the Hebrew for misfortune.” NIV’11; “In tragedy” NKJVmg.; “Beriah sounds like the Hebrew for disaster” ESVmg.; “Beriah sounds like a Hebrew term meaning ‘tragedy’ or ‘misfortune.’” NLTmg.

[v] “Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, Shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, And the arms of his hands were made strong By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), By the God of your father who will help you, And by the Almighty who will bless you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father Have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers.” Genesis 49:22-26.

[vi] Rev. 20:11-15; see also John 5:17-47; Acts 17:29-31.

[vii] John 5:24; Rom. 8:1.

 

 

Book Review: God is Love

Written by krkeyser on November 8th, 2015

Book Review: God is Love: A Biblical And Systematic Theology. By Gerald Bray. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.

 I received a complimentary copy in kindle format from the publisher for review purposes.

I disagree with far too much of this book to recommend it, but I benefitted from certain sections of it. I am an “eat the meat, spit out the bones” kind of a guy when it comes to books. So even though I disagree with much of the book, I am glad that I read it. As a summary of just a few of the author’s positions that I reject, I offer this list: the author’s eschatological system (which tends towards preterism and amillennialism); his ecclesiology (which favors creeds and liturgical forms of worship; plus he gives far too much credence to churches that are apostate, e.g. the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches); soteriology (Reformed; whereas I would leave more room for God sovereignly granting man freedom to make a real choice), and other strange personal asides throughout the book (discounting the Angel of the Lord as a theophany; seemingly favoring theistic evolution, etc.)

On the positive side, Bray is a lucid writer with clear commitment to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Most of his footnotes are references to Bible verses, which is much better than bolstering one’s position by endless quotations of theologians and commentaries. He is a gentleman, who obviously strives for peace and forbearance among fellow Christians. His tone is consistently humble and not grandstanding. His chapter on atheism is worth the price of the book. He is obviously erudite and thoughtful with a broad understanding of philosophy and historical theology. Nonetheless, I think he gives too much away in trying to broadly appeal to Christendom (evangelical and otherwise.)