Friday, August 31, 2012
“I am persuaded there are very few that apostatize from a profession of any continuance, such as our days abound withal, but there door of entrance into the folly of backsliding was either some great and notorious sin that bloody their consciences, tainted their affections, and intercepted all delight of having anything more to do with God; or else it was a course of neglected private duties, arising from a weariness of contending against that powerful adversary which they found themselves unto them” – John Owen, The Nature and Power…of…Indwelling Sin…, in The Works of John Owen, Volume 6: Temptation and Sin, 184.
Monday, August 27, 2012
I would like to thank Handlebar Publishing and Worthy Books for sending me a free copy of John Hagee’s book, The Power of the Prophetic Blessing: an Astonishing Revelation for a New Generation.
Pastor Hagee writes with an enthusiastic and readable style. However, his book seems to be less and organized treaties than off-the-cuff. That being said, my biggest problem was not with the author’s organizational skills, but with his theology.
In his opening chapter, the author writes that the reason that the Jews “have excelled throughout history in the fields of medicine, technology, literature, science, the arts, and much more” (11) is due to the fact that they employed the prophetic blessing. I found the whole idea of the Jews being better than everyone else very uncomfortable at best.
As he continues by arguing that blessings are guaranteed to the person who speaks them (21), that there is a guarantee of abundance to the person who speaks blessings, and that blessing means at its very heart that a person will have material and spiritual wealth (27), that going through “testing” is a guarantee of blessing (50), I found myself categorizing the author in the heretical “health and wealth movement.” Casual reading of the Scripture will convince the reader that those who are obedient to God are not guaranteed blessing.
On page 81, he discusses what he calls, “Replacement Theology.” He argues that there are those who say that all of the promises made to Israel have been transferred to the Church, and that this is incorrect. While I would agree with him that not all the promises made to Israel have been transfer to the Church, I have to disagree with him saying that all of the conditional promises – made to the ancient nation of Israel as they entered Canaan – are still in force today. This discussion is all part of his understanding of what it means when the Scripture says that all people are to “bless Israel.” However, he takes it to the perverse extreme of claiming that the reason Hugo Chavez got cancer was due to the fact that he spoke against the nation of Israel (88). This is not biblical. He continues by saying that anyone who does not support Israel is against Christ (91), and that God will destroy every nation that is not pro-Israel (99-100). This cannot be supported biblically.
While it is true that Paul in Romans explains that God has not forsaken Israel – and there is an indication of a mass conversion of Jews to Christianity – to faith in the Gospel of Jesus the Only Savior and Messiah, the promises that God made to the nation of Israel in the land are no longer applicable – God engaged Israel in a conditional promise, and they broke the promise, so the land was lost.
He goes on to a very curious discussion about what Jesus did – and while he does not say it – he comes very close to implying that Israel is saved by the keeping of the Law and Gentiles are saved by faith alone in Jesus. He says that Jesus's death was for the Gentiles (159), that Jesus's death was to give us divine health, that Jesus's death was to secure the material wealth of Abraham for the Gentiles wealth (160) – none of which is biblical. (He does rightly explain that Jesus was forsaken that our sin might be forgiven and that is only through Jesus that we can receive everlasting life.)
In chapter 7, he discusses the Beatitudes – which he calls “the eight prophetic blessings of Jesus.” If we simply enact, receive, confess, speak these eight blessings, we will “live the good life.”
In chapter 8, he explains that the prophetic blessing must be released through the spoken word. He explains that God waits on our word to act (214). And he uses Habakkuk 2:2-3 to argue that if we write down what we want to happen, God will cause it to come to pass (217).
Chapter 9, he explains of the prophetic blessing must be released through touch. And while I agree with him that touch is very powerful and very necessary in the Church, is going beyond the text to say that touching people and speaking blessings on them is more adequate than praying for them outside of their presence.
He argues that every blessing is ours, if we only ask for (252). We can have anything we want. All we have to do is believe it and ask for. One of the problems, he argues, is that we don't know what we want, so we must determine what we want and ask for it and God will give it (253). He argues that this knowledge of what we want is why it is necessary that everyone know the exact moment of their conversion (256) – and he says if you don't know the exact moment of your conversion, you should pray “the sinner's prayer” again, which includes on page 257.
Speaking the word is so powerful, he argues, that we can change God's plans. Nothing that God desires or plans or wills is set in stone, God has to change his plans based on our word of faith (262).
He concludes the 10th chapter by explaining the six scriptural requirements for releasing and receiving prophetic blessing: he states that the blessing must be imparted by a person and spiritual authority, the blessing must be given while standing, the blessing must be given with uplifted hands, it must be done in the name of the Lord, it must be done face-to-face, and it must be given in a loud voice (266-273). The author is taking individual incidents and making them universal laws of God.
His final chapter is a series of form blessings that you can use for yourself, your friends and family. All you have to do is fill in the names in the blanks and God will do what you want. Included are proclamations for your children and grandchildren, your wife, your business, health and healing, for testing and trial, for emotional stability, for the favor of God, and for overall prosperity.
This is not Christianity. The author has taken conditional promises to a specific people at a specific time, expanded them, and made them for every person throughout time and space. He is taken the one promise of a single Savior for all people and made one way of salvation for the Jews, one way of salvation for the Gentiles, and the need for all people to embrace the Jews – believing or not – as superior and having the magic formula for worldly blessing. I cannot recommend this book.
Since it seems as though most people do not have a clue as to what the Gospel is, I quote it here for your consideration: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, ESV).
Sunday, August 26, 2012
August 26, 2012 Second Reformed Church
It is impossible to become right with God after you have apostatized. If you apostatize, you cannot be saved. If you only once truly turn away from where you stood – which is what “apostasy” means – you are forever lost.
Several weeks ago, we looked at the idea of apostasy and how apostasy is truly and permanently turning away from where you stood. It is at one time standing for something, saying something is true, and then completely and utterly and permanently denying it.
We looked at this because the Jews to whom the author of Hebrews was writing were considering leaving Christianity. These were Jewish converts to Christianity who were beginning to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah – the Savior – they were wondering if they ought to turn away and turn back to the Ceremonial and Judicial Laws of the Old Testament. They wondered if they ought to give up what they said they believed – what they professed they believed – about the Gospel – that God came to earth in the person of Jesus, that He lived a sinless life under God's Law, that He died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, that He physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to His throne.
The author of Hebrews recognized that these Jews had not apostatized yet – they were questioning, in the light of persecution, whether they were right, whether they had made a mistake in believing Jesus and His Gospel – they were questioning whether the historical facts of the Gospel were true and what they meant.
So, as we saw the last time we talked about the book of Hebrews, the author of Hebrews rebuked them for becoming “dull of hearing” – they had neglected the Word of God and in so doing they had grown immature. They had gone from “eating meat,” back to “drinking milk.” They had gone from being adults, back to being infants. And so we saw that it is possible not only to mature in the faith, but also to immature in the faith. Maturity in the faith comes through regular, continuous study and meditation on the Word of God with the help of God the Holy Spirit who indwells every Christian.
The author of Hebrews told them that that they had neglected the Word of God to such a degree that they had become confused about the meaning of baptism, they had become confused about the giving of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they had questioned whether the physical body is resurrected, and they questioned who would be judged and what the judgment would be at the end of the age. These were the basic doctrines, and they had become confused about them again. The author of Hebrews told them that he wanted to talk to them about the priesthood of Melchizedek – that they should've been teaching about these basic doctrines in the church – but he had to stop and address them on the basic things – to warn them about apostasy.
And so he continues in this morning’s Scripture by impressing upon them the seriousness and the finality of apostasy, if it is committed. And we do well to ask ourselves the question – again – can a Christian apostatize? Can a Christian lose his or her faith? And the answer is a resounding “no.”
Jesus prayed, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12, ESV).
And Paul wrote, “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 gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39, ESV).
And, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV).
So salvation is God's Gift to whomever He will, and if God loves us and has saved us, we will never be lost. True Christians cannot do anything to lose their salvation – just as true Christians did not do anything to become saved – to gain their salvation. It isn't possible for a true Christian to apostatize. True Christians sin, but a true Christian can never completely turn away from his or her stand.
And so we continue: “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
How do we understand this in the light of what we've just seen in these other verses – that a true Christian cannot lose his or her salvation?
The author of Hebrews tells his readers – including us – it is possible for someone who thinks he or she is saved – who thinks he or she is right with God – who thinks he or she is forgiven – it is possible that such a person can apostatize – and if such a person apostatizes – he or she can never be saved.
The author of Hebrews says it is impossible to restore someone to repentance – it is impossible for someone to be forgiven and made right with God and saved from His wrath – under five conditions:
First, it is impossible to restore again to repentance, those who will have once been enlightened. What this means is that it is impossible for someone to be saved who hears the Gospel, and receives instruction in the Gospel, and understands what the Gospel is, and repudiates it. It is impossible for someone to be saved who has heard and been taught what it means that God came to earth in the person of Jesus, lived under His Own Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to His throne, and say that he or she understands it, but never believes that it is true.
Second, it is impossible to restore again to repentance, those who have tasted the heavenly gift. What this means is that it is impossible for someone to be saved who experiences the Power of the Holy Spirit – especially in the worship service – and yet permanently rejects Jesus.
Third, it is impossible to restore again to repentance, those who have shared in the Holy Spirit. Here we may wonder if the author of Hebrews is talking about Christians – true Christians – because he is talking about those who have “shared in the Holy Spirit” – and who shares in the Holy Spirit, except for true, believing Christians? The author of Hebrews is here making a distinction between those who experience or share in the benefits of the Holy Spirit and those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23, ESV).
Jesus tells us that there are people who think they are Christians, who are able to preach the Word of God, who are able to cast out demons, who are able to do mighty works, but because they do not believe in the Gospel – in Who Jesus is and what He has done – Jesus will cast them into hell. It is possible, for God's reasons, that some will be able to do works of the Holy Spirit – did God the Holy Spirit will assist an unbeliever in doing works that glorify God, but, if such people do not believe the Gospel, they cannot be saved.
The great revivalist, Charles Finney, appears to have been one of these: he appears to have led many people to Christ through his revival preaching, but he said again and again in his writing and sermons, that Jesus is not necessary for salvation. And if he kept that view until he died – if he rejected the Gospel until his death, he is forever lost.
Fourth, it is impossible to restore again to repentance, those that have tasted the goodness of the Word of God. There are people who come to worship and take part in the church and understand the Scripture and understand the Gospel and find it beautiful and find it logical and find it a good system of life, but they do not believe the Gospel. These people cannot be saved.
On Earth, in this life, we have evidences of people who are Christians. We read about the fruit that Christians bear that evidences the fact that they are true believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What we do not know, in this life, is who the non-elect are – who the reprobate are – who those are the God is allowing to follow the natural course of their sin to hell. We don't know – and someone who has been the most obstinate, negative, Christ-hating person, can in the last moment of his or her life truly believe in the Gospel and be saved. So we have encouragement to evangelism, because the elect of God will repent and believe, even if it is in the last moment of his or her life. So we are to preach and teach the Gospel to every person while he or she is alive.
An example, which I hope is not the last word: when I was in college, I had two friends who came to the Reformed understanding of the faith, and then they came to me to ask me if it seemed to be true, and I studied, and I came to believe that the Reformed understanding of the Bible is the correct understanding of the Bible. In the years that have passed, both of them after having experienced the goodness of the Word of God, have denied Christ and His Gospel and have embraced other religions. One of two things has happened: either they were never Christians in the first place, or they have fallen very, very far away, but will one day repent and believe and return to Christ. If they were never Christians in the first place, if they were just enthralled with the goodness of the Word of God and the beauty and the logic of the Redemption that Christ brings through the Gospel in His Church, then they will go to hell.
Fifth, it is impossible to restore again to repentance, those who have tasted the power of the age to come. The first question we need to ask ourselves is, when is “the age to come”? The age to come began with the giving of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. So, the author of Hebrews is telling us that those who've experienced the signs and the wonders and the works of the Holy Spirit in them and around them, yet deny the Gospel cannot be saved.
We have the history of Simon, the magician, in Acts 8. Simon had been a magician, he heard the preaching of the apostles, he professed belief, and he was baptized. Simon saw the apostles laying on of hands and gifting people by the Holy Spirit, and Simon offered to buy that power from the apostles. And Peter answered him, “You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God” (Acts 8:21, ESV).
Here we have a man who heard the preaching of the apostles, appeared to believe, and was even baptized, but he was never a Christian, and he apostatize through the repulsive acts of offering money for the Gift of the Holy Spirit and His Power.
Notice that the five things that the author of Hebrews mentions, are things that make these men and women look like they're Christians: they go to worship, to Bible study, they understand the Word of God, they experience the Power of the Holy Spirit in worship and share in His Benefits, and they have seen the signs and wonders and works of the Holy Spirit, such that the author of Hebrews tells us that even with all of this if they turn away from where they stand – if they apostatize – they are damned to hell.
What is the difference? The difference is, the people who can never be restored – the people who have apostatized – we never see it said of them, that they actually had faith or belief in Jesus and His Gospel. They were involved in the Church. They knew the Scripture. They knew the Gospel. They loved the things that they saw and experienced. Yet they were still able to say, “I can do without Jesus.”
The author of Hebrews tells us the reason it is impossible for them to return once they have apostatized is that in their apostasy, they, as it were, crucified Jesus again. They denied that Jesus’ Gospel was enough, and they sent Him back to the cross again. They held up the Gospel, and they despised it – they held it up for contempt, and they said, “You can't possibly mean that this is what makes us right with God.”
The author of Hebrews then turns to an agricultural example of what he is talking about: “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.”
The author of Hebrews has his readers consider a land – and this land is the Jewish nation and the church – the people that God has called to himself and the elect. And God sends the rain – God sends the Holy Spirit – and the land drinks up the rain. The elect are those crops which bear useful fruit – these are blessed by God. These have the assurance of God upon them because they produce real fruit – fruit of repentance – fruit to everlasting life. The others to produce, but what they produce are thorns and thistles – nothing that is useful for health and healing and growth to the human body. These may be in the Church, they may think they are part of the Church, but in the end they show themselves to be apostates.
Jesus told the similar parable: “He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:24-30, ESV).
We may wonder if the author of Hebrews is implying that these Jewish converts who had become immature were also apostates. Was the author of Hebrews, telling them that they were lost and there was no hope? We know that the answer for those who read and listened to this letter was “no,” they were not apostates; they were true believers.
He clearly continues: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.”
The author of Hebrews calls them, “beloved,” implying his belief that these people were immature, but true, believers – they were not apostates. He told them that he and those with him are “sure of better things – things that belong to salvation.” The author of Hebrews told them that there is reason – despite their immaturity – to believe that they are saved – that they are true, believing Christians – not merely apostates who had fooled themselves about the meaning of Christianity.
The author of Hebrews gave two reasons why he believed that they were members of the elect – that they were true, believing Christians: first, they continued to do works of faith. Second, they showed love for the saints in Jesus’ Name.
We've talked about the issue of works before: salvation is by faith alone, but it is not of faith that is alone. God saves us by grace alone through faith alone through Jesus Christ Alone, but that faith must lead to works of faith – to good works – not for our salvation, but as the fruit of our salvation – as a proof that we have been saved by God. True Christians use their gifts to do good works, especially in the Church.
Another evidence of their salvation was that they loved each other – not because they were all best friends – not because they all had the same interests – but for the sake of the Name of Jesus Christ – because they were brothers and sisters through God's adoption of them in salvation, they loved each other – they were willing to do whatever they could for the good and the progress of each other, especially in the things of the faith.
So, the author of Hebrews encourages his readers that although what they are doing may end up with some becoming apostate – because they were never really Christians in the first place – he sees through their works and their love, evidence that many of them are true, believing Christians. Having that evidence, they ought to find assurance of their faith.
But he does not leave them there – he calls them to more work – to make sure that they are true, believing Christians – that they believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ – that they are assured in their salvation – and that they would not merely be assured and stay immature, but that they would mature in the faith as well: “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
Peter explained that making sure of our election and calling – our salvation – is the most important work of the Christian's life: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:10-11, ESV).
The most important question that anyone will ever find the answer to is how to be right with God. And the second most important question is to know whether you were right about the first question. Is there a way to know that you are one of the elect – that you have been called – that God has saved you – that your assurance is built on real belief and real fruit being produced?
The contemporary Reformed theologian, R. C. Sproul, has spoken about this topic – about being assured of salvation, and he, like the apostles stresses how important it is that we be assured that we are saved – that we are not be fooled, but truly know what we believe. So R. C. says that he asks the following questions: “Do you love Jesus perfectly?” The answer to that is obviously “no,” we are still sinners. So then he asks, “Do you love Jesus as much as the Scripture says you ought to love Him?” And again the answer to that is “no,” we are still sinners. But then he asks a third question:”Do you love Jesus at all?” And what he means when he asks that is not merely do you love the idea of being saved from the Wrath of God, but do you really, truly, in the depths of your being hear the Gospel – Who Jesus is and what He has done – and love Him for Who He is and what He has done? If you love Him at all for that, then that is evidence of your salvation, because no one can love Jesus at all – for who He is and what He has done unless he or she truly believes.
The author of Hebrews ends this section with the challenge: don't be sluggish – don't be slothful – don't continue to slide into immaturity – to think that everything will be okay if you just believe and never leave – if you never obey. Instead, imitate faith and patience – imitate the faith and the patience of Jesus and those who follow Him – those who have given great examples of Him.
John wrote: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16, ESV). There is a goal. It is set before us – in love of our brothers and sisters – in love of Christ and what He has done for us in the Gospel – let us be willing to physically die for each other – for the sake of the Gospel.
Many of us could very easily say, “Sure I'll die for you,” because we don't believe it will ever happen. So let us ask this of ourselves: “What can I do to help each Christian in this congregation to mature in the faith?” The most important thing we can do is to get each other to understand what the Gospel is – especially because every Sunday morning there are TV preachers on our TVs telling us it's something it's not.
And in the end, no matter what you do, no matter how Christian you seem, if you deny the Person and Work of Jesus – which is the Gospel – it will be impossible to restore you to repentance.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You have given us the sign of fruit that we can look for in ourselves and each other to be sure that we are members of the elect – that we are truly Christians. Help us to see with clarity, to work with each other and encourage each other in humility and love. And may all that we do be done in thanks and praise to the Name of the One God, our Savior, Jesus. For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
“To preach God's word is too much for half a man. And to minister to a temporal kingdom is too much for half a man also. Either or other requireth, the whole man. One therefore cannot well do both. He that avengeth himself on every trifle is not meet to preach the patience of Christ, how that man ought to forgive and to suffer all things. He that is overwhelmed with all manner of riches and doth but seek more daily is not meet to preach poverty” – William Tyndale in David Teems, Tyndale: the Man Who Gave God an English Voice, 169.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Friday, August 10, 2012
Thursday, August 09, 2012
"He that loveth not my dog loveth not me. Not that a man should love my dog first, but if a man loved me, the love wherewith he loved me, would compel him to love my dog, though my dog deserved it not, yea, though the dog had done him a displeasure, yea, if he loved me, the same love would refrain him from revenging himself, and cause him to refer the vengeance unto me... If I loved God purely, nothing that my neighbor could do were able to make me either hate him, either to take vengeance on him myself, seeing that God hath commanded me to love him, and to remit all vengeance unto him" – William Tyndale in David Teems, Tyndale: the Man Who Gave God an English Voice, 118.
Wednesday, August 08, 2012
“Who is so blind to ask why light should be showed to them that walk in darkness, where they cannot but stumble, and where to stumble is the danger of eternal damnation, or so despiteful that he would envy any man (I speak not his brother) so necessary a thing, or so bedlam mad to affirm that good is the natural cause of evil, and darkness to proceed out of light, and that line should be grounded in truth and verity, and not rather clean contrary, that light destroyeth darkness and very reproveth all manner of lying” – William Tyndale in David Teems, Tyndale: the Man Who Gave God an English Voice, 56.
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
Monday, August 06, 2012
David Teems’ book, Tyndale: the Man Who Gave God an English Voice, is a lyrical, thoroughly researched, and enjoyable biography of William Tyndale.
The author’s writing complements Tyndale's in producing a text that is warm and beautiful. The author explains with great care with many examples the beauty and ingenuity of William Tyndale's use of the English language both in independent writing and in translation. The reader is captivated not only by Tyndale's use of language, but, by the way the biographer has presented Tyndale's life and writing.
Although there is not much record of Tyndale's life, the author explores every avenue presenting Tyndale's writing, the writings of those for and against Tyndale, issues raised by other biographers, and substantial looks into the lives and for of those people around Tyndale – both friends and foes.
The author's writing is warm and smooth and the reader feels as though he knows these people – one is drawn in and cares about the people being written about. The primary sources are used masterfully throughout the book, and there are three appendices at the end of the book: the first one being a timeline of Tyndale's life, the second English words first used by William Tyndale, and then the complete two letters written by William Tyndale to John Frith.
I found this book delightful to read, and I learned a great deal about Tyndale and those around him and the controversy surrounding the translation of the Bible into the English language. For that I would highly recommend this book. The only negative I would note is that there are periodic quotes from Tyndale and others disrupting – as I found it – the text. They appear in a different print, a different font, and disrupt the smooth the reading of the text. The quotes are valuable, but I would've preferred they be inserted in the text in some way, rather than have them be jutting into the text and disrupting it.
[This review appears on Amazon.com and on my blog. I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson for this review.]
August 5, 2012 Second Reformed Church
“About this we have much to say,”
For the past few weeks, we've been talking about the High Priesthood of Jesus. We saw that Jesus acted both as the Perfect Sacrifice – a Holy Man who kept all of God's Law and Who voluntarily became our Substitute and took upon Himself the Wrath of God against the sin of everyone who ever believes in Him Alone for salvation – and Who is the Perfect High Priest – Who as Holy Mediator, stood between God and us to plead for us and to offer Himself up for us. We saw the importance of Jesus in living a Holy, Sinless Life – so we could be seen by the Father as holy through the crediting of Jesus’ Holy Life to us. We remember that Jesus died for every sin of every believer throughout time and space – paying the entire penalty due us.
And we considered what priestly line Jesus was a part of: there was the line of Aaron, and the line of Levi, and we are told that there is also a third line – the line of Melchizedek. This is the line of the priesthood that Jesus was part of. However, we saw the Jesus is called to be High Priest and His line in Melchizedek’s priesthood was not through His humanity, but through His Divinity. Jesus, in His Divinity, is the Only Begotten Son of God, Who, from eternity, was designated by God High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.
And so, when we read the author of Hebrews writing, “About this we have much to say,” the author of Hebrews is saying that he has much to say about the fact that Jesus in His Divinity is the Only Begotten Son of God, Who from eternity, was designated by God High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.
The author of Hebrews told his readers that he had much to say about this topic – that it was important for them to understand who Melchizedek was, what his priesthood was, and how Jesus participated in it.
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.”
The author of Hebrews had a lot to say to the Hebrews about Jesus being part of the high priestly line of Melchizedek. But here he stops his writing – and he does not go on – he does not explain more about the High Priesthood of Jesus and His participation in the high priestly line of Melchizedek, because the Hebrews had become dull of hearing.
Remember the people the author of Hebrews was writing to: these were Hebrews – Jews – who had heard the Gospel preached and who said that they believed the Gospel. They believed that God had come to earth. That He had lived under His Own Law perfectly, that He had died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and that He had risen from the dead in His physical body – and ascended back to His throne. But now – they were wondering if they were wrong – if they had been over-exuberant – they wondered if they might be deceived. They wondered if it might not be best to return to the Old Testament laws and ceremonies which they knew well – the things they knew that God had given them and commanded them.
We saw the author of Hebrews become incredulous about this – he couldn't believe that after hearing and believing the Gospel, they could turn away from it and turn back to the shadows – to the prophecies – and he warned them that if they did not continue to believe in the Gospel – if they turned away from where they had stood – if they apostatized – they would commit the only unforgivable sin.
Not only had the Hebrews been questioning whether the Gospel was true, but they had become “dull of hearing” – they weren't listening – they thought they knew it all – they saw no reason to go back to the Scriptures, and check the Scriptures, and read them again, and seek the Holy Spirit's guidance and His Gift of understanding.
It seems fair to apply these words to the American church as a whole: “you have become dull in hearing.” How often do we come to “worship” desiring that we be excited, entertained, that we have our “felt needs” met, but we don't care if we have understood the text, or if God's Word has been preached at all, much less if God has been honored and glorified in what has occurred.
John Owen, colorfully explains the problem this way: “it is not unnatural imbecility of mind that he blames in them; nor such a weakness of understanding as they might be obnoxious unto for want of improvement by education; Nor a want of learning and subtlety to search into things deep and difficult: for these, although they are all defects and hindrances in hearing, yet are they not crimes. But it is a moral negligence and inadvertency, a want of the discharge of their duty, according to their ability and attending unto the means of their instruction, that he chargeth them withal” (Hebrews, volume 4, 549).
His language is quaint, but what he is saying is this: they were not disabled in such a way that they could not read and understand God's Word. They were not lacking the education necessary to be able to read and understand God's Word. No, the problem was sin – they didn't care to read and understand God's Word to the best of their ability. They just didn't think God's Word was that important. They had better things to do. Yet, God is very angry when we neglect His Word.
Back in Lent, we looked at the principles of church growth. Do you remember what the first one is? “God’s Word must be central – of primary importance and honor – to our lives and worship for us to grow as individuals and as the Church.” Do you believe that? Do you believe that the center of worship is God and His Word? Do you believe that we know God and all He has to teach us about life and salvation through His Word?
The author of Hebrews tells his readers that the biggest problem they have is that they have become lazy in receiving the Word of God. And because they have become lazy in receiving the Word of God, their ears have become dull. They have lost some of the ability to understand God's Word.
So we see, first, this morning, our ability to understand and profit from God's Word grows as we interact with it – as we read it – as we hear it read and preached – as we hear it taught – as we meditate on it, asking the Holy Spirit to help us to understand and apply it wisely and correctly. The more we read the Word of God, the more we are exposed to the Word of God, the more we pray that God will help us to understand and apply the Word of God, the more grace God will give us to read it, to understand it, and to apply it. Reading the Bible is not unlike using a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it will become; the less you use it the more it will decay.
This is a very frustrating text: If you don't read your Bible and you don't take advantage of the opportunities to discuss it and learn it, then don't be surprised with the results. It's like buying a gym membership, never going, and then calling the gym to complain that you're still fat and lacking muscle.
Read the Word of God. Attend worship and hear God’s Word read and preached. Come to a study and discuss the Word of God. Buy good Christian books, or CDs, or DVDs. William Tyndale, who lost his life for translating the Bible into English, said he did so, that every plowboy would be able to read the Bible for himself. Pray that you would desire to spend time in God's Word – and then pray that you would desire to spend more time in God's Word.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.”
The author of Hebrews continues his criticism, telling them that with the amount of education in the Word of God that they had received, they should be teaching others by this point, but because they became dull of hearing – because they didn't care about the Word of God and what it said – they had actually gone backwards in their ability to understand – they had gone backwards in their becoming Christ-like. They needed to be taught the basic doctrines all over again.
And so we see, just as it is possible to mature in the faith, it is possible to immature in the faith. It is possible to go backwards in our sanctification. It is possible to go backwards from an adult to a child spiritually. It is possible to lose the understanding of the very basic, foundational, principles of Christianity. It is possible to become fatally confused about the meaning of the Gospel – and we saw this as we talked about evangelism and how people think that the Gospel is about how you feel or how much God loves you, when the Gospel is a very specific set of historical facts about a historical figure.
Then the author of Hebrews uses an image – comparing the Hebrews with infants: “You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.”
I hope we all understand that milk is for babies – milk is made up of nutrients to help a baby grow, but it is not so intense and strong that the baby cannot eat it and digest it. I hope no one would try to stuff a steak in an infant's mouth. Even if the infant had teeth, it's unlikely that he or she would be able to eat and digest it properly. Milk is given to babies to mature their digestive systems and the rest of their bodies. Solid foods – meat – is to sustain the grown – the mature – the adult body. Just as we can't properly mature and grow, drinking only milk and milk products, so we also have to add to what we have learned – we have to grow in on our understanding of the Scripture.
So, secondly, the author of Hebrews is saying that there are basic doctrines that every Christian should know – that every Christian should understand – but no Christian should stay with just the basic doctrines – every Christian is called to mature as the Holy Spirit works through him or her. Each one of us is to add to our faith and understanding – to grow in what we have heard and read and understood – that we might know God better – that we might experience more grace – and live more fully to His Glory.
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
The author of Hebrews does not condemn his readers and then leave them without hope: he tells them there is a way to move toward maturity. There is a way to become an adult – it's through eating solid food – it's through training our powers of discernment – by training our minds – by constant practice – not once a month or once a week, but again and again and again as a regular habit – in distinguishing good from evil.
So what is he telling them to do? What is he telling them – and what are we being told this morning, if we want to mature – if we realize we're drinking milk, and were tired of drinking milk? What should we do if we have had enough milk – if we have received all the nourishment we can receive from milk, and now we want to move on to solid food – to meat?
Thankfully, the answer is “milk” – it’s basic – it’s simple: if the Hebrews want to mature again – to recover what they lost through becoming dull of hearing – if they recognize that they were sinning in being bored and impatient and fed up with the Word of God – even doubting if it was true – if you want to mature – first get the Gospel right: God came to earth in the Person of Jesus – a real human being, He lived under God's Law sinlessly, He died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and He physically rose from the dead, ascending back to His throne. That's milk. It's the best milk any human ever gets, but we must grow from there – once we’ve got that, we have to grow.
Understand, the author of Hebrews is not suggesting – and I am not suggesting – that there are different levels of salvation. However, we do fluctuate in our maturity – one day will be a little more mature, one day we will be a little less mature. We ought to be, striving to be, more mature overall as the Holy Spirit makes us into the Image of Jesus.
So, maturity begins with a right understanding of the Gospel. And then, we ought to do everything within our ability to learn and understand and put into practice everything else. We ought to be, striving – praying to God – asking for grace and understanding – that we would be able to read this Scripture and understand it to the fullest. God has given us His Word that we would understand it and rejoice in it and give Him thanks and glory for it. There is a point at which each of us, according to our ability, has to say, “this far and I can understand no further” – there are mysteries which are kept from us. We read, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29, ESV).
We need to remember that, although there are difficult passages of the Scripture, the Word of God, by and large, was not written for intellectuals and scholars – it was written for William Tyndale's plowboy – it was written for you and me. What kind of God do we believe in, if we say that God has given us His Word and then made it too difficult for us to understand any of it? That is not the God that we see in the Bible. The God of the Bible condescends to humanity so that He will be understood. God uses words and imagery that would be understood by the people who received it – and God Himself came to earth in the Person of a human being – how much more one-on-one could God get? The Bible was largely written for shepherds and farmers and nomads and the illiterate. Most of the Bible is straightforward and doesn't need any degree or special insight – besides the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit – to understand. If you are a Christian, and you want to mature in the faith, “pick up and read” – and then do everything within your ability to understand, and God will bless that.
How long does it take? How long is your life? Paul, encouraging other Christians to press on, wrote, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV). Paul continued to mature – to the day of his death.
“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”
Since this is true – since we are called to mature and not stay with the doctrines of milk – merely with the basics of the Christian faith – but to build on them and to understand as much as we are able of the Word of God – the author of Hebrews says to leave the elementary doctrines – not to forget them, but to continue on – to move on – to mature – to build on those elementary doctrines – and to go on to maturity.
The author of Hebrews warns them that they are not to lay “again a foundation of repentance from dead works.” What does that mean? Well, what are “dead works”? This expression is only used twice and only by the author of Hebrews, but we can make sense of it: what do we repent of? Sin. What type of sin would be “dead works”? “Dead works” are works that we do thinking that they will make us right with God without Jesus. The original audience of the letter of Hebrews was turning to dead works – they were leaving the Gospel and Salvation in Jesus Alone and turning back to keeping the Law and the Ceremonies as their salvation – which is impossible: the Law and the Ceremonies were given to us to show us that we cannot save ourselves. So, the author of Hebrews is warning them that they are not to go back to trying to earn their salvation – because it will not – it cannot – work. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone.
The author of Hebrews quickly mentions a few of the elementary doctrines of Christ – and Christianity – that are found in the Word of God:
First, “instruction about washings” or “instruction about baptisms.” The word that can be translated “washings” or “baptisms,” is again a word that is only used twice in the Bible, and only by the author of Hebrews – so what baptisms is he talking about? There are three baptisms mentioned in the Bible: what is called the baptism of John, which was a ceremonial cleansing rite, the baptism by which a person becomes part of the covenant community, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, by which a person receives salvation. The author of Hebrews is obviously talking about the second two – instruction about entrance into the covenant community, and instruction about salvation. (He would not be calling them to return to a Ceremonial Law for the reasons we have already discussed.)
Second, “the laying on of hands”– which was also done for three reasons in the Bible: the recognition and blessing of a person called to office, for healing, and for the gifting of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit and His giving of gifts. Again, contextually, since we are talking about the elementary doctrines of Christ – that is salvation – we can only be talking here about the gifting of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit and His giving of gifts.
Third, “the resurrection of the dead.” And here the author of Hebrews is countering those who say that the resurrection from the dead is merely a spiritual resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead in his physical body, so we must rise in our physical bodies. If we do not rise in our physical bodies, then Jesus’ Salvation is a failure, because part of what Jesus came to save would not be saved.
Fourth, “eternal judgment.” There must be an eternal judgment, if God is Just. If God does not punish sin, He does not love us. If God does not judge the world and punish sin and put it away from Him – and us – and His Kingdom, we are not saved.
The original audience of the letter to the Hebrews was getting hung up on these basic issues: the Holy Spirit changes our hearts and regenerates us – brings us back to spiritual life, the Holy Spirit gives us gifts and the grace to use them for the sake of the Church and to the Glory of God, the Resurrection is of both our souls and our bodies – the material world is good and God will restore it and perfect it and bless in the Kingdom, and there will be a judgment and those who do not believe in Jesus Alone for salvation – those who do not believe the Gospel – will enter eternal Hell. This is all good stuff – this is all important stuff – vitally important – but it's not all there is – and God has called us to read and hear preaching and teaching on the Whole Counsel of God – the Whole Word of God – including what it means that God eternally designated the Only Begotten Son of God High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.
“And this we will do if God permits.”
Let us pray:
Almighty God, as we come to meet You in the Sacrament, we ask that You would give us grace to mature. We ask that You would turn us back from our sin – from our laziness, from our uncaring, from believing that anything in Your Word is unimportant. Help us to know the Gospel rightly, to hold onto it firmly, and to seek out, by the Holy Spirit, the strong meat that You provide for us. Help us to strive towards You until we are in Your Presence, and let us settle for nothing less. Be truly in the bread and the cup that we may commune with You. We ask these things in Jesus Name, Amen.
Saturday, August 04, 2012
“You may think you find peace in Christ when you have no outward troubles, but is Christ your peace when the Assyrian comes into the land, when the enemy comes?...Jesus Christ would be peace to the soul when the enemy comes into the city, and into your houses.”
― Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
[gently lifted from: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/51789.Jeremiah_Burroughs]
― Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
[gently lifted from: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/51789.Jeremiah_Burroughs]
Friday, August 03, 2012
Thursday, August 02, 2012
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
“Mortification abates of its force, but does not change its nature. Grace changeth the nature of man, but nothing can change the nature of sin– John Owen, The Nature and Power…of…Indwelling Sin…, in The Works of John Owen, Volume 6: Temptation and Sin, 177.