Monday, February 14, 2011

The Codex

"Gentlemen," the clear voice rang out in the crowded hall, and the crisp clack of the gavel startled not a few conversations into silence; "Gentlemen, the meeting will be called to order." The speaker on the dais was a dignified, scholarly, sort of man, whose spectacles may have been acquired via Darwinian processes, and his steely hair lay close and flat to his incongruously old ears.

"I would, if I may, open with a word of thanks to Dr. Barnsworthy for his first-rate archaeology, and also to Dr.s Whitsome and Moore for their linguistic and philological expertise. These men have opened to us a world long lost, and altogether unknown in modern times. They are to be congratulated." Here, a round of applause broke out, warmer than most academic plaudits. These men had truly expanded the frontiers of their society, and these were heady days. "Dr. Barnsworthy," the chairman continued, "though your paper is yet unpublished, would you be willing to go on the record of our minutes with some record of your expedition?"

A tweed gentleman stood up, and replied "I would be most honored, Mr. Chairman." He advanced to the lectern stationed off-center towards the front of the dais. His boots, soiled for months during his expedition, were polished and shining like a leather mirror. He stepped behind the lectern, adjusted his notes, cleared his throat, and began: "Honored sirs, you are all aware of my recent absence, and I thank you for your grace in meeting my responsibilities in our society, in my lecture hall, and all the innumerable good offices you have maintained towards me. I adjourned, as you know, to the highlands of the Peloponnesus, the region known as Arcadia, renowned for its pastoral qualities. Pursuing clues found in the Codex Atlanticus, I arrived at the village of Anemodouri, and, being warned by the inhabitants against further pursuit of my object, continued on into the hills behind the town. Though the small stream that DaVinci wrote of had changed course time and again, I traced it's path to my object, the ruins of the ancient village of Agelada."

At this name, a murmur rippled through the hall. They had all heard it, but most had dismissed it. An elderly lector arose, asking "How did you assure yourself of the identity of the place?"

"An excellent question, sir. The villagers, apparently more literate than many, had inscribed the name of their town below each house number on the main street. There were eight houses in all, making all the more marvelous that the postal system had required addresses and the name of the hamlet, but when I had excavated their municipal building, the largest structure in the main town, I discovered the by-laws of the place had required this addressing system. It seems they had hoped to grow into a commercial hub, but alas, their fate was otherwise arranged. They were wiped out by anthrax in the second century, BC." Barnsworthy adjusted his notes and sipped his water.

"The town, as I say, was arranged along a single street, with the houses facing one another, and the municipal edifice overlooking one end of the street. Behind each house was a cow-byre, which were all of a great size, and connected to the houses by covered passageways to allow easy access. The good diggers I had conscripted were all careful not to disturb the houses, and I have a number of sketches of the hamlet, which will be presented in good order in the coming months. The most astounding feature of the byres was the name and inscription which were made on each stall, in a script which was then unknown to me. This was a great puzzle, as the inhabitants of the town had clearly spoken the Greek of their day. It was not until we had thoroughly excavated the municipal building that I realized the profundity of this tiny hamlet, for in the basement of that structure, in a stone ark, lay the most astonishing historical treasure of our time."

The crowd was by now on the edges of their seats, veritably in a lather to hear what would come next. The chairman looked on with a smile, having coordinated the matter, and interrupted Dr. Barnsworthy at this time. "Thank you, good sir. Would Dr.s Whitsome and Moore care to join you at the podium?" The two men hurried up, clearly excited. "You may continue, doctors."

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman." Barnsworthy turned back to the crowd, and continued: "Good colleagues, these eminent scholars beside me will now expound upon the find."

Dr. Moore pulled gently on a velvet rope hanging unobtrusively from the curtins behind him. He and Whitsome stepped forward to allow the curtains to puddle at the base of the wall, and directed floodlights came up, revealing a blowup of a page covered half in Greek, half in a script unknown.

"Gentlemen, behold!" Whitsome had a lovely speaking voice, and he hurled this enjoinder upon the crowd. "The Royal Society for the Comprehension and Personification of Animals has before it the Codex Bovinicus!" Gasps and murmurs rose into cheers, whistles, and thunderous applause as the crowd stood, and, to a man, expressed their heartfelt excitement.

"The RSCPA has never, may I repeat, never, had the privilege of actually communicating with the animals we all love so dearly, until this day!" Whitsome was glowing, and Moore was shaking his head in awe at their accomplishment. The two had spent many laborious nights assembling the required clues to render the codex intelligible, and they were rightly basking in the fruit of their labors. "Dr. Moore will guide you through a few sample translations, and you will, no doubt, desire to examine the whole of our work when it is published in the upcoming periodical of our society."

Moore stepped forward, and pointed with a long stick up to the left hand column, where the familiar Geek characters were. "You gentlemen are all aware of the Greek word for 'hay', 'ekei', and you see the markings on the right hand column. Bovic is a tonal language, as we had long suspected, and you will not the number of strokes, stamps really, required to convey this comparatively simple meaning. Additionally, you may note the variety of synonyms. As the Esquimeaux have many words for 'ice', it is not surprising to find that the cows have at least three dozen tones for 'hay', and the tone is varied, using sub- or super-strokes, to convey the verb. Dr. Whitsome's philological efforts have given good indications of the sound required by the strokes. Doctor, would you care to demonstrate?"

Whitsome nodded obligingly, cleared his throat, and vocalized. Many in the audience were stunned at the purity of his tone, the long O so mellifluous and supple, the rise and fall of his pitch, and the haunting echo of his moo, all alike grasped their attention. Here was a linguist indeed! Moore explained the character for 'milk', Whitsome again let forth his moo, and so on through half a dozen of the lines on the codex. The hall was silent. At long last, Bovic translated! And a competent speaker of the new language in their midst! Oh, grand day!

One of the younger men in the society stood up with a question: "Sirs, I commend your work. It is truly astounding. If I may venture a query, however, do not all of your stupendous vocalisations sound, well, the same?" The man sat down and waited for an answer.

Moore's lip trembled. Whitsome's eyebrow twitched. Barnsworthy shifted his feet. The chairman peered over his spectacles at the three scholars, then at the inquisitor. "Doctors," he harrumphed, "have you an answer to this man?" Moore blinked rapidly. Whitsome cleared his throat. Barnsworthy looked at the footlights. A drop of sweat seemed to be trickling down by his ear.

"Hearing no response, sir, your inquiry must stand as unanswered. Do you have anything else to say?" The chairman frowned after his inquiry, wondering what might come next.

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In light of the lecture this evening, presenting truly the greatest discoveries of this society, I would like to motion that we dissolve the society immediately." The man smiled nervously as he spoke, then sat down immediately.

"So motioned." The chairman looked about the room. "Will I hear a second?"

Barnsworthy haltingly raised his hand. "I will second the motion."

"Very well. Discussion on the motion?" The room was silent. "Then it goes to a floor vote. All in favor of the motion, raise your hand."

The room was very quiet. Slowly, one by one, hands were raised. Men thought about the time they had devoted to the RSCPA, the hall dinners (vegetarian, of course), the outings to barnyards, and to a man, they realized it was all quite silly.

"So noted, gentlemen. All opposed to the motion, raise your hand." The chairman cast about the room for a palm, but not one was lifted. "Motion carries. Go home, gentlemen."

And so, the hall quietly emptied. The men filed out silently, going home to flats, houses, manors. Going past pubs, for nobody felt like celebrating. Going home to relieved wives, to children who thought father a good deal more sane, to pets who would finally have peace from constant analysis. It was a wet night in London, and a chill rain sifted down past streetlamps.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dust

It is a muted day
dim sky
dust, I suppose,
other people's messes
blotting out my mountains far away
leaving only foreground
shops and roads
perfectly good trees
all lovely in their own right,
but when I can't see the mountains
I have difficulty
remembering
they are there.

A Discussion with an Old Friend

I found this the other day. A friend had sent me a very heartfelt groan about a Christian's suffering under the hand of God. Why? What is the purpose? In the hopes that this exchange might cheer someone, or provide clarification of the notion of God's fatherly discipline, I post it here. My response is interleaved through his queries, as I sent it to him, for the purpose of being as close to conversational as possible in an email. His words are in blue.

****

Hey ----,

I adopted a comment form, so that you would have a somewhat more conversational feeling from this. I would, as always, be delighted to talk to you about these or any other thing. I don’t have all the answers, by God’s grace I have a few, but the rest (of the ones that he wants us to know) are to be pursued through the Scriptures and prayer. I hope this is helpful to you.

Soli Deo Gloria,

MJM

> Hey,

> My weakness is salvation by grace, and trusting that God is

> loving. This is where I have problems.

Not sure what you mean by “problems”. Is it that you have difficulty trusting in Christ as your sole source of salvation, recognizing the futility of your own efforts? Or what?

> Here are some Q&A from the faith notes.

> Q. Why does God scourge us? A. Because he loves us.

> I don't scourge my son like God has scourged me. I give

> appropriate training. I want to certify him to be a functional

> human being.

Whose definition of “functional human being” do you mean? Also, do you truly not discipline as God does? I hope you do! God’s discipline of his children is a bittersweet, but healthy, cordial. In ways that we seldom see at the time he prepares us to serve him better, burning away the lingering shreds of sin that trouble us. Do we finite humans pretend to know the intricate purposes of God in his actions towards his children? I cannot.

> If I gave as I have received then my son would die at my hand. I

> bend to heal, while it seems that God breaks to break, and his

> healing is far away.

If you truly gave as you have received, you would be able to ultimately spare your son from incurring the righteous judgment due for his sins. You would personally assure him of an eternal dwelling, safe from the ravages of sin and death. You would promise to raise him from the dead (and ultimately deliver on it). You would provide him with the Holy Spirit to prepare him to do the work of the Lord. You would hand down to him infallible revelation to guide him until you returned to finish the work you began. You would found and certify an institution to instruct, care for, encourage, and discipline him. That is a taste of how you would have to give if you were to give as you have received.

> God is bizarre. He takes away the well in a drought, and offers a

> cup of cool water.

As to the first comment, he may seem bizarre, and that may be an appropriate word, since he does provide many “striking contrasts or incongruities” (m-w.com), but it is often more instructive to consult the Bible and examine how God has worked in history, especially in the lives of individuals in similar situations. There are few situations that do not have some kind of archtype or parallel in scripture.

As to the second comment, I do not know quite what you mean. If you are referring to withholding of blessings, I refer you to Ephesians chapter 1, Paul’s doxology “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms…” is always a striking reminder that our blessing at the present time is primarily spiritual. In fact, physically we are promised by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”. This may take many forms, but it is guaranteed to come.

>What is he doing? I can't understand him.

Me neither. His ways are above my ways, and his thoughts are not my thoughts.

> Q. Compare and contrast the motive for the discipline of human

> fathers vs. God.

> A. They both do it for the same reason: to conform us to their image.

> Q. How would you explain the promises of Eph. 6:3 to a child?

> A. There are three parts:

> 1. That you would increase greatly in prosperity and number

> 2. That you would remain in the land that God has given (and not

> have it taken away)

> 3. That you would live a long life instead of a short one.

> Q. Why do love and scourging fit together?

> A. Clarify scourging from the bible

“whom the Lord loves, he also chastens” Why is this so? Because God hates our disobedience, and since he has punished Christ on the cross for our sins, what we receive is not judgment, but correction, lest we continue in waywardness and alienate our Father.

> Q2. Why does love and the scourging done to Jesus or Job fit together?

> A2. Faith. One can not go through a meat-grinder without a

> vision. God wants men who have a bigger faith in him than

> themselves or the world. It is men of that degree of faith that

> God is gathering to himself.

I assure you, God did not choose anyone because of their faith in Him. Rather, you and I only experience the tremendous blessing of loving and serving God because he first chose us. He did not choose the strong things of this world, but the weak. The world admires those of great faith, as long as it is reposed in something inoffensive, like humanity, weapons, social programs, etc.

God is gathering to himself all those whom he, operating solely on the motives of his grace and mercy, with no respect for persons, chose in Christ from before the foundations of the world.

>In the life to come God wants

> faithful servants, so in this wrecked world and wrecked life God

> spends His time separating the grain from the chaff. That still

> seems too utilitarian.

It is. God desired for himself a people, from eternity past he decreed this, and wrote the names of those who will be saved in his book, when as yet none of them existed. He decreed Adam’s fall for the furtherance of his glory in showing judgment and mercy. He is not “utilitarian” except insofar as he “utilizes” every aspect of the created universe to his own glory. His hand cannot be forced, he cannot be driven or pushed around.

> Q3. That's utility, not love. Why does love and scourging fit

> together?

> A3. They don't. Love is extending the boundary of self to another

> person, so they live under the umbrella of your self. Love is

> about denying, in part, one understanding of image, to extend the

> whole definition of image in such a way that includes another

> person who was not identically in your image. Love is about the

> lover bearing a suffering so that the loved does not have to. Im

> having problems reconciling a loving God with a requirement for us

> all to be cross-bearers. If he wants to destroy us why do it in

> the way that optimizes the suffering of men?

I don’t quite catch your drift. If I use big words (and I have been accused of it) you have used some phrases that I don’t understand. “boundary of self” and “understanding of image” are not terms that I have come across. Check out 1 Cor. 13 it is NOT primarily about romantic love, it is about the kind of love that keeps the two great commandments. Here are some (hopefully) helpful quotes from 1 John. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.[5:3]” Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.[4:7-12]

>Am I suffering the

> critical lack of vision and faith that makes me not his?

Um, the lack of faith that makes you not his is the persistent lack of faith in the saving power of the risen Christ. “If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead” we are OK. It is not good to doubt, but it does happen. In a postmodern world that embraces doubt it is easy to succumb to the constant questioning and outright dismissal that we suffer for the sake of his name. Pray and trust God to be powerful to keep until that day what you have entrusted. We know whom we have believed, and he is reliable.

> Did Jesus die on the cross for us and pay for our debt or not?

Yes

> If my debt is paid then I cannot be crucified for my debt.

Correct

> Did Jesus die on the cross for all who are saved?

Yes

> If he did then I cannot be crucified for another's debt.

Correct

> For what purpose then am I crucified?

Strong words. We are called to take up our cross and follow him. We do not bear his cross (we could not) and we do not bear other crosses, but God has weighed out for each of us exactly what he will put on our backs. Crucifixion is punishment. God will not punish you, his law is satisfied on your account. God will beat you into whatever shape he wants. He is the master smith, and it is not for us to answer back. It IS our duty to keep his law wholly and love him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we are blameless in these things then we must content ourselves with the lot we are given, knowing that it is from the hand of a Father who knows better than we.

You are not paying a debt, you are learning and growing. Paul was promised grief: “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’” Acts 9:15,16

> Did Jesus impute his righteousness to me on the cross?

Yes. We are clear on imputation, right? A credit to your account, not something that is even yours, but you receive the benefits of it.

> If he did then I cannot be crucified to make me righteous.

Those words again…but a true statement nonetheless.

> Can my works give me any righteousness above the righteousness of

> Jesus imputed?

Not in a sense of salvation. There are clearly rewards in heaven for those who have served God well, but salvation is assured solely based on the merit of Christ.

> If not then I cannot be crucified to make me righteous.

Of course not, but I think you are trying to build an argument on terms that are misused.

> If the death of Jesus is, as I have been taught, a payment for sin,

> and an imputation of righteousness, then my cross can do neither.

Correct

> It cannot affect my standing before God. What therefore is the

> purpose of my cross?

If you are not growing you are dying. That is a general truth. There is never a flat spot on your spiritual life vs time curve. So, in the sense of procuring salvation, no, your works now mean nothing, just as they always have. BUT, in the sense of sanctification, making you holy and more and more pleasing to God, your patient and faithful bearing of your cross DOES DO GOOD. It is your desire to please God, I assume, so he has revealed how he will be pleased, by obedience to his law . Do you do this perfectly? I sure don’t. Far from it! But I must always be trying to do better. It is hard, and it will always be hard, but it is required, and it will always be required.

> Is it to teach something to my head?

> That's not the way its done, and God never fails.

Not quite sure what you mean. Yes, it is to teach you, but it is to teach you heart, mind, body and soul how to better please God. What do you mean “that’s not the way it is done”? How is it done? I am afraid that I know of no other way to grow in grace than by constant work.

> Is it to transform my internal heart or nature in some way?

Transform? I suppose. Spiritual growth is transformation of a sort. Not the same way regeneration is, but still…

> Is it to teach something to my heart, a lesson pressed so deep it

> goes into my bones?

Perhaps…

> Maybe. Why is that the only way to teach it?

> There are more ways than one to teach a bone-deep lesson.

I suppose, but I can’t think of any. Just as foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, it is still bound up in our hearts. Different in kind, different in measure, but still there. I have been blessed in my life, but I know that the time I learned the most all at once was when I was in a church that broke itself apart, and I had to learn what I really believed, fast. Object lessons are useful until we are no longer dogged by sin (dead). Also, God does not always or exclusively deal in chastening, and the hole always looks deeper when you are in it. Do not falter, he will deliver in his good timing.

> There's always the point that only living tissue can feel pain.

> Could it be that God is trying to make me aware of the extent of

> life in me?

Possible, but I am dubious. That is a pretty backhanded kind of lesson, and even the wicked feel pain, so I suspect the lesson is more significant than that.

> Either I am suffering by Gods hand or another, but the other would

> have no room to give pain if God had not given it to them.

> I don't know why God causes men to suffer. There is room for

> mystery in this world, and this is a big one. Why pain?

Remember, all things are done to the ultimate glory of God. That’s the satellite view answer. The bird’s eye view probably shows that pain is a teacher to the wise, a punishment to the wicked, a tool for the use of superiors to obtain their desire from their inferiors. You cannot save someone who is safe, nor can you discipline someone who is right all the time.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” [Romans 9:19-24]

Though this is primarily referring to election and reprobation, it makes the valid point that God is not wrong for doing as he wishes with his creation.

> I gotta get prepping for a "midterm" exam.

Hope it goes well for you.

Again, I am afraid that I have been too wordy. I hope these comments are a help to you, they are offered in a spirit of humility and desire to assist a friend as much as God will allow me to. I appreciate your curiosity and desire to discuss these things. The things of God are simultaneously the most important and most neglected tings in the universe. Have a great night.

Soli Deo Gloria,

MJM

****

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Essays to a Friend - Part Three of Three

III. Attitudes toward the World

A friend recently submitted the following to me:

Common Grace is normally divided into three points. Let me know if the way I have expressed them is fair.
A) God loves/is gracious towards the reprobate in a non-saving way.
B) God restrains the outward manifestations of the evil of the reprobate by his loving/gracious actions toward/in them.
C) God causes the reprobate to do civil righteousness/good by his loving/gracious actions toward/in them.

The Free Offer of the Gospel is normally divided into two points:
A) God uses the preaching of the Gospel as a way of blessing the reprobate.
B) God desires the salvation of the reprobate.

I reject all five of these points of Common Grace and of the Free Offer of the Gospel.

I would say to the 3 points of Common Grace
A) God only hates the reprobate and works all things for their damnation and cursing. God only loves the elect and works all things for their salvation and blessing.
B) God restrains the outward manifestations of the evil of the reprobate by multiplying their inward manifestations of evil as a curse to them and a blessing to the elect.
C) God causes the reprobate to do things that men might call good for their own evil reasons as a curse to the reprobate but a blessing to the elect.

I would say to the 2 points of the Free Offer of the Gospel
A) God uses the preaching of the Gospel as a way of cursing the reprobate and blessing the elect.
B) God desires the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the reprobate. God does not desire the salvation of the reprobate.

I quite agreed with him. He had, as far as I knew, fairly expressed the Reformed view of common grace and the free offer of the gospel. He managed to do it twice, even.

What was lacking, though, was the perspective to condense these points into a unified view of the title of this section, "Attitudes toward the World". Wiser men than I penned the 1948 GA report found here (http://www.opc.org/GA/free_offer.html), but I will endeavor to make a useful reply of my own anyway.

In essay II, I mentioned the importance of a careful view of "the church" including the visible and invisible church (though there is always but one church, and which adjective we use depends on our viewpoint), so we also want to have a careful view of "God's will". Smarter people than I could tell you more of the history (maybe you know it), but in Reformed circles we talk about the secret will and the revealed will of God, and unequivocally affirm that there is but one will of God, worked out through the Trinity in all eternity and history.

So, how does that have bearing on my friend's concern? God's revealed will is the natural law, history, and Scripture. It shows us what He wants done. Natural law instructs the natural man in what God demands: gratitude, justice, &c. I am not a natural law scholar, so I will not go much deeper than this.

Psalm 19:1-4a - The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

Romans 1:19-21 - For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 2:14-16 - For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

History shows us what God wanted done at any particular time in the past. God is sovereign, His purposes are inscrutable, and we affirm that all that has, does, or will happen is by His eternal decree. But we never know that decree until we see it. Will it be God's will that I be hit by a bus tomorrow? We'll find out tomorrow, and not before.

Isaiah 25:1-2 - O Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you; I will praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
For you have made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the foreigners' palace is a city no more;
it will never be rebuilt.

Isaiah 45:1-7 (c. 8th century B.C.) - Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
that gates may not be closed:
“I will go before you
and level the exalted places,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
I will give you the treasures of darkness
and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

2 Chronicles 36:22-23 (c. 5th century B.C.) - Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up.’”

Acts 4:23-30 - When they [Peter & John] were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Scripture, however, tells us what God wants done by all men everywhere. It reveals His commands explicitly, and more than that, it reveals His way of salvation in Christ, which is nowhere apparent in the natural or historical decrees.

Acts 17:30-31 - The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

Luke 3:10-18 - And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

Isaiah 55 (v1 of which is the source text for John's republication below), esp. vv 1-4 - “Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.

Revelation 22:17 - The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Micah 6:8 - He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Matthew 11:25-30 - At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

God's revealed will is plain: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved! However, Jesus Himself provides a nice transition into the next discussion in the Matthew passage. The revealed will cries "Come!", but who will come? Only those to whom the Son chooses to reveal the Father.

Thus, we see the secret will of God. His divine councils, hidden from us, planned for all eternity, are what shall ultimately come to pass.

Isaiah 46:8-11 - “Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it."

Psalm 139:15-16 - My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

And you probably know lots of these sort of passages, so I will not go on at length. I hope you see the point I am making. God is united in His plan. We are not invited to his privy councils, but we receive His decrees. It is not for me to say how any particular event aims towards God's glory, but it does (Rom. 8:28). I do know that keeping His revealed will leads to His glory, and I know that part of His revealed will is to preach the Gospel to all men everywhere. Therefore, it is a good thing to preach the Gospel freely, and it is a good thing offered to the hearers. God is speaking His revealed will through His ministers, calling men to repentance. All who come to Him will by no means be cast out, and His sheep hear His voice. We are never told who those sheep are. We must beware of the error of presuming that God will get His man with or without us preaching. We are harming ourselves and others by that silence.

Psalm 78:37-40 - Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.
Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
he restrained his anger often
and did not stir up all his wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and comes not again.
How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness
and grieved him in the desert!

Matthew 23:37-39 - “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jonah 4 esp. vv 1-4 - But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

Malachi 1 esp. v2 - “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob's brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob..."

John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Romans 10 esp. v21 - But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

Our attitude toward the world is to reflect the published attitude of God (Mat. 5:43-48). We are to despise sin, but entreat sinners to come. We are to lament over wickedness, and beg God to have mercy on the wicked. We are to be salt & light, loving our neighbor (note that the theocratic B-side of this verse 'and hate your enemy' is elided by Jesus Christ himself), and reflecting the attitude of God towards them. We know that God knows His own, and that is the great driver of Reformed evangelism - God brings the growth - not by him who wills or him who runs - not by might nor by power but by His Spirit. This understanding allows us to love our neighbor without betraying God. We can spread the Gospel without disseminating classified documents. Common grace and the free offer of the Gospel are tightly related, and both are appropriate ways to talk about the work God is doing in the world as we see it.

I hope that elucidates my earlier agreement with my friend's position. It is emphatically NOT equivocal to talk about the secret and the revealed will of God, and consequently, all ten of the propositions he made have their place within Reformed theology because they are plainly presented by the Bible! We are supposed to use the light of nature, logic, good and necessary consequence, &c. to take the plain things of Scripture and use them to interpret the harder things, never the other way round.

Thank you for your attention, and I urge you to be able to glory in what God has done and revealed while still earnestly desiring to know Him better. We are never to be satisfied merely knowing about the Lord of Lords. Salvation is found in knowing HIM.

In closing, and I hope you never tire of this passage:

Philippians 3:12-16

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. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

And in Christ we have attained the victory. Not by might, nor by power, but by the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah! Amen.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Essays to a Friend - Part Two of Three

II. The Incomprehensibility of God

You may ask: "How does God think? Do we know things in the same way?" I suggest that this is a misguided question, driven by remnants of Plato's thought, and an inappropriate desire to know about God apart from knowing God. Read on.

Psalm 40:5 - You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.

God is prolific, wondrous, and incomparable in His thoughts & deeds. However, the Psalmist is also very concerned with proclaiming God's work, although with the understanding that this task can never be fully discharged. Keep this in mind.

Isaiah 55:6-11-"Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah passes along a directive to seek the hidden God, to call on the Most High who dwells in the highest heaven while He is yet near. This seems odd enough at first blush. Then God freely offers the gospel to the man wicked in his ways, calling the unrighteous-thinking man to come to God, that He may have compassion (plainly offering the gospel to all). God then makes very clear His other-ness in thought and the unapproachable nature of His ways, clearly implying that men should think His other-thoughts and walk in His high-ways.

Plainly, this is impossible without Christ. Thankfully, there's the remainder of the chapter, saying that God's Word (both the gospel of repentance and the Incarnate Word who is the heart of that gospel) will do its good work, and the gospel will reach the elect and Christ will redeem His own. THIS DOES NOT negate the other-ness or high-ness of God's thoughts and ways. We are brought into them in Christ, but we are never told that they will get any simpler.

I might take a moment to hedge against a hyper-singular view of Scripture. What I mean is that a passage (like this one) has several layers of the same consonant meaning, but perhaps varying greatly in their depth or the time of their realization. For example, Psalm 2 meant a lot to the kingdom of Israel under David, but it means a lot more to us under Christ. The apostles were very "liberal" in their interpretation of the OT, but it was because they were seeing consonant meanings that were being fulfilled in Christ. It is, however, impossible for Scripture to contradict itself, since it is God-breathed. Between these guard rails - look for fulfillment in Christ - avoid contradiction, error, and confusion - we will do well to search Scripture to our fullest advantage in Christ. This, by the by, is the inoculant against excessive affection for the works of men. They are only helpful if they further our understanding of the glory and preeminence of Jesus of Nazareth. And we have by no means exhausted the scriptures!

Back to searching for information without searching for God. Job is a huge exposition of this theme, and the following limited excerpts hardly do it justice.

Job 35:9-11-“Because of the multitude of oppressions people cry out;
they call for help because of the arm of the mighty.
But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker,
who gives songs in the night,
who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth
and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?’

Job 36:22-26-"Behold, God is exalted in his power;
who is a teacher like him?
Who has prescribed for him his way,
or who can say, ‘You have done wrong’?

“Remember to extol his work,
of which men have sung.
All mankind has looked on it;
man beholds it from afar.
Behold, God is great, and we know him not;
the number of his years is unsearchable.

Job 37:5-"God thunders wondrously with his voice;
he does great things that we cannot comprehend."

Read Job 38-41, also, if you haven't done so in a while.

Job 42:1-6-Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”

The Job discourse is significant because it is an argument about the comprehensibility of God, which is answered in a thunderous divine self-disclosure. Job says: "I understand my Maker, and I know my rights, and I can't see how this is any good for me", and his friends answer "We understand our Maker, and He wouldn't do this for no reason, so what's your deal?" God (and Elihu) then say "None of you know God. If you did, you wouldn't be so impudently asinine as to impugn His motives and actions." Your best propositional constructs about God are matchsticks trying to fence a lion. If you assert "God must think propositionally", you seem to be walking very close to the territory of Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar. Alternately, to fret that there are no propositions in the mind of God seems laughable. All truth is there, so propositional truth must be there. But to suppose that God puzzles through a syllogism and reaches a necessary consequence is to demean His unfathomable, immediate, pervasive, unique, and unutterable wisdom. It is not from wisdom that this line of inquiry is pursued.

Let's step back, though, and take stock of what we have: 66 books of God revealing His person and work, and a created universe declaring His glory and handiwork. Of course we are supposed to know God! But to know is not necessarily to comprehend. I can build a clock and comprehend its action, because every tooth of every gear is known to me. I can often be surprised by my wife, because though I know her pretty well, I don't come close to comprehending her. I am almost invariably surprised by God, because I barely know Him, and I cannot comprehend Him at all. But I want to know Him better, and my lack of comprehension is no obstacle to that, because He sets the terms of inquiry. If I follow His terms, He says I will know Him better.

John 14:18-24 - "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.

All human knowledge is revelational. Anything that we know has been told to us, either by God in nature (science, &c.), or by God in Scripture. God condescends to reveal Himself in ways that are fruitful for us as men. God is One, simple and united. We are multiple, compound and divided. To inquire after compartments in God's thought is unwise and unwarranted. Of course you share thought-content with God (about fish and cats and wood and stone), but He is not a mere library of content. You can know truth (Jesus even says it will set you free), and God is the fount of all truth, because He is by nature true, but to imagine you share that nature because you share that truth is exceedingly dangerous. Truth shines on us; it radiates from God. It is the same truth, but you have it in a very different way than God does. There is no contradiction in this.

Psalm 46:10-11 - “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Let's leave the incomprehensibility of God there. If you are still troubled, search the Scriptures diligently, and pray. But SEARCH FOR CHRIST AND HIS GLORY. Therein is God revealed. If we look for an answer to a mere question, we are often disappointed. If we look for the Lord of Heaven and Earth to worship Him, we will meet Him and we may delight in Him and He in us.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Essays to a Friend - Part One of Three

I. Discourse in the Church

1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 Tim. 6:3-8

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

Let these principles guide you in your diligent search after the truth of God. Fruit in life is test of doctrine. Every apostle affirms this, but John, a Son of Thunder, hammers it home especially: You think you know God? You say you have faith? Let's see the proof. Love one another.

The church is the body of Christ, and the Christian is obliged to join and support a local church (1 Jn. 1:7, Heb. 10:23-25, 13:1, 7, 17). The choice to join such a body is not to be made lightly, and the choice to leave such a body is weightier still. The old adage "you don't pick family" comes to mind. And, like a family, the church is to hang together, not gang up on siblings, and not pick unnecessary quarrels.

The distinction between invisible and visible church is critical. Our true fellowship is with the brothers and sisters of the invisible church, because we share with them in the unity of Christ and His Holy Spirit. However, since we don't know who they are, our fellowship is with the visible church and we are called to love it without reservation. Officers make distinctions when absolutely necessary, and on substantial evidence. Lay persons in a healthy church do not make such distinctions. God has blessed them with not having that responsibility.

You will perhaps ask: what is a healthy church? Again, the question must be answered at two levels. A truly healthy church is one where everyone holds the mystery of the faith in a clear conscience and sound mind, and practices righteousness to the glory of God. We don't know who does either (except our own hearts, which fall far short so often). Thus, we may judge a church healthy as long as we observe, over a period sufficient to convince us of consistency, that 1) Christ is exalted in preaching of the whole counsel of God, 2) the sacraments are administered in a fashion consonant with the Word of God and 3) scandalous life or publicly displayed scandalous doctrine is not tolerated.

To sum up this tack, individual Christians are often called upon to make judgments of wisdom in the best light of circumstance and with prayer for wisdom and the counsel of the Scripture. It is legitimate, upon consideration, to call a spade a spade, and we aren't wrong to have done so even if later God reveals that He know all along it was a diamond. We can excommunicate people, pray for their salvation and restoration, rejoice to see it happen, and have no tension in this, because the Bible does not admit tension here (Jas. 5:19-20, Jude 20-23, Mat. 18:15-22).

Debates and discussions on doctrine in Christ's church must be framed this way, upholding His love for her corporately, the subsequent demand that we love one another corporately and individually, and noting that we are very rarely called to distinguish between the invisible and visible church. Deliberately disturbing the peace of a church for the sake of intellectual gratification is not permitted, but starting collegial discussions for the sake of fidelity to Scripture is always welcome.

Col. 3:12-17

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.