Luke 16.19-26 – The heresy of Universal Salvation
Posted: 14 March 2015 in Luke

“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”

In the above parable, you do not find Abraham saying to the rich man, “Don’t worry, old chap, this is just until you have been cleaned up a bit, and pretty soon you will be in heaven along with Lazarus and me.” Instead you find him saying that there is great gulf fixed between them, and that it cannot be crossed. Universal salvation may be one of the more comfortable heresies preached today, but it is also incompatible with anything which is to be found in the Bible. Given the false sense of security, and the disastrous consequences, such a doctrine could give rise to, heresy does not seem to strong a word. The Wrath of God is as real as the Love of God, but the latter is the only thing you will generally hear preached today. Avoiding the unpleasant doctrine of eternal damnation will only create the false sense of security which will ensure that more people end up there. Without going back to the days of the fire and brimstone preachers, it is about time the Wrath of God became a fashionable subject for the pulpit again.

Liberal twenty first century theologians do not have a firmer grip on reality than Jesus Christ, who certainly didn’t preach universal salvation.

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Jeremiah 6.10-13 – God’s purposes in sin and punishment
Posted: 11 January 2015 in Jeremiah

To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the Lord is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it. Therefore I am full of the fury of the Lord; I am weary with holding in: I will pour it out upon the children abroad, and upon the assembly of young men together: for even the husband with the wife shall be taken, the aged with him that is full of days. And their houses shall be turned unto others, with their fields and wives together: for I will stretch out my hand upon the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord. For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.

Clearly, God could have given the citizens of Jerusalem ears to hear in 587BC, so that they repented, but he chose to withhold the gift of faith. Why? Obviously only God knows the answer to that question, and he chooses not to give it in the Bible; which is the only place we could look for a definitive answer. Nevertheless, it is possible to (cautiously) speculate, and the answer might be that he intended the destruction of Jerusalem to be a lesson for all future generations, including us living in 2015. If the scriptures were to serve their purpose in revealing God to us, it was necessary that they record his dealings with men in history, and, in particular, his response to their sin. God’s plan extends, after all, from the moment of creation, right up until the moment when the universe ceases to exist. On that vast time scale there is no reason to suppose that the Lord might not foreordain events in one age, so that reading about them in another age might have an effect upon those of his elect living perhaps millennia into the future.

Bringing judgement upon his creatures is not necessarily something God enjoys, but it may be that he is nevertheless prepared to foreordain sin, and the consequent punishment, in order to achieve the greater purpose of revealing himself, and his nature, to men.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” (Romans 8.28)

“For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90.4)

If we cannot understand why God has allowed some of the more horrific events in our own time, we should perhaps bear in mind that the answer may not be one to be found in our own lifetime, or, for that matter, in the lifetimes of many generations to come. “We are soon cut off, and fly away,” but God is “from everlasting to everlasting.”

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Jeremiah 44.15-19 – Willful idolatry.
Posted: 7 October 2014 in Jeremiah

Then all the men which knew that their wives had burned incense unto other gods, and all the women that stood by….. answered Jeremiah, saying, As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine.

The above is perhaps one of the most blatant examples of willful idolatry in the Bible. The motive for which is the exaltation of their own well being, over against the worship God. God is not here regarded as their sovereign Lord, who has the right to their unconditional worship, but is instead somebody who has to earn their worship. Were it not a matter of common experience that such a thing is only too common, and that we ourselves can be guilty of the same sin, such an impertinent attitude of the creature towards his creator would be almost unbelievable. But it is the lamentable result of original sin.

As Jeremiah points out to his interlocutors, in the verses immediately following those quoted, in this particular case they have cause and effect the wrong way round. The misfortune they had suffered was God’s punishment for the idolatry and disobedience which is here on full display.

Also involved in the attitude of Johanan, and that of his colleagues, is an implicit assumption that God can be put to the test, even though Deuteronomy 6.16 explicitly forbids any such attempt:

Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.

God is under no obligation to prove anything to us. He will, of course, reveal himself to the humble petitioner, who desires to worship and serve him, but an arrogant,

“Okay, God, here’s what we want. Let’s see if you are up to the job of providing it,”

will only draw forth his wrath. In our own day it is an attitude very often heard from atheists, who want to “prove” (to their own satisfaction) that God doesn’t exist.

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Deuteronomy 2.30-33 – History and its ultimate end.
Posted: 6 October 2014 in Deuteronomy

But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land. Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to fight at Jahaz. And the Lord our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.

The above verses describe the way in which human volition and divine intention are both present in human history, and it is the latter which determines the former. God does not merely react to the events, as if we were jointly the lords of history. He determines events in accordance with his divine plan. As far back as the time of Abraham, God had promised to give to Israel the land it is now about to possess. If these events had been observed by somebody without faith, he would have seen only two groups of combatants at war, with the Israelites being triumphant. They were triumphant, but the victory was in the first place God’s; not theirs. We, with the light revelation illuminating history, know that there is more involved in history than serendipity.

What was true then, is true today, and God is always present, guiding history to its ultimate conclusion. The return of Christ will witness God’s final victory over his enemies and the salvation of his saints. All things tend towards the glory of God.

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Luke 10.38-42 – The most seductive idol of all.
Posted: 5 October 2014 in Luke

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

I can think of at least five places in the New Testament, apart from this one, where Jesus warns against worldly carefulness. Here Martha is depicted as being “cumbered about much serving,” whereas Mary is less distracted, and more able to attend upon the words of Jesus. Even though Jesus explicitly recommends it (Matt 6,25), probably very few of us would have enough faith to rely upon God for where the next meal is coming from, unless we attend upon it ourselves. However, a new car in the garage, in place of the old banger which is parked out there now, is another matter. To quote Paul, when writing to Timothy:

And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

That is not quite the ethos of the world around us, needless to say, and it is very easy to fall into the trap of wanting to “keep up with the Joneses.” It is even easier to start making excuses for our own innate tendency to idolise mammon – with or without the Joneses next door to act as a spur.

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