Mark 3.22-29 – The unforgivable sin
Posted: 5 March 2014 in Mark

And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.

It is sometimes speculated what the unforgivable sin, spoken of more than once in the Bible, might be. From the context within which Jesus makes his remarks, the answer to that question seems to me reasonably clear. The unforgivable sin is to describe the works of God as being those of the Devil, and, by extension, to identify God with the Devil. To do such a thing must be the grossest blasphemy there is, and we are here assured that it is unforgivable. For the thought to so much as enter somebody’s mind, at least for more than a fleeting second, would mean that they were destined for eternal punishment.

In contrast, failing to recognise the divinity of Jesus, and his status as our only means of salvation, will bring condemnation in the normal course of events, but, like most sins, it can be forgiven if repented of. However, there is a sin, which is so grievous an insult to God’s infinite holiness, that it will assuredly be punished eternally. That ought to be a sobering thought, even if most of us do not go around thinking that God’s works are of the Devil.

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Acts 4.24b-28 – The Heresy of Open Theism.
Posted: 4 March 2014 in Acts

Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.

Whilst I do not make a habit of labeling a heretic anybody I disagree with, it hardly seems too strong a word in the case of the Open Theism. If open theists are right, then the above, taken directly out of the pages of the Bible, must be so much poppycock. If they are right, and God does not know the future, then he could have had no clear idea of why Jesus came to Earth, he could not have foreseen the crucifixion, and the Resurrection must have been a desperate attempt to put right something which was unintended by him. All of the prophets would have been lying through their teeth, when, in predicting the future, they claimed divine authority for their words. Alternatively, and even worse, God himself would need to have been lying. It is difficult to imagine that the new atheists could come up with anything more destructive of a whole 2,000 years of Christian theology.

It would be more honest of open theists if they admitted that they don’t like the implications the above, and similar passages of scripture, have for the limited nature of human freedom, and so they are going to abandon historic Christianity, in order to start their own religion. In that religion, absolute and unfettered human freedom would be the guiding presupposition, and any doctrine of God they had would need to be fitted in around that. One thing is for sure, a god who could be surprised by the course of events, and who could see his plans come awry as surely as any of his creatures could, that God would not be the God of Christianity. For that matter, he wouldn’t be the God of Judaism or Islam either.

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” (Isaiah 46.9-10)

The God who speaks there seems to have no doubts about the extent of his omniscience. His counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure. Well, he couldn’t very easily be sure of that, if he cannot foresee the future. If God’s omniscience goes out the door, his omnipotence soon follows it.

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Isaiah 28.9-13 – Charry Picking Scripture.
Posted: 3 March 2014 in Isaiah

Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.

Perhaps this is not the most obvious lesson to take out of the above passage, although it is not a million miles removed from it. Recently going through my mind was the way in which people today can sit light to the words of the Bible, with the primary motivation being that they don’t like what it says. Not excluded from that are many of those who like to label themselves “Bible believing Christians” (by which they generally mean that they are Young Earth Creationists). There are, of course, myriad examples of that, but one of the most frequently heard is a protest against the concept of eternal punishment – and that even in the face of the unambiguous words of Christ. For example in Matthew 25.46:

“And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

[Sometimes people will try to argue that the Greek word which is there translated everlasting doesn't actually mean everlasting. Yet you never hear it argued that that very same word doesn't mean everlasting when it is used in connection with the everlasting God. (As it is in both the Septuagint and Romans 16.26)]

One of the favoured options for evading the doctrine of eternal damnation is to postulate universal salvation. It goes pretty much without saying that nobody coming to the New Testament for the first time could possibly read that out of it. So to make it say what they want it to say, the proponents of universal salvation have to indulge in the selective reading of scripture, and subtle argumentation, which only academics, or those informed by them, could be capable of: “The word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little,” as Isaiah puts it.

I really cannot believe that God would wrap his scriptures up in language so obtuse that people have been misunderstanding them for 2,000 years, and that, even today, their true meaning can only be uncovered by specialists in ivory towers. The Bible is not an academic treatise; it is given for the salvation of men, or “as many as the Lord our God shall call,” to quote Acts 2.39. It is not given so that we can necessarily like what it says, but it is given so that we can accept what it says as having been divinely revealed – and that, unfortunately, includes the eternal damnation of some of our fellow men and women.

We need to call ourselves to account whenever we find ourselves rebelling against God’s truth – and that, admittedly, can be often enough. The temptation to cry out, !It’s not fair!” especially in connection with something like predestination, can be difficult to resist, but God is righteous, and we are not; God is Lord of all Creation, and we are not.

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Revelation 20.12-14 and 17.8 – Judgment and Salvation
Posted: 23 January 2014 in Revelation

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”

“The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”

The thing I notice in the first of the above two passages is that, whilst it is said that both the books containing a record of men’s deeds, and the book of life, are said to be opened before God, only those whose names are written in the book of life are saved. The works of fallen men serve only to condemn them, and salvation is exclusively through the grace of God. Furthermore, verse 17.8 makes it clear that those who were to worship God in eternity had their names inscribed in the book of life before the foundation of the world.

In history, of course, all men are exhorted to love and serve God, and they are well advised to heed the warnings of Christ. The only indication any of us have that our names appear in the book of life is that we do heed Christ’s warnings, and are obedient to God in the here and now. If there is one thing the Bible does make crystal clear, it is that disobedience always brings judgment and punishment in its wake. The idea that the Old Testament God is wrathful, whereas the New Testament God is all fluffy and cuddly is, frankly, a nonsense.

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2 Chronicles 34.18-25 – Idolatry and impending judgment
Posted: 7 November 2013 in 2 Chronicles

Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king’s, saying, Go, enquire of the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do after all that is written in this book. And Hilkiah, and they that the king had appointed, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college:) and they spake to her to that effect. And she answered them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah: Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be poured out upon this place, and shall not be quenched.

The above passage is just one of many which could be plucked, more or less at random, from the pages of the Bible. In a sense, the Old Testament is nothing but a long history of mankind’s continual rebellion against God. In the story of the Great Flood, judgment befell the human race as a whole, and only a remnant (Noah and his family) were saved. In 722BC the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed following its long and mournful history of idolatry, and the above passage refers to the destruction which, for the same reason, is about to befall Judah.

There is a tendency nowadays to talk as if the wrathful God of the Old Testament somehow disappeared in 1AD, and was replaced by the nice God of the New Testament. This God is prepared to tolerate any amount of idolatry, and he would never inflict eternal punishment upon sinners. Which, of course, is nonsense. God is immutable, and his nature is unchanging. Given that our current age is perhaps more idolatrous than any age which has gone before it, the above passage (amongst many others) ought perhaps to give us pause for thought. Today the problem is not pagan religions, with their attendant child sacrifices, but is instead that of rampant materialism, and never before has Jesus’ warning that we cannot serve both God and mammon seemed more apposite. In the case of the new atheists, science perhaps runs a close second to material wealth as being the idol which is worshipped above all others.

Even ten years ago it wouldn’t have been that easy to discern what form the God’s judgment might take, but today it is only too clear what it might be. I am no economist, but I have heard more than one economist predict that the crash of 2008 was nothing but a foretaste of what is to come. Only a few weeks ago America seemed to be on the point of defaulting on its debts, and a default was only avoided by allowing it to borrow still more money in order to pay off its existing debts. Even worse, governments all around the world are doing the same. That house of cards is likely to collapse sooner rather than later, and, when it does, governments which have already cut interest rates to the bone in an attempt to stimulate recovery, will not be able to cut them any further.

Now this is not an economics blog, and I do not want it to become one, but the God who has brought judgment upon nations in the past is alive and well. Furthermore, the mercy of God, revealed in the salvation which came with the advent of Jesus Christ, in no way negates that fact.

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