Predestination in the New Testament
Posted: 25 May 2011 in Acts, Ephesians, Hebrews, Mark

“And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, THEY WHICH ARE CALLED might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9.15)

“For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God SHALL CALL.” (Acts 2.39)

“And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, WHOM HE HATH CHOSEN, he hath shortened the days.” (Mark 13.20)

“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Ephesians 1.4-5)

The above passages could be multiplied endlessly. I find it scarcely possible to pick up the Bible without stumbling across another verse, which I had previously glided over without noticing its real meaning. The above all speak of they same thing, which is the absolute sovereignty of God in electing some people to eternal salvation, whilst leaving others to perish as a consequence of their sin. It is easy to see why this is an unpopular doctrine, but it is one which runs throughout the New Testament, and, to a lesser extent, the Old Testament as well.

A reasonable expectation might be that, if we are unable to effect our own salvation, and we are wholly dependent upon God’s grace, then he might elect all equally to salvation. Reasonable though that might be, there seem to be many sayings of Jesus which tell against it. For example:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7.13-14)

Clearly the Christian God is not the santa claus god atheists love to lampoon, and for us Christians our ability to accept what God reveals of himself in the Bible is a test of our humility and theological seriousness.

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Psalm 104.10-19,31 – Our dependence upon God’s Providence
Posted: 23 May 2011 in Psalms

He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.
They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst.
By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches.
He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth;
And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.
The trees of the LORD are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted;
Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.
He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.
The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever: the LORD shall rejoice in his works.

The psalmist knows, as modern man does not, that all things come from God, and that we are wholly dependent upon his providence. Instead of praising God, he prefers to praise our own achievements, and he thereby derogates from the glory which belongs to God alone. He also fails to acknowledge that his achievements are only possible because of God’s prior providential care. This refusal of worship is one of the manifold consequences of the fall, which echo throughout all creation.

Verses 28-29 of the same psalm read:

That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.

And the same goes for us. We are not the authors of the biological processes which bring forth sustenance; we merely make use of them. We live on this earth for as long as it is God’s good pleasure that we should do so, and when he decides to bring our lives to a close, we die.

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Mark 15.22-33 – Sin and Salvation
Posted: 20 May 2011 in Mark

And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull. And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not. And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors. And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, Save thyself, and come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him. And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.

This story is so familiar it can be difficult to make yourself realise the full enormity of what is going on. The Bible has much to say about the sinful nature of man, but with the crucifixion of the Son of God, the sin endemic to the human race reaches its furthest extent. Even though none of us were present at the crucifixion, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that we can escape our share of guilt. We share in the same sinful nature of those who crucified Jesus, and, given half a chance, we may well have been amongst those helping to drive the nails in. If that is true for Christians, it is even more true for those who actively set their face against God. The condemnation which is promised for rebellion against God is wholly justified.

And yet, for those to whom God is graciously pleased to grant repentance, and acknowedgement of their sins, the crucifixion and ressurection of Jesus makes salvation available.

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1 Chronicles – 13.5-10 – Vocation
Posted: 19 May 2011 in 1 Chronicles

So David gathered all Israel together, from Shihor of Egypt even unto the entering of Hemath, to bring the ark of God from Kirjathjearim. And David went up, and all Israel, to Baalah, that is, to Kirjathjearim, which belonged to Judah, to bring up thence the ark of God the LORD, that dwelleth between the cherubims, whose name is called on it. And they carried the ark of God in a new cart out of the house of Abinadab: and Uzza and Ahio drave the cart. And David and all Israel played before God with all their might, and with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cymbals, and with trumpets. And when they came unto the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God.

It must be admitted that the above appears to be a slightly strange story. But, further on it is said, or at least hinted, that the reason for God’s anger was that the levites alone had been commisioned by God to carry the Ark, and Uzza wasn’t a levite. So the moral for us, I suppose, is that we all have a vocation from God, and that it is for God – not us – to decide what that vocation should be. Uzza was taking it upon himself to fulfil a role which wasn’t his, and apparently God did not appreciate his presumption.

Naturally we like to think that our lives are ours to order as we like, even whilst we are paying lip service to the idea that we are God’s servants. However, it is not common for somebody to employ servants, and then allow each of them to decide for themselves how they will occupy their time. Instead he expects each of them to fulfil the role assigned to them. So God similarly expects each one of us to fulfil the vocation we receive from him, and to seek out his will in whatever way we can. Perhaps through prayer, and perhaps by discussing our intuitions of what God wants with others. It is probably important to have input from a third party, because it is likely that they can be more objective than we can in our own case. At the end of such a process we might not like what we hear, and we might feel tempted to do our own thing anyway. We shouldn’t of course, but we might, and it will be a test of our obedience.

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Revelation 9.13-21 – The fallen state of man
Posted: 18 May 2011 in Revelation

And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men. And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

In the above passage, the refusal of men to repent after witnessing what they had just witnessed could hardly be described as rational. And yet, in that complete lack of rationality, there is revealed a picture of just how deeply sin is ingrained in the human species, and of its lamentable effects. There is more than a suggestion that we are actually incapable of real repentance without a special grace from God.

The language in Revelation is of course highly symbolic, and there might perhaps be a suspicion that it exaggerates the story just a little. However, Jeremiah 42-43 tells a similar tale, but this time in a concrete historical situation. Jerusalem has just fallen to the Babylonians, and a group of apparently chastened men come to Jeremiah saying that they will obey whatever God commands, if only he will intercede for them. So Jeremiah does intercede, and he makes God’s will known to them. But their immediate reaction is to reject the counsel of God, and go off to do what they always intended to do anyhow.

When men seem so incapable of acting even in their own best interests, it is difficult to overstate the woeful state into which men have fallen. If the above passage does anything, it ought to make us conscious of just how dependent we are upon the mercy of God and of his Christ.

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