Acts 10.12-6 – The hidden things of God
Posted: 6 April 2011 in Acts

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.

The above passage seems to be an example of God’s mysterious sovereign grace. Why should this one Gentile be the especial recipient of God’s favour, rather than another? The examples of one person being chosen, and not some other, could be endlessly multiplied of course, and the Bible never offers an answer to this question.

The further thought occurred to me that, if the Bible doesn’t answer this question, then perhaps we shouldn’t be asking it in the first place. As a well known verse from Deuteronomy has it:

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deut 29.29)

In the physical sciences an attempt can be made to answer questions through a process of observation and inference, but in religion we are restricted to what God has seen fit to reveal to us. Speculation can be pointless at best, and, if we imagine that we should be able to resolve all questions, a short road to atheism at worst. So maybe we should study with our whole being to appropriate a knowledge of those things which have been revealed, but at the same time refrain from speculating about the hidden things of God, knowledge of which he has reserved to himself.

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Jeremiah 21.1-4, 13-14 – A couple of disconnected thoughts
Posted: 5 April 2011 in Jeremiah

“The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, when king Zedekiah sent unto him Pashur the son of Melchiah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, saying, Enquire, I pray thee, of the LORD for us; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us; if so be that the LORD will deal with us according to all his wondrous works, that he may go up from us. Then said Jeremiah unto them, Thus shall ye say to Zedekiah: Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and I will assemble them into the midst of this city.

“Behold, I am against thee, O inhabitant of the valley, and rock of the plain, saith the LORD; which say, Who shall come down against us? or who shall enter into our habitations? But I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings, saith the LORD: and I will kindle a fire in the forest thereof, and it shall devour all things round about it.”

The first of the two passages quoted above serve as a reminder that God has a mind of his own, and that our prayers will only receive an affirmative answer if what we pray for is in accordance with his will. Prayer is not a magic spell, by which God can be made to dance to our tune. Instead it is the means by which we offer our humble supplications to the Lord of all Creation.

The final two verses quoted are illustrative of the fact that the God of the Bible is quite as prepared to punish his creatures as he is to utter a blessing upon them. A liberal theology which does not allow itself to be constrained by biblical revelation is quite likely to invent a God whose attitude towards his creatures is only ever indulgent, no matter how sinful their behaviour. Such a god is not the God of the Bible, and it is not the real God.

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Numbers 22-23 – God’s Immutable Will
Posted: 4 April 2011 in Numbers

“And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho. And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel…..”

Numbers 22-23 is really an extended essay on the immutability of God’s will, and the foolishness, of all human attempts to frustrate it.The story starts out (Num 22.13) with the king of Moab’s representatives being told that Balaam cannot curse Israel, because God has already determined to bless them. Unwilling to accept that answer, Balak then sends a second delegation, along with a bribe, to try and persuade Balaam to come anyway.

Eventually Balaam agrees, and after a not uneventful journey, he arrives in Moab to be greeted by Balak. He is taken to what Balak considers an appropriate location, sacrifices are offered, and Balaam goes off to commune with the Lord. God places in his mouth the words he is to speak, and he returns to Balak where he blesses upon Israel.

Naturally, Balak is not well pleased, and says so, but is told, once again, that it is God’s will to bless Israel, and Balaam can only do as he is commanded by God. After two more attempts to obtain a curse upon Israel, and having Balaam repeatedly pronounce God’s blessing upon them, Balak gives up the project.

The point of the story, of course, is that wisdom lies in conforming ourselves to God’s will, even when it shows signs of being something other than we would like it to be. God will always win in the end, and we can save ourselves the trouble of sinning against him if we behave as though we are creatures, and no gods.

Elsewhere (2 Peter 2.15-16 for example) Balaam gets it in the neck from other biblical authors, but that seems a bit unfair, given that it was Balak who persistently refused to submit to God’s will.

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Jeremiah 17.19-27 – God’s priorities and ours.
Posted: 1 April 2011 in Jeremiah

Thus said the LORD unto me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by the which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem; And say unto them, Hear ye the word of the LORD, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates: Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction. And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the LORD, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein; Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain for ever. And they shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south, bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the LORD. But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.

If we were to compose a list of sins, in order of seriousness, then I suppose murder, theft and rape would be near the top, with sabbath observance somewhere further down.  And yet, Jerusalem is here being threatened with destruction because of a lack of sabbath observance. That would not seem to suggest  sabbath observance is near the bottom of God’s list of priorities.

It does not take much reflection to realise that we order our priorities in the way that we do, because we place our own welfare at the top, and anything which merely has to do with our duty to God somewhere near the bottom. A quick read read the ten commandments, on the other hand, soon reveals that it is our duties towards God that he places at the top of the list, with nothing being said about our duty towards one another until the fifth commandment. It ought, I suppose, to come as no surprise that God’s priorities differ from ours, because he is, after all, creator and Lord of the universe. Not unreasonably he considers it to be a serious disordering of creation when his creatures are negligent in their worship of him.

Lest the above passage fail to make the point sufficiently clear to us, there is a passage in Numbers where the death penalty is recorded as having been passed on somebody who violated the sabbath.

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Psalm 14.1-3 – Sin and Salvation
Posted: 30 March 2011 in Psalms

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

I think it was the evening before last that an atheist posted the above verses on a forum, with the expectation that they should embarrass Christians. It is not immediately obvious why the said atheist had that expectation, but she certainly had it fulfilled, as one evangelical after another lined up to say that the final sentence in the above quote in no way applied to them, but only to atheists and other unbelievers.

An English priest, who lives in America, used to say that America is both the most religious country in the world, and the most religiously illiterate country in the world. Presumably the evangelicals mentioned above have never heard of the doctrine of original sin, or, if they have heard of it, they didn’t understand it, and it is just a club to beat their opponents over the head with. From one end of the Bible to the other scripture bears testimony to the fact that all men (and and that includes all Christians) stand condemned before God, because of their habitual rebellion against him. It also makes clear that they can only be saved through his grace.

Throughout the Old Testament period God’s chosen people were rebelling against him, and the prophets were endlessly employed warning of a coming judgment. Now we are into the New Testament period, the theological landscape has changed, and the concept of a chosen people extends beyond the borders of Israel. But the sinfulness of those chosen people has not changed. I do not see how anybody can easily be a Christian without an acknowledgment of their own sinfulness, and therefore their need for a saviour in Jesus Christ.

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