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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Jeremiah 51.13-17 – Science and God’s sovereign freedom
Posted: 23 August 2013 in Jeremiah

O thou that dwellest upon many waters, abundant in treasures, thine end is come, and the measure of thy covetousness. The Lord of hosts hath sworn by himself, saying, Surely I will fill thee with men, as with caterpillers; and they shall lift up a shout against thee. He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heaven by his understanding. When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens; and he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth: he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures. Every man is brutish by his knowledge; every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.

The above passage speaks of God’s absolute control over creation. And yet we know today that the universe is governed by unchanging natural laws, which, amongst other things, allow us to predict the weather and send men to the Moon. Some might argue that the two are easily reconcilable, because God preordains all things, and the inexorable working out of the laws of nature merely brings to pass what he has preordained. However, I would not be overly inclined to buy that, because in the Bible God is depicted as being actively involved in his Creation. When Acts 12.23 says that Herod Agrippa I was struck dead by an angel of the Lord, it means what it says.

Our God is not just one who lit the blue touch paper, and then stood back to watch what he had preordained come to pass (although he did preordain it). So we are left with a paradox where two apparently irreconcilable things must both be held to be true. For the purposes of doing science it must be accepted that the universe is governed by physical laws. But overwhelmingly more important than that, it must also be held that the universe is under God’s absolute and unmediated control, everywhere and at all times. To insist upon anything less than God’s complete and sovereign governance of the universe would both detract from his glory and be untrue. That must never be allowed to happen.

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1 Corinthians 8.1,7,10-11 – The unconditional guilt attaching to sin.
Posted: 22 August 2013 in 1 Corinthians

Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth….. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled….. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

From a human perspective, and given the above circumstances, we might imagine that somebody could stand before God at the last judgment, and say, “I am sorry for my sin, but I was misled by people who ate meat which had been offered to idols, and I thought it would be permissible for me to take part in idolatrous worship.” He might have some expectation that God would then say, “Well, given those extenuating circumstances, I can see that it wasn’t altogether your fault, and I will pardon you.”

That seems reasonable from a human point of view, but that is not what the above passage says. It says that the individual concerned will perish – at least if the idolatrous worship becomes habitual. The implication is that all sin against the holy God will be punished without reference to the circumstances. Passages with a similar import can be found scattered throughout the Bible. In Ezekiel, for example, it is said that the people of Judah would perish for their sin, even if the prophet failed to fulfill his commission, and warn them. Admittedly it is also said that Ezekiel would suffer the consequences as well, but that is by the way. The Bible never contradicts itself.

God cannot, and will not, allow his holiness to be besmirched when men do not pay him the fear and reverence which is his to receive, and their duty to give in obedience to him.

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3.23)

Consequently salvation is impossible without the sacrifice of Christ, and even then only for those to whom the Lord graciously imputes the righteousness which is Christ’s alone. That one can could atone for the sins of billions of individuals, throughout the centuries, may seem strange, until it is remembered who it was that hung upon the cross. None other than the Second Person of the Trinity.

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