Thursday, August 30, 2012

Semper Idem; or, The Immutable Mercy of Jesus Christ By Thomas Adams (Part 2)

II. The referring line, proper to this centre, is Semper idem, ‘(Always) The Same.’ There is no mutability in Christ; ‘no variableness, nor shadow of turning,’ Jam. 1:17. All lower lights have their inconstancy; but in the ‘Father of lights’ there is no changeableness. The sun hath his shadow; the ‘Sun of Righteousness’ is without shadow, Mal. 4:2; the sun turns upon the dial, but Christ hath no turning. ‘Whom he loves, he loves to the end,’ John 13:1. He loves us to the end; of his love there is no end. Tempus erit consummandi, nullum consumendi misericordiam (Time will be brought to a close, but mercy will never be ended). His mercy shall be perfected in us, never ended. ‘In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer,’ Isa. 54:8. His wrath is short, his goodness is everlasting. ‘The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee,’ ver. 10. The mountains are stable things, the hills stedfast; yet hills, mountains, yea the whole earth, shall totter on its foundations; yea the very ‘heavens shall pass away with a noise, and the elements shall melt with heat,’ 2 Pet. 3:10; but the covenant of God shall not be broken. ‘I will betroth thee unto me forever,’ saith God, Hos. 2:19. This marriage-bond shall never be cancelled; nor sin, nor death, nor hell, shall be able to divorce us. Six-and-twenty times in one psalm that sweet singer chants it; ‘His mercy endureth forever,’ Ps. 136. ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.’
As this meditation distils into our believing hearts much comfort, so let it give us some instructions. Two things it readily teacheth us: a dissuasive caution, and a persuasive lesson.

1. It dissuades our confidence in worldly things, because they are inconstant. How poor a space do they remain, Τα αυτα, ‘the same.’ To prove this, you have in Jud. 1:7, a jury of threescore and ten kings to take their oaths upon it. Every one had his throne, yet there they lick up crumbs under another king’s table; and shortly even this king, that made them all so miserable, is made himself most miserable. Solomon compares wealth to a wild fowl. ‘Riches make themselves wings, they fly away as an eagle toward heaven,’ Prov. 23:5. Not some tame house-bird, or a hawk that may be fetched down with a lure, or found again by her bells; but an eagle, that violently cuts the air, and is gone past recalling.

Wealth is like a bird; it hops all day from man to man, as a bird doth from tree to tree; and none can say where it will roost or rest at night. It is like a vagrant fellow, which because he is big-boned, and able to work, a man takes in a-doors, and keeps him warm; and perhaps for a while he works hard; but when he spies opportunity, the fugitive servant is gone, and makes away more with him than all his service came to. The world may seem to stand thee in some stead for a season, but at last it irrevocably runs away, and carries with it thy joys; thy goods, as Rachel stole Laban’s idols; thy peace and content of heart goes with it, and thou art left desperate.

You see how quickly riches cease to be ‘the same:’ and can any other earthly thing boast more stability? Honour must put off its robes when the play is done; make it never so glorious a show on this world’s stage, it hath but a short part to act. A great name of worldly glory is but like a peal rung on the bells the common people are the clappers; the rope that moves them is popularity; if you once let go your hold and leave pulling, the clapper lies still, and farewell honour. Strength, though, like Jeroboam, it put forth the arm of oppression: it shall soon fall down withered, 1 Kings 13:4. Beauty is like a almanack: if it last a year it is well. Pleasure is like lightning: oritur, moritur (heard, it dies); sweet, but short; a flash and away.

All vanities are but butterflies, which wanton children greedily catch for (Anselm): and sometimes they fly beside them, sometimes before them, sometimes behind them, sometimes close by them; yea, through their fingers, and yet they miss them; and when they have them, they are but butterflies; they have painted wings, but are crude and squalid worms. Such are the things of his world, vanities, butterflies. Vel sequendo labimur, vel assequendo laedimur (often that which we struggle after will hurt us when we gain it). The world itself is not unlike an artichoke; nine parts of it are unprofitable leaves, scarce the tithe is good about it there is a little picking meat, nothing so wholesome as dainty: in the midst of it there is a core, which is enough to choke them that devour it.

O then set not your hearts upon these things: calcanda sunt (they are to be tread upon), as Jerome observes on Acts 4. ‘They that sold their possessions, brought the prices, and laid them down at the Apostles’ feet,’ Acts 4:35. At their feet, not at their hearts; they are fitter to be trodden under feet, than to be waited on with hearts. I conclude this with Augustine. Ecce turbat mundus, et amatur: quid si tranquillus esset? Formoso quomodo hareres qui sic amplecteris faedum? Flores ejus quam colligeres, qui sic a spinis non revocas manum? Quam confideres aterno, qui sic adhaeres caduco? Behold, the world is turbulent and full of vexation, yet it is loved; how would it be embraced if it were calm and quiet? If it were a beauteous damsel, how would they dote on it, that so kiss it being a deformed stigmatic? How greedily would they gather the flowers, who would not forbear the thorns? They that so admire it being transient and temporal, how would they be enamoured of it if it were eternal? But ‘the world passeth,’ 1 John 2:17, and God abideth. ‘They shall perish, but thou remainest: they all shall wax old as doth a garment and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail,’ Heb. 1:11,12. Therefore, ‘trust not in uncertain riches, but in the living God,’ 1 Tim. 6:17. And then, ‘they that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Sion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever,’ Psa. 125:1. ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.’

2. This persuades us to an imitation of Christ’s constancy. Let the stableness of his mercy to us work a stableness of our love to him. And howsoever, like the lower orbs, we have a natural motion of our own from good to evil, yet let us suffer the higher power to move us supernaturally from evil to good. There is in us indeed a reluctant flesh, ‘a law in our members warring against the law of our mind,’ Rom. 7:23. So Augustine confesseth: Nec plane nolebam, nec plane volebam. And, Ego eram qui volebam, ego qua nolebam. (Confessions) I neither fully granted, nor plainly denied; and it was I myself that both would and would not. But our ripeness of Christianity must overgrow wavering thoughts.

Irresolution and unsteadiness is hateful, and unlike to our master Christ, who is ever the same. ‘A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways,’ James 1:8. The inconstant man is a stranger in his own house: all his purposes are but guests, his heart is the inn. If they lodge there for a night, it is all; they are gone in the morning. Many motions come crowding together upon him; and like a great press at a narrow door, while all strive, none enter. The epigrammatist says wittily,

Omnia cum facias, miraris cur facias nil?
Posthumè, rem solam qui facit, ille facit.
(In all that you do, do you wonder why you accomplish nothing?
After you die, you will do one thing, namely that.)

He that will have an oar forevery man’s boat, shall have none left to row his own. They, saith Melancthon, that will know aliquid in omnibus (something about everything), shall indeed know nihil in toto (nothing completely). Their admiration or dotage of a thing is extreme for the time, but it is a wonder if it outlive the age of a wonder, which is allowed but nine days. They are angry with time, and say the times are dead, because they produce no more innovations. Their inquiry of all things is not quam bonus (what is good?), but quam novum (what is new?). They are almost weary of the sun for continual shining. Continuance is a sufficient quarrel against the best things; and the manna of heaven is loathed because it is common.

This is not to be always the same, but never the same; and while they would be every thing, they are nothing: but like the worm Pliny writes of, multipoda, that hath many feet, yet is of slow pace. Awhile you shall have him in England, loving the simple truth; anon in Rome, grovelling before an image. Soon after he leaps to Amsterdam; and yet must he still be turning, till there be nothing left but to turn Turk. To winter an opinion is too tedious; he hath been many things. What he will be, you shall scarce know till he is nothing.

But the God of constancy would have his to be constant. Steadfast in your faith to him. ‘Continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel,’ Col. 1:23. Steadfast in your faithfulness to man, promising and not disappointing, Psalm 15:4. Do it aliud stantes, aliud sedentes, (whether standing or sitting) lest your changing with God teach God to change with you. Nemo potest tibi Christum auferre, nisi te illi auferas (Ambrose). No man can turn Christ from thee, unless thou turn thyself from Christ. or ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday,’ &c.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Semper Idem; or, The Immutable Mercy of Jesus Christ By Thomas Adams (Part 1)

‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.’—Heb. 13:8.

By the name of Jehovah was God known to Israel, from the time of the first mission of Moses to them, and their manumission out of Egypt, and not before. For, saith God to Moses, ‘I appeared unto Abraham, and to Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them,’ Exod. 6:3. This I AM is an eternal word, comprehending three times: ‘that was, that is, and is to come.’

Now, to testify the equality of the Son to the Father, the Scripture gives the same eternity to Jesus that it doth to Jehovah. He is called Alpha and Omega, primus et novissimus, ‘the First and the Last: which is, which was, and which is to come,’ Rev. 1 and here, the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.’ Therefore he was, not only Christus Dei, the anointed of God, but Christus Deus,’ God himself anointed; seeing that eternity, which hath neither beginning nor ending, is only exclusive and proper to God.

The words may be distinguished into a centre, a circumference, and a mediate line, referring the one to the other. The immovable centre is Jesus Christ. The circumference, that runs round about him here, is eternity: ‘Yesterday, today, and forever.’ The mediate line referring them is, ο αυτος, the same: ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.’

I. The centre is Jesus Christ. Jesus was his proper name, Christ his appellative. Jesus a name of his nature, Christ of his office and dignity; as divines speak.

Jesus, a name of all sweetness. Mel in ore, melos in aure, jubilus in corde. (Bernard: Honey in the mouth, music in the ear, joy in the heart.) A reconciler, a Redeemer, a Saviour. When the conscience wrestles with law, sin, death, there is nothing but horror and despair without Jesus. He is ‘the way, the truth, and the life;’ without him, error, mendacium, mors (error, deception, death). Si scribas, non placet, nisi legam ibi, Jesum, saith Bernard: If thou writest to me, thy letter doth not please me, unless I read there Jesus. If thou converse, thy discourse is not sweet, without the name of Jesus. The blessed restorer of all, of more than all that Adam lost; for we have gotten more by his regenerating grace than we lost by Adam’s degenerating sin.

Christ is the name of his office; being appointed and anointed of God a king, a priest, a prophet.

This Jesus Christ is our Saviour: of whose names I forbear further discourse, being unable, though I had the tongue of angels, to speak aught worthy tanto nomine, tanto numine (the greater the name, the greater the majesty). All that can be said is but a little; but I must say but a little in all. But of all names given to our Redeemer, still Jesus is the sweetest. Other, saith Bernard, are names of majesty; Jesus is a name of mercy. The Word of God, the Son of God, the Christ of God, are titles of glory; Jesus, a Saviour, is a title of grace, mercy, redemption.

This Jesus Christ is the centre of this text; and not only of this, but of the whole Scripture. The sum of divinity is the Scripture; the sum of the Scripture is the gospel; the sum of the gospel is Jesus Christ; in a word, nihil continet verbum Domini, nisi verbum Dominum. There is nothing contained in the word of God, but God the word.

Nor is he the centre only of his word, but of our rest and peace. ‘I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified,’ 1 Cor. 2:2. Thou hast made us for thee, O Christ; and our heart is unquiet till it rest in thee. It is natural to everything appetere centrum, to desire the centre. But ‘our life is hid with Christ in God,’ Col. 3:3. We must needs amare (love), where we must animare (live). Our mind is where our pleasure is, our heart is where our treasure is, our love is where our life is; but all these, our pleasure, treasure, life, are reposed in Jesus Christ. Thou art my portion, O Lord,’ saith David. Take the world that pleases, let our portion be in Christ. ‘We have left all,’ saith Peter, ‘and followed thee,’ Matt. 19:27; you have lost nothing by it, saith Christ, for you have gotten me. Nimis avarus est, cui non sufficit Christus. He is too covetous, whom Jesus Christ cannot satisfy. Let us seek this centre, saith Augustine: Quaeramus inveniendum, quaramus inventum. Ut inveniendus quaratur, paratus est: ut inventus quaeratur, immensus est: Let us seek him till we have found him; and still seek him when we have found him. That seeking, we may find him, he is ready; that finding, we may seek him, he is infinite. You see the centre.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Decalogue: Tenth Command

To be honest, I had not encountered a defense of the Catholic number of the Decalogue (by an Evangelical) until fairly recently. As I pointed out in the post dealing with the numbering issue, I noted that the division of this Command into two is an artificial division. Rome does this because they can bury the prohibition of images behind the ban on idolatry. As we mentioned previously, it was Peter Lombard (ca. 1096 – 1164) who first devised this numbering of the Decalogue. We could appeal, as we did before, to Josephus as a representative of the Jewish numbering, but we can actually do one better. Paul makes this one simple command in Romans 7:7. 

The primary argument this defender of the Roman numbering, which he considered his best argument, was that it was inconsistent with Scripture to list a man’s wife in this command, for that would imply that she was just another piece of his property. Granted, that is an unbiblical position. Even in the 5th Command, we see obedience and respect being enjoined for both mother and father. This is significant. It may be semantic nitpicking, but it seems better to say that the biblical worldview is patricentic, not patriarchal. Job demonstrates this. He was not the center of his children’s lives around whom their world revolved. Rather he was intimately busy with God on their behalf. This is a big difference. One of the greatest evils Israel was guilty of during the time of the Judges was their pagan treatment of women. 

I said all that to say this: Just because wife is listed here, it is not a legitimate assumption that this means she is a piece of property if we view this command as one rather than two. This is true for at least a couple of reasons. 

(1). It neglects the way we all commonly speak. The possessive tense of a noun does not necessarily imply ownership in a dehumanizing way. After all, we all speak of our wives, our husbands and our children, and none of us do this with the intention of being understood as a claim of ownership wherein these people are mere possessions. There is no other way to express it. When I refer to my wife and my car, even in the same sentence, no one understands me to be using the word “my” in the exact same way. And if they do, they’re crazy.

(2). The exact same thing is forbidden in both clauses. This would have to make it one command. If the 6th Command said, “You shall not murder your wife, nor shall you murder you next-door neighbor, we would not construe that as two separate commands. It is only because one has forced the first two Commands together that they are compelled to do it here. No other Command has two clauses for this pretended division to be placed.

(3). When Moses reiterates this Command in Deuteronomy 5, he reverse the order of the clauses.

As we have done so often already, we cite the Heidelberg Catechism. 

“Question 113. What does the tenth commandment require of us?

Answer: That even the smallest inclination or thought, contrary to any of God's commandments, never rise in our hearts; but that at all times we hate all sin with our whole heart, and delight in all righteousness. (a)

“(a) Rom.7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”

As far as the actual prohibition is concerned, this is one of the most regularly and flagrantly violated of all the Commands. Hardly a single ad in existence, from the beginning of time, does not operate on a violation of this Command. We are all entice to buy this or that product for no other reason than that someone else (whom we presumably wish to emulate) has one. Very few luxury items would even have the remotest appeal for most people were it not for the sin of covetousness. What inherent quality do most luxury items actually possess, as opposed to more generic examples of the same item, to make them more desirable? The answer to that question is: squat. Wanting to have nice things is no sin and dictating which watches a Christian can wear is straight up legalism. But again, we must ask, how much does covetousness factor in? Do I want some extravagant thing because others will want one? or because I envy someone who has one? I can’t see your heart no you mine. But God can see and if we are honest, we know when we are motivated by envy. 

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed the particularly internal quality of this one Command. All of the others deal with overt outward acts (except perhaps the 1st), but this one deals exclusively with the internal motives and desires of the heart. Also, if we remember Jesus’ words Matthew 6:27-30, it would seem that at least part of this is already subsumed under the 7th Command. And it would be a legitimate use of Christ’s principle of application to say that the rest of this Command would fall under the 8th Command. No doubt, the whole point here is to stress the internal character of obedience to God. An obstinate child, who is ordered to sit down, may be complying outwardly, but in his heart he is still standing up. Proverbs 23:7 and 24:9 show that Jesus’ way of narrowing in on the heart’s motive behind the action was always understood by God’s people. It is a not a New Testament interpretative device. God has always looked at the heart. 

Someone might be tempted therefore to conclude that this interpretation makes this Command superfluous. But that would miss the whole point. Granted, nothing is enjoined here which is not comprehended under foregoing Commands; nevertheless, this Command serves as a general rule of interpretation, according to which as Ursinus writes, “the internal obedience of all the other commandments must be understood, because this is spoken of the whole Decalogue generally.” In other words, this Command reminds us that God is to be obeyed from the heart. It also has the added feature of making the Commands add up to ten. That makes it a simple mnemonic device. You have ten fingers; you can easily remember Ten Commands.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Decalogue: Ninth Command

At bottom, the 9th Command is one of the easiest to understand. Its primary application is in regards to testifying in court. Nothing is more despicable that a witness who perjures himself. Regardless of the case, we all want justice to be served based on truth. It is a hollow victory for justice that a thief rightly gets sent to prison when witnesses have lied about him. I recently saw a forensic documentary in which one of the prosecution experts perjured herself on the stand regarding some of the evidence. Although there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about the defendant’s guilt, the case against him was severely harmed by this unfortunate turn of events.

It is fairly obvious to anyone that the implication of this Command is the necessity of telling the truth in all circumstances. Lying about oneself or one’s neighbor is strictly forbidden. Lies can be told or implied by silence. We are all aware of situations where someone’s reputation has been destroyed by the silence of people who know better. While it is possible to lie through silence, this Command also enjoins silence when necessary. Just become something is true that does not mean that it is fair game for public discussion. This is the pretense behind which gossip frequently hides behind. Many of us have been in ‘prayer meetings’ where prayer was the vehicle for spreading dirt on other people. This is a covert form of gossip, and it is also a taking of God’s name in vain.

Matthew Henry, in his masterpiece commentary writes, “The ninth commandment concerns our own and our neighbor's good name: Thou shalt not bear false witness, This forbids, 1. Speaking falsely in any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising and designing to deceive our neighbor. 2. Speaking unjustly against our neighbor, to the prejudice of his reputation; and (which involves the guilty of both), 3. Bearing false witness against him, laying to his charge things that he knows not, either judicially, upon oath (by which the third commandment, and the sixth of eighth, as well as this, are broken), or extrajudicially, in common converse, slandering, backbiting, tale-bearing, aggravating what is done amiss and making it worse than it is, and any way endeavoring to raise our own reputation upon the ruin of our neighbor's.” All of the Reformation Catechisms handle this Command in exactly the same way.

Of course, a lot of nonsense has been taught in the name of this Command. Some of the Greek Fathers in the early centuries of Christianity held that Paul’s rebuke of Peter recounted in Galatians was actually a charade. It was said that they had agreed upon this little drama before hand and then set up the dummy circumstances whereby they could teach the Jews and Gentiles their lesson. Later theologians had the wisdom to see the folly in this position. The cause of God’s truth cannot be advanced through deception. Plus, admitting that Peter blew it here is not a rip on his character or Apostleship. It is simply an acknowledgment that he was human.

On the other hand, some people have asserted that virtually all strategy is evil because it is deceptive. I remember reading that in the early days of college baseball that the curveball was banned because it was an attempt to deceive the hitter. God Himself gave Joshua (8:2) a strategy which involved fooling the enemy. If you beat me at chess, a feat requiring little effort, I would not think you guilty of violating the 9th Command. We both understand the rules of the game and the strategies which are employed. When nations go to war, both sides expect their enemies to practice strategies which are intended to mislead and outsmart the other. Whatever else may be implied by this is beyond the scope of this article.

Nevertheless we may say this: it is certain that God’s cause is not advanced through deceit. One thinks of all the discrepancies in Benny Hinn’s biography. We might also mention Ergun Caner. Several years ago there was a scandal about the biography of Christian stand-up comedian Mike Warnke. A lot can be said about this, but it seems to me to be the result of the Arminian fascination with “testimonies.”

That word, viz., testimony, never occurs in Scripture as something we say about God or ourselves. Search the book of Psalms and without exception you will find the word testimony used regarding things God has revealed about Himself or His will. Nowhere will you find David saying, “I will declare my testimony in midst of the congregation.” Nowhere do we find in Scripture anyone telling the story of their conversion as part of evangelizing the lost. When Paul tells his, he was on trial! God has ordained that His Word be the instrument through which men are regenerated, not our conversion stories, interesting as they may be. The fact of the matter is, imagine a person, like John the Baptist, regenerated in the womb, or a kid who was raised in a Christian home – there is no less miracle involved in that person’s regeneration than in the salvation of the worst drug-addicted Satan-worshiping mob hit man. We create these distinctions because of a faulty notion of sin. Original Sin makes us all equally unable to come to God, unwilling to repent and believe. Were it not for the sovereign electing grace of God, no one at all would ever repent and believe savingly upon Christ. How dramatic or mundane my conversion story is, is absolutely irrelevant.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Decalogue: Eighth Command

I still remember how startled I was the first time I read the section of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that deals with the Decalogue. I am embarrassed to say that it had never occurred to me before that implicit in the negative prohibitions were positive prescriptions. If God forbade murder, He also commanded me to protect life, not merely abstain from taking it. But it was in reference to this Command that I felt the most shock. Even now I can remember the sheepish feeling I had all those years ago when I realized that the ban on theft also naturally entailed a positive command that I lawfully advance both mine and my neighbor’s wealth and “outward estate.” I suspect many other people may be similarly shock by this implication.

Very little reflection is necessary to see the legitimacy of the Westminster’s exposition of this Command. I can only get things in one of two ways: right or wrong, i.e., legally or illegally. Hence when God forbids theft, in any form, He commands that I accumulate whatever possessions I have in a lawful way. And since I am forbidden from taking what belongs to my neighbor, it is implied clearly that he also accumulate wealth in a lawful manner.

With its characteristic wisdom, the Heidelberg Catechism expounds the 8th Command as forbidding, “not only those thefts, and robberies, which are punishable by the magistrate; but he comprehends under the name of theft all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we design to appropriate to ourselves the goods which belong to our neighbour: whether it be by force, or under the appearance of right, as by unjust weights, ells, measures, fraudulent merchandise, false coins, usury, or by any other way forbidden by God; as also all covetousness, all abuse and waste of his gifts.” In his Commentary on The Heidelberg Catechism, author Zachary Ursinus mentions sins such as embezzlement and false advertizing, purposely obscure fine print in contracts, usury and a host of other sins quite characteristic of our own age.

Interestingly enough, Ursinus also stresses the fact that this Command enjoins contentment. God has sovereignly ordained our station in life and therefore we should submissively accept whatever condition He places us in with contentment. This does not mean that we accept poverty with fatalistic resignation, nor does it mean that we fall into greed. Contentment does not exclude work and effort to improve one’s station in life, but it does trust God with the outcome of this work, whether it succeed or not. It is not contentment to refuse help when offered. It may be that God wishes to meet your need through the generosity of your fellow man. This is indeed God’s usual way of helping those in dire need. Too often people read the story of Elijah being fed by ravens and expect things to magically appear on their doorsteps. As one who has spent many years in Christian ministry, I have seen this far too many times.

Ursinus beautifully concludes his exposition of this Command with these words, “If we may not steal, it is necessary that we should posses what properly belongs to us, and that for these reasons: 1. That we may honestly maintain and support ourselves and those depending upon us. 2. That we may have something to contribute towards the preservation of the church. 3. That we may assist in upholding the interests of the state according to our ability. 4. That we may be able to confer benefits upon our friends, and contribute to the relief of the poor and needy.”

Many Christians are rightfully offended by the government’s version of charity or assistance to the needy because it is little more than legislated theft. Theft is the taking of another’s possessions against their will. The fact that it is legislated or even voted on in a democratic society does not make it any less a violation of God’s revealed will. For where do I get the right to vote that the government may take your possessions to give to someone in need? This is what many of the government aid programs actually amount to. I can give away anything I want that is mine, but I have no moral right, even when it is completely legal, to decide that you must do the same.

Contrary to public opinion, you will not find Scripture mandating that it is the Church’s job to alleviate public poverty. The Church’s charity, even in the Old Testament, was always confined to the household of faith. There were plenty of methods in the Old Testament to provide for widows and orphans, but notice carefully that Israel was not supporting Philistine, Amorite and Hittite widows. Paul gave specific instructions that the only widows that were to be put on the Church’s bill were those who had no extended family and were too old to remarry.

The ramifications of this on what James calls pure and undefiled religion is far beyond the scope of this brief article, but it is a subject more Christians would do well to consider. And while I’m on the subject, it would be uncharacteristic of me to neglect to say that the televangelists who constantly whine for money to support their lavish lifestyles are in gross, blatant, and flagrant violation of this Command. None of us should be a party to their sin. The moment people stop sending these clowns money, they will shrivel up and go away. What a day that’ll be! 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Decalogue: Seventh Command

Though I have referred to the preface of the Decalogue several times already in this series of posts, it is this Command in particular that demonstrates its relevance to all ten Commands in a way that needs little explanation. I have previously asserted and reasserted that God’s covenantal right over His people is the basis for all the Commands of the Decalogue. The 7th Command brings this home with peculiar force. Among all the possible acts (in word, thought and deed) which this Command expressly treats, the sanctity and purity of marriage is truly at its heart.

This is no surprise because God actually designed marriage as a type of His covenant relationship with His people. Edmund Clowney writes, “In Genesis the command (leave father and mother and be united to his wife - AKU) follows the statement of Adam (‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’). God’s command is grounded in His act of creation. The relation of man and wife is exclusive. The love that’s join them is necessarily a jealous love; that is, it is a focused love that would be broken by adultery. This principle is again stated in the Ten Commandments, when God gives His covenant law to His redeemed people. That commandment, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ is not given simply to provide a stable home life for Israelite society. It is given to define a special and intensive love that goes beyond the command to love one’s neighbor.

“This is the principle that God himself invokes as He reveals Himself to Israel. God is a jealous; His name is ‘Jealous’ (Ex.34:14). He demands of Israel exclusive devotion, the jealous love for which marriage is a type and symbol. His people are to love Him with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind.” Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, pg. 25

The biblical prohibition of divorce lies at the heart of this issue as well. God is bound to His people by covenant. Marriage was meant to illustrate the permanence of God’s covenant love to His people. It can’t very well do that by an institution that can be impulsively severed at will. I am not going to go into a treatment of the supposed biblical exemptions or exceptions for divorce and remarriage except to say that none of the modern arguments were known or accepted by the Christian Church for nearly 1600 years. And no matter how widely we define the "Biblical exception" for divorce, the question remains whether we are supposed to automatically assume that this also automatically allows for remarriage and, we must therefore acknowledge that millions of professing Christians have, in fact, violated Christ's express teaching found in Matthew 5, Matthew 19 and Mark 10. 

Our society is awash in open violations of this Command. The ugly list of Leviticus 18 could be the plot-line for a whole series of Jerry Springer episodes. The sexual sins of Sodom, Gomorrah and the Canaanites, for which God destroyed them are rampant in Western society. Premarital sex is almost a meaningless expression because it isn’t even really premarital if the ones engaged in such sin never even get married! Unwed cohabitation is almost a societal norm. Unfortunately this sin is openly engaged in by many professing Christians. Extramarital sex is also hugely rampant both inside and outside of the Church. I remember someone making a joke about what must be in the drinking fountain water in a small church in southern Illinois because they had had more than one pastor run off with the organist or secretary. Extramarital sex is even more rampant in the form of pornography, which despite the modern ease of access, is not new.

Christians have always understood this Command to be referring to more than just adultery, which is defined as sexual relations between two people, at least one of whom is married. The Heidelberg Catechism, picking up on this fact states, “Since both our body and soul are temples of the Holy Ghost, he commands us to preserve them pure and holy: therefore he forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever can entice men thereto.”

Besides the obvious sins prohibited by this Command, the underlying principle also applies to general looseness of life and conduct. Such behavior, which used to be called ‘wantonness,’ serves as an occasion of stirring up lust. This would include the ‘wandering eye,’ watching pornography, movies and or TV programs that condone sexual promiscuity, immodest clothing, double entendres or sexual humor, idleness (2 Samuel 11:1-5). By engaging in such things, we desensitize our souls toward things which God hates, and lessen the effects of conviction and conscience in ourselves. 

As with the prohibition of murder in the 6th Command, the New Testament emphasizes the internal character of this sin as well. Christ’s famous words in Matthew 5:27-30 stand as an eternal witness that God has always sought internal conformity to His will, not just external compliance.

None of this is new to us, I’m sure; which is why I would rather focus on the point made above in the quote from Clowney. Marriage was created by God to be a picture of Christ and the Church. This is the exact point Paul drives home with great force in Ephesians 5. We should bear it in mind that any violation of the sanctity of marriage is, ipso facto, a repudiation of God’s covenant with His people.

As an aside, a great violation of the principle of this Command as it relates to the relation of God and His people is to be found in unfaithfulness to God’s Word, whether it be in the form of doctrinal  infidelity, religious syncretism, unbiblical ecumenical alliances. I do not say this to belittle any reference the Command undoubtedly has to physical marital fidelity, but as per Paul in Ephesians 5, we must remember that marriage is a picture of God’s covenant with His elect. He takes doctrinal infidelity as seriously, if not more, than we would take marital infidelity if we were the victim of it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Decalogue: Sixth Command

At the risk of sounding repetitious, I wish to return to the preface to the Decalogue and note what I have insisted upon several times throughout this series, namely, that the whole of the Decalogue is founded upon God’s covenantal right over His people. So regardless of what other considerations there may be when one thinks of this command, first and foremost, it is God’s sovereign prerogative to give such commands and expect His covenant people to comply.

Without digressing into matters of what constitutes “murder” (i.e., killing in combat, etc.), let us first not that God, as Creator has the sovereign authority over life and death (1 Sam. 2:6). Therefore, murder is a usurpation of the divine right over life. Since we are mere creatures even the right over our own life is God’s. This is why the Church has always understood this Command to forbid suicide as well. Let me go on record as saying that it is obvious that abortion is forbidden by this Command as well. Abortion is the conscious ending of a life, hence it is murder. It is a grabbing of the power over life and death, which power belongs only to God.

With its typical wisdom, the Heidelberg Catechism (Q 106) argues the New Testament principle (1 John 3:15) of applying the Command’s prohibition to the internal causes of murder, not simply to the external act. Christ does this with several of the Commands in His Sermon on the Mount. The Heidelberg Catechism states: In forbidding murder, God teaches us, that he abhors the causes thereof, such as envy, (a) hatred, (b) anger, (c) and desire of revenge; and that he accounts all these as murder. (d)

It goes one further to explain (in the same way that the Westminster Shorter Catechism) that the Command has a positive side as well as negative. This means that something positive is enjoined upon us, not simply is something prohibited. So the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner mentioned above?” (Q 107) To which questions, it replies, “No: for when God forbids envy, hatred, and anger, he commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves; to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness, towards him, and prevent his hurt as much as in us lies; and that we do good, even to our enemies.”

Even in regards to a Command that seems so cut and dry, our culture’s sentimental understanding of both love and hate has colored our interpretation of this Command, often in ways directly at odds with its intent. What I have primarily in view is the tired-old, unbiblical refrain: “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” We must let Scripture define the terms. Let’s have an expert speak for us. Augustus Toplady writes that when love is ascribed to God it, “signifies his eternal benevolence, i.e., his everlasting will, purpose and determination to deliver, bless and save his people.” Later he writes, “When hatred is ascribed to God, it implies a negation of benevolence; or, a resolution not to have mercy on such and such men, not to endue them with any of those graces, which stand connected with eternal life.”

Someone is likely at this point and question my estimation of the “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” motto. What saith the Scripture? 
"The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity," Psalm 5:5
"The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates." Psalm 11:5
"There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers." Proverbs 6:16-19
Then, of course, there is Romans 9:13, “Esau I hated,” which simply means, “I did, from all eternity determine within Myself, not to have mercy on him.”

What is the point of this apparent digression? Simply this: We must never allow “love” for our fellow man to be an excuse for not rebuking and/or punishing sin. It is all too common to hear people equate biblical condemnation of sin with ‘judgmentalism.’ The implication is that any outspoken disapproval of sinful behavior is tantamount to damning to hellfire the sinner, who may yet after all be among the elect.  This is not a nation found anywhere in Scripture. The Bible is very cut and dry when it comes to naming and defining acts God classifies as sin. It is not hatred of our fellow man to point out his or her violation of God’s commands. This is what I meant when I mentioned our culture’s sentimentality. We have defined love as a maudlin, syrupy feeling that never permits its possessor to disagree, rebuke, censure or otherwise bring attention to faults, sins or errors. This is obviously not love in the biblical sense. How is it love to quietly let our neighbor persist in God-defying and soul-endangering behavior? Furthermore, if we love God we will be concerned about defending His honor than hurting our fellow man’s feelings. Actually, this is one of the reasons God has given the Decalogue! We are brought to a knowledge of sin and our need of Christ and His righteousness imputed to us precisely because the Decalogue exposes our sinful hearts. For God’s elect, this is a stupendous manifestation of His love.

(a) Prov.14:30; Rom.1:29
(b) 1 John 2:9-11
(c) James 1:20; Gal.5:19-21
(d) 1 John 3:15 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Decalogue: Fifth Command

Society as a whole lives in open rebellion against the commands of God. No surprise here. But this rebellion, especially when it is codified and enters the public psyche as ‘normal,’ often trickles into the Church’s mindset as well. One of the subtlest of such cases of such a corruption of the Church’s mindset regards the violation of the Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and mother.”

When the Heidelberg Catechism expounds this command, it starts by asking what is actually required of us in this command. It says,

Question 104: What does God require in the fifth commandment?
Answer: That I show all honour, love and fidelity, to my father and mother, and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction, with due obedience; and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.

It is to the last clause that I wish to draw attention, for it is I this regard that many Christians are guilty of violating God’s revealed will. I am referring, of course, to the popular psychological trend of blaming one’s parents for one’s own sinful behavior and/or attitudes. This is a direct violation of the 5th Command. And it has entered mainstream Evangelicalism with guns blazing.

This mentality is almost a given in much teaching, preaching, seminar lectures, books and Christian counseling. I do not mean to say that preachers, teachers and authors actually shift the blame for people’s sin onto their parents. But it is simply a given that such influence is real and is an acceptable explanation for sinful actions and attitudes.

What the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully addresses is the attitude one is to have towards those under whose authority God has placed us. Honor and respect are to be given to our parents, not because they have earned it, but simply by virtue of the fact that God, in His sovereignty, has decreed that you be born into their home under their authority. Anything less is rank rebellion.

This is not a blanket condoning horrible behavior and lousy parenting skills. But God is God and He knows where He has placed everyone. Nothing in Scripture even remotely suggests that if your parents don’t measure up to your expectations, then you are justified in disobedience or disrespect. To think so would be to reject God’s authority and to deny His sovereignty.

Related to this is the notion we hear so often that respect has to be earned. While this principle may be generally true, in cases of authority it is an unbiblical philosophy. God commands us to respect our parents and our civil rulers, not because they are so wonderful and do everything right, but because He has seen fit to govern us “by their hand,” as the Heidelberg Catechism says.

A second way in which countless people violate this command is seen in the general status of men as fathers in society and in the Church. Fathers are constantly portrayed as little more than big kids that need Mom’s oversight at least as much as their own children. Men are so consistently excoriated in the media that it is little wonder that boys want to stay kids forever. TV sitcoms have portrayed dads as idiots that the family would be better off without for 50 years and video gaming has kept boys stuck in perpetual adolescence.

Again, it important to note that nowhere in Scripture is a father’s headship in the home staked upon his being the paragon of all virtue. This is not an excuse for lousy attitudes and sloth, but it is still the biblical standard. The Feminist movement started out ostensibly seeking “equal status” between the sexes. It has become clear though after decades of activism that the real objective seems to be to turn both sexes into females. And the Church has succumbed to this effeminizing influence as well.

When is the last time you have heard the ideal Christian husband portrayed as anything but Mom #2? He doesn’t lead family worship; he doesn’t oversee the discipline of the children; he doesn’t teach his family God’s Word; he doesn’t concern himself with anyone’s spiritual wellbeing, character development or intellectual growth. But he does cook, wash dishes, wash laundry, iron clothes, vacuum and feel guilty for not doing these things as good as Mom #1. I am neither denigrating these things nor the men who do them in a spirit of compassion for their wives and children; indeed, I often do these things. But I worry about the family who measures a father’s success in his family role by the how much he acts like Mom.  

This isn’t a slighted husband’s rant, nor is it tirade of a “woman’s place is in the kitchen” chauvinist. I am simply saying that when fathers are judged on how much they are like Mom, then they are not being honored according to God’s command. And for that matter mothers are not being honored according to God’s command either.

If this all sounds weird to you, that in itself, is evidence of how pervasive this thinking is. The very fact that such an organization as The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood exists shows how dire things are. That Christians have no idea of what God’s Word demands of them as men, women, husbands and wives, is surely a lamentable thing.

Before leaving this subject, we wish to point out one more issue related to this command. The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains to us that this Command requires the “preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.” The closing point I’d like to address s in regard to church discipline.

If the Fifth Command teaches us how to interact appropriately to those under whose care God has sovereignly placed us, it also teaches us that we are not God and do not have carte blanche to rule over those in our care in any way we wish. Nor does it mean that those under abusive rule have no recourse and must submissively be trampled upon.

Church discipline has fallen on hard times. I am personally aware of cases where members have been excommunicated from a church due to grievously immoral behavior, only to move to another church and have the leadership there thumb their noses at the previous church’s decision. Recidivistic behavior was the predictable result.

In response to this many pastors opt for a short-cut. Christian leaders increasingly apply principles from the corporate world to the Church. Thus they are often like elusive or self-important CEOs. It is assumed, rather erroneously, that this pompous air will fill people with fear or respect for the aloof leader. The people will be less likely to cause trouble thus lessening the need for his involvement in their daily lives.

A second short-cut is a megalomaniacal method that is becoming frighteningly more common. Many pastors enforce draconian policies through Machiavellian leadership tactics in order to attain discipline in the church. Rather than being servants of God and His people, they are “Kim Jung-Il” type dictators. This is the coward’s way of achieving discipline and it pushes the church in the realm of the cultic. This is a particular problem in countries where the Roman church is dominant. People are born and raised on the Romish philosophy that the priesthood speaks directly for God and must therefore never be doubted of questioned. As far as I know, no evangelical pastor would claim infallibility like the Pope, but many pastors behave as if they possess it. Matters of doctrine and practice can never be discussed because “Rome has spoken,” i.e., the pastor has given his declaration on the matter and any question is regarded as a challenge to his authority.

This is a perilous situation – for both sides. Once people surrender their reasoning and discerning powers, there is no end to the evil they can be driven to do. Ron Enroth (1) has documented many churches and parachurch organizations that have run into the grossest of immorality (wife-swapping, incest, group sex, etc.) by the direct command of the leader/pastor, who usually claims to be speaking with full Divine inspiration and/or authority. Unquestioned power is a drug to its possessor, creating an insuperable addiction that, barring Divine intervention, is impossible to surrender.

(1) Ron Enroth, Churches That Abuse

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Decalogue: Fourth Command

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)

The Sabbath is first described in Genesis 2:1-3. On the seventh day of Creation God rested. He also blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, that is, He set it apart. God wasn’t tired. His rest was one of satisfaction in a Creation that was “very good.” The Sabbath, coming AFTER the week of Creation was the rest of a work that was already done. It was a weekly commemoration of the first creation. This is an important fact to remember.

Adam was created on the sixth day of Creation, thus the Sabbath was his first full day of life. And he spent this day in fellowship with God. This is something that even the Rabbis noticed. The Talmud says that the reason God created Adam when He did was so that that he might immediately enter on performing the command of observing the Sabbath.

Louis de Dieu, the Dutch Orientalist mentioning these words, on Gen. 1:27, adds by way of explication; “for, since the Sabbath immediately succeeded the creation of man, he immediately entered on the command of sanctifying the Sabbath.”

We might ask if God intended for the first Sabbath to be a pattern for humanity. There are indeed several things that seem to point to this as true. The Sabbath is embedded in the middle of the Decalogue, and is actually enhanced in its presentation. Several references point to the Sabbath as a sign - a sign of sanctification and of the covenant. (Exodus 31:13, 17; Ezekiel 20:12, 20)

Two big issues come up among Evangelicals when the subject of the Sabbath is broached: (a) Do Christians have to observe it? And (b) Why do Christians observe it on Sunday, the first day of the week?

In answer to the first issue, the things Christians say are almost too humorous to be taken seriously. A common remark, made whenever observance of the Sabbath by Christians is insisted upon, is that Christians are not “under the law.” You will remember that we dealt with this objection in the first post in this series. It is absolute nonsense. Would any Christian, even a nominal one, have the panache to assert that Christians aren’t “under the law” with regard to the prohibition of murder, theft or adultery? Of course not! So what makes this particular command so unique? I know of no Christian who asserts that God doesn’t expect Christians to live in marital fidelity or that one can worship Shiva or Vishnu and maintain a credible profession of Christianity. So what is it about this one, and only this one command, that sets it apart from the Decalogue so that insistence upon its observance is deemed legalism? I have yet to be accused of legalism for not running around on my wife or killing someone in a drug-induced rage. So why would anyone (and many will) accuse me of legalism, if I were to insist that Christians are expected to observe the Christian Sabbath?

That is all I am going to say in respect to this issue. I trust that my readers can draw their own conclusions from what I have written, even if it raises more questions than it answers.

The second issue we handled in an earlier post dealing with certain side issues connected with the Decalogue, therefore we will not go down that road here.

I have heard Christians say that nowhere in the New Testament are believers aver commanded to observe the Sabbath. This, to me, is a terribly weak argument. Why would it need to be reasserted in the New Testament? If the New Testament contained to overt reiteration of the prohibition of adultery, would we trust the judgment of a man who argued that the New Testament never commands believers to abstain from adultery? Perhaps the question we should ask is: When was the command abrogated? If we find no such abrogation in the New Testament, then isn’t it more reasonable to assume its continuance?

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