The quick way to make a perfect church is to exterminate the human race, yourself included.
A.W. Pink, Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount
In what has just been before us we may see a very real warning against a slavish literalism, which has ever been the refuge into which not a few errorists have betaken themselves. In this instance the Pharisees kept themselves close to the letter of the Word, but sadly failed to understand and insist upon its spiritual purport. Papists seek to justify their erroneous dogma of transubstantiation by an appeal to the very words of Christ, “this is My body,” insisting on the literal sense of His language. Unitarians seek to shelter behind His declaration, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:18), arguing therefrom the essential inferiority of the Son. In like manner, the ancient rabbis took the words of the seventh commandment at their face value only, failing to enter into the full spiritual meaning of them. Let pre-millenarians heed this warning against a slavish literalism or a being deceived by the mere sound of words, instead of ascertaining their sense.
The great captain of Israel, Joshua, died while canaanites devoted to destruction still dwelt in the promised land. The children of Israel failed to destroy them as they had been commanded: indeed, after the death of Joshua and the generation that had originally invaded the land, they made alliances with these pagans and served their gods. Matthew Henry has a stimulating comment about this.
Though our Lord Jesus spoiled principalities and powers, we see not yet all things put under him; there are remains of Satan’s interest in the church, as there were of the canaanites in the land; but our Joshua lives for ever, and will in the great day perfect his conquests.
Joshua did not finish the work of exterminating the enemies of God’s people because he died. But Christ does not die, and will do His work perfectly. As Hebrews 7:25, speaking of the unchangeable priesthood of Christ says: Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
There are some good things that are only called out by the presence of evil. For instance, medicine is in general a good thing. When I had strep throat, for instance, the spray that eased my bitter dolor and the medicine that quelled it were indeed glorious. But medicine is only called for when there is disease. When one has reason to believe that one is being followed for a nefarious and criminal purpose, an honest policeman is a wonderful thing; and yet, policemen are necessary because of the disagreeable reality of crime.
My first impulse, admittedly, was to think of such things as bad also; to say that they have only a relative good and are in themselves evil, inasmuch as they are only called for by evil. And however sweet it is to get relief from strep throat, I would certainly not choose to experience it again in order to obtain the relief. However there is an objection to calling such things only relatively good and in themselves evil. It is that without evil we should not have had occasion to know the longsuffering, mercy and grace of God. Now this in no way ought to be taken as a justification for sin. Though Paul can write that where sin abounded grace did much more abound he certainly does not mean to indicate that we ought therefore to sin in order to provoke abundant grace (Romans 5:20-6:1). And yet without sin we, as far as I can tell anyway, would not have known God as the God whose kindness is poured out on the guilty, and miserable because guilty. Without needing repentance we would not have known God as the God whose goodness leads us to repentance. I would not feel comfortable saying that the grace of God is a relative good –yet I feel that sin involved a bitter loss, and that I could not choose it.
This does help, me, though to understand that even though sin entered into the world, and death by sin, yet it was better so. I am not saying that sin is good; I am not saying that I would have chosen for things to be this way had the option been mine and I had had plenary knowledge of all consequences (though I am not saying that I wouldn’t, because I am not going to think that I am better than Adam in his original righteousness). But given that things are this way, I can rejoice in spite of the damage done by sin, precisely because God’s grace abounded upon the occasion of abundant sin.
Once there was a mean man named Grumble…. However, I might be infringing a copyright if I went on with that excellent story.
As it is, I wish to grumble about something. Specifically, I wish to complain about Christians (as, for instance, C. Horn III in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology article on “Sexual Ethics”) using an inane and meaningless construction about the “Judeo-Christian” this or that. I object to it primarily because Judaism and Christianity are not on the same plane. I will go so far as to assert that Judaism is a Christian heresy. They are not the independent but equally valid successors of some indeterminate tradition. Contemporary Judaism is not the heir of Abraham, Moses or the Prophets. The Christian church is. To speak of a Judeo-Christian tradition is misleading, because it isn’t a Jewish tradition at all. Of course, it came through the Jews; of course, contemporary Judaism shares some points of contact. Unfortunately, none of that is the point. The point is that that tradition led up to Christ, and the Church is Christ’s body. We are the seed of Abraham and heirs according to the promise.
I object to it also of course, on the grounds that there seems to be no point in talking in that way except for the sake of political correctness. Inaccuracy in the name of policital correctness has been tolerated too long. The emasculation of theology in the interest of having Christ sit down to a meal with a Belial is a long-standing tradition. But it is contrary to the traditions we have received.
Yes, yes, Judaism has ethical similarities to Christianity; so does Confucianism. Sure, Judaism derives them from part of the same source that Christianity does. But Christ is Lord of ethics; the fact that all men have been given some idea of right and wrong does not change the exclusive claims of Christ, or that it is the Trinitarian God who legislates morality. You know, the house on the sand and the house on the rock may have looked like they were designed by the same architect –and perhaps they were; but one was actually built by a fool.
The Westminster Assembly wrote: The distance between God and the creature is so great that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant (WCF 7.1).
The fact that there is a distinction between the Creator and man is obvious from the simple statement of Genesis 1:26,27 that God made man. Man cannot create; man is derivative, contingent, dependent. But God is none of these things. Paul expresses this truth in Romans 11:33-36. After having expounded the greatness of God’s plan of salvation, and His amazing method of procedure, Paul is constrained to worship and so he says:
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
It is obvious here that there is a distinction between creature and Creator. We have not searched out God’s judgments; we have not given to Him first. And this is true because all things are of Him. All things are derived from Him, contingent upon Him, dependent upon Him; but He needs none of them. God is absolute and independent.
This truth is expressed in poetic terms in Psalm 50:12, If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.
We find Paul making the same point again in Acts 17:24,25, God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with menís hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.
David expresses this truth in connection with our service to God in the confession: for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee (1 Chronicles 29:14b).
Now at first glance this doctrine of the absolute independence of God may be somewhat disquieting. If God does not need us, if He is so vastly different from us, how can we even be sure that He cares for us? But there is great comfort in this doctrine. One thing is unchangeable; the most basic fact in the universe is unalterable, because neither derived, contingent or dependent. So that no matter what I do, no matter what may happen, God will still be God.
Having seen that God laughs at the nations because they accomplish His will even in their setting themselves against Him, it remains to notice that this is not the only thing that He does. Having laughed at them, He does something else: Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure (v.4). While their rebellion has been futile as far as frustrating the purposes of God, it has nevertheless been sinful, and as such, provokes wrath. This allows to see the truth of 3.1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith: God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeable ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. The nations complete God’s will –and yet they earn His wrath; it must be, then, that they are culpable for their choices. Thus Peter can say not only that Christ was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, but also ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain (Acts 2:23). The fact that it was according to God’s determinate counsel did not prevent the hands that performed it from being wicked. Futility -inability- is not the same as innocence or righteousness; and thus the wicked are not only frustrated in their endeavours to oppose the purpose of God, they are also castigated for their rebellion to His revealed will. There is comfort here for the Christian; ‘the kingdom shall be the Lord’s’, whatever the heathen may say about it; and wickedness will be not only frustrated, but judged. It also of course, exposes the absolute folly of the wicked; they do not accomplish what they set out to do, for that is impossible; and for their pains in evil, they receive sore displeasure. God be thanked that corruption is defeated, and defeated on all fronts; it does not succeed in its aims, and it does not go unrequited for its evil.
The early church evidently got the joke discussed in the previous post. The rebellious peoples of this earth and their leaders conspire against God and His anointed –and in their free conspiracy they accomplish the Lord’s purposes. That is the joke in general. There is a more specific element as well. The kings set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together not only against the Lord, but also against His anointed. As the early church confessed, “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” (Acts 4:27,28). This tells us not only that Psalm 2 is Messianic and that Jesus is the ultimate anointed one, but also that in the specific, dramatic opposition to the Lord’s anointed a specific purpose was accomplished. What is true in overarching general terms, is of course also true when it comes to specifics. The rulers reject Christ as the king (John 19:15). Thinking to do away with Him, they crucify Him (John 11:46-53). But what do they actually accomplish with this? It is from the cross that Christ ascends to the throne, that is to say, it is in view of His obedience even unto death that He is highly exalted (Philippians 2:5-11). Little did they know that when they gave Him a crown of thorns it was in fulfillment of God’s plans to give Him the throne of the universe. If the princes of this world had known the wisdom of God they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8). But in the cross and its consequences it was manifested that the ‘foolishness’ and ‘weakness’ of God are wiser and stronger than the wisdom and power of men. Some have applied 1 Corinthians 2:8 to elemental spirits, to minions of the devil. But that gives us the same result, as far as God’s laughter is concerned: because it was in the cross that Christ “having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15). Why does God laugh? Because, “He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong” (Job 5:13).
Psalm 2:4 states “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” In context it is very clear at what God is laughing. The peoples have imagined a vain thing. Their kings and rulers have taken counsel against the Lord and against His anointed. And God’s response to all of this is to laugh. It is clear from that, of course, that God does not feel threatened. He is no way intimated or alarmed by these tumults. As the prophet said, “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing” (Isaiah 40:15). But I think there is more to God’s laughter than just that. After Peter and John have been commanded not to teach in the name of Jesus and threatened they are let go and bring their report to the church. Upon which, “And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:24-28). And here is the nub of the joke. The kings rise up, the rulers take counsel together with the aim of breaking God’s bands, and casting away His cords from them. But what is the actual result? “For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” The spectacle is one of people trying madly to rebel against God and yet fulfilling His purposes all along. This of course has implications: laughter is not God’s only response to this rebellion. But those are topics for another post. For now, it is enough, that we too can laugh with the one sitting in the heavens. We too can have the nations in derision. For all of the setting themselves against God they accomplish exactly what He pleased. Which seems to me like an adequate reason to laugh.
Is it legitimate to correlate ‘blessedness’ and ‘happiness’? ‘Happiness’ can be an equivocal term, as it is used in different ways. If I were going to be precise I would describe the blessed man thus: one who is in a condition essential to true happiness and ultimately culminating in perfect happiness. This would guard against several misconceptions. It would prevent, for instance, the thought that in this life even the holy man’s happiness is without admixture of sorrow or pain. It would serve, by the addition of the adjective ‘true’ to distinguish ‘happiness’ from ‘pleasant sensation’. It would emphasize not so much the emotional condition as the objective grounds for that condition –not the rejoicing, but the reason. However, I think there is an advantage to using happiness without making these qualifications. For one thing, ultimately, happiness and evil are absolutely opposed. In this time things are not yet in their full development; the wheat and tares are yet together. And so in this time certain forms of happiness do coexist with certain forms of evil. But this is only because neither happiness nor evil has yet come to its mature condition. In principle they are utterly opposite; and that entire opposition will be manifest at the end of the age.
A text which could seem to be against this statement is: ‘blessed are they that mourn’ (Matthew 5:4) points us to the more technical description of happiness given above; and by its paradox it invites us to think more deeply. Those who truly mourn will be truly comforted; their position is a happy one, though the process of mourning is not always attended immediately with subjective comfort. To put it simply: blessedness is objective and subjective. In time, of course, these two shall meet and merge when God wipes away all tears from our eyes. In the present time, we recognize the objective blessedness; in recognizing it, of course, we also partake of the subjective element, the happiness.
Are we happy? Yes. God is our God, and “happy is that people whose God is the Lord.” Do we always feel happy? By no means; but there are always grounds for happiness, and those grounds are totally opposed to evil.