Jumping to Conclusions

It seems to be the season for jumping to conclusions. Whether from anxiety over the Republic’s election choices, our ongoing family squabbles at Thanksgiving and Christmas time, or as a result of offenses done toward us in the course of our days here on earth. The Apostle James speaks to that last issue; at least according to some commentators:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. James 1:19 English Standard Version (ESV)

Matthew Henry, a Presbyterian minister, gives us three possible understandings of this verse. He considers the third one most likely. All of them have to do with restraining our passions, or, as we say today: “holding our tongue,” “holding fire,” or “cooling off.” First, he explains by what means we should restrain our passions:

This lesson we should learn under afflictions; and this we shall learn if we are indeed begotten again by the word of truth. For thus the connection stands—An angry and hasty spirit is soon provoked to ill things by afflictions, and errors and ill opinions become prevalent through the workings of our own vile and vain affections; but the renewing grace of God and the word of the gospel teach us to subdue these: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, v. 19.

Henry then offers that this verse may refer to verse 18 immediately preceding that concerns God’s word:

…So, we may observe, it is our duty rather to hear God’s word, and apply our minds to understand it, than to speak according to our own fancies or the opinions of men, and to run into heat and passion thereupon. Let not such errors [(i.e., substituting conjectures and opinions for truth)]…ever be hastily, much less angrily, mentioned by you; but be ready to hear and consider what God’s word teaches in all such cases.

Or, verse 19 may refer to the verses at the chapter’s beginning:

This may be applied to the afflictions and temptations spoken of in the beginning of the chapter. And then we may observe, it is our duty rather to hear how God explains his providences, and what he designs by them, than to say as David did in his haste, “I am cut off;” or as Jonah did in his passion, “I do well to be angry.” Instead of censuring God under our trials, let us open our ears and hearts to hear what he will say to us.

Or, finally, Henry suggests this understanding most confidently:

This may be understood as referring to the disputes and differences that Christians, in those times of trial, were running into among themselves: and so, this part of the chapter may be considered without any connection with what goes before. Here we may observe that, whenever matters of difference arise among Christians, each side should be willing to hear the other.

People are often stiff in their own opinions because they are not willing to hear what others have to offer against them: whereas we should be swift to hear reason and truth on all sides, and be slow to speak anything that should prevent this: and, when we do speak, there should be nothing of wrath; for a soft answer turns away wrath.

As this epistle is designed to correct a variety of disorders that existed among Christians, these words, swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, may be very well interpreted according to this last explication. And we may further observe from them that, if men would govern their tongues, they must govern their passions. When Moses’s spirit was provoked, he spoke unadvisedly with his lips. If we would be slow to speak, we must be slow to wrath.

In this holiday season, may we join with Moses, as he was during his better days, and be men and women of meek spirits. Hope well of others, for we are not acquitted and we, too, shall stand before the Judge.

Freedom from Want - NARA

Freedom from Want, Norman Rockwell (1894–1978), Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. (03/09/1943 – 09/15/1945), Public Domain

Pray for Magistrates

In this election season, we should ask that God work in our leaders such that our lives might be peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified and that the gospel message would be unhindered. From the look of things, diligence in this effort will become more urgent in the years to come. Many are regularly requesting of Him for our leaders’ good but more of us need to become consistent in obeying the command:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

The reformer, John Calvin, examined the implications of these verses in detail. First, God appoints civil rulers to administer His justice:

The apostle…expressly enjoins Christians to pray for [their civil rulers]…seeing that God appointed magistrates and princes for the preservation of mankind.

However much they fall short of the divine appointment, still we must not on that account cease to love what belongs to God, and to desire that it may remain in force.

[For this] reason, believers, in whatever country they live, must not only obey the laws and the government of magistrates, but likewise in their prayers supplicate God for their salvation. Jeremiah said to the Israelites,

“Pray for the peace of Babylon, for in their peace you shall have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7.)

The universal doctrine is this, that we should desire the continuance and peaceful condition of those governments which have been appointed by God.

Second, God restrains evil, protects His church, and upholds society through His appointed government:

…[The Apostle Paul]…enumerates the fruits which are yielded to us by a well-regulated government. The first is a peaceful life; for magistrates are armed with the sword, in order to keep us in peace. If they did not restrain the hardihood of wicked men, every place would be full of robberies and murders…

The second fruit is the preservation of godliness, that is, when magistrates give themselves to promote religion, to maintain the worship of God, and to take care that sacred ordinances be observed with due reverence.

The third fruit is the care of public decency; for it is also the business of magistrates to prevent men from abandoning themselves to brutal filthiness or [villainous] conduct, but, on the contrary, to promote decency and moderation.

And without His appointed government, we descend into barbarism:

If these three things are taken away, what will be the condition of human life? If, therefore, we are at all moved by solicitude about the peace of society, or godliness, or decency, let us remember that we ought also to be solicitous about those through whose agency we obtain such distinguished benefits.

Hence we conclude, that fanatics, who wish to have magistrates taken away, are destitute of all humanity, and breathe nothing but cruel barbarism…

Calvin then raises the obvious question that is so pertinent for our times:

“…Ought we to pray for kings, from whom we obtain none of these advantages?” I answer, the object of our prayer is, that, guided by the Spirit of God, they may begin to impart to us those benefits of which they formerly deprived us.

It is our duty, therefore, not only to pray for those who are already worthy, but we must pray to God that he may make bad men good.

To emphasize the point that we should pray that these bad persons be made good, Calvin draws a severe analogy:

We must always hold by this principle, that magistrates were appointed by God for the protection of religion, as well as of the peace and decency of society, in exactly the same manner that the earth is appointed to produce food.

Accordingly, in like manner as, when we pray to God for our daily bread, we ask him to make the earth fertile by his blessing; so in those benefits of which we have already spoken, we ought to consider the ordinary means which he has appointed by his providence for bestowing them.

[Then,] if we are deprived of those benefits [that] the…magistrates [should provide], that is through our own fault. It is the wrath of God that renders magistrates useless to us, in the same manner that it renders the earth barren; and, therefore, we ought to pray for the removal of those chastisements which have been brought upon us by our sins.

So, magistrates’ failure is God’s wrath on us who have sinned by not relying on Him alone for good governance; a severe chastisement, indeed. Are we in the situation Daniel found himself and his people in Babylon?

However, Calvin states, our sin does not absolve these magistrates of their responsibilities before God to carry out their appointed administration:

On the other hand, princes, and all who hold the office of magistracy, are here reminded of their duty. It is not enough, if, by giving to everyone what is due, they restrain all acts of violence, and maintain peace; but they must likewise endeavor to promote religion, and to regulate morals by wholesome discipline.

The exhortation of David (Psalm 2:12) to “kiss the Son,” and the prophecy of Isaiah, that they shall be nursing — fathers of the Church, (Isaiah 49:23,) are not without meaning; and, therefore, they have no right to flatter themselves, if they neglect to lend their assistance to maintain the worship of God.

The earth seems barren, and repentance is called for. If we ask Him for daily bread, should we not fervently ask for rulers made just? Whatever political view you may hold, we all, in obedience to God, must implore Him for our leaders good that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

The Weekly Republican Address: A Bold, Pro-Growth Agenda for 2016, Jan 16, 2016, Speaker Paul Ryan

All Israel Shall Be Saved

Much has been said recently about the reestablishment of Israel in the Middle East. Even Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism, which we mentioned a few weeks ago, touches on the issue of national Israel. Some of what’s been said is divisive and some is not.

So let’s step back from the contemporary rhetoric and see what the Bible says. The Apostle Paul discussed Israel in his letter to the church in Rome. He described that nation’s relationship to God now that the gospel had been revealed. Paul made the following statement:

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,

He will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;

Romans 11:26 English Standard Version (ESV)

What did he mean by ‘in this way?’ It seems that a lot of controversy surrounds this clause.

The exegete John Calvin said of the verse:

Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before [e.g., the sacrificial system].

But I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning:

“When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God’s family.”

Calvin didn’t make this assertion and others because of personal preference or animus, but based on the context of Paul’s statements in the chapter. Paul went on to say:

As regards the gospel, they [i.e., Israel] are enemies for your [i.e., the hearers of his letter] sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Romans 11:28-32 (ESV)

To this, Calvin commented:

[Paul] shows that the worst thing in the Jews ought not to subject them to the contempt of the Gentiles. Their chief crime was unbelief: but Paul teaches us, that they were thus blinded for a time by God’s providence, that a way to the gospel might be made for the Gentiles;

Paul then intends here to teach two things — that there is nothing in any man why he should be preferred to others, apart from the mere favor of God; and that God in the dispensation of his grace, is under no restraint that he should not grant it to whom he pleases.

There is an emphasis in the word mercy; for it intimates that God is bound to none, and that he therefore saves all freely, for they are all equally lost.

…Paul simply means that both Jews and Gentiles do not otherwise obtain salvation than through the mercy of God, and thus he leaves to none any reason for complaint. It is indeed true that this mercy is without any difference offered to all, but everyone must seek it by faith.

And thus ‘in this way’: All Israel Shall Be Saved.

Valley of Jezreel

The view from Megiddo, northeast across the Jezreel Valley in Israel to Mount Tabor, 9 November 2005, by Joe Freeman, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

Now and Not Yet

I recently read Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism. In it, he surveys ways Christians understand (or misunderstand) end times prophesy. I recommend the book for those interested in working through what they believe about the end.

He treats the subject fairly, in my opinion, although he does have a vested interest in Amillennialism. Throughout the text, he explores the concept of multiple fulfillments over time of individual Bible prophesies termed: ‘the now and not yet.’

While reading, it occurred to me that everyone you meet has their own ‘now and not yet.’ Perhaps the following statement seems alien to you:

Though you have not seen Him, you love him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

Certainly, it’s true that those alive today have not seen the Lord Jesus Christ. This is ‘a now and not yet’ for those who trust Him for salvation.

However, what struck me is that many do not love or even believe in Him. Consider this: perhaps it is not yet your time to believe and be saved from God’s wrath. But it could be, soon; perhaps even today.

Of course, you will be saved not because of anything you have done, but according to His mercy and purpose for you:

Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— Romans 9:11 (ESV)

What am I trying to get at? Let’s approach it this way. The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church at Rome:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

And those whom He predestined, He also called, and those whom He called He also justified [i.e., made righteous], and those whom He justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:28-30 (ESV)

Paul speaks of a progressive reveal of those who become His children: from time in eternity past, through our lives, and to eternity future. One commentator points out (see note 270) how Paul describes this process in the past tense to show the certainty of its accomplishment because, by God’s decree, it is as good as already done. There is an element of ‘the now and a not yet’ for each of us as we journey through our lives.

To embark on the next step of your journey, you must believe that God exists and He rewards those that seek Him.

Then, consider:

…He appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

Do not harden your hearts.”

Hebrews 4:7 (ESV)

And He calls to us from heaven:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20 (ESV)

Please receive Him today and make your ‘not yet’ into ‘now.’ Come out of the darkness and into the light, for it has not yet appeared what we shall become.

The Now and the Not Yet, Amy Grant, YouTube

Can I be Certain of You?

In his comments on Philippians, chapter 1, verse 6:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin says:

It is asked, however, whether anyone can be certain as to the salvation of others, for Paul here is not speaking of himself but of the Philippians. I answer, that the assurance which an individual has respecting his own salvation, is very different from what he has as to that of another. For the Spirit of God is a witness to me of my calling, as he is to each of the elect. As to others, we have no testimony, except from the outward efficacy of the Spirit; that is, in so far as the grace of God shews itself in them, so that we come to know it.

There is, therefore, a great difference, because the assurance of faith remains inwardly shut up, and does not extend itself to others. But wherever we see any such tokens of Divine election as can be perceived by us, we ought immediately to be stirred up to entertain good hope, both in order that we may not be envious towards our neighbors, and withhold from them an equitable and kind judgment of charity; and also, that we may be grateful to God. This, however, is a general rule both as to ourselves and as to others — that, distrusting our own strength, we depend entirely upon God alone [emphasis mine].

And what can we look for as tokens of Divine election? Scripture says we are to be clothed in His righteousness, in word and deed:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:12-13 (ESV)

Look for these things in yourselves first and then in others.

Tamme-Lauri oak. The oldest tree in Estonia

Tamme-Lauri oak. The oldest tree in Estonia, 3 September 2013, Abrget47j, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported