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Friday, March 27, 2020

A Fresh Look at "Come Thou Fount"

Doctrine Doctrine Doctrine

This is another in our occasional look at music and doctrine. We've noted that the three most important elements in music claiming to be Christian is whether the singer is wearing a tie... no, wait... that's rather carnal thinking... the three most important elements are:

  • Doctrine
  • Doctrine
  • Doctrine

Music should never be the primary or only source for teaching in our gatherings, but it can be a great source of encouragement and it should strengthen (complement) sound doctrine. With that in mind, this time around we will examine, in part, the beloved hymn "Come Thou Fount."

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

What could be wrong with that? Well, I'm not condemning it in toto, but I think we can do better in terms of doctrinal accuracy. And that is our goal, is it not?

First, we have to acknowledge that some of the "beloved hymns" we know today are not "as written." We will not examine that fact in this study except to say, parts have been dropped from the originals over the decades. That is true of "Come Thou Fount." For now, however, we will simply turn back to the verse in view as we have it today.

Flaming Tongues Above?

The idea captured by "Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above" is a bit of a poser to me. The only "flaming tongues above" with which I am familiar in scripture would be at the Jewish feast of Pentecost in Acts 2. What that has to to do with us (nothing, we're not Jews) has been covered in other studies, but even so, why would the tongues be singing?

I have searched my King James Bible and I do not find the phrase "flaming tongues above." What I do find is this from Acts 2:3.

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

The "them" in the passage would be the chosen apostles of Christ (v.14). The "cloven tongues" are merely "like a fire." It's a simile.  Seems to me the hymn takes great liberties with this one-time, person-specific, time-limited event

Let's take a look at a revision of this verse by Charles Welch:

Teach me some melodious sonnet
Suited to Thy matchless love;
Sovereign grace - I'm fixed upon it,
Grace that nothing can remove.
[Hymns of Praise. Charles H. Welch, Editor, 1957]

I think this is both far better in terms of thought and biblical, doctrinal content.

Gentiles Were Never in the Fold

We return to the common text of the hymn:

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God

As Gentiles, we were certainly "strangers" (Ephesians), but we never "wander[ed] from the fold of God." That's fairly close to heretical. I'd say it's very heretical, but given a wide berth perhaps we can find some degree of application. But giving wide berth also gives wide berth to heresy.

Now let's turn to the revision:

Christ did seek me when a stranger,
Without hope, or peace, or God

[Hymns of Praise. Charles H. Welch, Editor, 1957]

Let's not lose site of the change from "Jesus" to "Christ." As Gentiles, we need to be very careful here. There is an air of familiarity and a danger in focusing on the earthly ministry of Christ in the name "Jesus" used alone. Sticking with just Ephesians for a moment (we are going to look a selection from that epistle), the word "Jesus" is used 20 times (KJV) by Paul, yet never alone. He is called "Christ" alone (Eph 2:12), but not "Jesus" alone.

Jesus Christ (5)
Christ Jesus (6)
Lord Jesus Christ (7)
Christ Jesus our Lord (1)
Lord Jesus (1)

Moving to the next line in the hymn, we remember that, as Gentiles, we were without hope, peace, or God. No fold from which to wander. The new rendering is more scriptural and more accurately reflects what we have gained by Christ's work in the current age.

Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us...
Ephesians 2:11-14

You Can't leave God, You're Already Sealed

Now we turn to one of the most beloved sections of the hymn and examine the thoughts and doctrines being addressed.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

What could be wrong with that? Well, I don't know about you, but I believe I am sealed by God already. And I don't believe I could leave God if I tried. Nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Yes, we may see this verse from a practical viewpoint, but isn't that one of the complaints against contemporary Christian music? That it tends to be subjective and inwardly focused?

 And now the revision:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Yet I’ll never fall away;
By Thy Spirit, Thou did’st seal it,
Seal my heart for that bright day.
[Hymns of Praise. Charles H. Welch, Editor, 1957] 

We again stay in Ephesians for these glorious truths (doctrines):

in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory... 
-Ephesians 1:13-14

We can wander in the flesh. We can sin. We can fail to run the race. And as we have looked at a number of times, there is judgment coming for Christian service and faithfulness. But even though we may grieve the Spirit, we are forever sealed unto resurrection life. I cannot leave him, and I'll never fall away! Even when we grieve him, we remain sealed!

And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. 
-Ephesians 4:30

The "beloved hymn," as commonly sung, casts doubt on our position in Christ, even if only subtly so.

We Must Use Biblical Standards

Finally, I turn to a couple of  "hymn-only" proponents (as we have in previous studies) and apply their concerns to our hymn in question.

No one should deny the power of music to proselytize! Pastors in particular must defend their flocks from false teaching, heresies and ‘ear ticklers’ who bring worldly sensuality into the congregation; you are right to point out how easily this comes into a church through worship music. It seems wiser to decline the use of what seems to be a perfectly good song, rather than to give any honor and hint of endorsement to the composer and his/her mission”
Dan Lucarini, author of Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement: Confessions of a Former Worship Leader

The emphasis is mine. In the video at the end of this entry, you will see some emotional proselytizing going on by some pretty serious heretics using the "beloved hymns of the faith" (including "Come Thou Fount"). We also noted the subtle (and not so subtle) heresies in "Come Thou Fount" in this study. "Worldly sensuality" is catch-all and can mean whatever they want. They never seem to define it. Beware such subjective arguments without scriptural backing.

"Endorsement of the composer?" Might want to check how many hymns are based on music written by Roman Catholics. Is that really a concern? I have no idea who wrote most of the hymns, but that doesn't stop me from judging DOCTRINE.

Another critic of contemporary music is David Cloud (Way of Life Literature). I want to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Some of his concerns are valid. However, his approach is often not doctrinal, but personal. And he's stuck on the horrible pagan doctrine of "fiery torture by God" and can't see past his own lust for vengeance. I admit that's a personal judgment, but feel free to read his own words. 

Fifteen times in the New Testament, Hell is described in terms of fire. “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44,46,48). Hell is described as “fire” (Mt. 5:22; 18:9), “everlasting fire” (Mt. 18:8; 25:41), “fire unquenchable” (Luke 3:17), “this flame” (Lk. 16:24)

So, this is good place to link a study or two on this topic. Honestly, when I read statements like the one above (feel free to read his entire article, I don't want to be accused of cherry-picking), it comes off as so biblically deficient, I can only speculate that he so wants people tortured by God (the vast amount of humanity, by the way) that he won't take five minutes to examine the verses he chooses in context. He seems to relish the thought. 

Traditions that Interfere With True Understanding 
Another Look at Gehenna "Hell" 
The Horrible Doctrine of Man's Traditional "Hell" 
Lake of Fire and Torment? 
Animals are Souls and You are Not Immortal

Ironically, in his post, Mr. Cloud attacks the modern Papal doctrines on hell while not realizing his own position is one championed by traditional Catholicism and by scores of Popes and Catechisms. The doctrines of the "immortal soul" and "fiery torture by God" are Greek paganism adopted into corrupt Christendom. The early Reformers fought these ideas. Unfortunately, men like David Cloud side with Thomas More and the Popes in their interpretation rather than with men like Tyndale (or more to the point, Paul).

Finally, below is the video I promised. It features some the most "beloved hymns" sung some of the worst heretics (Some of whom love the KJV too). The hymns don't seem to be doing them any good either doctrinally or in personal conduct. Should I employ the innuendo and logical fallacies often used against those who use contemporary music and blame the hymns for their heresy and sin? After all, "Come Thou Fount" as found in most hymnals today is more aligned with Catholicism's or Mormonism's view of salvation than that of Biblical Christianity.

In the montage, the traditional "Come Thou Fount" is sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Hymns for Heretics

Amazing Grace (Tammy Faye Bakker)
A Closer Walk With Thee (Jimmy Swaggart)
Are You Washed in the Blood (7th Day Adventists)
The Old Rugged Cross (Benny Hinn)
Come Thou Fount (Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
How Great Thou Art (Kenneth Copeland)
Rock of Ages (Jehovah's Witnesses)
Amazing Grace (Emmanuel Catholic Church)
The Sweet By and By (Earnest Angely Ministries)

Irony Alert: one of the comments under the original 7th Day Adventist video pointed to how the old hymns contained more doctrine than the contemporary songs... apparently it's not helping.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Settling For Less - The Warnings of Colossians Chapter 2

And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in [the cross].
-Colossians 2:13-15
I do not want to use this space to go over the particular conditions of the current dispensation (we've done that several times in other studies), but let us again, quickly, recognize the ground upon which we walk. We are still in our study on the Revelation, and unless we understand that Book and its Jewish context, we will never begin to understand it (and worse, we may fall into terrible error).

All the promises of blessing and cursing found in the Law do not apply. There is a two-fold reason for that. First, the Law was never given to Gentiles. Even in previous ages (even in the Law itself) Gentiles are excluded from its promises and cursings, unless a Gentile wanted to identify with Israel. Second, the Law has nothing to do with "life through his name."

Ephesians reminds Gentiles we were strangers to the covenants.  We have no covenant with God (old or new). Those are purely for the House of Jacob (Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8). In the Acts Age, Gentiles were "grafted in" to Israel and could be "cut off" from Israel as well (Romans 11). This is not a passage dealing with resurrection life (which is a free gift by grace), it has to do with the earth and Israel's earthly promises. This involves the time when the Lord "reestablishes the kingdom in Israel" (Acts 1).

That age ended. The Body, the "new man," has no hope connected to this earth. Our blessings are "in the far above the heavens" (Ephesians). Because of that, we do not deal in Israel's rituals. The Law is holy and good (Romans), but it is not the means of salvation, it is given to a specific people for a specific purpose. And that purpose is earthly. Israel will one day fulfill its role as priests for the nations (Ex 19:5-6; etc.).

This is why Paul gives us a stern warning in Colossians not to settle for earthly ordinances. 

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival [feast] or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
-Colossians 2:16-19

Many Bible-believing Christians will point to this scripture to warn Christians against the sacramenetalist churches (Roman, Russian, Orthodox, etc.) and rightly so. But while many do not go as far as having a priesthood or a tabernacle or official "holy days," many have versions of these.

This is serious business. Paul states that if we settle for earthly ordinances, we have not held fast to the Head of the Body, which is Christ. We cannot maintain unity if we introduce these rituals and hoy days, etc. Simply look at the many different denominations. Each has its "distinctives." They have let go of the Head and have scrounged around looking to the earth. They seek to rob Israel of her place and promises, forsaking their own calling. They only find themselves with bastardized versions of these rituals.

Almost all Evangelical communities have adopted a form of the Jewish ritual washing of Baptism and practice the Passover meal in the name of the Lord's Supper. The Lord himself called this the "Passover" meal. It is wholly Jewish and forbidden to Gentiles. The Lord did not put aside the Law to allow Gentiles to partake of the Law. He put aside the Law to allow Gentiles to receive a direct blessing apart from Israel. Something unknown in the Acts Age and before.

We have looked at this elsewhere as well, but we recall that the Last Supper was, indeed, the Passover meal and it dealt with the coming Kingdom in Israel.

Then you shall say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?” ’Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready.” So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover. When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
-Luke 22:11-16

It makes some today feel "holy" or "obedient" to observe this Jewish feast, but it is not for us in this age. Passover is one of the Feasts of the Lord and these feasts all belong to Israel. Gentiles are forbidden to participate. This is why we must understand that The Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2 is still on Jewish ground.

Israel is not better than the Body and the Body is not better than Israel. We have different callings, different hopes, and different ministries. We risk being "disqualified" from prizes and rewards (as Colossians 2 warns) by trying to walk in the wrong calling. We become guilty of encroaching upon another's calling and denying our own calling.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things which all perish as they are used), according to human precepts and doctrines? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh. [alt: serving only to indulge the flesh]
-Colossians 2:20-23 

If our blessing is not of this world, we should not be participating in the rituals connected to this world. As our text teaches, men may feel holy and religious, but these rituals result in a false pride and an aggrandizement of the flesh. These ordinances not only fail to tame the flesh, they puff up the flesh in pride.

We carefully note, the problem is not only in obeying man-made ordinances (as horrible as that is), it is in obeying (or pretending to obey) biblical ordinances not meant for us.

Even the two supposed ordinances of the "church," baptism and Lord's Supper, are not practiced biblically. We will not examine these in full here, but I will point to one warning connected to the Lord's Table from the Acts age.

Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep [die].
 -1 Cor 11:27-30

Of what judgment (condemnation) does Paul speak? Do we see people dying in our meetings because of this? Are assemblies which practice this ritual weekly in more danger than those who practice it quarterly by exposing members to this punishment more often? And what kind of threat is death if death is just one, big party in heaven as is often taught in many churches? (That's yet another problem with the Platonic idea of the "immortal soul.")

When we seek to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15), these issues start to disappear. We start to see the overall Plan of God. We see the different families of God. We see the different callings and hopes. And we see the path to reward, crowns, faithful service, and the prize of high calling. But when we wander the pages of scripture choosing and rejecting what we may, we risk being "disqualified."

Thursday, March 12, 2020

What Are the Works of Righteousness in Titus 3:5

Works of Righteousness

I do not want to belabor the point in regard to unbelievers being able to "do good" as we have examined in the last two studies, but I don't want to leave too many stones unturned. I'd like to look briefly at several verses from the epistles. We will look at the context of each and the argument of each.

For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

-Titus 3:3-7

I am going to quote a couple of commentaries on this passage. As we always note, we quote nothing but scripture as our authority. I am doing this so we can consider different interpretations, not to present someone's opinion as authoritative. We start with John Calvin's argument that the "works of righteousness" are actually "works of depravity." he bases this on the verses prior to verse 5.

For when [Paul] says, — “Not by works which we have done”, he means, that we can do nothing but sin till we have been renewed by God. This negative statement depends on the former affirmation, by which he said that they were foolish and disobedient, and led away by various desires, till they were created anew in Christ; and indeed, what good work could proceed from so corrupt a mass?

-Calvin's Commentary on the Bible (excerpt)

I'm afraid this is an example of starting with a conclusion and looking back to create a premise. We could consider such an argument if the conclusion had been firmly established elsewhere, but as we have seen, scripture seems to teach again and again that unbelievers are capable of doing good.

We now turn to Bible teacher A.C. Gabelein

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.” It is a look backward, what they were in their unregenerate condition. These are the true characteristics of man in the flesh. Here is an answer to the question, What is sin? Sin is foolishness, disobedience, deception, slavery to lusts and unsatisfying pleasures, a life of malice, envy and hatred. It is lawlessness. And such is the natural man in all ages.

-Arno Gabelein's Annotated Bible - Titus 3 (excerpt)

I believe Gabelein's view is closer to the sense of the passage, but it still does not directly address what the "works of righteousness" could be. Let us look at the Lord's dealings with the scribes and Pharisees as we keep Titus in mind. (As an aside, there is an argument that these Jews in Matthew could be disobedient believers, but we will treat them as unbelievers as most commentators do). 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

-Matthew 23:23

 The Lord acknowledges that they did obey some of the Law. Would we conclude that even that obedience was an act of depravity? The Lord does't seem to think so. (Here we refer back to our previous study noting the Lord's words to those who "did many wonderful works in his name.") They did some good things, when they should have done all good things.There is no thought here that everything they have done is wicked. We looked at when they gave with fanfare. The conclusion the Lord made was that they had their reward in the form of glory from men, not that giving is wicked (Matthew 6).

We stay in the Sermon on the Mount (which we know is for Israel, but the argument for unbelievers doing good crosses all dispensational boundaries) and not the Lord's higher standards for believers.

For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

 Here is Calvin's commentary on Matthew 5:46

In the same sense, Luke calls them sinners, that is, wicked and unprincipled men. Not that the office is condemned in itself; for the publicans were collectors of taxes, and as princes have a right to impose taxes, so it is lawful to levy them from the people. But they are so called, because men of this class are usually covetous and rapacious, nay, deceitful and cruel; and because among the Jews they were the agents of a wicked tyranny. If any one shall conclude from the words of Christ, that publicans are the basest of all men, he will argue ill, for our Lord employs the ordinary phraseology. His meaning is: those who are nearly devoid of humanity have some appearance of discharging mutual duties, when they see it to be for their own advantage.

He goes off a tangent here, arguing that the office of tax collector, in general, is meaningless. What he seems to miss is that these "sinners" do good things. They love those who love them. They greet their brethren. Surely these are minimal (as the passage teaches), but are they not good?

Unfortunately, we see again his prejudice in interpretation seeping through. There is nothing in the Lord's example to suggest that these "sinners" love those who love them simply "for their own advantage" as he proposes. That does great violence to the Lord's words.

Do we not know an unbelieving father who dearly loves his children? He may even have a heart for others' children. The argument the Lord is making is that even sinners can have basic, human love. They can have "natural affection."

A More Literal Translation

Remind them to be subject to principalities and authorities, to obey rule, unto every good work to be ready, of no one to speak evil, not to be quarrelsome -- gentle, showing all meekness to all men, for we were once -- also we -- thoughtless, disobedient, led astray, serving desires and pleasures manifold, in malice and envy living, odious -- hating one another; and when the kindness and the love to men of God our Saviour did appear (not by works that [are] in righteousness that we did but according to His kindness,) He did save us, through a bathing of regeneration, and a renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He poured upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that having been declared righteous by His grace, heirs we may become according to the hope of life age-during.-
-Titus 3:1-7 (Young's Literal Translation)

Young employs a parenthesis in verse 5. This helps emphasize Paul's argument that the Lord's kindness and love which is the source of His saving grace has nothing to do with anything we can bring to the Lord. I believe it is legitimate to argue, thus, that Paul is only excluding any idea of righteous works and not necessarily stating they existed.

That is, Paul could be saying, "we were just as wicked as those we now are trying to reach, like them we had no works of righteousness, but even if we did, God saved us anyway because of His love and kindness, and for no other reason." That's a bit wordy, and it does not acknowledge that unbelievers have any righteous works, but it also does not exclude them.

Nowhere in scripture is the argument made directly that unbelievers are incapable of doing anything righteous or that they cannot "do good." There are a few places where some may want to infer such a conclusion, but they have to ignore the full counsel of God. Their conclusion is inconsistent with the witness of scripture in every age.

We Reject the Argument That All Sin is Equal

Paul explains the moral decay of the gentile nations in Romans 1 as a progression. He does not argue these nations went from absolute wickedness to absolute wickedness. Such an argument is meaningless. As the nations rejected God's witness they decayed from even the most basic "good" to gross wickedness. The unbeliever can marry and stay faithful to his wife. Do we not see that adulterous and Sodomic behavior is presented as a turning from that which is good to that which is evil? Surely we do not equate these.

Because the nations rejected the witness of God in creation, "God gave them up unto vile affections." The obvious sequence here is "Not Vile" to "Vile." The gentile unbeliever is capable, with his conscience, to do some basic "good" until he rejects God. This is what leads to wickedness, and eventually gross wickedness. The first time he steals, part of him tells him he's wrong (or even prevents him from stealing). Then he slowly sears his conscience and steals with ease. Is "not stealing" that same as "stealing?"

Keeping One Law Is Still Keeping One Law

Now let's look at James' argument in regard to the Law.

We carefully note that James is addressing Jewish believers in the Acts Age (James 1:1). This is not a passage for all men of all ages, but there is principle here relevant to our discussion.

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Would we ever conclude from this passage that committing adultery is the same as not committing adultery? That is neither the argument here nor can it be inferred. Not committing adultery is a "good," yet we know good does not atone for evil. That is clearly James' argument.

The Commandments teach us that "not" doing ("thou shalt not") is equated with obedience and goodness. And performing even the most mild of good deeds is commended by the Lord ("What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?... Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" -Matthew 12:11-12). Simply getting a lamb out a pit is to "do good."

The Lord is addressing believers here (with the Pharisees present), but does not the same apply to unbelievers? For them, is not committing adultery the same as committing adultery? If they rescue a lamb, is that not to "do good?" Do we dare argue the motive of the unbeliever is different than that of the believer in regard to a lamb? One has to start with that conclusion to be able to reach it from the whole counsel and witness of scripture.

Obedience Is Not Meritorious, But It Can Still Be Good

Obedience is not meritorious to the degree that it puts God in debt to anyone. For the believer, obedience is the mark of the overcomer, it is the basis of reward, and it is the basis of position in the life to come. It has nothing to do with the awarding of a free gift. In the same way, obedience in the unbeliever is not meritorious to the degree that it puts God in his debt. He has not faith, thus he has not grace, thus he has not life and will not see life.

But that does not mean he is devoid of any good works? We conclude this study with Paul's argument on Romans contrasting works and grace.

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
-Romans 4:4-5

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

-Romans 11:6

If unbelievers had only wicked works, Paul would have no need to make these arguments.

For as Paul has reasoned before concerning the justification of Abraham, that where reward is paid, there grace is not freely bestowed; so now he draws his argument from the same fountain, — that if works come to the account, when God adopts a certain number of men unto salvation, reward is a matter of debt, and that therefore it is not a free gift.
-Calvin's Commentary on the Bible, Romans 11:6 (excerpt)

Calvin accepts the premise that men have works which they can present. If we believe scripture had already concluded in passages such as Romans 8 that unbelievers are incapable of doing good, of what use is this argument? Paul would simply argue: since all the works of the unbeliever are wicked, salvation must be of grace. But that is not the argument here.

Paul's argument is as Calvin states, that if works are counted in any way, salvation is of debt and no longer of grace. How silly an argument this would be if the works we are counting are imposiible or simply wicked works. The assumption here is that men want to believe their works, before faith, are meritorious. If that were not the case, Paul would simply state that salvation must be of grace as men have no good works to present.

Righteousness In Scripture

Coming full circle, the Greek word in Romans 4:5 translated "righteousness" is the same word translated "righteousness" in Titus 3:5.  The imputed righteousness of God saves. The righteousness of our own hands cannot save. The word "δικαιοσύνη" occurs 92 times in scripture, 30 times in Romans alone. The contrast is between the righteousness of God which comes by faith and the righteousness men try to present which is insufficient to save. There is no thought that the righteousness men try to gain by obedience to the law are simply acts of wickedness or that they are wicked in and of themselves.

Remember the Lord's teaching to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. The Lord tells these who kept only part of the law, "These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone." None of their works could merit salvation, but some of their works were clearly approved by the Lord.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
-John 5:39-40 

Those who do not have life are unbelievers. Was searching the scriptures evil? They were "doing good," but without coming to a knowledge of the Son of God and placing their faith in Him alone for salvation, they could not, thus, have life. The searching was good, the failure to believe was evil.

To be honest, all of this is an exercise if intellectual self-aggrandizement. For some reason the Calvinist must have the doctrine that unbelievers can do no good. There is no life without faith. Whether anyone who rejects Christ does good works is inconsequential to that question. But as Paul frames salvation in Romans as a mutually exclusive case of works versus grace, it is not unreasonable to assume he is making the same argument concerning "works of righteousness" in Titus. Otherwise, it seem a rather worthless comparative.

We place this exercise aside now. My goal is not to necessarily prove my position, but rather to show the dangers of starting with a conclusion and failing to let the whole counsel of God speak. Consistency is one of our key words on this blog. Where we can, we must strive for consistency. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Are There None Who Do Good? Ever?

Pleasing God Requires Faith, But Not "Doing Good"

Carrying on with our thoughts from our last study in regard to unbelievers "doing good," I wanted to address Romans chapter 3. We saw last time that we must distinguish between "doing good" and "pleasing God." The core of the Evangelical gospel is that we are not saved by "good works." We, thus, acknowledge that men can perform "good works" without pleasing God.

The doctrine teaching it is only in faith that we can please God comes from the clear statement in Hebrews 11:6, "without faith it is impossible to please [God]."

The Greek word translated "please" there is "εὐαρεστέω." It is only used three times in the Greek New Testament texts. All three occurrences are in the Book of Hebrews, the book of "better things;" the book of service and maturity (perfection) for the Acts Age. Its primary focus is to remind the believer that he must carry on in faith in this life he wants to attain the "better resurrection" and "the city whose builder and maker is God" hoped for in the book. (Our book on the topic of going on to perfection, for this age, is the Book of Philippians.)

The great faith section of Hebrews concludes with this:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2

Believers are encouraged to run the race. We are encouraged to lay aside the flesh. This is the focus of Romans chapter 8 as well, as we have seen. We have a choice to either walk in the new nature ("spirit") or according to the flesh. Galatians 5 and Ephesians 4 & 5, and Philippians also lay out these two paths for believers. One is the path to waste (perdition), the other the path to finishing the race (perfection). We have looked at this idea in a number of previous studies.

I wanted to remind us of these truths before we look at the statement in Romans 3 in regard to "none who does good."

As It Is Written, There Is None Who Does Good

As it is written:“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”

-Romans 3:10-12 

We first note "as it is written" in verse 10. We thus look to where it is written: Psalm 14, Psalm 53, and Ecclesiastes 7. When we look at these passages we see an interesting context. The two Psalms both end this way:

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When God restores his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

The answer for this condition, and the focus of these Psalms, is the restoration of Israel. Israel had been attacked and abused by the nations around her. Their wickedness against Israel, because Israel has fallen away from the Lord, is the context. This does not speak to a general wickedness of man. Can we even infer David is making an argument that all men are wicked, none does good, as a standalone argument? No, I don't believe so. David is addressing Israel in prophetic way (although there are general principles which can be applied). The solution to the problem looks to the restoration of Israel.

Do all these evildoers know nothing?
They devour my people as though eating bread;
they never call on God.
But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,
where there was nothing to dread
God scattered the bones of those who attacked you;
you put them to shame, for God despised them

Some Gentile nations and the rebellious of Israel devour "[His] People" (Israel). The wicked nations were, at times, used to chastise his people, Israel. In the end, as he has done in the past, God will destroy those nations "when God restores his people." Ignoring this and concluding the passage simply means no one, in any age, at any time, is capable of ever doing good ever is a failure to "rightly divide the Word of Truth."

No One Does Good "All The Time," Not "Never"

Would we take "there is none who does good," rip out the word "none" and conclude that not even believers can do good? No. Even the hardest Calvinist wouldn't draw that conclusion. So, we're stepping back and looking at the argument of scripture. Paul is addressing that those who think that either their good outweighing their evil meriting salvation and those who think they've never done anything truly evil have no standing before good. No amount of good can merit life and no one does good all the time is the argument.

We now turn to the Book of Ecclesiastes (7:20) and note the underlying point being made.

Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,
no one who does what is right and never sins

The conclusion here is that all sin. The idea is that there is no one who "never sins." Hence, all men are sinners. We have all "sinned and come short of the glory of God." Would we take this verse and teach that no man ever does that which is right? Of course not. Can we conclude since there no one who never sins that therefore all men can do is sin? If I said there is no one who has never lied, am I say everything every man says is a lie?

As we saw in our last study, unbelievers are capable of doing the right thing on occasion. The man who resists temptation and does not cheat on his wife, the woman who turns from the abortion clinic and saves her baby, the one who gives to charity. They all "do what is right" in these instances. The last example is from the Lord himself noted in our previous study. But while men may tell the truth on occasion or do what is right sometimes, no amount of "doing right" can pay for one sin.

This the core of the gospel. It is not that everything one does is evil. We preach that all men sin and the only remedy for sin is found in the finished work of the Son of God. We convince men that good works cannot save them. We know men have done good things, we (and the law if that is their code) show them they don't do good ALL the time.

Let's look at this statement by the Lord in Mark 10:18:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone."

Would we argue from this verse that no one, believer or unbeliever is capable of doing good or of being good? Ever? No, because the argument here is that no one is inherently always good except God. Jesus, being God in the flesh, is good, but did his questioner realize this fact?

The Lord himself, at the judgment in Matthew 25, states, "‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things." The Lord calls the servant "good" (same Greek word used here as is used in Mark 10), but if we were to rip the statement the Lord made in Mark and apply it universally, we would have to ask how this servant can be "good" when God alone is good.

Paul's Argument Regarding Gentiles Without The Law 

I am not going to write an entire commentary on the Book of Romans in context, according to Right Division, here so I gently take this passage out of Romans 2 for this particular study.

For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) In the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

Gentiles were never under the Law, yet they did, by nature, things contained in the Law. The problem is that they did not do them without fail. They are sinners according their own consciences. John Calvin himself comments on this chapter (in part) this way:

Nor can we conclude from this passage, that there is in men a full knowledge of the law, but that there are only some seeds of what is right implanted in their nature, evidenced by such acts as these — All the Gentiles alike instituted religious rites, they made laws to punish adultery, and theft, and murder, they commended good faith in bargains and contracts. They have thus indeed proved, that God ought to be worshipped, that adultery, and theft, and murder are evils, that honesty is commendable. It is not to our purpose to inquire what sort of God they imagined him to be, or how many gods they devised; it is enough to know, that they thought that there is a God, and that honor and worship are due to him. It matters not whether they permitted the coveting of another man’s wife, or of his possessions, or of any thing which was his, — whether they connived at wrath and hatred; inasmuch as it was not right for them to covet what they knew to be evil when done.

Their conscience at the same time attesting, etc. He could not have more forcibly urged them than by the testimony of their own conscience, which is equal to a thousand witnesses. By the consciousness of having done good, men sustain and comfort themselves; those who are conscious of having done evil, are inwardly harassed and tormented. Hence came these sayings of the heathens — “A good conscience is the widest sphere; but a bad one is the cruelest executioner, and more fiercely torments the ungodly than any furies can do.” There is then a certain knowledge of the law by nature, which says, “This is good and worthy of being desired; that ought to be abhorred.

But observe how intelligently he defines conscience: he says, that reasons come to our minds, by which we defend what is rightly done, and that there are those which accuse and reprove us for our vices; and he refers this process of accusation and defense to the day of the Lord; not that it will then first commence, for it is now continually carried on, but that it will then also be in operation; and he says this, that no one should disregard this process, as though it were vain and evanescent. And he has put, in the day, instead of, at the day, — a similar instance to what we have already observed.
-Calvin's Commentary on the Bible, Romans 2 (excerpt) Emphasis mine 

Calvin is arguing, as does Paul, that the Gentile is condemned by his own conscience. Despite having no law, he knows that some of what he does is "good" and some of what he does is "evil." This God-given conscience is born into man. If a man shuns adultery, it is not an act, in itself, inherently evil, etc. Calvin does not argue that men only think they've done "good," he is arguing they know the difference between doing good and doing evil and they are condemned by their own consciousness of having done evil (or not having done good perfectly).

Now, I do not quote Calvin as an authority, but rather to note that even Calvin understood, at least in this passage, that men who know not the true God can "do good." When Paul came upon the Athenians worshiping the "Unknown God" in Acts 17, he informed them they were ignorantly worshiping the true God. That was not true faith unto salvation, but it was not inherently evil.

Looking back at Romans 3, we again mark the phrase "become unprofitable." The Greek word used here is "ἀχρειόω" and Strong defines it this way, "to render useless." Sin is what makes us "unprofitable." Without faith, we are of no use to God.

The Law Is Good, But Cannot Save

Let us stay in Romans 3 and look at more of the context of our passage.

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 
-Romans 3:20

The works of the law are good works. The law is holy and good (Rom 7:11-12), but "by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified." Paul, in regard to the law, was "blameless" (Phil 3:6). Obeying the law is good. The problem is that no one could obey ALL the law. And the law was unable to save. Faith is necessary for salvation, but that does not render obedience to the law as "evil." There is no need for this argument if all acts of unbelievers are necessarily wicked. The argument only makes sense if men can obey the law in part and do good works on occasion.

Note James' argument in regard to demons.

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

The demons know there is one God, but they do not have faith in Him. But the understanding, their monotheism, is "good." It is not sufficient, but it is still "good." The danger in proof-texting is that we can take a verse out of its context and create a false doctrine. Would we dare take this verse and teach, "scripture teaches all demons do well?" Of course not. But that is the same reasoning used to argue that Romans teaches no unbeliever ever does good ever.

The word for "well" here in the Greek is "καλῶς." It is the same word used by the Lord in Matthew 5, "do good to them that hate you" and in Matthew 12 "it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days," among other similar uses. So, demons can "do good" and yet not please God. If you'd rather use James' readers as the subject of his case, you have a similar comparative. They may "do good" to believe that God exists, but that is not, in itself, pleasing to God.

All of Israel were monotheists. All knew to do good on the Sabbath. Do we this conclude all were regenerated believers? Of course not. The witness of scripture is that no amount of doing good can pay for sin. It is not that no one ever does good ever.

All Men Can Do Good, But Not Constantly Do Good

We return to Romans 3:

"Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law."

All men have sinned. Good deeds of the law cannot save. The "no one does good" is part of argument that no one does good CONSTANTLY. We all have sin. We have all turned from doing good to doing evil at some point. There is no scale. One sin is enough to condemn us. No amount of good works can save. We cannot boast of "good works" because we have no complete remedy for sin in the law.

Finally, we see the decay of the nations in Romans 1 and note that Paul gives comparative between that which was good and that which is evil.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. (1:24)

The nations were given over to the sinful desires of their hearts and performed sinful acts.

In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. (1:27)

The men were having natural relations with women and then acted wickedly. If the idea is that men are incapable of doing anything good and that every act is wicked, this noted decay is meaningless. They went from depraved wickedness to depraved wickedness?

God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. (1:28)

This implies they, at one time, did not have a depraved mind and did not do things they ought not to do. You can apply this to just about command or warning in scripture to the nations. If every act is evil and depraved, none of it makes sense.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Can the Unbeliever Do Good?

Asking the Right Question

We take a break from our trip through the Revelation and ponder a question posed to a friend of mine by an Calvinist friend of his. Can the unbeliever do good?

The background to his question begins with the Calvinist doctrine of "total depravity." As there are degrees of dispensationalism, so there are degrees of Calvinism. But for our purposes, we will focus on the reasoning behind our basic question.

My short answer is "no." The reason for this is not based on Paul's writings on justification, but rather in a rather clear statement in the Book of Hebrews.

But without faith it is impossible to please [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

-Hebrews 11:6

Unbelievers, prima facie, are not believers. This, I would think, is the natural place to go to argue that unbelievers cannot please God. But does it follow that they can do no good? I don't think so.

An oracle within my heart concerning the transgression of the wicked:
There is no fear of God before his eyes.
For he flatters himself in his own eyes,
When he finds out his iniquity and when he hates.
The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit;
He has ceased to be wise and to do good.
He devises wickedness on his bed;
He sets himself in a way that is not good;
He does not abhor evil.

-Psalm 36:1-4

It could be argued the subject here is a believer who has turned away from God and now "devises wickedness," but I think the context argues that it is a representation of man inherently. To be honest, I cannot discern from Calvin's commentary on this Psalm where he comes down. It can be read as applying to the wicked lost or the wandering heart of the believer. Either way, it would seem to be a crack in either the doctrine of total depravity or in the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints (as interpreted by some).

Healing, Giving, and other Wonderful Works of Unbelievers

In the case of the latter, wherein false believers are exposed as such, the following example is given at Ligonier.org of those that made a false profession of faith:

They had made an outward profession of faith, and Jesus makes it clear that it is possible for a person to do this even when he doesn’t possess what he’s professing. Jesus says, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matt. 15:8). Jesus even warns at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that at the last day, many will come to Him, saying: “Lord, Lord, didn’t we do this in your name? Didn’t we do that in your name?” He will send them away, saying: “Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). He will not say: “I knew you for a season and then you went sour and betrayed Me. No, you never were part of My invisible church.” The whole purpose of God’s election is to bring His people safely to heaven; therefore, what He starts He promises to finish. He not only initiates the Christian life, but the Holy Spirit is with us as the sanctifier, the convictor, and the helper to ensure our preservation.

They are quick to note that they are not arguing that Christians cannot fall into serious sin (we agree with them on that), but rather that not all professions are true. We also would agree on that.

Now, I have written in my studies that I believe the passage in Romans 8 referenced is directed at believers, but sticking with their own theology, let's look at what they do not quote from Matthew 7.

Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’

The Lord denies none of this. The same can be said of Judas. He healed the sick. He cleansed lepers. He may have even raised some from the dead (Matthew 10). Of course, I contend that Judas may have been a believers and has eternal life, but in their theology, again, what do you do with Judas?

That is, all these supposed "never true believers" apparently did good things at some point. Was Peter act of healing a leper good while Judas' was evil? Ironically, my interpretation of those passages (Judas was a believer and Matthew 7 is about believers) better suits their argument!

They That Are in the Flesh Cannot Please God

Let's leave that there and move to another favorite verse of the Calvinist to argue the lost can never do any good.

So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 
-Romans 8:8

This is less clear than Hebrews 11:6, but we will gladly address it. I'll grant that all unbelievers are in the flesh. They have not the new nature and, therefore, function in the Adamic nature. However, it applies to all men. Believers can walk according to the flesh too.

My first argument is that the entire passage is aimed at believers. I will not revisit the entire chapter as we have done that in previous studies. Let me just note several verses to show Paul is addressing believers. Scripture rarely addresses unbelievers. Believers are quite capable of walking in the flesh. The epistles are filled with lists of evil, carnal acts of the flesh about which believers are warned to shun. Ephesians 4 and 5 alone warns believers against many wicked works.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
-Romans 8:3-5

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
-Romans 8:12

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
-Galatians 5:16

There we see the choice a believer has: we can walk in the new nature or in the old. It is a choice we have. We can be obedient or disobedient. So the question follows, "OK, even if that is the case, the unbeliever always walks in the flesh, and therefore cannot please God."

I'm always happy to find agreement where we can, and here I agree. But our original question is not really "can an unbeliever please God?" but rather "can an unbeliever do good?" Two very different questions. 

Christians Can Be Condemned, Unbelievers Can Do Good

Without faith it is impossible to please God. In the flesh no one can please God. But faith is independent of doing good. This truth is applicable to believers.

All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
-Romans 14:20-24

Two truths here given to those believers:
  • Believers can be "condemned"
  • Whatever believers do that is not of faith is sin

Can a Christian perform a good deed for selfish reasons? Scripture tells of those who give to the poor, but do so for the accolades it will bring. The Lord says, "they have their reward." Is the act (charitable giving) "evil?" No, it is certainly good. Yet it does not "please God" as the motive is not faithful giving. Unbelievers are often better than believers in their charitable giving. Their works are certainly "good," but not being done as an act from the new, divine nature, it does not "please God" in the form of earning life. But that is true of believers! We can only gain reward by good deeds, not the free gift of life.

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 
-Matthew 6:1-2

This idea takes us back to Romans 8 and Galatians 5. Christians who walk in the new nature are not condemned, but those who rather choose to walk in the flesh are condemned (Rom 8: 1,4). Not eternally lost (that is impossible), but their service and works are condemned. If an unbeliever and a believer to the exact same "good works," neither is saved by them. However, that does not mean the unbelievers works are now "not good." They are just useless for pleasing God.

Good is what God says is good. Joseph's brothers meant to do him evil, yet God used it for good (Gen 50:20). They inadvertently did "good." God used wicked nations to accomplish his will. These are all independent thoughts.

Romans itself teaches us that unbelievers can do the things contained in the law when they act on conscience. The man with no regard for his own safety or profit jumps into a raging river when he sees a child fall in does good. The one who cannot cheat on his wife, listens to his conscience, and runs from temptation, does good. Does they please God in the sense of service, obedience, and faith? No. But they still "do good."

An expectant mother heads for the abortion clinic. She remembers her sonogram and feels the baby kick inside here. She is overcome with love and guilt and turns away from the doctor's poison. Has she pleased God? Not in the form of service, obedience or true faith, but surely she has done "good." Her act pleases God, but not in that it put on her account any way. 

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, not having the law, are a law unto themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, while their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them... 
-Romans 2:14-15

This passage is part of Paul's argument against the Law as means of justification. It could be summed up this way: you may do "good things" but only by faith can one please God.

The Canaanites did "detestable things" (Deut 12) such as offering their children as sacrifices to Moloch. God did not ever ague, "everything the Canaanites do is evil because they are unbelievers." Nor did God assume the Israelites were not capable of the same evil (hence the warning in Deut 12). 

Some acts are evil no matter who performs them, some acts are good no matter who performs them. But only those done in faith can "please God." 

Good Works Are Possible, But Cannot Save

Paul's argument against works righteousness is contingent on the idea that men can do good and yet not please God. The ideas are independent.

Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness...
-Rom 4:4-5

And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.

-Romans 11:6

Again, I like when we can find areas of agreement. In that spirit, I quote again from ligonier.org:
We say that it is possible for a Christian to experience a very serious fall, we talk about backsliding, we talk about moral lapses, and so on. I can’t think of any sin, other than blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that a truly converted Christian is not capable of committing... However, they persevere not because they are so diligent in making use of the mercies of God. The only reason we can give why any of us continue on in the faith is because we have been preserved. So I prefer the term the preservation of the saints, because the process by which we are kept in a state of grace is something that is accomplished by God. My confidence in my preservation is not in my ability to persevere. My confidence rests in the power of Christ to sustain me with His grace and by the power of His intercession. He is going to bring us safely home.
[R.C. Sproul, TULIP and Reformed Theology: Perseverance of the Saints, excerpt] 
Emphasis mine

Christians can do great evil. Unbelievers can do great good. But only faith saves. Only by faith can we please God.

One of the things I believe which clouds the Calvinist argument is that some still hold onto the pagan doctrine of fiery torment in God's torture chamber ("hell"). They are bothered by the idea that the unbelieving mother who saves her baby from the abortion clinic is then tossed to the flame to be tortured by God, without relief, without hope, without end. I can see why they would trouble the mind and lead to the desire to conclude that even saving the baby is "wicked." Thank God I abandoned that horrible doctrine years ago. It is the first step in understanding the true Christian life and the true nature of God and the true nature of salvation.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Revelation - Part 14 - Possible Parallels

As we step into Chapter 8 of the Revelation, we see the final seal connected to silence and to the seven trumpets. Not all books of scripture are chronological. We see this clearly in the Book of Daniel where one has to be careful to follow the narrative and the visions and piece them together carefully.

In a similar way, the eight Kingdom Parables of Matthew 13 overlap in their timing. Two parables may cover the same time frame, but address different aspects of the Kingdom. The Parable of Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price are similar, but deal with different aspects of similar events. The former dealing with Israel in the land, the latter with Israel among the nations.

When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. 
-Revelation 8:1-6

With that possibility in mind, allow me to post a chart I made many years ago. I will then address a few things in this chapter.

Matthew 24
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshiped his image
And ye shall hear of wars and   rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom
And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;  And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.
And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.
there shall be famines
   And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine
And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.
And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood.
and pestilences
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
 And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise. And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabitants of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!
And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.
earthquakes, in divers places
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth... but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.
And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.
For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered.  Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood. And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casts her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind... the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men; and the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
 And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever… And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou should give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and should destroy them which destroy the earth… and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.
And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath… And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

Sorry for the small font. You can use the general concept to make your own chart.

There seems to be some pattern here. Some of the items are more obvious than others. There seem to be parallels between Matthew 24 and the Seven Seals on the one hand and between the Seven Trumpets and the Seven Vials (Bowls) on the other. And they all seem to culminate in the coming of the Lord.

In the last verse from Matthew, we see reference to the "tribes" mourning. We think of the prophecy in Zechariah of Israel weeping when they see the one whom they have pierced (Zech 12:10). Matthew and the Revelation are heavily on Jewish ground.

We also think of the passage in 1 Thessalonians which concerns the Lord coming in the clouds (as he left in Acts 1, as promised by the angel seen there). We've looked at that "Rapture" passage in detail elsewhere (see link below). We also note here the voice of an archangel as well. 

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
-1 Thess 4:15-17

 I'll just insert here a thought from E.W. Bullinger on this chapter for your consideration.

Revelation chapters 6 and 7 present the six seals, the sixth carrying on to the end. The seventh seal contains a new series of judgments under the seven trumpets (Revelation 8:7, Revelation 8:11, Revelation 8:14) and the seven vials (Revelation 16:1, Revelation 16:18, Revelation 16:21). The seventh seal thus embraces the period of both trumpets and vials (Revelation 8:7, Revelation 8:18, Revelation 8:24), and is immediately followed by the Apocalypse (Unveiling of "The Word of God": see App-197), the Son of Adam (App-99). The first six trumpets relate to the earth, the seventh to heaven (Revelation 11:15). The seven are divided into four and three, the last three being woe trumpets. The judgments and woes now to be set forth are just as real, as literal, as the judgments predicted and fulfilled in the past history of Israel; Exodus 34:10. Deuteronomy 28:10. Isaiah 11:15, Isaiah 11:16. Micah 7:13-15.
 -E.W. Bullinger (Notes in the Companion Bible, Revelation 8:5)

Next time we will look at the trumpets, woes, and vials (bowls) with a wide lens. Below are some previous studies of the second coming you might want to read.