Friday, 15 February 2013

God's Universal Gospel

When the apostle John wrote that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,[1] he meant us to take from that statement what the plain and normal meaning of the words taught; God has a special love that embraced the entire world.  High Calvinists, on the other hand, re-interpret this plain yet profound statement to mean something quite different.  They still hold on to Jn.3:16, would not give a thought to denying that Gospel statement, and would quote it occasionally.  “But,” they aver, “God did not love the world as the plain meaning would suggest; what He loved was ‘the elect world.’”  Are these interpretations identical?  No.  The Johannine statement is clearly universal, but the high orthodox re-interpretation of John is restricted.  On what grounds?  Not on biblical grounds but on purely dogmatic grounds.  The Procrustean bed syndrome is clearly at work in this method of interpretation of Scriptural data. 

Or take John the Baptist’s exclamation, also in John’s Gospel, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”[2]  Now, normal interpretative practice would conclude that what Christ, the Lamb of God, did on the Cross had a most significant reference to “the sin of the world” - He took “the sin of the world” “away.”  He dealt decisively with it, the benefits of which become ours when we trust in Christ as our Lord and Saviour.[3]  But there are those who re-interpret the data differently.  They still hold that Christ died “to take away the sin of the world,” but, they opine, this does not mean what it says; it means rather that what He did was for Jews and Gentiles, which is how they understand the term ‘world.’  They also go further and add that that paradigm entails or even demands particularity.  Now it is possible to argue that the inclusive phrase ‘Jews and Gentiles’ takes in the entire world of humanity.  However, the high orthodox use this to refer to particular ‘Jews and Gentiles,’ thus importing restrictive canons of interpretation to arrive at such an unnatural and stretched meaning. 
Paul’s statement in Romans that “Christ died for the ungodly.”[4]  Linking this text with another which states that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”[5] a phrase that is almost impossible to mis-interpret.  If “all have sinned,” all must by definition be “ungodly.”  So if “Christ died for the ungodly,” the straightforward way of understanding this is that since “all” are “ungodly,” “Christ died for all.”[6]  This is the Pauline approach to this subject.  But the re-interpreters of Scripture make this mean that He died for those who know themselves to be ungodly.  He died only for those who feel their guilt and who feel that they are ungodly.  True, these are the only ones who will seek a remedy for their sinfulness, but that remedy is available purely because Christ had died for all.   Whether a sinner feels his guilt or not does not detract from the fact that Christ died for all. 

[1]    Jn.3:16.
[2]    Jn.1:29.
[3]    This caveat prevents anyone drawing the unbiblical conclusion that because Jn.1:29 is factually and
       theologically true, salvation is therefore universal – all will in the end be saved.  Jn 3:16 also safeguards
       against the extraction of such an unwarranted, and spiritually dangerous, conclusion.
[4]    Rom.5:6.
[5]    Rom.3:23.
[6]    2 Cor.5:15 reinforces this conclusion.

Thursday, 14 February 2013


Some years ago, I came across a most enlightening section in one of New Testament scholar, Prof. J. Gresham Machen’s books[1] (1881-1937), in which he seeks to set out the issue facing the Christian church in the 1930s.  Machen writes:
“Formerly when men had brought to their attention perfectly plain documents like the Apostles’ Creed or the Westminster Confession or the New Testament, they either adopted them or else denied them.  Now they no longer deny, but merely ‘interpret.’  Every generation, it is said, must interpret the Bible or the creed in its own way.  But I sometimes wonder just how far this business of interpretation will go.  I am, let me say, in a company of modern men.  They begin to test my intelligence.  And first they test me on the subject of mathematics.  ‘What does six times nine make?’  I am asked.  I breathe a sigh of relief; many questions might place me very low in the scale of intelligence, but that question I think I can answer.  I raise me hand hopefully.  ‘I know that one,’ I say.  ‘Six nines are fifty-four.’  But my complacency is short-lived.  My modern examiner puts on a grave look.  ‘Where have you been living?’ he says.  ‘ “Six nines are fifty-four” – that is the old answer to the question.’  In my ignorance I am somewhat surprised.  ‘Why,’ I say, ‘everybody knows that.  That stands in the multiplication table; do you not know the multiplication table?’  ‘Oh, yes,’ says my modern friend, ‘of course I accept the multiplication table.  But then I do not take a static view of the multiplication table; every generation must interpret the multiplication table in its own way.  And so of course I accept the proposition that six nines are fifty-four, but I interpret that to mean that six nines are one hundred and twenty-eight.’  And then the examination gets into the sphere of history.  The examiner asks me where the Declaration of Independence was adopted.  That one, also, I think I know.  ‘The Declaration of Independence,’ I say, ‘was adopted at Philadelphia.’  But again I meet with a swift rebuke.  ‘That is the old answer to the question,’ I am told.  ‘But,’ I say, ‘everyone knows that the Declaration of Independence was adopted at Philadelphia; that stands in all the history books; do you not accept what stands in the history books?’  ‘Oh, yes,’ says my modern friend, ‘we accept everything that stands in the history books – hundred per cent Americans we are.  But then, you see, we have to interpret the history books in our own way. And so of course we accept the proposition that the Declaration of Independence was adopted at Philadelphia, but we interpret that to mean that it was adopted at San Francisco.’  And then finally the examination turns (though still in the sphere of history) to the department of history that concerns the Christian religion.  ‘What do you think happened,’ I am asked, ‘after Jesus was laid in that tomb near Jerusalem about nineteen hundred years ago?’  To that question also I have a very definite answer.  ‘I will tell you what I think happened,’ I say; ‘He was laid in a tomb, and then the third day He arose again from the dead.’  At this point the surprise of my modern friend reaches its height.  The idea of a professor in a theological seminary actually believing that the body of a dead man really emerged from the grave!  ‘Everyone,’ he tells me, ‘has abandoned that answer to the question long ago.’  ‘But,’ I say, ‘my friend, this is very serious; that answer stands in the Apostles’ Creed as well as at the centre of the New Testament; do you not accept the Apostles’ Creed?’  ‘Oh, yes,’ says my modern friend, ‘of course I accept the Apostles’ Creed; do we not say it every Sunday in church? – or, if we do not say it, we sing it – of course I accept the Apostles’ Creed.  But then, do you not see, every generation has a right to interpret it in its own way.  And so now of course we accept the proposition that “the third day He arose again from the dead,” but we interpret that to mean, “The third day He did not rise again from the dead.”’
In view of this modern art of ‘interpretation,’ one may almost wonder whether the lofty human gift of speech has not become entirely useless.  If everything that I say can be ‘interpreted’ to mean its exact opposite, what is the use of saying anything at all?  I do not know when the great revival of religion will come.  But one thing is perfectly clear.  When it does come, the whole elaborate art of ‘interpretation’ will be brushed aside, and there will be a return, as there was at the reformation of the sixteenth century, to plain common sense and common honesty.”
Readers must think about what Machen wrote all those years ago. 

[1]    Machen, 1949:45-47.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

More About Marriage

The move to redefine marriage as understood in the Bible, and as practiced traditionally by the great majority of people on the earth, is pacing up.  And with it is the reality that those who believe in heterosexual marriage, that is, marriage between one man and one woman for life, will one day soon find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Principled people will end up with criminal convictions, and will then be barred form many kinds of work.

Please watch this short video to find out more.

Never Met The Devil?

Pity those who never have any run-ins with the devil.  Unbelievers do not recognise his existence, so he is no threat to them.  Some, perhaps many, believers have entered into a peace agreement with the devil, to the extent that if they do not bother him, he will not bother them.  How spiritually dangerous a place it is to be in when you are “at peace with the devil.”  Too many are “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1), therefore they cause the devil no concerns.  They imagine that to be gracious is to care about nothing.  These are precisely the types of people the devil likes to have in his entourage.

We survived these hellish attacks this week again, and it can only be put down to God’s graciousness in answering the prayers of the saints.  Praise God for another week of victory.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Facing Cancer As A Christian

When faced with the reality of cancer, certain matters become very big issues.  Christian cancer sufferers and their spouses have their minds focused mainly on spiritual issues – their own and their families – but not exclusively.  Cancer forces one to face one reality in this life - death.  That same reality makes them think about their unsaved family members.  It is not unknown for the tears to flow when listening to the Gospel and thinking about those we love deeply and who are not saved.  Hearts break at the thought of loved ones being eternally lost and eternally separated from God and from us.  The Christian sufferer knows that they will be alright, but they cannot imagine the eternal lostness of those they love dearly.  The family circle broken for all eternity is an unbearable thought.

Add to this the fight against deathly cancer, and the pressures mount.  Even having the assurance of God’s gracious presence with us does not reduce the concern we have for lost loved-ones.  In fact, it intensifies it. 
Yet God’s sovereign and saving grace in Christ Jesus is our bedrock.  He sustains us throughout.  When we consider the numerous attempts that have been to destroy me/us, with the devil using varied means to achieve this, by God’s grace alone, I/we have survived – and rejoice!  “How good is the God we adore?” 
Indeed, I walked to church this morning – as I normally do – and it was lovely.  The way back was different.  I was soaked to the skin from the waist down as I returned singing the praises of the Lord for His goodness.  Not even heavy winter showers can dampen the praises of God’s children.  He is so good to us. 

My friends, stick close to Christ at all times and at all costs.  He is faithful and He will give you the victory over all that the world, the flesh and the devil will throw at you.  How they try to trip us up, often when we least expect it.  He works in our thoughts, and we imagine that our thoughts are just that – our thoughts; until we find ourselves being drawn down a road that we know we ought not to go down, yet Satan makes it so appealing that we go down that forbidden road.  Then we recognise the true origin of ‘our thoughts.’  They are from the devil, Satan.  These thoughts have come in from the outside, so they are not your thoughts at all; they cause you to question your salvation, so they are not your thoughts.  They come from the devil.  So drive them out of your mind and completely disown them.  

Prayer and the Lord's Day

“This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps.118:24).  The Lord ’s Day is a special privilege for the Lord’s people, the day when we meet for the public worship of God and with His redeemed people.  No wonder the writer to the Hebrews warns against forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, (Heb.10:25).  When we do, we deprive ourselves of the blessing of God.

I think what has brought a level of encouragement to us is the reality of being with Christ the moment we die.  We heard of the death an elderly close relative of a very close friends of ours, an octogenarian who became a Christian just a few years ago.  He was maybe 80 years a Presbyterian, and the last few a Christian.  Being a church member is no guarantee of heaven, but being a Christian is.  To paraphrase an old Londonderry professor of theology: “you can be a church member without being a Christian; and you can be a Christian without being a church member; but believe me,” he said, “it’s better to be both.”  Our old friend was both – a Christian and a church member.  It truly is happy for him now that he’s with his Saviour forever, and all sickness, pain, anxiety, trouble, darkness and night, even the devil, are away forever; no more sorrow or sickness or death (Rev.21:4), and “all is peace forevermore.”  Yes, there is sadness for the immediate family in particular.

But Christ is there giving light to all, as are all the redeemed of the Lord, robed in spotlessly white garments.  In Immanuel’s land, “the Lamb is all the glory.”

Death, when it comes, raises some very profound considerations.  One of these Margaret likes to sing.  “Will the circle be unbroken bye and bye?”  This concentrates the mind and heart wonderfully.  We are OK, but what about our unconverted loved ones?  We love them very dearly and to think of us being in heaven without them is a difficult and disturbing thought!  Christian parents want their family complete in Christ, and the family circle complete in heaven.  I am sure every family is in this situation and all of us have family members who do not know our blessed Saviour.  That means that we have much for which to pray.  Never say, “But I don’t know what to pray for!”  Have you unsaved relations?  Never mind this business of professions of faith for they might be quite deceptive.  Have you loved ones who are not saved?  Are there people in your life who are not living in fellowship with Christ?  Have you close friends who are unsaved?  Then you have lots to pray about.  

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Peaches and Cream

Being a Christian isn’t all peaches and cream.  It’s a battlefield, a bull ring, an arena.  It’s the place of spiritual war.  In any war there are casualties; likewise in the spiritual war.  Soldiers are wounded; then the church comes along and buries its wounded.  Some recover and want to get back into the battle again, but the church prefers ‘soldiers’ who know nothing of the scars of spiritual battle to soldiers who have been at the forefront, and have the scars to prove it.

Even today, our Prime Minister is working hard, in conjunction with Satan, to destroy Christian marriage.  The devil will use anyone to rob marriage of its specialness, uniqueness, joyfulness, satisfaction, and witness.

Christians, watch out, Satan’s about.  While doing his evil work, he keeps himself well hidden so that all we can see are other people, when in fact, it is the devil who is really at work.  “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph.6:12).  He dogs our steps continually.  But he dogs us as a defeated enemy.  That’s our hope and confidence.  Tell him he’s a defeated enemy.  We have to do that constantly.  Otherwise he will get us down.  By resisting him, we drive him away from us (Jas 4:7).