Posts tagged ‘church’

January 4, 2014

New Heavens and a New Earth (and a Book Review)

Nounepiphany [ih-pif-uh-nee]
1. A divine manifestation
2. A moment of sudden understanding or revelation

We should all be on a quest to grow in grace through the renewing of our minds, seeking increased understanding of the pure, precious and perfect word of God. It is an amazing blessing when He embeds in us the zeal for such an effort, the reward of which can nearly amount to an ongoing epiphany. As we humble ourselves and faithfully ask for God the Holy Spirit of Truth to guide us in the Way, fervent study of the Scriptures transforms us wonderfully. Not to say that true Christians cannot legitimately arrive at differing interpretations of holy writ but submitting to the Bible as a whole, beyond one’s systematic presuppositions, is essential to correctly perceive its teaching and be enlightened thereby.

Matthew 24 Fulfilled by John L. Bray includes personal testimony of the author’s journey through his changing perspectives on eschatology. A verse by verse commentary on our Lord’s teaching in what is commonly called the Olivet discourse as delineated in the “little apocalypse” of Matthew chapter 24, it is not so technical as to exclude the Christian layperson from appreciating it. The volume very effectively incorporates the parallel gospel accounts as well as cross references from the Old Testament in the discussion. Perhaps the most valuable benefit of the work is the extensive bibliography. Multitudinous and sundry resources are not only cited but quoted copiously, several of which are older and out of print or otherwise obscure to today’s inquiring minds. That it is available in PDF makes it even more of a worthy addition to one’s library, since in that format the many works referenced can be bookmarked for instant retrieval. With the support of these many well-known older writers, including John Owen and Milton Terry, as well as many not so well-known older and newer ones, Bray ably presents the preterite perspective (he informs us that “preterist” is the noun whereas “preterite” is the adjective) of the “end times” teaching of the Bible. The preterite perspective takes Christ at His word when He said “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:34), indicating that everything He had foretold up to that point in​ His discourse would have a near term fulfillment, certainly within the lifetimes of some of those who were alive at that time. It does not attempt to apply any etymological alchemy to alter the time frame as stated, in order to accommodate ​a preconceived ​​futurist interpretation of the prophesy.

Having completed this comprehensive study, I am more convinced than ever not only of the complete fulfillment of the entirety of Matthew 24, but also that the references to “new heavens and a new earth” in Isaiah 65:17 and elsewhere foretell of the present gospel age and not the eternal state hereafter. Isaiah 51:16 says “And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’ “ which refers not literally to the physical creation 3,000 years earlier but symbolically to the establishment of old covenant Israel; the very same “heavens and earth” that would pass away in A.D. 70 as foretold by Jesus in the Olivet discourse (Matthew 24:35) and subsequently also by Peter in his second epistle: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10). It h​as become​ clear to me that Peter referred not to a physical destruction of the universe at the end of time but to that cataclysmic event of the Lord’s coming in judgment in those “last days”. The apostle then goes on to tell his 1st century readers “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13), which was couched in the same symbolic language to represent the establishment of the new covenant, having done away with the old. The critical thing to understand is that while this prophecy was near in the future for those old covenant Jews who recognized the Messiah’s first advent and were converted, we are now looking back on it with joy as new covenant Christians born/reborn and living under the new covenant, in the “new heavens and earth” of this gospel age. When Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple and its ordinances, which were types and shadows, were done away with. This happened within the generation of the original hearers of the prophecy. Since then the church is the new dwelling place of God, and we now worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. The new covenant church is the new bride of the Lamb, the new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth (cf Revelation 21:1).

No doubt this is a radical shift in perspective from the futurist mindset pervading the church today, which pushes already fulfilled prophesy into the “not yet” of our future. The Bible says nothing about a rebuilt physical temple despite the popularity of dispensational premillennialism. The modern mindset seems to have developed a natural aversion to the preterite understanding of Bible prophecy, and embracing a biblically sound, historical viewpoint requires a prayerful focus on determining what sayeth the Scriptures rather than expecting them to validate preconceptions made popular by the rise of dispensationalism only since the 19th century. While the tide of eschatological consensus may be turning, a remaining obstacle to a hermeneutically sound, historical understanding of Scripture is the fear of going too far so as to depart from orthodoxy traditionally adhered to by the church (and some do!). In that regard let me hasten to affirm that there will be one great, final, visible, glorious, personal Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15), to coincide with universal, physical resurrection and judgment. This blessed hope is cherished even as we find that Scripture teaches there are also other ways in which He comes. Read Matthew 24 Fulfilled (only $8.95 in PDF) which compellingly exonerates the preterite perspective of Bible prophecy, going no further than where it can be exegetically shown to apply. As John L. Bray did at the end of that work, I herewith quote what Dr. Milton S. Terry (1898) wrote in his book Biblical Apocalyptics:

…it is important to observe that the preterist and historical method of interpretation followed in this volume conserves the substance of every fundamental doctrine of the Gospel of Christ. It may helpfully modify some current conceptions of “the great and notable day of the Lord,” for it treats the imagery of collapsing skies, and falling stars, and sounding trumpets, and dissolving mountains, and great white throne, and scores of similar figures of thought as expressing great realities, but not spectacular physical phenomena. Our interpretation no more denies or sets aside the doctrines of eternal judgment, of heaven and hell, of resurrection of the dead, and the coming and kingdom of Christ than does the refusal to affirm the literal “fire and brimstone” of future retribution deny or invalidate the doctrine of eternal reward and punishment beyond this mortal life.

Nearly nineteen centuries of the manifested power and glory of Christianity in the world ought to have thrown some light on the nature of the coming and the kingdom of Christ. It can scarcely be a question among intelligent believers in Christ that the beginning of the era of our Lord and Saviour was the most signal and significant epoch in the history of mankind. It marked a “fullness of times,” a crisis of ages. The exact point of transition from the old to the new may be with many an open question. But whether we place it at the birth of Jesus or at the time of ​His crucifixion, when ​He cried, “It is finished,” or at ​His resurrection, or at ​His ascension, or at Pentecost, or at the fall of Jerusalem, the great commanding fact is still before us that the manifestation of the Christ, with which all these events must ever appear in vital relation, opened a new era in human civilization.

We now submit the thought that these nineteen centuries of Christian light and progress are relatively but the misty morning twilight of the great day of Christ. It may be that ​He must reign a thousand times a thousand years before he shall have put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor. xv, 25).

The coming of Christ in ​His kingdom and power and glory is not one instantaneous act or event. It is a long-continuing process comprehensive of ​His entire work both of redemption and of judgment. He comes in the power of his Spirit to convict the world respecting sin and righteousness and judgment (John xvi, 8); ​He comes in like manner to forgive the sins of the penitent and to lead the disciple into all the truth; ​He comes and is present wherever two or three are gathered together in ​His name. He has been coming through all the Christian centuries to receive unto ​Himself the faithful souls who have looked for ​His heavenly appearing and glory (John xiv, 3; xvii, 22–24). As truly as Jehovah came of old in the clouds of heaven to execute judgment on the Egyptians (lsa. xix, 1), so did the Son of man come in the clouds and with the angels of ​His power to execute judgment on the great city that was guilty of ​His blood and drunken with the blood of ​His saints and martyrs. He sitteth at the right hand of Power and sendeth forth continually ​His innumerable company of angels to minister for them that shall inherit salvation. Such triumphal administration of judgment, mercy, and truth has been, is now, and shall for ages be the work of ​His Messianic reign. And in full accord with these revelations of ​His power and glory we cry out with the Hebrew psalmist:

The Lord cometh, H​e cometh to judge the earth:
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And peoples with ​His truth.

And we also respond with the Christian apocalyptist: Amen: come, Lord Jesus.

Just like in the days of Noah when the entirety of the evil society of mankind was destroyed, the wicked generation of apostate Israel was obliterated along with all the elements of the old covenant “heavens and earth”. My constant prayer is for a clearer, more widespread understanding of Messianic prophecy and its historical fulfillment. Recognition of this revealed truth leads ​immediately​ to the question, “How then should we live?”. Fresh understanding and appreciation of our blessed position in Christ is critically significant for a more positive outlook and a more practical application of the gospel in the everyday life of Christians and the church in the new covenant here and now. We are not on a sinking ship where it is futile to polish the brass; that’s how it was for old covenant Israel in the years just prior to A.D.70. We are the church militant in the Kingdom of Christ which has come in power and glory, which must grow until it fills the earth. God’s people just need to be enlightened and exhorted to greater faith and obedience; perhaps the first step in that direction is for the scales to fall from our eyes.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)

June 24, 2012

Great Searchings of Heart

Great Searchings of Heart

James Smith, 1856

Being called upon to attend an association of churches during the past week, I was painfully affected by the fact, that out of more than twenty churches — only four could report an increase of numbers during the last twelve months, and that increase was small. Yet, in every church the gospel is preached, and in most, if not all, prayer-meetings are held. What is to become of the world, thought I, if things go on thus? What will become of our own beloved land?

The population is increasing, souls by millions are perishing, and the gospel seems to have lost its power! The churches decrease. What a solemn, what an alarming fact! About three thousand sermons had been preached, about three thousand children had been taught in the Sabbath-schools, a great number of Bibles, tracts, and religious periodicals had been circulated — and yet the majority of the churches had decreased! Surely this is enough to make one weep, lie low before God, and ask, “Show us why you contend with us.” Three questions arose in my mind, and have been exercising my thoughts since. Let me invite you, my fellow-Christian, to attend to them with me.

First, Is there not a cause? Surely we cannot ascribe our present languishing condition wholly to the sovereignty of God. In Old Testament times the Lord laid the blame on his people, and asked, “Have you not procured this unto my yourself?” And again, by another prophet, “Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? Are these the things He does?” Do not my words do good to him whose ways are upright?” Many similar portions may be remembered by the reader, if he is familiar with the Scriptures.

In the New Testament, the apostle James tells us, “You have not — because you ask not; or because you ask amiss, that you may consume it on your lusts.” Surely there is some worm at the root, that causes the plant of God’s right hand planting to wither. There is some wedge of gold and Babylonish garment hidden in some Achan’s tent, which causes Israel to turn their backs on their enemies. Yes! There must be a cause. We have the same gospel to preach which the apostles had. We have the same promises of success. We have the same kind of people to address. Yet they were successful; they turned the world upside down; they triumphed in Christ, and spread abroad the savor of his knowledge in every place.

But what are we doing? Where are our triumphs? We decrease; what is the cause? Let us then inquire,

Secondly, Can we ascertain the cause? Methinks we may, if we are hearty in our desire, and are willing to dig deep enough. It does not seem to lie on the surface; let us therefore plough up the fallow ground, and look deeper. God said that he would search Jerusalem, as with candles, and punish the men that were settled on their lees.

Let us who preach, look at our preaching, and ask: Do I preach Christ enough? Is Christ crucified, and Christ glorified — constantly kept before the people? Do I, in my ministry, exalt and extol him? Is it my delight to proclaim Him . . .
in the glory of His person,
in the merit of His blood,
in the riches of His grace?

Do I present Him to my people as the only Savior to be trusted, and the great example to be copied? Do I preach Christ plainly, with deep feeling, and with a hearty desire that my hearers may believe in Him and live? Do I aim at the immediate conversion of every soul that hears me, travailing in birth for souls until Christ is formed in them?

Do I honor the Holy Spirit in His Divine personality, office, character, and gracious work? Do I preach, impressed with the thought, that unless the Holy Spirit accompanies the Word with His power —
no dead sinner will be quickened,
no undecided hearer will yield to Jesus,
nor will the Lord’s people be revived or comforted?

Do I realize that it is personal, heartfelt, believing prayer, that brings down the power of the Spirit, which alone can render the Word effectual? And do I in private, among my people, in the pulpit, and even while preaching — endeavor to bring down the Spirit by such prayer? Do I strive to impress upon my people, the necessity of incessant prayer for this invaluable blessing, and set them an example by cultivating such a spirit of prayer? Am I an example to my people of . . .
deadness to the world,
zeal for the Lord’s glory,
devotedness to the Lord’s work, and
burning desire to bring souls to God?

And let the brethren who are HEARERS examine themselves on this point also. Brethren, much depends on you. A praying, zealous, lively, working church, must be successful. We fear that many of you do not realize the value of the immortal souls around you as you should. You do not aim constantly at bringing souls to God, as if it was the first and grand object of your life. Souls are dropping into Hell around you — but where is your feeling? Souls are hardening in sin under the preaching of the gospel — but where is your concern? You know that though Paul preaches — yet without the power of the Spirit of God, no saving effect would be produced — and yet you hear sermon after sermon, without pleading with God for His Spirit to come down! You hear of the low state of the church, you talk of the low state of the church — but where are your tears? Where are your wrestlings with God? Where is your deep and heart-affecting concern? How few of you feel as if you could not live if the cause of God did not prosper? and yet this is how every one of us should feel. Ah, my brethren, I think a little examination will lead us to discover how we have grieved the Spirit, and why our churches are in the state they are! There is a cause — let us search it out, and then let us inquire,

Thirdly, Can we remove it? Are we willing to make the effort? Are we right heartily desirous to witness the change? If we are, let us ascertain what part we have had, in causing the Spirit to withdraw.

What sins do we indulge?

What duty do we omit?

What wrong feelings do we cherish?

What improper principles do we hold?

What unhallowed spirit or temper do we give way to?

There is some special cause in every one, though there may be a general cause spreading over the whole church.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life!” Psalm 139:23-24. Let then our pastors, elders, deacons, and private members, commence the work of self-examination at once, and let us be impartial in the work . . .
sparing no sin,
tampering with no lust,
listening to no temptation.

But let us make thorough work of it. Let every sin we detect be confessed over the blood of atonement; let us . . .
deplore
it,
grieve
over it,
seek the pardon of it, and
pray for grace at once to depart from it!

Let us humble ourselves before God. The guilty should confess, and the confession of guilt should lead to deep humiliation before God. Brethren, let us lie low. Let us abhor ourselves, and repent in dust and ashes. O for humbling grace from God, for I fear most of us think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think!

Let us plead with God in earnest prayer for deeper sanctification, for greater spirituality, that, like Jesus, our Master, it may be our food and drink to do the will of God. How little we resemble him, who left us an example that we should follow His steps!

A worldly church can never be really a spiritually prosperous church. As our land, in a spiritual sense, is like what Israel’s land was once in a literal sense, when for three years and six months there had been no rain, so that dearth and death were the characteristics of the country — let us, like Elijah, go up to the top of Carmel, and like him, determine never to leave our post until the Lord sends down revitalizing rain upon the earth. He is saying to us, “Ask the Lord for rain in the spring, for he makes the storm clouds. And he will send showers of rain so every field becomes a lush pasture. For I will pour out water to quench your thirst and to irrigate your parched fields. And I will pour out my Spirit.” (Zechariah 10:1, Isaiah 44:3).

Remember, O remember, that the energetic prayer of the righteous man avails much! Who shall say how much? God is still love. We have his promise. He is on the throne of grace. He bids us to come to it boldly. He asks us to prove Him, by penitence, reformation, and prayer. (Mal. 3:10, 13.) He is true to His word. He will show himself faithful. He never did say to the seed of Jacob, “Seek me in vain,” and He never will. It is still true that every one who asks aright — receives; he who seeks in faith — finds; and to him that knocks with importunity — the door of Heaven’s storehouse is opened. Let us ask, seek, and knock, then, that our joy may be full.

O that I could write something that would touch the hearts of the Lord’s people, and stir them up! O that the Lord would use my pen to awaken concern, quicken desire, and lead to hearty wrestlings for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit! Nothing will do but this. Without it we are like Samson, who lost his locks on Delilah’s lap! We may go out and shake ourselves, we may make a stir — but we shall accomplish nothing! There can be no substitute found for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the church.

He is the only giver and nourisher of spiritual life. He is the only efficient teacher of the ignorant. He is the only life of the church. O that God, even our own God, would at once give us anew this great blessing, that we may see a great and glorious revival of pure and undefiled religion! O to see thousands pierced in the heart, led to the Savior, and introduced into the church! O to hear the dear name of Jesus sounded forth by the tongues of millions of ransomed sinners, brought by the promised Comforter to know, love, and serve him! Lord Jesus, pour out the ever-blessed Spirit, to sanctify the church, to gather together into one your scattered people, and fulfill the largest promises of the everlasting covenant! Amen.

June 24, 2012

Church Victory

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3…