Sunday, February 25, 2024

It Is Finished: A Biblical Response To Trent Horn’s Misunderstanding Of Christ’s Atonement

  • Discussion:
          -The purpose of this article is to refute arguments made by Trent Horn on the nature of Christ's atonement and the meaning of His words on the cross, "It is finished" (John 19:30). Following are excerpts from the author along with a critique:

          "The fact that Christ’s death “paid for” or atoned for our sins does not mean that everything is finished regarding our salvation."

          Our justification before God is a done deal. Other aspects of salvation such as sanctification, perseverance, and glorification are ongoing but are guaranteed to be completed. They can therefore be safely spoken of in terms of having already happened. It is for this reason that Hebrews 10:14 speaks of us being perfected once for all.

          "Our Lord himself “did things” for our salvation even after the crucifixion, since the Bible says Christ’s resurrection justifies us. Romans 4:24-25 speaks of “Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” This shows that our justification, and even the act of remitting our sins, was not finished when Jesus said, “It is finished” on the cross."

          Romans 4:24-25 speaks of Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead as being proof that God had accepted His payment for our debt of sin. If the resurrection did not happen, then we would have no assurance of being forgiven by God. He did not need the resurrection to happen in order to justify us, but it does show that we can obtain a righteous standing before Him. It also shows that Christ is not a mere man, but God in the flesh. Only He could conquer death.

          "In fact, we have to do something in order to be saved because if Christ paid for all of humanity’s sins, then the difference between who is saved and who is damned can be found only in something the believer does, such as receiving grace through baptism and remaining in communion with Christ until death."

          What distinguishes saved people from the damned is their response to the gospel. Even unsaved people can do things like going to church, partaking in communion, and getting baptized. The one who abides in Christ has been regenerated by the Spirit of God and so does works that are pleasing to Him. We are not given conditions for justification in His sight other than faith. Nowhere is it said that Christ needed to do further works after the cross to ensure our salvation.

          "The lesson is clear: God has atoned or “paid for” all of our sins. But if we refuse to cooperate with God’s grace, then the debt can be reinstated. That’s why Hebrews 10:26-27 says, “If we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment.”

          Hebrews 10:26-27 is a call to faithfulness and repentance. However, grace is not earned through participating in sacraments but is graciously given to us by God apart from anything that we do. It is not like a substance transferred to believers as was taught by medieval theologians but is found in the person of Christ.

          "One prominent interpretation is that Jesus meant that the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah were now fulfilled in his sacrificial death. Read the preceding verses, which describe what happened after Jesus entrusted his mother to the apostle John (John 19:27-28). John 19:28 is the only other place where tetelestai is used in Scripture. When combined with the related word teleiōthē, we see that the context is related to finishing, completing, or fulfilling messianic prophecies of the Old Testament."

          This is true, but incomplete. Jesus was affirming that He had accomplished all that God intended Him to do in His earthly ministry. Christ finished offering up Himself for our sins and paying its penalty. He defeated sin at the cross. It is then that He completed the work of redemption and atonement. Christ's death, burial, and resurrection were certain in the plan of God so they could be referred to as already done when He said, "It is finished."

          "Jesus could also have been referring to the “finishing” of the Last Supper. Scott Hahn proposed this hypothesis in his book The Lamb’s Supper (and in more detail in his 2018 book The Fourth Cup). Hahn notes that Jesus conspicuously did not drink from the fourth cup of the Passover meal. Instead, Jesus refused to drink wine until he came into his kingdom, and then, before dying, he drank sour wine on the cross. Hahn says, “It was the Passover that was now finished. More precisely, it was Jesus’ transformation of the Passover sacrifice of the Old Covenant into the Eucharistic sacrifice of the New Covenant."

          If Jesus Christ not drinking from the fourth cup carries with it any theological significance, then it would be that the Old Covenant is inadequate and we need a newer and a better covenant. We have that in Christ. The context nowhere makes a eucharistic connection with this action of His. This reading of His words is also anachronistic, since the understanding of the communion elements evolved over time. Moreover, different Jewish sects celebrated the Passover meal differently and not all accepted the fourth cup as part of their practice.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Historical Background On The Use Of Altars In The Roman Catholic Church

  • Discussion:
          -Roman Catholic Churches contain stone altars in which the sacrifice of the Mass is conducted by the parish priest. It is maintained that the communion elements are miraculously changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ at the words of consecration. The altar is considered the central aspect of the church building or point of focus for worshipers. It is said to be made holy in the presence of Christ as the bread and wine becomes Him.

         The earliest Christians did not use altars or temples for three centuries. Afterwards, the table at which the communion celebration was held came to be known as an altar. The Catholic Encyclopedia says the following, "According to Radulphus of Oxford (Prop. 25), St. Sixtus II (257-259) was the first to prescribe that Mass should be celebrated on an altar, and the rubric of the missal (XX) is merely a new promulgation of the law."

          Wayne Meeks, in his essay titled Social and Ecclesial Life of the Earliest Christians, notes:

          "Christians had no shrines, temples, cult statues or sacrifices; they staged no public festivals, musical performances or pilgrimages. As far as we know, they set up no identifiable inscriptions. On the other hand, initiation into their cult had social consequences that were more far-reaching than initiation into the cults of familiar gods. It entailed incorporation into a tightly knit community, a resocialisation that demanded (and in many cases actually received) an allegiance replacing bonds of natural kinship, and a submission to one God and one Lord excluding participation in any other cult."

          Christians have no need for altars in their places of worship because they do not perform sacrifices as did the Levitical priests of old. This order of things found its ultimate fulfillment in the atonement sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In contrast with the sacrificial system of Judaism, communion is based on spiritual sustenance and remembering Christ. The earliest Christians, being Jewish converts, would have understood these things. They also would have objected to the Roman Catholic eucharist on the grounds that the Old Testament forbade the consumption of blood, cannibalism, and knew a human body can be located at only one place at a time.

          The earliest Christians did not believe in the doctrine of the real presence in a corporeal sense. They did not view their offerings as making atonement for sin. The mode of receiving Christ was faith as opposed to physically eating Him. The communion elements were not treated as though they were no longer physically bread and wine, but the incarnate Christ Himself. Nevertheless, there is no question that patristic authors took the business of communion very seriously. Hippolytus of Rome, a bishop of the 2nd century, writes these instructions in The Apostolic Tradition

          “But let each of the faithful be zealous, before he eats anything else, to receive the eucharist…let each one take care that no unbeliever taste the eucharist, nor a mouse nor any other animal, and that nothing of it fall or be lost; for the body of Christ is to be eaten by believers and must not be despised. The cup, when thou hast given thanks in the name of the Lord, thou hast accepted as the image of the blood of Christ. Therefore let none of it be spilled, so that no strange spirit may lick it up, as if thou didst despise it; thou shalt be guilty of the blood, as if thou didst scorn the price with which thou hast been bought.”

          He was very much concerned with the purity of worship offered to God. He believed the bread and wine given at communion to be special and worthy of protection, but described the former in terms of being an "image" of Christ's blood. The communion elements communicate to us the reality of Christ's broken body and shed blood on the cross for the forgiveness of sin. The statement of Hippolytus is representative of the general attitude of Christians toward the communion ritual at that time.
          Roman Catholic Scholar Peter J. Riga made this remark about the origin of the altar in Judaism:

          "...They [the Jews] inherited the fundamental notion of the altar as being the meeting place, the "high place," the "sacred heights," from their pagan background. We have already mentioned how much the Jews depended on the common traditions of the Near East, which take us back to the very dawn of recorded history."

          He then goes on to posit this theory as to how such a development began:

          "But these pagan traditions were not accepted as such by the chosen people. Under the divine guidance of divine inspiration they slowly purified their notion of sacrifice and altar."

          The problem with this kind of an explanation is that God Himself nowhere sanctioned the use of pagan objects to worship Him. If the Old Testament gives us any details at all, it would be that He commanded the Jews to destroy altars belonging to outsiders who worshiped foreign gods (Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 12:1-3; Judges 2:2). That in and of itself makes it unlikely God would purify or redeem pagan traditions for His own sake. Jewish altars were unique in character. They were associated with monotheistic worship. They conveyed Jewish morals that other groups would not have shared. Whatever altars the Jews erected for themselves, were reflective of their own religious experiences.

          Just because the Jews had altars in which animals were sacrificed before God, does not mean Christians today need the same in regard to the spiritual sacrifices that they offer to Him. Later Christian converts came not from a Jewish but pagan background. Their understanding of the Old Testament was further removed from its original context. The communion meal evolved over time into a system of sacrifices that mimicked the Jewish system of ongoing bloody animal offerings. The introduction of altars into the Christian church laid the foundation for the development of the unbiblical idea of transubstantiation.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

What Is The Relationship Between Truth And Life?

        "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6)

        Christ proclaims Himself to be truth. He is truth because God Himself is truth. The nature and character of God is expounded for us fully in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the tangible expression of what we should know about God and how we should be in light of supernatural revelation.

        It is on the basis of Christ being the truth that He can also be called the way to God the Father. The validity of the first claim depends completely on the second one. The very nature of truth is that of a light which shines in the darkness.

        Truth has a sanctifying influence (John 17:17). It enables us to see things as they really are. Truth is what sets us free (John 8:32). It directs us in the way that we should go. Christ brings us into union with God. He is the physical expression of man's status before God.

        Christ proclaims Himself to be life. Even though life en toto continues to exist by His power, He is speaking more broadly here than the physical kind. It is not something inherent to our state of being. It is a spiritual life that extends beyond the grave. The Apostles’ Creed affirms: “I believe...the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” 

        Truth is what gives life meaning. That is what makes it worth giving up one's own life for. It is the building block upon which everything else rests on. Truth and life find their ultimate realization in Jesus Christ Himself. 

Thursday, December 7, 2023

The Issue Of Israel And Control Of Gaza Strip

  • Discussion:
          -The purpose of this article is to rebut a number of assertions made about the nature of Gaza and Jewish occupation of that territory. It seems most reasonable to this author that Israel be in charge of the land in dispute. We begin this critique by presenting the following citation:

          "Gaza wasn't always the Gaza that we have today. Gaza was actually, pre-1948, quite a large territory within Mandatory Palestine."

          Gaza would have been included as a part of Israel in biblical times (Joshua 15:47; Judges 1:18; 2 Kings 18:8). It was under control by the Philistines, who were invaders from Greece, before that nation obtained the land. Both groups fought for control of that city. Gaza was conquered by the Assyrians and Egyptians for a time.

          "So it was something like 38 times the size that it is today. And at that time, Gaza was very, very wealthy in terms of being a coastal enclave, in terms of trade, in terms of the fertility of the land."

          While Gaza existed through the span of many civilizations, served as a route to exchange goods, and was a point of cultural influence, it would be an exaggeration to say that it was 38 times the size it is today (even if it was significantly larger). 

          "And then after 1948, you had the occupation of many of its towns and villages. And so it got confined to a very small strip that we know today. And at that time, it had been occupied by Egypt during the Arab-Israeli War, and then after 1967, came under Israeli military rule when Israel occupied both Gaza and the West Bank."

          The Jews for thousands of years were the dominant populace of Gaza. Even in the fourth century, for instance, it was used primarily by them for commerce. Its location by the Mediterranean Sea undoubtedly made it suitable for such purposes. Gaza is connected with what we know to be Africa, Asia, and Europe. The Jews were in this region long before 1948.

          "And then in 1993, we see the Oslo Accords, where both Gaza and the West Bank was to be part of what was then considered the start of a Palestinian state in the making. Unfortunately, at that time, you still had these territories under Israeli military occupation."

          Israel is by far the safest and freest country existing in that part of the world. Radical jihadists have no rightful claim to the land. They have not historically owned it.

          "Israel withdrew its forces in 2005 unilaterally. So we no longer had settler settlements and soldiers on the ground, but it still retained control of Gaza's borders."

          Israel has historically not been allowed to be in control of its own borders. No other group has ever experienced as many attempts by outside forces at their total eradication from the planet as the Jews. What could plausibly account for their continued existence despite heinous persecution other than divine providence?

          "And in 2006, we saw the election of the now de facto government of Hamas. And at that time, when Hamas had won the elections, they want to offer protest vote, essentially. And since then, Gaza has been subjected to an Israeli blockade through land, sea and air."

          The Jews do not want the remnants of a world hermetically sealed from the influence of civilization to radicalize and harm their fellow citizens. We are talking about a populace of which most are mentally trapped in the seventh century. Hamas has offered clear and convincing proofs that it should not receive official recognition of statehood.

          "Through constant polling, you're seeing many Gazans consistently dissatisfied with Hamas' rule in Gaza. But, you know, part of that also has to do with the fact that Israel has, like I said, imposed a blockade, which means that Israel has calibrated the amount of goods that go in and out of Gaza."

          If such dissatisfaction truly exists, then why do leaders of such groups continue to get elected with such overwhelming majorities of votes? Which Middle Eastern countries take kindly to Christians and Jews?

          "There is a lot that you can maybe blame Hamas for, but a substantial part of people's misery is not Hamas."

          That is simply an ignorant and irresponsible thing to say. We are talking about men who rape, steal, torture, and slaughter women and children. We are talking about men who force women to cover even their own faces. It is ultimately up to the people of Gaza to resolve their own problems, if they really want changes to take place in their lives. The ball is in their court. How does one suppose that America as we know it came into being?

Monday, November 6, 2023

Does The Roman Catholic Church Have A Deficient View Of The Gospel?

  • Discussion:
          -This article serves as a rebuttal to a number of claims made by De Maria as to the nature of justification and the role of works in the Christian life. Following are excerpts from the author along with a critique of those assertions: 

          "Will they be saved who do not do good works?"

          This question requires more than a simple yes or no answer. It is also a loaded question because it operates on the disputed assumption that faith and works are necessary for one's justification before God.

          "I don't know. Since the Catholic Church Teaches that we have assurance of salvation, we live a life of joy and peace when we give ourselves to Christ."

          How can a Roman Catholic say that he has assurance of salvation at all when for him the forgiveness of sin is not settled immediately by the single act of Christ at Calvary? It must be confessed to a priest and acts of penance are prescribed to make restitution. This must be done over and over again in a lifetime.

          "What the Catholic Church does not teach is the ABSOLUTE assurance of salvation."

          So, Catholics can have absolute assurance that they do not have absolute assurance of salvation.
          "We don't claim, as the Pharisee did, that we know that we are saved (1 Corinthians 4:3-4)."

          But Roman Catholics do, like the Pharisees of old, rely in part on their good works to get right with God.

          1 Corinthians 4:3-4 does not speak to the issue of assurance of salvation, but to the greatness of one's service to God. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is God's approval. If the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to our account, then we are already fully accepted before God as righteous. That would be a judgment He makes in regard to us, not us in regard to our own standing before Him.

          "First of all, if you judge yourself saved, you judge yourself righteous. Luke 18: The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. 9 He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else..."

          We are not assign any status to ourselves, but accept in humility what God has given us. The message of Luke 18:9-14 has been turned right on its own head. It condemns people who trust in their works to have a righteous standing before God. That would include things like going to church, baptism, confessing sins to a priest, partaking in communion, praying to saints, not committing evil actions, and a host of other things people do.

          "2. But if you say, "I am saved because of the righteousness of Christ which He has credited to me." Scripture doesn't say any such thing. If you are not truly righteous, God will condemn you. God does not acquit the wicked (Proverbs 17:15; Galatians 6:7)."

          Romans 3:21-22 speaks of the righteousness of God being received on the basis of faith. Faith is not said to be His righteousness but is what brings us to it. Romans 4:6-11 speaks of righteousness being credited to us, but not faith as being that righteousness. God gives us a righteous standing in Christ through faith. We no longer live wickedly by the power of His grace.

          "That's another error passed on by Luther. God forgives sins."

          It is not an error to say that God is perfect and condemns sinners. Paul himself said, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

          "Jesus Christ died for the sins of all men. But, only those who amend their lives and live in accordance to His instructions, will be saved (Hebrews 5:9)."

          God initiates this transformative process of sanctification and brings it to completion.

          "But God will not pour out His grace on those who do not obey His will."

          The heart of the problem with Roman Catholicism is that it offers people an inadequate gospel message. It is always the work of Christ plus something else. It is the work of Christ plus my own works, the merits of Mary and the saints, etc. Christ alone is not sufficient.

          "Again, that [John 6:29] doesn't mean what you think it means. That doesn't say, "If you claim to believe in Jesus Christ, you will be saved. Scripture is clear that those who do not do the righteous works of God, will be condemned to eternal punishment."

          That is a straw man argument. John R. Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible has this excerpt on John 6:29:

          "For the plural ’works,’ i.e. a multitude of supposed meritorious acts, Jesus substitutes one single work, faith in Himself. Faith in Jesus is called a ’work,’ because it is a definite act of the will. It is the one work required, because it is the solemn dedication of the whole life to God, and virtually includes in itself all other works, and renders them acceptable."

          That is the kind of faith which is acceptable to God. No one even suggested that a person can be saved by an empty profession of faith.

          Roman Catholic apologists cite passages such as Romans 2:6-13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 2 Corinthians 5:10, and Galatians 6:7 as evidence against the doctrine of justification by faith alone because they bring up the doing of good works or God punishing people for failure to do so. However, these kinds of objections miss the point. The dispute is not about whether good works should be done, but the relationship faith and works have with each other. Further, those texts merely contrast the different lifestyles of believers and nonbelievers. It describes the separate eternal fates that both will experience. They do not say that good works can merit justification before God.

          "And where do you get this Blood? We get it in the Holy Eucharist when we attend the Mass. You reject this Sacrament."

          Christians get the blood of Christ applied to them daily by faith in their Messiah. Theophagy is actually a pagan concept.

          "On the contrary, those who claim salvation by faith alone give themselves credit for salvation. Essentially, judging themselves saved in the exclusion of God's judgment."

          If justification is a gift of God to be received on the basis of faith to the exclusion of good works, then the recipient has nothing to boast about. It is for Him to give and us to receive. If justification is to be earned even in part by good works, then God would be a debtor to man. This only goes to illustrate that Roman Catholicism preaches a man-centered gospel.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

An Exegetical Analysis Of Psalm 19

          "The heavens tell of the glory of God; And their expanse declares the work of His hands." (Psalm 19:1)

          In this text, we see that King David, the Psalmist, has deeply pondered the works of God. As a result of this contemplation, his soul is moved deeply. David is in awe at creation, whether it be the skies, sea, or the land. God has disclosed Himself through the created order of things. Paul said as much in Romans 1:20.

          "Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge." (Psalm 19:2)

          Creation is personified as it continually makes known to us the presence of God. It bears the majestic imprints of His authorship. Creation flows with the beauty of His craftsmanship. Nature itself bears witness to the fact that it has an intelligent designer. Nature reveals to us that it has a rational first cause. 

          "There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard." (Psalm 19:3)

          The glory of God is universal. It exists everywhere and involves every one of us. The glory of God fills the earth absolutely. The witness of creation transcends even barriers of human language. It speaks volumes to us without using words. 

          "Their line has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." (Psalm 19:4)

          David says that the witness of the heavens to the glory of God extents to every part of this earth. It is therefore incumbent on all men to worship the living God. 

          The Apostle Paul gives this verse a broader application in Romans 10:18 in which the gospel is to be received by all men. Nature indicates to us that God exists. The gospel provides a description of what God is like.

          "Which is like a groom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices like a strong person to run his course." (Psalm 19:5)

         The sun is likened to a bridegroom raising from his resting place, one who displays strength and confidence.

          "Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat." (Psalm 19:6)

          The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. It is used by David as an illustration of God's creative power. He has in mind the scorching heat of the ecosystem in which he lives.

          "The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." (Psalm 19:7)

          King David changes his focus from natural revelation to special revelation. The word "perfect" here has the meaning of blamelessness or freedom from fault. David sees the Law as having a restorative effect on our souls and imparting wisdom to those who lack it.

          "The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes." (Psalm 19:8)

          David takes joy in obeying the laws of God. It is within the framework of His divine revelation that we are to base our doctrine and morals.

          "The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether." (Psalm 19:9)

          The Law was meant to instill in the Jewish people a proper sense of respect and devotion to God. Note the various words used to describe the Law in this context: perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true. Just as God is holy, so are His commandments.

          "They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much pure gold; Sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb." (Psalm 19:10)

          David's words are precisely what one would expect of any ardent Jew. He praised the value of God's Word as being without measure. It is better than what the best of life has to offer.

          In regards to the meaning of the phrase "sweeter than honey," C.S. Lewis notes:

          "...The temptation was to tum to those terrible rites in times of terror-when, for example, the Assyrians were pressing on. We who not so long ago waited daily for invasion by enemies, like the Assyrians, skilled and constant in systematic cruelty, know how they may have felt. They were tempted, since the Lord seemed deaf, to try those appalling deities who demanded so much more and might therefore perhaps give more in return. But when a Jew in some happier hour, or a better Jew even in that hour, looked at those worships-when he thought of sacred prostitution, sacred sodomy, and the babies thrown into the fire for Moloch-his own "Law" as he turned back to it must have shone with an extraordinary radiance. Sweeter than honey; or if that metaphor does not suit us who have not such a sweet tooth as all ancient peoples (partly because we have plenty of sugar), let us say like mountain water, like fresh air after a dungeon, like sanity after a nightmare. But, once again, the best image is in a Psalm, the 19th." (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 62-63)

          "Moreover, your servant is warned by them; In keeping them there is great reward." (Psalm 19:11)

          The Law instructs people in the way that they should be. It serves as a corrective standard to wrong behavior. Adherence to the Word of God results in the gaining of the knowledge of divinely revealed spiritual truths.

          "Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults." (Psalm 19:12)

          The kind of righteousness that we should be striving for is not an outward appearance that impresses other people. It is an inward kind that stems from the heart as a result of having been changed by grace.

          "Also keep Your servant back from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be innocent, and I will be blameless of great wrongdoing." (Psalm 19:13)

          David confessed his sins to God. He did not self-righteously try to hide them. He did not want any kind of sin to be in his life, either privately or publicly. He despised the ways of an evildoer.

          "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14)

          Our prayer to God should be that He keeps us from sinning. We ought to be pleasing to Him. God is our strength against temptation. He is our strength against earthly enemies. Compare the reference to a redeemer in this verse to Job 19:25.

Divine Justice And The Christian Worldview

"It [the Jewish point of view] supplements the Christian picture in one important way. For what alarms us in the Christian picture is the infinite purity of the standard against which our actions will be judged. But then we know that none of us will ever come up that standard. We are all in the same boat. We must all pin our hopes on the mercy of God and the work of Christ, not on our own goodness. Now the Jewish picture of civil action sharply reminds us that perhaps we are faulty not only by the Divine standard but also by a very human standard which all reasonable people admit and which we ourselves usually wish to enforce upon others. Almost certainly there are unsatisfied claims, human claims, against each one of us. For who can really believe that in all his dealings with employers and employees, with husband or wife, with parents and children, in quarrels and in collaborations, he has always attained (let alone charity or generosity) mere honesty and fairness? Of course we forget most of the injuries we have done. But the injured parties do not forget even if they forgive. And God does not forget. And even what we can remember is formidable enough."

C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, p. 13

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Thankfulness To God When Destitute

The rainy season of the autumnal equinox was now come, and I kept the 30th of September in the same solemn manner as before, being the anniversary of my landing on the island, having now been there two years, and no more prospect of being delivered than the first day I came there, I spent the whole day in humble and thankful acknowledgments of the many wonderful mercies which my solitary condition was attended with, and without which it might have been infinitely more miserable. I gave humble and hearty thanks that God had been pleased to discover to me that it was possible I might be more happy in this solitary condition than I should have been in the liberty of society, and in all the pleasures of the world; that He could fully make up to me the deficiencies of my solitary state, and the want of human society, by His presence and the communications of His grace to my soul; supporting, comforting, and encouraging me to depend upon His providence here, and hope for His eternal presence hereafter. It was now that I began sensibly to feel how much more happy this life I now led was, with all its miserable circumstances, than the wicked, cursed, abominable life I led all the past part of my days; and now I changed both my sorrows and my joys; my very desires altered, my affections changed their gusts, and my delights were perfectly new from what they were at my first coming, or, indeed, for the two years past.

Before, as I walked about, either on my hunting or for viewing the country, the anguish of my soul at my condition would break out upon me on a sudden, and my very heart would die within me, to think of the woods, the mountains, the deserts I was in, and how I was a prisoner, locked up with the eternal bars and bolts of the ocean, in an uninhabited wilderness, without redemption. In the midst of the greatest composure of my mind, this would break out upon me like a storm, and make me wring my hands and weep like a child. Sometimes it would take me in the middle of my work, and I would immediately sit down and sigh, and look upon the ground for an hour or two together; and this was still worse to me, for if I could burst out into tears, or vent myself by words, it would go off, and the grief, having exhausted itself, would abate.

But now I began to exercise myself with new thoughts: I daily read the word of God, and applied all the comforts of it to my present state. One morning, being very sad, I opened the Bible upon these words, ‘I will never, never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ Immediately it occurred that these words were to me; why else should they be directed in such a manner, just at the moment when I was mourning over my condition, as one forsaken of God and man? ‘Well, then,’ said I, ‘if God does not forsake me, of what ill consequence can it be, or what matters it, though the world should all forsake me, seeing on the other hand, if I had all the world, and should lose the favour and blessing of God, there would be no comparison in the loss?’

From this moment I began to conclude in my mind that it was possible for me to be more happy in this forsaken, solitary condition than it was probable I should ever have been in any other particular state in the world; and with this thought I was going to give thanks to God for bringing me to this place. I know not what it was, but something shocked my mind at that thought, and I durst not speak the words. ‘How canst thou become such a hypocrite,’ said I, even audibly, ‘to pretend to be thankful for a condition which, however thou mayest endeavour to be contented with, thou wouldst rather pray heartily to be delivered from?’ So I stopped there; but though I could not say I thanked God for being there, yet I sincerely gave thanks to God for opening my eyes, by whatever afflicting providences, to see the former condition of my life, and to mourn for my wickedness, and repent. I never opened the Bible, or shut it, but my very soul within me blessed God for directing my friend in England, without any order of mine, to pack it up among my goods, and for assisting me afterwards to save it out of the wreck of the ship.

Thus, and in this disposition of mind, I began my third year; and though I have not given the reader the trouble of so particular an account of my works this year as the first, yet in general it may be observed that I was very seldom idle, but having regularly divided my time according to the several daily employments that were before me, such as: first, my duty to God, and the reading the Scriptures, which I constantly set apart some time for thrice every day; secondly, the going abroad with my gun for food, which generally took me up three hours in every morning, when it did not rain; thirdly, the ordering, cutting, preserving, and cooking what I had killed or caught for my supply; these took up great part of the day. Also, it is to be considered, that in the middle of the day, when the sun was in the zenith, the violence of the heat was too great to stir out; so that about four hours in the evening was all the time I could be supposed to work in, with this exception, that sometimes I changed my hours of hunting and working, and went to work in the morning, and abroad with my gun in the afternoon.

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, p. 111-113

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Divine Providence In Hard Circumstances

And this put me in mind that I wanted many things notwithstanding all that I had amassed together; and of these, ink was one; as also a spade, pickaxe, and shovel, to dig or remove the earth; needles, pins, and thread; as for linen, I soon learned to want that without much difficulty.

This want of tools made every work I did go on heavily; and it was near a whole year before I had entirely finished my little pale, or surrounded my habitation. The piles, or stakes, which were as heavy as I could well lift, were a long time in cutting and preparing in the woods, and more, by far, in bringing home; so that I spent sometimes two days in cutting and bringing home one of those posts, and a third day in driving it into the ground; for which purpose I got a heavy piece of wood at first, but at last bethought myself of one of the iron crows; which, however, though I found it, made driving those posts or piles very laborious and tedious work. But what need I have been concerned at the tediousness of anything I had to do, seeing I had time enough to do it in? nor had I any other employment, if that had been over, at least that I could foresee, except the ranging the island to seek for food, which I did, more or less, every day.

I now began to consider seriously my condition, and the circumstances I was reduced to; and I drew up the state of my affairs in writing, not so much to leave them to any that were to come after me - for I was likely to have but few heirs - as to deliver my thoughts from daily poring over them, and afflicting my mind; and as my reason began now to master my despondency, I began to comfort myself as well as I could, and to set the good against the evil, that I might have something to distinguish my case from worse; and I stated very impartially, like debtor and creditor, the comforts I enjoyed against the miseries I suffered, thus:-

Evil: I am cast upon a horrible, desolate island, void of all hope of recovery.

Good: But I am alive; and not drowned, as all my ship's company were.

Evil: I am singled out and separated, as it were, from all the world, to be miserable.

Good: But I am singled out, too, from all the ship's crew, to be spared from death; and He that miraculously saved me from death can deliver me from this condition.

Evil: I am divided from mankind - a solitaire; one banished from human society.

Good: But I am not starved, and perishing on a barren place, affording no sustenance.

Evil: I have no clothes to cover me.

Good: But I am in a hot climate, where, if I had clothes, I could hardly wear them.

Evil: I am without any defence, or means to resist any violence of man or beast.

Good: But I am cast on an island where I see no wild beasts to hurt me, as I saw on the coast of Africa; and what if I had been shipwrecked there?

Evil: I have no soul to speak to or relieve me.

Good: But God wonderfully sent the ship in near enough to the shore, that I have got out as many necessary things as will either supply my wants or enable me to supply myself, even as long as I live.

Upon the whole, here was an undoubted testimony that there was scarce any condition in the world so miserable but there was something negative or something positive to be thankful for in it; and let this stand as a direction from the experience of the most miserable of all conditions in this world: that we may always find in it something to comfort ourselves from, and to set, in the description of good and evil, on the credit side of the account.

Having now brought my mind a little to relish my condition, and given over looking out to sea, to see if I could spy a ship - I say, giving over these things, I begun to apply myself to arrange my way of living, and to make things as easy to me as I could.

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, p. 64-67

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Who Are The Seven Angels Of The Seven Churches?

          "As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (Revelation 1:20)

          The Book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature, which means that it contains many highly symbolic elements. This is distinct from historical narrative in that most of the details are to be taken literally. The author expresses himself in a way similar to Old Testament writers such as Daniel and Ezekiel. John wrote to the people of Asia Minor in regard to how God was at work in their day and also how He will work to bring things to a glorious end. Chapters two and three of Revelation contain words of Jesus commending the good deeds of the seven churches as well as Him reproving their error, calling them to repentance.

          The passage is unclear as to who precisely the seven “angels” of the seven churches are. Some believe them to be angels appointed by God to act on behalf of the churches. This view would be comparable to what we see in Daniel in which angels represent nations (Daniel 10:13-21). Another point of view in regard to the seven angels is that they are messengers who delivered John's scroll to the churches to be read. That pattern of behavior is not without precedent in Jewish history (1 Maccabees 1:44). A third interpretation as to the identity of the seven angels is that they are bishops, but it would not be wise to put much weight on a debatable text like this one in the context of episcopal development.

          The first view outlined in the previous paragraph seems to more reasonably fit the context of Revelation 1:20 than others. In Revelation, the term "angel" is always a reference to heavenly beings rather than human messengers. That term has the same meaning elsewhere in apocalyptic literature. Angels were portrayed as stars (Isaiah 24:21; 2 Baruch 51:7-11). This may mean that God has given the responsibility of churches to angels, although we cannot speak dogmatically. We know that there is a time in which believers will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:2-3). The church has been commissioned by God to provide witness for Jesus.

          Even if the seven angels in Revelation 1:20 were a reference to bishops, the New Testament does not demand a specific structure of leadership in the church. In other words, while churches are seen to be governed by pluralities of elders (Acts 14:23), this idea is not applied in a strict or exhaustive manner. Consequently, there are acceptable differences in how church government can be arranged. A church could temporarily assign a role of first among equals to one elder for the sake of convenience in resolving matters. That in and of itself is not a problem.