Monday, December 13, 2010

New Book

I picked up a copy of The Greatness of the Kingdom by Alva McClain. It was recommended by a friend I met through this blog. I couldn't sleep last night, so I finished Part 1, which sounds better than "I read the first 36 pages".

It's really a very interesting book, all about the Kingdom of God. I won't recommend it yet, having only read about 36 pages; but I'm really very excited about this book.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Try Harder (Reprise)

I ranted a while ago about "try harder theology". Yeah, it was a rant. I'd like to say it was a reasoned discussion, but it was written in the wee hours of the morning and I just sort of opened the flood gates and let it pour out.

There is some value to revisiting the whole topic: there is a lot more to be said. So let's start with a recap:
Romans 1–8 contains two general sections. The first, from chapter 1:18 through about chapter 5:8 is the discussion of justification. Justification is God's declaring a sinner to be righteous. This is demonstrated in Romans 4:5. God justifies the ungodly. It is the sinner who believes who is justified, not the one who works. Justification doesn't imply that we become righteous, but that God declares us to be so.

But discussion takes a sharp turn somewhere about Romans 5:9, where Paul begins a new argument. The central word from Romans 1:18 to Romans 5:8 is "justified". But in Romans 5:9, there is a new word, "saved". The argument from Romans 1:18 to Romans 5:8 was justification; starting in Romans 5:9 the subject is salvation.

From Romans 1:18 to about Romans 5:8, the argument was what we term a "forensic" argument. Men are guilty of sins, actual acts of rebellion. But in Romans 5:12 we turn from sins to sin. And in the second part of Romans 5 we learn not only have all men sinned, but all men are sinners. This is actually a different lesson. Romans 1:18–3:19 tell us what men have done. Romans 5 tells us why they did it.

Romans 6 gives us the solution to the ontological problem, just like Romans 4 gave us the solution to the forensic problem. Those who have been baptized into Christ, the argument goes, have been baptized into His death. Having been crucified with Christ, we are now dead to sin. So we are justified from sins and we are dead to sin.

Romans 7 gives us some practical consequences to Romans 6. Having died to sin, are we then transported into instant perfection? No, we are not. Sin dwells in us, in our flesh (Romans 7:18). So now we are introduced to a new word: "flesh". And we learn that there is an active force of sin that pulls us down. This is not merely bad habits: this is an active indwelling sin that lives in our bodies and drags us into sin. So Paul talks about wanting to do what he can't do, and not wanting to do what he does. And he concludes that there is a principle in his members that is distinct from himself.

The last few verses give us a remarkable truth: that the sin that dwells in us is stronger than we are. We can't overcome it, we can't be better. There is no amelioration: we need a Deliverer. We need Someone outside of ourselves to deliver us from the flesh inside.

And notice the Scripture specifically tells us Law doesn't help. Law only exacerbates the problem. We see the Law and delight in its perfection, but when we try to keep it, we find ourselves even worse off than before. The Law is good, but I am not.

My rant last time focused on the futility of overcoming the flesh by trying harder. And I (correctly) noted a specific example of someone teaching people to do the very thing Scripture says won't work. But there is more.

Romans 7 presupposes that there is a new creation. A sinner feels no internal conflict with the flesh: there is nothing for the flesh to fight against. And this is the part of Romans 7 that gets confusing. It's not that the Law is bad. In fact, the man in Romans 7 proves his regeneration by delighting in the Law. But when he tries to keep it, he finds himself worse off. The man in Romans 7 is a new creature in the old creature's body: this is the essential problem. The negative consequence is that futility of that man trying to improve himself.

But there is a positive truth too. If the new creature is in the old creature's body, that certainly proves there is a new creature. This is the fatal flaw in the passive approach that many try to take. It is absolutely true that God never intended us to duke it out with sin. It is absolutely true that we are powerless over the flesh in us. But that is not the whole truth.

The equal and opposite truth is that we are new creations. Yes, we encounter obstacles we cannot overcome, and the plain teaching of Scripture is that we ought not to try. But the Scripture is equally plain that there is a life that is to be lived. And so the new man is taught to yield his members as instruments of righteousness. Note we aren't to bludgeon them into being instruments of righteousness, we're to yield them.

But the point is that we are to live out eternal life, and it's not passive.

A friend many years ago told me, "There's a ditch on both sides of the road". It's all too easy to step into the ditch on the right trying not to fall into the one on the left.

There are two dangers here. The first is to ignore the ontological changes in Romans 6 and the warnings of Romans 7 and teach sanctification by Law. This is the error of the Galatians: to think that we can be justified by faith but perfected by works. And so there are millions of true believers who keep trying harder, but they eventually conclude they're not trying hard enough. But the Scripture teaches there's no such thing as "hard enough". It just doesn't work that way.

But the opposite danger is just as real. This is the danger of becoming fixated on the flesh in us, realize we need a Deliverer, and slide into a complete passivism. I've known many who've fallen into this, and it leads to what another friend dubbed "Christian Buddhism", where the believer strives for a state of nothingness. This is the error of those who teach "dying to self" as the solution.

The first error ignores what the Scripture says about the flesh, the second ignores what it says about the new creation.

The fact is, the Scripture doesn't teach a life of nothingness, but it does teach the futility of human effort in sanctification. So Scripture doesn't teach a passive life, but it does teach an effortless one. We are called to eternal life, and we're to live it out down here, in a wicked world, in sinful bodies. But we live it not through will-power or human effort; we live it through faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). Christ Jesus is our life, our sanctification, our holiness, our wisdom, and our righteousness (Colossians 3:4, 1 Corinthians 1:30). We've not been saved to be autonomously good, but we've not been saved to sit here either. We've been called to look into His eyes and take a step at a time.

16 But I say, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall no way fulfil flesh’s lust.
17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these things are opposed one to the other, that ye should not do those things which ye desire;
18 but if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under law.
(Galatians 5:16–18, JND)

I used to think "walking in the Spirit" a very deep and mysterious thing. I don't think that now. I think what the Scripture terms "walking in the Spirit" is simply the deliberate act of submission to Christ. It's not that we try harder, it's that we bow to Him and let Him lead us. When we come up against the flesh, we look to Him to deliver us. And we take each step relying on the Lord to be our provision.

I've been overwhelmed by the last verse of 2 Corinthians 3:

But *we* all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 3:18, JND)

What is the secret to the Christian life? It's the transforming effect of looking on the glory of the Lord. Looking doesn't require a lot of effort, but it's a definite and distinct activity. And as we gaze on Him, we are told, we are transformed into the same glory.

He that boasts, let him boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31, JND)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Try harder!

I listen to a lot of sermons at work: my job is sometimes heavily interactive, but there are a lot of days where I am working alone more or less all day. I wear headphones to sort of announce my desire not to be disturbed, and I frequently spend a whole work day listening to sermons as I work. By far I listen to MP3s from the most.

I've noticed a real rise in "try harder theology" in the messages I've been listening to. What do I mean by "try-harder theology?" I mean that line of teaching that would tell us that a holy life is the result of will power and effort. I suppose we might use terms like "law" or "legalism" too. I refer to it as "try harder" theology, because it seems we always need to try a little harder. That's because it fundamentally doesn't work: you can't actually try hard enough.

People who teach this sort of thing like to offer advice that should work, but it doesn't. They'd tell us what we need to do is make covenants, perhaps we need to exercise our will more, or maybe what we really need to do is to fast and pray. But in the end, we find what Paul found:

I find then the law upon *me* who will to practise what is right, that with *me* evil is there.
For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man:
but I see another law in my members, warring in opposition to the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which exists in my members.
(Romans 7:21–23, JND).

There are all sorts of nice theories out there about how we can live more godly lives. And they seem to make a lot of sense, but the Scripture is very clear: there is a law of sin in our members. That law says, when I want to do what is right, evil is right there with me. We can't escape this law as long as our bodies are unredeemed. We are new creatures in Christ, but we live in the old creatures' bodies. And as long as we're in the unredeemed body, the law of sin is there. And the harder we try to do right, the more we find that law of sin working against us.

Law---any law---can't help us. The problem is not that we lack laws, the problem is that the whole purpose of law is to point out what we're not. Law can't make us good, it can just tell us we're not. The Law of Moses is a perfect law---the only perfect law---and it can't make us good. If the perfect law is powerless to make us good, surely any other law is equally powerless.

So when we put ourselves under law---any law---to make us more godly, we find that we merely prove what God has already said: we are not.

This was the error of the Galatians. They began in the spirit, but they thought they could be made perfect in the flesh (Galatians 3:1–3). They thought they could get life through faith, but live it out by works. This is not Christianity, the just shall live by faith. The Colossians were told, "as therefore ye have received the Christ, Jesus the Lord, walk in him" (Colossians 2:6, JND). We are to walk as we received; by faith.

I spent many years trying harder. I memorized my Bible, I fasted, and I prayed. But in the end, I found exactly what Paul found: there is sin in my flesh. As long as I live in an unredeemed body I'll carry sinful flesh around with me. And like Paul, I found not only was it there, but I was powerless over it. I wanted to do what was right, I found myself doing what was wrong. So I assumed I needed to try harder. And I tried very hard, but it was never hard enough.

Paul gives us the answer in Romans 7:24, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of this body of death?" (JND). The problem is not that I need to try harder, the problem is that I need someone to deliver me.

J. N. Darby said it wonderfully:

Nor can you get out of the difficulty until you have come to the personal consciousness, the self-knowledge, which finds out that you cannot get the victory over sin. It is a terrible thing to see; but it is learning this, that I have no power, and not merely that I am guilty. "To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not"; and until you are brought to the conscience of "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?" I cannot succeed; sin is too strong for me; I am not brought to the point, where alone the deliverance is got. I may or may not have the knowledge of forgiveness. This modifies the form, but not the substance, of the experience. It is always essentially under law, that is, a claim upon us to be in a given state. But you say "I must try." "Very well," I say, "Try away, try away." Why? Because then he will learn that he cannot, and presently he will say, not "How shall I do better?" but, "Who shall deliver me?" He is then in such a condition that another must take him out of it. He finds he is not only ungodly, but without strength; he has learned what he is, not merely what he has done; and then he sees Christ there in power, and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes him free from the law of sin and death. This is not a question of non-imputation, nor of cleansing, but of making free. Then I find it settled in seeing the truth and ground of it in the cross of Christ, and not in my personally obtaining of purity at a given moment.
("Cleansing and Deliverance", Collected Writings, Vol. 23)

Read those first two sentences carefully. The problem is not only that we have sin in our flesh, but that we are utterly powerless to overcome it. Until we learn that, Darby says, we will try to be better instead of looking for deliverance.

This is closely related to the teaching of Romans 6, although it's not the same thing. We are crucified with Christ so that we are dead to sin. Not so that we can die to sin, but so that we have died to it. The basis of our deliverance is, we have died to sin. But Romans 7 tells us something more: sin is still there in our flesh. We are new creations, but we live in old bodies.

God never meant for us to duke it out with sin. We've been crucified with Christ to be freed from sin (Romans 6), and we need to be delivered from the sin we find in ourselves (Romans 7). In both cases, it is God's work to rescue us. But "try harder" Christianity takes us from our Deliverer and throws us back into the conflict to fight it out for ourselves. It is foolishness. It is the opposite of faith.

I've been down that road; there's nothing good down there.

A particularly egregious example is a message from the 2005 Shepherding Conference at Greenwood Hills in Pennsylvania, "A Critical Need" (MP3). Here we have a speaker addressing leaders from several "open" assemblies in the USA and Canada. He addresses the problems of moral purity in leadership, focusing mainly on Internet pornography and so forth. It's uncomfortable, but probably necessary. And it's commendable that he speaks openly about it. But around 13 minutes into the talk he presents his "solution"... from Daniel 1:8 and then later from Job 31:1.
Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not pollute himself (Daniel 1:8, JND)

I made a covenant with mine eyes; and how should I fix my regard upon a maid? (Job 31:1, JND)

And then he spends the rest of the message urging the brethren to enter into covenants to avoid this sort of sin.

It is utterly appalling. This brother points out a very real problem, but he offers no solution. His solution is law. I can't repeat it enough, the solution to lawlessness isn't law. That's the whole point of Galatians: the Law was given to demonstrate that we need a Saviour. Once we come to Christ, the Law has done all it can:

But before faith came, we were guarded under law, shut up to faith which was about to be revealed.
So that the law has been our tutor up to Christ, that we might be justified on the principle of faith.
But, faith having come, we are no longer under a tutor;
for ye are all God’s sons by faith in Christ Jesus.
(Galatians 3:23–26, JND)

This is exactly what Romans 7 is talking about: law doesn't actually empower us to live lawfully. Law can tell us we're bad, but it has no ability to make us good. We don't need law, we need deliverance. The problem of lust isn't to be conquered through purpose of heart, strength of will, or a covenant with or eyes (or anything else). What does Romans 7 teach? There is sin in the flesh and you are powerless over it. You can't beat this thing, it's stronger than you are. There is a law of sin in your members and the harder you try to be good, the worse you're going to find you are. And what is the result? The result is we realize we are "wretched" and we look for the Deliverer.

This sermon is putting Christians under law, plain and simple. It is the opposite of the teaching of the New Testament. It is opposite to the faith of the Apostles. The Epistles uniformly present not law nor the power of the will (because really, that's all he's offering in this sermon), but new life in Christ as the power for our walk down here. Christ has been crucified and I have died with Him. He was raised from the dead, and I am to walk in newness of life. I have died with Him: this is fact. I am to act on this fact by reckoning myself to be dead to sin. And when I find that law of sin in my members; when I recognize that I am a new creation in the old creation's body, then I am to look for my Deliverer. That is the teaching of Romans 6 & 7, Galatians 2, Colossians 2 & 3, and Ephesians. The Epistles don't tell us how to deal with this problem, they tell us how Christ has already dealt with it. They don't tell us to make covenants or put ourselves under law: on the contrary, they warn us that these attempts will merely exacerbate the problem.

This sermon offers as a solution the very thing Romans 7 tells us doesn't work. I don't know how I can say it more plainly than that.

And what I'm proposing ought not to be "strange doctrine" to these brothers. It was the settled doctrine of "brethren" from their beginnings in the 1820s until very recently. Darby might have said it best, but it was taught by W. Kelly, C.H. Mackintosh, F.W. Grant, George Mueller, etc. Literally all "brethren" for more than a century held that sanctification is by grace, not law. I am not proposing anything new: I have many books on my shelves more than 100 years old that all insist on the same thing.

Not everything on is bad. Indeed, there is some very good ministry there. In fact, there is a series on Romans by William McRae that's just excellent. And there is a lot of solid stuff by Neil Dougal, John Phillips, and Colin Anderson, as well as many others. But I'm finding "try harder" theology is becoming more and more prevalent there.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Up to this point...

I've been pretty quiet lately, not having a whole lot to say. But I've been thinking a lot, and there are some things I've decided I want to say more or less in "public".

We moved out here (the Northwest) from North Carolina in the summer of 2008, so a little over two years ago. When we arrived here we had no idea what sort of church/assembly fellowship we'd find. I had become somewhat bitter and disillusioned about "brethren", and I was not very interested in getting involved in that sort of thing again... but I found to my dismay that the pickings are kind of slim as far as Christian fellowship is concerned. I don't see a lot of point to attending a gathering where the Lord's Supper isn't done weekly, which limits the selection significantly. There are any number of liturgical gatherings, but I found they quickly deteriorated into superstition and sacerdotalism. We did find some wonderful Christians in different places, but I found myself more and more chafing wherever we went.

We tried sitting at home on Sundays, but that's a recipe for disaster. Everyone I've known who's gone down that path ends up regretting it. And it wasn't too long before I realized that was a really bad idea. I'm not telling anyone else what to do, but I just found there is a difference between the sort of rugged dependence on God that Paul teaches in Galatians 1 & 2 and isolationism. Yes, there is a sense where we need to be independent (really "directly dependent" is a better term); but I can't reconcile "isolated" with Scripture. So we set out to find Christians with whom to remember the Lord.

We spent a few months in a PCA church, which was on the whole very positive. Actually, I have a high opinion of the small PCA church we visited. There were certainly points of disagreement, but I was very pleased with that bunch.

But I finally realized that my earlier claims about believing the "brethren" line were true. When I look in Scripture I see something very much along the lines of what "exclusive brethren" teach: I just couldn't find anyone doing it.

We eventually settled into an "open brethren" assembly an hour away. We spent almost exactly a year there: the first day we visited was Easter 2009, the last time we were there was Easter 2010. So not really a year, but a liturgical year.

Then the week after Easter 2010 I met a guy at work from an assembly in Tacoma, and I went to visit that next Sunday. It turns out a friend of mine from back east knows these people and spoke very highly of them, so that was a very positive sign to us. We spent a couple months scoping them out and finally decided we just needed to settle in. So we've been breaking bread there since sometime in the summer.

I'm not going to say too much about the Tacoma assembly here: it's full of people who've got the flesh in them. Some of what is said there is nonsense, some is really helpful. But when I look around and talk to the people, I see people who are genuinely trying to walk with the Lord.

One friend described it this way: "You've heard of 'tight-open' brethren, well we're 'loose-closed' brethren." I think that's a good description. And frankly when I look back on my blog, I realize that's what I've been groping towards. I'm still convinced "exclusive brethren" teach what Scripture teaches, and I've been wanting to find people with whom to practice it.

So at least that part of the story has had a happy ending.

But we did spend that year with "open brethren", and there are some comments I'd like to make about that. I won't put them here, I just wanted to give a prologue to the next post(s). I'm deeply troubled by a good deal of what I've seen and heard in "open brethren" over the last several years; but I'm concerned about how I express them. Here be dragons.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I've been thinking about the issue of "God's Sovereignty" and "Human Responsibility". And the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that these two incongruous-seeming principles unite in a single Person.

The Lord Jesus came out from God to man: He stands before us as God's provision for a sick and sinful world. He represents to us God's sovereignty.
and the life has been manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and report to you the eternal life, which was with the Father, and has been manifested to us (1 John 1:2, Darby)

Christ is the summation of all men can possibly want in God
Jesus says to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father unless by me. (John 14:6, Darby)

Christ Jesus, who has been made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and holiness, and redemption; that according as it is written, He that boasts, let him boast in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:30 & 31, Darby)

But there's the other side too: Christ stands before God as a Man, as the Man. He is all God could ever look for in a Man, and He stands as the Responsible Man
I have glorified *thee* on the earth, I have completed the work which thou gavest me that I should do it (John 17:4, Darby)

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying, *This* is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight: hear him. (Matthew 17:5, Darby)

I tried to speak about this in the assembly a couple weeks ago, and I think everyone thought I was babbling incoherently. Maybe I was.

Job longed for Someone who could stand as a mediator between God and himself,
For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him; that we should come together in judgment. There is not an umpire between us, who should lay his hand upon us both... Oh that there were arbitration for a man with +God, as a son of man for his friend! (Job 9:33, 34; 16:21, Darby)

What Job longed for---what we all need---is Someone who can relate to us and at the same time relate to God. Paul gives us the answer,
For God is one, and the mediator of God and men one, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, the testimony to be rendered in its own times; (1 Timothy 2:5 & 6, Darby)

There is one Person---exactly one---who can stand for man with God, and stand for God with men.

The Lord Jesus, we are told, is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1). He is the brightness of God's glory (Hebrews 1). We cannot see God, but God has pointed to Christ and said, "If you want to know what I am like, look at Him!" He is the complete revelation of God, the God who used to speak through the prophets but has now spoken in the Son.

And at the same time, He is the One who can stand before God and say, "There is nothing you can look for in man that I am not. No demand, however exacting, can be made that I have not already fulfilled."

And this one Person is right now sitting at God's right hand, representing my interests in Heaven. It boggles the mind, but it ought to encourage the heart.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I'm still soldiering through Ezekiel, trying to get a handle on this book. I've nothing spectacular to report, but I wanted to give an update in case anyone else cares.

I've been pretty meticulous about not consulting any sort of commentary; I figure the time for that is later. I did glance at one paragraph in JND's Synopsis, but I can't remember why. I've spent a lot of time reading and re-reading the book and mulling over what I've read.

I can't help but notice the opening scene is somewhat repeated three times (chapters 3, 8--10, and 43). The appearance of the glory of the Lord "as at Chebar" seems to mark out sections in the book:

  1. after the first vision at Chebar (chapters 1--3), the rules of the watchman are given (chapter 3)

  2. after the second vision (chapter 3), prophecies are given against Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem

  3. the third vision (chapters 8--11) is while the glory of the Lord leaves the Temple in Jerusalem; after that comes the bulk of the book, chapters 12--42

  4. the fourth and final vision (chapter 43) takes Ezekiel into the new Temple

My amillenialist and postmillenialist friends will note I'm confident a great deal of the prophecies in Ezekiel refer to the return under Zerubbabel. My premillenialist friends will be glad to hear that there are significant chunks of Ezekiel that clearly refer to a future kingdom with Ephraim and Judah once more united in the land.

I've noticed that Ezekiel's prophecies to the Gentiles (Ammon, Edom, Egypt, Moab, Tyre, etc.) all occur between the third and fourth visions of the glory: after it leaves the Temple and before it returns. Prior to the glory of the Lord abandoning the temple in Jerusalem (chapters 8--11), all of Ezekiel's prophecies are to Israel (i.e. Israel, Judah, Jerusalem and the exiles in Babylon). Once the glory returns in chapter 43, his attention returns to Israel. But in the middle of the book, where the glory is gone, he prophecies to Gentiles as well as Israel.

I've written a lot of notes on my computer, and the first 15 or so chapters are heavily underlined in my main study Bible. There's a lot in this book, and I'm really still scratching at the surface, trying to make the smallest dent in it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Strength of God

I've been wrestling with Ezekiel for the last couple weeks. I really want to get a grasp on Ezekiel: it's one book I've always found interesting and exceedingly puzzling.

Monday, May 17, 2010

En fin

I'm cautiously optimistic the quest has come to an end. Now for the hard work.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Tabernacle at Gibeon

And the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn; but, inasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; but the genealogy is not registered according to the birthright, for Judah prevailed among his brethren, and of him was the prince, but the birthright was Joseph’s)
(1 Chronicles 5:1--2)

There is some significance to the inter-relationships between the tribes of Israel in the Old Testament. The first couple verses of 1 Chronicles 5 give us a glimpse into these relationships. We're told that Reuben forfeited his birthright to Joseph by dishonouring his father; but that the Prince is to come from Judah. And we recall that Joseph's younger son, Ephraim, actually received the inheritance in preference to Manasseh, according to Jacob's blessing in Genesis 48:18--20.

We see Ephraim and Judah begin to distinguish themselves in the Exodus: it was Caleb (from Judah) and Joshua (from Ephraim) who brought back the good report from the land at Kadesh-Barnea. And as a result, those two were allowed to enter the land after 40 years.

As an aside, it's noteworthy that the Levites were apparently exempted from that ban. Eleazar was certainly of age at Kadesh-Barnea: he had been ordained as a priest at Horeb. But Eleazar entered the land as high priest, in place of his father Aaron. It is significant that Levi sent no spy into the land at Kadesh-Barnea, and were in fact excluded from the numbering of the Israelites at Horeb. Ada Habershon sees their exemption at Horeb as being the reason they're not under the ban on entering the land. I think Numbers 14:29 lends credence to this notion:
In this wilderness shall your carcases fall; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number from twenty years old and upwards, who have murmured against me

When the people came into the land, they came in under Joshua (the spy from Ephraim). Initially the Tabernacle was set up in Gilgal, but once the land was divided it was settled in Shiloh, which is in Ephraim (Joshua 18:1). Shiloh was the location of the Tabernacle until Eli, when the Ark was taken by the Philistines.

Here it gets a little murky. The Ark was taken under Eli, and when the Philistines returned it, it ended up in the house of Abinadab. 1 Samuel says it was there 20 years, and David went to Abinadab to get it. So it must have been during Saul's time that it went to Kirjath-jearim.

The Scripture asserts several times that the Tabernacle was in Gibeon in David's time, and it was still there when Solomon ascended the throne.
And the tabernacle of Jehovah, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt-offering, were at that time in the high place at Gibeon.
(1 Chronicles 21:29--30)

So David brought the Ark from Kirjath-jearim to Jerusalem while the Tabernacle was in Gibeon.

The Scripture tells us a few things about Gibeon:

  • Joshua made peace with the Gibeonites when they deceived him about their origin. As a result, Gibeon wasn't conquered by the Israelites (Joshua 9).

  • Gibeon was one of the "great cities" in Canaan (Joshua 10:2).

  • Gibeon was one of the priests' cities in Benjamin (Joshua 21:17)

  • In David's time, the Gibeonites were still identifiably Amorites (2 Samuel 21:2).

  • Gibeon was where "the great high place" was (1 Kings 3:4).

So the Tabernacle went from Gilgal to Shiloh, (to Nob?), to Gibeon; and the Ark went from Gilgal to Shiloh, to Kirjath-jearim, to Jerusalem.

Psalm 78 gives us the Divine commentary on this:

And he forsook the tabernacle at Shiloh, the tent where he had dwelt among men...
And he rejected the tent of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim,
But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved;
And he built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth which he hath founded for ever.
(Psalm 78:60, 67--69)

According to Psalm 78, the Lord "forsook the tabernacle at Shiloh". The Ark then leaves Ephraim and goes to Kirjath-jearim, in Judah. But the Tabernacle takes a different route: it goes to Gibeon in Benjamin and stays there.

We notice too that the leadership of Israel transitions from Ephraim to Judah, by way of Saul, a Benjamite. So where the Ark is moved from Shiloh to Kirjath-jearim, the Tabernacle follows the king and goes to Gibeon.

And in Gibeon, the Tabernacle (without the Ark) is apparently set up in the "great high place," and the priests continue the ceremonial order there, without the Ark:
And Zadok the priest, and his brethren the priests, before the tabernacle of Jehovah in the high place that was at Gibeon, to offer up burnt-offerings to Jehovah on the altar of burnt-offering continually, morning and evening, and according to all that is written in the law of Jehovah, which he commanded Israel;
(1 Chronicles 16:39--40)

And, in fact, when Solomon took the throne, he went to Gibeon to sacrifice at the high place in Gibeon:
and Solomon, and all the congregation with him, went to the high place at Gibeon; for there was God’s tent of meeting which Moses the servant of Jehovah had made in the wilderness. But the ark of God had David brought up from Kirjath-jearim to the place that David had prepared for it; for he had spread a tent for it at Jerusalem. And the brazen altar that Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, had made, was there before the tabernacle of Jehovah; and Solomon and the congregation sought unto it. And Solomon offered there upon the brazen altar before Jehovah which was at the tent of meeting; and he offered up a thousand burnt-offerings upon it.
(2 Chronicles 1:3--6)

The account in 1 Kings is a little different: it seems to indicate Solomon was actually practicing idolatry when he went to Gibeon:
Only, the people sacrificed on the high places; for there was no house built to the name of Jehovah, until those days. And Solomon loved Jehovah, walking in the statutes of David his father; only, he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there; for that was the great high place: a thousand burnt-offerings did Solomon offer up upon that altar.
(1 Kings 3:2--4)

So what can we learn from all this history? I suppose we can start by noticing that there is a difference between where the Ark is, and where the Tabernacle is. The Ark was where God's presence was: it was at the Ark that the blood was presented on the Day of Atonement; it was at the Ark that God promised to meet the people (Exodus 25:22). But when the Ark was in Jerusalem, the people went to Gibeon to meet God.

And we might notice that the priests continued to preform the religious ceremonies the Law prescribed when the Tabernacle was in Gibeon, and the Ark was in Jerusalem. So the priests were apparently quite content to continue in their ceremonial duties, even when God's presence was actually gone.

And if we carry this notion of the Ark representing God's presence while the Tabernacle represented the outward observances of religion, we notice that the outward religion followed the political power and settled in Benjamin when a Benjamite was on the throne. But the Ark wasn't there. The Ark was already in Judah, in Kirjath-jearim.

According to Psalm 78, it was actually the Tabernacle that God forsook when the Ark left Shiloh. There was still a religion connected with that Tabernacle, but the Ark itself had left. The Ark and the religious ceremonies weren't reunited until Solomon dedicated the new Temple in Jerusalem.

Perhaps the most chilling feature of the separation of the Ark and the Tabernacle was, that the Tabernacle became mixed up with pagan worship. Without the Ark, the Tabernacle was moved to Gibeon, one of the great Amorite cities; and not only was it a great city of the Amorites, it was the one city with which the Israelites had formed a treaty. Gibeon hadn't ever been conquered: it was the one city which had made peace with Joshua. And in Gibeon, the Tabernacle was set up in "the great high place". And 2 Kings explicitly tells us that the people worshipped the Lord in the high places.

But the Law explicitly forbade sacrificing in the high places:
Ye shall utterly destroy all the places wherein the nations which ye shall dispossess have served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree; and ye shall break down their altars, and shatter their statues, and burn their Asherahs with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and ye shall destroy the names of them out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto Jehovah your God; but unto the place which Jehovah your God will choose out of all your tribes to set his name there, his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come; and thither ye shall bring your burnt-offerings and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and the heave-offering of your hand, and your vows, and your voluntary-offerings, and the firstlings of your kine and of your sheep; and ye shall eat there before Jehovah your God, and ye shall rejoice, ye and your households, in all the business of your hand, wherein Jehovah thy God hath blessed thee.
(Deuteronomy 12:2--7)

The Israelites were to have destroyed the high places when they came into the land. They weren't to offer sacrifices whereever they thought was a good place: there was one place where they were to gather to worship. But what they actually did was, to allow some of the pagan practices of the Amorites survive. And then they took the Tabernacle (sans God's actual presence) and set it up right alongside those pagan shrines.

I think the most telling statement about this in the whole Scripture is Rabshakeh's statements to Hezekiah's men:
And if ye say to me, We rely upon Jehovah our God: is it not he whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?
(2 Kings 18:22)

Rabshakeh, a pagan, saw what Hezekiah had done in destroying the high places (which ought to have been done hundreds of years before under Joshua) and interpreted it as defiling the Lord's holy places. Jewish worship must have been quite a mess, if even the pagans watching them couldn't distinguish Jewish worship from what they themselves had done. Imagine what it must have been like, if an observer could see Hezekiah ending paganism and think he was stamping out Judaism. It makes me wonder just how many paganisms the Israelites had adopted.

I've probably mentioned this before, but one of the most alarming lessons of idolatry I see in Scripture is, that it gets so mixed into true worship that the people seem to actually think they're worshipping the Lord when they're bowing to their idols.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Romans 6 & 7

I've started reading Darby again in the last few months. I'm on Collected Writings, Vol. 26. The volume starts with several articles on Romans, which has been good reading.

So naturally my thoughts have been on Romans in the last couple weeks. Hence my post about Newell on Romans 6.

I wanted to make a quick note about Romans 6 & 7 too. I remember the question coming up many years ago, of why Romans 7 comes after Romans 6. I never had a good answer, but I felt like there was something there, if only I could see it. While I've not had any sort of epiphany, I think I have a slightly better understanding of it now.

The progression of Romans starts in chapter 1, around verse 18. The first 17 verses (give or take) are more or less introductory. Starting in Romans 1:18 are a series of arguments that go pretty much to the last chapter. So the first few chapters go something like this:

  1. v. 1:18--1:32 the moral history of the Gentiles is traced from knowledge of God to complete depravity.

  2. v. 2:1--2:16 the condition of the moralist is considered. This is the person who recognizes heathen darkness, and eschews it: whether a Jew, or an enlightened Gentile.

  3. v. 2:17--3:20 demonstrate that the Jews are just as wicked as the Gentiles. While the Jews have God's law, they fail to live up to it. v. 2:12 is really the key to the first three chapters: Gentiles had no law and were lawless; Jews had the Law and were transgressors. So v. 3:19 declares "those under the Law" as wicked as the heathen at the end of chapter 1. Thus, "every mouth might be stopped".

  4. v. 3:21--4:25 introduce "righteousness by faith". The last 11 verses of chapter 3 introduce justification by faith alone through Christ alone; chapter 4 develops the concept from the life of Abraham in Genesis.

  5. v. 5:1--5:11 give the consequences of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, and introduce two new words into the argument: "love" (vv. 5 & 6) and "salvation" ("saved" in v. 10).

  6. v. 5:12--v. 5:21 begin a new discussion: the discussion of sin, rather than sins. Sin is demonstrated to have come into the world through Adam's disobedience, through which we have all become sinners. So while the first three chapters contain the complete picture of depravity, it's not until chapter 5 that the concept of man's sinfulness is really discussed. Chapters 1--3 tell us what man is, chapter 5 tells us what causes it. It's not just that [Gentiles and Jews alike] sin, but that they are actually sinners. The bad behaviour is actually the symptom of the bad heart.

So chapter 6 starts with asking the question that dangles at the end of chapter 5: If God has grace on sinners, and if His grace over-abounds where sin abounds, shouldn't we just go on sinning? And chapter 6 is an ontological argument against the line of reasoning. No you shouldn't, it goes, because you're no longer sinners. We were once sinners, but we've been crucified with Christ. We were once sinners, but now we're dead to sin so that we can walk in newness of life. We were once sinners, but now we're dead to sin and alive to God.

Then we read chapter 7, and we read the awful description of vv. 14--16, "for not what I will, this I do; but what I hate, this I practise." This really sounds like it belongs before chapter 6, doesn't it? Chapter 6 tells us we're dead to sin (v. 11) and "free from sin" (vv. 7 & 18). So what's the deal with Romans 7? Why the apparent step back?

I think there are two parts to the answer. The first is Newell's answer: Romans 7 introduces the idea of "Law as a rule of life" and demonstrates it doesn't work. Notice the introductory argument in vv. 4--6: we are "dead to the Law by the body of Christ". The Law was given to sinners to show them they're sinners (v. 3:20). To attempt to live up to it as one who is justified by faith is really pointless: you've already learned the lesson. And while we are crucified with Christ and are thus dead to sin, there is still certainly sin in our flesh (vv. 17--18) and the Law manages to ferret it out and get it to respond. This is what the Law was for: to reveal sin. "By the Law is the knowledge of sin". I'm justified by faith alone in Christ alone: I am not liable for sin in God's sight. But there is still sin in my flesh, and the Law draws it out. That's what vv. 9--11 teach.

So Newell says, the whole Romans 7 experience can just be avoided by not trying to keep the Law:
Therefore this conflict of Paul’s, instead of being an example to you, is a warning to you to keep out of it by means of God’s plain words that you are not under law but under grace.

But now you will adopt one of two courses: either you will read of and avoid the great struggle Paul had, under law, to make the flesh obedient by law,—with its consequent discovery of no good in him, and no strength; with his despairing cry, “Who shall deliver me?” and the blessed discovery of deliverance through our Lord Jesus Christ and by the indwelling Spirit: and this is, of course, the true way,—for you are not under law. It is the God-honoring path, for it is the way of faith. It is the wisest, because in it you profit by the struggle and testimony of another, written out for your benefit.

The second course, (and alas, the one followed by most in their distress and longing after a holy life), is to go through practically the same struggle as Paul had,—until you discover for yourself experimentally what he found.
(Romans, Verse-by-verse, Chapter 8)

But Romans 7 teaches something else too, and it's very important to grasp it. Romans 6 teaches that we have died with Christ so that we're now dead to sin. This is a wonderful and freeing thing. I am dead to sin, I am alive to God. But Romans 7 introduces us to a new word "flesh". There is something in us that Romans calls the flesh: "in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell" (v. 7: 18). I am justified by faith alone in Christ alone. I am dead to sin. But I find when I look at myself, there is indwelling sin. And worse, I find I am utterly powerless over it. This is the lesson of Romans 7.

And how does the struggle with the flesh end? When he gives up in vv. 23--25 and realizes he can't fix it. When he realizes it's bigger than he is, and looks for a Deliverer.

Romans 8 fully develops the theme of indwelling sin and brings it to fruition in vv. 1--27. We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone (chapter 5). We are dead to sin (chapter 6). But we find sin still lives in our flesh (chapter 7). But Romans 8:1--27 assures us, we're not done yet. Our sinful and mortal bodies will some day be resurrected, and then we'll be free from sin's presence. We are waiting for "the redemption of the body" (v. 23). That day's coming: we're waiting for it, because it hasn't happened yet (vv. 24--25).

And we might notice the word "body" in each chapter. Chapter 6 talks about the "body of sin", chapter 7 calls it the "body of death", and chapter 8 calls it our "mortal body". There is a progression: sin in the flesh will inevitably lead to death. We're waiting for our bodies to be redeemed, so that we can be as free from sin's presence as we are from sin's guilt and sin's power.

There's one more difference I see between Romans 6 and Romans 7. Romans 6 starts out with the question of willful sin, "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?". The question there is, since grace over-abounds, why not get more grace by sinning more? Romans 7 introduces a new idea: involuntary sin. This is not the sin we set our minds to, this is the sin we find ourselves committing over and over. Even though we may hate it, and even though we hate ourselves for doing it, we find we just keep doing it. That's the struggle in vv. 19--21

19* For I do not practise the good that I will; but the evil I do not will, that I do.
20* But if what *I* do not will, this I practise, it is no longer *I* that do it, but the sin that dwells in me.
21* I find then the law upon *me* who will to practise what is right, that with *me* evil is there.

So I don't have many answers. But I think Romans 7 comes after Romans 6 because the discovery of sin in the flesh is really a very different thing from being dead to sin. When man sinned, he fell from the inside out. His spiritual death preceded his physical death by a long time. God saves us the same way. First He justifies, then He transforms us, inside-out. He fixes us inside, and some day He'll fix the outside too.

We can't really learn Romans 7 if we don't have Romans 6. There's no real way to understand indwelling sin when we haven't yet grasped our death to sin. We need to learn we've died with Christ so that we can say "it is no longer *I* that do it, but the sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7:17).

And I think that is why Romans 7 comes after Romans 6.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Newell on Romans 6

Romans 6 is an interesting chapter in what is probably the most theological book in the Bible. It's the chapter that deals with the believer's death with Christ. Over the past fifteen or so years, I've glanced at various commentaries and books to see how they deal with Romans 6. There seem to be a few main schools of thought on the chapter, and each has some good points. But eventually each one ends up contradicting Scripture on some point, big or small.

So when I read Newell's commentary on Romans 6 in Romans Verse-by-verse, I was overjoyed. He does an excellent job of explicating the chapter. In my opinion, he goes right through the passage, avoiding the traps that we all seem to fall into.

Most importantly, he correctly differentiates between the old man and the flesh:
The word our indicates that what is said, is said of and to all those who are in Christ. The expression “our old man,” of course is a federal one, as also is “the new man.” The “old man,” therefore, is not Adam personally, any more than the “new man” is Christ personally. Also, we must not confuse the “old man” with “the flesh.”

This is a point of tremendous importance, it lies at the root of a lot of misunderstanding of this passage. He goes on to list four differences between the old man and the flesh. I was pleased to see his mention of Galatians 5: there is a crucifixion of the flesh, but it's taught in very different terms than the crucifixion of the old man.

Not to get on one of my hobby horses, but this distinction is very carefully maintained in Scripture. If we're not careful to maintain it ourselves, we end up in a bad spot. Particularly in Romans, the old man isn't mentioned after chapter 6, the flesh isn't mentioned until chapter 7. They're quite distinct. I think it's obvious in Romans 6 that the old man is something we were while the flesh is something we have.

The problem with equating them is that we have to choose between eradicationism (i.e. the believer is free not only from sin's guilt and sin's power, but also from sin's presence) and the strict "two-naturism" (really positionalism) more common among "brethren" and mainstream evangelicals, where the old man is "kinda-sorta-but-not-really" dealt with. The former leads into real trouble once we get into Romans 7 and Galatians 5, the latter leads to trying to "die to self". There's nothing good down that path.

So I was delighted that Newell is careful with that distinction. Sadly, even Darby seemed to get those mixed up. F. W. Grant seems to have done a better job of maintaining the Scriptural distinction.

I think Newell gets the body of sin right too. I've heard all sorts of explanations where the body of sin is just the sum total of sin. Even Darby takes that interpretation. It seems obvious to me that the body of sin is the unredeemed body. We are justified, we are crucified with Christ, we are to walk in newness of life; but our bodies are yet unredeemed. When the Lord Jesus comes to get us, we will be changed. That is the "redemption of the body" in Romans 8. In fact, that is one of the main arguments of Romans 8.

So I've been delighted to read his comments on Romans 6. I'd started to wonder whether I was totally in left field... it seems no matter whose comments I read on that chapter, I kept shaking my head. And my understanding of the chapter has really increased with Newell's help.

Because I tend to see the chapter ontologically instead of positionally, I needed to be reminded that there is a definite positional aspect to it. The old man really is a federal thing. I've been far too personal in my understanding of that term. It's as a positional thing that it's mentioned in Ephesians 4. I'd really lost sight of that.

So I'm as enthusiastic as ever I was in endorsing Newell's book on Romans. And I'm kicking myself again for letting it sit on my bookshelf for twelve years. Imagine such an excellent book gathering dust for all that time...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Looking up

I visited a small gathering of Christians in Tacoma for the second week in a row. I'm optimistic.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

See to yourselves

I noticed these paragraphs while reading Darby's article on Acts last night. I wanted to share this, it's really good.

The object of faith is the person of the Lord Jesus, and the redemption accomplished by Him; and all believers, reaping the benefits of this work, are saved. Now one investigates and scrutinises in order to know whether one has faith in the heart, and whether it be true faith. We all pass more or less through this state, but true peace is never to be found there. It is perhaps, however, useful in humbling us, and teaching us that in us dwells no good thing. But we are not called upon to believe in the faith which is in us, but to believe in Christ Jesus; and God declares that all believers are justified, and have eternal life. I do not examine my eyes to know whether I see, but look at the object before them, and know that I see. People quote the passage in 2 Corinthians 13: 5; but those who do so deceive themselves, leaving out the correct beginning of the passage, "Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, . . . examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith." The apostle shews them their folly in doubting his true apostleship. If Christ had not spoken by him, since they had received his word, how was it that he had been the means of their conversion? For the same reason he continues to inquire, "Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you?" Christ therefore had spoken by his mouth. There were many proofs of his apostleship. Here he shews them their stupidity, because if he were not an apostle, they would not be Christians. Of their conversion they had no doubt. If we examine ourselves to know whether we walk as Christians, we do well; but if we do so to know whether we are Christians, it is not according to the word.

Faith looks towards Jesus, not towards self. The experience of the examination of the heart, in order to discover what passes there to make one believe, leads us to see that it is impossible thus to find peace, or even victory, for we are looking at what is behind us; but when we are convinced of this, the answer of God is there - He has given salvation in Christ, and he who believes is justified. The Lord says, "Thy sins are forgiven; go in peace, thy faith hath saved thee," Luke 7. The woman looked to Jesus, and believed His word, not thinking of the state of her own heart. The state of her heart, the conviction that she could not find peace and salvation in herself, led her to look to Jesus, and in Him she found peace. The gospel gives the answer of God to the heart clearly and fully. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

I learn by experience that in me dwells no good thing, and that I have not the strength to conquer. I cease to look towards myself, as though I could become better. The flesh is always there; the will may be good (in a converted man), but practice does not correspond to will. Not amendment, but salvation, is needful to us: and that we possess in Christ by faith, and, in salvation, peace. Being unable to accomplish justice in ourselves, we submit to the justice of God. By the faith that Christ Himself is our justice before God, we learn by experience what we are ourselves. This experience is itself the fruit of the work of the word by the Spirit in the heart; but by this we learn that we are lost, that, looking to Christ, we are saved. "Believe, and thou shalt be saved." Good works are what suit the position we then occupy. It is the same in human relationships of children, wives, servants; it is necessary to be in the relationship, or the duties do not exist. When we are saved, we become the sons of God, and then we find the duty of sonship; but it cannot exist before we are sons. The duty of man as the creature of God existed, but on that ground we are lost. Christian duty does not begin till we are Christians.

("Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles" Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol. 25. Emphasis added.)

Great Day!

So I just got back from visiting a gathering here in town. I mentioned before meeting a guy at work who reads the same books I read. Well, it turns out he meets with some Christians in town. He invited me out to the gathering, and I went this morning.

My overall impression is very positive. I've been down this path before, so I'm a lot more cautious now. I tend to rein in my enthusiasm a little more, having been burned. But from one morning's visit, this really seems to be what I've been looking for.

I won't say too much more right now, but I'd really, really appreciate prayer from everyone on this.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Book Recommendation

I've been reading a lot more this year. These things are cyclical: I go months without picking up a book, then I pound out several in a flurry of prosaic activity. Even my Bible reading is that way.

At any rate, I decided to finish Volume 25 of Darby's Collected Writings, so I've been working at it off and on since February. Vol. 25 is an "expository" volume, so it's mainly exposition of Scripture. I find topical writing a lot easier to read, but I've been reading Darby in order, so I just had to muscle through it.

I'm glad I did.

The last two "articles" in the book are an exposition of John's gospel (Part 1, and Part 2) and "Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles" (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 , and 5).

These are well worth the read.

It's interesting that my actual Bible reading caught up with me on this one. So I read the "Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles" today, having read Acts last weekend. And I started reading Darby's notes on John just before I read John, and finished a few days after I finished it.

What I love about reading Darby is, he really knows his Bible. Inevitably when I read Scripture I sit upright and say, "I didn't know it said that." I mean, every time. You'd think by now I'd know what it says. But Darby always seems to hit that phrase or verse I didn't know existed.

So when I was asked a few weeks back about when specifically Paul was wrong, and I responded: "I realize I'm in a minority here, but I've examined this one time and again, and I keep concluding that he should have left well enough alone." It turns out I'm in good company.

This last read through Acts, I noticed Acts 21:4, "And having found out the disciples, we remained there seven days; who said to Paul by the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem." Notice the disciples by the Spirit told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. But Paul goes anyway, and it all unravels from there. So I'm still sure Paul was wrong to claim his Roman citizenship, and he was definitely wrong to rail against the high priest. But really, the root cause was that he went to Jerusalem in the first place. Darby notices this, and really demonstrates how this mis-step leads Paul into several problems. But at the same time, he points out God's sovereignty in the whole situation, and Paul's courage and faithfulness when caught in a bad situation; even though it was his own fault.

But even disregarding the last few chapters, it's worth reading this paper. It's not too obtuse, even though it's long.

In his comments on John, he makes some interesting conclusions about John 21 with regard to the roles of the Apostles. I noticed several years ago that John really wraps up the Apostolic era by writing the last seven epistles to the seven churches in Asia. Paul had been in Ephesus for three years, and had written at least two epistles to Ephesus (Ephesians and 1 Timothy, possibly 2 Timothy); and we know from Colossians 4 that the Laodiceans were in possession of at least one, probably two of his epistles. So they were Paul's turf, so to speak.

Darby notices this too, and points out the unique character of John's epistles as being the epistles of the "last days". Paul looked forward to the "last days" in Acts 20 and 2 Timothy. John wrote during those last days, exhorting and encouraging us who live in them. (As a side note, I equated the "last days" in Hebrews 1 with the "last days" in 1 John a couple years ago, but I now think I was wrong. I think Hebrews is talking about something else.) I found Darby's comments on this very insightful, if not very detailed. I intend to look more into this later.

Finally, I finished reading my Bible today. I get to start a new Bible reading project now, which is always exciting. I have an idea what I want to do next, but I want to consider it very carefully before going public. I'm making it a policy to read each of my Bibles through from Genesis to Revelation at least once... I still have a couple I haven't read through completely, but I think I'm going to go back to my ESV for this next round. I've already read it through once, but I want to use it for my next experiment. Of all my bibles, it's the easiest to read. Not the best to study from by any stretch, but the easiest to just sit and read several chapters at a time.

I essentially stopped "Bible study" several years ago in favour of reading from Genesis to Revelation very quickly and repeating the process. I've tried to read through every year, with mixed success. I once read Philippians through Revelation in a single sitting: that might have been too fast.

I've found reading as much as I possibly can in a single sitting is invaluable to really understanding what the Book says. I keep a pencil crayon with me and mark up the pages madly. It's a lot easier to see connections between passages when I read them in large chunks. This way I haven't forgotten what Ezekiel says by the time I get to Romans.

George Mueller supposedly read his Bible four times a year. I've never gotten anything like that pace.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


So I'm in a meeting today with two web developers. I mentioned in passing that I use LaTeX, and that led to me showing off a couple documents I've prepared. I showed them the version of Kelly's Lectures on the Church of God, because it has some Greek and Latin characters that are difficult to represent accurately in a word processor.

One of them says, "You read William Kelly?"

"Oh yeah!" I reply, "Do you?"

"I have all his books," he says, "I like Ironside too."

"My favourite author is J. N. Darby," I respond.

"I have all his books too," says the web developer.

Who'd have guessed? Here I am working at this ultra-liberal university, and it turns out one of the web developers---a web developer!---is reading Kelly, Darby, and Ironside.

This might well be the most exciting morning I've had since moving out here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Kingdom of God

I've mentioned before my interest in the Kingdom of God. I was struck yesterday as I read through Acts, how frequently the Kingdom of God is mentioned, particularly in the second half of the book. Take, for example, the last two verses:
30* And he [Paul] remained two whole years in his own hired lodging, and received all who came to him,
31* preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all freedom unhinderedly.
(Acts 28:30--31)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Give me that old-time religion

Be my imitators, even as *I* also am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Remember your leaders who have spoken to you the word of God; and considering the issue of their conversation, imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)

Beloved, using all diligence to write to you of our common salvation, I have been obliged to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

I've been thinking a lot about Paul's faith for the last 8 months or so. We are told to imitate him, as he imitated Christ. I suppose there is an implicit caveat there: we need to imitate him as he imitated Christ. I can think of at least two places in Acts where Paul was admittedly wrong (there are doubtless others), that's not what he is telling us to imitate. And indeed, Hebrews tells us to follow the faith (not the follies, the faith) of those who spoke to us the word of God. So I suppose this is a wider question than just Paul; but we have the most detailed record of Paul, so we'll stick with that for now.

In view of my ranting about "the whole counsel of God" earlier, perhaps Acts 20 is a good place to start. Paul told the overseers in Ephesus, "I have not shrunk from announcing to you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). He spent three years in Ephesus, and he spent them well. He didn't stick to some favourite doctrines or camp out in a favourite passage of Scripture, he announced to them "all the counsel of God."

On the one hand, he was strongly individualistic. He told the Galatians, "do I now seek to satisfy men or God? or do I seek to please men? If I were yet pleasing men, I were not Christ’s bondman." (Gal. 1:10). And he told the Romans, "Who art *thou* that judgest the servant of another? to his own master he stands or falls. And he shall be made to stand; for the Lord is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4). But on the other hand, he was deeply and strongly committed to the collective testimony of the assembly: "none of us lives to himself, and none dies to himself" (Romans 14:7). He told the Thessalonians, "you are our glory and joy". He apparently wasn't content with a faith that was just his: there needed to be an expression of it in others too. Not merely as fellow-individuals, but as the Body of Christ. There was the individual, there was also the personal.

This is one of those "whole counsel of God" things. Getting the collective right doesn't meant the individual doesn't matter. Being correct about the individual doesn't give us a pass on the collective.

He taught the Christians about prophecy, soteriology, the corporate testimony and individual walk. He knew the Law and wasn't afraid to use it. But he was centered: " [b]ut far be it from me to boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). His faith was centered in a Person, "[f]or I did not judge it well to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and *him* crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Paul gave the clearest exposition of the gospel of the grace of God we have (Romans 1--5). He declared "him who justifies the ungodly" (Romans 4:5) and welcomed Jews and Gentiles alike to come for the completely free justification in Christ, "since indeed it is one God who shall justify the circumcision on the principle of faith, and uncircumcision by faith" (Romans 3:30). He told us, "in [Christ] every one that believes is justified" (Acts 13:39). But he taught there's a cost too, "all indeed who desire to live piously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12). And he was careful to point out that justification isn't the end of the story:

1 *I*, the prisoner in the Lord, exhort you therefore to walk worthy of the calling wherewith ye have been called,
2* with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love;
3* using diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace.
(Ephesians 4:1--3)

So I've asked myself over and over again... do I imitate Paul as he imitated Christ? do I have the faith once delivered to the saints?

Of course there are all sorts of people who are quick to "help" lay out just what that is. I mean, they've got some formula for just what constitutes the faith once delivered. I think most of those fall away if we really examine them.

I wrote a couple years ago:

the hardest part of obeying the Scripture is to trust that it's sufficient. It's one thing to acknowledge it's inerrant or authoritative; it's quite another to acknowledge its sufficiency. I think it strange how frequently we trust in creeds, dogmas, catechisms, theologies, doctrines, and commentaries when we have the Bible. I admit it's not the easiest book to understand, and it can take some time to compare Scripture with Scripture to figure out how a passage applies, or what it means. But really, if God has spoken, it's worth the time and effort to listen.

I've been trying for the last three or four years to judge all things by Scripture. I'm the first to admit I'm doing a horrible job of walking it out. It doesn't take long talking to me to see a whole lot of faults. And it might surprise people who actually know me to realize they probably don't see me at my worst. And the flesh in us is such that even the effort to judge all things by the Word of God is an occasion for arrogance.

But I can't see that there is another option. If God hasn't spoken, nothing matters. If He has, nothing else matters. I think this is really the bottom line. It's possible to wrest the Scriptures to our own destruction, but it requires effort: "wrest" is an active verb. On the other hand, the Scripture is able to make us wise to salvation.

"[A]ll who are in Asia, of whom is Phygellus and Hermogenes, have turned away from me" (2 Timothy 1:15). I'm no Paul, but it looks like the path is a lonely one. I'm reminded of the Lord Jesus' words: "Woe, when all men speak well of you, for after this manner did their fathers to the false prophets" (Luke 6:26).

And that brings me to the question I have asked time and again for the last year. If I really held the faith once delivered to the saints, would I be welcome in any church? If I were to walk like the Apostles walked (and that's a big "if"), would any church want me there Sunday morning?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Blood on the lintel

Following on my previous posts about some things I've noticed in the Law, I thought I'd briefly mention Exodus 21. You know Exodus 21, it's the part about the servant who chooses to remain with his master when he could have gone free:

2* If thou buy a Hebrew bondman, six years shall he serve; and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
3* If he came in alone, he shall go out alone: if he had a wife, then his wife shall go out with him.
4* If his master have given him a wife, and she have borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone.
5 But if the bondman shall say distinctly, I love my master, my wife, and my children, I will not go free;
6* then his master shall bring him before the judges, and shall bring him to the door, or to the door-post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall be his bondman for ever.
(Exodus 21:2--6)

I want to be very careful here, because it doesn't do to be flippant in holy things. And especially touching the Son of God, it is very, very easy to fall into blasphemy. But it seems there is an illustration of the Lord Jesus in these verses.

False religions tell us how men can become gods. Indeed that was the promise of the serpent to our father and mother in the Garden. But in God's wisdom, One who is God has become Man. The Eternal Son has humbled Himself to become a man. The Man.

The amazing thing is not only that He became a Man (astonishing as that is), but that this is apparently a permanent thing. After He has gone back to Heaven, we read, "For God is one, and the mediator of God and men one, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, the testimony to be rendered in its own times;" (1 Timothy 2:5--6). In fact, I suspect (although I don't know for sure) that "the Man" is a title of Christ, particularly in the Psalms. But that's for another time...

The Hebrew servant in Exodus 21 seems to me to be a foreshadowing of the Christ "who, subsisting in the form of God, did not esteem it an object of rapine to be on an equality with God; but emptied himself, taking a bondman’s form, taking his place in the likeness of men; and having been found in figure as a man, humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:6--8). And as amazing as that might be, He has refused to go free, but has declared His intention not to go free. In fact, He has promised to come and get us. He has no intention of leaving us behind: it is His explicit plan to come back for us. He has, in a very real way, put His ear to the doorpost and had it pierced by the awl.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Whole Counsel of God

I've been having an email discussion with some friends recently, in which I've been using the phrase "whole counsel of God". This isn't meant to be a public continuation of that discussion... it's just been on my mind a lot for the last several months. I've been mulling this over since Thanksgiving, and wanted to vent some on my blog. So if you've gotten email from me, ranting about the whole counsel of God... this isn't aimed at you.

Several years ago, I was hanging out with a close friend in Kentucky. We were chatting, and I mentioned some frustration with a Christian with whom I had been speaking via email. I was looking for the right word: it's not that that this person was wrong per se, but that she was focused on one particular topic to the point of tunnel vision.

"She's missing the whole counsel of God," my friend sagely offered.

And ever since that day, I've been trying to think in terms of the whole counsel of God.

It's not easy, because we all have passages we like better than others. Martin Luther is said to have decided James' epistle is not Scripture, because he thought it opposed Romans. Whether that's actually true, it reveals the trap into which we are all prone to fall: leaving off the whole counsel of God.

Yeah, there are some topics I like more than others. I really like to think about the Gospel, about God's reaching down to rescue poor sinners at a tremendous cost to Himself. And so I tend to bask in the Gospel, sometimes at the cost of the rest of Scripture. But I ought not to.

Embracing the whole counsel of God is closely linked to something else I'm prone to rant about: being subject to the Word of God.

Part of embracing the whole counsel of God is perhaps not so obvious: we need to be subject to the Word of God. I rant about this a lot, partly because it's close to my heart. I have been on a personal quest for about 4 years now to really and honestly depend on Scripture. I've tried to be careful to limit my vocabulary to Scripture. I've been conscious of the difference between what Scripture says and what I think it means. I've tried to, in Andrew's words, allow Scripture to master me, rather than trying to master it.

I think part of that is my own idealism. A lot of it is my admiration for people like Darby and Nee and Luther who were willing to chuck everything if they couldn't see it line up with Scripture. Some of it is just to see what happens and how much everything unravels if I do this.

Rich Mullins wrote a blurb about John 6, in which he said that the disciples didn't have 1900 years of theology to soften the blow of Christ telling them they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood. That really sunk in with me: the idea of theology softening the blow of what God has said. George Orwell once said the two purposes of language are to convey meaning and to obscure it; I've started to think we could similarly describe theology. The purpose of theology is to reveal God, or to hide from Him.

When the children of Israel got to Sinai in Exodus 19, God told them:

4* Ye have seen what I have done to the Egyptians, and how I have borne you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
5 And now, if ye will hearken to my voice indeed and keep my covenant, then shall ye be my own possession out of all the peoples--for all the earth is mine--
6* and ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak to the children of Israel.

God didn't tell the people to all come up the mountain, that's true. He singled out Moses. But He did say, "let them be ready for the third day; for on the third day Jehovah will come down before the eyes of all the people on mount Sinai" (v. 11).

But the people didn't think that was such a good idea. So in chapter 20, we read their response:

18* And all the people saw the thunderings, and the flames, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off,
19 and said to Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
20* And Moses said to the people, Fear not; for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before you, that ye sin not.
21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near to the obscurity where God was.

In fact, this is the starting assumption of John's gospel, "He was in the world, and the world had its being through him, and the world knew him not. He came to his own, and his own received him not;" (John 1:10--11). Man doesn't like to be in God's presence.

It seems to me theology serves a good many of us as a way to assuage our consciences without having to actually meet God. It stands as a buffer between ourselves and Holy Scripture so that we can "soften the blow" and assure one another "that's not really what it means".

And for the past several years I've been asking, "but what if that is what it means?"

But I suppose that's a topic for another day...

I find if I'm going to go to Scripture to hear God speak---rather than to find a proof-text for some position or to prop up my theology---He doesn't seem to say what I expect. I remember quite clearly when I first really sat down and read my Bible cover-to-cover (many years ago), I was surprised at how little the Bible lined up with what I thought it said. And conversely, how much it said about things I had never considered. Even now, having read the Bible through many times, I'm surprised as much by what it doesn't say as by what it does.

It seems to me that one of the most dangerous things we can do is to try to "balance" what we see in Scripture. I hear that a lot from people, "we need to be balanced". I think that's a very dangerous approach. It might be the worst possible approach to take. It's dangerous, partly because it's based on the assumption that tunnel vision is correct. It seems to me that "balance" is really all about setting Scripture in opposition to itself, narrowing what Scripture says, rather than allowing myself to be broadened in order to see the whole truth.

So we don't assume that if Romans is Scripture, then James can't be. We accept that both Romans and James are Scripture, and we hang on to see where our understanding is defective.

I'm not saying Scripture contradicts itself: I'm saying where there is an apparent contradiction, we need to try and hear what God says, rather than deciding which passage is correct. And frankly, this is where I've found it's very important to be very careful of the actual words of Scripture. I have found time and again, when I limit myself to the vocabulary Scripture uses, the vast majority of seeming contradictions just evapourate.

As an example, Scripture uses the term "son" and the term "child". I've heard many, many people confuse those terms. But they're simply not equivalent. We're sons by adoption, children by birth. There is a vast difference between these two ideas... and Scripture doesn't confuse them.

Another example is "justification" and "salvation". They're not equivalent terms, and confusing them leads to all sorts of strange ideas. Evangelicals talk about "I was saved in 1983" or something... but Scripture really doesn't speak like that. Scripture very carefully distinguishes between being justified and being saved. Consider Romans 5:9, "Much rather therefore, having been now justified in the power of his blood, we shall be saved by him from wrath." Notice the tenses, we "have been justified", we "shall be saved". Romans doesn't even use the word "saved" until chapter 5, after the complete discussion of justification. Romans consistently uses the words "saved" and "salvation" to refer to a future thing. (Romans 8:24 too, there it is "saved in hope"; not as a present salvation, but as a looking forward to a future one). So when Romans declares we're justified by faith alone plus absolutely nothing else (Romans 4:5), it's not contradicting Peter's statement that we're saved by baptism. They are both true: the one passage is about justification, the other, salvation.

It's very, very dangerous to use terms interchangeably when Scripture does not.

And then, there is the issue of understanding context. Romans always uses "saved" in the future: Ephesians uses it in the past. So there is a different sense of usage of that word in Romans than in Ephesians.

And since we come to that, we might say too that a lot of Christians like to point out that the unregenerate are "dead in trespasses and sins". That's very true... in Ephesians and Colossians. But in Romans and Galatians, the unregenerate are very much alive in trespasses in sins. So Romans 6 tells us we have been crucified with Christ, buried with Him, and raised with Him. But in Ephesians, we're not crucified with Him, because we started out dead. A dead man doesn't need to be crucified.

So context matters.

But to get back on track... the whole counsel of God is something much bigger than I am generally wont to consider. The Scripture definitely condemns the unrighteous, but it offers them the Gospel too. The Scripture is very careful to point out the world is a wicked, wicked place... but it also assures us we're here by design.

God's ultimate purpose is not merely to save sinners, nor to bring them to perfection "in Christ". It's not to bring "social justice" (which is a silly expression to begin with) nor to make the world a better place. It's not merely that He wants people to know Him, although that might get a little closer to the truth. God's purpose, according to Ephesians 1, is "to head up all things in Christ". The Son of God is really the center of all God's thoughts, plans, and (yes, I will use the word) schemes.

God has purposed from before the beginning of the world to head up "all things" in Christ. And I think this is where I really need to go back to the whole counsel of God. I'm really uncomfortable calling myself dispensationalist, although that's more or less an accurate description. But I think "we dispensationalists" (if I may use the term) have been far too narrow in our focus. We are afraid of words like "kingdom" (Paul wasn't, Col. 1:13) because we want to be careful not to confuse Church and Israel. (The Church is part of the kingdom, like Israel, but that's another discussion.)

And on the other side, we have people who are unwilling to acknowledge Scripture's clear teaching that the believer is not under Law. That the idea of a "Moral Law" somehow distinct from the "Ceremonial Law" is really entirely contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture. Where dispensationalists have been slow to acknowledge God's whole counsel that's not strictly "Church", others are reluctant to ignore the plain Scriptural teaching that the Law was given to a specific group for a specific purpose.

There's a ditch on both sides of the road.

Fundamentally, when we're afraid of embracing all of Scripture, we reveal that we're ultimately missing the point. The whole counsel of God isn't about us... it's about Christ. God's purpose in the Son is not something we can see when we look at just one facet of the truth: it is revealed in His whole counsel. And that, ultimately, is what we're responsible for.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Vine, the Wheat, and the Olive Tree

Several years ago I stumbled over these verses in Deuteronomy:
19* When thou reapest thy harvest in thy field, and forgettest a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not return to fetch it; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow; that Jehovah thy God may bless thee in all the work of thy hands.
20 When thou shakest thine olive-tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
21 When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterwards; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. (Deut. 24:19--21).

They struck me as significant then, because I recognized two of the crops that are named as New Testament symbols of Christ: He compared Himself to a grain of wheat that needs to fall into the ground and die (John 12:24) and as the Vine (John 15:1). I spent some time looking through my Bible, and sure enough, the olive tree has prophetic significance too:

16* Jehovah had called thy name, A green olive-tree, fair, of goodly fruit: with the noise of a great tumult he hath kindled fire upon it, and its branches are broken.
17 For Jehovah of hosts, that planted thee, hath pronounced evil against thee, for the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done for themselves, to provoke me to anger in burning incense unto Baal.
18* And Jehovah hath given me knowledge, and I know it; then thou shewedst me their doings.
19* And I was like a tame lamb that is led to the slaughter; and I knew not that they devised devices against me, saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be no more remembered. (Jer. 11:16--19)

There are some interesting parallels in Psalm 52 and Hosea 14 as well.

So I've mulled these verses over for the better part of the last dozen years. And there's no doubt I've not plumbed their depths... but there is something interesting right on the surface: The farmer under the Law was to harvest from his grain, his vine, and his olives only once. After he cut down and gathered his grain or gathered his grapes or shook (KJV translates it "beat") his olive tree, he was to leave the rest "for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow."

This goes back to what I said last time: the Law supposes an offering is more than enough. That's not because an ox's or a lamb's or a goat's blood is enough to wash away sins (Heb. 10:4)... it's because the Law was looking forward to the Christ, who was an over-abundant offering to God.

In the same way, the Law only considers a plant to give more than enough. When the owner of the field or the vineyard or the olive tree went to harvest, there would be enough to leave some for those in need.

And in this sense, the Law was looking forward to Christ as the True Vine (or the Green Olive Tree, or the Grain of Wheat) that was here for God's benefit. And God says, "After I have beaten my olive-tree, I will take what I need. But there will be enough left over for the strangers and the fatherless and the widows. I will let them have it."

All of the "every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ" in Ephesians 1 is really the result of the overflow of the Son offering Himself up to God.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I've been spending some time mulling over the Levitical offerings for the past several months. I'm repeatedly struck by the first seven or so chapters of Leviticus: the detail of the Law of the offerings is surprising. And while I generally avoid a lot of discussions of types and shadows in the Law, I think there are some lessons to be learned from the offerings.

I notice that in every offering, there is something left over for the priest. Well, all except one, maybe two. When I was growing up, I heard a lot about the Burnt Offering, which was wholly consumed on the altar. But I'm frankly unsure how to apply Lev. 7:8
And as to the priest that presenteth any man’s burnt-offering, the skin of the burnt-offering which he hath presented shall be the priest’s for himself.

Is "burnt offering" here limited in scope to the tresspass offering? I'm not sure. I tend to think it's the burnt-offerings in general, but I could well be wrong.

But in any case, there is one offering which unequivocally leaves nothing for either the priest or the offerer:
And every oblation of the priest shall be wholly burned; it shall not be eaten. (Lev. 6:23)

So when the priest brought an oblation (meal offering) for himself, it was to be wholly consumed, no one got any part of it but God.

But in every other offering, there was some left over. The priest got something from it. The priests ate the sin-offering and the trespass-offering (Lev. 7:6). The skin of both the sin-offering and the trespass-offering was given to the priest. The priest kept the majority of the meal offerings brought to him, unless a priest offered it for himself.

I think the great moral here is, the Law always considered the offerings as more than enough. There is always the idea that something is left over. And the everlasting statute given to Aaron and his sons is, that they are to eat what's left from the offerings (Num. 18:8--10).

We who are called to be priests (1 Peter 2:9) are called to eat from the "altar" where our sin-offering has died (Heb. 13:10). Christ Himself pointed to our eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John 6:27--58). No, I don't think this is really talking about a sacramental observance of the Lord's Supper. But there is doubtless an aspect of feeding on Christ.

The sacrifice was not ours: we are merely profitting from what God has provided for Himself in the Son. But there is enough in the overflow of the altar to sustain us. It is this that feeds the "eternal life" we have "in the Son".

And I notice that when the offerings are burned on the altar, the ashes are shovelled out onto the ground on the east side of the altar:
And he shall remove its crop with its feathers, and cast it beside the altar on the east, into the place of the ashes (Lev. 1:16)

And the priest shall put on his linen raiment, and his linen breeches shall he put on his flesh, and take up the ashes to which the fire hath consumed the burnt-offering on the altar, and he shall put them beside the altar. (Lev. 6:10)

So the priest is to take the ashes from the altar and put them on the ground on the east side, then he takes them outside the camp.

Now, every good little Sunday School child knows that the tabernacle faced east, and that the brazen altar, where the offerings were burned was in the "court" of the tabernacle along with the laver: inside the gate but outside the Tent of Meeting. If the ashes were put on the east side of the altar, then they were between the altar and the gate, literally the first thing you'd see when you came in through the gate.

When I was growing up, we were taught that the tabernacle was built partly as a physical analogy of man's approach to God. So to approach God, you come in through the gate and there's the altar where animals were sacrificed. Then beyond that was the laver where the priest washed. After that was the tabernacle proper, the Tent of Meeting, where only priests could go. In there was the shewbread, the altar of incense, and the gold candlestick. But then there was the veil, and on the other side was the Holy of Holies, where even priests couldn't go. One priest, once a year, was allowed in there, where the ark of the covenant was, topped with the Mercy Seat.

And it's just to draw that analogy, as Hebrews 9 & 10 does very carefully and with great detail.

But as I read Leviticus, I'm struck that really, the altar is not the first thing we'd see; because between the altar and the gate is the place of ashes. Depending on when we went in, we might not see any actual ashes: the priests were to clean them up and take them outside the camp. But if you've ever cleaned up a pile of ashes you know they leave a fairly permanent mark on the ground.

Ashes are proof that the offering was made. More than that, they're proof that it was totally consumed, that there's nothing left to burn. If we are to see the tabernacle's design as an analogy as our approach to God, it starts with seeing the offering is completed. Before we even see the altar, we see proof the sacrifice is done.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I went through a lot of old posts and deleted a whole whack of them. They were of limited value, and seemed more or less irrelevant now.

At some point I had been working on something like a J. N. Darby Top Ten: a list of my ten favourite articles by J. N. Darby. I never wrote down #1. But I'd like to retry that concept in the form of a reading list.

JND was a strange and interesting character. He was doubtless brilliant, but it's not really a staggering intellect that you first notice when you pick up his books. (I suppose the first thing you notice is his tortuous English. The man wrote prose that makes you reel.) What I find overwhelming about Darby was his firm conviction that Scripture is sufficient for every question. You can tell it was the driving conviction of his life: every question is answered with Scripture... frequently with direct quotes that aren't cited. You get to know your Bible when you read Darby.

I've said before that Darby's brilliance lay in his refusal to develop formal theologies. He was willing to weigh in on any given question, but he appears to have refrained from trying to develop an over-arching theology to tie them together. This is really very stunning. I've more and more been endeavouring to follow in those footsteps: to answer every question from Scripture without allowing myself to use my own reason to fill in the "gaps". It's terribly difficult.

And at his heart, JND appears to have genuinely loved Christ. Not a shallow sort of sentimentality, but a driving, burning, passionate love. The sort of love you really ought to see in someone who devotes his life to the Book. I can't help but get the feeling when I read his articles, that he's trying to introduce me to someone he knew, not just someone from a book.

Reading Darby is humbling.

One note of caution and context: Darby was frequently writing on specific topics in reply to other papers. So many of his articles reference papers by others long forgotten. It can be a little disconcerting to read Darby because of this. Sometimes this actually gets in the way: one of my favourite articles by Darby is Superstition is not Faith; or, The True Character of Romanism. I think it might be his most important paper, but in it his attacks Roman Catholicism really narrow his message. It's not that he's incorrect, it's that his comments on Catholicism in this paper are true of so many Christians in other groups as well...

At any rate, several people have asked me what I recommend from JND's numerous articles and books. The short answer is, read Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol. 12. But that's not too helpful. So in case anyone else ever asks, here is a recommended reading list:

  1. God's Grace and Man's Need.

    This is probably the best place to start. If you want to read Darby, you need to start with his "evangelic" papers. This is one of the best from Evangelic 1 of Collected Writings of J. N. Darby.

    A lot of silly things have been said about J. N. D. But in the end, the thing he understood so clearly is God's grace. If you want to read some powerful musings on the God of Grace, you need to read this rather short article.

  2. The Prodigal with the Father.

    Another of Darby's "evangelic" papers. This one is well worth re-reading several times, not because it is a great opus on doctrine, but because it lays the foundation for almost everything the man taught and believed. A whole lot of questions are answered in this article. It's worth reading and re-reading several times.

  3. Scripture: the place it has in this day

    This paper had a profound effect on me. (One outcome was that I really cut back on reading Darby.) It's a passionate argument on the necessity for the believer to be in direct responsibility to God. It points out the evils of erecting theologies and doctrines between one's conscience and the Scriptures.

    This paper was a real milestone for me, and really helped push me down the path I've been trying to walk of thinking in Scripture, of testing everything in its light.

  4. Two Warnings and an Example.

    Although listed with his "evangelic" papers, this one is really much more. This is absolutely necessary if you want to get a hold of Darby's writings on Christian Living.

    This article studies the three principal characters in Gethsemane: Jesus Christ, Peter, and Judas Iscariot. JND draws a warning from the account each of the latter in contrast with the actions of the first.

  5. Law, from Collected Writings, Vol. 10.

    You haven't read Darby if you haven't read Vol. 10. The volume is almost entirely a collection of articles discussing the relationship of the Law of Moses to the Christian. It is well reasoned, we researched, and well presented.

    Darby's answer is, Christians are not to keep the Law, not even the Ten Commandments. Does that entice you? Do you want to read it now?

  6. Propitiation and Substitution.

    JND weighs in on the question of Limited Atonement. I'm still surprised every time I read this.

  7. Omniscience - God's Searchings

    You need to read this. That's all I'm going to say. Read it now. Click the link above and read it.

  8. Cleansing by Water: and what it is to walk in the light

    For my money, Darby's best work is his writing on the grace of God. Closely tied up with that are his writings on what we would call "Christian Living". He wrote reams of paper on the subject, and I think it's almost all excellent. One of my favourite papers on the subject is this one. I've read and re-read this paper many times. It's probably the paper with the most underlining and highlighting in all my books by JND.

    This paper is one of the places where Darby insists that "walking in the light" in 1 John 1 refers to where we walk, not how we walk
    God is light, and walking in the light is walking in the true knowledge of God; the new man is "renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him." Light came into the world in Christ. He who follows Him has the light of life. And note here, what is spoken of is "walking in the light as God is in the light." It is not according to the light, but in it.

  9. The Melchisedec Priesthood of Christ.
    Darby's writings really shine in their Christ-centeredness. This paper is considered "prophetic", but like all Darby's writings, it's not exactly on topic... at any rate, I've enjoyed this one many times. I highly recommend it.
    But we have a yet better portion, not blessings, great as they are, secured in His resurrection, but to be raised together with Him, and to sit with Him in heavenly places. "He hath blessed us in heavenly places"; and the very purpose of that epistle to the Ephesians is to shew that, made sons with Him, we are to be with Him in heavenly places, the body of Him, the Head to the Church over all things. We have not merely the fruits, but the working towards ourselves of that exceeding great power, which was wrought in Him, when "God raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places." (See Eph. 1: 19; Eph. 2: 7.) But we look at this only in government now in connection with the throne of Melchisedec.

  10. "The Hopes of the Church of God"

    JND is primarily known for his eschatological views. That's actually unfortunate, as Chuck has pointed out, because his eschatology was just one small part of a greater whole. Be that as it may, he is generally thought of as a major influence on American evangelical eschatology in the 19th and 20th centuries.

    So we ought to include some eschatological papers...

    This is a series of 11 lectures delivered in Geneva in 1840. This was an important historical event, as it was where he first really clearly laid out his views on Ruin; in "Progress of Evil on the Earth", the fifth lecture. If you don't read any of the rest of these addresses, you need to read "Progress of Evil on the Earth".

    1. Introduction

    2. The Church and its Glory

    3. The Second Coming of Christ

    4. First Resurrection; or, Resurrection of the Just

    5. Progress of Evil on the Earth

    6. The Two Characters of Evil: Ecclesiastical Apostasy, and Civil Apostasy

    7. Judgment of the Nations, which become the inheritance of Christ and of the Church

    8. Israel's First Entry into the Land was the Result of Promise

    9. Israel's Failure and Dispersion; Promises of Restoration

    10. Same subject as the preceding and Manner of its Accomplishment

    11. Summing Up, and Conclusion

  11. Finally a little heavier reading: On Sealing with the Holy Ghost
    This was a fairly controversial paper in its day. I think it's worth reading. I've always been humbled by this one.

There are many, many papers by JND I could recommend. And sadly, I've gotten to the point in reading JND that I've been going back and re-reading some of my favourites, before I finished reading them all the first time.

Not all his papers are excellent: some aren't so good, some are of dubious profit. But I've utterly enjoyed reading Darby, and I have to admit it's had quite an effect on me.

So if you try reading some of these, let me know what you think.