Saturday, December 29, 2012

Library Tips

There was an interesting article on Digital Sojourner on maintaining your library: "5 Tips – Library Maintenance". It's well worth a couple minutes to read.

Not to repeat the comment I made there, but I was struck by the advice no giving (and throwing!) away books.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: John Nelson Darby, by Marion Field

This year a friend gave me a book for my birthday: John Nelson Darby by Marion Field. I read it excitedly, and I thought it might be helpful to write a short review.

Marion Field published this book in 2008, it's 236 pages, including four appendices and a timeline. I found the book well-written and interesting.

A quick search for "John Nelson Darby biography" on Amazon yields an interesting diversity of results. While the market might not actually be saturated, it's not exactly virgin territory either. Probably the best-known is Max Weremchuk's John Nelson Darby, but I've heard excellent things about Unknown and Well-Known: A Biography of John Nelson Darby by Turner and Cross. I've not personally read Turner & Cross' book, but I've read Weremchuk's a couple times. So I'm not exactly approaching Fields' book with an unformed opinion.

I found Field's book to be a good complement to Weremchuk's. Weremchuk is certainly more analytical than Field: he spends a good deal of time and effort explaining what Darby taught, why he taught it, and what the outcomes are. Field, by contrast, writes more about Darby as a man: she spends more time discussing his family, explains his travels in greater detail, and chronicles several events which are less monumental in the development of Darby's thoughts and teachings. I greatly value Weremchuk's book for its big-picture perspective; but I found Field's book gave me a much clearer picture of who Darby was. She goes so far as to reproduce his will, commenting on the people mentioned in it. I can't remember running across that information anywhere else, although (to be fair) I haven't read Weremchuk's book in more than a decade.

I've read about Darby's time in Ireland in several places, but Field managed to bring out a number of details I'd never heard before. It was in this book I learned Darby habitually preached in Gaelic when he was in Calary (p. 32). Apparently this was one of the attractions the Roman Catholic Irish felt to him: the Roman Catholic Church made it a practice to suppress Gaelic, but Darby was speaking to them in their native tongue. And of course this appealed to the poorer most.

Field also spends a good deal of time on Darby's adventures in Switzerland. I've read Darby, and I've noticed how frequently he alludes to Switzerland, and how he frequently addresses various articles to the people there. Field filled in a lot of gaps in my understanding of what was happening in Switzerland: she talks about "brethren" suffering physical violence and persecution there (pp. 123--125).

She also describes his journeys to North America in some detail: I found his comments on Americans interesting (p. 155 ff.), as well as the details of his trips to Canada, and to San Francisco by rail.

I would definitely recommend Field's book: it's well worth a read. Compared to Weremchuk's book, I found Field's a little light on doctrine. But Weremchuk doesn't give nearly as much personal detail as Field does. I would highly recommend them both: perhaps Field's book first, followed by Weremchuk's.

I greatly appreciate my friend giving me this book. It was very enjoyable and will be read several times.


I gave a talk in meeting yesterday, on Solomon's going up to Gibeon to sacrifice (2 Kings 1:1--4). I've already written about this. I didn't go into as much detail in the talk as I did on this blog: I try to keep a talk to 35 minutes or less, and on my blog I can go as long as I like. But the main point I was trying to make was, if we mingle true faith with man's religion, we'll end up leaving the Lord's presence out. This is precisely what Solomon did. The ark of the covenant was in Jerusalem, the Lord had chosen Jerusalem to put His Name there (Psalm 78:60--69): He Himself had promised to meet the people between the cherubim on the mercy seat (Exodus 25:22). But Solomon left Jerusalem to worship at the altar in Gibeon (2 Chronicles 1:3--6).

I started out by giving a brief history of the ark's location from Kadesh-Barnea to Jerusalem. The first camp of the children of Israel in Canaan was at Gilgal (Joshua 5). It was at Gilgal that the Lord commanded Joshua to make stone knives and circumcise the Israelites, because they hadn't been practicing circumcision the whole time they were in the wilderness (Joshua 5:1--7).

2 At that time Jehovah said to Joshua, Make thee stone-knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. 8 And it came to pass when the whole nation had finished being circumcised, that they abode in their place in the camp, till they were whole. 9 And Jehovah said to Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. And the name of the place was called Gilgal to this day. (Joshua 5:2, 8--9, JND)

Now, I realize I probably sound really "brethren" here, but we notice when the children of Israel went out to conquer the land, Gilgal was their base camp. When they finished a campaign, they'd return to Gilgal before their next campaign. Well, they didn't always return to Gilgal. When they'd taken Jericho, they went straight from Jericho to Ai (Joshua 7:2--4). The battle at Ai didn't go so well. When Joshua asked the Lord about it, the Lord answered,

11 Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them, and they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it among their stuff. 12 And the children of Israel shall not be able to stand before their enemies: they shall turn their backs before their enemies, for they have made themselves accursed. I will no more be with you, except ye destroy the accursed thing from your midst. (Joshua 7:11--12, JND)
This passage was a real hot topic for a while among some of the "brethren" I was in fellowship with. A lot of the discussion about it seemed to me to have missed the most salient point: Joshua sent spies from Jericho to Ai without ever consulting the Lord. It wasn't until they were pummelled at Ai that Joshua asked the Lord about it.

There was another time Joshua acted without consulting the Lord, when the Gibeonites came to Gilgal to sue for peace (Joshua 9:1--15). The Scripture specifically tells us that Joshua didn't ask the Lord before acting (v. 14). Again, the decision made regarding Gibeon turned into a permanent problem for the Israelites. Adonai-Zedek attacked Gibeon, drawing the Israelites into a fight on his terms (Joshua 10:1--6).

When the Angel of the Lord came from Gigal to Bochim, He referenced the failure at Gibeon:

1 And the Angel of Jehovah came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you to the land which I swore unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you; and as for you, 2 ye shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not hearkened unto my voice. Why have ye done this? 3 Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be scourges in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you. 4 And it came to pass, when the Angel of Jehovah spoke these words to all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice and wept. 5 And they called the name of that place Bochim; and they sacrificed there to Jehovah. 6 And Joshua dismissed the people, and the children of Israel went every man to his inheritance to possess the land. (Joshua 2:1--6, JND)
They'd made a covenant with the people of the land, and the people of the land were scourges in their sides.

We might notice a principle here in passing: they weren't to make a covenant with the people of the land, but when they did, the Lord didn't tell them to break the covenant. Sometimes we might find that we've made a covenant (as it were) with the "people in the land". We sometimes think the solution is to break our covenant and declare war on them anyway, but that's not what the Scripture teaches. Joshua and his people had sworn to the Gibeonites they wouldn't attack them, and the Lord held them to their oath. He chides them for making the oath, but He never tells them to break it. In fact, when Saul broke the covenant with the Gibeonites, the Lord punished Israel (2 Samuel 21:1--14).

Joshua's failure at Jericho was that he didn't inquire of the Lord before going up against Ai. This is illustrated geographically in his going straight from Jericho to Ai, without coming back to Gilgal. Now, coming to Gilgal wasn't enough: the story of the Gibeonites tells us that even at Gilgal, he still failed to consult the Lord before acting. But the point remains that there is a lesson for us in Joshua's failure.

Gilgal was where the Lord rolled away the reproach of Egypt. Colossians 2:9--12 connects circumcision with the "putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of the Christ" (v. 11, JND). So we might see in the story of Gilgal an application to us. And I have to admit I see a lot of my own failure here.

There are times when things seem to be going well. I don't mean that my bills are getting paid and I've got plenty to eat: I mean there are times when it seems like maybe I'm getting the hang of this whole Christian life thing. It's been something like 35 years, I ought to be figuring it out! But there are times when we get the smell of victory: the smell of smoke and destruction and blood. There are times when it seems like we're doing the right things and walking with the Lord. And it's at those times that we need to return to Gilgal. But in my personal experience, those are the times I say, "I've got this, Lord. Don't worry about me. I'll just go ahead and send some spies up to Ai...".

What's the result? It's not good.

I noticed a couple years ago that there is a sort of progression through Romans 6--8:

  1. Romans 6 is "Know... reckon... yield". It's about deliberate sin.
  2. Romans 7 is "Who shall deliver me?". The point here is not that we ought not to continue in sin, but that we have this thing in us called "the flesh" and we're powerless over it.
  3. Romans 8 is "put to death the deeds of the body"
Romans 8 is different from 6 & 7: they have the sense of a crisis. The man in Romans 7 is anything but calm: the flesh is beating him down and he knows it. But when we got to Romans 8 things are calmer. And yet, even in the calm, there is the responsibility to be on the offensive. See, there's a sense where it's not too hard to rely on the Lord in the thick of the battle. When the flesh is dominating, when temptation seems just insurmountable, when we find in ourselves no good thing and we find ourselves doing what we don't want to do... those times it's relatively easy to look for the Deliverer (notice I said relatively). But when there's a respite, when we're celebrating on a field of victory, it can be really, really hard to go on the offensive. It can be really hard to remember what Romans 8 says, we need to "mortify".

Once again, Scripture doesn't teach asceticism, it doesn't teach works as the answer. That's the whole point of Romans 7, right? But it doesn't teach abandon either, that's the whole point of Romans 6. So what's "mortifying"?

There is an answer in the story of Gilgal, and it's answered in 2 Corinthians 3. When the children of Israel were in Gigal, they didn't only circumcise with stone knives: they also ate the old corn of the land (Joshua 5:11). What's the old corn of the land? It's Christ in resurrection (cf. Leviticus 2:12--16; 1 Corinthians 15:20--28). So it's not only that we put off the flesh, we also feed on Christ. Now, 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us the same thing, maybe in less mystical terms:

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. (JND)
Want to be Christ-like? The scriptural path to Christ-likeness is to look at Him in glory.

But we can't come to Gilgal (as it were) in any sort of pride. We might come back flushed with victory, but Gilgal isn't only the place to feed, it's the place of circumcision. There's a cutting that happened at Gilgal, and 2 Corinthians 4 tells us about that too:

6 Because it is the God who spoke that out of darkness light should shine who has shone in our hearts for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassingness of the power may be of God, and not from us: 8 every way afflicted, but not straitened; seeing no apparent issue, but our way not entirely shut up; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body; 11 for we who live are always delivered unto death on account of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh; 12 so that death works in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:6--12, JND)
The life of Jesus is manifested in our mortal bodies as death works in us. That's not to say that we work death in ourselves: it should be obvious that's impossible. But the Lord uses death to work in us so that His life is manifested in us. But the point is, the whole idea of coming to Gilgal with any sort of pride is the very opposite to the working of death in us that happens there.

So that's what I've been thinking about for the last couple days: I didn't set out to talk about Gilgal yesterday; but as I was speaking about Gibeon, I was struck that there's been a real failure on my part to appreciate (and practice) the lesson of Gilgal. And I thought it might be worthwhile to share that.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ritual and Faith

I was in the mall with my kids. A man approached me and asked if he could share the gospel with me. I agreed. He clearly explained that we are all sinners, that Christ Jesus came into the world, died for us, was raised again, and we can be forgiven because of His sacrifice for us. In short, he did a good job of sharing the gospel with me.

But then he wanted me to repeat a prayer with him. I declined, saying, "It would be in appropriate for someone who is already a believer."

He countered, "It can't hurt."

"But that's not faith!" I said.

He argued with me, and finally left. I felt bad, I really wasn't trying to ruin this guy's day. In fact, I admire that he's in a shopping mall sharing the Gospel with random strangers. I really do.

But God isn't looking for a ritual: He's not looking for someone to repeat a prayer. He's looking for people to believe (John 5:24, Romans 4:5). And if I believe God, there's no room for "it can't hurt." "It can't hurt" isn't the language of faith: it's the language of hedging my bets. It's the language of not being sure what I believe, and clutching at anything that looks like it might float.

God is looking for faith. Faith is believing what God says, because God said it. That is what pleases God. That is what God has said He counts as righteousness.

I didn't want to stumble the guy. I sure didn't want to discourage him from sharing Christ with strangers in the mall. I quoted John 5:24 to him: there's no "it can't hurt" in the Gospel. Those who believe are passed from death into life, and they won't come into judgment.

In the end, he was offering a ritual--- not a very fancy ritual, but a ritual nonetheless--- as a means to salvation. This isn't what the Scripture teaches: it teaches justification by faith (Acts 13:38 & 39; Romans 5:1), not justification by ritual.

I can't remember his name: I'm not sure he even offered it. But we need to pray for the guy that was sharing the Gospel in the mall. I'd like to think he was just having trouble coping with something that wasn't in the script. I hope he doesn't really believe the difference between heaven and hell is reciting the prayer in his tracts. I don't know; God knows, and God loves him.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Eternal Occupation

A few weeks ago I was giving a talk in meeting. I made the statement that our eternal occupation will be to learn about the Father and the Son. A brother in the meeting called me on that: he wanted a chapter and verse to support my claim.

Let's point out that this is exactly how the assembly is supposed to function. When someone makes a statement, it is imperative that the other people in the gathering should be willing to challenge it. Now, this brother didn't come out swinging, he didn't tell me I was an heretic, he cast no aspersion on my family. He simply challenged me on my statement and asked me to prove it from Scripture. This is what 1 Corinthians 14 specifically commands: the prophets are to speak, and the rest are to judge. That's not to say I consider myself a prophet, but the idea is that the assembly is a place where we judge what's said.

So this brother brought up a legitimate point, and I'm ashamed to say I didn't have an immediate answer. So I told him I'd get back to him. It's taken me longer than it ought to have, but I've been trying to piece together a reply. I thought this would be a good place to do that; so you get to read my rough draft, so to speak.

Probably the best place to start is with the Lord Jesus' statement at the start of John 17:3, "this is the eternal life, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent". So according to the Lord Jesus, eternal life is knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ. This, I suppose, almost completely answers the question. Knowing Him is eternal life.

It's no stretch to say that if knowing Him is eternal life, then it will be at least a huge part of what we're living for in eternity.

Scripture doesn't tell us a whole lot about what eternity will be like. Scripture isn't, after all, written to satisfy our curiosity. But there are some positive statements made that touch on our question. One is in Ephesians 2:

but God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love wherewith he loved us, (we too being dead in offences,) has quickened us with the Christ, (ye are saved by grace,) and has raised [us] up together, and has made [us] sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, that he might display in the coming ages the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4--7, JND)
I find this statement interesting, it says one of God's purposes is to use the Church as a display of His grace in the coming ages. It doesn't say who's looking at the display, it merely says the Church will be on display.

This seems to support the notion that eternity will be all about getting to know God better. Not in the sense of a classroom, but in the sense of getting to know Him. As we look at the Church in Heaven, we'll see His grace on display. And the more we look at it, the more we'll see of His grace.

Ephesians makes another statement about eternity:

To me, less than the least of all saints, has this grace been given, to announce among the nations the glad tidings of the unsearchable riches of the Christ, and to enlighten all [with the knowledge of] what is the administration of the mystery hidden throughout the ages in God, who has created all things, in order that now to the principalities and authorities in the heavenlies might be made known through the assembly the all-various wisdom of God, according to [the] purpose of the ages, which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access in confidence by the faith of him. (Ephesians 3:8--12, JND)
This one is a little different, it says God will use the assembly to demonstrate His wisdom to the principalities and authorities in the heavenlies. Here we have an audience named for the display, but once again the whole point of the display isn't the Church itself, it's the character of God that will be seen as they look on the Church.

So the two eternal purposes of God in the Church in Ephesians are certainly centered on getting to know God better. In the Church we'll see His grace and His wisdom. And that means we'll have an eternal job to do (if I can say it that way): we'll be on display to show Him off.

1 Thessalonians 4 says the whole point of His coming to get us is for us to "ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17). That was the apostle's encouragement to the Thessalonians, it should encourage us too. He's coming to get us so that we can always be with Him. Notice the Lord said almost exactly the same thing to Peter, "if I go and shall prepare you a place, I am coming again and shall receive you to myself, that where I am ye also may be" (John 14:3, JND). So this is, in a sense, the promise of eternity: there'll come a time when we'll be with the Lord Jesus forever. It's the thought of Scripture that we would be excited by this prospect, that it would be something to keep us moving forward.

Paul said something similar in Philippians 3: "that I may know Him" (Philippians 3:10). This is a striking passage, because Philippians was written late in his life. He'd already learned more than I'll ever know about the Lord, but his goal was to know Him. This suggests to me that we'll never come to know the Lord Jesus completely. I'm not saying He is completely unknowable, but He's definitely not completely knowable. We'll still be knowing Him better for all eternity: even with all eternity, the infinite God will be a mystery to our finite minds.

Having said that, I think I dropped the ball when I was giving that talk. I think I probably talked about knowing about Christ, as opposed to knowing Him. There is a huge difference between the two, although they're not entirely unrelated. I wouldn't say I know a person if I know absolutely nothing about him; on the other hand, knowing all about someone isn't the same as knowing him. It's possible to know a great deal about the Lord Jesus without actually knowing Him. That's not eternal life.

So no, our eternal occupation's not going to be classes in theology. But we will spend eternity getting to know God better. We'll spend it getting to know Christ better.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Law and Grace (again?)

I've gone on about Law and Grace many, many times. But at the risk of beating a dead horse; I was reading the other day and came across this:

It is to be noted that, while the people are distinctly put under law, the principle of the second tables was law after present forgiveness and mercy. This is exactly the ground Christians want to be upon now -- to bring in law after grace and mercy. But this it is Paul calls the ministration of death and condemnation. (J. N. Darby, Synopsis, Exodus, Chapters 35 to 40)