I have this Question.
How would you explain Ezekiel 33:11:
“As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turneth from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel.”
This Scripture passage, if it is to yield to us its right meaning, must he explained in the context. Regard must be had to the verse immediately preceding: “Therefore, O son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak saying, if our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?”
What the Jews who thus spake meant is clear. It is this: We have transgressed against the Lord. In His eyes we are guilty. But it would be useless for us to repent and turn to Him for pardon and grace. For He wants us in hell. Hence, let us eat, drink, and be merry. For tomorrow we die.
Now this is a terrible way of reasoning about the good God. What it would mean were it true is that God has pleasure in the torment of the wicked as such—mark you, as such—and that from sheer love of cruelty, just to see the wicked suffer, He cast them into hell even though during their life-time they were truly penitent and contrite.
So to reason about God is blasphemy. It is to change His glory into the image made like unto a devil-god.
True, God did not in His eternal and sovereign good-pleasure choose in Christ all men unto life everlasting. Some He appointed unto eternal damnation to punish them as fallen and hardened — fallen according to His sovereign decree and hardened by His sovereign working — with eternal damnation on account of their impenitence and rebellion.
But this does not mean that He has pleasure in the death of the wicked as such, nor that He delights in their evil doing. On the contrary, His purpose in reprobating some was to reveal His utter abhorrence of sin that He might be feared and praised as God holy and righteous. Being the kind of God He is, He delights in well-doing, Accordingly, it pleases Him when the wicked turn from their evil way and live. And He also commands every one of them without exception to repent and believe in Him thru Christ and be saved. He moreover seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as come to Him and believe in Him. And in His just judgment and holy wrath He punishes the impenitent and rebellious with everlasting desolation. This is the truth contained in Ezek. 33:11. What we deal with here in this Scripture is God’s moral will also called the will of God’s command and His revealed will. And, of course, only the elect do repent. And their resolution to repent as well as their repentance as such has God’s counsel as it sovereign cause and the grace of God as its only fountain.
Now God being the kind of God that He is— a God not having pleasure in the death of the wicked as such, but a God who delighteth in well-doing and who therefore is pleased when wicked men turn from their sins and live and who accordingly receives all such men in Christ and speaks in their hearts His peace, why should the house of Israel, why should the wicked die, when they turn from their evil way? Coming to God as penitent sinners, they will not die but live. In fact, they already live, have life in themselves, believing as they do in Christ. Let the house of Israel turn therefore. For why should they die? asks the prophet in the name of God, meaning that if they continue in their rebellion and perish in their sins, they certainly cannot blame God. On the contrary the fault will be all theirs. For He hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked as such, but that the wicked turneth from his way and live, He being holy God.
Once more, it is with God’s command with which we deal in this Scripture and with the God who delighteth in well-doing. This is God’s moral will. But the Scriptures also teach the will of God’s sovereign counsel. According to His moral will, God commanded Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go. But according to His counsel He sovereignly hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that the king disobeyed. Indeed, the Scriptures teach both these wills. And therefore God’s believing people hold to both and they also have need of both as believers.
And now let us listen to the rest of the Lord’s reply to the complaint of the Jews (Ezek. 33:10) with which we are here occupied: “Therefore thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, the righteousness of the righteous (not, of course, the truly righteous, but the apparent righteous, thus, the hypocrite who openly apostatizes) shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth.
“When I say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust in his own righteousness and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he committeth he shall die for it.
“Again when I say unto the wicked, thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right;
“If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that which he hath robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”
The point to this reasoning of the Lord is clear. It is this: The wicked that (truly repent of their sins shall live. They are saved. The (apparently) righteous that apostatize (openly) and return to their vomit to serve the lusts of the flesh shall surely die in their iniquity. The Lord then does not, as those complaining Jews contended, cast a truly penitent sinner into perdition. And so the Lord continues and concludes: “Yet the children of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not equal: but as for them, their way is not equal. “When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby.
But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby.
“Yet ye say, the way of the Lord is not equal. O ye house of Israel, I will judge you, every one after his ways.” —Ezek. 33:12-19.
Reprinted from the Standard Bearer December 1, 1939.
“This is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” John 17:3
Eternal life. It is a boon unspeakably good. But just what is it? How is it to be described or defined? Is it heavenly felicity? Is it to be identified with holiness, with purity of heart? Christ says that to know God is eternal life. Mark you, not to know about Him but to know Him is life eternal. It is a knowing that springs from experiencing His power to save from sin, to deliver from the power of sin, to conform such who by nature are the children of the devil, according to the image of His Son. The carnal seed in the church, the children of disobedience, who keep not His covenant, know about Him, about His power to save; for the Gospel is preached also to them. They, too, together with God’s believing people, are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. They, too, behold, in a glass, the glory of the Lord. They are even enlightened, and are perhaps tasting the heavenly gift, and are being made partakers of the Holy Spirit and may be tasting the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come. Yet they do not actually know God, as they have never experienced that power of His by which He quickens the dead, sanctifies the unholy, that power through the exercise of which He causes the vile yet elect sinner to partake of His divine nature. Hence, though they know much about God and about His redeeming power, they know not God. They are like one who, though well informed respecting the competence of a certain famed physician in the treatment of bodily disease, has never himself experienced the competence.
But it is not sufficient to say that to know God is to experience His redeeming power. Consider, that, according to Scripture, this power, as exercised, is the power of His love, so that to be saved by Him forms the certain evidence of being His beloved. Scripture lays much stress on this. “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). But God, Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (Eph. 2:4,5). And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour (Eph. 5:2)… even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word (Eph. 5:25, 26). Behold, what a manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God:. (I Jo. 3:1). Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us (I Jo. 3:16)… but that he loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (I Jo. 4:10). Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father (Rev. 1:5, 6).”
It is worthy to note that nowhere in Holy Writ do we come upon a statement that reads, “But God, for His great love wherewith He loved us, causes His sun to rise over us, sends us rain, causes our land to yield abundantly, and blesses us with bodily health.” The reason is that the certain evidence of God’s love of His people is not His prospering them in a material sense. Sending His people prosperity is no surer or greater indication that He loves them than His sending them adversity. He sends them the one as well as the other in His love. From this it follows that by itself material prosperity is no sign and pledge of God’s love (the contention of the exponents of common grace). The pledge of His love is a new heart. And if so, then the certain indication of His hatred of some, is His determination not to save them. And as to material riches, they are gifts of love only if the recipient be a believer. If it were true that such riches as enjoyed by the wicked betoken God’s love, it would have to be considered strange that not one statement to this effect can be found in all the Scriptures. So far is Holy Writ from teaching that God prospers materially the wicked in His love, that it teaches the very opposite, to wit, that to the wicked prosperity is a slippery place on which He sets them.
It is altogether understandable that God’s bestowing upon His people the gift of salvation should be the pledge of the love which He bears them, that the power by which He saves is the power of His love. Consider what His saving His people means. It means that He washes them in the blood of His only begotten Son, thus making them to partake of His divine nature, that He takes them into His house and to His heart as His children that they may everlastingly dwell with Him and be satisfied by His likeness. How then could His saving them not be the expression of His love.
And so it is likewise understandable that God’s bestowing upon the wicked material riches is a doing expressive not of His love but of His wrath. This is understandable. For so far are such riches the means by which God softens the hearts of wicked men, that the more He prospers them, the more they taunt Him, the more vehemently they say, “Who is the Lord,” the more determined they become in their resisting Him. And as he determinedly willed this sinful reaction, the contention that also the prosperity of the wicked is to be regarded as the expression and the undoubted testimony of God’s love, is grounded neither in Scripture nor in reason.
Now if the power by which God saves is the power of His love it follows that knowing God is experiencing His love. However, knowing God is more than experiencing the power of His love in the sense of unconsciously undergoing its benign operations. Knowing, it is to be considered, is always an act of man’s conscious soul. If a person, who is critically ill, is not conscious of his undergoing a successful operation, he does not know and is thus not rejoicing in the prospect of a speedy recovery. So it is in the sphere of grace. To know God’s love is to consciously experience, and thus to taste, its power. It is thus a necessity knowing oneself as forgiven and saved unto God, and as possessing in Christ the right to draw near unto Him. Now whereas this knowledge is the fruitage of an act of Christ’s Spirit which consists in His testifying with the spirit of God’s believing people that they are God’s children and are thus vested with Christ’s righteousness and washed in His blood from their sins, and whereas the Spirit is so active in the hearts of believers only when they, by God’s mercy, are forsaking their sins and turning more and more to Him the living God, it follows that to know God is to walk before His face in newness of life. A believer, who is living in sin, does not, while unrepentant, know God. The more earnestly believing people mortify their members which are upon the earth—fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry—and the more diligent they are in putting off anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of their mouth and in putting on the new man, which is renewed in the knowledge after the image of him that created him, the more vividly do they know God, and thus know that they are God’s children. And the less diligently they are in this respect, the less vividly do they know God.
Now if knowing God is undergoing the operation of the power of His love, it is at once a tasting that God is gracious, lovely, glorious. God being the inclusion of all perfection and virtue, is gracious, lovely, glorious. And in His love, He also beautifies His chosen people by nature ugly, through cleansing them from the sin in Christ’s blood, conforming them according to Christ’s image and everlastingly causing the heavenly fullness that dwells in Christ and of which God is the eternal fountain, to abound in them. And they know themselves as saved, to His people, as God’s Spirit testifies with their spirits that they are His children. Thus a heavenly gladness fills their souls. Now this joyful awareness of what they are in Christ—kings and priests unto their God—is their tasting that God is good. Still all has not been said. Knowing God is also beholding Him with a sanctified and heavenly organ of perception, and as so beholding, a being satisfied by the spiritual beauty of His nature as revealed in Christ.
So, to know God is to be like Him and thus to love and delight in Him. It is to stand in His presence in the consciousness of being the objects of His delight. It is, in a word, having fellowship with Him.
Now to so know God is live eternal. If so, it follows that eternal life is more than mere existence. It is heavenly perfection, joy and peace. It is the gladness that springs from the consciousness of seeing God’s son in Christ. It is to see the heart of Christ’s God. It is therefore even something better than the blissful existence of Adam in the state of integrity. Adam, too, during the duration of his sinless state knew and walked with God. But he did not pray, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgiveth all thy iniquities; Who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction.” He therefore was not tasting the pardoning, saving, love of God. He saw not God as He is, as he saw Him not in the face of Christ. And the glory of his existence was earthy. God’s believing people, on the other hand, are new creatures. Their glory is heavenly, as they bear the image of the Lord from heaven. And they see God as He is, as they behold Him in the face of Christ. And they have life eternal, life everlasting and heavenly. For they know God, the only true God.
It is solely because God is only and true that knowing Him is life eternal. He is the only God. In distinction from the creature, He is the foundation of His own being and the well-springs of His own existence. He is thus in and of Himself and in respect to the creature, the fountain of all life and goodness, so that the goodness of His people—their love and holiness and wisdom—is His goodness shed abroad in their hearts. Hence, He is truly God and none else. Besides Him, the righteous One, there is no righteousness; besides Him Who is love, there is no love; besides Him, the mighty One, there is no might, strength, power, so that not to know Him is to be unrighteous, unholy, unlovely, foolish, vain. Thus not to know Him, the only God, is death with all its concomitants: damnation, curse, hell.
Being the only God, He is the true God. He is all that a being must be in order to be God. He thus stands opposed to falseness, unrealness, vanity. He is the true, eternal, simple, immutable essence. As compared with Him the creature is nothing. He is the highest essence, truth, good. He is pure being. He possesses not but is truth, righteousness, love, wisdom, might, power. And between His being and the revelation of it in word and deed, there is perfect agreement, so that to know His word is to know Him. He thus also stands over against lying and falsehood. He is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: He hath said, and shall do. He hath spoken and shall make it good (Num. 23:19). He is true God over against error. His knowing is determinative. He therefore, knows all things as they are and all things are as He knows them. His knowing is consequently correct and unchangeable. It is living and absolute. It is essential in God and thus precedes all things. It is one with His being. His Word, Law, Gospel is therefore pure truth. He is the original truth; the fountain of all truth, the truth in all truth; the ground of the truth, of the true being of all things, of their capability of being known and thought; the ideal of all truth, of all ethical being, of all rule and law, according to which the being and revelation of all things must be appraised; the fountain and origin of all knowledge of truth in every sphere the light wherein we alone can see light, the sun of spirits.
Being the true God, He is the rock. Through His unchangeable firmness, He is the eternal support of His people, their shield, their defense, their fortress. As true God, He is the faithful One, keeping covenant trust, the faithful and dependable resort of His people. So, to know Him is life eternal.
However, God is known, in the sense described above, only in and through Christ. “This is eternal life, that they may know thee—and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” And the reasons? Firstly, in Him dwells all the fullness bodily—the fullness of grace and truth of which Christ’s God is the eternal fountain. So the Father willed—willed that of this fullness of which He, the Christ, was to be the meritorial source, He should also be the eternal seat and channel. And this He is. Thus He is everlastingly the true bread of His people, their living water, the true vine in whom they everlastingly abide and as so abiding bear fruit, the head of the church, the chief cornerstone of God’s temple, their truth and light, and thus their very life.
He is their light. He sustains to them the relation of light-source, so that knowing Him, they walk not in darkness but have the light of life. They are not merely outwardly illuminated. There is such an outward illumination. It consists in being enlightened by the truth without being made to love the light. That Christ is the light of His people means that in Him they are light, and thus having life abiding in them—the life that is light, truth, love, holiness.
Being their life and light and truth, He is their way to the Father, the triune Jehovah. He is the only way. Hence, no man cometh unto the Father but by Him. No man can know the Father except in and through Him. He, therefore, who is pitted against Christ knows not God, is shut out from the presence of the Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, thus the God of mercy and grace. Such a one is thus unloved and unblessed.
If Christ is light and life, the seat and channel of the grace and truth that is the portion of God’s people, it follows that He is also the radiance of the Father’s glory, thus the face in which the redeemed see and know God. God has a face. If He had not, the believers would never be seeing Him. And that they shall see Him, the God and Father of Christ, is promised them. Said Christ, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The believers will see Him, not, to be sure, His essence, which is invisible, but His face and thus Him. For His face is radiant with the beauty of His infinite perfection, with the glory of His Invisible Self, so that, beholding His face, believers see Him, God, His very heart, the love of His heart, by the power of which they were saved. And God’s face is Christ Jesus. For He is in the Father, and the Father is in Him, and the words that He speaks, He speaks not of Himself: but the Father that dwelleth in Him, he doeth the works.
God’s face is Christ—the Christ as He brings Himself forward for all that He is. And He is the Lamb of God, Who took away the sins of the world by His suffering and death; the way, the truth, and the life; the resurrection and the life; the Christ with whom God’s believing people were crucified, buried, and raised up together and made to sit in heavenly places in Him; the Christ Who ascended into heaven, was crowned there with power and glory and Who now gathers His church and rules His people by His Spirit and His Word; the Christ, Who can pray for His people and save them to the uttermost, because He is the Lamb, “as it had been slain” and because in Him now dwelleth all fullness bodily; the Christ, finally, Who shall roll up the heavens as a scroll and cause the elements to burn, that the new heavens and the new earth may appear and that His people with Him may appear in glory. This Christ is the face of God. Beholding Him, the redeemed see God. Knowing Him, they know God. Loving Him, they love God. Dwelling with Him, they dwell with God. For His love is the love of God. His beauty is God’s glory. Where He is, there is God. Of the fullness that dwelleth in Him, God, the triune Jehovah, is the creative fountain, so that the Father is in Him. He therefore is in the absolute sense God’s Christ and as such the Christ of His people.
However, God’s face, which is Christ, God’s people in this life see through or in a glass. And this glass is the Scripture. Hence in this life, God’s believing people stand not before God’s very face but before this face as reflected by the Scriptures. It is for this reason that believers feel themselves attracted to the Word. It is in the Word that they behold the face of God Whose grace they are ever being made to experience. But the reflection of God’s face in the Scriptures is dark. “For now we see through a glass, darkly” (I Cor. 13:12). This can be explained. Objectively by the circumstance that the language of Scripture is earthy as are also the symbols through which Christ in His Word speaks to His people of the glory of His Father and of Himself. In the Scriptures Christ appears as the true bread, the living water, wine, milk, as the door and the way, as the lamb and the alter, as the morning-star, as the sun that shines in our heaven. It is thus in a speech that is earthy, that the Scriptures were written. The Scriptures being earthy, believers behold an earthy image of God’s heavenly face, which is Christ. Thus as compared with God’s very face, this image, this glory of God as reflected by the earthy Scriptures is, must be, dark. And it is well that it is thus. For how could believers now in this life have God’s face as the direct object of their vision? The dazzling radiance of that face would destroy them. In this life then, the believers do not see God as He is, as they do not see Him face to face. But the promise is that they shall. And by this promise they live. For they want to see His face directly, behold with pure and heavenly eyes His glory. Their desire shall be granted. They shall see Him face to face. Then they shall know as they are known. And their joy will be full. And in heavenly language they shall everlastingly cry out His praises. For they will then be like Him, their God. He, Himself, has said it. “And we shall see Him as He is, for we shall be like Him.” It is not the ideal of essential likeness that is here promised, but a likeness that will consist in believers being holy, as He is holy.
“This is eternal life that they may know thee… and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” It is the Christ whom God has sent, that must be known, if God is to be known— this Christ and none other, the Christ whom He sent into the world, into our grief and hell and whom He raised unto our justification. In His name only is their salvation.
We reprint this exposition of scripture in connection with the May 21 devotional.
In grateful awareness that in warfare with the heathen his victories were the Lord’s, David vowed that he would give thanks unto the Lord among the heathen. The lines read:
Therefore I will give thanks unto thee,
Lord, among the heathen,
And I will sing praises unto thy name.
An identical sentiment receives expression in Ps. 96. Here it meets us in the form of an exhortation:
Sing unto the Lord, bless his name, shew
forth his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the heathen, his
wonders among all people.
The wonders of the Lord were all His works through which He in His mercy effected the salvation of His people through the ages. Included are the plagues of the Lord upon Egypt, the signs of the period of the wanderings, the victories of Joshua, of the judges, of Saul and of David in all their warfare with the heathen. Being works of God, they were revelatory of His strength and of the beauty of His holiness, in a word, of all His goodness. And to set them forth as His works was to declare His glory; it was equivalent to singing praises unto His name.
That David would do among the heathen. That the prophets in Israel had been doing through the ages— singing praises unto the Lord among the heathen. Not that in the Old Testament dispensation the church through a called and ordained ministry was engaged in spreading the Gospel among the heathen. David did not live with the heathen of his empire as active in their midst as a missionary minister. David was a man of war in the physical sense, and he dwelt in his house in Jerusalem. The people of Israel through the ages had their prophets, men of God directly called and sent of Him to speak His Word. But with few exceptions their sphere of labor was limited to the house of Israel. Singing praises unto the Lord was not done by missionary ministers laboring as official organs of the church among the heathen.
The idea of different. It is this. That people of Israel, definitely their prophets, as dwelling in the midst of the nations and in contradistinction of the nations, sang praises unto the Lord, that is, set forth their victories in their warfare with the heathen as given them of God. That was Israel’s calling in the midst of the nations, namely, to set forth its history in its right light in order that God’s name might be declared throughout all the earth. Accordingly, the substance of all of Moses’ communications to Pharaoh is that the plagues spoiling his land and people were strokes laid on him by Israel’s God. “The lord is a man of war,” sang Moses and the children of Israel. “The Lord is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea…. Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sendest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble. And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the flood stood upright as an heap, and the depths were concealed in the heart of the sea.” In voicing this praise, Moses and the people of Israel were giving thanks unto the Lord among the heathen and singing praises unto His name. The one proposition on which all the prophecy of the Scriptures turns is precisely that God is it. And the one proposition on which all false prophecy turns it precisely that man is it. Thus in penning and publishing his Psalms David, too, was giving thanks unto the Lord among the nations. That God is it is the heart and core of all his songs.
The Scribes and Pharisees of Christ’s day were zealous missionaries. They compassed sea and land to make on proselyte. But the trouble is that they were not telling the heathen that God is it. The result was that they made their converts “twofold more the child of hell than themselves” (Matt. 23:15)
The true prophets of the Old Dispensation set forth the works of God as His works, as wonders of His grace. And the report of these works, as rightly construed and extolled by God’s people, as set forth by them in their right light, spread far and wide. They spake, of course, by the infallible guidance of Christ’s Spirit. Their constructions originated not in them but in God. They spake His word among the heathen, so that Israel’s history, the works of God, the wonders of the Lord, the revelation of God in Christ, was known more or less also to the heathen of Israel’s world. It could not well be otherwise. The salvation of Zion is always effected through the destruction of the adversary. And the heathen were that adversary. Over and over they had seen God’s wrath and power as operative in their own destruction. They, too, knew of the Lord’s works. And the memory of what God had wrought was perpetuated also among them. Said Rahab the harlot, to the spies, “I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what he did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we did hear these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath” (Joshua 11:8-11). And the counsel of the Philistine priests and diviners to their Philistine lords contains also this remarkable word, “Wherefore ye shall make images of your emerods…. and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land. Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go and they departed?” (I Samuel 6:5, 6).
Truly, God was known to the heathen of Israel’s world. They had knowledge of the revelation of His mercy to His people. It raises the question of the reaction of the heathen. The great bulk of them, following in the footsteps of the Egyptians and the Canaanites, hardened their hearts. The author of the book of Joshua makes mention of the perverse attitude of the Canaanites, “Joshua made war a long time with all those kings,” he writes. “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hevites the inhabitants of Gibeon.” He adds the reason, “For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favor, but that he might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses.”
But the Scriptures reveal that there were also others. Heathen they were, drawn by the light that penetrated the darkness also of their night into God’s kingdom. First to be mentioned is the mixed multitude that followed the children of Israel out of Egypt. Doubtless the Ethiopian, whom Moses married after the death of Zipporah belonged to them. It shows that God had His people among that motley crowd. The Kenites were friendly toward Israel. The kindness that they had shown the children of Israel at the time of their departure from Egypt was still being held in grateful remembrance at the time of Saul (I Samuel 15:6). Jethro, Moses father-in-law as a Kenite. His reaction to Moses’ report on the glad happenings in Egypt is revealing. He rejoiced. He blessed the Lord. He extolled the Lord above all gods. He sacrificed burnt-offering for God. And Aaron and the elders drew nigh and ate bread with him (Exodus 18). The Gibeonites made peace with Joshua be it by the employment of a subterfuge. They did not harden their hearts by cast themselves on the mercy of Joshua and of the Lord. They said, “And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do.” And they said, too, that it had been told them, “how that the Lord thy God commended his servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you” (Joshua 11). Under the constraints of the living faith in Jehovah, Rahab, the harlot, hid the spies; and Ruth forsook Moab and joined herself to the commonwealth of Israel.
King David was fervently loved and much befriended by heathen men. During the Sauline persecution he brought his father and mother under the protecting wing of Moab’s king; and there they remained until he received the kingdom (I Samuel 22). While he was in hiding in the cave of Adullum, many warriors attached themselves to him, from whom he recruited his “mighty men” and later his bodyguard. Their names—Keethi and Pelethi—suggest that they were foreigners (II Samuel 8:19). He dwelt a long time in the city of Gath; and there, too, a band of brave Philistine men collected about him, and they were for him in his last great distress brought on by Absalom, “And the king went forth, and all the people after…. and all his servants passed on beside him; and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites (men of Gath), six hundred men which came after him from Gath, passed on before the king” (II Samuel 15:18). Uriah was a Hittite, that is, a descendant of Heth (II Samuel 11:3). The warriors of David included still other foreigners. There was an Ammorite names Zelek (II Samuel 23:37). It was in the house of a Gittite (man from Gath) that David placed the ark. In the hour of Absalom’s revolt, it was foreigners who show him kindness. In his flight an Ammonite provided him with provision (II Samuel 17:27). Hushai, the Archite (from Arke, a city of Phoenicia) did him well by destroying the counsel of the traitor Ahithofel (II Samuel 15:32). Remarkable and touching was the faithfulness of Ittai, the man from Gath. “Wherefore goest thou also with me,” said David to him, “return to thy place, and abide with the king, for thou art a stranger, and also an exile. Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? Seeing I go whither I may; return thou, and take back thy brethren; mercy and truth be with thee.” But Ittai replied, “As Jehovah liveth, and as the Lord my king liveth, surely in what place the lord my king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.”
“All the earth sought the face of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his heart” (I Kings 10:24). Having seen Solomon’s wisdom, the queen of Sheba blessed the Lord his God, “which delighteth in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel: because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore made he thee king, to do judgment and justice” (I Kings 10).
The Ninevites repented—and they truly repented— at the preaching of Jonah. Several centuries before the birth of Christ, the Jews were scattered throughout the whole civilized world. And they took with him their Scriptures. This is the solution of the visit of the Magi at the cradle of the Christ-child. They knew the Scriptures.
King Solomon’s dedicatory prayer contains lines that should be quoted in this connection, “Moreover,” so he prayed, “concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name’s sake; (For thy shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand, and of thy stretched out arm; when he shall come and pray toward this house; hear thou in heaven from thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for; that all people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name.”
The law of Moses is much occupied with these “strangers that would come out of a far country for the sake of the Lord’s name.” If a stranger, sojourning with the people of Israel, desired to keep the passover, his males (including himself) were circumcised, and then he was permitted to come near and keep it; and he was to be as one born in the land (Exodus 12:48; Numbers 9:14). He was allowed to “offer an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord” (Numbers 15:14). He had to be loved; food and raiment had to given him, were he in need; and his cause had to judged righteously (Leviticus 19:34; Dueteronomy 10:18, 19; Deuteronomy 1:16).
In the light of this date the position that during the centuries enclosed by the calling of Abraham and the ascension of Christ, God was limiting salvation to the Jews so absolutely that not a heathen was saved or that the number of heathen saved was too few to have any meaning or to deserve mention even is seen to be untenable. Moreover, the position is not to be harmonized with the prophetic range of the Psalms and of the discourses of the later prophets. They foretell that the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth His glory (Psalm 102:15); that the Gentiles shall seek to the root of Jesse, that shall stand for an ensign of the people (Isaiah 11:10); that the Gentiles shall bring Zion’s sons in their arms, and that her daughters shall be carried on their shoulders (Isaiah 49:50); that her sons shall come from far, and that her daughters shall be nursed at her side; that the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto her, and that to her shall come the forces of the Gentiles (Isaiah 60:50); that in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains and that many nations shall come and say, Come, let us go up to the top of the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths (Micah 4:1,2).
Here we listen to the prophets of the 8th century before Christ. What we behold in their words is a marvelous thing, namely, the eternal God folding in His arms and taking to His bosom all nations, the whole of our fallen race.
It raises the question whether these prophets were in any way prepared in their minds for the reception of the revelation of this mighty and glorious thing. Must we not conclude that such was indeed the case—conclude that they were speaking of a thing that through the centuries had been going on right along in their own limited world, to wit: the coming of “the strangers” out of a far country for the sake of the Lord’s name—the coming of these strangers to pray toward God’s house, in the earthly Canaan, the heaven of the Old Testament church. Besides, let us consider that the proclamations of these 8th century prophets of God’s purpose to draw all men to Himself through Christ’s cross was but an expansion of the gospel as first set forth by God Himself in paradise. “I will set enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed….” is the germ of all prophecy. And through the centuries God had continued to speak with always greater clarity as when he said to Abraham that in him were all the families of the earth destined to be blessed.
In the Old Dispensation the house of God was established in the top of a mountain—Mt. Zion—that is on earth. Accordingly only a few nations came and said, “Come, let us go up to the house of Jacob”—the few nations of Israel’s small world, of David’s empire. But Christ has come; and He died for our sins. He is exalted. His Spirit is now. And the house of God is exalted above the mountains in the highest heavens. Many nations now come and say, “come, let us go up to the house of the God of Jacob.”
As to David, he was priest and prophet as well as king in Israel’s throne. For he vowed to give thanks unto the Lord among the nations of his domain. Therein, too, he typified Christ.
Be Thou, O God, exalted high,
Yea, far above the starry sky,
And let Thy glory be displayed
O ’er all the earth Thy hands have made. ❖
*Reprinted from the Standard Bearer, Volume XXVII October 1, 1950, Pages 13-15,
Semi-arminianism is Arminianism in a reformed dress. It is a type of Arminianism that looks like a lamb but is really a wolf. To make good this statement requires that we first have regard to Arminianism proper. Its basic tenets are the following:
1) Faith is a condition to salvation.
2) The will of man is morally free, that is, depraved man can will to reject Christ or to believe in His name and be saved as he, man, chooses.
3) To say that God determines man’s choices is to reduce man, conceptually, to a stock and a stone. God’s counsel therefore, is not the cause and fountain of man’s good choice, will, decision, determination to be saved. Accordingly, this good choice is not worked in man by God, but originates in man himself.
4) From all eternity God determined to bestow salvation on those whom He foresaw that they would fulfill the condition set by Him, namely, that they believe; and to inflict everlasting punishment on those who should continue in their unbelief, and resist unto the end His divine-succors, so that election was conditional, and reprobation in like manner the result of foreseen infidelity and persevering wickedness.
5) Jesus Christ, by his suffering and death, made an atonement for the sins of all mankind in general, and of every individual in particular; that, however, none but those who believe in Him can be partakers of His benefits.
6) The truly regenerate may lose true justifying faith, forfeit their state of grace, and die in their sins.
7) Grace accordingly is resistible.
8) God in His mercy and thus well-meaningly offers His grace to all.
9) The preaching of the Gospel is grace to all.
10) The promises of God are conditional.
Any nine of these ten propositions are necessarily implied in any one of them. What it means is that also the system of thought of heresy is one organism of thought; it is the one lie, so that, for example, to say that faith is a condition to salvation is to say all the rest.
Every one of these ten propositions are contained in Rawlson’s “Elements of Divinity” as defended by him. Rawlson, we should know, was an avowed Arminian.
Arminianism is a deceptive and misleading heresy. For it, too, wears a reformed dress; though a wolf, it, too, looks somewhat like a lamb. This is owing to the fact that often its thought processes are along lines that have a thoroughly Scriptural and Reformed sound. Allow me to quote a little from Rawlson’s work to shew how true this is. In the chapter on the effects of the fall of man we come upon statements such as the following:
“The true doctrine upon this subject, which we shall endeavor to sustain by evidence, is this: that all mankind are by nature so depraved as to be totally destitute of spiritual good, and inclined only to evil continually.” And then this, “That spiritual death, or the loss of divine image from the soul (which are but other words for total depravity) was included in that penalty, has already been shown in the preceding chapter. The argument then amounts to demonstration, that all mankind are by nature in a state of moral pollution, properly expressed by the phrase total depravity… Now if all men are not involved in the penalty, we must flatly deny the word of God, which plainly and repeatedly represents death, in every sense of the word, as a penal infliction, a judicial sentence pronounced upon the guilty, as a just punishment for sin.” End of quotation. This is the true doctrine of the Scriptures, isn’t it? Concerning repentance Rawlson has this to say, “To suppose that the carnal mind can turn itself to God, by its own innate, underived energy, work out repentance unto salvation, is to set aside the doctrine of total depravity, and contradict those Scriptures which refer to God as the author of repentance.” End of quote. This, too, is stating the matter as soundly as one could wish, isn’t it?
According to Arminianism, faith, too, is a gift of God. Says Rawlson, “And as God is the proper author and finisher of faith, because it is through His merciful arrangement, and by the aid of divine grace imparted, that we are enabled to believe, we may therefore say with propriety that in these acceptations faith is the gift of God.”
Of justification, he has this to say, “Justification changes our relation to law – it removes our condemnation, but does not change our nature, or make us holy. This is sanctification, which is, indeed, the immediate fruit of justification.”
In the chapter on regeneration one may read, “The native state of the heart is hatred to God…It is only divine grace, regenerating the soul, that can slay this enmity, turn back our nature’s rapid tide, and cause the affections of the soul to flow out after God and heavenly objects.”
And finally this from Rawlson’s pen, “Nothing that man can do can avail anything toward purchasing salvation by merit; for when we have done all that we can do, we are unprofitable servants. The work of salvation in all its stages, can be performed either in whole or in part, by none but God, and this is entirely a work of grace…”
Truly, how much this wolf resembles a lamb.
But, of course, there is a question here. It is this: If God is the author of repentance and faith, how can faith then still be a condition unto salvation? Rawlson has the answer. It is this: The power and grace to repent and believe is an endowment of God. God, therefore, may be said to be the author of repentance and faith. But God is not the author, originator, of the good will, decision, determination to put His endowment into use by actually repenting and believing. This is of man; it is the condition that man must fulfill. (See above under propositions 2 and 3). If he does so, God will perfect his salvation by justifying, regenerating and sanctifying him and by ultimately crowning him with life in glory but always and only on the condition that man continue of himself to decide to put God’s endowment – power and grace – into use by actually repenting, believing, seeking, knocking, praying, striving, etc. And this, of course, must mean that faith as an act is also out of man. According to Rawlson (and all Arminians) in the point of view that man as assisted by God’s power and grace decides to believe and also believes actually, God may be said to be the author of faith as an act. But in the point of view that the act of faith is the expression of man’s sovereign decision to utilize God’s good gift (power and faith) by actually believing, man and not God is properly the author, the originator of repentance and faith as acts. And so, if, on the other hand, man sovereignly decides not to put God’s good endowment – power and grace – into use by actually repenting and believing, God can do nothing about it except cast the profligate into eternal perdition. God stands helpless over against man’s determination not to be saved. This verily is the idea. And this is Arminianism. Arminianism is a horrible heresy. It dethrones God and deifies man by seating his will in God’s throne. The Arminian will let God do everything for the sinner except one thing, namely originate and sustain in man the good will, decision, determination to be saved of God. Of this good will and decision, man and not God is the author. O yes, God will save you, O sinner. He is exceeding willing. But, and mark you, but you must believe, that is, decide to believe by actually believing. This is the condition that you must fulfill and then God will do all the rest.
It is interesting to note how Rawlson puts all these ideas into words. He writes, “And as God is the proper author and finisher of our faith, because it is through His merciful arrangement, and by the aid of divine grace imparted, that we are enabled to believe, we may therefore say with propriety that in these acceptations faith is a gift of God. But all this is far from admitting that faith is in no sense the act of the creature. Indeed, that it is the act of the creature in an important sense, is implied clearly in what has just been presented. For, after all that God has done, man must act – his agency must be put forth, or faith cannot exist. Not that he of himself can do any good thing – his sufficiency is of God; but through Christ strengthening him, he can and must exert an agency in believing. God has never promised to believe for any man; nor can any man ever possess faith till through grace he exercise the ability with which God has endowed him. From what has been said, we think it evident wherein faith is both the gift of God and the act of the creature.”
This is familiar language, isn’t it? We have heard it before, have we not, from those who accuse us of minimizing the activity of faith? It ought now to be plain why in his sermonizing the Arminian preacher spends all his time telling his hearers that they must do something – repent, believe, strive, pray, seek, knock – why in his preaching he lays all the emphasis on the activity of faith. According to his conception, the sinner himself sovereignly determines by his repenting or not repenting whether or not God is going to be able to save him. If the sinner does not repent and believe, God stands helpless and the result is that the sinner perishes in his sins without God being able to do anything about it. This is his conception.
But, one may say, should not the human proclamatory of the Gospel continually, without ceasing, call sinners to repentance and exhort God’s believing people to lay off sin, put on Christ and walk in newness of life? Yes, of course, he should, but not certainly as moved by that Arminian conception but as moved by the right conception. And this right conception is that our repentance in all its parts, thus not alone the grace and power to repent but the good will, decision to repent and our actual repenting as well, is out of God and that, therefore, He, through Christ Who loved us and gave Himself for us, is the sole author of it. And what is true of repentance is also true, of course, of our believing and praying and striving and seeking and knocking.
This is the right conception. And this conception must also be preached always and continually. It must constitute the content of every sermon preached. For it is the Gospel, the only true Gospel.
Of course, it is we and not God that repent. But this does not mean that, as the Arminians say, we in part are the author of our repentance. Our repentance in all its parts is solely God’s work in us. This, I said, is the only true Gospel. But this true Gospel the Arminian preacher will not proclaim. And if he is one of those reformed Arminian preachers, occupying a pulpit in a church that has this true Gospel on the books, he will, of course, not openly deny this true Gospel. He will even insist that he believes it. But he will keep silent about this true Gospel in the pulpit as much as he dares and devote all his time to telling his hearers that they must do something. And hereby it becomes evident that the man is an Arminian at heart engaged in preaching Arminianism not so much by what he says as by what he does not say. He refrains, as much as he dares, from bringing this true Gospel in the pulpit and is forever telling his hearers that they must do something. And his excuse for not preaching this true Gospel any more than he does is that it is not necessary seeing that everybody knows about it anyway.
Truly Arminianism is a subtle and misleading heresy, owing to the fact that, as was said, though a wolf, it resembles a lamb. But if Arminianism is subtle and misleading, much more so this Reformed (so-called) or Semi-Arminianism. This is owing to the fact that, though also a wolf, looks a good deal more like a lamb; it is owing to the fact that it has two faces, the one Reformed and the other Arminian. Let us make good this statement.
On the one hand it maintains 1) that faith is a condition unto salvation, in the language of De Wolf that “God promises to every one of you that, if you believe, you will be saved,” and, “our humbling ourselves is a prerequisite to entering the kingdom;” 2) that God’s promises are conditional and unto all; 3) that God in His mercy offers His salvation unto all soul for soul; 4) that the preaching of the Gospel is grace unto all.
In these propositions are necessarily implied all the rest of the Arminian tenets cited above, such as that the will of man is morally free, that Christ died for all, and that election and reprobation are conditional.
On the other hand, it is also maintained by this Reformed Arminianism 1) that election and reprobation are unconditional; 2) that the will of man is morally bound; 3) that Christ died only for His elect.
Now these two sets of propositions are contrary. They can no more be harmonized than the two propositions All men are mortal and no men are mortal. Hence both cannot be believed. If this so-called Reformed Arminianism believes the truth, why then does it not shed its Arminian face? And so it could also be asked, if this so-called Reformed Arminianism believes the lie, why does it not shed its Reformed face? For this double-faced, double-tracked theology is a horrible thing, wonderfully deceiving, calculated only to mislead.
That God’s elect have been delivered from the law is the literal teaching of Paul.
Romans 7:1-6, “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.
So then if, while her husband liveth, she is married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sin, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”
The substance of the teaching of this passage is clearly this: As the wife is freed from the law of her husband by his death, so were God’s people freed from the law by the sufferings and death of Christ. Let us take notice of the statement, “But now we are delivered from the law.” (vs. 6).
But that this does not mean that now the believers are through with the law is just as plain from the Scriptures. It may be well to quote a few Scriptures.
Romans 13:8, 9, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
It is plain that the apostle’s saying, “You owe it to one another that as believers you love one another,” is equivalent to the thought: you owe it to one another that as believers you keep His commandments with regard to one another; as activated by love the one shall refrain from defrauding the other, bearing false witness against the other, etc. Doing so, you fulfill the law. For all the commandments are comprehended in this saying, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
God’s redeemed people have the right to keep Christ’s commandments – a right merited for them by Christ; and they also will to keep His commandments; doing His will, ordering their lives according to His precepts, is their delight, the reason being that He imparts unto them the virtues of His cross. But the “may” and the “can” do not obliterate the “ought.” But God’s believing people, when they are spiritual, do not feel this “ought” as a constraint, compulsion upon them. What they ought to do they also delight in doing, for His law is in their hearts. This is true liberty. But as yet this new obedience is but a small principle in them. In this life the saints sin constantly. But they are sorry for their sins, and this tells them that they belong to Christ and that for His sake all their sins are forgiven them of God. And the Spirit of God testifies with their spirit that they are His children. And being His sons, God also chastises them in His love of them in order that more and more they may be partakers of Christ’s holiness. But seeing that God punished Christ for all the sins of His people, this chastisement must not be conceived of as punishment for sin.
If these matters are clear, we may face the question, what it means that God’s people have been delivered from the law. To arrive at clarity on this point we must consider that the Scriptures, definitely Paul in his epistles, distinguishes between the law by itself apart from Christ and the law as the commandments of Christ that on the ground of His atonement He puts in the hearts of His people, and that in the epistle of James is called “the perfect law of liberty,” and the “royal law.” The law “as such” appears in the Scriptures as a master vested with the right to mandate and threaten man as follows, “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments; which if a man do, he shall live in them” (Lev. 18:5); and, “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them” (Deut. 27:26). In a word, the law by itself directs to man this terrifying speech: Do the things that I prescribe and live in or by them; but cursed art thou, if thou confirmest not all my words to do them. Paul quotes both these with the right to mandate and threaten passages, the former to shew that the law is not of faith (Gal. 3:12) and the latter to shew that “as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse (Gal. 3:10). We perceive how true this is. The law is not of faith. It is not of faith in Christ. Adam in the state of integrity lived not by faith in Christ. He had no need of Christ. Christ was not his life and his righteousness. For having left God’s hand a sinless man, he lived in and by the commandment of His God, that is, in the way of his keeping it. His righteousness was therefore his own. The law by itself is not of faith. How true this is of fallen man. One who now imagines that he lives in the law by doing the things that it requires deceives himself and is an enemy of Christ. Such a one is cursed of the law seeing that all he is capable of doing is to violate all its requirements. For that precisely is the sole office of the law, namely, to bless the law-abiding and to curse the lawless. Christ alone blesses the penitent lawless.
It is terrible to contemplate what would become of God’s people, had they to do with the law as such. They would be driven into perdition by its curses. As it is, they are justified, and saved. How can this be? The answer is Christ. He delivered them from the law by satisfying for them all its requirements. The law required that they be cast into hell because of their disobedience. Christ met that requirement by suffering for them all the agonies of hell as motivated by a perfect love and thereby obliterating all their guilt. The law required a perfect obedience, something that they could not render, being as they were dead in sin. But Christ met that requirement by His perfect obedience and thereby merited for them eternal life in glory.
So they were delivered from the law “as such” and they became the exclusive property of Christ. What it means is that the law as such has nothing more to say to them. For Christ is now their master, Lord, Savior. “Wherefore, brethren, ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another. And this other is Christ raised from the dead. Christ as the husband of His church, His bride, certainly has the right to mandate His people. And this He does. Believe in me, He says to them. Love me. Keep my commandments, bring forth fruit unto God. And, of course, it’s the same ten commandments. Only as our almighty Savior He speaks His commandments, His law, in our hearts, which is but another way of saying that he sheds abroad in the hearts of His sheep the love of God so that as a result the speech of the psalmist now reverberates also through their soul, “O how love I thy law; it is my meditation all the day long.”
Yes, it is so true that Christ fulfilled all the requirements of the law and that therefore we need do nothing to be saved. It is so true that we have been delivered from the law by Christ and have become the sheep of His pasture to be mandated by Him now and to be saved by His commands as written by Him in our hearts. No, we have nothing to do with the law as such anymore. From that we have been delivered. But certainly we have everything to do with Christ’s commandments.
“Beloved, if our hearts condemn us not, then we have confidence toward God.
And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (I John 3:21, 22).
Of course, I have only scratched the surface of my subject. The space allotted me forbids any additional exposition.
Question: Who were the “sons of Korah” mentioned as authors of several Psalms?
Answer: Psalm 45-49, 85 and 88 bear superscriptions that contain the statement, “A Psalm for the sons of Korah”; let us take notice for and not by. It indicates that the sons of Korah were not the authors of these psalms. The author of these psalms was David. He composed them for these sons, that is, to be sung by these sons on the meetings for public worship in the temple. So at II Chron. 20:19, “and of the children of the Korhites (by Korhites is to be understood the descendents of Korah) stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with a loud voice on high.”
As a temple choir these sons of Korah owed their origin to David, as appears from I Chron. 15:16, “And David spake to the chief of the Levites (the Korhites were Levites) to appoint their brethren to be the singers with instruments of music, psalteries and harps and cymbals, sounding aloud and lifting up the voice with joy.”
Now Korah, the father of this clan, was a descendent of Levi by the latter’s second-born son, Kohath (Ex. 6:16-21).
This Korah was the man who along with his associates was swallowed up by the opening earth, when they rebelled against the authority of Moses and Aaron in the wilderness (Nu. 16). The company of malcontents included, besides Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, On of the tribe of Reuben and 250 princes of the assembly “famous in the congregation, men of renown” (vs. 2). Statements occur from which it is plain that Korah was the leading spirit of the rebellion (vss. 8, 16, 26:9, 27:3). They came to Moses and Aaron in a body and said to them, “Ye take too much upon you, seeing that all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” (vs. 3). So their position was that all the Israelites were holy, every one of them without exception – holy, acceptable to God, apart from Aaron, Christ, and that, accordingly, Aaron was not a gift of God unto His people to make a covering for their sins by the blood of his sacrifice, but an imposition of Moses. Such was really their contention.
Korah’s trouble was that his heart was lifted up with pride. Being a Levite, he and his fellow tribesmen were called of God to do the service of the tabernacle. But this did not satisfy Korah. He sought also the priesthood for himself and his brethren, as insisting that he had as much right to it as Aaron (vss. 9, 10).
Moses would put the matter to a test. So he arranged that Korah and his company along with Aaron take their places at the door of the tabernacle with their censors, fire and incense, so that the Lord might make known His will in the matter. Korah was unafraid and defiant. He seemed to have all the people back of him, so that he was able to gather the whole congregation against Moses and Aaron at the door of the tabernacle.
Dathan, Abiram and On were likewise wicked men. They reviled Moses and refused to submit to his authority. This is plain from what they said to him in reply to his summons that they, too, take their places at the door of the tabernacle, so that the Lord might judge between them and him. They said, “It is a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey (Egypt) to kill us in the wilderness. Except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us. Moreover, thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards; wilt thou now put out the eyes of these men? We will not come (vss. 13, 14).
The point that they put is plain. By fair promises of his own invention, none of which he had intended to keep, Moses had lured them into the wilderness to bring them under his yoke, and to inflict upon them the severest punishment, such as putting out their eyes, should they refuse to submit to his rule. They were now letting him know that, as far as they were concerned, they had done with him. Threaten as he might, they would not come. He was but an imposter. God had not called and sent him.
The Lord now appeared in His glory. That He might consume them, the whole people, in a moment, He bade Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the congregation, a large portion of which had followed Korah and his company to the tabernacle. But Moses again interceded for the people, and the Lord forebore. Would the Lord be wroth with the whole congregation, when one man sinned? Such was Moses’ petition. His reference was to Korah. It shows that the rebellion had been inaugurated under his name.
But there was more. As instructed by the Lord, Moses, followed by the elders, went to the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram and warned every person to leave that vicinity, while taking heed to themselves to touch nothing of those wicked men, lest they be consumed. Doubtless, to see if the people allowed themselves to be frightened, Dathan and Abiram, their wives and sons with their small children came out and stood in the door of their tents. Had they taken after their fleeing neighbors, they might have been saved. But they continued defiant, as imagining, it must be, that no harm would befall them. Doubtless there were several of the people who were inclined to agree, and who therefore were in no hurry to leave.
And so Moses, who was “very wroth,” said, “Hereby shall ye know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind. If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men: then the Lord hath not sent me. But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertains to them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord.”
According to the context, the Lord had previously revealed that this was to be the terrible calamity that He would cause the rebels to meet in defense of His servant.
Scarcely had these words been spoken, when the earth parted and swallowed up the men along with their houses and goods. With a great cry they went down into the pit. And the ground closed up over them. All the people that were around them fled in terror. Perhaps at the same time the fire of the Lord leaped forth and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.
But there is a question here. If all the children of Korah had been swallowed up by the opening earth and had thus perished, how at that later date could descendents of Korah be singers in the temple? The only explanation is that not all of Korah’s children had met that calamity. Fact is that according to Nu. 26:2 none of them had. The text here reads, “Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.” It may be that many of Korah’s grown-up sons, taking to heart the warning of Moses, had with their neighbors left the vicinity of their father’s tent and had thereby saved themselves. It would mean that they had wanted no part in their father’s revolt.
Question: If Christ was in the grave only a part of three days, approximately 36 hours, how can we explain Matt. 12:40, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” The three days can be explained as parts of three days, but how can the three nights be explained?
Answer: It is true that our Lord was not actually three whole days and three nights – 72 hours – in the grave, but part of Friday, part of Sunday, and the whole of Saturday. Still, the “three days and nights” can be made good by having recourse to the Jewish method of computing time. The Jews conceived of the day as beginning at sunset (Luke 23:52-56), and they counted any part of the day and night, i.e., of the 24 hours, as forming the whole period (24 hours). (Jerusalem Talmud as quoted by Lightfoot. See also I Sam XXX:12,13; II Chron. X:5, 12; Hos. VI:2).
If now it be borne in mind that Christ died and was laid away in the tomb in the afternoon of Friday, then it will be seen that, according to those Jewish conceptions, He was in the grave for a period of time that began at sunset of Thursday and extended to the sunset of the Sunday at the early dawn of which He arose from the grave, and was thus in the grave for three days and three nights. We have then this computation:
Sunset of Thursday (beginning of Friday) to sunset of Friday (beginning of Saturday) – first night and day.
Sunset of Friday to sunset of Saturday (beginning of Sunday) – second night and day.
Sunset of Saturday to sunset of Sunday (beginning of Monday) – third night and day.
Question: In the last part of Matt. XX:23 Jesus said to His disciples, “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” Does Jesus refer here to His second coming?
Answer: This disclosure of Christ, in order to be correctly and fully understood, must be viewed in the light of its context. It forms a part of a discourse of Christ by which, at the beginning of His public ministry, He sent forth His disciples to preach the Gospel (Matt. 10:1-42).
They must first go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and not, as yet, to the Gentiles and the Samaritans. It is the cities of Israel in which they are first to labor (vss. 5, 6). The burden of their message is to be that the kingdom of God is at hand (vs. 7). In confirmation of their glad tidings and to provide the hearers with tangible evidence of the character and the blessedness of the kingdom that they are to preach, they are empowered to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils. They are to perform these wonders free of charge, seeing that they have also freely received (vs. 8). As a workman is worthy of his hire, they are to go forth empty-handed and accordingly allow the people among whom they labor to provide in their material necessities (vss. 9, 10). They need have no fear that they will be in want, for in every city where they come there will be worthy houses ready to receive them into their homes, and with these people they shall lodge till they go thence (vs. 11). Their method of locating the worthy houses shall be this: they shall approach a family with a salutation of peace. If the response is favorable and they be taken in, their peace shall abide on that house. But if not, they shall depart out of that house or city, shaking the dust off of their feet (vss. 12-13). And for that city or house, seeing that it rejected and persecuted Christ’s messengers, and despised and trampled the gospel, it shall go harder in the day of judgment than for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha (vs. 15).
We have now proceeded far enough to allow us to concentrate on verse 23 that contains the clause with regard to which the question is put. The verse reads, “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye unto another; for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” The question is, to which coming of Christ the clause in bold alludes.
Let me now give what I consider to be the correct explanation of this verse.
To get at the right meaning of these words of Christ it is necessary to consider that we must not end with them in the twelve disciples. It is the church of all ages to come that in the final instance is here being mandated and informed as to what the future holds in store for her. This is plain from the universal note that the discourse, to which this verse (vs. 23) belongs, strikes throughout, as for example in the verses 16-22.
Christ sends forth His servants not as wolves but as sheep in the midst of wolves – the hostile world. Hence in all their contacts with the wolves they must conduct themselves as sheep and not as wolves. They must be wise as serpents but at the same time harmless as doves, meaning that they shall not reward evil with evil but love their enemies and pray for them (vs. 16). But they must be on their guard against men and not be deceived by appearance. Men who pose as their friends will deliver them up to counsels in order that they may be scourged in their synagogues (vs. 17). And they shall be made to appear before high-ranking civil rulers – governors and kings – for Christ’s sake and for a testimony against them and the Gentiles (vs. 18).
Mark you, Gentiles and not exclusively Jews. How plain that included in the scope of this discourse is the whole hostile world and thus also the church of all the ages to come.
The servants of Christ are not to be concerned about how and what they shall speak in their trials before the great ones of the earth. For it is not they that speak but their heavenly Father through them (vs. 20). In the heat of the bitter hatred of Christ’s sheep, all natural affection will dissolve, so to speak. The brother (denier of Christ) shall deliver up the brother (follower of Christ) to death, the father the child, and children their parents. So shall God’s people be hated of all men – including their unbelieving relatives, however close – for Christ’s sake. But he that endureth to the end shall be saved (vs. 22).
Now verse 23. Yes, the servants of Christ, particularly the proclamators of the Gospel, must endure. They must not forsake their ministry because of persecutions. But neither must they be careless of their lives by needlessly allowing themselves to fall into the hands of their enemies. But when they persecute them in this city, they shall flee to another, i.e., they shall carry on their labors in a community only as long as it is safe for them to be there and then hasten to the next city. They must not seek martyrdom. For the work of the ministry must go on. All the cities in Israel must be visited. And then the gospel must be preached to all creatures, i.e., to the Gentiles (vs. 23a).
To encourage his servants – the twelve disciples and second the proclamators of the gospel of all the ages to come – Christ says that they by no means shall have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come, meaning that they shall not by any means have reached all the cities, finished the territory. The thought conveyed is that they shall scarcely have begun their labors, when the Son of man be come.
We must distinguish here three comings of the Son of man.
a. The coming of the crucified, risen and glorified Christ in the Spirit when the day of Pentecost was fully come.
b. The coming of Christ – the Son of man – in terrible judgment over the apostate Jews in the year 66, ending in the total destruction of Jerusalem and the permanent depriving of the Jewish nation of its land.
c. The final coming of Christ in judgment over the whole world.
Now it is evident that the reference in verse 23 cannot be to the coming of Christ under b above. For then the idea of this verse would be that the proclamation of the gospel to the cities of Israel – the lost sheep of the house of Israel, vs. 6 – had scarcely begun when cut short by the coming of the Son of man in judgment over Jerusalem. But this was not so and could not be so. And the view that Christ was speaking of His final coming in judgment is just as inadmissible for the same reason. The end which would then come through the territory, which is now the whole earth, had not yet nearly been finished.
I therefore hold with Calvin that the reference in verse 23 is to the coming of Christ in the Spirit. That Christ came in this sense meant that by His suffering and death on the cross He had expiated the sins of His people and was set with them in heaven. It meant that the church was now filled with the Spirit of her crucified, risen and glorified Lord. It meant that there was now in readiness for proclamation a gospel, glad tiding, that never before had been heard – the gospel of the work of Christ as now actually finished. And as organs of the church thus enriched, the disciples continued their ministry but now of this new Gospel, i.e., of the Gospel of the kingdom of heaven as no longer at hand but now as actually come.
And when all the cities of Israel had been visited and the elect in them gathered and saved, Christ came in judgment over apostate Judah and Jerusalem. And when the gospel has been preached to all creatures and the church gathered, Christ will come in judgment over the world.
The destruction of Jerusalem was thus pre-indicative of the final and permanent passing away of the world because of its abominations including its rejection of the gospel, its crucifying Christ afresh and putting Him to open shame.
Question: Was Naaman the Syrian captain saved or not? What is your opinion about this?
Answer: Let us get the details of this incident before us. II Kings 5:1-18. Naaman was commander-in-chief of the king’s army. By the dispensation of the Lord’s providence he had gained the victory over the enemy of his people. In the words of the text, “By him the Lord had given victory unto Syria.” It shows that he was an able general and a brave warrior, “a mighty man of valour.” And so he was “great before his master,” the king, i.e., highly esteemed and valued. But he was a leper. His disease would soon force him into retirement, if it already had not done so. The king was troubled and saddened.
Now the household of Naaman included a Jewess, a young maiden, who stood before Naaman’s wife. Some Syrian troops had made an incursion into the land of Israel and had returned to the homeland with the girl as their captive. But she was not hateful and bitter. On the contrary, aware of her master’s plight, she told her mistress that there was still hope for his recovery. Dwelling in Samaria was a prophet who would recover him from his leprosy. How the maiden wished that he was before the prophet. It shows her abiding faith in the God of Israel for whose saving might she was witnessing in this heathen family.
But Naaman seems to have hesitated to go to the prophet. It was not until the king, who in the meantime had heard what the maiden had said, urged him to go, that he went. “Go, by all means, go,” were his words to his servant.
Seeing that the Syrians had been actively hostile to Israel, Naaman may have doubted whether the prophet was willing to perform the cure, and whether Israel’s God would be entreated for one such as he. He was a foreigner. Account had also to be taken of the king of Israel. He might prove resentful. Besides, his disease was known to be incurable. Whoever heard of the recovery of a leper. Still, he could not have been without some hope. So he finally departed as his master had commanded.
Presumably to make the going of Naaman smooth, the king wrote a letter for his servant to deliver to the king of Israel, a curt letter, imperious in tone. It read, “Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him from his leprosy.” That was not a petition but rather a command. But why should the king of Israel be thus mandated? The maiden had directed attention to the prophet in Samaria. It cannot be supposed that the Syrian king did not know this. The simple explanation is that he meant to be telling the king of Israel that, though he well understood that the one to perform the cure was the prophet, he nevertheless was holding him, the king, fully responsible for the recovery of his servant; that therefore he had better see to it that the prophet and the servant be brought together, and also that no harm befall the servant while he tarried in Israel’s land.
But the king of Israel failed to grasp the intention of the letter. He supposed that he himself was expected to perform the cure. So he concluded that the command was a trap to bring about trouble. Upset and saddened, he rent his clothes as he exclaimed, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man from his leprosy? Wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.”
But though his reasoning had been correct, his consternation was without excuse. For there was a prophet in Israel. But of the presence of this prophet he was little aware. With the prophet he had little to do. He wanted nothing to do with him now. He did not believe that he was a man of God and that therefore he could help in a case such as this. Being unbelieving, he was afraid of men.
It was told the prophet how the king had reacted. Rebuking the king for his unbelief, he told him to send the Syrian to him, that he might know that there is a prophet in Israel, i.e., a God – the only true God, the God of all the earth and Israel’s Saviour – who maketh Himself known in His saving might, through His servants the prophets, to every one that seeketh after Him, whether that one be Jew or Gentile.
Doing as he was told, the king of Israel sent Naaman to the prophet, and there before the door of the prophet’s house, the “great one” now stood, he and his retinue of horses and chariots and mules bearing treasures of gold and silver and costly apparel.
But the prophet did not go out to him but sent a messenger. The reason was not that he was lacking in decorum or was afraid of the leprosy or was influenced by pride. But he wished to have this foreigner understand that the cause of his being helped lay not in his rank, princely significance, and the glory of his earthly honor and riches; that by such things the prophet was not in the least affected. And that he had to wash seven times in the Jordan in order to be healed was calculated to teach him that there was no healing power in the prophet, nor that he was cured by the application of external means but that his help stood solely in the name of Israel’s God. For he knew as well as anybody that there was no curative virtue in the waters of the Jordan.
But the prophet’s manner of dealing with Naaman kindled his wrath. He felt as if he was being scorned. He wanted to be received in a manner becoming to his rank. He thought that the prophet would surely have come out and stood – stood in awe of him – and called on the name of the Lord his God, and struck his hand over the place, and recovered the leper (vs. 13). What a disappointment to his pride. And as to the instruction that he wash in the Jordan – “it is a deep, sluggish, discolored stream” – what foolishness! In his own words, “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean?” (“Both rivers, as mountain streams, have clean, fresh water, and Damascus is celebrated today for its pure and healthy water”). No, Naaman, the waters of Abana and Pharpar cannot avail. Only the waters of the Jordan – the blood of Jesus – cleanses from all sin, can cleanse thee from thy leprosy.
But Naaman was still unbelieving. And so he turned from the messenger of the prophet and went his way in a rage. His pride had been injured! But his servants remonstrated with him. With remarkable tact and in a manner that took full cognizance of the fact that it was their lord whom they were addressing, they rebuked his pride and repeated to him the Gospel that they had heard from the lips of the messenger of the prophet, “Go, and wash in the Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.” They say to their lord, “My father, if the prophet had bid thee to do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash and be clean,” that is to say, if Naaman had been told that in order to be recovered from his leprosy he had to co-operate with God by doing something, he would have gone to work immediately without a murmur, however difficult of performance that thing; but now that he was told that there was nothing for him to do to be healed, that there was nothing he could do to be healed in that with men his disease was incurable, so that all that was demanded of him is that he believe in the Lord God of Israel – the Christ of God – and as an expression of his faith wash in the Jordan, he flew into a rage.
The reasoning of the servants struck home. Naaman’s pride vanished like a mist. Without another word, he did as the prophet had instructed. He washed in the Jordan, and verily, he was clean, clean! For the Lord had given to Naaman what He had demanded of him – faith in Israel’s God.
In his joyful amazement and as moved by a newborn conviction, i.e., conviction born from above, he exclaimed, when he had again returned to the prophet to beseech him that he take from his hand a blessing, for he was grateful to God more than words could express – he then exclaimed, “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel,” meaning to say that all other gods are vanity. And he asks for two mules’ burden of earth for an altar that he will build unto Jehovah in the homeland. For his mind is made up. Henceforth he will offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto any God except unto the Lord.
To my mind what is here related of Naaman shuts us up to the view that he was truly converted to the Lord and saved. This is the point, I believe, that Christ lays stress on, when, to rebuke the unbelieving Jews for scoffing at him, He refers to the widow of Sarepta to whom Elijah was sent and then to Naaman the Syrian who was healed by Elisha (Luke 15:25-27). The story of Naaman’s conversion is prophetic history, i.e., it foretells the calling of the Gentiles in the Gospel period.
Question: What do they mean who say that they believe in the plenary but not in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures?
Answer: Let us listen to one, the late Dr. A. Pieters, who held to this position. He writes in his “Notes” and I quote:
“The position taken by the author of these notes is that the Bible is the Word of God, in all its parts – the position usually designated in theology as the belief in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
“He believes also that the inspiration involves the trustworthiness of the Old Testament in its statement of facts of whatever kind, as well as in all its teachings with regard to religious truth and duty.
“It is to be carefully noted, however, that the trustworthiness of the Old Testament is not the same as inerrancy in every detail. When it comes to statistics, dates, and similar matters, there are certainly errors in the Bible, as we have it. It is possible that many, perhaps most, of these errors are errors in transmission, and didn’t exist in the original documents (by which he means the Scriptures as they left the pens of the prophets and the apostles – O.); but no one can be sure that this is true of all of them. If the inerrancy of the original documents is asserted, this is not on the basis of evidence, but merely as an inference from the doctrine of verbal inspiration. The author of these notes holds to plenary inspiration but not to verbal inspiration…A document can be a trustworthy source of information even though minor errors exist in it; and therefore it is not inconsistent with the position here assumed to believe that some minor errors may have existed in the original documents.” End of quote.
This makes it clear what they mean who say that they hold to the plenary but not to the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. But their position is untenable certainly. The word plenary is from the Latin plenus and means full, entire, complete. Thus to say that inspiration was plenary but not verbal is to play with words.
Inspiration was certainly plenary in the sense of verbal. What is meant thereby is that the men of God through whom He gave us His word wrote under the infallible guidance of His Spirit so that their productions were in truth God’s very own Scriptures, also certainly as to the form of their words including dates, numbers and statistics. Why should the guidance of the Spirit not also have covered dates and numbers? Involved in the question of the accuracy of the dates, numbers and statistics of the Scriptures is the veracity of the whole of the religious and ethical teachings of Holy Writ. It was only because Abraham was a hundred years old when Isaac was born and not, let us say, 30 years old that Paul could write, “Who (Abraham) against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body, now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:18-22).
That the Bible is the infallible Word of God as to all the form of its words without exception is an article of faith. For it means that all the Scriptures originated with God. And this cannot be demonstrated. Hence, making an exception of dates, numbers and statistics must necessarily lead to the denial of the whole idea of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. Dr. Pieters (for some years a teacher of Bible in Hope College) did just that. From the above quote it appears that he held to plenary but not to the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, as if the two are not the same.
To deny the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is to be arguing the point that God imparted the ideas and that men put the thoughts of His heart into words without His guidance. It is to argue that God imparted the discourse in outline form and that the finished product is of men.
If the inspiration of the Scriptures is not verbal without exception, it did not take place at all, and we are shut up to the view that the Bible is a collection of fallible and even deceptive writings.
That the inspiration of the Scriptures was verbal does not mean that it was mechanical. That is, in being used of God to produce His Word, the state of the human writers was not such as warrants their being compared to a lifeless pen in the hand of a writer. The human writers of the Scriptures were indeed pens in God’s hand, but as rational beings and living saints. Writing God’s Scriptures and speaking His Word was their act into the performance of which went all that they were as God’s workmanship – their gifts, talents and individuality and their entire apperceiving mass; but the act was at once God’s own work in such a way that its product was His very own infallible Scriptures.
Certainly, the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is a mystery, as are all of God’s works. It defies our powers of penetration. Basically it is a question of how God can do all His good pleasure with, in and through His moral creatures without reducing them to automatons.
Of course, the Scriptures themselves tell us that they were inspired also as to the form of their words. II Tim. 3:16: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”
Now certainly Paul could not be telling us here that all the Scriptures are given – mark you, given – of God by inspiration if men wrote them, i.e., if the finished product was of men and if all that God did is to supply the ideas.
That the inspiration of the Scriptures is verbal is clearly evident from Paul’s reasoning at Gal. 3:16. From the fact that in making His promises to Abraham, God said not: ‘And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And thy seed,’ Paul, as infallibly guided by the Spirit, concluded that the promises are to Christ in the first instance. It shows that in His selection of the word “seed” the human writer of Genesis was infallibly guided by Christ’s Spirit.
That the formula, “thus saith the Lord,” occurs over and over in the discourses of the prophets, and that they continually introduce the Lord as the speaker, can only be because their discourses were God’s very own infallible Word as to all the form of their words without exception.
The position that the Scriptures were not verbally inspired must lead to the denial of revelation, i.e., the act of God whereby He communicated the thoughts of His heart to the mind of men – the prophets and the apostles of the Scriptures. For thought can be communicated only by the vehicle of the word. A thought is a word so that to think is always to think words. Without words, thought is impossible.
Now the original Scriptures soon waxed old through much handling and vanished away. But many copies had been made of them. These copies, let us call them manuscripts, would go the way of the original Scriptures. And so copies continued to be made of copies and thereby the Word of God was fully preserved. This is clear from the marvelous agreement between the manuscripts that have come down to us. Variations do occur. But about nineteen-twentieths of them have so little support that, though they are various readings, no one would think of them as rival readings; and nineteen-twentieths of the remainder are of so little importance that their adoption or rejection would cause no appreciable difference in the sense where they occur. So, the church is still in the possession – and how could it be otherwise – of God’s infallible Scriptures.
Explain Hebrews 6:4-6 please. (See Beacon Lights, issue for April last) The passage reads:
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted of the good word of God, and the rowers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to open shame.”
This Scripture passage does not teach, needless to say, the Arminian heresy of the falling away of the saints, the error that the life of regeneration can again he lost: regenerated today, unregenerate tomorrow. For this would set the Scriptures in conflict with themselves, as elsewhere they teach that once a saint always a saint. So at John 10:27-30: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. My father which gave them me, is greater than all; and no one is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.”
The Arminians corrupt this Scripture by saying that what Christ meant is that “they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand, on the condition that they abide in me.” In this way do they render the promises of God null and void by their miserable “conditional theology.”
If there is no such thing as a falling away of the saints, it follows that the only kind of people to which the above cited passage from the Hebrews can be made to apply is the reprobated. What it means that I insist on this is that I am going to explain also this Scripture with the Scriptures. And this, certainly, is my solemn duty.
How then is the passage in question to be understood? Let us see. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened . . . .
The (reprobated) apostate was once enlightened, and he still is, meaning that, being born and bred in the Christian church, he has a clear conception of Christian doctrine, that is, he discerns the truth, not spiritually, but purely rationally. Let us put this to a test and see how true it is. According to the Scriptures, when “the time appointed by the Lord (which is unknown to all creatures) is come, and the number of the elect complete, (then) our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, corporally and visibly, as he ascended, with great glory and majesty to declare himself judge of the quick and the dead; burning this old world with fire and flame, to cleanse it . . . .” etc.
Now certainly, this is language the meaning of which the reprobated in the church grasp and understand (purely rationally, of course) as easily and quickly as does any saint. And why not? It’s perfectly clear and intelligible isn’t it? But the truth it sets forth does not stand out in the minds of the reprobated as a blessed reality, the reason being that, lacking as they do the life of regeneration they hate Christ and the things of His heavenly kingdom. Accordingly, they deny that these things exist. Hence, seeing (rational perception) they see not (spiritual perception). Mark 4:12. In a word, they are, as our text states, enlightened. The reference here is not to spiritual but to rational light. Enlightened, they have light, only to be hardened by it according to the sovereign good pleasure of God.
Further, they have tasted, and perhaps still do, the heavenly gift.
By heavenly gift, I understand the truth as objectively set forth in the Scriptures. And the truth is Christ Jesus, and the triune Jehovah, the God of our salvation as revealed in His face.
That these apostates taste this heavenly gift is but another way of saying that they rationally discern the truth and may even be fascinated by it, so that they go to shouting Hallelujah! in the meetings for public worship especially when the Gospel happens to be preached by an exceptionally gifted preacher with a musical voice, imposing presence and faultless pulpit manners. It is also of these same people that Christ speaks in his parable of the sower. He says of them that they hear the word, and anon with joy receive it (mark you, with joy do they receive it.) But not having root in themselves-—that is, being devoid of the life of regeneration—they endure only for a while. Matt. 13:20, 21.
Were made partakers of the Holy Ghost . . . .
Also rational light—natural, outward knowledge of the truth-—is of the Spirit. It is exactly by this light that the Spirit hardens. Wherefore the sacred writer could say, “Were made partakers of the Holy Ghost.”
And tasted the good word of God . . . .
This is added because the heavenly gift that is tasted is revealed in the Scriptures, so that tasting this gift is to taste God’s good word.
And the powers of the world to come, that is, the powers of Christ’s heavenly kingdom, doubtless the powers mentioned in Chap 4:2:— signs and wonders, divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost such as prophesying etc. Enlightened— by the Spirit and tasting the good word of God in the sense just explained, necessarily includes tasting also these powers. The reprobated preacher of the Gospel in the church prophesies: he proclaims the Gospel perhaps with considerable zeal and enthusiasm—think of Balaam—yet without really sharing in the blessedness on which he discourses.
Now certainly the elect are also endowed with natural, rational light as well as the reprobated. Objectively there is but one knowledge of Christ, one doctrine of God. But they being true children of God, this natural, rational light with which the Spirit endows also them is at once spiritual perception, and thus salutary. Thus it is by the same knowledge of Christ that, the Spirit hardens and softens. And therefore the apostle could write: “Now thanks be to God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of the knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are—through this knowledge—the savour of death the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life” (II Cor. 2:14-16).
And therefore certainly the point that our writer argues is not that all who are endowed with natural, outward knowledge of the truth are reprobated. The believers, too, are thus endowed, and this by reason of what they are—creatures rational and moral. But as was just stated, in the true believers this light is at once spiritual perception and this knowledge saving. It is precisely of this saving knowledge of Christ that the enlightened reprobated are devoid.
Now, says the sacred writer, if those thus rationally enlightened, endowed with knowledge of Christ and the truth fall away, apostatize, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. Of course, their falling away is the sign, evidence, that their knowledge of Christ is only outward and not saving, and that the light with which the Spirit endowed them is but rational perception and not also spiritual discernment. Through their falling away, open and public repudiation of and opposition to the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, they become revealed as reprobated. Such, says the sacred writer, cannot again be renewed unto repentance. Not, of course, as if once they had been truly penitent. Not at all. Their repentance, to be sure, was also outward. It was not genuine.
Now to renew such again to repentance is impossible. God could, of course, regenerate them, if He so willed. But He wills not, because they are reprobated, or because, in the words of our writer, they crucify to themselves, now openly, of course, the Son of God afresh, and put Him to open shame. So they do by openly repudiating and trampling the doctrine of Christ, in a word, the truth.
Let us take notice, by their repudiation of the truth, they crucify Christ not objectively and actually, which, of course, is impossible, but in their minds, imaginations and thus by word and thought. In a word, they crucify Christ to themselves.
Christ was objectively and actually crucified approximately 1900 years ago now by the Jews; rightly considered, by the whole of mankind, including the elect. However, we did it in our ignorance of the fact that it was the blood of the atonement that we were shedding, and therefore this great sin is forgiven us, who by His mercy repent. For we did it in our ignorance. “Father,” so prayed Christ at the time, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
But now Christ is being crucified anew, afresh, by the reprobated in the church, who commit this great sin, not in their ignorance but, mark you, as enlightened, in clear knowledge of the truth. They sin against the Holy Spirit. It is a sign that they are reprobated. And God wills not to forgive them and to save them. (If space did not forbid, I would add to this exposition some pertinent practical remarks).
And this brings me to the last of the three questions put to me by my correspondent:
Does this apply individually or also in the generations? As there is more in this question than appears on the surface, I shall have to wait with answering it.
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