Archive for the ‘Sin’ Category

Mar 28

The Didache

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In:Early Church, Obedience, Sin, The Church

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Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.

 

There are Two Ways, one of Life and one of Death, and the difference between the Two Ways is great.

 

The Way of Life, then, is this: First, Thou shalt love the God who made thee: Second, Thy neighbor as thyself; and all things whatsoever thou wouldst not have befall thee, do thou, too, not to another.

 

And of these words the Teaching is this: The first commandment: Bless them that curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for them that persecute you; for what thank have ye if ye love them that love you? do not the nations also the same?  but love ye them that hate you, and ye shall not have an enemy.

 

Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts.

 

If one give thee a blow on the right cheek, turn to him the other also, and thou shalt be perfect; if any one press thee into service for one mile, go with him two; if one take away thy cloak, give him thy coat also; if one take from thee thine own, ask it not back; for not even canst thou.

 

Give to every one that asketh thee, and ask not back; for to all the Father wills that there be given of his own free gifts.

 

Blessed is he that giveth according to the commandment; for he is guiltless. Woe to him that receiveth; for if, indeed, one that hath need receiveth, he shall be guiltless; but he that hath not need, shall submit to trial with reference to why he received and for what purpose, and, having come into custody, shall be examined with reference to what he did, and shall not go forth thence until he have paid the last farthing.

 

But concerning this, also, it hath been said: Let thine alms sweat in thy hands until thou know to whom to give.

 

And the second commandment of the Teaching is:

 

Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not corrupt boys, thou shalt not commit fornication, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not use magic arts, thou shalt not practice sorcery, thou shalt not kill a child by abortion nor put it to death when born. Thou shalt not covet the things of thy neighbor, thou shalt not forswear thyself, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not speak evil, thou shalt not bear a grudge.  Thou shalt not be double-minded nor double-tongued; for doubleness of tongue is a snare of death.  Thy word shall not be false, nor empty, but fulfilled by deed.  Thou shalt not be covetous, nor rapacious, nor a hypocrite, nor malicious, nor haughty.  Thou shalt not take evil counsel against thy neighbor.  Thou shalt not hate any man, but some thou shalt reprove, and for some thou shalt pray, and some thou shalt love above thy life.

 

My child, flee from every evil thing, and from everything like it. Be not prone to anger, for anger leadeth to murder; nor jealous, nor contentious, nor passionate; for out of all these, murders are begotten.

 

My child, be not one that lusteth, for lust leadeth to fornication; nor of foul speech, nor of leering eyes; for out of all these, adulteries are begotten.

 

My child, be not an augur,[1] since augury leadeth to idolatry; nor an enchanter; nor an astrologer; nor a purifier; nor be willing to behold these things; for out of all these, idolatry is begotten.

 

My child, be not a liar, since lying leadeth to theft, nor a lover of money, nor vain-glorious; for out of all these, thefts are begotten.

 

My child, be not a murmurer, since murmuring leadeth to blasphemy; nor self-willed, nor evil-minded, for out of all these, blasphemies are begotten.

 

But be meek, since the meek shall inherit the earth. Be longsuffering and pitiful and guileless and quiet and good, and continually trembling at the words which thou hast heard.

 

Thou shalt not exalt thyself, nor give assurance to thy soul. Thy soul shall not be joined with lofty ones, but with righteous and lowly ones shalt thou hold converse.  The events that befall thee, thou shalt accept as good, knowing that nothing cometh to pass without God.

 

My child, him that speaketh to thee the Word of God, thou shalt remember night and day, and shalt honor him as the Lord; for where the sovereignty of the Lord is proclaimed, there is the Lord. And thou shalt seek out daily the faces of the saints, that thou mayest rest upon their words.

 

Thou shalt not be desirous of division, but shalt bring contending ones to peace; thou shalt judge righteously; thou shalt not respect persons in reproving for transgressions. Thou shalt not hesitate whether this shall be or not.

 

Be not one that with reference to receiving stretcheth out the hands, but with reference to giving contracteth them: thou shalt give by thy hands a ransom, if thou have, for thy sins. Thou shalt not hesitate to give, nor, when giving shalt thou murmur; for thou shalt know who is the good Recompenser of the offering.  Thou shalt not turn away from him that is in want, but shalt share all things with thy brother, and shalt not say that they are thine own; for if ye are partakers in that which is immortal, how much more in the things which are mortal.

 

Thou shalt not remove thy hand from thy son or from thy daughter, but from youth shalt teach them the fear of God.

 

Thou shalt not lay commands in thy bitterness on thy bondman or maidservant, who hope in the same God, lest perchance they shall not fear the God who is over both; for He cometh not to call according to appearance, but unto those whom the Spirit hath prepared. And ye, the slaves, shall, in modesty and fear, be subject to your masters as to a type of God.

 

Thou shalt hate all hypocrisy and everything that is not pleasing to the Lord.

 

Do not in any wise forsake the commandments of the Lord; but thou shalt guard what thou hast received, neither adding thereto nor taking therefrom.

 

In the church thou shalt confess thy transgressions, and thou shalt not come to thy prayer with an evil conscience.

 

This is the Way of Life.

 

And the Way of Death is this:

 

First of all, it is evil and full of curse; murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic practices, sorceries, rapines; false testimonies, hypocrisies, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness; malice, self-will, covetousness, filthy talking, jealousy, self-assurance, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of good men, hating truth, loving falsehood, not knowing the reward of righteousness, not joined to anything good nor to righteous judgment, watching not with a view to good but with a view to evil; far from whom are meekness and patience, loving vain things, pursuing a requital, not pitying a poor man, not toiling for one borne down with toil, not knowing Him that made them; murderers of children, destroyers of God’s handiwork; turning away from him that is in want, oppressing him that is afflicted, rich men’s advocates, poor men’s lawless judges; utter sinners.

 

May ye be delivered, children, from all these.

 

See that no one cause thee to wander from this Way of the Teaching, since thus aloof from God doth he teach thee. For, if thou art able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord thou shalt be perfect; but if thou art not able, what thou art able that do.

 

And concerning food, brook what thou art able; but of that which is sacrificed to idols beware exceedingly, for it is a worship of dead gods.

 

And concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if thou have not living water, baptize into other water; and if thou canst not in cold, in warm.  But if thou have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head, into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  But before the baptism, let the baptizer and the baptized fast, and any others, if they can; and thou shalt command the baptized  to fast one or two days before.

 

But let not your fastings be with the hypocrites; for they fast on the Second Day of the week and on the Fifth; but do ye fast the Fourth and Preparation. Neither pray ye as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in his gospel, thus pray:

 

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth.  Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debt as we, too, forgive our debtors.  And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for thine is the power and the glory for ever.

 

Pray thus three times in the day.

 

And concerning the Eucharist, thus give thanks. First, concerning the cup:

 

We thank Thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David, thy servant, which thou hast made known to us through Jesus thy servant; to Thee be the glory forever.

 

And concerning the broken bread:

 

We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus thy servant; to Thee be the glory forever. Just as this, a broken piece, was scattered upon the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let thy church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom; for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.

 

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, but those that have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this the Lord hath said: Give not that which is holy to the dogs.

 

And after being filled, thus give thanks:

 

We thank Thee, holy Father, for thy holy name, which Thou hast caused to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus thy servant; to Thee be the glory forever. Thou, Almighty Sovereign, didst create the universe for thy name’s sake; both food and drink Thou gavest men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to Thee; but to us Thou hast graciously given spiritual food and drink and life eternal through thy servant.  Before all things, we thank Thee that Thou art mighty: to Thee be the glory forever.  Remember, Lord, thy church, to deliver it from every evil and to make it perfect in thy love; and do Thou gather it from the four winds, the sanctified church, into thy kingdom, which Thou hast prepared for it; for thine is the power and the glory forever.  Let grace come, and let this world pass away.  Hosanna to the Son of David.  If any one is holy, let him come: if any one is not, let him repent: Maranatha.  Amen.

 

But permit the prophets to express what thanks they wish.

 

Whoever, then, shall come and teach all these things, the things aforesaid, receive him; but if the teacher himself turn and teach another doctrine to the destruction of this, do not hear him; but if he teacheth to the promotion of righteousness and knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord.

 

And with reference to the apostles and prophets in accordance with the ordinance of the gospel, act thus. And let every apostle that cometh to you be received as the Lord; but he shall remain, not one day, but, if there be need, the next also; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet.  And let the apostle, when he goeth forth, take nothing except bread to suffice until he lodge; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet.

 

And no prophet that speaketh in the Spirit, shall ye try or judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. Not every one, however, that speaketh in the Spirit, is a prophet, but only if he have the ways of the Lord.

 

From their ways, then, shall the false prophet and the prophet be known. And no prophet that in the Spirit commandeth a meal, will eat of it, else he is a false prophet ; and every prophet that teacheth the truth, if he doeth not what he teacheth, is a false prophet.  And no prophet, approved, true, acting with a view to the world-mystery of the church, but not teaching others to do what he himself doeth, shall be judged in your presence; for with God he hath his judgment; for in like manner did the ancient prophets also.  But whoever in the Spirit shall say: Give me money, or something else, ye shall not hear him; but if he bid you give for others that are in want, let no one judge him.

 

And let every one that cometh in the name of the Lord be received, and afterward ye shall prove and know him; for ye shall possess understanding right and left. If he that cometh is a traveller, help him as much as you can; however, he shall not remain with you, except for two or three days, if need be.  But if he wisheth to reside with you, being an artisan, let him work and eat; but if he hath not a trade, provide, according to your understanding, that, as a Christian, he shall not live with you idle.  But if he doth not wish so to do, he is one that maketh a gain of Christ: beware of such.

 

But every true prophet that wisheth to reside with you, is worthy of his food. In like manner a true teacher, himself also is worthy of his food, just as the workman.  Every firstfruit, then, of the products of winepress and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, thou shalt take and give to the prophets; for they are your high priests.  But if ye have not a prophet, give to the poor.

 

If thou make a baking of bread, take and give the first-fruit according to the commandment. In like manner, on opening a jar of wine or oil, take and give the first-fruit to the prophets; and of money and clothing and every possession, take the firstfruit, as it may seem good to thee, and give according to the commandment.

 

And every Lord’s Day gather yourselves together, and break bread and give thanks, after having also confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow assemble with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned; For this is the one that was commanded by the Lord: In every place and time, offer Me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, saith the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.

 

Choose, therefore, for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek and free from the love of money, and true and proved; for they, too, render you the service of the prophets and teachers. Do not, then, despise them; for together with the prophets and teachers, they are your honored ones.

 

And reprove one another, not in anger, but in peace, as ye have it in the gospel; and to every one that acteth amiss against another, let no one speak, and let him not hear from you until he repent. But your prayers and alms and all deeds so do, as ye have it in the gospel of our Lord.

 

Watch for your life; let your lamps not be quenched, and your loins not be loosed, but be ye ready; for ye know not the hour in which our Lord cometh. And ye shall often be gathered together seeking the things which become your souls; for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if ye be not made perfect in the last time.

 

For in the last days the false prophets and the corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for as lawlessness increaseth, they shall hate one another, and persecute and betray, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as the Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never been done since the world began.

 

Then shall the human creation come into the fire of trial, and many shall be caused to stumble and shall perish; but they that endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself.

 

And then shall appear the signs of the truth; first, the sign of an opening in heaven, then the sign of the sound of a trumpet, and third, the resurrection of the dead; not of all, however, but as was said: The Lord shall come and all the saints with Him. Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.

 

[1] An observer of omens.—Ed.

 

Translation from S. Stanhope Orris, “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” in Teaching of the Twelve Apostles: Text and Translation, 1884, pp. 3-19.

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In:Endurance, Obedience, Sin

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By William Law

 

Editor’s Note: Why do so many professing Christians seem to fall short of the holiness and devotion to God which Christianity teaches?  Could it be because they do not actually intend to be as holy as they know they should be?

 

Reading this challenging piece by William Law, it may seem as though the only thing necessary to be holy is to intend to be so. Far from it, as he himself acknowledges at the end; rather, we must cooperate with God in the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 2:12-13).  However, God will not force us into holiness of life against our will; we will never be holy unless we want and intend to be.  With that full intention comes an earnest seeking of strength from God to do what we know He desires, and an asking for more light so that we may learn if there is some part of holiness which we do not yet know we must perform.

 

This selection is chapter 3 from William Law’s book, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.  The language has been slightly modernized.—Ed.

 

 

It may now be reasonably enquired, how it comes to pass, that the lives even of the better sort of people are thus strangely contrary to the principles of Christianity. But before I give a direct answer to this, I desire it may also be enquired, how it comes to pass that swearing is so common a vice amongst Christians; it is indeed not yet so common amongst women, as it is amongst men.  But amongst men this sin is so common, that perhaps there are more than two in three that are guilty of it throughout the whole course of their lives, swearing more or less, just as it happens, some constantly, others only now and then, as it were by chance.  Now I ask why is it that two in three of the men are guilty of so gross and profane a sin as this?  There is neither ignorance nor human infirmity to plead for it: It is against an express commandment, and the most plain Doctrine of our blessed Saviour.

 

Do but now find the reason why the generality of men live in this notorious vice, and then you will have found the reason why the generality even of the better sort of people live so contrary to Christianity.

 

Now the reason of common swearing is this: It is because men have not so much as the intention to please God in all their actions. For let a man but have so much piety as to intend to please God in all the actions of his life, as the happiest and best thing in the world, and then he will never swear more.  It will be as impossible for him to swear, whilst he feels this intention within himself, as it is impossible for a man that intends to please his Prince, to go up and abuse him to his face.

 

It seems but a small and necessary part of piety to have such a sincere intention as this; and that he has no reason to look upon himself as a Disciple of Christ, who is not thus far advanced in piety. And yet it is purely for want of this degree of piety, that you see such a mixture of sin and folly in the lives even of the better sort of people.  It is for want of this intention that you see men that profess religion, yet live in swearing and sensuality; that you see clergymen given to pride and covetousness, and worldly enjoyments.  It is for want of this intention, that you see women that profess devotion, yet living in all the folly and vanity of dress, wasting their time in idleness and pleasure, and in all such instances of state and equipage[1] as their estates will reach.  For let but a woman feel her heart full of this intention, and she will find it as impossible to patch or paint, as to curse or swear; she will no more desire to shine at balls and assemblies, or make a figure amongst those that are most finely dressed, than she will desire to dance upon a rope to please spectators: She will know that the one is as far from the wisdom and excellency of the Christian Spirit, as the other.

 

It was this general intention that made the primitive Christians such eminent instances of piety, that made the goodly fellowship of the saints, and all the glorious army of martyrs and confessors.[2]  And if you will here stop and ask yourself why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it.  You observe the same Sunday-worship that they did; and you are strict in it, because it is your full intention to be so.  And when you as fully intend to be like them in their ordinary common life, when you intend to please God in all your actions, you will find it as possible as to be strictly exact in the service of the church.  And when you have this intention to please God in all your actions, as the happiest and best thing in the world, you will find in you as great an aversion to everything that is vain and impertinent in common life, whether of business or pleasure, as you now have to anything that is profane.  You will be as fearful of living in any foolish way, either of spending your time or your fortune, as you are now fearful of neglecting the public Worship.

 

Now who that lacks this general sincere intention, can be reckoned a Christian? And yet if it was amongst Christians, it would change the whole face of the world; true piety and exemplary holiness would be as common and visible as buying and selling, or any trade in life.

 

Let a clergyman be but thus pious, and he will converse as if he had been brought up by an Apostle; he will no more think and talk of noble preferment, than of noble eating or a glorious chariot. He will no more complain of the frowns of the world, or a small pay, or the lack of a patron, than he will complain of the want of a laced coat, or a running horse.  Let him but intend to please God in all his actions, as the happiest and best thing in the world, and then he will know that there is nothing noble in a clergyman, but burning zeal for the salvation of souls; nor any thing poor in his profession, but idleness and a worldly spirit.

 

Again, let a tradesman have this intention, and it will make him a saint in his shop; his everyday business will be a course of wise and reasonable actions, made holy to God, by being done in obedience to His will and pleasure. He will buy and sell, and labour and travel, because by so doing he can do some good to himself and others.  But then, as nothing can please God but what is wise, and reasonable, and holy, so he will neither buy, nor sell, nor labour in any other manner, nor to any other end, but such as may be shown to be wise and reasonable and holy.  He will therefore consider not what arts, or methods, or application, will soonest make him richer and greater than his brethren, or remove him from a shop to a life of state and pleasure; but he will consider what arts, what methods, what application can make worldly business most acceptable to God, and make a life of trade a life of holiness, devotion, and piety.  This will be the temper and spirit of every tradesman; he cannot stop short of these degrees of piety, whenever it is his intention to please God in all his actions, as the best and happiest thing in the world.

 

And on the other hand, whoever is not of this spirit and temper in his trade and profession, and does not carry it on only so far as is best subservient to a wise and holy and heavenly life; it is certain that he has not this intention; and yet without it, who can be shown to be a follower of Jesus Christ?

 

Again, let the gentleman of birth and fortune but have this intention, and you will see how it will carry him from every appearance of evil, to every instance of piety and goodness.

 

He cannot live by chance, or as humor and fancy carries him, because he knows that nothing can please God but a wise and regular course of life. He cannot live in idleness and indulgence, in sports and gaming, in pleasures and intemperance, in vain expenses and high living; because these things cannot be turned into means of piety and holiness, or made so many parts of a wise and religious life.

 

As he thus removes from all appearance of evil, so he hastens and aspires after every instance of goodness. He does not ask what is allowable and pardonable, but what is commendable and praise-worthy.  He does not ask whether God will forgive the folly of our lives, the madness of our pleasures, the vanity of our expenses, the richness of our equipage, and the careless consumption of our time; but he asks whether God is pleased with these things, or whether these are the appointed ways of gaining His favor.  He does not inquire whether it be pardonable to hoard up money to adorn ourselves with diamonds, and gild our chariots, while the widow and the orphan, the sick and the prisoner need to be relieved; but he asks whether God has required these things at our hands, whether we shall be called to account at the last day for the neglect of them, because it is not his intent to live in such ways as, for ought we know, God may perhaps pardon; but to be diligent in such ways, as we know that God will infallibly reward.

 

He will not therefore look at the lives of Christians, to learn how he ought to spend his estate; but he will look into the Scriptures, and make every doctrine, parable, precept, or instruction that relates to rich men, a law to himself in the use of his estate.

 

He will have nothing to do with goodly apparel, because the rich man in the Gospel was clothed with purple and fine linen. He denies himself the pleasures and indulgences which his estate could procure, because our Blessed Saviour says, Woe unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation.  He will have but one rule for charity, and that will be, to spend all that he can that way; because the Judge of quick and dead hath said, that all that is so given, is given to Him.

 

He will have no hospitable table for the rich and wealthy to come and feast with him in good eating and drinking; because our Blessed Lord says, When thou makest a dinner, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors, lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and thou shalt be blessed.  For they cannot recompense thee, for thou shalt he recompensed at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:12, 13, 14).

 

He will waste no money in gilded roofs or costly furniture: He will not be carried from pleasure to pleasure in expensive state and equipage, because an inspired Apostle hath said, that all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

 

Let not any one look upon this as an imaginary description of charity, that looks fine in the notion, but cannot be put in practice. For it is so far from being an imaginary impracticable form of life, that it has been practiced by great numbers of Christians in former ages, who were glad to turn their whole estates into a constant course of charity.  And it is so far from being impossible now, that if we can find any Christians, that sincerely intend to please God in all their actions as the best and happiest thing in the world, whether they be young or old, single or married, men or women, if they have but this intention, it will be impossible for them to do otherwise.  This one principle will infallibly carry them to this height of charity, and they will find themselves unable to stop short of it.

 

For how is it possible for a man that intends to please God in the use of his money, and intends it because he judges it to be his greatest happiness, how is it possible for such a one in such a state of mind, to bury his money in needless impertinent finery, in covering himself or his horses with gold, whilst there are any works of piety and charity to be done with it, or any ways of spending it well?

 

This is as strictly impossible as for a man that intends to please God in his words, to go into company on purpose to swear and lie. For as all waste and unreasonable expense is done designedly and with deliberation, so no one can be guilty of it, whose constant intention is to please God in the use of his money.

 

I have chosen to explain this matter by appealing to this intention, because it makes the case so plain, and because every one that has a mind, may see it in the clearest light and feel it in the strongest manner, only by looking into his own heart. For it is as easy for every person to know, whether he intends to please God in all his actions; as for any servant to know whether this be his intention towards his master.  Every one also can as easily tell how he lays out his money, and whether he considers how to please God in it, as he can tell where his estate is, and whether it be in money or land.  So that here is no plea left for ignorance or frailty, as to this matter, everybody is in the light, and everybody has power.  And no one can fall, but he that is not so much a Christian as to intend to please God in the use of his estate.

 

You see two persons, one is regular in public and private prayer, the other is not. Now the reason of this difference is not this, that one has strength and power to observe prayer, and the other has not; but the reason is this, that one intends to please God in the duties of devotion, and the other has no intention about it.  Now the case is the same in the right or wrong use of our time and money.  You see one person throwing away his time in sleep and idleness, in visiting and diversions, and his money in the most vain and unreasonable expenses.  You see another careful of every day, dividing his hours by rules of reason and religion, and spending all his money in works of charity; now the difference is not owing to this, that one has strength and power to do thus, and the other has not; but it is owing to this, that one intends to please God in the right use of all his time and all his money, and the other has no intention about it.

 

Here therefore let us judge ourselves sincerely, let us not vainly content ourselves with the common disorders of our lives, the vanity of our expenses, the folly of our diversions, the pride of our habits, the idleness of our lives, and the wasting of our time, fancying that these are such imperfections as we fall into through the unavoidable weakness and frailty of our natures; but let us be assured, that these disorders of our common life are owing to this, that we have not so much Christianity as to intend to please God in all the actions of our life, as the best and happiest thing in the world. So that we must not look upon ourselves in a state of common and pardonable imperfection, but in such a state as lacks the first and most fundamental principle of Christianity, that is, an intention to please God in all our actions.

 

And if anyone was to ask himself, how it comes to pass that there are any degrees of sobriety which he neglects, any practice of humility which he lacks, any methods of charity which he does not follow, any rules of redeeming time which he does not observe, his own heart will tell him, that it is because he never intended to be so exact in those duties. For whenever we fully intend it, it is as possible to conform to all this regularity of life, as it is possible for a man to observe times of prayer.

 

So that the fault does not lie here, that we desire to be good and perfect, but through the weakness of our nature fall short of it; but it is because we have not piety enough to intend to be as good as we can, or to please God in all the actions of our life. This we see is plainly the case of him that spends his time in sports, when he should be at church; it is not his lack of power, but his lack of intention or desire to be there.

 

And the case is plainly the same in every other folly of human life. She that spends her time and money in the unreasonable ways and fashions of the world, does not do so, because she lacks power to be wise and religious in the management of her time and money; but because she has no intention or desire of being so.  When she feels this intention, she will find it as possible to act up to it, as to be strictly sober and chaste, because it is her care and desire to be so.

 

This doctrine does not suppose that we have no need of divine grace, or that it is within our own power to make ourselves perfect. It only supposes that through the lack of a sincere intention of pleasing God in all our actions, we fall into such irregularities of life, as by the ordinary means of grace we should have power to avoid.

 

And that we have not that perfection, which our present state of grace makes us capable of, because we do not so much as intend to have it.

 

It only teaches us that the reason why you see no real mortification or self-denial, no eminent charity, no profound humility, no heavenly affection; no true contempt of the world, no Christian meekness, no sincere zeal, no eminent piety in the common lives of Christians, is this, because they do not so much as intend to be exact and exemplary in these virtues.

 

 

 

[1] “Attendance, retinue, as persons, horses, carriages” (Webster’s 1828).

[2] The confessors were those who suffered imprisonment and perhaps torture for their faith, but were not martyred.

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In:II Corinthians, Obedience, Romans, Salvation and the New Birth, Sin

Comments Off on What Letter Killeth?

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

 

This statement is used by many to excuse their disobedience to the words of Jesus and the Apostles – what they would call the “letter.”  Anyone who insists on literal obedience to the commandments of God Almighty is accused of making too much of the “letter” which “kills.”  The accusers, in their disobedience, are supposedly enjoying “freedom” of the “Spirit” and think they have spiritual life which their “legalist” friend lacks.

 

What are we to make of such arguments? They may sound intimidating and credible when they are put forward.  After all, why be concerned about actually obeying Christ if you do not have to – or if obedience can actually tend to spiritual death?  We certainly do not want that!  But are our “spiritual” friends using the Scriptures correctly?

 

There is only one Scripture which uses an expression similar to that at the head of this article. In II Corinthians 3:6, the Apostle Paul writes that God “also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”  A similar expression is found in Romans 7:6: “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” (cf. Romans 2:27, 29).

 

What is “the Letter”?

 

The question should immediately rise in our minds, “what letter is Paul referring to?”  An examination of the contexts of the above references will reveal the answer.

 

Notice what Paul is referring to in the first part of II Corinthians 3:6: He is pointing out that he and his coworkers had been made “able ministers of the new testament.” The context, then, is the distinction between the two covenants – the New Covenant of Christ and the Old Covenant under Moses.  The “letter” being referred to, then, is the old letter of the Mosaic Covenant.

 

That this is so is confirmed by a look at the broader context.

 

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.  But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?  For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.  For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.  For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious (II Corinthians 3:5-11).

 

Notice what is being contrasted throughout this passage – the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. (To emphasize this, I have bolded that which refers to the New Covenant and underlined what refers to the Old Covenant.)  Notice the back and forth contrast between the two which Paul is making – it goes all throughout this passage.  Notice also that he later uses the spirit to refer to the New Covenant – “shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?”

 

Thus we see that in II Corinthians 3, the “letter” does not refer to the New Testament commands of Jesus and the Apostles, but to the Old Testament commands of Moses.  What about the other passages where “letter” is used?

 

Here is the context for the quotation from Romans 7:

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 be 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 sins, 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.  What shall we say then? Is the law sin?  God forbid.  Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet (Romans 7:1-7).

 

Notice again that the context is “the law.” Paul points out that we have died to the Law so that we are no longer under its dominion; instead, we can be married to Christ and bring forth fruit unto God.  In verse 6, he restates this principle, saying that we are delivered from the Law, so that we could serve in the “newness of spirit” and not in “the oldness of the letter.”  How do we know the “law” in this passage is referring to Moses’ law?  Throughout Romans, this has been the predominant usage of the term “law,” although there are exceptions – even later on in this very chapter.  However, notice in verse 7 how Paul reveals how he is using the term “law.”  It was “the law” which said, “Thou shalt not covet.”  What law is this?  The Law of Moses (Exodus 20:17).

 

There is one more passage of Scripture in which “letter” is used in this context, and that is in Romans 2.

 

Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law…For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.  Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?  And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?  For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God (Romans 2:17-18, 25-29).

 

Notice again the context of the reference to the “letter.” The Law of Moses is that which instructs the Jews.  Circumcision, an ordinance of the Law of Moses, is included in the context.  The “letter,” then, appears to mean a literal fulfillment or obedience to the details of the Law of Moses.  For instance, in verse 29, Paul points out that the true circumcision is that which is in heart and spirit – “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11b) – not the actual operation on the body, i.e., “not in the letter.”

 

What is the Death which the Letter Brings?

 

We have noticed from the context of Paul’s usages of the theological term “letter” that it refers to the Mosaic Law. In our search to understand Paul’s meaning, we must now investigate what the death is which this “letter” brings.  The answer to this question is clearly given in Romans 7.

 

What shall we say then? Is the law sin?  God forbid.  Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.  But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.  For without the law sin was dead.  For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.  And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.  For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.  Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.  Was then that which is good made death unto me?  God forbid.  But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful (Romans 7:7-13).

 

Romans 7 is a controversial chapter, but it appears that Paul is explaining the nature of the Law of Moses and its work in a man’s heart – that is, bringing the sinner to Christ – by his own experience before his conversion.  This is particularly clear in this section of the chapter.  Paul points out first that the Law is not sin; rather, it reveals sin, such as covetousness.  Sin, however, takes the opportunity afforded by a commandment to take action in a man’s heart and life.  It is human nature to want that which is forbidden.  A preacher who is also a painter said that he used to put up “Wet Paint” signs when he would paint in restaurants.  People who came through would inevitably touch the walls, just to see if it really was wet – and of course, would find that it was.  When he stopped putting up “Wet Paint” signs, the wall-touching stopped.  People want what is forbidden.  The Law, rather than restraining sin, actually stirs it up and causes it to increase in strength.

 

Paul goes on to say that “without the law sin was dead.”  Just like the people walking right past un-posted wet paint, evil did not have much appeal for Paul when he had not yet heard the law forbidding evil.  He then says that he was alive without the law once.  It seems that he is referring to his state as a young boy, before he learned the Law.  Yes, Paul was probably a naughty boy at times, but having not yet learned God’s righteous standard nor having made a conscious, mature decision to accept or reject it, he was, in a sense, spiritually alive.  However, the day came when Paul learned the Law of Moses.  When “the commandment came,” that is, when he learned about it and became conscious of God’s standard for life, “sin revived.”  The Law actually produced sin in his life!  The result?  “I died.”  Paul’s entrance into the state of spiritual death occurred when he became a conscious sinner, knowing the Law of God and failing to live up to it.  Paul points out that God ordained the Law to be “unto life.”

 

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

 

Although God ordained the Law for life, Paul in his experience found it to lead to death.  Why?  Sin took the opportunity which the Law gave, and it was sin which deceived and spiritually killed young Paul.  Paul goes on to vindicate the Law of being evil; on the other hand, it is “holy, and just, and good.”  How could something good lead to death?  Paul points out that sin, so that it could be revealed for what it was, took the Law in its hands like a sword and killed Paul.  Sin took the Law and did with it what it had not been intended for.  In this way, the Law revealed the true nature of sin – that it was “exceeding sinful,” in that it could take that which was good and use it to produce death.

 

So how does this relate to “the letter” mentioned by Paul? Remember that “the letter” refers to the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses.  This passage reveals what kind of death “the letter” works when it “killeth.”  It gives an opportunity for sin to stir itself up and revive in a man’s heart, which then uses the Law to produce spiritual death.  That this is a correct understanding of Paul’s testimony in Romans 7 is confirmed by verse 5: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.”  The killing which the letter performs is done by producing sin in a man’s life; this sin works in our body to “bring forth fruit unto death.”

 

This is all directly contrary to our friends’ understanding, who insist that the “letter” is the New Testament commands of Jesus and the Apostles, and the “death” is brought about by the “legalism” of those who insist that Christians must obey God.  The “letter” does not kill by driving to obedience, but by driving to sin!

 

What is the “Spirit”?

 

What is the “spirit” referred to in these passages? This is not made explicitly clear.  One meaning which fits the contexts is that it is the spirit or intention behind the Law.  Remember that God ordained the Law for life, but in practical experience, it leads to death.  The spirit, then, could be God’s intention for man to have life – the heavenly life of God revealed in man’s everyday, practical experience.  As Paul discovered, the carnal, unregenerated man cannot possibly keep God’s Law.  A practical attainment (or surpassing) of the righteousness of the Law requires an indwelling of the Holy Spirit – God Himself.  “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9b).  This Spirit is only given to those who obey God.  “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:32).

 

Jesus’ Words

 

Let us return again to our friends, who insist that insistence upon obedience is bondage to the “letter” which “killeth.” We have seen that the New Covenant commands of Jesus are not what Paul had in mind when he wrote about the “letter.”  Such an interpretation would contradict Jesus’ own words: “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).  Jesus’ words are spirit, and they are life!  They are not the letter which kills.

 

Originally published in The Witness 13(11) November 2015.

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In:Evangelism, Jonah, Sin

Comments Off on A Bad Prophet and a Good God: The Book of Jonah

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

“Jonah and the whale” is often the final Old Testament story told in children’s storybooks. Beyond its use as a “Bible story,” the book of Jonah is rarely given much serious consideration.  Though the book is short, its message is weighty: God is a radically, amazingly, unfathomably good Being.  The book of Jonah is a revelation of a God who loves even His enemies.  It is a revelation of a God who is not willing that any should perish.  It is a revelation of the fact that it is the goodness of God which leads men to repentance.  The revelation of these facts – both to a bad prophet and a wicked city – is the theme and story of this book.

 

The Religious and Political Situation

 

Jonah was a prophet in the land of Israel after the division between Israel (the ten northern tribes) and Judah (Judah and Benjamin). Since the reign of Jeroboam, Israel’s first king, the ten northern tribes had been in serious apostasy from God and the truth.  This was because Jeroboam I had set up two golden calves, claimed that they were images of Jehovah, and that the Israelites should worship at the shrines he had set up for these calves rather than at Jerusalem, where the Judeans worshipped.  Eighteen times it is stated in the books of Kings that Jeroboam “made Israel to sin.”

 

All of this had been hundreds of years before, and now Jeroboam II was king. He was not a descendant of the original Jeroboam, as Israel had known much political instability, and dynasties had changed several times since the reign of Jeroboam.  Immense idolatry had entered, particularly during the Omri dynasty.  Omri’s son Ahab, stirred up by his wife Jezebel, introduced the worship of Baal and other heathen gods, in addition to the pagan gods already worshipped by the Israelites and the two golden calves which Jeroboam had set up.  Israel had become a corrupt nation of idolatrous, adulterous people.

 

Following the reign of Ahab and two of his sons, God raised up Jehu with the mission of destroying the Omri dynasty and cleansing the land of idolatry. Jehu eradicated the worship of Baal and other heathen gods, but failed to return completely to following the commands of GOD contained in the Law of Moses.  He allowed the two golden calves erected by Jeroboam I to remain and the worship of them to continue uninterrupted.  This pagan behavior continued under the reign of Jehu’s descendants and finally ended with the destruction of Jehu’s dynasty.

 

It was during the reign of Jehu’s great-grandson, Jeroboam II, that Jonah was prophet in Israel. Israel had known little peace since its division from Judah, and Jeroboam II took the throne at a time when Israel was under the oppression of the Syrians – a cruel and ruthless people with no love for the Israelites.  Because of the sins of Jehu, GOD “began to cut Israel short” (II Kings 10:32), using the Syrians.  Israel lost a significant amount of land to these foes, and all the days of Jehoahaz (Jeroboam II’s grandfather and Jehu’s son), Israel was oppressed by the Syrians (II Kings 13:22).  GOD had mercy on the Israelites, however, for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  HE allowed Jehoash, Jehoahaz’s son and successor, to have three victories over the Syrians and reclaim some of the cities which the Syrians had taken.

 

A breakthrough was to occur in the reign of Jeroboam II, and it was there and then that Jonah’s ministry began.

 

The Early Ministry of Jonah

 

In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel began to reign in Samaria, and reigned forty and one years.  And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD: he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.  He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher.  For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter: for there was not any shut up, nor any left, nor any helper for Israel.  And the LORD said not that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven: but he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.  Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, and all that he did, and his might, how he warred, and how he recovered Damascus, and Hamath, which belonged to Judah, for Israel, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?  (II Kings 14:23-28)

 

Jonah was the son of a man by the name of Amittai, and was a native of the city of Gath-hepher, a town on the border of the land of Zebulun. Amittai was a prophet as well, and named his son Jonah, meaning “dove.”  He probably trained his son to value the ways of the Lord and to pursue the honor of Jehovah and proclaim His truth to His wayward people, Israel.

 

Jonah followed his father’s footsteps as a prophet of the Lord.  His career as prophet appears to have begun during the reign of Jeroboam II.  The people were bitterly afflicted by the Syrians, and although Jeroboam II was a wicked man, God was ready to deliver the Israelites from their affliction.  Jonah prophesied and proclaimed that Jeroboam II would restore the borders of Israel, all the way from Hamath, reclaiming the land which the Syrians had taken.  He proclaimed that the Lord had declared that He would not blot out Israel’s name, but would save them through Jeroboam II (II Kings 14:23-29).

 

Jonah’s preaching was probably quite popular in Israel. While the people probably had little interest in returning to obedience to this God Jonah served, they were interested in the patriotic vision of restoring the borders of Israel, and bringing Israel back to international prominence and victory over their hated enemies, the Syrians.  While we do not know what Jeroboam II’s attitude towards Jonah was, it seems probable that he liked what Jonah was doing, as it certainly had a positive effect on military morale.

 

As God had promised through Jonah, Jeroboam II was able to bring deliverance from Israel’s enemies.  Not only did he reclaim the land which Syria had taken from Israel, he went on the offensive as far as Damascus, where he apparently occupied the very capital of Syria itself.

 

A New Mission

 

Jonah’s early mission, to the people of Israel, appears to have been a fairly easy one. His message was probably fairly popular, and as a result, the people probably liked him as well.  He appears to have been somewhat of a patriot himself, and the homeland-exalting mission he was given seems to have suited him just fine.  But at heart, he was a bad prophet.  God had more in mind for Jonah than Jonah was expecting.  A good God was about to reveal Himself to a bad prophet.

 

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, at that time a loose confederation of city-states. Although not mentioned in the Bible up to this point, the Assyrians were enemies of the Israelites.  Ahab had led a large confederation of Middle Eastern kings to fight against the Assyrians at the Battle of Qarqar, and was defeated.[1]  Jehu was forced to pay tribute to the same Assyrian monarch.[2], [3]  Joash, the father of Jeroboam II, also paid tribute to Assyria.[4]  The Assyrians would eventually take the ten northern tribes into captivity.  Nineveh would eventually become the capital city of the Assyrians, but it was not the capital of the empire at that time.

 

While not the capital, Nineveh was an ancient and important city in the Assyrian Empire. The city had been founded very soon after the worldwide Flood.  Nimrod appears to have begun to build an empire beginning at Babel (Genesis 10:8-10).  Another man by the name of Asshur left Nimrod’s land and founded Nineveh as well as three other cities (Genesis 10:11-12).  This important city in the Assyrian Empire was violent and licentious; its people were idolatrous and superstitious.  It was this wicked city which God had in mind when He came to give Jonah a new prophetic mission.

 

The Book of Jonah

1:1Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.

 

The Lord had a radically new mission for Jonah – and one rather unheard of for Hebrew prophets.  While it was not unusual for God to give a special message of warning and judgment to one of His prophets against a pagan nation, it was unusual for Him to command the prophet to deliver the message in person at the very city which had merited judgment.

At the very beginning of the book of Jonah, we see God’s intolerance of sin, and yet His willingness to send a message of warning and judgment to those who had provoked His wrath.

 

3But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

 

Jonah was obviously displeased with the new mission he had been given, and he attempted to flee – not only from the mission, but from the presence of the Lord Himself.  Why did Jonah dislike this new mission?  Why did he want to flee from doing this service for the Lord?  The text itself does not yet reveal it.  Like the dramatic piece of literature it is, the book conceals the reason for Jonah’s reluctance until the shocking climax.

 

4But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. 5Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them.  But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.

 

Jonah slept soundly through the storm, probably imagining that – as God’s favored prophet – he would be protected through the storm.  Too many people today still imagine that God will protect and bless them in the midst of their own disobedience and rebellion against His commands.

 

6So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper?  arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not. 7And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us.  So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. 8Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation?  and whence comest thou?  what is thy country?  and of what people art thou? 9And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.

 

Jonah knew who God was.  He feared the Lord, but yet was apparently unafraid to disobey Him.  (Or perhaps Jonah had just come to “fear” the Lord!)  Notice that although the shipmaster asked Jonah to pray, we have no record that he actually did so.

 

10Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this?  For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

 

The sailors seemed to be more afraid at Jonah’s disobedience – and the potential consequences – than he was. They knew that Jonah was there in disobedience to his God because he had been brazenly rebellious enough to report his grievances and disobedience to these pagans, to whom he – as a member of God’s priestly nation, and a prophet besides – should have been a witness to.

 

11Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us?  for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. 12And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. 13Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them. 14Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.

 

The sailors were showing more mercy to Jonah than Jonah was showing to the Ninevites! They were acting more in accord with God’s heart of love and mercy than Jonah was.

However, Jonah did not ask for God’s guidance for what should be done.  He also did not repent.  Repentance probably would have been telling the sailors to turn the ship around and head back, that he needed to go to Nineveh – he would pay them what they required.  Even in this situation, Jonah was still not headed for Nineveh, and was still being stubborn.  He would rather drown than go to Nineveh.

 

15So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. 16Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.

 

God, the Benevolent and All-Wise Deity, used Jonah’s disobedience to reach yet more pagans – the sailors, who in spite of the poor witness left by Jonah’s rebellion, feared and sacrificed to the Good God Who had revealed Himself to them.

 

17Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

 

God was going to teach Jonah a lesson.  Jonah first sank into the sea and became entangled in a mass of seaweed (2:5).  He was probably near death, if not already dead, when the fish swallowed him.  When he finally came to, he found himself in the belly of a fish.

 

2:1Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly, 2And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. 3For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. 4Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. 5The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. 6I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.

 

These phrases (“out of the belly of hell,” “compassed me…to the soul,” “earth with her bars…about me for ever,” “brought up my life from corruption”) indicate that Jonah probably died after being cast out of the ship, and his soul descended to the abode of the dead. He despaired of being in God’s presence ever again, yet hope entered his soul – “yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.”  The Lord, true to His merciful character, then “brought up [Jonah’s] life from corruption,” reviving him in the fish’s belly.

 

7When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.

 

Jonah knew where to turn in his hour of trouble – the very Person Whom he had sinned against.  Jonah’s prayer holds regret for his punishment, and perhaps just an ounce of actual repentance for his sin.  At the end, Jonah’s tone becomes triumphant, as he is confident that God has heard his prayer, and that he would actually be allowed once more to enter the Temple.

 

8They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.

 

The word “observe” can have the sense of “protect.” It is possible that the sense of this verse is, “They who seek to protect themselves with idols, forsake the opportunity to experience God’s mercy.”

 

9But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed.  Salvation is of the LORD.

 

With full confidence now in his deliverance, Jonah plans a sacrifice with thanksgiving, and declares that salvation – deliverance from his present disaster – would come from the Lord.

 

Despite his promise for worship, Jonah does not in this prayer include any confession of guilt or a plea for forgiveness.

 

10And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.

 

But Jonah received what he prayed for! This action of God’s – delivering this bad prophet from “the belly of hell,” and then from the belly of the fish – reveals God’s loving and merciful character, loving even to His enemies.  God very well could have left Jonah to be the fish’s lunch, and picked another prophet to go to Nineveh.  He could just as well have told the Angel Gabriel to go warn Nineveh of impending judgment.  Gabriel would not have disobeyed.  Yet God was good even to the bad prophet Jonah, and He delivered Jonah in mercy, and gave him another opportunity.

 

3:1And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, 2Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.

 

God had delivered Jonah from his disaster, but not from his despised mission.  A boat had taken Jonah away from where God wanted him, but a fish carried him right back.  Jonah was given the opportunity to demonstrate repentance by preaching in love to those who were headed where he had just been – the “belly of hell.”

 

3So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.

 

Jonah obeys – at least outwardly – and this time heads for Nineveh. As we will see, it was not out of love for the people that he went!

 

Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey. 4And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.

 

Unfortunately, we have no record if Jonah preached anything more than this short, terse message. It was a foreboding, threatening message – and one perfectly suited for the Ninevites’ ears.

 

Archaeological discoveries have shed light on the history of Assyria at about the time of Jonah’s mission. King Jeroboam II, king of Israel in Jonah’s day, reigned from 793-753 B.C.  On June 15, 763 B.C., there was a solar eclipse in Assyria.  There had been revolts and plagues before then; there was revolt in Assyria in that year, and a plague two years later.  The Assyrians, like so many other pagans, were a very superstitious people, and a solar eclipse was seen as a terrible omen of bad luck.  One archaeological discovery is an astrological report to the king claiming that a solar eclipse indicated that the following disasters may occur: “Rise of a rebel king; the throne will change…that king will die…a devastating flood will occur.”[5]  One professor of the Old Testament wrote:

If Jonah had arrived in Nineveh around the time of this eclipse, when Assyria was about to fold up and collapse, it would not have taken much of a catalyst to start the kind of mass repentance described in Jonah 3. The behavior of the Assyrian king described in the royal letters took place on certain days specified by experts during time when life was progressing as usual.  How much more intense would it be in the New Year following this ominous event?  One might even wonder if the book of Jonah understated the situation.[6]

 

5So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.

 

The people of Nineveh did not just believe Jonah; they believed his God.

 

6For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?

 

This incredible repentance came about because the Ninevites and their king saw in the terse, threatening message of Jonah the truth which he wanted to hide from them – that God was gracious and merciful, willing to forgive upon repentance.  Indeed – why would God send a prophet to warn them of judgment if there was no hope of mercy?

 

The Ninevites “believed God” enough that they were willing to turn from their sins in repentance, begging for His mercy.  What was God’s response?

 

10And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

 

What a good God!  In response to their repentance, God also “repented” or turned from the pronouncement of judgment.  The Judge of all the Earth does right; He does not punish the righteous with the wicked (Genesis 18:23, 25).  These men, although formerly wicked, had turned now to righteousness.  God responds to repentance by giving mercy.

But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.  Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?  (Ezekiel 18:21-23).

 

4:1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

 

As we enter the fourth chapter, we get to the real reason why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh in the first place. God saw the repentance of Nineveh, and responded with mercy and forgiveness.  Jonah, however – God’s chosen prophet, who should have been close to God and had thoughts like God regarding this situation – is angry with God for showing mercy on Nineveh!  Sometimes we, too, are angry when our neighbor receives a blessing.

 

2And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country?  Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. 

 

The climax of the story has come, with the most shocking element in the entire book – the prophet Jonah reproaches God for being good!

 

This is the real reason why Jonah wanted to flee to Tarshish and avoid the mission to Nineveh. It was because he knew that God was good, and that if the city of Nineveh would repent in response to his message, the city would be spared!  When Jonah finally did arrive in Nineveh, he appears to have given only a short, threatening message of doom.  Yet even his unkind preaching was met with the unexpected result that the Ninevites guessed how good God was – the very fact Jonah wished to hide from them!  Now, as he had expected, the city had repented, and God had spared the city.  Now Jonah is reproaching God for being good.  (He was perfectly pleased with God’s goodness and mercy when he was the one in need of it.)

 

3Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. 4Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry? 

 

Jonah was so angry with his Good God that he would rather die than see God have mercy on his enemies.  At this point, the Lord has taken a lot of rebellion from Jonah, and it would seem perfectly natural in the story to see the Lord strike him dead at this point.  However, the Lord asked Jonah a gentle question – “Doest thou well to be angry?”

 

5So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. 

 

Jonah seems to have taken God’s question wrong.  God’s question was certainly intended to gently nudge him to repentance from his bad attitudes.  Jonah seems to have misunderstood, and went out to watch what would happen to the city – as if God had meant, “What are you so upset about?  Just watch and I will destroy the city!  Just be patient and wait!”  So Jonah took his seat on the east side of the city – the side opposite from his own home – and waited.

 

6And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief.  So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.

 

Even in the face of this new development, God is still good to His bad prophet.  He did not let Jonah sit out in the desert in the hot sun, but gave Him a large plant to shade him.  Was Jonah grateful to God for the gourd?  Although we are told that he “was exceeding glad of the gourd,” we have no record that he thanked God for it.

 

7But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. 8And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.

 

God’s purpose in giving Jonah a gourd was more than just to give him something to sit under – although that was part of it.  Rather, God was going to give Jonah a lesson.  The very next day, the gourd died, and a strong wind blew over Jonah, and the sun beat down on him.

Jonah was a man of emotional extremes. He was very angry when God had mercy on the city in verse 1; then he was exceeding glad of the gourd; now he is “angry, even unto death” (verse 9).

 

9And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?  And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death. 10Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: 11And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

 

In this passage, we get a final glimpse into the heart of God and see yet again His goodness.  Who was God trying to reach with Jonah’s mission to Nineveh?  Obviously the Ninevites, but also Jonah.  Jonah hated his enemies, and was unwilling to go to Nineveh because he knew that God was good.  Jonah was a man of emotional extremes, and was a man more interested in his own comfort and self-interest than the welfare of others – the creation and image of God Himself.  He may have been a patriot, more concerned with nationalistic affairs and hatred for Israel’s enemies than in seeing God’s rule and influence expand to another nation.

 

Jonah, preaching in Israel the destruction of her enemies, seems to have embraced the idea that although God was the Maker of all men, He was yet bound to a tribal entity and was only loyal to the Jews.

 

God’s benevolent response to this bad prophet was to send him – and resend him – on a mission which would bring him face-to-face with himself and his badness and God and His goodness.  God, in love and mercy, did not bring a railing accusation against Jonah, but gently confronted him with his own selfishness and hate and prompted him to embrace the benevolence, magnanimity, and goodness of God for all people.

 

Why does the book of Jonah end so abruptly – with no record of Jonah’s response? Perhaps it is because we are supposed to end the story for ourselves by responding to the lesson of the book – realizing the immense goodness of God, His love and care for all and desire for their salvation, and our need to act in accordance with our King’s benevolent vision.

 

Behold, a greater than Jonas is here.–Jesus

 

 

[1] Shalmaneser III, “The Monolith Inscription,” in Daniel David Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, Volume I, 1926, University of Chicago Press, p. 223.

[2] Shalmaneser III, “The Black Obelisk Inscription,” in Ibid., p. 211.

[3] Shalmaneser III, “Another Fragment from Calah(?),” in Ibid., p. 243.

[4] Adad-nirari III, “Tell al Rimah Stele,” in Stephanie Page, “A Stela of Adad-nirari III and Nergal-ereš from Tell al Rimah,” Iraq 30(2) (Autumn 1968):139-153, p. 143.

[5] As cited by Paul Ferguson, “Nineveh’s ‘Impossible’ Repentance,” Bible and Spade 27(2) (Spring 2014):32-35, p. 34.

[6] Ibid.

 

 

Originally published in The Witness 13(11) November 2015.

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In:Early Church, Separation & Nonconformity, Sin

Comments Off on Will We Think of God in the Theater?

By Tertullian (c. 197)

  This is a selection from Tertullian’s work On the Shows. It was written in response to Christians who claimed that since there was no Scriptural command forbidding attendance at various pagan Roman entertainments, it was therefore allowed to Christians. Tertullian argued the opposite – since it was not explicitly allowed, it was therefore forbidden, and furthermore, the nature of the shows was such that no Christian should want to attend. His arguments apply just as well to today’s sporting events, television, and other contemporary forms of entertainment. This selection presents chapters 25, 28, and 29, taken from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 3, pages 89-91. Language slightly modernized.—Ed.   Seated where there is nothing of God, will one be thinking of his Maker? Will there be peace in his soul when there is eager strife there for a charioteer? Wrought up into a frenzied excitement, will he learn to be modest? Nay, in the whole thing he will meet with no greater temptation than that showy attiring of the men and women. The very intermingling of emotions, the very agreements and disagreements with each other in the bestowment of their favors, where you have such close communion, blow up the sparks of passion. Furthermore, there is hardly any other reason to go to the show, than to see and to be seen. When a tragic actor is loudly speaking, will one be giving thought to prophetic appeals? Amid the measures of the effeminate player, will he call up to himself a psalm? And when the athletes are hard at struggle, will he be ready to proclaim that there must be no striking again? And with his eye fixed on the bites of bears, and the sponge-nets of the net-fighters, can he be moved by compassion? May God avert from His people any such passionate eagerness after a cruel enjoyment! For how monstrous it is to go from God’s church to the devil’s—from the sky to the sty, as they say; to raise your hands to God, and then to weary them in the applause of an actor; out of the mouth, from which you uttered Amen over the Holy Thing, to give witness in a gladiator’s favor; to cry “forever” to anyone else but God and Christ!…   With such dainties as these let the devil’s guests be feasted. The places and the times, the inviter too, are theirs. Our banquets, our nuptial joys, are yet to come. We cannot sit down in fellowship with them, as neither can they with us. Things in this matter go by their turns. Now they have gladness and we are troubled. “The world,” says Jesus, “shall rejoice; ye shall be sorrowful.” Let us mourn, then, while the heathen are merry, that in the day of their sorrow we may rejoice; lest, sharing now in their gladness, we share then also in their grief. You are too dainty, Christian, if you want to have pleasure in this life as well as in the next; no, you are a fool, if you think this life’s pleasures to be really pleasures. The philosophers, for instance, give the name of pleasure to quietness and repose; in that they have their bliss; in that they find entertainment: they even glory in it. You long for the goal, and the stage, and the dust, and the place of combat! I would have you answer me this question: Can we not live without pleasure, who cannot die without pleasure? For what is our wish but the apostle’s, to leave the world, and be taken up into the fellowship of our Lord? You have your joys where you have your longings.   Even as things are, if you intend to spend this period of existence in enjoyments, how are you so ungrateful as to count insufficient, as not thankfully to recognize the many and exquisite pleasures God has bestowed upon you? For what more delightful than to have peace with God the Father and our Lord, than to have the revelation of the truth, than confession of our errors, than pardon of the innumerable sins of our past life? What greater pleasure than distaste of pleasure itself, contempt of all that the world can give, true liberty, a pure conscience, a contented life, and freedom from all fear of death? What nobler than to tread underfoot the gods of the nations—to exorcise evil spirits—to perform cures—to seek divine revelations—to live to God? These are the pleasures, these are the spectacles that befit Christian men—holy, everlasting, free. Count these to be your circus games, fix your eyes on the courses of the world, the gliding seasons, reckon up the periods of time, long for the goal of the final consummation, defend the societies of the churches, be startled at God’s signal, be roused up at the angel’s trump, glory in the palms of martyrdom. If the literature of the stage delights you, we have literature in abundance of our own—plenty of verses, sentences, songs, proverbs; and these not fables, but true! They are not tricks of art, but plain realities. Would you have also fightings and wrestlings? Well, of these there is no lacking, and they are not of slight account. Behold unchastity overcome by chastity, treachery slain by faithfulness, cruelty stricken by compassion, impudence thrown into the shade by modesty. These are the contests we have among us, and in these we win our crowns. Would you have something of blood too? You have Christ’s.

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In:Salvation and the New Birth, Sin

Comments Off on A Conversation Between a Protestant and an Anabaptist

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

This is an imagined conversation between an Anabaptist and a Protestant regarding the way of salvation.  By using the term “Protestant,” we do not mean to say that all Protestants would agree with every statement made by the Protestant in our story.  Rather, we hope this story will be helpful and thought-provoking to you in your interactions with those who claim that works of any kind play no role in salvation.—Ed.

 

Worldly man.  Men and brethren!  What must I do to be saved?

 

Anabaptist.  If thou would enter into life, keep the commandments.[1]

 

Worldly.  Which?

 

Anabaptist.  Repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.[2]  Cease to do evil; learn to do well.[3]

 

Worldly.  I live with my girlfriend; I shoplift often; I steal from my employer; and I am very covetous.  Must I cease all these?

 

Anabaptist.  Do not let anyone deceive you with vain words – fornicators, thieves, and covetous men, who are idolaters, shall not inherit the kingdom of Christ and of God.[4]

 

Protestant.  Now wait a minute, Friend Anabaptist.  Are you not teaching salvation by works?

 

Anabaptist.  How is that?

 

Protestant.  Why, you just told Mr. Worldly that he must cease sinning to be saved.  That is a doctrine of works.

 

Anabaptist.  I still do not understand.  How would you explain it to Mr. Worldly?

 

Protestant.  We are saved by faith alone.  Nothing we do has any bearing on our salvation, now or ever.

 

Anabaptist.  So you are saying that ceasing to sin is doing something, and thus is works salvation?

 

Protestant.  Yes.

 

Anabaptist.  Well, continuing in sin is doing something too.  So is having faith, for that matter.

 

Protestant.  Now it is I who does not understand.  What are you getting at?

 

Anabaptist.  Hold a minute, and you shall see.  First, let me ask this: Are you saying that if Mr. Worldly stops fornicating, stealing, and coveting, that it would prove that he is embracing a salvation based on works?

 

Protestant.  Yes.

 

Anabaptist.  So if he would continue in these sins, yet believe in Christ, that would prove that he is seeking salvation by faith alone?

 

Protestant.  None of us are perfect.  We will continue in sin all our lives.  God understands that and forgives us because of our faith.

 

Anabaptist.  That is not an answer to the question.  Is continuing in sin a proof that one is seeking salvation by faith?

 

Protestant.  [Uncomfortable]  I cannot say yes…but it does prove that one is not seeking salvation by his own efforts, but simply trusting in the merits of Christ.

 

Anabaptist.  I will take that as a qualified “yes.”  So in other words, you are saying that faith would motivate a life of sin.[5]

 

Protestant.  Not exactly – he may stop his sins later, after coming to faith.  But those living in faith do still sin.[6]

 

Anabaptist.  The Scriptures say that whatsoever is not of faith is sin.[7]  Therefore, all sin is not of faith.  The two are radical opposites.  If one is sinning, he is not believing; if he is believing, he is not sinning.  Faith cannot motivate sin, and sin is never an evidence of faith.  If Mr. Worldly continued in sin, that would give the clearest proof that he does not have faith.  If he repents, it must be by faith.  Therefore, faith permeates all the counsel which I gave to Mr. Worldly at the beginning of our conversation.  One can only repent by faith.  Faith is obedience; faith is righteousness; faith is doing the will of God.  Whatsoever is not of faith is sin; what is done by faith cannot be sin.

 

Protestant.  Stop!  You’re calling my own faith into question now.

 

Anabaptist.  No, I am not.  I do not know your life; if the Holy Spirit is convicting you of faithlessness and unbelief, then give the glory to God and repent.

 

Protestant.  You are teaching works righteousness and will probably go to Hell for your rejection of Christ’s Blood and seeking to gain Heaven by your own efforts.

 

Anabaptist.  Say so if you will; God is Judge, and will be the Revealer of the secrets of all hearts on the Last Day.[8]  If Christ and His Apostles were teachers of works, I will be one too.

 

Worldly.  God, be merciful to me, a sinner!  Help me to repent by faith!

 

[1] Matthew 19:17.

[2] Acts 26:20.

[3] Isaiah 1:16-17.

[4] Ephesians 5:5-6; I Corinthians 6:9-10.

[5] See Romans 6:1-2.

[6] See I John 3:3-10.

[7] Romans 14:23.

[8] I Corinthians 4:5.

 

Originally published in The Witness 13(4) (April 2015):13-14.

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In:Heresy & False Teachings, Sin, Theology

Comments Off on Of Firewood and Legalism

By Mike Atnip

 

“Daniel,” I told my 14-year-old son, “it is supposed to be very cold over the weekend.  Fill the firewood in the back room up to the windows so we don’t run out when it is cold.”

 

Since Daniel was feeling cold and a bit sluggish, as boys do sometimes at chore time, he wasn’t exactly excited about my plan.  But he eventually made his way to the wood pile and began his task.  Not too long afterwards, I made a trip to the back room for some wood to fill the stove.  Daniel was finishing up…or at least he thought so.

 

“Daniel, that’s not near enough wood, you need to fill it up.”

 

“But I filled it up to the window,” he replied.

 

Sure enough, he had the wood stacked up to the window.  (Check the photo to see.)

 

I laughed.  “That’s what you call legalism!  Go fill it up right.”

 

Yes, he had stacked the wood up to the windows, in a neat stack one piece wide.  He had to smile himself, I think.  He returned to the woodpile and I went for the camera to record a perfect example of legalism.

 

Now, before you dump this paper in the trash, thinking I am about to call discipleship “legalism,” hang on a minute.  Heartfelt obedience is not legalism.  However, heartless obedience is legalism.  Daniel obeyed my command to fill the wood to the windows…legally.  But his heartless obedience missed the whole point.  Legalism can be defined as “trying to get by with as little as is legally possible.”  It’s like my aunt, who proclaimed that police do not stop people until they are going at least five miles per hour over the posted speed limit.  She wanted to be legal, so she would set her cruise control at 59 miles per hour, in a 55 mile per hour speed zone.  She was a legalist to the core, trying to get by with as much as she could and still be “legal.”

 

Well, legalism runs in the family, in fact the whole human family.  I have been guilty of it too many times myself.  For example, when we moved to Bolivia, South America, in January of 2000, we knew that it was illegal to import guns into Bolivia.  We wanted to take a .22 rifle along to do some hunting, since we planned to live in the country and get some wild game for meat.  But, we also knew that it was not illegal to import gun parts into Bolivia.  So, we took the rifle apart, and I took some gun parts into Bolivia, and another family took some gun parts.  Lo and behold, when we got into Bolivia, we found we had enough parts to make a whole gun!

 

Legal?  Yes.  Legalism?  To the core!  While we obeyed the laws of Bolivia, we missed the point and made ourselves into hardcore legalists.

 

So how does this fit into the story of Anabaptist history?  Christianity was introduced to our pagan Swiss forefathers by dedicated missionaries who lived simple lives, unfettered by a love of money and fame.  Those missionaries lived and taught a simple, faithful obedience to Jesus.

 

But remember how I said above that legalism runs in the human family?  As time went on, legalism towards the teachings of Jesus began to infect the descendants of the original Christians in the Swiss territories.  Instead of fully surrendering in Gelassenheit (yieldedness) to King Jesus, and obeying His teachings, people began to look for loopholes.  As more people squeezed through the loopholes, the holes were made larger so they could be passed without any effort.  Finally, the holes were turned into large gates through which everybody passed through without even realizing that they were never intended to be passageways.

 

For example, from Jesus’ teaching about nonresistance, people began to say that revenge was fine as long as it was done “justly.”  You can kill someone in self-defense, as long as you love the person while you hacked his head off with a sword.  From there, it was broadened into outright warfare, as long as you were doing it in the name of Jesus. By this means, you could join a crusade to take back the Holy Lands.  In fact, you could even get an indulgence for all your sins if you joined these crusades!

 

Strange, isn’t it, how a little loophole becomes a gate to the broad way?  But that is exactly what happened in the centuries after Beatus and Gallus preached to our Swiss forefathers.  And it was this very spirit of legalism, a.k.a. compromise, which the Anabaptists stood up to.

 

P.S. Daniel did a good job filling up the firewood. He has filled the room previously, on several occasions, to the windows and even beyond. Like all boys and a lot of men, he just had a spell of legalism that day.

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In:Endurance, Separation & Nonconformity, Sin, The Church

Comments Off on How a Church Can Lose its Anabaptist Convictions

By Matt Drayer

 

Anabaptists face a lot of pressure to conform to the world.  Countless “Christians” feel it is not necessary to be separate from the world, as commanded in Scripture (Romans 12:1-2; II Corinthians 6:14-18; II Timothy 2:4; I Peter 2:9-10; I John 2:15-17).  They believe Christians should go to war, participate in politics, enjoy worldly entertainment, live like the world, speak like the world, and dress like the world.  They also think Christians of 2015 should disregard the head covering and the holy kiss.  I want to encourage my Anabaptist brothers and sisters to stand strong on their Biblical convictions – and (most importantly) to stay focused on Jesus Christ!

 

It seems that over time, two things tend to happen to Anabaptist congregations:

 

They lose their first love and start to worship their convictions and traditions. They lose their convictions and start to conform to the churches around them.

 

A lot has been said about #1.  I want to talk about #2.  This has been my experience.  In the congregation I belong to, we are losing our Anabaptist convictions.  I want to share some of the reasons that brought us to where we are.  It is not my desire to belittle my church, but to sound a warning to other Anabaptist congregations.  I pray this will be helpful.

 

Failure to teach children.  Parents need to pass on solid Biblical Anabaptist teachings to their children.  Sadly, most of the parents in our congregation did not do this.  They were too busy with their careers, playing golf, and watching television (which used to be discouraged in our church).  Now, their children have grown up and became members of the church, but they have very shallow spiritual lives with little or no understanding of Anabaptist convictions.

 

Public school.  Public schools have been a bad influence on our church.  The majority of our parents send their children to public schools.  Their children want to be involved in sports, dating, prom, etc.…but they also want to be Christians.  Thus, the parents start to question our church’s convictions and say, “What’s wrong with sports, dating, prom, etc.?”

 

Supporting non-Anabaptist children.  Too often, children that were raised in our church choose not to be a part of our church.  Although they claim to be Christians, these (now grown up) children live in ways that drastically go against the convictions of our church.  The parents of these children usually side with them because they do not want to admit that their children are wrong.  Thus, numerous members of our congregation do not support our Anabaptist convictions because their hearts are with their non-Anabaptist children.

 

Failure to teach converts.  Obviously, we want to rescue the perishing, but we also need to “make them disciples” (Matthew 28:19).  We’ve helped a few people in our community get converted and they became members of our church (praise God!).  But unfortunately, nobody taught these converts what we believe and what we stand for.  Therefore, they do not embrace the convictions of the church.

 

Marrying into the church.  Another problem we have is when somebody raised in our church (but is not a member), marries somebody from the community and brings them to church.  Here is what usually happens: They want to go to church somewhere, so they come to our church, everybody is happy, and then they become members.  However, the person from the community does not share the convictions of our church – they simply joined our church because their spouse did – and they subtly bring in non-Anabaptist ideas.

 

Voting.  As a church with Anabaptist roots, we have always discouraged members from being a part of the government.  However, somewhere along the line, voting became acceptable (and eventually encouraged).  This has blurred the line of political involvement and caused our members to get caught up in the hysteria – taking sides, bashing the “opponents,” trusting in political parties, and accepting things (like war) in their justification of voting for certain people.  Thus, the Kingdom of God is mixed with the kingdom of this world, and Anabaptist convictions are disappearing.

 

No teaching from the pulpit.  Because of everything I mentioned, there is now a wide range of thoughts and opinions in our church.  Therefore, church leadership is afraid to step on toes and does not explain Anabaptist convictions (or even bring them up) from the pulpit.

 

Brothers and sisters, I repeat, stand strong in your convictions!  Please guard against the things I mentioned – “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (II Corinthians 2:11).  May God bless you.

 

Originally published in The Witness January 2015.

 

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In:Nonresistance & Nonparticipation, Separation & Nonconformity, Sin, The Church, The Kingdom of God

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By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent” (Numbers 23:19a), Moses declared.  Indeed, God cannot change; “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).  This is a truth which is clear in Scripture.

How, then, can some affirm that God could have changed His standard of conduct for man?  How would it be possible for God to require more of His children in the New Testament than He required of the Israelites, under the Law of Moses?  How could God change His law divinely revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai?

This very argument is urged against those who believe that the New Testament gives a radically higher code of conduct than the Old Testament – for instance, regarding divorce, remarriage, war, oaths, etc.  Those who use this argument continue to follow Moses’ instructions regarding these topics under the assumption that since God never changes, His instructions to the children of Israel through Moses must still be binding for Christians today.  What light does the Bible shed on this argument?

God’s Requirements Do Change

A careful investigation of the Scriptures will reveal that God’s requirements – His instructions to mankind – do indeed change if the situation of mankind changes.  God’s own standard of morality – what He had in mind from the beginning as the standard of perfection – His ultimate, perfect will for mankind – never changes.  However, what He actually does require of man differs based on mankind’s situation.  When God commands something different, it is because something about man changed – not because God changed.

Meat-Eating

Let us examine the different sets of instructions which God had given to different people at different times.  When Adam and Eve were first created, God gave the following instructions:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.  And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.  And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so (Genesis 1:28-30).

God gave Adam and Eve three commandments: 1) Multiply, 2) have dominion over the rest of creation, and 3) eat plants.  Following the Fall of man and throughout the pre-Flood era, God never took back or changed His instructions regarding the eating of plants and not meat.  It is quite likely that sinful, disobedient men did eat meat without God’s permission and it is certain that animals did so,[1] but God had not changed His instructions as far as we know from Scripture.

However, following the Flood, God gave this set of instructions to Noah and his descendants:

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.  And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.  Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.  But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat (Genesis 9:1-4).

Notice that now, following the Flood, the flesh of animals is given as food just as plants had been given earlier.  Did God’s moral standard change?  No; the situation of mankind changed, as the post-Flood climate seems to have been much different from the pre-Flood climate, and animal proteins and fats were now needed for survival and growth.  In other words, God did not change; man’s situation changed.  Does God’s change in instructions somehow challenge God’s unchanging nature?  Apparently it does not; the unchanging God gave a different set of instructions, showing us that these facts do not contradict in His infinite wisdom.

The Law of Moses

At a later time in history, God gave a complete set of laws to His chosen people, Israel.  The Law of Moses, given on Mt. Sinai, contained rules concerning moral, ceremonial, religious, civil, environmental, and hygienic behavior.  Up to this time, this was the fullest revelation of God’s will and plan for mankind, and He intended for the Israelites to prosper in obedience to this revelation:

I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken.  O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!…Ye shall observe to do therefore as the LORD your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.  Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess (Deuteronomy 5:28b-29, 32-33).

Why was the Law of Moses given?  The Apostle Paul wrote:

Wherefore then serveth the law?  It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator (Galatians 3:19).

The Law was given because of transgression – because of sin.  However, it was only intended to be a temporary solution to the problem of sin.  Notice that Paul said the Law was added “till the seed should come”.  The context reveals that the “seed” of whom Paul is speaking is Christ (Galatians 3:16).

The Israelites accepted the obligations in the Law of Moses, and God promised that He would not break the covenant He had made with Israel (Judges 2:1).

The Law’s Moral Teachings

So what were the moral requirements contained in the Law of Moses?  If it is true that God’s standard of morality never changes, what commandments contained in Moses’ law would we still be under the obligation of keeping?

War was commanded under the Law of Moses (Numbers 25:16-18; 31:1-4; Deuteronomy 7:1-3; commandments regarding how war was to be conducted are found in Numbers 10:9; Deuteronomy 20:1-20).  Divorce and remarriage were allowed (Deuteronomy 21:10-14; 22:13-29; 24:1-4).  The swearing of oaths was commanded under certain circumstances (Exodus 22:10-12; Numbers 5:19-22; Deuteronomy 6:13-15; 10:20-21).

It is commandments like these which our Protestant friends wish to keep living under when they insist that God’s moral requirements never change.  They wish to keep their war, their patriotism, their divorce and remarriage, and their oaths.  However, they are not consistent in respect to obeying the Law of Moses.  There are many moral teachings contained in the Law of Moses which few, if any, Protestants or Evangelicals obey.

For instance, while Protestants (rightly) reject outright polygamy,[2], [3] the Law of Moses actually accepted it, with some restrictions:

And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.  If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.  And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.  If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.  And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money (Exodus 21:7-11).

If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).

Another requirement of the Law of Moses is that men should not trim their beards.  Many Evangelicals are either clean-shaven or have short beards.  Few have long, Mosaicly-prescribed beards.

Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard (Leviticus 19:27).

Another requirement not often obeyed is this one regarding the use of fabrics in clothing:

Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together (Deuteronomy 22:11).

Most professing Christians freely wear clothes made of synthetic/cotton or synthetic/wool cloth.

Another point most professing Christians – who profess to be following the Law’s rules on divorce and remarriage – do not notice or follow is that in the Law, divorce is only allowed to men.  Wives were never permitted to divorce their husbands.  Yet in America today, the majority of divorces are initiated by the wife.[4]

We must note Paul’s words in Galatians 5:3:

For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

James wrote:

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2:10).

If we have undertaken to obey the Law of Moses and put ourselves under that yoke, we cannot pick and choose which commandments we wish to obey and ignore the ones we do not wish to obey.  If we are going to obey the Law of Moses, we have to obey the entire Law of Moses!

The New Covenant Prophesied

God had promised not to break the Covenant that He had made with the children of Israel, that is, the Law of Moses (Judges 2:1).  However, He knew that the Old or Mosaic Covenant was not perfect (Hebrews 8:7-8).  The children of Israel, although they had promised to obey and keep the covenant, broke it again and again and again (Jeremiah 31:32; Hebrews 8:9).  A new covenant was needed – and God, through the prophets, told His people that the day was coming when a new covenant would be made.

The first prophet to foretell this new covenant was, surprisingly, Moses himself.

The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.  And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken.  I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.  And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).

This prophecy of Christ and His teachings (which is explicitly applied to Christ by the apostles – Acts 3:22-32, 7:37-38) foretold that this Prophet would be like Moses, would be an Israelite, and would speak all the words which God commanded Him.  Moreover, it was these words – the words of this Prophet – which all would be obligated to hearken to (hearken means “to hear and obey”).

In what way was Christ like Moses?  How was He more like Moses than any of the other Old Testament prophets?  Moses had authority from God to give new commandments to the people, which they were obligated to obey.  All of the other Old Testament prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Haggai, etc. – pointed back to the Law of Moses for the people’s standard of behavior.  They did not have authority from God to hand down new commandments to the people.  However, Christ had the authority from God to give new commandments – new laws – which then another group of apostles, prophets, and teachers would point back to as the authoritative basis for life in God’s kingdom.  In this way, Christ was like Moses.

The rest of the prophets, while pointing back to the Law of Moses as authoritative for their time, yet pointed forward to a new day, when the Prophet like unto Moses would institute a new covenant.  This new covenant – and the new revelation of the kingdom of God which would accompany it – was foreseen to have ethical teachings distinctively different from those of the Law of Moses.  Isaiah prophesied:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.  And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:2-4).

This prophecy foresees the spiritual house of the Lord (I Peter 2:5) which would be established in the last days.  “Many people” would be attracted by this new revelation of God’s plan and purpose for man, a veiled prophecy of the coming of the Gentiles to faith in God and obedience to the new covenant.  It was foretold that this new law would come out of Jerusalem and the land of Israel, as actually occurred when the Twelve Apostles and others spread out from the land of Israel, taking God’s new covenant Word all across the then-known world.  Finally, in this age, the Lord would “judge among the nations” and “rebuke many people.”  This new covenant age would affect far more than just the nation of Israel, as had been the case with the Old Covenant.  God’s rebukes and reproof would have their effects for the Gentiles as well.  And what would be the effects of these judgments and rebukes?  War and carnal fighting would cease, just as Jesus and the Apostles taught.[5]

Isaiah later prophesied:

And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.  As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever (Isaiah 59:20-21).

The work of the Redeemer – the Messiah – would be to turn the descendants of Jacob away from transgression.  Then the Lord – the Father – gives a description of the New Covenant: The words which He would command the Messiah to speak would never depart from His mouth, or from the mouth of His spiritual seed, forever.  These words – the words of the Messiah – would be repeated forever.  They would be the lasting message which God wants repeated.  We must obey and teach these words (for other prophesies by Isaiah regarding the new covenant, see Isaiah 42:1-10; 49:8; and 55:3).

The prophet Jeremiah also foretold of the new covenant.  In Jeremiah 31:31-34, we read:

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

This new covenant would be “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers.”  It would be a covenant of laws written on the heart, rather than on tables of stone.  We must learn from the words which Christ taught, the words of the new covenant, rather than the words of the old covenant written on tables of stone.

Did Jesus Change the Moral Requirements?

Finally, the Messiah Himself came.  Jesus said, “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:16).  He came and preached the gospel of the kingdom and the new covenant which was to govern it.  So to answer the question, “did Jesus change the moral requirements given in the Law of Moses?”, we must go to the primary source: Jesus’ words themselves.  A comparison of the moral teachings of the Mosaic Law with those of Jesus and His Apostles shows clearly the difference between them.

Sword

Moses said: “If men strive…And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:22a, 23-25).  Jesus said:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.  Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away (Matthew 5:38-42).

War

Moses said:

When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them (Deuteronomy 7:1-2).

Jesus summarized the Law’s teaching on neighbors and enemies (the enemy portion is a summary, not a direct quote), then went on to give a new teaching:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?  do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?  do not even the publicans so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).

Paul said:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (II Corinthians 10:3-5).

John said:

If any man have an ear, let him hear.  He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints (Revelation 13:9-10).

Polygamy

As we saw above, Moses regulated polygamy, but did not completely forbid it.  Jesus, however, restored marriage to its Edenic state – one man and one woman for life.  He restored marriage to how it was “from the beginning” (Matthew 19:3-9).  Paul reinforces this by stating, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (I Corinthians 7:2).

Divorce and Remarriage

As noted above, the Law of Moses allowed a relatively easy divorce for most husbands, and allowed remarriage for most cases of divorce as well.  However, Jesus completely shut that door, leaving only the “fornication clause” as a reason for divorce.  (It is to be noted that neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever allowed remarriage after divorce, for any reason or in any case.)  See Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:2-3; I Corinthians 7:10-16.

Lust

Moses said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).  While the Law also forbade coveting another man’s wife, there was no commandment saying that all sexual lust was sinful.  Jesus, however, taught:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).

Circumcision

Moses commanded regarding every baby boy born to the Israelites, “And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Leviticus 12:3).  The New Covenant, however, did away with the need for circumcision – a major theme of the Apostle Paul’s writings.  Jesus introduced the new and spiritual circumcision, the fulfillment of the type of the physical action: “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:10-11).

Headcovering

Moses commanded that the high priest should wear a mitre during his duties in the Tabernacle/Temple:

And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD.  And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be.  And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.  And thou shalt embroider the coat of fine linen, and thou shalt make the mitre of fine linen, and thou shalt make the girdle of needlework (Exodus 28:36-39).

However, the new covenant introduced a new teaching:

Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.  But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.  Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head…For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man (I Corinthians 11:2-4, 7).[6]

Oaths

Moses said:

Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name (Deuteronomy 6:13).

And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:12).

If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth (Numbers 30:2).

Jesus said:

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.  But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil (Matthew 5:33-37).

James said:

But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation (James 5:12).

Fulfilled

Jesus said:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18).

What would it mean to destroy the Law and the prophets?  Jesus did not teach that the Law was useless; He did not claim that it was not a genuine revelation from God; He did not teach that the Law was wicked.  Rather, He came to fulfill the Law.  He taught a new way, in which we would not only do what the Law taught (do not commit adultery) but also the higher righteousness which God desired (do not lust).  He taught a new and higher way, in which the righteousness we act out now (love your enemies) surpasses the righteousness demanded by the Law (thou shalt utterly destroy them).  Thus, Paul said, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4).

Moral and Ceremonial

Protestant reformer John Calvin was not impressed when he encountered the Anabaptists’ teaching that Christians could not be government officials and could not swear oaths.  In response to this, he wrote:

Therefore, there resteth none other evasion, to these enemies of all order, but to say, that God requireth a greater perfection in the Christian Church than he did among the people of the Jews. Now this is very true, touching ceremonies. But that we have any other rule to live by, touching the moral law, as we call it, than had the ancient people, is a false opinion…

Therefore to say that Moses did but half teach the people of Israel to honour and serve God, is a blasphemy, first forged by the Papists, and now renewed by these poor fantasticals, which take for a revelation from heaven, whatsoever fables they have heard of their grandmothers.[7]

Calvin’s claim, that the New Covenant did have more perfect ceremonies, but that the moral law of Moses was still in effect, is still repeated today.  Is this Scriptural?  Is Moses’ Law divided into two parts, one of which was done away by Christ, the other part which is still binding?

There are at least six reasons why this argument does not hold water.

Such a division is never mentioned in Scripture. The Mosaic Law is so far-reaching that it is hard to divide all of the laws neatly into just two or three categories.  There are moral teachings (regarding murder, stealing, etc.); there are ceremonial or religious teachings (the sacrifices and temple services); there are civil teachings (commandments regarding jurisprudence, the cities of refuge, etc.); there are hygienic teachings (regarding the proper disposal of waste, the treatment of lepers, etc.); and there are environmental laws (regarding the harvesting of birds and cutting trees).  How are we to neatly divide all of these laws into two or three categories, and then decide which ones apply to us today and which ones do not? Who gets to decide what applies today and what does not? Some laws bridge the gap between moral and ceremonial, and other, requirements.  For instance, lepers were banished from the camp to avoid the contamination of others; this could be called a law regarding hygiene or sanitation.  Yet the ceremony governing the readmittance of the leper into the community upon healing is undoubtedly a ceremonial law. Different types of laws are often intermingled in the same contexts.  For instance, beginning in Deuteronomy 22:5, we have a moral law regarding cross-dressing, which was forbidden.  The next two verses (6-7) have an environmental protection law, regarding the harvesting of birds.  The next verse has a law regarding construction of a new house – a moral commandment, because the reason for the law was “that thou bring not blood upon thine house”.  Verse 9 has a law that “Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit…be defiled.”  This law does not seem to fit neatly in either the moral or ceremonial categories.  A similar classification-defying law follows in verse 10.  With this mixture of moral, ceremonial, and other types of laws in the same contexts, how are we to declare which apply today and which do not? Finally, the Ten Commandments (with the possible exception of the Fourth Commandment on the Sabbath) are clearly moral commandments.  Yet even these have been “done away” in Christ (II Corinthians 3:6-10).

The Hardness of Your Hearts

Why were the requirements of the Law of Moses lower than what God actually wanted?  The answer is found in the words of Jesus, as He was explaining why His teaching regarding divorce and remarriage was more rigorous than that of Moses.

The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?  And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?  Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.  They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?  He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (Matthew 19:3-9).

Why did Moses allow things which were outside the perfect will of God, and which Jesus did away with?  Because of the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts.  If they had soft hearts, responsive to God’s will and the voice of His Spirit and willing to obey, God could have given the Israelites the commandments He gave through His Son.  Why could He not?  They had hard hearts – and it is not within man’s power to change his own heart from a hard heart to a soft, living one.  Death is the consequence of sin, and when man’s spirit dies, he cannot resurrect it himself.  Christ came that we might have life again (John 10:10).  God had promised that the hard hearts of the Old Covenant would be replaced, under the New Covenant, with soft, fleshy hearts (Ezekiel 11:19-21).  We learn in the New Testament that this soft heart is God’s own heart – His own Spirit – His own nature – imparted to us (see, for instance, II Peter 1:4).  Thus, with Christ Himself living within us, we are enabled to live as He did in the world and show the world what kind of Being God is.  For instance, we are now enabled to treat our enemies well, just as God does (Matthew 5:45, 48; Luke 6:35-36).

Summary

God’s ultimate standard of right and wrong – what He had in mind originally for man – never changes.  However, His instructions to man do change based upon changes in man’s situation.  For instance, the change brought about by the global Flood brought about a change in God’s instructions regarding diet.  Similarly, the change in heart made possible by the work of Christ is accompanied by a change in the moral requirements God has given to His people.  Whereas Moses, because of the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts, allowed divorce, remarriage, war, oaths, polygamy, etc., Christ forbids these and teaches a higher level of ethics for His children.  Those who have soft, spiritual hearts and have entered the New Covenant will submit to these requirements which Jesus communicated.

[1] See Andrew V. Ste. Marie, “Did Animals Eat Meat Before the Flood?,” Creation Matters 16(1) (January/February 2011):1-4.

[2] At least they do today.  Martin Luther actually taught that in some circumstances, it was acceptable for a man to have more than one wife because Abraham did.

[3] While no Protestant teacher today that I know of would say that it is acceptable for a man to have more than one wife at a time, many actually do endorse a form of polygamy by approving of divorce and remarriage.  Mennonite bishop George R. Brunk I humorously wrote, “The Mormons dragged polygamy out of the Old Testament into their church and Protestantism did the same with divorce.  A member of the one group drives his wives abreast and a member of the other drives his in tandem style and neither has a word in the Gospel to justify himself” (“Notes and Items,” Sword and Trumpet 5(4) (October 1933):23.)

[4] Of all divorces, 67-75% are filed by wives (varies by state).  This number is significantly higher among those divorces in which minor children are involved.  See David W. Bercot, The Kingdom that Turned the World Upside Down, 2003, Scroll Publishing, pp. 51-52.

[5] Whereas most Protestants today take this passage from Isaiah and similar ones from the Old Testament to be prophecies of the Millennial Reign of Christ (still in the future), the early Christians uniformly interpreted it in a manner similar to my explanation here.

[6] Note that Paul calls this teaching on the headcovering/head un-covering an “ordinance,” or a “tradition” – something transmitted or handed down.  This indicates that Paul handed it down to the Corinthians from another source.  He was not making up something new; he (and the other Apostles) had received it directly from Christ Himself.

[7] John Calvin, A Short Instruction for to arme all good Christian people agaynst the pestiferous errours of the common secte of the Anabaptistes.

 

Originally published in The Witness, November 2014.

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In:Early Church, Endurance, Nonresistance & Nonparticipation, Sin, Spiritual Warfare

Comments Off on Patience in Temptation

We who carry about our very soul, our very body, exposed in this world to injury from all, and exhibit patience under that injury; shall we be hurt at the loss of less important things?  Far from a servant of Christ be such a defilement as that the patience which has been prepared for greater temptations should forsake him in frivolous ones.  If one attempt to provoke you by manual violence, the monition of the Lord is at hand: “To him,” He saith, “Who smiteth thee on the face, turn the other cheek likewise.”  Let outrageousness be wearied out by your patience.  Whatever that blow may be, conjoined with pain and contumely,[1] it shall receive a heavier one from the Lord.  You wound that outrageous one more by enduring: for he will be beaten by Him for whose sake you endure.  If the tongue’s bitterness break out in malediction or reproach, look back at the saying, “When they curse you, rejoice.”  The Lord Himself was “cursed” in the eye of the law; and yet is He the only Blessed One.  Let us servants, therefore, follow our Lord closely; and be cursed patiently, that we may be able to be blessed.

 

(From Tertullian’s work On Patience, written circa 202 A.D.  Translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 3, p. 712.)

 

[1] Contumely, n.  Rudeness or reproach compounded of haughtiness and contempt; contemptuousness; insolence; contemptuous language.  (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary).

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