Persecution: Bring It On?

My Pastor Preached a wonderful Sermon to which the recording died half way through due a technology glitch. So I encouraged him to write a blog post on it. I was greatly encouraged to look back and beyond in prayer for the world by the thoughts expressed here.

This was published over at Gentle Reformation.
http://gentlereformation.org/2013/08/20/persecution-bring-it-on/

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Persecution: Bring It On?

by James Faris on August 20, 2013

It is not uncommon to hear Christians say something like “Maybe persecution would be good for the church in our culture.” Certainly, the church of Jesus Christ in the West has too-often strayed from Biblical truth in recent decades and centuries, in spite of enjoying great peace and freedom. Now, we see the judgment of God in our culture in various ways as a result. Some people are bracing for intense persecution of the church as a presumed certainty. Would it be good for the church today? God alone knows, and he will accomplish all his holy purpose.

A better question for us to ask is “What kind of attitude should we have towards persecution and the future of the church in the West?” Some Christians almost seem to have a “bring it on!” attitude because of the purification that has come in past ages through such suffering. The motive is not all wrong; people want to see Jesus glorified, and they are willing to die for it. There is also a desire for purity and holiness.  However, those desires must be shaped by the pure and holy word of God. So, what kind of attitude should we have toward persecution and the future of the church in the West? Here are five truths that will help shape our attitude:

1.  We should expect persecution through the ages. Jesus said “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Paul affirmed the same when he wrote to Timothy “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). History teaches that persecution will vary in intensity. With the expectation of persecution, we should also know that God uses even the wrath of man to praise him (Psalm 76:10), that affliction will bring greater spiritual maturity in some (Psa 119:67, 71), and that the Lord will cause all things to work together for the good of his people (Romans 8:28).

2.  We should abhor the ungodliness and injustice that drives persecution. Proverbs 6:16-17 teaches that ‘There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him,” including “hands that shed innocent blood.” We are called to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We should not desire injustice on earth in any way. If our desire is truly for the glory of God, then we cannot desire the multiplication of sin on earth. We cannot say “Let others sin that good may come.” This truth should also lead us to pray for saints presently suffering and to “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).

3.  We should pray against persecution. As noted, we are taught in the Lord’s Prayer to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Biblical examples of prayers for peace abound; here is a small sample:

  • The souls of the martyrs, in the symbolic imagery of Revelation 6:10, cry out “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” They want the persecution to end.
  • The Psalmist repeatedly prays that he would be delivered from his persecutors (e.g. Psalm 6:4, 17:13, 43:1).
  • Paul asks the saints to pray that he “may be delivered from wicked and evil men” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
  • He also urges “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4). We are to pray for peace, because discipleship in all areas of life (i.e. in every way), and the conversion of all peoples is made the more possible when the church and state are working in harmony. The ordinary means of grace are able to operate where there is peace. Parents are only able to teach their children if they are still with them. Let us glory in and desire the normal operation of God’s grace.

4.  We should learn from history not to romanticize persecution, especially intense persecution. Sitting in a Roman jail, Paul confessed that his imprisonment had really served the advance of the gospel, because the whole imperial guard had heard the gospel and the believers had grown in boldness by watching Paul suffer (Philippians 1:12-14). He also recognized that if he would die and be with Christ, it would be better for him (1:23). But, he knew that it would be better for the church if he were not executed. He wanted to be released and continue to minister to them freely (1:19, 24-26). Paul saw God work through persecution, but he did not desire it because he knew that God’s ordinary design is for the church to grow when its preachers are not in prison or dead. The church loves Tertullian’s famous statement “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Too often, however, Tertullian is quoted flippantly, with the assumption that wherever blood is shed, the church will magically be stronger. Yes, God caused the church in Acts to spread through persecution (Acts 8:1), the church took the gospel to northern Europe through the collapse of the Roman Empire, and the Lord has used intense persecution for growth, but not always, and I daresay, not normally. Consider the following:

  • The church once flourished in lands such as Persia, North Africa, and China. It was then was largely stamped out through persecution, as documented by historians Samuel Moffett (A History of Christianity in Asia) and Philip Jenkins (The Lost History of Christianity). Summarizing Moffett on the persecution in Persia, David Calhoun says: “[He] talks about this fourth century persecution as the most massive persecution of Christians in history, unequaled for its duration, veracity, and the number of martyrs. One estimate is that 190,000 Persian Christians died in the fourth century in the Great Persecution. That may be far more than all the people who died in all the two-and-a-half centuries of persecution in the Roman Empire. And yet, as we look at the history of those suffering Christians in Persia, there appears to have been far more faithfulness. Far fewer numbers of people apostatized in Persia under persecution than those who apostatized under persecution in the West.” The Muslims nearly wiped out the North African church in the seventh century. China crushed the church there with the fall of the T’ang dynasty in the tenth century. No doubt, heresy, theological weakness, and political dependence were also factors in these lands, but not the only factors. Within the West, French Protestantism has been weak, especially since the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and subsequent persecution. The Lord is at work in these lands today, but usually through the reintroduction of the gospel from other lands. Recognize that the blood of the martyrs left essentially no church in some places for many centuries. Though the Lord is working today, the church is small, as a percentage of the total population in these lands.
  • Intense persecution purifies the church, but often only for a generation. Doctrinal depth is lacking in lands that have lost their teachers. One man from China pled with me and my seminary classmates to go to China because the doctrinal standards are so low, so much misunderstanding of Scripture abounds, and people are vulnerable to cults and other false teachings.
  • The church has grown in depth of doctrine most in times of peace. Paul was often protected by his Roman citizenship in order to serve the church. Augustine was free to think deeply and write profoundly because he was not on the run. John Wycliffe had his body exhumed and burned by the pope only after his death. He was not burned alive and was able to translate Scripture and train laborers because the House of Lancaster protected him. Martin Luther led the reformation as a wanted man under the safety Frederick the Wise afforded him. John Calvin fled persecution in France; the safe haven of Geneva became the incubator of his brilliant contributions and the training ground of Europe’s spiritual leadership. Though times were stormy, the Westminster Confession was composed because the greatest scholars were able to deliberate peaceably for months and years on end.
  • Missionary activity flows strongest from free lands. For example, the United States, which has been a relatively peaceful home for Christians for several hundred years, sends out more than three times as many missionaries as the next closest country, according to Christianity Today’s recent article. True, the United States spews out a lot of bad theology, but don’t forget to give thanks for all the faithful efforts in missions, publishing, and in other ways. Where there is peace, there is a platform for reaching the world.

5.  We should labor to minimize persecution through godly influence in civil government. The Scripture is clear that those who are leaders in every sphere are to bow to Jesus (Psalm 2:10-12, 1 Timothy 6:15-16). Christians are called to serve in such positions. We have had great freedom thus far because people have served Jesus as Christians this way – even if imperfectly. Difficult questions abound regarding how to serve and engage. Serving Jesus in the public realm has never been easy. It is not easy now. It never will be easy. But, we are not called to wait for a golden age in which to act. We ought to pray and labor for to see servant-leaders raised up to wield the power of the sword who will be a terror to those who do evil and a praise to those who do good (Romans 13:1-7). Our hope is not in men, but let’s not make pious-sounding excuses for abdicating our work in this realm. One question every Christian should ask is this: “How am I striving this week to see Christ honored in civil government so that those who do evil are terrified and those who do good are praised?”

God alone knows whether intensifying persecution would do the church in the West good. We simply know that we are to expect persecution but not to desire it or romanticize it. Be aware that if God brings suffering at the hands of wicked men, visible good could come in God’s providence. Or, it could remove the lampstand from our physical descendants, as he has done in other lands in the past.

From our perspective, we should never see intensifying persecution as the need of the hour. The need of the hour is intense prayer for mercy. Let’s pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And, let’s rise from our knees to labor for what we are promised will do the church good every day: greater faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

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Knowing God by His Majestic Grace

olivyaz-landscape-ephesians-2-8.

Here is something I wrote over twenty years ago.   Back then radio preachers were popular.  Cable Television was starting to add more channels than the local 4 or 5 we already had.  The Cassette Player was the best audio component we could install in the dash of our car and being Borked was the headline of the day.   I actually started typing this study out on a Remington portable typewriter.

The doctrines (teachings) of grace were very important to those who had spent hours teaching me the Bible.  They became very important to me.  But the simple definition of grace being God’s unmerited favor and the acronym God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense just seemed so truncated and deficient to me.  The Bible seemed to say much  more to me about this wonderful word.  At the same time I noticed that those simple and truncated definitions of grace were influencing a generation to be apathetic and overly narcissistic.   Salvation was just about the individual and his or her assurance of going to heaven because Jesus paid it all.  The most popular question for evangelizing the world was, “If you were to die today and God were to ask you why He should let you into His heaven, what would you tell Him?”   All the focus was upon us the individual and where we would spend eternity.  After someone prayed the prayer or went forward at the local revival crusade they were saved and need not worry about sin or eternal judgment because salvation was by grace through faith and not by anything we contributed to earn our salvation.

Now that question about why God should let us into His heaven is a very important question and the answer to that question has eternal significance in every person’s life.  I am not trying to downplay the situation.  But salvation is about more than where we will spend eternity.  Salvation is also about how we live here and now and the eternal significance the here and now play in that.  And the doctrines of Grace have taught that from Adam and Eve till now.  So that is the backdrop to why I started this study back in the 80’s.

The link below is a link to dropbox where you download the paper I wrote.  Keep in mind that I wrote it a long time ago.  I am not a writer.  I was definitely not a writer back then.  Also know that I didn’t understand Covenant Theology and my theology has definitely been refined much in the past 20 years.  So please just bear with some of the underdeveloped theology, terrible grammar, and writing style.   I used this paper to disciple a lot of people.  I hope it can still be used to help others out.  Have at it.

Knowing God by His Majestic Grace
https://www.dropbox.com/s/borofz9iyc42x8r/Knowing%20God%20By%20His%20Majestic%20Grace.pdf

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/borofz9iyc42x8r/Knowing%20God%20By%20His%20Majestic%20Grace.pdf?token_hash=AAEo9elLmoj_53T9E98qCI1NpR1wjo2E5enP8K_kOaUx_w&dl=1

One man who believed, Percy Scruggs.

Video made by Kingdom Pictures

http://www.kingdompictures.com/

Russ Pulliam

One unassuming man made a difference in Dodge City

The neighborhood was becoming known as Dodge City, and Percy Scruggs was living in it.

A volunteer with the Boy Scouts, Scruggs knew the area around 23rd Street and College Avenue desperately needed help.

He died last week after suffering about 15 years from Alzheimer’s disease. But his life shows how one concerned person can have considerable impact on a neighborhood, through prayer and the help of friends.

Back in the 1970s, crime was soaring out of control in the Near-Northside area bounded by Pennsylvania Street, the Monon railroad tracks, 22nd Street and Fall Creek. Drug abuse was spreading. Older homes were subdivided into apartments and sometimes abandoned by absentee landlords. The “Dodge City” nickname came from an increase in shootings.

On paper, Scruggs did not seem to have the necessary credentials to spark a neighborhood renewal.

As an African American from Alabama, he did not have the educational opportunities or literacy skills for government grants and social service agencies. He did not speak standard English and could be hard to understand.

But he cared for his neighborhood and started working with young people. He found a building at 23rd and Guilford, calling it the Community Outreach Center.

In terms of natural capacities and training, he was not a great orator. Yet on Saturday mornings a group of inner-city pastors gathered with him at the outreach center for a Bible study, not on how to preach but on how to put the Bible into practice.

He never talked about diversity or racial reconciliation. But he practiced it, bringing together blacks and whites in a common cause to help a neighborhood.

He might not have seemed well organized on paper. But he could crowd 50 to 75 teenagers into the old building and assign his volunteers, one to a Bible class here, another to a tutoring session somewhere else and a couple more for a Young Life club upstairs.

Late in the 1980s tragedy struck in the form of Alzheimer’s disease, and he began to lose his memory and awareness of surroundings. In later years, he could just recall our names and Bible verses he had memorized.

Yet as he was suffering the loss of his normal life, his vision for the neighborhood came to life.

Then a Lilly executive, Mitch Daniels and others started Oaks Academy nearby, in the old public school at 24th and Park. It offers a classical Christian education with racial reconciliation and scholarships for neighborhood children.

Around the same time and place, the city developed an aggressive home ownership effort, Fall Creek Place. Crime has dropped rapidly, as new homes have been built on vacant lots. Another group started the Jireh sports ministry, offering gymnastics and recreational opportunities for young people.

More recently, Chris and Mary Provence met in the neighborhood, married and developed a grass-roots home ownership effort called Rebuilding the Walls. Similar to Habitat for Humanity, the program targets very low-income families for ownership opportunities. One of the first homeowners, Danielle Bouquette, had been in the Bible studies and other activities at the center that Scruggs ran 20 years earlier.

Percy Scruggs can’t be credited for all these initiatives, but he prayed to God in heaven and asked for renovation of a neighborhood. The answer has been a remarkable “yes” that would be hard to explain in purely human terms.

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Russell Pulliam is my Elder and associate editor of The Star. Contact him via e-mail at russell.pulliam@indystar.com.

Psalm 31:9-24

I am not going through a hard time necessarily but I got up and sang Psalm 31 from the new Psalter this morning and this Psalm just hit a bone in my soul.  What a blessed encouragement to sing my heart back to God.  Oh I am saddened for those who don’t know about Psalm singing.  It is singing God’s thoughts and Purity back to Himself.  He wrote these words for us to sing.  Why would we not sing them?  He is the best music writer.

http://www.crownandcovenant.com/The_Book_of_Psalms_for_Worship_s/117.htm141

Psalm 31:9-24

Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly.

For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed.

I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me.

I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.

For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life.

My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.

Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies’ sake.

Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.

Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.

Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!

Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.

Blessed be the LORD: for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness in a strong city.

For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.

O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.

Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.

I am so saddened for my Children at this time.

In light of the 2012 political elections in the United (not really in heart) States of America…

I miss my Commander and Chief who recognized evil, Ronald Reagan. Atheism, Communism, and Socialism are creeping into our country. My President Ronald Reagan believed in the Ten Commandments and saw the Blessing and common grace God pours upon those who seek to keep His Law.

At the same time I have not put my hope in man. It is solidly upon the Lord. He is the Mediatorial King over all and He has all authority.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,… (1 Timothy 2:1-5)

I appreciated this counsel from Pastor Steve Bradley who posted this quote from Charles Spurgeon.
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“Do not watch the clouds or consult the wind; in season and out of season witness for the Savior, and if it transpires that for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s you must endure suffering in any shape, do not shrink, but rejoice in the honor conferred upon you, that you are counted worthy to suffer with your Lord. And find joy also in this—that your sufferings, your losses, and persecutions shall make you a platform from which with more vigor and with greater power you will witness for Christ Jesus. Study your great example, and be filled with His Spirit. Remember that you need much teaching, much upholding, much grace, and much humility if your witnessing is to be to your Master’s glory.”- Charles Spurgeon

(1Ti 4:13-16) Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

We have sinned as a Nation. Including Me. We have become like sinful Israel. Now we will reap what we have sown. We are becoming forsaken by God and going down the path of Romans Chapter 1:18-32 and we will be cut off from Grace and Mercy if we don’t repent and call Evil what it is.
‎”They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they made them idols, that they may be cut off” (Hos. 8:4).

(Gal 6:7-10) Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

(Pro 14:34) Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.

(2Ch 7:13-14) If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

I am in tears over the condition of our people and how we are voting for murdering unborn children, recreational marijuana usage, and sexual sin to be accepted norms. We are so fallen from grace and mercy.  The thing that bothers me most is that my Children are going to reap what we have sown and our Grandchildren are going to pay a really big price of debt for our sin.  We have forsaken God who is our lover.  How can we keep forsaking TRUE LOVE and not reap what we sow?  Christ paid a big price to bring us to Himself.  Why are we forsaking Him and His Law?

Please hear me. Repent. There is no goodness in man when he forsakes God. He is cutting himself off from the very image he was created in.

Sinners, Truth, and a Fallen Leader

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Sinners, Truth, and a Fallen Church Leader
A Pastor friend of mine made the following comment concerning a fallen Pastor of a very large church back in 2009. “In this crucial time of war within the fabric of our culture this will be a severe blow regardless of outcome.”  Evidently it is applicable again today as another Church Leader has fallen into difficult times.

The News of that Church Leader’s fall a few years ago was definitely devastating to his family, friends, and the many lives he had influenced. Some people also seemed to think it gave ammunition and fodder to those who wanted to discredit Christianity.  That may seem to be true but I always like to mention that this is an opportunity for us to point to the countless many faithful brothers who are not neglecting their souls nor the souls of their parishioners whom they shepherd. It also gives us opportunity to show what grace, mercy, discipline, and truth are.  This terrible situation gives us opportunity to show why the body of Christ is an organism in rebuttal to those who say they hate organized religion.  This is where the early verses of John 15 become applicable and where we see God’s Word is true.

When this kind of thing is mentioned and thrown in my face I appreciate the condemnation that is expressed because it shows that God doesn’t tolerate sin and we shouldn’t.  I believe it is actually a reflection of God’s character in mankind.  Most of the time it also reveals that the very people I am talking with are in fact ratifying that they know what is right and wrong.  This condemnation points to everyone’s need for a Saviour.  I like pointing that out to those I discuss such matters with.  I also like pointing out the fact that God has already told us what to do when this happens.  There are noted measures to take when offences are committed.  Nothing takes God by surprise and He has given us instruction concerning what to do in these situations. These situations actually prove that God exists and He does care and communicate with us per His instruction on what to do when these situations do arise.

Many of our Bible heroes were utter failures at some point. We all are. The Bible was written to show us this and call us back to God because we do fail and sin. The Scriptures are about God reconciling great sinners to Himself so that they can be conformed to the image of Christ.  It is a process and we all stumble and fall as we are growing up.  That is why God gave us means for living and growth.  It is why he gives us means to perform and point to forgiveness, reconciliation, discipline, and accountability.  But I am not writing this to discuss those means at this time.

By the way, this is how I am using the word means…
Noun
1.  Usually, means. (used with a singular or plural verb) an agency, instrument, or method used to attain an end: The telephone is a means of communication. There are several means of solving the problem.

We should be mindful of these things and not be overcome nor shrink back when these things happen.  Yes, they do damage and hurt us emotionally.  But when they do happen we can know that God is building His Church and that he does display His parental love over his Church.  He has gone to great lengths to exhibit that He is the Truth.  In my thinking, this kind of situation should make us point to Him with more confidence.  What Love, what forgiveness, what an awesome God we have!  He is building His Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail. These kinds of things actually prove His existence.  They prove that He has dominion and nothing is taking Him by surprise.

St. Paul’s prayer is that we may know…
(Eph 1:19) … what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
(Eph 1:20) Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,
(Eph 1:21) Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
(Eph 1:22) And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
(Eph 1:23) Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

Truth is Truth and Christ is risen. He is Risen Indeed!  He is building His Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail as He proclaimed and as it is recorded in Matthew 16. He is in Control and we can be confident that this is nothing that should shake our faith in Him.

At the same time I think it is beneficial to recognize and heed the warnings of 1 Corinthians chapter 10.
(1 Corinthians 10:6-12) Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.  Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”  We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.  We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.  Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Be Encouraged, God is ruling and on His throne.  He is the Most High.  Our faith is in Him. He promised us tribulation.  He also promised that He would discipline us if we were his children.  Hebrews chapter 12 makes that plain.  While discipline (chastisement) is an unpleasant thing to experience it does prove He cares.  It also proves a fallen leader can’t be used as ammunition against the truth.  It confirms truth.

In the Covenant of Grace

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Why would anyone want to read my thoughts when they could read Herman Bavinck?  Enjoy this tidbit.  It is very, very, very good.

RMS.

The universal reality of misery evokes in all people a need for deliverance, a deliverance from above. Pagans who construe misery as basically physical know neither the essential character of sin nor the deliverance of grace. Scripture, however, sees our misery as sin, as an ethical violation of communion with God, who alone can restore it. This requires grace, which in biblical revelation assumes the form of a covenant.

This covenant begins immediately after the fall as evidenced by Adam and Eve’s shame in their nakedness, a sign of lost innocence. Guilt and shame reveal both God’s wrath and his grace, but the latter is shown especially when God seeks out Adam and Eve and interrogates them. In his punishment on the serpent and on humanity, God’s mercy triumphs over judgment as he annuls the covenant made with evil and puts enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Now the path of glory must pass through suffering for man and woman. In the promise of Genesis 3, we find the gospel in a nutshell and, in principle, the entire history of the human race.

The word “covenant” is not found in Genesis 3, but the reality is. Modern critics judge that covenant ideas arose late in Israel’s history but need circular arguments for their case. A history of Israel is constructed by alleging that certain biblical sources are inauthentic, which history is then used to demonstrate the inauthenticity of documents that witness against it. It is better scholarship to see the latter prophets as standing on the foundation of a real covenant made with the patriarchs.

Covenant (ברית) is characterized by three factors: an oath or promise including stipulations, a curse for violation, and a cultic ceremony that represents the curse symbolically. Covenant making is a religious and social act. The covenant of grace is unilateral, indissolubly grounded in the merciful promises of the sovereign God. God cannot break his promise; he has sworn himself to uphold it. The unilateral divine origin and character attributed to the covenant in Hebrew is likely the reason why the Septuagint translates ברית by διαθηκη, or “testament,” rather than συνθηκη.

The doctrine of the covenant achieved dogmatic significance in the Christian church because the Christian religion had to understand its relation to and distinction from Judaism. Over against Gnosticism and Marcion, the church had to maintain the unity of and, over against Judaism, the distinction between the two covenants. Law and gospel, Old Testament and New Testament, are to be distinguished but never separated. During the Reformation this issue became crucial as Anabaptists and others (Arminians, Socinians) devalued the Old Testament. Key differences also arose between the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. It is in the latter, beginning with Zwingli and Calvin, that the doctrine of the covenant is most fully developed, notably in the German Reformed theology of Olevianus and Ursinus, English Puritanism, and the Westminster Confession.

Among the Dutch Reformed, Cloppenburg and Cocceius made the covenant the fundamental premise and controlling principle of dogmatics as a whole. Cocceius had an eccentric view of the covenant, notably the notion of successive covenantal abrogations, which in fact undermined the key element of grace, making it uncertain. After Cocceius, a more general disparagement of the Old Testament took place among modern thinkers such as Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, and Schleiermacher. Judaism was then seen as no better than paganism as preparation for Christianity.

In the Reformed church and theology, covenant became a very important practical encouragement for Christian living. Here the basis of all covenants was found in the eternal counsel of God, in a covenant between the very persons of the Trinity, the pactum salutis (counsel of peace). The work of salvation is an undertaking of the one God in three persons in which all cooperate and each one performs a special task. It is the triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—who together conceive, determine, carry out, and complete the entire work of salvation. The benefit to the believer is in knowing that the covenant of grace executed and revealed in time and history nevertheless rests on an eternal, unchanging foundation, the counsel of the triune God. The Father is the eternal Father, the Son the eternal Mediator, the Holy Spirit the eternal Paraclete.

Care must be taken in considering the execution of the pact of salvation in time and history. Though God elects Abraham and Israel as his chosen people, his salvific purpose is universal, with all peoples. In the fullness of time, humanity as a whole, Jew and Gentile, is reconciled in the one man, Jesus Christ, at the cross. After the fall, grace and judgment alike are extended to the whole human race. In the beginnings of human history, we see great blessing in remarkable longevity and the great judgment of the flood. After the flood, God makes a covenant with nature not to destroy the world with water again, reduces human life span, and spreads humanity across the world, preventing humans from reaching heaven itself with their ambition. Despite letting the Gentiles walk in their own ways, God providentially grants them significant cultural and social development. He did not leave them without witnesses to himself through the works of his hands. In this way God is present to all people, and they are in some sense “prepared” for the message of salvation.

The universal scope of God’s intention for all peoples—Jew and Gentile—must never obscure the special favor of God to Israel. While Israel is drawn from the nations and there are analogies between Israel’s religious practices and those of the nations, the essential difference is that special grace is reserved for Israel and is not known among the pagans. Pagan religion is self-willed and legalistic. The covenant made with Abraham is new and comes from God alone. Through his covenant with Abraham and Israel, the Creator proves himself to also be the Re-creator and Savior. Elohim, Creator of heaven and earth, is Yahweh, the God of the covenant.

The old covenant with Israel is the necessary preparation for the new covenant in Christ. Though the covenant is one, there are two dispensations. In God’s own time, the promise of the old covenant was fulfilled in the new. The shadow and particularity of the letter became the substance, universality, and freedom of the Spirit. Nothing of the Old Testament is lost in the New, but everything is fulfilled, matured, has reached its full growth, and now, out of the temporary husk, produces the eternal core.

The covenant of grace, fulfilled in the New Testament, was and is surrounded and sustained by God’s covenant with nature, with all creatures. Unlike what Cocceius taught, the covenant of grace is not the successive abolition of the covenant of works but its fulfillment and restoration. “Grace repairs and perfects nature.” God’s demand of obedience remains as the only way to eternal life. The difference between the covenant of works and grace is that God now approaches us not in Adam but in Christ, who fulfilled all the obedience required of Adam. Christ is the second and last Adam who restores what the first Adam had corrupted; he is the head of a new humanity.

The covenant of grace is also integrally united with the counsel of peace, though it should be distinguished from it. In the counsel of peace, Christ is the guarantor and head; in the covenant of grace, he is the mediator. In this way the doctrine of the covenant maintains God’s sovereignty in the entire work of salvation. It is the Father who conceives, plans, and wills the work of salvation; it is the Son who guarantees it and effectively acquires it; it is the Spirit who implements and applies it.

At the same time, the covenant of grace also allows the rational and moral nature of human beings to come into their own. Here it differs from election, in which humans are strictly passive. The covenant of grace describes the road by which elect people attain their destiny; it is the channel by which the stream of election flows toward eternity. Christ sends his Spirit to instruct and enable his own so that they consciously and voluntarily consent to this covenant. The covenant of grace comes with the demand of faith and repentance, which may in some sense be said to be its “conditions.” Yet, this must not be misunderstood. God himself supplies what he demands; the covenant of grace is thus truly unilateral—it comes from God, who designed, defines, maintains, and implements it. It is, however, designed to become bilateral, to be consciously and voluntarily accepted by believers in the power of God. In the covenant of grace, God’s honor is not at the expense of but for the benefit of human persons by renewing the whole person and restoring personal freedom and dignity.

The covenant of grace, with Christ as the new head of humanity, reminds us of the organic unity of the church. The covenant of grace reminds us that election is about not only individual persons but also organic wholes, including families and generations. Therefore, some who remain inwardly unbelieving will for a time, in the earthly administration and dispensation of the covenant of grace, be part of the covenant people. The final judgment belongs to God alone, and in this life the church must regard such with the judgment of charity.*

*Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2006). Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ (193–196). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.