Grover E. Gunn

Reasons for Thanksgiving

Written by Grover E. Gunn |
Thursday, November 25, 2021
As we grow in spiritual strength, we increasingly find our real inner satisfaction not in the things of this world but in God. The irony is that when we do that, we begin to enjoy the things of this life in a new way. When we make idols out of the things of this life, whether it be possessions or family or pleasure, we put a burden on them which they cannot bear… It is only when we get our deep and lasting pleasure from our relationship with God that we are freed to enjoy the things of this life as they were meant to be enjoyed.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday where we take off from work and school, we eat turkey and dressing, we watch parades, and bowl games on television. But we need to remember that Thanksgiving is more than a day off and a special meal and seasonal TV programs. Thanksgiving is first and foremost a day which our culture sets aside to count our blessings and to give God thanks. The Christian, of all people, should be thankful, and here are a few reasons.
First, the Christian should be thankful because he knows that his present life is but the prelude to a better life. He experiences both pain and pleasure, both poverty and prosperity, both affliction and advantage. Yet the Christian knows that the misery of this life is temporary, a transient experience which will soon pass away. The Christian also knows that the good things of this life, the true pleasures of this life, are but crumbs on the floor from the heavenly feast which he will one day enjoy. The joys of this life are but a foretaste of greater and better things to come.
For the wicked, the situation is just the opposite. The pleasures of this life are like a last meal on death row. The last meal is a temporary kindness from the judge before the final punishment. Even if a last meal is a true gourmet’s delight, how difficult it would be to truly savor it, to truly enjoy it, knowing that it is indeed a last meal and a prelude to punishment. For the wicked, the miseries of this life and not the pleasures are a foretaste of what is to come. In their heart of hearts, they know this.
When you think about this contrast, you can see why the Christian is the one who should be thankful. It is natural for a person to be thankful for something when he knows that even better things are coming, and when he knows that the current difficulties and problems which accompany even the good things of this life are temporary.
This also explains why there are people with much material wealth and many creature comforts and other apparent advantages, who nevertheless are neither happy nor thankful. In their heart of hearts, they know that their grasp on these good things is temporary and that their future beyond this life holds no promise for anything better.
A second reason the Christian should be thankful is because the Christian realizes that every good thing that he receives is a gift of mercy which he does not deserve. Sin is a rebellion against creatureliness which demands prerogatives and rights and privileges which really belong only to God. When the spirit of sinful rebellion dominates in a person’s heart and he receives something good in this life, that person always has a mistaken sense that he really deserves something better. The sinful spirit can never be satisfied, much less truly thankful.
In contrast, the Christian realizes that not only is he a creature, but he is also a member of a sinful race which has rebelled against God. Because of this, all that he truly deserves is the misery of punishment. The Christian has accepted this reality. The Christian also appreciates the price which God had to pay in order to be merciful to him and to give him blessings which he does not deserve. The price: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Jesus had to suffer on the cross to atone for the Christian’s sins, and the Christian knows it. Because Jesus died for the Christian’s sins, God is able to treat the Christian with the kindness of mercy instead of with the harshness of justice.
Two men receive something good in this life. One of them is dominated by a sinful spirit, and he says in his heart of hearts, “I really deserve something better than this and more of it.” He is not really thankful. The other man has a faith relationship with Jesus, and he says in his heart of hearts, “I deserve the wrath of God, but Jesus died upon the cross that God might instead be merciful to me and give me this blessing.” He is truly grateful.
A third reason the Christian should be thankful is because the Christian knows that God is working all things to the good of those who love Him. The Christian is like a grateful young child with a kind and benevolent father. The young child may not understand why his father makes him eat his vegetables or sometimes takes him to a doctor to get a painful shot or makes him go to school. Yet the child knows that his father loves him and that his father knows best. And so the child is grateful even though his experiences are not all pleasant and even though he doesn’t fully understand their purpose. In like manner, the Christian can be grateful, even in painful situations, because he trusts God’s love, God’s wisdom and God’s power.
As our spiritual strength grows through Christ Jesus, we develop a more confident faith in God’s love, wisdom and power. And we come to realize that any discontentment with our God given circumstances means that we are doubting one of these three. We know that God loves us because He sent His only begotten Son to die for our sins. We know that God is wiser than we are. We don’t begin to understand our situation in life the way that God understands it. And we know that God is all powerful. If He chose to change our circumstances, He certainly could. If we have this confidence in God’s love, wisdom and power, then we must also believe that those elements of our circumstances which we cannot change must be for our best. And any illusion we might have that we would be better off in different circumstances must be a mistaken fantasy. God knows what He is about.
A fourth reason the Christian should be thankful is that the Christian has found in God the satisfaction that this world cannot provide. The materially rich have a greater temptation to seek satisfaction in the things of this earth. That is why Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. There are examples of such discontent in the midst of prosperity in redemptive history. For example, Ahab was King of the northern kingdom of Israel, and yet he could not be content because he did not possess the little vineyard which belonged to Naboth. In the book of Esther, Haman was second only to the king of Persia, but he could not be content because Mordecai the Jew would not bow down before him. Apart from the grace of God, power and possessions only whet our appetite for more and no more satisfy our true inner desires than salt water can quench our thirst.
As we grow spiritually strong, we increasingly find our deepest satisfaction fulfilled in God. God made us for Himself, and nothing but fellowship with God can satisfy our deepest needs and yearnings. C.S. Lewis put it this way:
“God cannot give us peace and happiness apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
Psalm 63:1-5 puts it this way:

God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.
So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You.
Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.

As we grow in spiritual strength, we increasingly find our real inner satisfaction not in the things of this world but in God. The irony is that when we do that, we begin to enjoy the things of this life in a new way. When we make idols out of the things of this life, whether it be possessions or family or pleasure, we put a burden on them which they cannot bear. We become desperate to derive from them pleasure that is both deep and lasting, and we are always disappointed. It is only when we get our deep and lasting pleasure from our relationship with God that we are freed to enjoy the things of this life as they were meant to be enjoyed.
With these thoughts in mind, let us take time this thanksgiving season to be thankful and to give thanks to God.
Dr. Grover Gunn is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of MacDonald PCA in Collins, MS.

Zwingli And Bullinger On Pictures Of Jesus

Written by Grover E. Gunn |
Monday, November 22, 2021
Zwingli’s balanced moderation is especially commendable in light of the abuses against which Zwingli was reacting. The core of the popular piety in the western church shortly before the Reformation was a devotion to the cult of the saints combined with an insatiable appetite for sensuous forms of worship, especially worship through visual experiences.

Two of the Reformed champions of the second commandment and the regulative principle of worship are Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger. As a pastor at Zurich, Zwingli was the driving force behind the purging of images that were being abused as objects of worship in the city’s houses of worship. Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor at Zurich, later wrote the Second Helvetic Confession, which contains a clear and strong creedal condemnation of the idolatrous use of images in worship.
These were men of the sixteenth century. In the eighteenth century, Ralph Erskine promoted the view that every possible visible representation of Jesus in His humanity is inherently an idolatrous moral abomination. He regarded a mental image of Jesus in His humanity as a form of atheism and referred to such images as vermin. We should not assume without evidence that this eighteenth century view was shared by sixteenth century champions of the regulative principle such as Zwingli and Bullinger.
Zwingli obviously didn’t share Erskine’s view as evidenced by the following statement in his 1525 work, An Answer to Valentin Compar: “No one is forbidden from having a portrait of the humanity of Christ.” Zwingli allowed such images with two restrictions: they should never be venerated, and they should never be put in any place designated for worship. Zwingli also cautioned that everyone “who now has the image of Christ in his house should take care that he not make it into an idol; for as we have already said, with us no pictures become idols faster than those of Christ.” Notice that Zwingli warned against making such an image into an idol. He did not label all such images as inherently idolatrous or necessarily idolatrous. An Answer to Valentin Compar contains Zwingli’s most extensive treatment of images, the one that he himself referred to as his “complete opinion” (Garside 1966, 162, 171, 179).
There is further evidence of Zwingli’s view on this question in an edition of Zwingli’s treatise on the Lord’s Supper published in Zurich in 1526. In the center of the title page is a box containing the book’s title and other publication information. To the left of the box is a drawing of Israelites collecting manna in the wilderness, and to the right of the box is a drawing of Jesus feeding the five thousand in another wilderness. Above the box is a drawing of what I take to be some Israelites standing around a Passover table, and below the box is a drawing of Jesus seated at a Passover table with the twelve disciples for the Last Supper (Dyrness 2004, 59–60; Zwingli, H. 1526b). The use of these drawings on the title page may have been the decision of the printer independent of the author. Another Zurich printer printed the same work in the same year without using this artwork (Zwingli, H. 1526a). Nevertheless, the title page art found in one Zurich printer’s 1526 edition of the book is consistent with what Zwingli had written earlier about visual representations of Jesus in His humanity. Also, this book was published in Zurich, the city where Zwingli had so much influence. The only departure from the realism of a historical scene in this title page art is the aura around Jesus’ head which symbolically alluded to His deity. Symbolically alluding to Christ’s deity is not the same as trying to depict the deity of Jesus, which is invisible and indepictable.
Zwingli’s balanced moderation is especially commendable in light of the abuses against which Zwingli was reacting. The core of the popular piety in the western church shortly before the Reformation was a devotion to the cult of the saints combined with an insatiable appetite for sensuous forms of worship, especially worship through visual experiences. In the early days of the Reformation, Zwingli commented:
Have we not all thought it a sacred thing to touch these images? Why have we imprinted kisses upon them, why have we bowed the knee, why have we paid a high price merely for a view of them? (Zwingli, H. 1981, 332).
Zwingli was pastor of the Great Minster church in Zurich from 1518 until his death in 1531. When he became the pastor, the church building contained some relics and many visual representations of Jesus, apostles, martyrs, and other departed saints, including Mary, the mother of Jesus. All of these items and even ornamental decorations were removed in the cleansing in 1524. The reason for removing even decorations was that all these items had long been integral parts of a larger system of false worship with a long history. The iconoclastic cleansing of the church buildings in Zurich removed all remnants and reminders of this comprehensive religious system which had defrauded the people for so long. The greater the fraud, the greater the reaction of the victims when they discover it. Therefore, even some of the ornamental decorations had to go.
One of the criteria for selecting what to remove in the Zurich cleansing is illustrated by some comments that Zwingli made about one image that was removed and another which was not. The Great Minster building had two images of Charlemagne, the king who long before had ordered the erection of the church building. One image was an altar painting of Charlemagne in a kneeling position, and the other image was a statue of Charlemagne seated on a throne in a niche high up in an exterior tower. Zwingli explained why one was purged and the other was allowed to stay:
We have had two great Charleses: the one in the Great Minster, which was venerated like other idols, and for that reason was taken out; the other, in one of the church towers, which no one venerates, and that one was left standing, and has caused no annoyance at al (Garside 1966, 150).
The criterion for purging that is here illustrated is functional abuse. The people had venerated the image with religious connotations that was located inside the church, but they had not venerated the image with secular connotations that was located high on the church’s exterior. The one that had been abused as an object of veneration was purged, and the other was allowed to stay. Thus decisions were sometimes made based on people’s attitude toward an object and the way they treated it.
Another illustration of this functional criterion in purging images is Zwingli’s attitude toward images that were in the sanctuary windows. Zwingli expressed tolerance of these because no one tended to worship them there.
Next after these I do not think those images should be disturbed which are put into windows for the sake of decoration, provided they represent nothing base, for no one worships them there. (Zwingli, H. 1981, 337).
Zwingli, an advocate and champion of iconoclasm in the sense of purging images from places of worship, was moderate regarding some non-cultic visual representations of Jesus in His humanity. A good summary of Zwingli’s balanced views on images is found in this statement from his 1523 work, A Brief Christian Introduction:
It is clear that the images and other representations which we have in the houses of worship have caused the risk of idolatry. Therefore they should not be allowed to remain there, nor in your chambers, nor in the market-place, nor anywhere else where one does them honour. Chiefly they are not to be tolerated in the churches, for all that is in them should be worthy of our respect. If anyone desires to put historical representations on the outside of the churches, that may be allowed, so long as they do not incite to their worship. But when one begins to bow before these images and to worship them, then they are not to be tolerated anywhere in the wide world; for that is the beginning of idolatry, nay, is idolatry itself (Jackson 1901, 208; Zwingli, H. 1984, cf. 2:70–71; Garside 1966, cf. 149–50).
Zwingli was killed in battle in 1531, and he was succeeded as the religious leader of Zurich by his close friend Heinrich Bullinger. One would expect Bullinger to continue the doctrines and practices of Zwingli, the martyred pastor. There is evidence of this in the Zurich church’s policy toward music in public worship. Under Zwingli’s influence, the church at Zurich removed all music from its public worship services. The church at Zurich did not resume singing in public worship until 1598, twenty-three years after Bullinger’s death.
In his book Zwingli and the Arts, Garside argues that Bullinger continued the legacy of Zwingli. As evidence of this, Garside shows the similarity of Bullinger’s language on images in the Second Helvetic Confession to some of the language on images which Zwingli used in his Commentary on True and False Religion and in An Answer to Valentin Compar. Yet Bullinger did have some statements in his confession that some might interpret as contrary to Zwingli’s position on visual representations of Christ in His humanity:
We do therefore reject not only the idols of the Gentiles, but also the images of Christians. For although Christ took upon him man’s nature, yet he did not therefore take it that he might set forth a pattern for carvers and painters. He denied that he came ‘to destroy the law and the prophets’ (Matt. v. 17), but images are forbidden in the law and the prophets (Dent. iv. 15; Isa. xliv. 9). He denied that his bodily presence would profit the Church, but promised that he would by his Spirit be present with us forever (John xvi. 7; 2 Cor. v. 5).
Who would, then, believe that the shadow or picture of his body doth any whit benefit the godly? .  .  .But that men might be instructed in religion, and put in mind of heavenly things and of their own salvation, the Lord commanded to preach the Gospel (Mark xvi. 15) — not to paint and instruct the laity by pictures; he also instituted sacraments, but he nowhere appointed images (Schaff 1977, 3:836–37).
Bullinger, however, does not here directly address the limited and restricted possibilities in which Zwingli allowed for certain visual representations of Jesus in His humanity. Also, there is nothing in the above which indicates that Bullinger would disagree with Zwingli’s position, nor is there reason to believe that Zwingli would disagree with what Bullinger wrote in the above. The purpose of the incarnation certainly was not for the Theanthropos to serve as a model for engravers and painters. Nor can pictures serve as a substitute for the reading, teaching and preaching of the Scriptures. There is nothing in Bullinger’s statements above that condemns as necessarily immoral all possible mental and artistic images based on the graphic descriptions of events involving Jesus that are found in the inspired gospel accounts.
In Common Places, Peter Martyr Vermigli expressed a view of visual representations of Jesus in His humanity that is similar to Zwingli’s view:
Now, as touching those images, which resemble things created, let us see how they may be suffered, or not suffered. And first of all, Christ cometh verie well to remembrance, in that he is man, for in that respect he may be resembled, painted out. For that is not against the nature of the thing, seeing he was verie man, neither against the art of painting, which may imitate bodies (Martyr 1583, 340 2.5.10).
Peter Martyr Vermigli also read and expressed agreement with the Second Helvetic Confession. I assume that he would have qualified his agreement if he had found any of the confession’s language contradictory to his own position on visual representations of Jesus in His humanity.
Dr. Grover Gunn is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of MacDonald PCA in Collins, MS.  This article is used with permission.
See also:Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 109 and Representations of Deity
Peter Martyr and the Second Commandment

Works Cited
Dyrness, W. A. 2004. Reformation Theology and Visual Culture: The Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Garside, C., Jr. 1966. Zwingli and the Arts. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press.
Jackson, S. M. 1901. Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland 1484–1531. Heroes of the Reformation. New York, NY, and London: The Knickerbocker Press.
Martyr, P. 1583. The Common Places of the Most Famous and Renowned Divine Doctor Peter Martyr, Divided into Foure Principall Partes: With a Large Addition of Manie Theologicall and Necessariie Discourses, Some Never Extant Before. A. Marten. London: H. Denhad and H. Middleton.
Schaff, P. 1977. The Creeds of Christendom with a History and Critical Notes in Three Volumes. Vol.  3, The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Zwingli, H. 1526a. Ein Klare under Richtung vom Nachtmal Christi. Zurich: Cristoffel Froschouer.
———. 1526b. Ein Klare underrichtung vom Nachtmal Christi. Zurich: Hans Hager.
———. 1981. Commentary on True and False Religion. Editor S. M. Jackson and C. N. Heller. Curham, NC: The Labyrinth Press.
———. 1984. Huldrych Zwingli Writings. Vol. 2, In Search of True Religion: Reformation, Pastoral and Eucharistic Writings. H. W. Pipkin. Pittsburgh Theological Monographs. Allison Park, PA: Pickwick Publications.

The Land Promise Today

Written by Grover E. Gunn |
Monday, November 15, 2021
Paul is also here arguing for an inclusive salvation, a salvation that includes all believers, both Jews and Gentiles. I think that that argument is furthered by the Apostle Paul’s reference to the land promise given to Abraham as a promise that ultimately refers not just to the land of Canaan but to the whole earth.

When God made the covenant of circumcision with Abraham in Genesis 17, God made this promise to Abraham:
“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you” (Gen 17:7).
This didn’t mean that God was promising that every descendant of Abraham would end up going to heaven. We know that from reading redemptive history, from considering descendants of Abraham such as Ishmael and Esau, descendants of Abraham who were cast out of the covenant community for their disobedience. What this promise meant was that God was establishing a covenant community consisting of Abraham and His descendants, and that this covenant community would be a special and unique place of divine blessings. God gave the pagan nations up to vile passions and over to a debased mind, but God would be the God of Abraham and His descendants. The covenant community would be a special place of spiritual privilege just as surely as the gospel offer is sincere and genuine. This is where the word is preached, where prayers are prayed and where worship is offered to God in spirit and truth. This is also the place where many come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
That was such a wonderful promise that God made to Abraham, the promise the God would be Abraham’s God and also the God of Abraham’s descendants. We believe that this promise remains true today under the new covenant. The Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas what he had to do to be saved, and they answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” That is another way of expressing the promise that God made to Abraham, the promise that God would be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s descendants.
Yet there are obviously differences between the way God administered His covenant with Abraham and the way God administers the new covenant with us today. The covenant that God made with Abraham involved the circumcision of the male children born into the covenant community. We don’t use circumcision as a religious initiation sacrament today. We use baptism with water, and we don’t limit its application to boys. God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and Abraham’s descendants. We as Christians in American don’t claim any property rights in the Middle East.
Many argue that if that is the case, then we have no right to claim the promise that God will be the God of believers and their children. If we don’t circumcise our children and if we don’t claim ownership of any real estate in Canaan, then the promise, “I will be your God and the God of your descendants,” does not apply to us either. They say that it was a package deal, and that if any of it was set aside, then all of it was set aside. They say that our children who have not yet professed faith are not in any way a part of God’s covenant community.
How do we answer that argument? What is our relationship to the covenants that we find in the Old Testament? I would argue that our relationship with the Old Testament is not an all or nothing proposition. I would argue that the choice is not between total change and no change. I would argue that you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water, and I would also argue that you shouldn’t think that you have to keep the bath water in order to keep the baby. These are not the only choices. There are other options, other possibilities.
Let me share with you my understanding. There was a crucial event in history that marked the transition of God’s covenant people from covenant childhood to covenant adulthood. That crucial event was the saving work of Jesus Christ in history. And the saving work of Jesus Christ in history culminated in His pouring out His Holy Spirit upon His people in new covenant fullness on the Pentecost of Acts chapter two. Before that event, the covenants had a form and administration that were appropriate for the people of God in their covenant childhood. After that event, the covenants have a form and administration that are appropriate for the people of God in their covenant adulthood. There was a transition from one to the other recorded for us in the book of Acts. We find in the New Testament the guidance that we need to understand the differences in the childhood administration and the adulthood administration of God’s covenants. Christians today are directly under an administration of the covenant of grace called the new covenant, and the new covenant is a continuation of the Abrahamic covenant in a form suited for the covenant adulthood of this age of the Holy Spirit.
Here is what the Apostle Paul had to say in Romans 4:13:
For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
What I believe that the Apostle Paul is doing here is taking a promise that God gave to Abraham in terms of old covenant childhood and then applying it in the Apostle Paul’s time in terms of new covenant maturity. In the book of Genesis, every time that God promised to give something to Abraham or to Abraham’s seed, that which was promised was the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 24:7). The same is true of every such promise that God gave to Isaac and to Isaac’s seed (Genesis 26:3-4) and every such promise that God gave to Jacob and to Jacob’s seed (Genesis 28:4,13; 35:12; 48:4). These promises always referred to the Old Testament land promise. Also, in Romans 4:13, the Apostle Paul was referring to a promise that was given not through law but through the righteousness of faith. This would point especially to Abraham’s encounter with God regarding which we are told that Abraham believed in the LORD, and the LORD accounted it to Abraham for righteousness. And look at what God promised Abraham in that very encounter found in Genesis chapter 15:
“I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it” (v. 7)
“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates …” (v. 18)
Now the promise that God gave to Abraham and to Abraham’s seed through the righteousness of Abraham’s faith was a promise to inherit the land of Canaan. And the Apostle Paul referred to this promise as a promise to inherit the world. Now why did the Apostle Paul change the language here? I believe that he did so because he was interpreting the land promise of the Abrahamic covenant in terms of the new covenant and the age of spiritual maturity.
The land promise had an application consistent with the age of the old covenant, the age of covenant childhood. God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their seed. About four centuries after Abraham, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob conquered the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. Later King David subdued all the enemies within the land, and King Solomon had peace on every side around him. Thus, King Solomon was able to say,
 “Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised. There has not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised through His servant Moses” (1 King 8:56).
In this way, God fulfilled His land promise in its old covenant application and form.
Yet God’s promises, fulfilled in their original form, are often harbingers of even greater things to come. They are like seeds that germinate and break through the shell of their original form into fulfillments that surpass original expectations. There were some indications of greater fulfillments in the land promise as it was originally given to Abraham. God repeatedly told Abraham that both he and his seed would be a blessing to all the families of the earth and to all the nations of the earth. Yet I think that the Apostle Paul had additional reasons for believing that the promise of the land of Canaan ultimately referred to a promise of the entire world as the inheritance of God’s covenant people.
I think that the Apostle Paul could see such reasons by looking back before the time of Abraham to the time of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. God blessed Adam and Eve and said to them,
“Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
God gave Adam and Eve dominion over all the earth, and yet God initially entrusted them with only a small but choice piece of real estate, a garden within the land of Eden. God told Adam to guard that garden, to protect it from any invasion of evil, and to cultivate that garden, to make it even more fruitful and productive. I believe that if Adam had kept covenant with God through obedience, that he would have been able to expand the garden and to fill it with his offspring until the garden reached to the very ends of the earth. Yet Adam did not guard the garden when Satan invaded it through his agent the serpent. Adam fell into sin, became an outlaw along with Satan and forfeited his dominion over the earth.
Let’s now go forward to the time of Noah. The earth had become dominated by perversion and violence, and those who still worshiped God had dwindled down to the family of Noah. In judgment, God cleansed the earth with a universal flood. Out of all humanity, only Noah and his family were delivered from that judgment through the safety of the ark, the ark being a picture of Jesus Christ as Savior. In the flood, we have the imagery of a new creation. As originally created, the earth was a chaotic watery abyss that was hostile to life. It was without form, without the order necessary to sustain life, and therefore it was void of life. During the flood, the earth again became without form and void, and no life dependent upon breathe could survive except for those safe in the ark. Then God began His work of a new creation. In the original creation, God began His work by sending His Spirit to hover over the watery abyss like a bird. In the new creation after the flood in the days of Noah, God sent His wind to pass over the earth, and the waters resided. The Hebrew word for “wind” is the same as  Hebrew word for “Spirit.” In the original creation, the Spirit had hovered over the watery abyss like a bird. In the new creation in the days of Noah, Noah sent out a dove to confirm that life had returned to the earth. The symbolism of the dove was confirmed when the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove at the time of His baptism with water.
After this world had been cleansed by a watery judgment and then restored as a place that sustained life, there was another fall into sin in the rebellion at the tower of Babel. God then used the judgment of confused languages to create the nations. God allowed the nations to go their own ways and gave them over to their sinful rebellion. God, however, also chose one man to be the father of a nation that would be God’s special treasure, a holy nation of priests. That man was Abraham. God promised Abraham and Abraham’s descendants a small but choice piece of real estate that was located at the crossroads of three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe. God promised Abraham and his seed a place that could become a spiritual oasis in the midst of a spiritually hostile world. It was in a sense and to a degree a new garden of Eden. And since God promised that Abraham and his seed would be a blessing to all the nations, we shouldn’t be surprised that this land promise would one day expand to encompass the whole world.
By looking back in time before Abraham, we see the parallel of the land of promise given to Abraham with the garden of Eden given to Adam. Then by looking forward in time after Abraham, we find confirmation that the land promised to Abraham was indeed a token and pledge of something bigger and better. The land promise was a promise that would eventually expand to encompass the whole earth. Listen to a prophecy made about the then coming Messiah, the Messiah who would be the ultimate Seed of Abraham. And as you listen to these words, remember that the River, a reference to the Euphrates River, was the northern boundary of the land promised to Abraham.
He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth (Psalm 72:8).
Also consider the prophecy found in Zechariah 9:10, the verse immediately following the prophecy that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem one day riding on a donkey, a prophecy fulfilled by the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem at the beginning of His passion week.
His dominion shall be “from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zechaiah 9:10).
The Messiah will have dominion from sea to sea, perhaps a reference to the promised land between the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee to the east. That is not surprising, but the Messiah will also have dominion from the Euphrates River, the northern boundary of the land promised to Abraham, to the very ends of the earth. The land promise under the Messiah expands to include the whole earth.
We see this fulfilled when the resurrected Jesus receives the nations as His inheritance and is given all authority in heaven and on earth. We see this fulfilled when Jesus commands His disciples to disciple the nations. We further see this fulfilled in the age to come when the people of God as the seed of Abraham inherit for eternity the new heavens and the new earth.
“For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the LORD, “So shall your descendants and your name remain” Isaiah 66:22).
What this all points to is what the Apostle Paul took for granted. Paul simply stated without any argumentation that the promise which God made to Abraham or to Abraham’s seed was a promise that he would be the heir of the world. Paul is here arguing for a salvation that is both exclusive and inclusive. It is exclusive in that it excludes all boasting. Verse 13 continues that argument in that the land promise was given through the righteousness of faith and not through law. One of the times when God gave the land promise to Abraham was His appearance to Abraham in Genesis chapter 15 and the verse that Paul repeatedly quotes:
And [Abraham] believed in the LORD, and [the LORD] accounted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6).
Here was see what Paul called the righteousness of faith and a justification that excludes all boasting. It was a gift of grace, grace being God’s undeserved favor. Abraham believed in a promise of God whose ultimate fulfillment was dependent upon Jesus and His saving work. God then reckoned that faith to Abraham as Abraham’s righteousness because Jesus was the ultimate object of that faith. God reckoned or accounted the righteousness of Jesus as Abraham’s legal record. That is a salvation that excludes all boasting.
Paul is also here arguing for an inclusive salvation, a salvation that includes all believers, both Jews and Gentiles. I think that that argument is furthered by the Apostle Paul’s reference to the land promise given to Abraham as a promise that ultimately refers not just to the land of Canaan but to the whole earth.
You will hear many people today claiming that the land promise given to Abraham does not today belong to Christians in any sense but instead finds its fulfillment in the modern nation of Israel founded in 1948. I would encourage you to listen instead to what the Apostle Paul has to say about the land promise in Romans 4. Also, if the land promise belongs to us today in a new covenant form, then so does the promise that God made to Abraham that He would be the God of both Abraham and His descendants. Let us take full advantage of that promise by worshipping with our children with the people of God on the Lord’s Day, by praying for our children and by living out a life of faith before our children. Remember what the Apostle Paul said about Timothy in his last letter. He said that he was filled with joy when he remembered the genuine faith that was in Timothy and which first dwelt in Timothy’s grandmother and mother (2 Timothy 1:4-5). May God grant us such joy regarding our own children as well.
Dr. Grover Gunn is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of MacDonald PCA in Collins, MS.

Scroll to top
Refcast

FREE
VIEW