Hannah Ascol

A Case for Credobaptism

One of the most important things you need to know about the ordinances is that they are visible. They are visible symbols. They are objects to be seen, felt, and in the case of the Lord’s Supper, tasted.
This post, though, is only about the first ordinance, baptism. I say first not because it is more important, but because baptism marks one’s entrance into the visible church. Something most Christians, regardless of their views on the proper subjects of baptism, would agree on.
The credobaptist position states that baptism is an ordinance reserved for believers. Note the Baptist Faith and Message (2000):
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
Samuel Renihan notes, “Baptism is…a two-way declaration. On the one hand, it is God’s visible promise that all who are in His Son are new creations by virtue of their union with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5). And on the other hand, it is the individual’s profession of faith in those very promises (1 Pt. 3:21-22).”[1]
Not For Infants
The argument between credo and paedobaptists over the subjects and mode of baptism goes much deeper than water. Phillip Griffiths comments on the baptism debate that being a Baptist should mean more than just “the mode of baptism…Reformed Baptists need to rediscover their rich heritage.”[2] Part of that heritage is understanding Baptist covenant theology. Volumes have been written on the subject, so there is not space here to treat it in any sort of fullness.
However, it needs to be said that, historically, Baptists have understood only believers as being in God’s covenant of grace. Both paedobaptists and dispensationalists, ironically, want to assign unregenerate people as being part of the people of God. Reformed Baptists reject this and assign only those born again as comprising the one body of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:4).
So, in the Old Testament, infants were circumcised in the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, ultimately under a covenant of works.[3] This circumcision, though certainly in some senses a gracious sign, did not bring someone into God’s covenant of grace. If circumcision was not kept, the children would be cut off from the physical people of God (Gen. 17:14). Circumcision was another work that’s essential point was to remind the physical people of God that they stood in desperate need of One who could fulfill God’s Law and then be cut off for the sake of those who would put their faith in Him (cf. Isaiah 53:4-5).
The argument between credo and paedobaptists over the subjects and mode of baptism goes much deeper than water.
The true Israel of both the Old and New Testaments has always and only been believers (cf. Romans 9:6-7). And the only way anyone can savingly believe the promises of God is by being born again. So, yes, even members of the covenant of grace in the Old Testament were born again.
Though there are similarities between baptism and circumcision in some ways, Griffiths writes, “Baptism…is both a sign and a seal, marking one as belonging to the spiritual seed of Abraham; sealing the fact that he is united to Christ. The one prerequisite for baptism is that the individual repent and believe. These different criteria hardly suggest parity between these two rites [of circumcision and baptism].”[4] The members of the covenant of grace, then, have always and only been regenerate people, not of a mixed nature. That is, the covenant of grace has never consisted of believers and unbelievers.
New Testament Baptism
The New Covenant, ratified in the blood of Christ, has established water baptism as the outward sign and symbol of the inward reality of the Spirit’s application of Christ’s work to the Christian. The signification of baptism is clearly only for those who have already been born again. Even 19th century paedobaptist, James Bannerman, writes, “The immersion in water of the persons of those who are baptized is set forth as their burial with Christ in His grave because of sin; and their being raised again out of the water is their resurrection with Christ in His rising again from the dead because of their justification.”[5]
Bannerman goes on to say of the signage of baptism that
[T]heir [those baptized] burial in water, when dying with Christ was the washing away of the corruptness of the old man beneath the water; and their coming forth from the water in the image of His resurrection was their leaving behind them the old man with his sins and emerging into newness of life. Their immersion beneath the water, and their emerging again, were the putting off the corruption of nature and rising again into holiness, or their sanctification.[6]
Similarly, Louis Berkhof, also a paedobaptist, writing about Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, says that “They who accepted Christ by faith were to be baptized in the name of the triune God, as a sign and seal of the fact that they had entered into a new relation to God and as such were obliged to live according to the laws of the Kingdom of God.”[7]
The New Covenant, ratified in the blood of Christ, has established water baptism as the outward sign and symbol of the inward reality of the Spirit’s application of Christ’s work to the Christian.
Though writing centuries before Berkhof and Bannerman, 17th Century Baptist, John Spilsbery, pulls no punches in responding to this type of faulty paedobaptist argumentation when he writes,
to Baptize Infants, makes the holy ordinance of God a lying sign, because none of those things can be expected in an Infant which the said ordinance holds forth or signifies in the administration thereof, which is the parties Regeneration and spiritual new birth; a dying and burying with Christ in respect of sin, and a rising with him in a new life to God, and a confirmation of faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, and a free remission of sin by the same; as 1 Cor. 15:29. Rom. 6:3, 4. Col. 2:12. 1 Pet. 3:21. Act. 2:38. none of all which can be expected in an Infant.[8]
There is an incontrovertible connection between the ordinance of baptism and regeneration. The latter is inward and performed by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. The former is performed by the local church only to those born again as a sign and symbol of what has happened to the new believer. That is, New Testament water baptism is not an “anticipation” of what might happen to a child in later years. It is specifically designed by the wisdom of God to signify what has already happened!
Do we have to have “regeneration goggles” then in order to know who to Baptize?[9] Of course not. The local church ought to do her best in only baptizing believers by examining the confession and life of those wishing to be baptized. Sadly, in a fallen world, sometimes local churches can “baptize” unbelievers.
But, do I Have to Be Baptized?
Jeff Johnson writes,
Although baptism is not essential to salvation, it is highly unlikely that a person has been truly born again without an eager desire to follow the Lord in this first command that God gives the new Christian (Acts 2:38). Baptism is a public confession of Christ (Matt. 10:32-33) that evidences to the church and the world that there has been a radical transformation within. Baptism is also a visible sermon. It demonstrates a spiritual reality of one’s death to sin and resurrection to the newness of life in Christ Jesus.[10]
Baptism is for those who have already received the Holy Spirit, and it is not what effects or brings about our regeneration. Rather, baptism is something that the regenerate do. Those already born again desire to follow the Lord in believer’s baptism[11] because baptism, in the words of Sam Waldron, “says he or she is in union with Christ, is forgiven and has a cleansed heart.”[12]
Baptism is not what brings the Holy Spirit’s work of effectual calling and regeneration about, but it is a physical symbol of the inward spiritual realities that have already taken place. So, baptism is an ordinance only for those already born again. It does not have the power to bring about a change of heart.
When Jesus talks about being born of the water and the Spirit (John 3:5), He doesn’t mean baptism and the Spirit mixed together creates a saving formula. Rather, being “born of the water” is the inward renewal and cleansing we need as prophesied in Ezekiel 36:25-27 and mentioned again in Titus 3:5.
This is also a reason we should be cautious about baptizing young children. I do think young children can be born again. It takes the same grace to save a 4-year-old as it does a 44-year-old. But the biblical issue is the church being sure of what has taken place and in our society, I think a lot of people have unfortunately been baptized when they were very young but have since walked away because they had never actually been born again.
The symbolism in baptism matters. This is why we should not sprinkle or pour water over baptismal candidates but instead immerse the person fully in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism shows how the person has already been spiritually cleansed and is symbolically buried with Christ and raised again to the newness of life. And has now been publicly and visibly marked as a follower of King Jesus.

[1] The Mystery of Christ, 204.
[2] Phillip D.R. Griffiths, Covenant Theology: A Reformed Baptist Perspective, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016), 4.
[3] Reformed Baptists have different views on this. Some see the Abrahamic Covenant as dichotomous in nature. Some early Baptists saw it as two covenants.
[4] Covenant Theology: A Reformed Baptist Perspective, 68.
[5] James Bannerman, The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), 557.
[6] Bannerman, The Church of Christ, 557.
[7] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 624. Berkhof goes on to write, “there is no explicit command in the Bible to baptize children, and that there is not a single instance in which we are plainly told that children were baptized”, 632.
[8] John Spilsbery, A Treatise Concerning the Lawfull Subject of Baptism, Second Edition Corrected and Enlarged. (London: Henry Hills, 1652), 41.
[9] “Regeneration Goggles” is a phrase some Paedobaptists have used on social media to accuse Baptists of needing to see the invisible church before being willing to admit someone to the ordinance of baptism.
[10] Jeffrey D. Johnson, The Church: Her Nature, Authority, Purpose, and Worship, (New Albany, MS Media Gratiae, 2020), 206.
[11] I do not mean to imply that convinced paedobaptists are not born again! Though they are wrong about a very important matter.
[12] A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 407-408.

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3 Reasons Biblical Elder Qualifications Matter in Missions

One way to judge the vitality of a culture is by the state of its men.
Where its men are weak, sin-addicted, and passive, the society will decline. Why? Because as men lead households, households form communities, and communities shape cultures.
Likewise, the health of the church depends upon its leaders—the qualified men God has called to preach to and oversee it.
The Apostle Paul knew this. So, he instructed Timothy to appoint elders in the church who met high standards of character. After leaving Timothy in Macedonia to guard the church and its elders (1 Timothy 1:3), Paul explains who is qualified to shepherd the church:
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
Paul gives substantially identical instructions to Titus:
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:5-9)
This isn’t just a lesson for local churches but for the missionary enterprise. Why?
QUALIFIED SENDERS
First, it tells us something about who sends. Is your church shepherded by godly, competent men who can teach sound doctrine and hold others accountable? Without such leaders, a church cannot send missionaries.
To modify a phrase used by others, a church’s sending capacity can’t exceed its shepherding capacity. The spiritual needs of the congregation—for God’s word, for loving guidance, for discipleship—must be met before pastors can aspire to send out others.
QUALIFIED GOERS
Second, our passage says something about who goes. Men and women are both critical to the task of missions. The New Testament is replete with examples of women who served sacrificially in the early church. But only men may pastor and lead God’s people (see 1 Timothy 2:12, 3:2-5). Since our aim is to plant churches, we cannot obey the Great Commission without sending out qualified, called men as pastor-elders.
Across the evangelical world, the number of women in missions far surpasses the number of men. Many of the workers we train and send are single women. Let’s praise God for the many mighty ways he uses these faithful saints. Because we value teamwork, we confess there is a place for men and women on the field, married and single, parent and childless. And yet, without discounting women’s important work, we can also ask: where are the men? Have our churches failed to proactively train and send the kind of men described by Paul?
In our zeal to reach the nations, we are prone to act as though the only qualification for missionary service is a willing heart. This is not what the New Testament teaches. If nothing else, Paul’s statements about who is qualified for ministry exhort us to raise the bar with regard to our standard for whom we send out to the world.
In our zeal to reach the nations, we are prone to act as though the only qualification for missionary service is a willing heart. This is not what the New Testament teaches.
THE BENEFICIARIES
Finally, our text speaks to who benefitsfrom gospel ministry. When men, as household heads, come to faith in Christ, so can the whole family. Studies show that when father go to church with the family, the children are far more likely to continue in the faith.
As families are transformed, so are communities—and cultures. When this happens, everyone in a nation benefits—especially women, children, and the marginalized in society. That is not to say that missions results in sinless utopias. But historically, where the Christian faith has prevailed, unjust laws have been repealed, hospitals erected, the uneducated taught, the poor lifted up.
So, where are the men?
Too many men compete for platforms and fame here at home while countless churches worldwide desperately have no pastors. Too few men are willing to count the cost of missionary life, leaving single women to shoulder the load alone.
Pray for godly elders in our churches to send qualified men to the field where few are willing to go. And pray for those men to lead other men to Christ, such that the landscapes of those mission fields change. Perhaps we have not because we ask not.

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A Witness Against Wokeness: What Modern Christians Can Learn from an Ex-Communist

In recent years, interest in socialism has risen and conversations about Marxism, especially cultural Marxism, have permeated public discourse. From the Gallup Poll in 2019 which reported that four in ten Americans saw socialism as a good thing to the rise of Black Lives Matter whose founders openly identify themselves as “trained Marxists,” we are living at a time when Christians in America need to re-learn what past generations knew, and what Christians living in Cuba, China, and Czechoslovakia know, all too well: Communism, and its younger sibling Socialism, are godless ideologies that harm the masses.
As The Black Book of Communism (Harvard University Press) reports, nearly 100 million people died during the twentieth century under Communist regimes. And hence, it was both right and responsible for evangelicals during the Cold War to stand opposed to ideas of Karl Marx and his Communist Manifesto. As Grant Wacker reports in his biography of Billy Graham (America’s Pastor), the late evangelist often included a message against communism in his revivals. And more strategically, many Christians, evangelicals and otherwise, participated in the conservative project known as fusionism, in large part, to stem the tide of communism.
Today, however, with a generation of Americans untouched and untaught about Communism, the ghost of Karl Marx has risen again. In his book, Live Not by Lies, Rod Dreher addresses this very concern, when he begins by highlighting the concerns many from Eastern Bloc countries have had with modern America. He writes,
What unnerves those who lived under Soviet communism is this similarity: Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups. It encourages people to identify with groups ethnic, sexual, and otherwise and to think of Good and Evil as a matter of power dynamics among the groups. A utopian vision drives these progressives, one that compels them to seek to rewrite history and reinvent language to reflect their ideals of social justice. (6)
What made these men and women flee Europe is now rising in America. The same thing is happening in Canada. Ivan, a trucker from Ukraine, put it like this when asked why he was joining the freedom convoy: “We came to Canada to be free—not slaves,” he said. “We lived under communism, and, in Canada, we’re now fighting for our freedom” (What the Truckers Want).
Importantly, this rise in elite-controlled social justice, woke racism, and identity politics is not something that stands outside the church either. Wokeness is making inroads within the church, too. From calls for social justice (largely undefined) to cries that Christian Nationalism (also undefined) are threatening our country, those in the church are missing something that previous generations did not and could not miss—namely, the evil that comes from a man-centered, God-denying, government-enforced attempt to build back better.
Indeed, while Critical Race Theory has gotten the most attention, one of its underlying promises, a vision of more fair and just society matches up well with Christians who want to do more than talk. In other words, advocates of social justice gain adherents by calling for a better world. And because some of the religious language maps onto Christian concerns, the result is an unholy fusion of Christ and cultural Marxism.
At the same time, some scholars have defined and denounced evangelicals, especially white conservatives who made a compact with the Republican party during the 1950s and 60s. One example of this is Kristin Kobe Du Mez in her book, Jesus and John Wayne. Expressing concern with the way patriarchal, white males championed the military and stood in the way of civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights, she excoriates evangelicals for using their positions of power to prop themselves up and push others down.
Leaving a full evaluation of her book for someone else, I will simply say that she does not adequately consider the role Communism played in the 1950s and 60s. As Proverbs 18:17 reminds us, she who speaks first seems right, until someone else comes and questions her. And while she mentions Communism in her book, she does not consider the way Communist spies were infiltrating the halls of power throughout our country (see more below).
Like most of my generation, Du Mez has forgotten, or not cared to consider, how wicked communism was and is, and because she and others do not share the perspective that our Czechoslovakian neighbors do (see Live Not by Lies), they cannot appreciate the ways that evangelical leaders and conservative politicians worked together during the middle of the twentieth century. Nor, can she appreciate the fact that all the liberating works of the 1960s were suffused with communist ideas (see Roger Kimball, The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America). Even as civil rights were extended, and racial prejudice became illegal and unconscionable, there remained a set of rules for radicals that derived their origins from Cultural Marxists.
Today, the radicals of the 1960s have become our presidents and leading politicians. And in the church, the demands for egalitarianism, social justice, and gay rights are simply leftovers from the 1960s. Likewise, the progressive ideals of Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and those who follow them, have shaped the way evangelicals—progressive and conservative—have approached culture. Indeed, thawed by the heat of Twitter, these old ideas are hatching new consequences. And because so many do not see or care to see the evils of Communism (consider NBC’s reporting of the Olympics) or the moral injustices of socialism, many of the radical ideas are facing little to no opposition. And that matters, because when the ideological offspring of Marx are given space to procreate, death not life results.
So with that long introduction out of the way, let me bring a witness to the stand, a man by the name of Whittaker Chambers.
An Old Witness to a New Wokeness
If you lived in American in the 1950s the name Whittaker Chambers would have been ubiquitous. For not only did he hold a prominent editorial office at Time Magazine, but between 1949–51, Chambers bore witness in a federal court to the Communist activity lodged deep within  Washington D.C. Revealing his own participation in Soviet espionage and his commitment to the Communist party, Chambers went to trial against many of his close friends.
This is how he came to national prominence. And in 1952 he published his personal memoir, a book entitled Witness, whose title bore the double entendre of being a witness in the courts and a witness for the sake of God’s truth. Even more, it was a testimony to the fact that he was first a witness for the Communists before he was a witness of the truth. Putting it in religious terms, he wrote, “It was my fate to be in turn a witness to each of the two great faiths in our time”—Communism and Christianity.
Indeed, Witness is an exhilarating story of how Chambers entered the Communist Party,  escaped that same party with skills acquired as a spy, and then risked his life to bear testimony before congress and the watching world. Yet, Witness is more than a good story. In this memoir, Chambers reveals the inner thoughts of a man who went from rejecting the idea of God (a Communist prerequisite) to a man who was moved by his personal faith to expose the secret agents in Washington D.C. In all, Witness is a powerful narrative, beautifully written, that tells how a man who risked his life to oppose his country could turn around and risk his life to stand against the evils of Communism—a religious commitment that once enthralled him.
For, anyone looking for a good biography, this book is it. And I would wholeheartedly encourage reading the full book. Yet, it is what Chambers says in the opening about Communism that I cite extensively below. To those who have not seen, heard, or known about the inner-workings of Communism, let Chambers timeless words be a warning.
Whittaker Chambers on Communism
In a letter to his children, we find the testimony of a man who knew the evil of Communism existentially, not just academically. Thus, to a generation who is inclined towards socialism and unmoved by the evils of Communism, we—especially, those in the church—need to hear Whittaker Chambers.
Here is how he begins to describe his faith and the faith of Communism.
A man may also be an involuntary witness. I do not know any way to explain why God’s grace touches a man who seems unworthy of it. But neither do I know any other way to explain how a man like myself tarnished by life, unprepossessing, not brave–could prevail so far against the powers of the world arrayed almost solidly against him, to destroy him and defeat his truth. In this sense, I am an involuntary witness to God’s grace and to the fortifying of power of faith.
It was my fate to be in turn a witness to each of the two great faiths of our time. And so we come to the terrible word, Communism. My very dear children, nothing in all these pages will be written so much for you, though it is so unlike anything you would want to read. In nothing shall I be so much a witness, in no way am I so much called upon to fulfill my task, as in trying to make clear to you (and to the world) the true nature of Communism and the source of its power, which was the cause of my ordeal as a man, and remains the historic ordeal of the world in the twentieth century. For in this century, within the next decades, will be decided for generations whether all mankind is to become Communist, whether the whole world is to become free, or whether, in the struggle, civilization as we know it is to be completely destroyed or completely changed. It is our fate to live upon that turning point in history. The world has reached that turning point by the steep stages of a crisis. (xxxvi-xxxvii)
After introducing the weight of Communism, Chambers outlines a brief history of the world events since World War II. In this, he introduces the idea of an existential crisis of “universal desperation” that comes from  a world stripped of peace, prosperity, and protection (xxxvi). Addressing this crisis, stood two super powers—the Soviet Union and the United States. After World War II, these two nations stood tall in the world and in them stood two contrasting ways of life—Communism on one side, denying God and offering human improvement through centralized planning, and Liberty on the other, denying absolute government control and offering liberty through personal freedom. (For the record, I am not conflating Christianity and Americana; I am noting the way Christianity influenced America and the way America, for a time, provided a safe haven for churches to flourish. More on that another day).
Addressing the crisis of humanity and desire for peace, Chambers suggests that the crisis is all-encompassing; it is “religious, moral, intellectual, social, political, [and] economic” (xxxvi). And facing this existential crisis of humanity—something he describes later in his own attraction to Communism—he explains how Communism, with its religious adherence to modern technology offers a solution to the problems of the world (xxxvii). It is at this point that Chambers weighs in on the evils of Communism and it is also here where modern Christians need to listen to most.
I see in Communism the focus of the concentrated evil of our time. You will ask: Why, then, do men become Communists? How did it happen that you, our gentle and loved father, were once a Communist? Were you simply stupid? No, I was not stupid. Were you morally depraved? No, I was not morally depraved. Indeed, educated men become Communists chiefly for moral reasons. Did you not know that the crimes and horrors of Communism are inherent in Communism? Yes, I knew that fact. Then why did you become a Communist? It would help more to ask: How did it happen that this movement, once a mere muttering of political outcasts, became this immense force that now contests the mastery of mankind? Even when all the chances and mistakes of history are allowed for, the answer must be: Communism makes some profound appeal to the human mind. You will not find out what it is by calling Communism names. That will not help much to explain why Communism whose horrors, on a scale unparalleled in history, are now public knowledge, still recruits its thousands and holds its millions-among them some of the best minds alive. Look at Klaus Fuchs, standing in the London dock, quiet, doomed, destroyed, and say whether it is possible to answer in that way the simple question: Why?
First, let me try to say what Communism is not. It is not simply a vicious plot hatched by wicked men in a sub-cellar. It is not just the writings of Marx and Lenin, dialectical materialism, the Politburo, the labor theory of value, the theory of the general strike, the Red Army, secret police, labor camps, underground conspiracy, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the technique of the coup d’état. It is not even those chanting, bannered millions that stream periodically, like disorganized armies, through the heart of the world’s capitals: Moscow, New York, Tokyo, Paris, Rome. These are expressions of Communism, but they are not what Communism is about.
In the Hiss trials, where Communism was a haunting specter, but which did little or nothing to explain Communism, Communists were assumed to be criminals, pariahs, clandestine men who lead double lives under false names, travel on false passports, deny traditional religion, morality, the sanctity of oaths, preach violence and practice treason. These things are true about Communists, but they are not what Communism is about.
The revolutionary heart of Communism is not the theatrical appeal: “Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to gain.” It is a simple statement of Karl Marx, further simplified for handy use: “Philosophers have explained the world; it is necessary to change the world.” Communists are bound together by no secret oath. The tie that binds them across the frontiers of nations, across barriers of language and differences of class and education, in defiance of religion, morality, truth, law, honor, the weaknesses of the body and the irresolutions of the mind, even unto death, is a simple conviction: It is necessary to change the world. Their power, whose nature baffles the rest of the world, because in large measure the rest of the world has lost that power, is the power to hold convictions and to act on them. It is the same power that moves mountains; it is also an unfailing power to move men. Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die–to bear witness for its faith. And it is a simple, rational faith that inspires men to live or die for it. (xxxviii–xxxix)
In these words, Chambers identifies the religious nature of Communism and the inherent-but-distorted human drive to subdue and rule the world. Changing the world is what God intended man to do (Gen. 1:28; Psalm 8), but Communism twists this vocation by leading man to trust in himself with no fear of the Lord. Thus, Communism denies man’s fallenness (Genesis 3) and pretends that unfettered man can manufacture a world without God. And lest you think I am adding biblical imagery to flesh out Chambers vision. Listen to what he says next about man’s faith in himself.
It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from: simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man’s relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God. 
It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man’s mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God.
The vision is a challenge and implies a threat. It challenges man to prove by his acts that he is the masterwork of the Creation by making thought and act one. It challenges him to prove it by using the force of his rational mind to end the bloody meaninglessness of man’s history—by giving it purpose and a plan. It challenges him to prove it by reducing the meaningless chaos of nature, by imposing on it his rational will to order, abundance, security, peace. It is the vision of materialism. But it threatens, if man’s mind is unequal to the problems of man’s progress, that he will sink back into savagery (the A and the H bombs have raised the issue in explosive forms), until nature replaces him with a more intelligent form of life. (xxxix)
Man separated from God doesn’t mean he loses his mission to subdue and rule. It simply means he becomes a savage. In service to himself and his ideals, he rules the world with his mind, his actions, his power, and all his political machinations. This is what stands at the heart of Communism. It is Cain writ large. Babel swollen to the size of a modern nation-state.
In our day, the specter of Communism has not disappeared, it has just gone digital. Under terms like stakeholder capitalism and  democratic socialism and by means of the media, education, and government intervention, the seeds of communism have been sown to such a degree that America, who once stood against such evil, is now posturing itself to follow the Communism of countries like China. And what do Christians do? Many would say that combatting Communism is deviation from the gospel and a capitulation to the Republican party. Yet, such high-sounding rhetoric will only clear the ground from the evils of Communism to come.
Sadly, too many Christians look back at the Red Scare and scoff (or yawn!), not recognizing why America, and the Christians therein, once stood against Communism. But if we listen to Whittaker Chambers, we begin to learn something from history. If we fail to appreciate the evil of Communism and the ways it slipped in unnoticed into American institutions of higher education, labor unions, and community organizing, we will miss it again. And actually, it may be too late. But this is why we need to hear the warning of Whittaker Chambers and see the evils of Communism.
A Witness Against Wokeness
Today, ignorance of the past is a badge of honor. And when it comes to those who would seek to destroy a faith in God with a faith in humanity, we need to see the modern connections to the past. The Communism that radicalized many Christians in the 1960s is repeating itself with Christians who are imbibing the nostrums of Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory, and every other form of egalitarianism. Instead of recognizing the way Cultural Marxism has metastasized and spread through culture and the body of Christ, Christians are defending the use of analytic tools that were formed by men and women who deny God. Instead of seeing, as Whittaker Chambers did, the great divide between two faiths—the way of Christ and the way of Babel—many Christians are welcoming and even crafting horses filled with trojans.
As Christians living in this world, we need to know the ideas and ideologies that are threatening the church, and we need by God’s grace to expose their darkness and point people to the light.
Thankfully, not everyone is smitten with idolatrous visions of social justice, Intersectionality, and corporate wokeness. But these watchman on the wall are the ones derided by large swaths of evangelicals as extreme Christian nationalists. Yet, with the testimony of Chambers in hand, I would argue that those who raise concerns about godless ideologies and the impact of wokeness are the only ones worth listening to today. Of course, the watchman on the wall seems out of his mind, screaming about the dangers outside (and inside) the city, but if he is warning the city of real threats (a la Ezekiel 3 and 34), he cannot use his indoor voice.
What is happening today is the rise of evil at the level of governmental tyranny. And where in the past such tyranny sprung up in the East, in Nazi Germany, and Castro’s Cuba, now it is in the West. And for those who care about good and evil, human flourishing, and the peace by which the church can live, move, and have her faith (1 Tim. 2:1–4), cannot be indifferent, silent, or passive when it comes to issues of Church and State.
As Christians living in this world, therefore, we need to know the ideas and ideologies that are threatening the church, and we need by God’s grace to expose their darkness and point people to the light. In the 1940s and 50s, Communism was prominent and Chambers testimony exposed its darkness. In the 1960s, the radical ideas of Cultural Marxism permeated college campuses, and the likes of Francis Schaeffer stood in the gap. Today, we are still facing the same threat, and thus, we would do well to learn from someone like Whittaker Chambers. His boldness and his unshakable commitment to truth are characteristics more Christians need. And thus, we should let his witness continue to speak.
A Final Word of Warning
With that in mind, hear his final warning about visions of man-made grandeur that lead men astray by promising a solution to the crisis of living of our Genesis 3 world.
The Communist vision has a mighty agitator and a mighty propagandist. They are the crisis. The agitator needs no soap box. It speaks insistently to the human mind at the point where desperation lurks. The propagandist writes no Communist gibberish. It speaks insistently to the human mind at the point where man’s hope and man’s energy fuse to fierceness.
The vision inspires. The crisis impels. The workingman is chiefly moved by the crisis. The educated man is chiefly moved by the vision. The workingman, living upon a mean margin of life, can afford few visions—even practical visions. An educated man, peering from the Harvard Yard, or any college world in chaos, finds in the vision the two certainties for campus, upon awhich the mind of man tirelessly seeks: a reason to live and a reason to die.
No other faith of our time presents them with the same practical intensity. That is why Communism is the central experience of the first half of the 20th century, and may be its final experience will be, unless the free world, in the agony of its struggle with Communism, overcomes its crisis by discovering, in suffering and pain, a power of faith which will provide man’s mind, at the same intensity, with the same two certainties: a reason to live and a reason to die. If it fails, this will be the century of the great social wars. If it succeeds, this will be the century of the great wars of faith. (xli)
Prophetically, Chambers has sized up the situation. We do live in a century of “great social wars.” And lest we think that any government and its priests will be our saviors, we who know Christ must return to him, plant our faith in his soil, and stand our ground to proclaim his grace and truth. With that identification secure, along with the promise of resurrection life, we must strike out as witnesses to declare the Lord reigns and that his judgment comes. Therefore, fear God and live.
Today, too many churches have sought to befriend the world in order to win the world. Yet, the gospel is a message of judgment upon those who trust in themselves. And our witness must be just that—unless you repent and believe on Christ, the true king of glory will strike you down. Your nation, your people, your group, your ideas, your social justice, they will all be struck down. Why? Because the human vision of glorified humanity cannot come by way of man and his meta-verse. God alone can produce peace, prosperity, security, and eternity, and in a world full of sinners, such peace only comes through the cross of Christ. And lasting dominion can only be continued by the man who died and rose on high.
The sooner we realize that this cosmic crisis is rooted in the historic fall of Adam and that the most important divide in humanity stands between two faiths—i.e., the way of Cain (faith in self) vs. the way of Abel (faith in God)—the sooner we will be ready to stand in this fallen world. Reading Witness is a wake up call to anyone who thinks that the ideas, tools, and actions that come down from Marx are indifferent in Christianity. History proves otherwise. And in the testimony of Whittaker Chambers, we discover why. Communism, socialism, cultural marxism, Critical Theory, etc.—all of these ideologies replace God with man and invite man to make himself like God. In other words, they are inspired by that ancient serpent, the devil.
Such is the way of sin, death, and destruction, and those who know the truth need to confront the ideologies of Marx with the gospel of salvation and judgment; we must not confuse the utopian visions of Marx with the eschatological promises of the gospel. To that end, let us continue to bear witness to the truth, and following the boldness of Whittaker Chambers and all martyrs (witnesses) of the faith, let us speak the truth of God. out loud, in public, and without shame. So help us God!
Soli Deo Gloria.

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Christian Patriotism

The following sermon was delivered at Kettering, in 1803, at a time when the UK was being threatened with invasion by Napoleon. Andrew Fuller was a leader of the Particular Baptists of England and instrumental in the formation of the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen (later known as the Baptist Missionary Society and today as BMS World Mission)

Christian Patriotism
Andrew Fuller
“And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” — Jer. 29:7.
In the course of human events, cases may be expected to occur in which a serious mind may be at a loss with respect to the path of duty. Presuming, my brethren, that such may be the situation of some of you, at this momentous crisis—a crisis in which your country, menaced by an unprincipled, powerful, and malignant foe, calls upon you to arm in its defence—I take the liberty of freely imparting to you my sentiments on the subject.
When a part of the Jewish people were carried captives to Babylon, ten years, or thereabouts, before the entire ruin of the city and temple, they must have felt much at a loss in determining upon what was duty. Though Jeconiah, their king, was carried captive with them, yet the government was still continued under Zedekiah; and there were not wanting prophets, such as they were, who encouraged in them the hopes of a speedy return. To settle their minds on this subject, Jeremiah, the prophet, addressed the following letter to them, in the name of the Lord:—“Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon: Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished: and seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”
I do not suppose that the case of these people corresponds exactly with ours; but the difference is of such a nature as to heighten our obligations. They were in a foreign land; a land where there was nothing to excite their attachment, but every thing to provoke their dislike. They had enjoyed all the advantages of freedom and independence, but were now reduced to a state of slavery. Nor were they enslaved only: to injury was added insult. They that led them captive required of them mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” Revenge, in such circumstances, must have seemed natural; and if a foreign invader, like Cyrus, had placed an army before their walls, it had been excusable, one would have thought, not only to have wished him success, but if an opportunity had offered, to have joined an insurrection in aid of him: yet nothing like this is allowed. When Cyrus actually took this great city, it does not appear that the Jews did any thing to assist him. Their duty was to seek the welfare of the city, and to pray to the Lord for it, leaving it to the great Disposer of all events to deliver them in his own time; and this not merely as being right, but wise: “In their peace ye shall have peace.”
Now if such was the duty of men in their circumstances, can there be any doubt with respect to ours? Ought we not to seek the good of our native land; the land of our fathers’ sepulchres: a land where we are protected by mild and wholesome laws, administered under a paternal prince; a land where civil and religious freedom are enjoyed in a higher degree than in any other country in Europe; a land where God has been known for many centuries as a refuge; a land, in fine, where there are greater opportunities for propagating the gospel, both at home and abroad, than in any other nation under heaven? Need I add to this, that the invader was to them a deliverer; but to us, beyond all doubt, would be a destroyer?
Our object, this evening, will be, partly to inquire into the duty of religious people towards their country, and partly to consider the motive by which it is enforced.
I. Inquire into the duty of religious people towards their country. Though, as Christians, we are not of the world, and ought not to be conformed to it; yet, being in it, we are under various obligations to those about us. As husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, servants, &c., we cannot be insensible that others have a claim upon us, as well as we upon them; and it is the same as members of a community united under one civil government. If we were rulers, our country would have a serious claim upon us as rulers; and, as we are subjects, it has a serious claim upon us as subjects. The manner in which we discharge these relative duties contributes not a little to the formation of our character, both in the sight of God and man.
The directions given to the Jewish captives were comprised in two things; “seeking the peace of the city,” and “praying to the Lord for it.” These directions are very comprehensive; and apply to us, as we have seen, much more forcibly than they did to the people to whom they were immediately addressed. Let us inquire, more particularly, what is included in them.
Seek the peace of the city. The term here rendered peace (שלם) signifies not merely an exemption from wars and insurrections, but prosperity in general. It amounts, therefore, to saying, Seek the good or welfare of the city. Such, brethren, is the conduct required of us, as men and as Christians. We ought to be patriots, or lovers of our country.
To prevent mistakes, however, it is proper to observe that the patriotism required of us is not that love of our country which clashes with universal benevolence, or which seeks its prosperity at the expense of the general happiness of mankind. Such was the patriotism of Greece and Rome; and such is that of all others where Christian principle is not allowed to direct it. Such, I am ashamed to say, is that with which some have advocated the cause of negro slavery. It is necessary, forsooth, to the wealth of this country! No; if my country cannot prosper but at the expense of justice, humanity, and the happiness of mankind, let it be unprosperous! But this is not the case. Righteousness will be found to exalt a nation, and so to be true wisdom. The prosperity which we are directed to seek in behalf of our country involves no ill to any one, except to those who shall attempt its overthrow. Let those who fear not God, nor regard man, engage in schemes of aggrandizement, and let sordid parasites pray for their success. Our concern is to cultivate that patriotism which harmonizes with good-will to men. O my country, I will lament thy faults! Yet, with all thy faults, I will seek thy good; not only as a Briton, but as a Christian: “for my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will say, Peace be within thee: because of the house of the Lord my God, I will seek thy good!”
If we seek the good of our country, we shall certainly do nothing, and join in nothing, that tends to disturb its peace, or hinder its welfare. Whoever engages in plots and conspiracies to overturn its constitution, we shall not. Whoever deals in inflammatory speeches, or in any manner sows the seeds of discontent and disaffection, we shall not. Whoever labours to depreciate its governors, supreme or subordinate, in a manner tending to bring government itself into contempt, we shall not. Even in cases wherein we may be compelled to disapprove of measures, we shall either be silent, or express our disapprobation with respect and with regret. A dutiful son may see a fault in a father; but he will not take pleasure in exposing him. He that can employ his wit in degrading magistrates is not their friend, but their enemy; and he that is an enemy to magistrates is not far from being an enemy to magistracy, and, of course, to his country. A good man may be aggrieved; and, being so, may complain. Paul did so at Philippi. But the character of a complainer belongs only to those who walk after their own lusts.
If we seek the good of our country, we shall do every thing in our power to promote its welfare. We shall not think it sufficient that we do it no harm, or that we stand still as neutrals, in its difficulties. If, indeed, our spirits be tainted with disaffection, we shall be apt to think we do great things by standing aloof from conspiracies, and refraining from inflammatory speeches; but this is no more than may be accomplished by the greatest traitor in the land, merely as a matter of prudence. It becomes Christians to bear positive good-will to their country, and to its government, considered as government, irrespective of the political party which may have the ascendency. We may have our preferences, and that without blame; but they ought never to prevent a cheerful obedience to the laws, a respectful demeanour towards those who frame and those who execute them, or a ready co-operation in every measure which the being or well-being of the nation may require. The civil power, whatever political party is uppermost, while it maintains the great ends of government, ought, at all times, to be able to reckon upon religious people as its cordial friends; and if such we be, we shall be willing, in times of difficulty, to sacrifice private interest to public good; shall contribute of our substance without murmuring; and, in cases of imminent danger, shall be willing to expose even our lives in its defence.
As the last of these particulars is a subject which deeply interests us at the present juncture, I shall be excused if I endeavour to establish the grounds on which I conceive its obligation to rest.
We know that the father of the faithful, who was only a sojourner in the land of Canaan, when his kinsman Lot with his family were taken captives by a body of plunderers, armed his trained servants, pursued the victors, and bravely recovered the spoil. It was on this occasion that Melchizedek blessed him, saying, “Blessed be Abraham of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be the most high God, who hath delivered thine enemies into thine hand!”
Perhaps it will be said, This was antecedent to the times of the New Testament; Jesus taught his disciples not to resist evil; and when Peter drew his sword, he ordered him to put it up again; saying, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
You know, my brethren, I have always deprecated war, as one of the greatest calamities; but it does not follow, hence, that I must consider it in all cases unlawful.
Christianity, I allow, is a religion of peace; and whenever it universally prevails, in the spirit and power of it, wars will be unknown. But so will every other species of injustice; yet, while the world is as it is, some kind of resistance to injustice is necessary, though it may at some future time become unnecessary. If our Saviour’s command that we resist not evil be taken literally and universally, it must have been wrong for Paul to have remonstrated against the magistrates at Philippi; and he himself would not have reproved the person who smote him at the judgment-seat.
I allow that the sword is the last weapon to which we should have recourse. As individuals, it may be lawful, by this instrument, to defend ourselves or our families against the attacks of an assassin; but, perhaps, this is the only case in which it is so; and even there, if it were possible to disarm and confine the party, it were much rather to be chosen than in that manner to take away his life. Christianity does not allow us, in any case, to retaliate from a principle of revenge. In ordinary injuries it teaches patience and forbearance. If an adversary “smite us on one cheek,” we had better “turn to him the other also,” than go about to avenge our own wrongs. The laws of honour, as acted upon in high life, are certainly in direct opposition to the laws of Christ; and various retaliating maxims, ordinarily practised among men, will no doubt be found among the works of the flesh.
And if, as nations, we were to act on Christian principles, we should never engage in war but for our own defence; nor for that, till every method of avoiding it had been tried in vain.
Once more, It is allowed that Christians, as such, are not permitted to have recourse to the sword, for the purpose of defending themselves against persecution for the gospel’s sake. No weapon is admissible in this warfare but truth, whatever be the consequence. We may remonstrate, as Paul did at Philippi, and our Lord himself, when unjustly smitten; but it appears to me that this is all. When Peter drew his sword, it was with a desire to rescue his Master from the persecuting hands of his enemies, in the same spirit as when he opposed his going up to Jerusalem; in both which instances he was in the wrong: and the saying of our Saviour, that “all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” has commonly been verified, in this sense of it.
I believe it will be found, that when Christians have resorted to the sword in order to resist persecution for the gospel’s sake, as did the Albigenses, the Bohemians, the French protestants, and some others, within the last six hundred years, the issue has commonly been, that they have perished by it; that is, they have been overcome by their enemies, and exterminated: whereas, in cases where their only weapons have been “the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony, loving not their lives unto death,” they have overcome. Like Israel in Egypt, the more they have been afflicted, the more they have increased.
But none of these things prove it unlawful to take up arms as members of civil society, when called upon to do so for the defence of our country. The ground on which our Saviour refused to let his servants fight for him, that he should not be delivered into the hands of the Jews, was, that his was a kingdom “not of this world;” plainly intimating that if his kingdom had been of this world, a contrary line of conduct had been proper. Now this is what every other kingdom is: it is right, therefore, according to our Lord’s reasoning, that the subjects of all civil states should, as such, when required, fight in defence of them.
Has not Christianity, I ask, in the most decided manner recognized civil government, by requiring Christians to be subject to it? Has it not expressly authorized the legal use of the sword? Christians are warned that the magistrate “beareth not the sword in vain;” and that he is “the minister of God, a revenger, to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” But if it be right for the magistrate to bear the sword, and to use it upon evil-doers within the realm, it cannot be wrong to use it in repelling invaders from without; and if it be right on the part of the magistrate, it is right that the subject should assist him in it; for otherwise, his power would be merely nominal, and he would indeed “bear the sword in vain.”
We have not been used, in things of a civil and moral nature, to consider one law as made for the religious part of a nation, and another for the irreligious. Whatever is the duty of one, allowing for different talents and situations in life, is the duty of all. If, therefore, it be not binding upon the former to unite in every necessary measure for the support of civil government, neither is it upon the latter; and if it be binding upon neither, it must follow that civil government itself ought not to be supported, and that the whole world should be left to become a prey to anarchy or despotism.
Further, If the use of arms were, of itself, and in all cases, inconsistent with Christianity, it were a sin to be a soldier:but nothing like this is held out to us in the New Testament. On the contrary, we there read of two believing centurions;and neither of them was reproved on account of his office, or required to relinquish it. We also read of publicans and soldiers who came to John to be baptized, each asking, “What shall we do?” The answer to both proceeds on the same principle: they are warned against the abuses of their respective employments; but the employments themselves are tacitly allowed to be lawful. To the one he said, “Exact no more than that which is appointed you:” to the other, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages.” If either of these occupations had been in itself sinful, or inconsistent with that kingdom which it was John’s grand object to announce, and into the faith of which his disciples were baptized, he ought, on this occasion, to have said so, or, at least, not to have said that which implies the contrary.
If it be objected that the sinfulness of war would not lie so much at the door of the centurions and soldiers as of the government by whose authority it was proclaimed and executed, I allow there is considerable force in this; but yet, if the thing itself were necessarily, and in all cases, sinful, every party voluntarily concerned in it must have been a partaker of the guilt, though it were in different degrees.
But granting, it may be said, that war is not, in itself, necessarily sinful; yet it becomes so by the injustice with which it is commonly undertaken and conducted. It is no part of my design to become the apologist of injustice, on whatever scale it might be practised. But if wars be allowed to be generally undertaken and conducted without a regard to justice, it does not follow that they are always so; and still less that war itself is sinful. In ascertaining the justice or injustice of war, we have nothing to do with the motives of those who engage in it. The question is, Whether it be in itself unjust? If it appeared so to me, I should think it my duty to stand aloof from it as far as possible.
There is one thing, however, that requires to be noticed. Before we condemn any measure as unjust, we ought to be in possession of the means of forming a just judgment concerning it.
If a difference arise only between two families, or two individuals, though every person in the neighbourhood may be talking and giving his opinion upon it; yet it is easy to perceive that no one of them is competent to pronounce upon the justice or injustice of either side, till he has acquainted himself with all the circumstances of the case, by patiently hearing it on both sides. How much less, then, are we able to judge of the differences of nations, which are generally not a little complex, both in their origin and bearings; and of which we know but little, but through the channel of newspapers and vague reports! It is disgusting to hear people, whom no one would think of employing to decide upon a common difference between two neighbours, take upon them to pronounce, with the utmost freedom, upon the justice or injustice of national differences. Where those who are constitutionally appointed to judge in such matters have decided in favour of war, however painful it may be to my feelings, as a friend of mankind, I consider it my duty to submit, and to think well of their decision, till, by a careful and impartial examination of the grounds of the contest, I am compelled to think otherwise.
After all, there may be cases in which injustice may wear so prominent a feature, that every thinking and impartial mind shall be capable of perceiving it; and where it does so, the public sense of it will and ought to be expressed. In the present instance, however, there seems to be no ground of hesitation. In arming to resist a threatened invasion, we merely act on the defensive; and not to resist an enemy, whose ambition, under the pretence of liberating mankind, has carried desolation wherever he has gone, were to prove ourselves unworthy of the blessings we enjoy. Without taking upon me to decide on the original grounds of the difference, the question at issue with us is, Is it right that any one nation should seek absolutely to ruin another, and that other not be warranted, and even obliged, to resist it? That such is the object of the enemy, at this time, cannot be reasonably doubted. If my country were engaged in an attempt to ruin France, as a nation, it would be a wicked undertaking; and if I were fully convinced of it, I should both hope and pray that they might be disappointed. Surely, then, I may be equally interested in behalf of my native land!
But there is another duty which we owe to our country; which is, That we pray to the Lord for it. It is supposed that religious people are a praying people. The godly Israelites, when carried into Babylon, were banished from temple-worship; but they still had access to their God. The devotional practice of Daniel was well known among the great men of that city, and proved the occasion of a conspiracy against his life. King Darius knew so much of the character of the Jews as to request an interest in their prayers, in behalf of himself and his sons. My brethren, your country claims an interest in yours; and I trust that, if no such claim were preferred, you would, of your own accord, remember it.
You are aware that all our dependence, as a nation, is upon God; and, therefore, should importune his assistance. After all the struggles for power, you know that in his sight all the inhabitants of the world are reputed as nothing: he doth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? Indeed this has been acknowledged, and at times sensibly felt, by irreligious characters; but in general the great body of a nation, it is to be feared, think but little about it. Their dependence is upon an arm of flesh. It may be said, without uncharitableness, of many of our commanders, both by sea and land, as was said of Cyrus, God hath girded them, though they have not known him. But by how much you perceive a want of prayer and dependence on God in your countrymen, by so much more should you be concerned, as much as in you lies, to supply the defect. “The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
You are also aware, in some measure, of the load of guilt that lies upon your country; and should therefore supplicate mercy on its behalf. I acknowledge myself to have much greater fear from this quarter than from the boasting menaces of a vain man. If our iniquities provoke not the Lord to deliver us into his hand, his schemes and devices will come to nothing. When I think, among other things, of the detestable traffic before alluded to, in which we have taken so conspicuous a part, and have shed so much innocent blood, I tremble! When we have fasted and prayed, I have seemed to hear the voice of God, saying unto us, “Loose the bands of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke!” Yet, peradventure, for his own name’s sake, or from a regard to his own cause, which is here singularly protected, the Lord may hearken to our prayers, and save us from deserved ruin. We know that Sodom itself would have been spared if ten righteous men could have been found in her. I proceed to consider,
II. The motive by which these duties are enforced: “In the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”
The Lord hath so wisely and mercifully interwoven the interests of mankind as to furnish motives to innumerable acts of justice and kindness. We cannot injure others, nor even refrain from doing them good, without injuring ourselves.
The interests of individuals and families are closely connected with those of a country. If the latter prosper, generally speaking, so do the former; and if the one be ruined, so must the other. It is impossible to describe, or to conceive beforehand, with any degree of accuracy, the miseries which the success of a foreign enemy, such as we have to deal with, must occasion to private families. To say nothing of the loss of property among the higher and middle classes of people, (which must be severely felt, as plunder will, undoubtedly, be the grand stimulus of an invading army,) who can calculate the loss of lives? Who can contemplate, without horror, the indecent excesses of a victorious, unprincipled, and brutal soldiery? Let not the poorest man say, I have nothing to lose. Yes, if men of opulence lose their property, you will lose your employment. You have also a cottage, and perhaps a wife and family, with whom, amidst all your hardships, you live in love; and would it be nothing to you to see your wife and daughters abused, and you yourself unable to protect them, or even to remonstrate, but at the hazard of being thrust through with the bayonet? If no other considerations will induce us to protect our country, and pray to the Lord for it, our own individual and domestic comfort might suffice.
To this may be added, our interests as Christians, no less than as men and as families, are interwoven with the well-being of our country. If Christians, while they are in the world, are, as has been already noticed, under various relative obligations, it is not without their receiving, in return, various relative advantages. What those advantages are we should know to our grief, were we once to lose them. So long have we enjoyed religious liberty in this country, that I fear we are become too insensible of its value. At present we worship God without interruption. What we might be permitted to do under a government which manifestly hates Christianity, and tolerates it even at home only as a matter of policy, we know not. This, however, is well known, that a large proportion of those unprincipled men, in our own country, who have been labouring to overturn its constitution, have a deep-rooted enmity to the religion of Jesus. May the Lord preserve us, and every part of the united kingdom, from their machinations!
Some among us, to whatever extremities we may be reduced, will be incapable of bearing arms; but they may assist by their property, and in various other ways: even the hands of the aged poor, like those of Moses, may be lifted up in prayer; while their countrymen, and it may be their own children, are occupying the post of danger. I know it is the intention of several whom I now address freely to offer their services at this important period. Should you, dear young people, be called forth in the arduous contest, you will expect an interest in our prayers. Yes, and you will have it. Every one of us, every parent, wife, or Christian friend, if they can pray for any thing, will importune the Lord of hosts to cover your heads in the day of battle!
Finally, It affords satisfaction to my mind to be persuaded that you will avail yourselves of the liberty granted to you of declining to learn your exercise on the Lord’s day. Were you called to resist the landing of the enemy on that day, or any other work of necessity, you would not object to it; but, in other cases, I trust, you will. “Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”[1]

[1] Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc., ed. Joseph Belcher, vol. 1 (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 202–209.

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Ruminations on Revelation: Apostolic Accomplishment

Paul’s knowledge of the gospel was a gift of immediate special revelation. He made specific claims to this throughout his ministry and by implication virtually everywhere. In Galatians 1 Paul defended his apostleship by showing that his knowledge of the gospel came, not from any secondary source, but from revelation  (Galatians 1:1, 8, 9, 12, 16). This claim is reiterated in 1 Corinthians 2 where Paul wrote, “These things God revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:10) and “We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit interpreting spiritual truths in spiritual words” (13). Paul reminded the Ephesians, “The mystery was made known to me by revelation,” following it with words such as “my insight into the mystery of Christ . . .as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:3-5).
Other phrases imply the absolute revelatory authority of the message given to the apostles and their immediate circle of New Covenant prophets. These phrases appear as elements of arguments or admonitions that assume Paul’s absolute truthfulness as a recipient of divine revelation: “the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of  God” (Acts 20:25); “Now to him who is able to strengthen you, according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations” (Romans 16:25, 26); “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:35); “Our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:5, 6); “We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word” (2 Corinthians 4:2); “that words may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19); “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now , . ,. “ (Philippians 2:12); “not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul became a minister” Colossians 1:23); “and when this letter has been  read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans, and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16); “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2: 13); “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him” (2 Thessalonians 3:14); “the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (1 Timothy 1:11); “I charge you in the presence of God, . . . to keep the commandments unstained, . . . guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:13, 20); “the gospel for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher; . . . he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of sound words you have heard from me” (2 Timothy 1:11-13); “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith; . . . continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings [Holy Scriptures]” (2 Timothy 3:10, 15); “at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:3). Many others could be added to these, but the assumption is plain and simple that Paul ministered and taught under the persuasion that he was the recipient of divine revelation—the content of which distinguished between truth and falsehood, trustworthiness and deceit, certainty and speculation, life and death, heaven and hell.
Paul’s engagement with the entire process of revelation necessarily involved a principle of continuity with the past. While being a steward of the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 4:1, 2), he was bound to show how the present expansion of both revelation and the redemptive plan had perfect continuity with the past. In his first engagement after his conversion, he went to the synagogue to prove that Jesus “is the Son of God,” by “proving that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 9:20, 22). Acts 13:16-41 gives a summary of a sermon in which Paul did exactly that. As Paul met with the Jews in Rome, Acts 28:23 says, “From morning to evening, he expounded to them testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.”  The nature of Paul’s arguments from the previous revelation to its mature meaning in the apostolic revelation shows the seamless continuity of truth and purpose and the centrality of a Christological grasp of the Old Testament as an intention of the Holy Spirit. Examples of this could be found in each of his epistles, but particularly in Galatians and Romans Paul’s strong claims to having received his message by immediate revelation shows that the revelatory process is not independent of other factors as they developed in the progress of revelation. The necessity of the careful use of human thought, knowledge of the details of previous revelation, knowledge of the historical manifestation of Christ’s person, words, actions, and works, and deduction from the consistency of the Jesus phenomenon as exclusively expressive of the expectations of previous revelation all constitute the Spirit’s work in bringing revelation to its culminating purpose.
There is such a continuity between the life and thought of the apostle and the content of the revelation that even personal references that make their way into the text serve their discreet purpose in confirming the truth. “I do not know whether I baptized anyone else,” is a deeply personal operation of Paul’s mind, but also serves in sealing the point that he is making about avoiding division in the church. “When you come, bring the cloak that I left that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). Slices of life that show the personal relations of the apostle, his physical needs, and his desire for continued study and writing give the life context within which apostolic revelation arises and the kind of personal awareness that interpenetrate that process of the Spirit.
This should make us contemplate the relation between revelation and inspiration. All Scripture is inspired. This includes the received canon of the Old Testament and the writings of the apostolic community responsible for preaching and writing the revealed mysteries of the New Testament (2 Timothy 3:14-17). So, whether the words are matters of absolutely unknowable propositions apart from their being revealed or whether the words concern events and personal experiences already known through observation or deduction, their presence in the biblical account comes from the divine determination of inclusion for a specific purpose of edifying, instructive, contextual connections within the larger corpus of revealed truth.
A passage of pure revelation, therefore, is preeminently a revealed truth to the mind and thought of the preacher/writer but it also is inspired in the verbal communication to other persons and subsequent generations: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:15, 16). That is simple, unalloyed revelatory truth and the language in which the revelation is given is inspired language. In this way, revelation and inspiration coalesce so that the inspired text itself consists of revealed truth.
In the same way, a text like this can be considered as revealed truth because of the peculiar purpose that God had in inspiring it to be included in the written text: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9).  Paul gives a historical report of his having heard of their conversion through the ministry of Epaphras and his consequent ceaseless prayers for them. The content of his prayer explored an important aspect of revealed truth concerning how one discerns God’s will. Not every aspect of that statement is revealed truth for Paul is reporting something that emerged in the context of his own knowledge and experience. The report, nevertheless, is a part of the inspired text and, therefore, bears the mark of God’s intention that the church in all generations would know this Pauline comment and be edified by it. Its inspiration, therefore, embraces the comment into the sphere of revelation.
Jesus spoke many words, gave many teachings to his apostles which were not recorded (John 21:25). Without contradiction such words from Jesus would be of canonical quality and would be unvarnished revelation. These words were not “written,” however, and so never became inspired Scripture. John saw a revelation from a mighty angel and seven thunders. He reported, “I was about the write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down’” (Revelation 10:4). He received a revelation but was not directed to write it down, so the revelation never became part of inspired Scripture. Inspiration, therefore, since it is the means by which revelation is preserved and accurately transmitted, may be seen as of revelatory in quality.
To receive all of Scripture, therefore, as the written revelation of God accurately and faithfully conforms to the Bible’s witness to itself. For the knowledge of the triune God and his gospel, for the health of the soul, for pure worship and devotion, for Christ-centered maturity, and for works that conform to divine regulation, the Bible is the lamp unto our feet and the light to our path.
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Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude

The Heidelberg Catechism is a great aid in encouraging Christians to live in humble gratitude to God for all the grace He has given us in Christ. It was published in 1563 in the region of what today is the nation of Germany. Its primary authors were Zacharius Ursinus and Casper Olevianus who produced a “summary course of instruction” at the urging of the civil ruler of the region, Frederick III. It is my favorite catechism because it is so warm and personal, and it focuses clearly on the grace of God in Jesus Christ. That’s why I edited a version for Baptists that we use in our Truth and Grace Memory Book 3 published by Founders Press.
The first question and answer from this catechism is rightfully well-known as a summary of every Christian’s hope for this life and the life to come. The second question and answer is less popular, but it sets out a summary of what we must know in order to live in the comfort of the gospel. That summary also provides the outline for the rest of the catechism. It reads as follows:

What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
Three things: first, how great my sin and misery are; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.

Guilt. Grace. Gratitude. To live and die in the joy and comfort that are found in Jesus Christ you must have a deep experience of your own guilt and of God’s grace. And when you do, you will live in deep gratitude to God for delivering you from your sin. The reason we so often live with ungrateful hearts is because we so quickly lose sight of the wickedness of our sin and therefore of the greatness of God’s grace in rescuing us from it.
The story of the ten lepers whom Jesus healed illustrates this point both positively and negatively. In Luke 17:13 we read that they loudly pled with Jesus, even as they kept their distance from him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” They were miserable. Leprosy was a curse in that there was no known cure and those who were afflicted with it were not allowed to live in community with those who were not lepers. In fact, under Old Testament law a leper was required to “wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean’” (Leviticus 13:45).
It is because they knew their situation was desperate that they called on Jesus to heal them.
The reason we so often live with ungrateful hearts is because we so quickly lose sight of the wickedness of our sin and therefore of the greatness of God’s grace in rescuing us from it.
Leprosy is a graphic illustration of the far more serious condition of sin which afflicts all of us. Sin ruins us. It separates us from God and we cannot deliver ourselves from it. To be saved from sin we need the power of divine grace in Jesus Christ. By life, death, and resurrection He alone can “break the power of canceled sin” and His blood can “make the foulest clean.”
As those lepers heeded Jesus’ voice they were cleansed of their putrid disease. “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:15-16). The grace that he had been given resulted in gratitude he could not keep from expressing.
The rhetorical questions that Jesus asked in response are an indictment on thanklessness. “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (17, 18).
When we offer thanksgiving to God—when we express it—we give Him praise. It honors Him. Our expressed gratitude to God puts on display to all who observe us that He is worthy of praise.
Of course, every Christian knows that God is indeed praiseworthy. To be a Christian is to be the object of saving power and grace. We have been loved by God when we were still His enemies. We have been rescued from His rightly deserved wrath. We have been forgiven of sin and granted new life when we were dead in trespasses and sin. We were justified by God when were ungodly.
Our expressed gratitude to God puts on display to all who observe us that He is worthy of praise.
How, then, can a Christian live an unthankful life? When a believer falls into ingratitude, he reveals the poor state of his soul at that moment. A complaining, thankless disposition is a sin that must be ruthlessly put to death because it so greatly detracts from the glory of our gracious, praiseworthy God.
So, Christian brothers and sisters, think often of the guilt that your sin justly incurred before your righteous God. Think more often on the great grace in Jesus Christ that He has lavished on you in salvation. Then resolve to live a life of perpetual gratitude as you acknowledge the blessings that are yours in Christ.
That first question of the Heidelberg Catechism is a wonderful reminder of these blessings and the comfort that belongs to all who belong to Christ.

What is your only comfort in life and in death? NB: that’s an important question!
That I am not my own, but belong–body and soul, in life and in death–to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to Him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

That is real comfort. Real encouragement—and it comes from knowing Jesus Christ savingly. And when we rightly understand and remember it, it will lead to living a life of real thanksgiving to God.

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Lessons from the Fall

The Gospels depict the arrest and trial of Jesus in a way that shows us not only the insensibility of His accusers, but also His own steadfast faithfulness to the will of God through suffering and humiliation. Our Lord’s example shows us how to continue entrusting ourselves to Him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23; 4:19).
Jesus, however, was not the only one who was on trial on this momentous occasion. The gospel writers highlight the events surrounding His abuse and trumped up charges, but they also record another trial that took place that night. This second trial was not center stage; rather, it took place in the shadow, not before the immediate presence of Caiphas the high priest, but in the outer courtyard of his residence.
This other trial does not give us any examples to follow, but it is filled with lessons about sin and grace. At the very time that Jesus was humbly enduring abuse and scorn by trusting His Father, Peter was failing miserably as his own faith was being tried.
The facts of Peter’s fall are well known to those who are familiar with the New Testament. All four Gospels tell the story in detailed ways.
Matthew reports that as Jesus was being taken to the high priest, “Peter was following him at a distance” (26:58). As He was being interrogated and abused inside, Peter “was sitting outside in the courtyard” (v. 69) when his own trial began to unfold.
Peter’s experience teaches us that Jesus Christ is a great Savior of great failures.
It started with a comment directed to him by a servant girl: “You also were with Jesus the Galilean,” which he resolutely denied (vv. 69–70). As he headed for the door another servant girl made the same observation, and then some bystanders cast doubt over his denials when they commented that his accent gave him away.
Peter’s anger rises with his fear, and the third time he is confronted about knowing Jesus he punctuates his disavowal of “the man” with curses (v. 74). He failed miserably, just as Jesus had warned him that he would.
The account of Peter’s denials is far more than a story of failure, however. It is also a story of great mercy and love. Peter’s experience teaches us that Jesus Christ is a great Savior of great failures.
To understand this we need to consider the story behind the story. When Jesus warned Peter about his impending failure, He explained what was happening behind the scenes: “Satan,” He said, “demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31–32).
The high priest’s courtyard was a battlefield. The enemy had his sights on Peter, or more specifically, on Peter’s faith. Through the faithful intercession of Christ, Peter’s faith, though it was severely wounded, was not destroyed. The flame burned low, but was not extinguished — not because of Peter but because of Jesus.
The renewal of Peter’s faith begins immediately with the crowing of the rooster. When he heard it, he remembered Jesus’ words and he “went out and wept bitterly” (Matt. 26:75).
Repentance and faith are twin graces. Though they are distinct, they are inseparable. We see them operate in Peter’s life after his fall. Because his faith, though weakened, was kept alive, he was able to believe the word of Christ and in remembering that word, to experience deep sorrow for his sin and genuine repentance of it.
The record of the restoration of Peter by the risen Lord (John 21:15–19), as well as the testimony of his faithfulness throughout the rest of his life, demonstrates the fruit of his repentance.
This is a story of weakness and warning. Every follower of Jesus ought to take it to heart. None of us is as strong as he thinks he is, and no one — absolutely no one — is immune to being tempted to fall into great sin. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Repentance and faith are twin graces. Though they are distinct, they are inseparable.
But this is also a story of grace and forgiveness. What happened to Peter highlights the mercy of our Lord. Jesus Christ is a real Savior of real sinners. Learning this lesson — and remembering it — will free us from the pressure to downplay our sin.
There is no attempt to whitewash Peter’s fall. In fact, there was no chronicler there to record these events. Peter himself is the source of our information. He could tell his story in all of its shame and sorrow because he had experienced the mercy and forgiveness of his Lord. He had no need to pretend to be anything other than he was — a great sinner who had been forgiven by a great Savior.
Peter’s story is recorded in the Bible to give hope to people who have done horrible and foolish things. Anyone who has ever failed greatly, who has fallen away from that which he knows to be right and good, can read this account of Peter’s fall and be encouraged.
The Lord will not allow the work that He begins in His people to be overthrown even by the most severe attacks of our enemy. And when His children fall, He is willing and able to restore them as they turn from their sin and trust Him for forgiveness.

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Ruminations on Revelation: Revelation Restarted

Four hundred years after the final word of revelation under the old covenant, the silence was broken when the Angel Gabriel spoke to Zacharias about the birth of his son, John (Luke 1.11-19). Gabriel put the birth of John in the context of Malachi 4: 5, 6 giving clear indication that the promises and prophecies of the old covenant were about to be fulfilled so that God would not “strike the earth with a curse.” This renewed revelation came to Mary, Joseph, and Elizabeth also. They were confronted with the initiation of coming events that would bring to completion God’s purpose of redemption. God would penetrate these events before, during, and after with revelation to explain their meaning, that “we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12).
Within this flurry of renewed revelation, we find Simeon, a man “just and devout” as a channel of revelation (Luke 2:25). Simeon sought to live with equity according to the laws governing human relations in the law of Moses, wanting his worship to be sincere, fully consistent with a contrite heart. He grasped the spirituality of both tables of the law and lived transparently before God and man. He received the promises of God and held them with a heart of devotion. “The Holy Spirit was upon him” indicates that Simeon had revelatory experiences that had been confirmed to him in some undeniable way. He had been given such specific revelation that he knew that he would see the Lord’s anointed one, the very Christ. From the speech that he gives (Luke 2:28-35), the revelation to Simeon had been of a broad scope. This revelatory activity of the Holy Spirit was the first indication that the final prophecy of the Old Covenant was about to be fulfilled. The silence of God was broken and he was about to speak to us through the Son (Hebrews 1:1).
Apparently, Simeon understood clearly that the Holy Spirit prompted him to go to the temple with the expectation that the promise made to him personally was about to be fulfilled. Immediately upon seeing Joseph and Mary bring Jesus into the temple, he took the child from their arms and magnified the greatness of God. He spoke by the Spirit giving notice of how this child would affect the world.
Closest to home, as a personal note he said the striking words, “Now, Lord, you are releasing your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to your word.” Since this promise of seeing the Lord’s Christ had been fulfilled, Simeon could die in peace. He had no question of the certainty of this but believed the direct revelation that this babe was the child of promise. Condensing all the promises of deliverance for the people of God into the person and future work of the babe he now held and gazed upon, Simeon said, “Mine eyes have seen your salvation.” In this child, “Righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10).
Simeon saw this salvation as prepared in the presence of all peoples. He had learned from Scripture that when the great work of restoration takes place, it is not a restoration of national glory to Israel but a restoration of sinners to God. All peoples are fallen in Adam; but through the glory of Israel, that is, the line of David (Psalm 89:19-29), people from all nations will experience this deliverance from evil. Nevertheless, thechile also constituted “The glory of your people Israel.” It is for this very reason that Israel existed as the people of God, that the Savior would come through their nation. The true glory of Israel was this: “from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”
To Simeon was revealed that surrounding this child all would see the “rise and fall of many in Israel.” John later testified, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came to his own and his own received him not, but to as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, to those who believe in his name” (John 1:10-12).
The child also was “For a sign to be opposed.” The slaughter of the infants, the opposition of his home town to his preaching, and the cry of the crowds, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15) substantiated this oracle.
Simeon spoke a word of revelation to Mary. The mother of this new born heard Simeon’s prophecy, “A sword will pierce even your own soul.” She would stand beneath the cross as this firstborn child suffered the unthinkable cruelty of a Roman cross. She would mourn for him as he cared tenderly for her (John 19:25-27).
Not her thoughts alone, however, would be revealed, but the true character of the religious leaders of Israel would be laid bare by this Messiah. He caused great controversy by his words and his works so that when he was opposed for his purity and his truth, the hearts of many were revealed. Jesus revealed the unbelief of the religious leaders among Israel: “You know neither me nor my Father. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. . . .If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and came from God” (John 8:19, 42-44). Also to the apostles Jesus granted the Spirit for this discernment of heart on certain occasions: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3); To Simon Magus Peter spoke, “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:21); “Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him [Elymas] and said, ‘O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?’” (Acts 13:9, 10). Jesus confirmed this in his own warnings to his disciples when he said, “There is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known” (Luke 12:2).
Those gifts of revelation were given specifically for the messianic period and the initial establishing of the church, the community of the new covenant, the pillar and foundation of the truth, during the time that the writing of Scripture was taking place. There was an overlap in special ministries of the Spirit and written instruction from the apostles (1 Timothy 3:14, 15; 1 John 2:20-22; 26-27). This period of special revelation has been fulfilled and now we rely on Scripture alone under the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21).
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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Vaccine mandates are real. As a Pastor, I’ve had too many conversations with faithful church members facing perhaps the biggest decisions of their lifetime.  God promises to give wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5).  I’ve been asking.  I’ve been encouraging those faithful church members to ask as well.  I’ve also been going to the Scriptures, a faithful storeroom of God’s wisdom for answers to help the brethren God has called me to serve.
Of course, I have also been speaking to faithful Pastors I trust and reading up on the latest offerings from faithful Pastors I trust, but do not know personally.  That pursuit has opened my eyes to a troubling reality.  In short, politicians pushing the mandates have been appealing to the Christian virtue of love to convince hesitant Christians to get vaccinated and shockingly, many of the so-called leading evangelicals of our day have been carrying their eisegetical water.
It recalls perhaps the most famous question of the mid—80’s: What’s love got to do with it?  The average Baptist church could wallpaper the fellowship hall with the sheer volume of articles written in defense of the mandates reminding Christians they must love others as Jesus taught, and therefore take the jab.  It seems a curious use of the term.  You see, while the Bible does command us to “love thy neighbor”, that command cuts both ways.  Simply stated, I can’t say I love my neighbor while forcing him to sin and truly love him at the same time.  What most people invoking love mean in this discussion is really the opposite of biblical love.
Let me explain.  Consider 1 Corinthians chapter eight.  Paul introduces a solution to a similar problem in Corinth.  The church in Corinth was divided and unloving, with members filled with pride and in conflict with each other. There were two groups of people in this church.  Those who knew food sacrificed to idols could be eaten freely because there is only one true God, and those who knew there was only one true God, but still believed it to be sinful to eat those foods given their prominent place in pagan worship.  One group was pro-food, and one group was anti-food.  One group had a weak conscience, and one group had a strong conscience.  The chapter is about the way Paul responded to the weaker conscience of those who believed it to be sinful to eat food sacrificed to idols.  This is where we should be going to learn how to love one another in the face of sharp, personal, and meaningful disagreements like we face today.
True love never asks someone to sin against their conscience.
I’ve read most of the available meat in Corinth had been cleansed of supposed evil spirits through some form of ritual dedication to a false god of some kind.  This meat was consumed in pagan temples and at times sold on the streets.  Dedicated meats were as immediate of an obstacle as any mandate and the church was divided on how to deal with it.
The situation is complicated by the sinful pride and the lack of compassion demonstrated by those who had no beef with eating dedicated meats.  They looked down on those who were abstaining, mockingly, as if they were inferior, weaker, and even foolish.  Sound familiar?  Interestingly, Paul rebukes them for their lack of love.  They were pressuring those Paul describes as having a weaker conscience to go against that inner God given guide and eat the dedicated meats.  He writes, “However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled” (1 Corinthians 8:7). To the weaker brethren, eating these meats was tantamount to full blown idolatry, which having been delivered from through the gospel, wasn’t something they were interested in revisiting.
It’s a simple formula really. Though those Paul describes by default as having a stronger conscience could not understand it, and even disagreed with it, the brethren with the weaker conscience would literally be sinning against God if they ate the dedicated meats.  This is where I believe we have the most to learn.  A believer’s conscience represents his or her understanding of God’s will and Word, and what he or she believes to be right or wrong based upon their understanding of God’s Word.  To go against the conscience then, is to willingly do what you believe to be sinful.  Therefore, to go against one’s conscience is to sin against God (Romans 14:14, 23).
This principle led Paul to warn the meat eaters against embracing their liberty or pressuring the weaker brethren in a way that would lead them to sin against their conscience and eat the meats.  He writes, “But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.  For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died. But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:9-12). It turns out those with the stronger conscience are not free to sin against those with the weaker conscience.  This is because we are all connected, one body, with Christ as the head.  We are all accountable to one another.  We have a responsibility to one another.  Love comes before our knowledge and our freedom in this way.
Paul ends the chapter with an incredible display of love.  In fact, I would say this is the definitive verse in understanding how to truly apply the love of Christ to the current situation which divides so many God loving Christians.  He writes, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (v. 13). Paul doesn’t instruct those with stronger consciences to lecture those with weaker consciences on the theological truths behind this issue.  Paul doesn’t question their conscience or what has informed it either.  He accepts it, believing the best about their motives and intentions, and responds accordingly. The principle is clear. True love never asks someone to sin against their conscience. That’s it. That’s the principle. Who needs a conscience, when a conscience can’t be broken? We do, it turns out. Be like Paul, signal your love by refusing to ask (or supporting someone to ask) a fellow brother or sister to sin against their conscience, no matter your position on the issue.

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Ruminations on Revelation: Solomon’s Reflections on Wisdom in Ecclesiastes

In the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon brought focus to the importance of strict attention to the written wisdom given by God (12:9-14). Solomon, from the beginning of this book, stated his purpose to employ all the talent and experimental method at his disposal in writing this book (1:13, 17; 2:3, 9). This is generally true of all the writers of Scripture. They do research, they reason on the basis of divine providence, and seek proper interpretation of already-certified Scripture. They look to their own encounters with God and his truth. According to the nature of revelation, many of the things that they set forth as revealed truth utterly transcend both their experiences and their self-conscious gifts. At the same time, they knew that at no point were they merely unconscious amenuenses. Instead, they were being used by God as he employed their peculiar gifts and experiences. Note how Peter said, “I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:15). This statement came in the immediate context of his testimony that his words were giving greater clarity to the revelation that had come before (19). He himself, was, like the prophets “carried along by the Holy Spirit” even in the context of his “effort.”  Solomon, in this task given him by God was “weighing and studying and arranging . . . with great care.” From a literary standpoint, he “sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth” (12:9, 10).
Though Solomon was engaged in the project as a conscientious literary artist, or closely reasoning philosopher, in the end he does not doubt that his product would be “words of truth.” He presented the image of goads and nails “firmly fixed” (12:11). This particular labor, though all others that he described were “chasing after the wind,” was of sober purpose and enduring value. These words, taken in the whole, embodied truth. Even as Paul before Agrippa and Festus, Solomon could use such language, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.” (Acts 26:25). The writers of inspiration were aware both of the use of their labors and capacity as well as the perfect truth and authority given their writing by the Spirit of God. See Luke 1:1-4; Romans 14:14-21; 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Ephesians 3:1-13; 1 Peter 5:12; 2 Peter 3:1, 2; 1 John 1:1-4; Revelation 22:18, 19. In each of these scriptural testimonies, we engage both the transcendent character of revelation inscribed by inspiration and the writers’ consciousness that their own minds and perceptions stewarded that body of truth.
Solomon was also conscious that this book was superintended by God and that its teachings, understood correctly, are sure guides as part of a larger collection of inspired literature. The “collected sayings”(12:11) were given by one Shepherd.  When combined with other inspired writings, this contemplation of Solomon as the Preacher gives depth and contour to the entire picture of the divine purpose of God in glorifying Himself through the wisdom of the plan of redemption. The “collected sayings” refer immediately to the accumulated argument of Solomon in this book and the conclusion toward which it drove him. By extension, this refers to the entirety of revelation, the “collected sayings,” at the end of the inspiration to record revelatory truth is final. Though many people will write books, one must make sure that the teaching of another does lead him away from the truths revealed in Scripture—“Beware of anything beyond these” (12:12).
Many, many books, and a virtually infinite presentation of opinions will flood the world as author after author desires an audience either for material gain or for philosophical or political fame. Seeking to grasp all these opinions and understand the nuances of the thought of so many varying and contradictory opinions is indeed a “weariness to the flesh.” If an infatuation with such vanities and the thoughts of persons with such limited scope of understanding drives us away from the fullness of truth contained in divine revelation, then the warning is intensified for us, “Beware of anything beyond these.” Paul labored to bring “every thought captive to obey Christ” by destroying “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5). For this reason Paul told Timothy, “Charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:3, 4).
Solomon concludes his writing with a final statement of its purpose and a concomitant warning.  He has made observations about wisdom and foolishness, righteousness and unrighteousness, legitimate pleasure and dissolute living, this short life and the long home of death, authority and submission, freedom and judgment, divine sovereignty and human responsibility, time and eternity. Now he gives the conclusion that he has reached, under the guidance of the “One Shepherd.”  All of these things, considering the final vanity of everything  when viewed from the perspective of this life only, resolve into this infinitely important and compelling single duty: “Fear God and keep his commands.”
This is a confirmation of all the Law and the prophets, to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. To fear God includes viewing him with a sense of awe and wonder in light of his holiness, a holiness that is seen as the essence of beauty and loveliness. If holiness is the sum total of his attributes (or if holiness gives unity to each of his diverse attributes), it is eternal and immutable, never-changing, never diminishing, never augmenting. But to creatures, though God never changes, he is incomprehensible. Because incomprehensible, never will there be a time in eternity when there are not more expressions of beauty unfolding even though nothing can be added to his eternal infinite attributes. Both in unity and eternal diversity God will be displayed in eternally unfolding layers of beauty, joy, pleasure, and exuberant happiness. When viewed in this way, an accompanying affection is love, for one cannot look upon infinite holiness, impeccable righteousness, and condescending mercy with the proper sense of fear and wonder, without at the same time being engulfed with a complacent love for the perfection of the character of such a Being.
To fear God includes viewing him with a sense of awe and wonder in light of his holiness, a holiness that is seen as the essence of beauty and loveliness.
Solomon’s words, “Keep his commandments” (12:13) brings us immediately into the realm of the purpose of the Law. God requires an absolute obedience to his law for those that will enjoy eternal life in his presence. “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Deuteronomy 27:26 cited in Galatians 3:10) and “If a person does them, he shall live [achieve the goal of eternal life] by them” (Leviticus 18:5 cited in Galatians 3:12). Paul says “For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be justified” (Romans 2:13).
Solomon also has established the fact that, though created in innocence and righteousness, the single great reality of the present human condition is his sinfulness. It is original, it is personal, it is progressive, it is destructive. (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ,29; 8:11ff ; 9:3) We are, therefore, in consistent violation of the supreme duty that is absolutely incumbent upon us.  None of our actions, our thoughts, will be invisible to God in the day of final reckoning. “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:14) Though at times, Solomon’s language seemed to despair of any meaning to anything, he now sets forth this great truth, that, viewed from the standpoint of eternity and the perfection of God’s moral nature and the legitimacy of his law to his creature, nothing in the view of eternity is empty but all will come before him for commendation or blame. His perfect standard will not be compromised but will be the inflexible guide and will be viewed as holy and just so that every mouth is stopped and the whole world held guilty before God.
In this light, we again see that the Law is a schoolmaster, or guardian, to lead us to Christ in whom alone is that perfection of righteousness called for by the Law. The Law, this law approved by Solomon, holds before us both righteousness and judgment until “Christ came in order that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24) In his coming he accomplished righteousness and received our judgment so by submitting with perfect resignation to his atoning work, we are given union with him for both the removal of judgment and the imputation of righteousness.
Solomon’s solemn and thorough investigation of life here in the light of eternity pushes forward the design of God’s redemptive revelation. The revelation of how absurd and utterly vain all existence would be if viewed only from a temporal standpoint serves as a foundation for the clear revelation given to Paul, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:14),
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