Tom Nettles

The Apologetic Value of the Christian Story

A Christian world view is bubbling over with resources to satisfy the aesthetic and dramatic needs of every human person.  It is more capable of doing this than any other view of the world. I am not asserting that only Christians can write good literature, tell a good story, make beautiful art, or write beautiful music. Such certainly is not the case. I am saying that the Christian view of the world—“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”– provides such a comprehensive and inescapable view of reality that any literature or other art form that reflects that view of reality has the intrinsic possibility of satisfying the emotional and aesthetic requirements of the human spirit. I lay no claim to possessing absolute insight into this area.  Rather, I am an amateur and run the risk of manifesting more aggressiveness than good sense in this assertion. Nevertheless, one need not be a great novelist or musician to discern that artistic expression is a vital area of human need. In addition, a bit of serious thought may really impress the thinker that the Christian faith embraces a multitude of possibilities for serious artistic inspiration.
Out of a staggering number of possibilities for productive interaction, elementary literary theory will provide the framework for our testing of the aesthetic power of the Christian faith. My intent is to illustrate that literary theory finds within the Christian faith a solid foundation for its assertions. One could also contend, though I will not seek to demonstrate this, that the Christian Faith provides the richest, most comprehensive background as well as the most fertile soil for the actual content of literature and other artistic expressions among the world views open to us.
This glance at literary theory obviously is not exhaustive, but only suggestive and tentative. One of the most fundamental concepts in literary theory is the idea of plot. Harry Shaw, in his Dictionary of Literary Terms has defined plot as “A plan or scheme to accomplish a purpose.” He says, “In literature, plot refers to the arrangement of events to achieve an intended effect.” He then describes a plot as “a series of carefully devised and interrelated actions that progresses through a struggle of opposing forces” (that is conflict) and conclude with a climax and a denouement. Shaw also points out the difference between plot and story. He employs the distinction of E. M. Forster. A story is a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence while a plot is a narrative of events in which the emphasis falls on causality. Forster illustrates: “The king died and then the queen died” is a story. “The king died, and then the queen died of grief” is a plot.
This definition of plot with its differentiation between story and plot focuses our attention upon causality.  The idea of cause and effect is a fundamental characteristic of plot.  In plot we do not see one event haphazardly following upon another event without any ultimate connection between the two things.  If that phenomenon persists in a book, we soon lay it aside or place it on the coffee table which contains books that no one reads anyway.  A plot must build and increase in intensity and complexity by introducing different sets of causes which have logical, though sometimes strange, effects.  This same literary critic, Harry Shaw describes cause and effect in this way:
Much of what one reads is the result of cause-and -effect relations.  When we read an answer to the question “Why did this happen?”  We are dealing in causes.  When we read the question “What will this do?”  The answers involved deal with effects.  A cause, therefore, is that which produces an effect, the person, idea, or force from which something results.
After giving examples of topic sentences in paragraphs which lead to cause and effect discussions within the paragraph Shaw concludes:
All life — and consequently all good literature — is concerned with why something begins to exist and why it exists the way it does.  A cause is the reason.  An effect is the result of the operation of a cause.  Cause and effect are necessarily related: Shakespeare’s Macbeth killed Duncan because of ambition and greed; the effect of the murder is the substance of a tragedy that leads to Macbeth’s total ruin.  Such a statement about Macbeth indicates that the total cause of any event is complex and involves an intricate joining of preceding forces and events; the total effects of any given cause extend beyond immediate results.
Therefore, in a good story an author will develop his plot by introducing a multiplicity of factors which we could define as causes, he will make clear to us the resultant effects of these causes, and will bring them all together finally in a coherent conclusion, every cause and every effect having its proper and well-defined relationship to the final solution of the story.  The author who cannot accomplish this in a credible fashion has failed to produce a good work of literature.
I would propose that the reason our minds demand that sort of organization to a plot is that God has created the world to work that way, and his making humans in his image has established n the mind the necessity for all things finally to resolve into a worthy purpose. The Bible begins with the cause of all the stories when it asserts “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth.”  When Scripture affirms in Ephesians 1:11 that God works all things after the counsel of his own will, and in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for the good to them that love God and are the called according to his purpose,” then we indeed do know that all things have their designated place.
Such confidence results from the Christian doctrine of Providence.  In itself it is an assertion that eventually all causes and all effects will resolve themselves into the purpose of God, the author of this story. No loose ends will remain dangling, no factors will have been brought in that do not play their own part in the development of the plot.
I am not saying that God has accommodated himself to our view of what plot should be; I am saying that we have inescapably produced an understanding of plot based upon the way the world is and our minds are only satisfied when the story is told as it really should be, that is, in accord with the way God made the world.
According to Shaw, a plot includes a “a series of carefully devised and interrelated actions.”  An author must be careful to devise his actions carefully and interrelate them properly because he must bring them to a proper resolution.  The Bible represents all the events of the world as reflecting the relationship and interaction of man the creature with God the Creator.  Everything contributes to our understanding of the complexity of man’s involvement with sin and the ingenuity of his depravity but ultimately relates to the simple concept that man is in rebellion against the God who owns him. As this theme develops in complexity and force, a counter but complementary theme of redemption is introduced. It finds simultaneous development along with man’s depravity. It becomes so intricate that we see God’s redemptive purpose developing in the midst of man’s deceptive wickedness and even using it to bring the redemptive theme to a successful consummation. The story of Joseph’s being sold into Egyptian bondage by the evil intent of his brothers compels a complex interaction of emotion, outrage, understanding, and sympathy at the human level. Parallel to that, moreover, is the recognition that this very action on the part of his brothers was the plan of God for saving his chosen family from starvation. Through that preservation, the messianic nation is formed. We also see the interrelationship of these apparently disparate parts in Peter’s affirmation at Pentecost “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).  How much greater illustration do we need of the eventual resolution of two seemingly irreconcilable themes.
Scripture consistently presents the world story as developing a “series of carefully devised and interrelated actions.”  Reality works that way, because God, though infinite and ultimately incomprehensible in his intelligence and wisdom, is consistent and purposive. The human mind cannot rest satisfied with a fallacious picture of reality; we therefore require carefully devised and interrelated actions in any story, or plot, but especially in the story.
The second element of this definition of plot insists that this series “progresses through a struggle of opposing forces.” A plot cannot progress without conflict of some kind.  It may be severe internal strife on the part of a tragic hero. It may be the good guys vs. the bad guys, or the clever and sinister insinuation of a fiend trying to spoil the goodness and innocence of a heroine, or the opposing force may simply be the ridiculous and incongruous developments of a situation comedy. No matter what the story, some degree of conflict is necessary for resolution. That description exists because it is impossible for us to conceive of a tale of interest or of real accomplishment without conflict of some sort being involved.
For example, the following story would hold very little interest for the listeners (though indeed it may be extremely significant for the teller). “Yesterday I went to the post office and mailed my letters and went back home and drank a cup of coffee.  I also read the paper and really had a nice day.” Now it is wonderful to have a day like that, but not too wonderful to tell about it. Consider this option: “While on the way to the post office yesterday I had a flat tire.  When I stepped out of the car, I was abducted by two escapees from the State mental asylum who thought that I was an airplane. They were convinced that they could make a quick trip to beautiful downtown Shawnee, Oklahoma, if they could only find the proper runway from which to take off. I could not convince them that I wasn’t an airplane and so only escaped the trip to Shawnee by convincing them that I had already been flying all day and my arms were too tired for another trip. Eventually they were taken into custody by a couple of officers from the asylum who refused to believe that I too was not a resident of the asylum since I had spoken so convincingly about having flown all day. When they discovered their mistake, they were so chagrined that they fixed my flat tire and treated me to a cup of coffee. By this time the post office was closed and I had to wait until the next day to mail my letters. This upset my wife who was sending a special birthday card to her sister. That evening she had to call and explain why the card would not be on time. In the conversation, she was reminded that the birthday was not till next week, and was relieved that she had not been so early with the card as to muffle its joyful impact. She forgave me and was happy I had had such an unusual day.”
This is hardly an engaging literary style but the story is worth telling and the element of conflict provides a greater degree of interest than the lack thereof.  One who has read Tolkiens’ Lord of the Rings, or Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia or his Space trilogy or, Cormack McCarthy’s Blood Meridian can readily see how numerous are the possibilities for developing conflict as a necessary, literary device.  The element of conflict is a continuing reality in the Scripture from the subtle but vicious temptation of Eve by the Serpent until the twentieth chapter of Revelation when “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).  The walk of the Christian is represented as a walk of conflict in which he wears the whole armor of God, for his warfare is against principalities and powers in heavenly places.
So, on the one hand, the biblical record grandly illustrates this literary principle; but even more important, it is the truth at the back of this biblical conflict that has given rise to our understanding that a plot progresses through a struggle of opposing forces.  We feel it in our bones and see it all around us, because that is the way things are.
The next element of plot is climax.  The climax is that point in the play, in which it becomes clear that the central motive will or will not be successful. It becomes clear which force is going to emerge victorious in the conflict.  One characteristic of many modern plays and movies is the significant absence of climax and denouement. This may not be a weakness in itself but is merely a confession on the playwright’s part that he does not know which side of the conflict should win and much less how the victory would finally be resolved into a satisfying conclusion. We see such a phenomenon in the movie of some years back called Kramer vs. Kramer. It ends the only way it could end; but the audience has some degree of frustration because both parents had compelling characteristics that won their sympathy and both had significant weaknesses. However, the very fact of frustration with that sort of ending is evidence that one’s mind does not stop there but recognizes the need for absolute judgment somewhere that will make clear what really should have happened.
The same thing would be true of the trial of Jesus if it were left at the stage of his condemnation. “When He was reviled, he reviled not in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten, but he trusted to him who judges justly.” That is true not only in the case of the trial of Jesus, but it is an aesthetic requirement of our minds. When climax fails to materialize in the story, our minds even unwittingly commit that judgment to the one who judges justly.
This tendency, in fact makes us restless until we can find answers to the unresolved questions that plague us. The question that we all have asked, “Did Scarlet get Rhett back or did she really not deserve to have him” gave rise to an attempt to resolve that aggravating uncertainty.
There are hundreds of examples, however, in which the climax is set forth very forcefully in the story, and the author who is successful in it and makes all the readers or onlookers feel that it justified, has the matchless gift of creation. Climax in the biblical account and in the real story of the world comes in the cross. When Jesus cried in a loud voice, “It is finished” the climax to all of history had come. In the cross the conflict between Jew and Gentile was over, God and man were reconciled, death was turned backwards, and all the demonic powers arrayed against God were put to flight. This is the victory that must occur or the world is senseless; this is the victory that must occur or every high hope and aspiration of our most noble moments is crushed to the ground and all is vanity. That unspeakable conflict entailed in the highest of all God’s creatures rebelling against the holy, righteous, and just creator and involving another of God’s high creations, man, in the rebellion came to its climax in the cross. That part of literary theory which demands climax within the plot finds its most irrefutable rationale in God’s action in the cross.
The final element of the plot is denouement. This word refers to the solution or the final untangling of the intricacies of a plot. What are the implications of a victory that is won.  The made-for-TV lawyer Perry Mason did this by explaining how he discerned who was the real culprit and tying all the bits of evidence together for the astounded viewer.  In Tolkien it is done by describing the righteous rule of the rightful king of middle earth, the cleansing of the shire, and the fading away of yesterday’s heroes with the sense that their purpose had been well fulfilled. Lewis sees all history culminating in the land of Narnia, and a train wreck, perhaps interpreted as tragic by those in England was not tragic at all but merely the door to Narnia, and more than Narnia, Aslan’s own country.  Denouement comes in the Bible story as Christ is resurrected to defeat death and its causes and returns in glory and splendor, and he will display such matchless beauty and such awesome power that every knee shall bow of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father. Again, the final issue of this is described for us in the book of the Revelation.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life bearing twelve crops of fruits, yielding its fruit each month.  And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be any curse.  The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night.  They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.  And they will reign for ever and ever.  – Rev. 20:1-5

This conclusion gives literary satisfaction and objective justification to the thesis of our text: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” Holiness and righteousness will inhabit the final resolution which will be brought about because “the Lord of hosts, … the King of glory” has come in. This is the model for and the foundation of all denoument. Nothing but such an infinitely excellent conclusion to all things can satisfy the mind. It is that story-ending than which a greater can not be thought. It is the truth.

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Introduction: God's Lordship in Creation

This edition of the Founders Journal gives attention to Psalm 24. In his inspired reflections on the Mosaic account of creation, David begins with the beautiful, but definitely counter-cultural assertion, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein..” The omnipotent sovereignty of the Lord in verses 1 and 2 as manifested in his orderly and purposeful arrangement of all things presses forward to the perfect holiness of the Lord in verses 3-6. He dwells in “his holy place.” Those verses call for “those who dwell therein” (1) to approach him only with perfect holiness and righteousness. This righteousness comes to them in the gracious blessing of salvation (5). Pointing to Jacob (6) reminds us that God’s covenant rules the approach to God. Verses 7-10 describe a scene of the glorious splendor of living in the presence of the Lord “strong and mighty” who defeated all his foes in the great battle for salvation. His ascent to heaven, bringing a host of captives in his train, allowing sinners to revel in his glorious presence, culminates in his placing all things under his feet.
Scott Callaham gives an exposition of the Psalm with the skill of an experienced linguist and biblical exegete and with the sensitivity and passion of one truly adores the Lord of glory. Dr. Callaham lectured in Hebrew and Old Testament for the International Chinese Theological Seminary and has served as lead editor of World Mission: Theology, Strategy, and Current Issues. He is author of Biblical Aramaic for Biblical Interpreters in both English and Chinese. He also curates Daily Dose of Aramaic.
Dr. Mark Coppenger, retired professor of philosophy at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former professor at Wheaton has given us an excellent study of how God’s lordship in creation lays the groundwork for aesthetics. Mark is an effective writer and author, an engaging teacher, has served in numerous positions of service among Southern Baptists at the national and state levels and also been pastor of churches. Since the triune God is Creator and Sustainer and Owner of the earth, it is impossible that every aspect of it not reflect some element of his glory. The existence of everything is dependent on him and his power, intelligence, beauty, purpose, and glory. The study of aesthetics is the investigation of principles underlying our perception of beauty. This could be applied to art, music, poetry, physics, chemistry, or the mere pleasure of standing in awe of natural things. Mark has given a narrative of how aesthetics has its foundation in the realty that “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” He has shown the confluence of nature and art in how the beauty, symmetry, and power of the one inspires the other. His article itself is an engagement with aesthetics of language.
I have written an article on drama as an expression of God’s ownership of the world. His revelation in Scripture in the unfolding of the eternally conceived covenant of redemption worked out in connected stages in history determines the elements of story. I seek to show how all good stories that grip the heart, challenge the intellect, and convict the moral consciousness find their patterns in the flow of the biblical story.
A review article of The Mystery of the Trinity by Vern Poythress is a fitting inclusion in this Founders Journal. His argument that the Trinity is “ontologically basic” perfectly fits the Psalmist’s affirmation that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.“ Fallenness has corrupted the mind and thus the process of reasoning making  special revelation necessary for any proper understanding of general revelation. For knowledge, therefore, of God and his world, the Bible is “epistemologically basic.” His argument on this issue is clearly and powerfully relevant to sorting out differences within the Evangelical/Reformed community over the subject of natural revelation vis a vis natural theology. And so, where does David’s revealed observation, “The earth is the Lord’s” lead us in that discussion?
Several critical passages of Scripture dealing with how God’s created order necessarily declares his glory, his eternal power and godhead, his beauty and excellence, and his knowability also affirm the blinding effects of human sin. Consequently, for knowledge uncluttered by innate rebellion, creatures have an absolute dependence on special revelation; because knowledge of God is not only a matter of cognition and mental perception but purity of affections, these scriptures emphasize the necessity of holiness and righteousness and consequently redemption.
Psalm 8 early establishes the reality that only those who come to him as children and babes truly see the majesty of his name; this is set in the context of foes and avenging enemies and the eventual rightful dominance of God’s redeemed image-bearers. Psalm 19, after showing the irrepressible universality of God’s revelation through nature, shows its ineffectuality without divinely revealed law leading to conviction of sin, love of holiness, consistent awareness of a deceitful heart, and constant dependence on the revealed word. Psalm 24, our text, shows that the knowledge of God embedded in his creation will become effectual only to those who find holiness and righteousness in salvation and that that comes in the triumphant work of Christ.
Acts 17 unfolds layers of revelation in the created order and in providence and God’s intention that humanity should search for him and find him through induction uncorrupted by moral prejudice. Instead, fallen humanity makes idols of created things arising from fallen imaginations rather than enlightened consciences. Consequently, man cannot know God, though he is not very far from any of us, apart from repentance based on the finished redemptive transaction accomplished by Jesus Christ.
Romans 1 begins with a stern statement that among the things revealed from heaven in this world is divine wrath because the aboriginal moral instinct of man is suppression of the truth. The clarity and power of divine revelation through the “things that are made” leave humanity without excuse. The intrinsic knowledge of God along with the extrinsic compelling evidence of God’s holy power is so mangled by human sin that it leads only to blatant idolatry and ongoing moral perversion.
The most sophisticated societies in philosophy and political organization have failed to produce anything in their religion that comes close to the God of the Bible. Both empirical science and human rationality have failed and cannot even be prolegomena to a true knowledge of God.
What our senses have failed to understand—what eye has not seen and ear has not heard–, and what our philosophy has miserably fallen short in perceiving—what has not entered into the heart of man–, these things God has revealed to us by his Spirit for the Spirt searches all things; yes even the depths of God.
But when grace opens the mind and the heart and one finds the wisdom of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the earth and all that is in it is transformed. Everything becomes a witness to God’s power, his infinite excellence, his love, his mercy, his grace. And all that, as lovely as it is and as increasing as it is in delightful testimony pales in brilliance and glory beside the infinite wonder of redemption through the Son of God.
The editor and the contributors pray that this edition of the FJ will prompt renewed delight in seeing the joyful and exuberant power of God through the things that are made. Right thinking guided by revealed truth can unfold from general revelation abundant data for delight and marvel. The consideration that such a knowledge in all its expansive possibilities is immeasurably below the knowledge of God in the one who “made foolish the wisdom of the world” by the cross of Christ should enhance the delight we sense in the “hope of eternal life.” All things should lead us to a posture of wonder, love and praise.

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A Note of Support for Tom Ascol

Great responsibilities fall on the President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Besides the wisdom needed to make fitting appointments to those positions over which he is granted prerogative by our constitution, other skills, personal traits of character, and biblically-informed vision will obviously be needed. We must pray for this president as Solomon prayed for himself, “Give your servant an understanding heart … to judge between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). My vote in this election for just such a time as this will be for Tom Ascol. This affirmation is not to be taken as reflecting negatively on other candidates but arises from an unexceptionable confidence in him. Without equivocation, for decades Dr. Ascol has manifested the character, experience, pastoral integrity, biblical and confessional theological insight and conviction, and knowledge of the cultural and philosophical challenges that face an evangelical denomination today. He has received two degrees (MDiv and PhD) from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been my friend, conversation partner, and ministry example for more than four decades. During that time his personal character, witness to truth, and growth in grace have not receded nor wavered. J. B. Gambrell led Southern Baptists to adopt the Seventy-five Million campaign which initiated the Cooperative Program. E. Y. Mullins led Southern Baptists to adopt the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message, which challenged the decline into modernism that plagued other denominations. Herschel Hobbs led Southern Baptists through the Elliott Controversy and to adopt the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. Adrian Rogers’s election to SBC presidency in 1979 began the Conservative Resurgence which arrested the precipitous decline of a growing percentage of Southern Baptist’s agency employees into biblical and theological relativism.  Southern Baptists presently are in the throes of a cultural and ethical crisis where clear perception, purposeful and meaningful engagement, an unintimidated honesty, and a determined vision for gospel preeminence is needed. With due respect to the spirituality, biblical convictions, and competence of the other candidates, I view Dr. Tom Ascol as prepared providentially for the presidency of the SBC in this critical time. With no hesitation, I am supporting his candidacy for SBC president.

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A Theology of Motherhood

I have read Tom Ascol’s treatment of the discussion surrounding the supposed overthrow of Roe v. Wade and the implications that has for the future of abortion in the United States. His treatment is sensitive, fittingly nuanced, biblically sound, pastoral, legally aware, clear, and fraternal in areas of disagreement among pro-life Christians. He points out that one area of disagreement among those who are pro-life is the degree, if any, of culpability on the part of the mother. This article was prompted in a positive way by his. My desire is to focus on the theology of responsible motherhood in the critical months from conception to birth.
When an abortion occurs, is there culpability? Every Christian should say, “Yes.” Upon whom does this culpability fall? Certainly it falls on the one whose profession puts himself, or herself, in the position of terminating the person who has been conceived. With just as much certainty, a biblical theology would point to both parents as culpable, in varying degrees depending on circumstances. In particular, however, caring for life from the moment of conception falls on the woman whose body has been designed by God both to conceive, carry, nourish, bring to term and give birth to the person conceived. This article will argue that this is an absolute ethical responsibility derived from God’s purpose and mandate at creation, continued after the fall (even in difficulties), reinforced by the reality of the incarnation, analogically emphasized by the doctrine of the new birth, and planted in the heart as an ineradicable element of conscience and knowledge of God.
When God created mankind in the persons of Adam and Eve, he clearly stated that created humanity, arising from his power and purpose, was male and female (Genesis 1:27; 5:1, 2). Denial of these two genders in their respective roles is a denial of the wisdom and prerogative of God in creation, particularly his design for mankind.  Perversion of the very precise and purposeful order of creation is viewed throughout Scripture as sinful and an evidence of human perversity in rebellion against the knowledge of God and knowledge embedded within the conscience. This purposeful, God-established distinction, is obvious from the very phenomena of creation (Romans 1:20, 24-25, 26-27). Violations of the distinctions are described as exchanging “natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” (Romans 1:26). “Contrary to nature” means contrary to the designed purpose given at creation. In this sense, all actions contrary to nature, even as contrary to moral law, are sins. Redemption and justification forgive transgressions and cleanse from sinful corruption that include these kinds of perversions (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). If they were not sin and worthy of condemnation, then there would be no need of the grace of justification in light of them.
The first commandment that the man and woman received as a couple, after God made the woman from the very bone and flesh of the man, was “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 2:21-25 and 1:28). This places on the couple, and particularly on the woman the stewardship from God himself to populate the world with image-bearers through procreation. The woman has a particular stewardship to do all that she can to bring to completion the fruitfulness of her womb; a pregnant woman has a specific commission from God issued at creation that will be in force as long as the earth stands. A conceived child is not her property nor her prerogative but is a stewardship from the Creator. The involvement of her body does not give her sovereignty over the life of the child but presents her with a solemn responsibility for protection of that life. This responsibility descends on her from above derived from a command and creation ordinance from God. The claim that a woman has a right over her own body is, in this particular case, clearly false for her body was given by God, designed by him peculiarly for this purpose. Like the unnatural in sexual involvements, both the desire and the action of attack on life in the womb is unnatural, contrary to the created nature of the woman and the life concerned, and is thus unlawful, sinful, and any perpetrator is culpable.
A pregnant woman has a specific commission from God issued at creation that will be in force as long as the earth stands. A conceived child is not her property nor her prerogative but is a stewardship from the Creator.
After the fall, the first judgment issued was in the form of a prophecy of redemption. This prophecy involved the woman giving birth to one who would crush the serpent’s head. The gravity of such a pregnancy is intensified in that the one to be born in order to defeat the serpent is called “her seed” or “her offspring.” The woman will have a child that is not from the seed implanted by a human male. Its true humanity comes from her alone. Her seed and her body will give rise to what Isaiah prophesied, “A virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14). This cryptic language from Genesis and extended by Isaiah was not fully understood (Well, it has never been fully understood!) until Mary heard the announcement, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you: and for that reason the holy being conceived in you will be called, Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The Angel then told Joseph, after he had discovered that Mary was indeed pregnant, “The one conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” The woman’s body was created for the purpose of bringing into the world the Messiah, mysteriously God and man in one person so that Elizabeth could say, “And how has it happened to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” (Luke 1:43). She said this less than one month after conception—Mary was mother and the child was Lord. In this light Paul taught, “The woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through the childbearing—if they are continuing in faith and love and holiness with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:15). Though the pain of childbirth is a curse of the fall, it is in the context of that pain that salvation comes—the childbearing. Paul refers here to the specific childbearing mentioned in Genesis 3:15 as the seed that would undo the work of Satan immediately followed by the promise of pain in that, and in all, childbearing (3:16). Every childbearing is a reminder both of original sin and the promise of redemption. The termination of the childbearing nurses a sinful prejudice against purposeful creation, the justness of the curse, and the mystery of redemption. The woman was given the assignment of bringing into the world its, and her, Savior. The Savior covenanted to be “born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, in order that we might receive the placement as sons” (Galatians 4:4, 5). These realities connected with the bearing and birthing of children are primordially immutable absolutes, an attack upon which is a moral challenge to the covenantal integrity of the triune God.
The Baptist Faith and Message affirmation that “Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord” reflects the biblical teaching concerning conception. David testified that he was “shapen in iniquity” and “in sin” at the point of conception (Psalm 51:5), that is, corrupt morally through his connection with Adam. His being was of moral stature from conception. At the moment of the conception of the Christ, he was of moral stature, “the holy thing conceived,” (Luke 1:35) and was seen as a person, the Lord, (Luke 1:43). Also, through the marvel and mystery of the union of Christ’s two natures in one person, we know that from the moment that the Holy Spirit came on Mary, the human nature had personhood, for in that event the power of the Most High also overshadowed her. The Son of God eternally-generated by the Most High, by that dynamic of generation, became one in person with the seed of the woman impregnated by the operation of the Holy Spirit. Abortion is nothing less that the taking of human life. It is an unnatural and unlawful act of aggression against the wise purpose of God both for the child and for the woman’s body. Those who violate this purpose are culpable.
The analogy to new birth gives another level of clarity and sobriety of the unified responsibility for life from conception to birth. Jesus said, “You must be born again” and apart from the new birth one can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1-8). Birth is the natural consequence of begetting. “Enosh lived ninety years and begot Cainan” (Genesis 5:9). “Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (Genesis 6:10). The male planted the seed—begot—for these children and the entire process from that time of conception to their birth is collapsed into a single event. Peter presented the new birth in this way when he wrote, “who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). In the analogy between the operation of human corruption and the operation of divine truth, James traces the effect of corruption from conception to birth: “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:15). The merciful work of the Lord in the new birth is described in these terms. “Of his own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). The point is, that the movement from begottenness to birth is seen as a unit. The one naturally gives rise to the other and it is God’s intent, as seen in his own action of regeneration, that nothing interrupt that connection.
Abortion is an unnatural and unlawful act of aggression against the wise purpose of God both for the child and for the woman’s body.
These moral realities are written on the heart. Both by observation of form and anatomy and by divine mandate, Adam and Eve knew their assigned places from the first consciousness of creation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:20-25). Sabbath and fitting sexuality, representative of both tables of the law, were present in the earliest conscious experience. This knowledge does not leave the conscience.  In spite of the most precipitous decline into perfect lawlessness and aggressively flagrant abuse of fitness according to God’s purpose, Paul can write, “who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). When Paul wrote of a “conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2), he is not referring to the loss of consciousness of right and wrong but to an aggressive and callous preference for one’s personal views over the God-centered propositions of implied rightness in creation and stated in Scripture. The point here is that no person is without a witness to the preeminent value of conceived life and our responsibility to nurture and protect it. One cannot argue that some women simply do not know what they are doing when they seek an abortion.
The implications of this doctrine first relate to the church and then to society. We can hope for no progress in society without an unequivocal conviction on the part of the church concerning both life at conception and parental, particularly female, stewardship of that life. We cannot present a theology that diminishes human responsibility for honoring with obedience God’s creation purpose, redemptive necessity, the new birth, and the law written on the heart. Those involved in an abortion should understand that this is not a neutral act in which some parties are innocent—except rarely—but each is culpable for the taking of human life. If the church is not convinced of this, we never will function as leaven to stop the rampant hideousness of abortion.

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The Word of God in the Thessalonian Letters

Having established a church in Philippi (Acts 16) where there was no synagogue, Paul now, having suffered in Philippi at the hands of Romans (16:19-24), goes to Thessalonica and uses the synagogue on three Sabbath days to reason with the Jews and “devout” Greeks from the Scripture (Acts 17:1-4). We are told that his method consisted of “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’” Many of those who heard his biblical exposition believed his message. Some Jews were offended and jealous (Acts 17:5) of Paul’s ability in expository reasoning. They resisted strongly the idea that the Messiah had come and they were not privy to this most historically pivotal event. How is this “Jesus” qualified as Messiah and why are Gentiles received as his people? This Paul is an imposter speaking of behalf of another imposter and deserves to be driven from the city. They appealed to the city authorities under the hypocritical guise of loyalty to Caesar. The entire controversy centered on the validity of Paul’s understanding of the Scripture and whether he was qualified to discern that Jesus was the Christ. Paul’s correspondence with the church at Thessalonica, therefore, had much material about the word of God vis a vis the authority of the apostle.
His preached word he and they believed was the Word of God. When they heard Paul preach, they accepted it, not simply as a man’s interpretation of verses compared to events, but as the “word of God.” Paul affirmed their conviction as the truth (1 Th 2:13). “Our gospel,” Paul recalled, came in the power of the Holy Spirit and brought them to be among the believers of Macedonia (1 Th 1:4, 5). He reminded them that, though pummeled in Philippi because of his preaching, he did not change the message. His “exhortation does not come from error” and is neither impure nor deceitful, but arises from one who was “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (2:2-4). He was an “apostle of Christ,” and consequently a man of authority but used this authority only to “impart to you … the gospel of God.” Paul never wavered, even in the face of hostility and persecution, from his claim before the world that he was appointed by the risen Christ as an apostle. He never amended any teaching given in the context of that calling as possibly misperceived or as a matter of speculation or only informed opinion. This is one of the stubborn facts that must be considered when we ask if we have a word of truth about God and eternity. Has God spoken? In conjunction with the Hebrew prophets, Paul gives an unequivocal “Yes.”
When he gave further instruction on individual doctrines he wrote with confidence of God’s revelation: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep, etc” (1 Th. 4:15-18). An articulation of the relation of the living to the dead in the context of the return of Jesus who “died and rose again,” events surrounding his return, and the manner of his gathering his people to himself, and the certainty of living in his glorious presence for eternity—these things are not manufactured by imagination but are soberly reported as propositions of revelation.
Also, when he gave instruction concerning the moral implications of gospel truth, he assumed the position as a spokesman from God: “We request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that just as you received instruction, …for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus, … he who rejects this is not rejecting men but the God who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (4:1-8). These clear exhortations to sexual purity as one dominant aspect of sanctification went against the prevailing conduct of the culture and put the Pauline instruction at the level of divine mandate by revelation. Even so, when describing how they should work for self-sufficiency and peaceful relations Paul put his words in the sphere of absolute authority, “just as we commanded you” (4:11). In the second letter to these Christians, Paul reiterated this authority by expressing his confidence that they will “do what we command” (3:4). He follows that by introducing an element of church life that perhaps they had not practiced or seen clearly by saying, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us” (3:6). Whereas the “tradition” of the elders, or the “tradition” of the Pharisees, or the “tradition” of men of empty philosophy (Colossians 2:8) was handed down from generations past, or “turned over” to contemporaries from historically-trusted sources, Paul’s instructions that he handed down, his traditions, that which he turned over to them were from God. This tradition was not handed down from hallowed halls of venerated historical sources but came from the mind and mouth of the eternal God. Again, when he learned that some were not working, he reminded them that he “used to give them this order,” and now again to these loafers he would “command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion” (3:12).
This conviction so ever-present in this correspondence is confirmed by pervasive New Testament testimony and conviction. In 1 Corinthians 2:10, Paul claimed that eternal things, things of divine grace, “God has revealed to us through the Spirit;” in 2 Corinthians 13:3, he zealously affirmed in a tense setting that “Christ is speaking in me.” In Galatians 1:12 as prelude to his extended argument for the exclusive claim to truthfulness of his gospel, he wrote, “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” In Ephesians 3:4, 5, Paul laid claim to “insight into the mystery of Christ” from its having been “revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” The writer of Hebrews 2:3, 4 warned of dire consequences for rejecting the message presented by the Lord himself that was “attested to us by those who heard,” to whom God bore witness by “signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” In 1 John 4:6 the beloved disciple wrote that the “spirit of truth and the spirit of error” was to be defined in terms of hearing and obeying the message of the apostles: “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us” Peter claims that the word of the prophets receives its expected clarification through those who were eyewitness of the majesty of Christ and that their writings, like those of the prophets were the product of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21). That is why he can say that his readers should “remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandments of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” He then can go on to commend Paul, even in the most difficult of his writings, as a producer of Scripture as free from error (2 Peter 3:2, 15-18).
Paul claimed revelatory and authoritative status not only for what he preached in his apostolic mission, but for what he wrote to expand or re-emphasize his spoken word. He told the Thessalonians, “I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren” (1 Thessalonians 5:27). In his second epistle to this same church he wrote, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person” (2 Thessalonians 3:14). He also made sure they knew that the letter was from him: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter” (3:17). Every letter that he wrote was to be taken as his word of apostolic authority arising from the commission of Christ and the revelation received from the Holy Spirit. His writings reconfirm what he spoke as he indicates in 1 Thessalonians 4:6 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5: “just as we told you before; … Do you not remember that while I was with you I was telling you these things?” Also, his writings expand what he spoke in giving further detail: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (2 Th 2:15). In 1 Thessalonians he wrote an expansion of his teaching to them on death, resurrection and the return of Christ (4:13-18).
He wrote in an authoritative apostolic manner to churches where he had never to that point preached. His most expansive exposition of the entire history of salvation was written to a church that he did not directly found and to which he had not been. He felt an apostolic obligation to instruct them and bear fruit among them (Romans 1:8-15). In this letter, both deeply personal and highly instructive doctrinally he gave coherent discussion on the relation between creation and the knowledge of God, the fall of Adam, the call of Abraham, giving of the law to Israel, the eternal issues of justice involved in the death and resurrection of Christ, divine sovereignty in the present based on eternal decrees within the mysterious communicative activities of the triune God, the relation between justification and personal pursuit of holiness, the church, the secular political authorities, his personal missionary ministry, and other related subjects. He expected them to receive this writing: “On some points I have written to you very boldly, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of the gospel of God …according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept hidden for long ages” that he had received “according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith” (Romans 15:15, 16; 16:25, 26).
Another issue concerning the word of revelation given to Paul as he wrote about it in these letters concerns the necessity of an effectual work of the Spirt to seal the truth in the hearts of hearers. The Spirit revealed these truths, he inspired the proper connections of words to the truth revealed, and he makes that revealed and inspired truth to be loved and trusted by the elect. Its subject matter should be, not only intriguing, but compelling in itself. The gospel that is revealed deals with sin, redemption, heaven and hell. Far outstripping the most coherent and carefully constructed systems of human philosophy, the gospel gives substantial knowledge of God. The person of Christ as communicated in this revelation is the most interesting, excellent, transcendently wise and compassionate, truthful, confident, clear-minded, exalted, humble, and determinatively purposeful person in all literature of all cultures of all ages. It is impossible within a neutral intellectual setting for the person of Christ and his striking and shocking work of redemption not to be the most fascinating subject and desired person of history. So compelling was Christ in every aspect of his person—God and man in one person—and work—completely innocent and positively righteous yet slain for sinners—that Paul can say with perfect rationality and with an approving conscience, “If anyone does not love the Lord he is to be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22).
But none who hear of him are in a neutral position.  Too much about God, righteousness, holiness, obedience, and judgment for enemies of truth to embrace him for who he claims to be. He is rejected when left to our natural enmity. Paul looks at this phenomenon in these letters to the Thessalonians. In 1 Th 2:14-16 he outlines Jewish opposition to the Gospel as well as that generated among the Gentiles in Thessalonica. In Thessalonica there was “much opposition” (1 Thessalonians 2:2) which Paul explained in 2 Thessalonians. 2:10 in terms of “the deception of wickedness for those who perish” creating an unwillingness to “receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” Thus, we find that any willingness of spirit and mind to receive this message is an indication of effectuality under the Spirit’s power. Paul described this phenomenon early in the letters by observing that his preaching (1 Thessalonians 1:5) came “not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” In 1 Thessalonians 2:12, 13, he admonished them to “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory,” for this word “performs its work in you who really believe.” In speaking of the love implied in and commanded in the gospel Paul wrote, (1 Thessalonians 4:9),  “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.” By his own power, God himself will “establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13). This truth of divine determination and absolute effectuality Paul repeats when he writes, “Now may the God of peace, himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24). This is consistent with the character of the new covenant as described in Jeremiah 31:33, 34, reiterated in John 6:45, and in 1 John 2:27 (“They will all be taught by God; … But as his anointing teaches you about everything and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.”). In 2 Thessalonians. 2:13, 14, Paul proposes the fitness of God’s prerogative in his pre-mundane love of some resulting in their election to salvation. Election to salvation consummates in each chosen one through the sanctifying influence of the Spirit embedding the natural the function of truth in their mind, heart, and will. This constitutes the call to salvation, as Paul stated it, “through our gospel.” Final salvation is summarized as “the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The way in which Paul interweaves the truthfulness and revelatory character of Scripture in the Thessalonians letters, should give every Christian an absolute confidence in the Bible. As an extension of that confidence, we should have an intensified focus, a magnifying glass that takes diffused light and pinpoints one white-hot truth to which everything pertains—a focus on the Gospel. All of it is designed to move toward the Messiah’s being God’s salvation, the glory of His people Israel, and a light of revelation to the Gentiles.
Do not seek to employ any other methods than the truth. The Spirit of truth blesses the truth, in particular as truth culminates in and points to the Lord Jesus. The Spirit’s eternal existence consists of his procession from the Father and the Son as fully embodying the love of the Father in the Son and perfect delight in the Son and the Son’s necessarily reciprocal relationship to the Father. As the Spirit eternally proceeds within this essence summarized in eternal love, his peculiar operation in this fallen world is to communicate the revelation of this eternal purpose that is seen most vividly and clearly in the truth of the gospel. Paul exhibited no doubt that this gospel, revealed by God in Christ and then in truthful propositions about Christ, was the gospel he preached.

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The State of Humanity After Death and the Resurrection of the Dead

The event for the righteous, that is, those accounted righteous for the sake of Christ, is an event of unparalleled joy, bliss, and glory. “The souls of the Righteous being then made perfect in holiness, are received into paradise where they are with Christ, and behold the face of God, in light and glory.” In his great sermon, “A Believer’s Last Day His Best Day,” Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) pointed to six changes on the day of death that constitute the reality of the believer’s hope. 

31:1. The bodies of those who have died return to dust and undergo destruction. But their souls neither die nor sleep, because they have an immortal character, and immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous are then made perfect in holiness and are received into paradise. There they are with Christ and behold the face of God in light and glory while they wait for the full redemption of their bodies. The souls of the wicked are thrown into hell, where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved for the judgment of the great day. The Scripture recognizes no place other than these two for souls separated from their bodies.
(Genesis 3:19; Acts 13:36. Ecclesiastes 12:7. Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6,8; Philippians 1:23; Hebrews 12:23. Jude 6, 7; 1 Peter 3:19; Luke 16:23, 24)
Second London Confession, 31:1
A Common Experience of Disembodied and heightened Consciousness.
“The bodies of men after death return to dust and see corruption.” What happens to the relationship between body and soul at death. This in its immediate effects is the same for all persons. At death the bodies of all persons complete their state of corruption by a rapid deterioration to dust. “From dust thou art to dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19). The curse that fell upon all person as a result of the sin of Adam was the certainty of physical death. The special provision made by God for the immediate reception of Enoch and Elijah do not render the general curse doubtful or erratic (Genesis 5:21-24; 2 Kings 2:10, 11). The preacher of Ecclesiastes pointed to this universal certainty in saying, “Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, . . . Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:6, 7).
Paul expected that death would mean that the consciousness of the spirit would be unclothed for the earthly house would be destroyed. He desired to move immediately from residence in this earthly, corruptible body to the “habitation which is from heaven.” Being unclothed, having a heightened consciousness outside the body, was not the ultimately desirable state. He knew, nevertheless, that to be in this corruptible body was to be absent from the Lord and to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord. Before we go into the presence of the Lord, these bodies will die and then will undergo corruption unless our mortality is immediately swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:1-8). The vagueness of mind that finds death so impenetrable, the immediate presence of God so mysterious, or the deluded assumption of some that consciousness simply ceases immediately gives way to a presence of the bright personal holiness of the triune God. Both the believer and the unbeliever will be consciously present—conscience, affections, memory, thoughts, unfiltered by devices of self-protection—before the all-knowing, all-seeing Creator and Judge.
The soul neither dies nor sleeps. “But their souls (which neither die nor sleep) having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them.”  The soul is a created thing and does not have self-existence and thus its immortal subsistence is due to something given by God when God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the “breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). “Let us make man in our image,” the triune God said (Genesis 1:26). Out of all the created beings, only man was given responsible moral character, the ability to discern right and wrong, to reflect the character of God in the choice of the good, right, and holy. Man ‘s moral nature made necessary his unceasing life in the light of the eternal relevance of his moral responsibility. Because eternal consequences are at stake in each moral choice, humans can never simply pass out of existence but will bear the consequences, in body and soul, in the way they have responded to God’s righteousness as revealed in his Law. Though man is finite, his interaction with an infinitely holy God gives each of his actions infinite and eternal relevance. Nothing arising from the moral nature of image-bearers will go unanswered and none can perish or sleep for there is never a moment when moral responsibility is absent or the moral judgment of God rests.
Particular blessings of death for the Righteous
The world recedes; it disappears!
Heaven opens on my eyes! My ears
With sounds seraphic ring:
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave where is they victory?
O death, where is thy sting?
– Alexander Pope –
The event for the righteous, that is, those accounted righteous for the sake of Christ, is an event of unparalleled joy, bliss, and glory. “The souls of the Righteous being then made perfect in holiness, are received into paradise where they are with Christ, and behold the face of God, in light and glory.” In his great sermon, “A Believer’s Last Day His Best Day,” Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) pointed to six changes on the day of death that constitute the reality of the believer’s hope.  One, there is a “change of place. . . . He changes earth for heaven.” The confession says that the souls of the righteous are “received into paradise.” “Today,” Jesus told the repenting, believing, adoring thief, “you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:40-43). Presently we are not in our place, therefore, we groan. On the day of death, groaning ceases, for believers have departed that environment and “they are with Christ” who has loved us with an everlasting love.
Second, death brings for the righteous a “change of company.” No longer do the profane, the vile, the wicked, the scoffer poison the society, no longer is the soul vexed with the oppressive jocularity of the skeptic, but the reality of the living God, Jesus the Mediator, the presence of holy angels, the spirits of just men made perfect, the perfect harmony of a redeemed assembly immediately provide a company of true fellowship and undiluted joy.
A third change becomes obvious when the employment of our energies in a constant fight and warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil cease. What an unimaginable release from conflict and constant watchfulness is accomplished on the day of death. This fight is exchanged for praise and the consciousness of perfect triumph with no insurrection of enemies even contemplated.
Fourth, there is a change of “enjoyments.” These enjoyments move from being obscure to being sweet, from imperfect to perfect, and from transient to permanent—“the Souls of the Righteous being made perfect in holiness.” This perfect holiness gives an unchangeable and optimal quality to the enjoyments of the Christian.
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The State of Humanity After Death and the Resurrection of the Dead

31:1. The bodies of those who have died return to dust and undergo destruction. But their souls neither die nor sleep, because they have an immortal character, and immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous are then made perfect in holiness and are received into paradise. There they are with Christ and behold the face of God in light and glory while they wait for the full redemption of their bodies. The souls of the wicked are thrown into hell, where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved for the judgment of the great day. The Scripture recognizes no place other than these two for souls separated from their bodies.
(Genesis 3:19; Acts 13:36. Ecclesiastes 12:7. Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6,8; Philippians 1:23; Hebrews 12:23. Jude 6, 7; 1 Peter 3:19; Luke 16:23, 24)
Second London Confession, 31:1

A Common Experience of Disembodied and heightened Consciousness.
“The bodies of men after death return to dust and see corruption.” What happens to the relationship between body and soul at death. This in its immediate effects is the same for all persons. At death the bodies of all persons complete their state of corruption by a rapid deterioration to dust. “From dust thou art to dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19). The curse that fell upon all person as a result of the sin of Adam was the certainty of physical death. The special provision made by God for the immediate reception of Enoch and Elijah do not render the general curse doubtful or erratic (Genesis 5:21-24; 2 Kings 2:10, 11). The preacher of Ecclesiastes pointed to this universal certainty in saying, “Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, . . . Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:6, 7). 
Paul expected that death would mean that the consciousness of the spirit would be unclothed for the earthly house would be destroyed. He desired to move immediately from residence in this earthly, corruptible body to the “habitation which is from heaven.” Being unclothed, having a heightened consciousness outside the body, was not the ultimately desirable state. He knew, nevertheless, that to be in this corruptible body was to be absent from the Lord and to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord. Before we go into the presence of the Lord, these bodies will die and then will undergo corruption unless our mortality is immediately swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:1-8). The vagueness of mind that finds death so impenetrable, the immediate presence of God so mysterious, or the deluded assumption of some that consciousness simply ceases immediately gives way to a presence of the bright personal holiness of the triune God. Both the believer and the unbeliever will be consciously present—conscience, affections, memory, thoughts, unfiltered by devices of self-protection—before the all-knowing, all-seeing Creator and Judge.
The soul neither dies nor sleeps. “But their souls (which neither die nor sleep) having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them.”  The soul is a created thing and does not have self-existence and thus its immortal subsistence is due to something given by God when God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the “breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). “Let us make man in our image,” the triune God said (Genesis 1:26). Out of all the created beings, only man was given responsible moral character, the ability to discern right and wrong, to reflect the character of God in the choice of the good, right, and holy. Man ‘s moral nature made necessary his unceasing life in the light of the eternal relevance of his moral responsibility. Because eternal consequences are at stake in each moral choice, humans can never simply pass out of existence but will bear the consequences, in body and soul, in the way they have responded to God’s righteousness as revealed in his Law. Though man is finite, his interaction with an infinitely holy God gives each of his actions infinite and eternal relevance. Nothing arising from the moral nature of image-bearers will go unanswered and none can perish or sleep for there is never a moment when moral responsibility is absent or the moral judgment of God rests.
Particular blessings of death for the Righteous
The world recedes; it disappears!
Heaven opens on my eyes! My ears
With sounds seraphic ring:
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly! 
O Grave where is they victory?
O death, where is thy sting?
– Alexander Pope –
The event for the righteous, that is, those accounted righteous for the sake of Christ, is an event of unparalleled joy, bliss, and glory. “The souls of the Righteous being then made perfect in holiness, are received into paradise where they are with Christ, and behold the face of God, in light and glory.” In his great sermon, “A Believer’s Last Day His Best Day,” Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) pointed to six changes on the day of death that constitute the reality of the believer’s hope.  One, there is a “change of place. . . . He changes earth for heaven.” The confession says that the souls of the righteous are “received into paradise.” “Today,” Jesus told the repenting, believing, adoring thief, “you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:40-43). Presently we are not in our place, therefore, we groan. On the day of death, groaning ceases, for believers have departed that environment and “they are with Christ” who has loved us with an everlasting love. 
Second, death brings for the righteous a “change of company.” No longer do the profane, the vile, the wicked, the scoffer poison the society, no longer is the soul vexed with the oppressive jocularity of the skeptic, but the reality of the living God, Jesus the Mediator, the presence of holy angels, the spirits of just men made perfect, the perfect harmony of a redeemed assembly immediately provide a company of true fellowship and undiluted joy. 
A third change becomes obvious when the employment of our energies in a constant fight and warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil cease. What an unimaginable release from conflict and constant watchfulness is accomplished on the day of death. This fight is exchanged for praise and the consciousness of perfect triumph with no insurrection of enemies even contemplated. 
Fourth, there is a change of “enjoyments.” These enjoyments move from being obscure to being sweet, from imperfect to perfect, and from transient to permanent—“the Souls of the Righteous being made perfect in holiness.” This perfect holiness gives an unchangeable and optimal quality to the enjoyments of the Christian. “Pure are the joys above the sky, and the region peace; No wanton lip, nor envious eye, can see or taste the bliss”  (Isaac Watts). They are not fleeting, partial, fluctuating, and quickly exchanged for distress but reach the goal Paul set before the Philippians, “Make my joy complete” (Philippians 2:2). Isaac Watts wrote:
This life’s a dream, an empty show;
But the bright world to which I go
Hath joys substantial and sincere:
When shall I wake and find me there?
Fifth, death moves the believer to a “change of transience.” He is now free of external changes in location, health, wealth, strength, reputation. He is free of internal changes such as clarity of perception of the truth, strength in times of temptation, and the constant contest between the flesh and the Spirit. 
Sixth, death brings the believer to a change of rest; now the saints “rest from their labors” (Revelation 14:13). He is taken away from the evil yet to come and enters into peace (Isaiah 57:1, 2).
They now await the resurrection and the redemption of their bodies. They see Christ in his glorious body and live with a sense of increased joy in the anticipation of joining him in the glorified state with a new union of body and soul as yet unexperienced. This will be a gift given in eternity by Christ himself “who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of his glory, by the exertion of the power that he has even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:31). We have borne the image of Adam in his corrupted state but then we will bear the image of Christ in his glorified heavenly state. That which is perishable does not intrude into the sphere of imperishability, but the corruptible will put on incorruptibility and the mortal will be exchanged for a state of immortality (1 Corinthians 15:48-54). God has designed us so that the life of the soul finds its most mature expression through the exertions of the body. Paul did not want to “unclothed but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.” The clothing of the spirit with an incorruptible body is the epitome of “life.” Then Paul makes the gripping statement of God’s ultimate purpose for his image bearers, “He who prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:5). The eternal state of living body and soul before God confirmed in holiness and active righteousness was the end for which we were created. To worship and love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength in the condition of having bodies that also were bought with a price brings to maturity God’s original design. The condition of innocence and the possibility of confirmed righteousness and eternal life were forfeited in Adam’s disobedience but restored in a more glorious and God honoring manner by the obedience of Jesus, Son of God and Son of man.
“The souls of the wicked are cast into hell”
The event for the wicked is one of infinite gloom, torment, and eternal fear. As the righteous find heaven and the eternal presence of a gracious God through no merit of their own, so the ungodly are consigned justly to a place of endless darkness and wrath—“the souls of the wicked are cast into hell; where they remain in torment and utter darkness reserved to the judgment of the great day.” About this day Scripture speaks with firmness. “According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay, fury tohis adversaries, recompense to his enemies” (Isaiah 59: 18). Having been consigned in accord with God’s wisdom and justice to the place of torment, these souls will await that time of final judgment when all the works of all men will be set before every perceiving being. The absolute justice of God, both in punishment and in salvation, will be on display so that every mouth will be stopped and none will be able to give any challenge. “Fear God and keep his commandments,” says the preacher, “for this is man’s all.” This will be seen without uncertainty, “for God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14). The wicked while in the state of suffering of soul also await a resurrection. Then the body of each will join the soul in a unified sense of personal suffering exactly in accord with strict justice.
There are no other options.
Though both heaven and hell have this two-fold experience for those who died before the coming of the Lord—out of the body and then with the body—no other destinations beyond death are given in Scripture. The confession says simply, “besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.” This amounts to a specific and unequivocal denial of purgatory and limbo in Roman Catholic theology.
In short, purgatory is the destination of virtually all those who have faithfully embraced the doctrines of the Catholic church, have received the sacraments regularly, and thus eventually will enter heaven. Though all their desert of eternal punishment was taken by Christ, the temporal dimension of chastening is proportioned to the degree of purity and perfection in their acts of penance while in this life. Hardly any, except those denominated “saints” have had such purity of penitential duties. All others, therefore, must go through degrees of temporal punishment and purification for the inadequacies that permeated their penance as regulated by the priest. The Council of Trent solidified the doctrinal position: “Therefore the priests of the Lord ought, as far as the Spirit and prudence shall suggest, to enjoin salutary and suitable satisfaction, according to the quality of the crimes and the ability of the penitent; lest, if haply they connive at sins, and deal too indulgently with penitents, by enjoining certain very light works for very grievous crimes, they be made partakers of other men’s sin. But let them have in view, that the satisfaction, which they impose, be not only for the preservation of a new life and a medicine of infirmity, but also for the avenging and punishing of past sins.” 
This concept of satisfaction involving “avenging and punishing” as an element of the sacrament of penance arises from a doctrine of justification in which sanctification constitutes an integral part, in that the sinner is not declared just but made just—“seeing that in the new birth, there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of his passion, the grace whereby they are made just.” This “cannot be effected without the laver of regeneration, or the desire thereof [baptism].” In this way “justification . . . is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man . . . whereby man of unjust becomes just. . . . we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are just, receiving justice within us . . . according to each one’s proper disposition and cooperation. . . . Having, therefore, been thus justified, . . . they through the observance of the commandments of God and of the church [italics mine] faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified.” This, however will not serve finally and absolutely to justify a person, for “If any one saith, that, after the grace of justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened to him: let him be anathema” [Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, “On the necessity and on the Fruit of Satisfaction; “Decree On Justification,” chapters  3-10 and Canon XXX].
The doctrine of “limbo teaches that two spheres short of both heaven and hell and not identified with purgatory are limbus infantum and limbus patrum. Unbaptized infants and the mentally incompetent who have not been cleansed of original sin by baptism but have no guilt from personal knowledgeable transgression are kept in a state of general natural joy but never experience the “beatific vision” of the immediate presence of the glory of the triune God. The fathers prior to their liberation by the work of Christ were kept in a similar state until their ascension to heaven was made possible by Christ.
The framers of the Second London Confession found no scriptural propositions for either of these concepts of the post-mortem position of people. They were in fact, not of neutral quality but antagonistic to the perfection of the finished work of Christ—the consummated obedience of Christ to every demand of the Law (Romans 5:18, 19; Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 5:7-10) and the propitiatory death of Christ (Romans 3:25, 26; 1 John 1:7-10; 2:1, 2; 4:9, 10)—that brought forgiveness of sins and a reckoning of righteousness for those who manifest a trusting submission to acceptance before God only in that redemptive transaction. As the article on justification states [Chapter 11.3]: “Christ by his obedience, and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are justified; and did by the sacrifice of himself in the blood of his cross, undergoing in their stead, the penalty due unto them: make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in their behalf: yet in asmuch as he was given by the father for them, and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead, and both freely, not for anything in them; their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.”

NOTES:
[1]  Thomas Brooks, A Believer’s Last Day His Best Day. Chapel Library, Pensacola: 2019.

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Introduction: The Issues of Death, Resurrection and Judgment

In our undertaking to give an exposition of the Second London Confession, we have come to our final issue.  The important and existentially absolute issues of death, resurrection, and judgment constitute the final issue on this subject. After I give a brief treatment of chapter 31, paragraph 1, Eric Smith deals with the next two paragraphs. In his unusual gripping and pleasing combination of biblical exegesis, doctrinal synthesis, charming illustrations, and flowing literary style Eric gives a clear and certain sound on the issue of the resurrection of the body to glory and in a glorious habitation. In a virtual magnum opus, Reagan Marsh gives an exposition of both chapters in light of how these biblical truths organized confessionally can be accessed fittingly for biblical counseling. What a clearly and absolutely relevant reality it is that counselors employ the issues death, resurrection, judgment, heaven, and hell as awaiting every person after the short term of this life. How should that reality enter the words, encouragements, and admonitions of the biblical counselor? Reagan gives closely reasoned biblical concepts arising from (the Bible!) the confessional arrangement of biblical truths. The footnotes contain a wealth of biblically sound, historically reformed guidance on how to work through these ideas as a pastoral curer-of-souls. Aaron Matherly takes on chapter 32 with a lively style that is filled with both the serious joy and the frightening horror of the person who will be consigned to one of two destinies on the day that “God hath appointed . . .wherein he will judge the world in righteousness.” Matherly invokes the literature and art of western culture to demonstrate how pervasively these ideas have influenced the perceptions of the idea-crafters in those disciplines. His use, moreover, of Benjamin Keach’s expositions as a guide to understanding the biblical ideas in the confession gives a fitting wrap-up to this expositional adventure. Keach signed the confession in 1689 along with 36 others representing 107 churches. The synthesis of biblical exposition and the harvesting of expositional wheat from Keach makes for a great lesson in the beauty of theology done in the context of close biblical interpretation, confessional assertion, and historical theology.
Founders Ministries jointly prays that the reader of the exposition of this confession will find food for the soul, encouragement for discipleship and ministry, and renewed conviction of the eternal relevance and truthfulness of the “faith once delivered to the saints.”

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

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 wi,l come before him for commendation or blame. His perfect standard will not be compromised.

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).
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Ruminations on Revelation: Job—The Desperate Need for Revelation

Job’s call was for a revelation as to why the innocent, godly, sincere, and compassionate are put to the test in such sufferings. Dealing with the ways of God with men calls for a wisdom that dwells only in the mind and purpose of God. The way to understanding is “hidden from the eyes of all living” and only “God understands the way to it, and he knows  its place.” 

The book of Job consists of waves of expressions that indicate a desire for and the necessity of divine revelation for true knowledge. The entire book is a plea for knowledge from God. God cannot be known if he does not speak and his ways and purposes remain a mystery until he speaks. We find this expressed in several key points in the progress of the discussion in Job.
Something totally unexpected happened to Job. Having conducted himself with punctilious religious observance (1:5), purity (31:1) compassion, generosity (29:12-16; 31:16-23), and wisdom (29:7-11), he finds himself under a severe scourge-“God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes…You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me” (30:19, 21). Though clear on the sovereign prerogatives of God (26:7-14), Job declares that God “has taken away my right” (27:2). Job was desperate for a word from God. He knew he could not understand his situation apart from God’s meeting with him. “Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,” Job asked, “whom God has hedged in?” (3:23). Only God knows. “Let me know why you contend against me” (10:2).
Why God sends suffering to the lives of saints calls for revelation. Zophar knows that the answer to Job’s protests lies in the mind of God himself: “But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom.” It becomes clear that Zophar believed that such revelation would reveal a peculiarly deep guilt and hypocrisy on the part of Job. Job’s call was for a revelation as to why the innocent, godly, sincere, and compassionate are put to the test in such sufferings. Dealing with the ways of God with men calls for a wisdom that dwells only in the mind and purpose of God. The way to understanding is “hidden from the eyes of all living” and only “God understands the way to it, and he knows  its place” (28:21, 23). If sin lies at the basis of Job’s suffering, he asks for a revelation from God of it: “Let me speak, and you reply to me. How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin” (13:22, 23).  Elihu affirmed that only by revelation from God could the entire situation and questions surrounding Job’s suffering be resolved: “It is the spirit in man, breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand…God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it, in a dream, in a vision of the night” (32:8: 33: 14, 15).
In the midst of a desire for revelation of God’s purposes, we find that the language of Job is a marvel of revelatory inspiration.  Several speeches manifest the Romans 1:19-21 grasp of revelation in that God’s power of creation and his control of nature in its every particular is affirmed. The moral implications of such power and wisdom are extended into the ongoing discussion—both sides of the encounter seek particular applications. In the narrative of these observations and arguments, we find some of the most picturesque and striking linguistic images in all of literature. It is not just a literary triumph, but the substance implied behind the images gives powerful insight into the ways and wisdom of God, laying the foundation for Paul’s revelatory affirmation in Colossians 1:15, 17, “By him all things were created…and in him all things hold together.” Elihu expressed the dependence of all creation on the initial creative power of God and his continual and immediate operation of sustaining: “He covers his hands with the lightning and commands it to strike the mark…By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning” (36:32; 37:10, 11). Job emphasizes his sense of utter despair and helplessness by comparing himself negatively to a dead tree: “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant. But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he?” (14:8-10). Also, we find beautifully crafted language in service of a plain expression of the central moral issue involved, another point of revelation given in conscience (Romans 1:32; 2:15). “God is clothed with awesome majesty. The Almighty–we cannot find him. He is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate” (37:22, 23).
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