Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Are Confessions Biblical?

In previous years, some of the books that I reviewed on my blog came through crossfocusedreviews.com.  As part of receiving the free book, I agreed to post my review on my blog as well as on amazon.com.  Occasionally, I would receive feedback from my blog readers, but most of the negative comments I received were responses to my book reviews posted on the Amazon website.  Therefore, I have a series of blog posts that I've labeled Countering Criticism where I evaluate the validity of the negative feedback I receive.  Today, I would like to look at a comment from a poster named 'Amazon Customer' regarding my book review on Good and Angry.  You can read my original review here.

On January 19, 2017, Amazon Customer said:
"Beth, I find your review to be self contradicting[sic]. Please forgive me if that comes of blunt or rude that is not my intent. What I see here is a double standard. In this review the critique is that he uses eisegesis vs exegesis. In other words you,[sic] wanted to see his work. That in its self[sic] is a reasonable request. If you stopped there I would say this is a fair critique. You would not be the only one wanting that. However, You[sic] then move to the view in theology to mount your assault against the book and stake your claim for its 2 star review. In your evidence for his miss handling[sic] of human vs Divine emotion you site[sic] not Scripture, but a confession made by fallible men. In essence what you did was demand Biblical authority from the author and then turned and used man's authority when you want to disclaim his point. For this reason I don't find your review helpful. However, I do love the zeal that you have to defend the person of God; that is, who he is, his character and nature."

In my review of Good and Angry, I was arguing against the author's contention that the mercy of God is like in kind to the mercy of man.  To support my position of the Doctrine of Impassibility, I quoted the The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 2, paragraph 1: "The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions."  What I didn't include (because it was a review and not a thesis paper on impassibility) was the entire paragraph and the 24 supporting Bible verses for this confessional statement.  Here is the list of the 7 Bible verses that support the portion I quoted:
  • 1 Cor. 8:4, 6 "As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one...But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him."
  • Deut. 6:4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD."
  • Jer. 10:10 " But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation."
  • Isa. 48:12 "Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last."
  • Exod. 3:14 "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you."
  • John 4:24 "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
  • 1 Tim. 1:17 "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen."
I agree that the London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF) written by fallible men is not Scripture, but it is an accurate interpretation of Scripture.  Therefore, I quote the LBCF quite often in my reviews because it provides concise descriptions of biblical concepts and includes scriptural references for support.  I use it to show that I'm not putting forth my own private interpretation of God's Word (2 Peter 1:20), but that I'm expressing the standard of how the Bible has been interpreted by previous orthodox Christians.

In his sermon titled "Are Confessions Biblical" from 09-11-16, Pastor Jeff Riddle of Christ Reformed Baptist Church gives insight into the right use of a Confession of Faith:

"A Confession of Faith is simply a summary and a declaration of what a church holds to with regard to its doctrines and practices...A Confession of Faith rightly used is not an attempt to impose a system on Scripture, but it is quite the opposite; it is looking at Scripture and seeing what is the inherent orderly system that reflects an orderly God that is in the Scriptures and how can I properly explain that in an orderly way so that I have a systematic way of understanding what Scripture teaches and says...The Scriptures are meant to be clearly understood by those who read them.  A rejection of creeds and confessions is a rejection of the Doctrine of the Perspicuity or the Clarity of Scripture.  If God has given us the Scriptures and they are clear, then any converted person with a reasonable mind can sit down and find truth and orderliness in the Scriptures; then to say we can't come up with a Confession of Faith that describes what the Scriptures teach is denying the Doctrine of the Clarity of the Scriptures...Many of those who denounce clearly defined systems are in fact operating with highly developed systematic doctrinal interpretations that are merely left unspoken or unwritten.  And sometimes they have a problem with confessions of faith, especially those like the 1689, not because they think it contradicts a reasonable interpretation of Scripture, because it contradicts their own human interpretation of Scripture."

Pastor Riddle goes on to show from the Bible that "God's people were led by the Spirit to adopt and offer written summaries of the faith that could be used as a standard for belief and practice" as seen in the Apostolic Decree by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, the creed that Jesus is Lord in Romans 10:9 and 1 Cor. 12:3, the creed of the Gospel in 1 Cor. 15:3-4, and a summary of the life of Jesus in 1 Tim. 3:16.  "Even within the New Testament we see this movement toward having a standard confession of faith, a creedal understanding, articulating what are the right things to believe."  Pastor Riddle notes that Paul warns believers in 2 Cor. 11:4 and Gal. 1:6 not to receive "another gospel".  Without a known standard (or confession), how were the readers to have a right understanding of Jesus so that they would not receive "another gospel"?

The passages noted in the paragraph above are biblical, so they have an inspired authority.  However, Pastor Riddle concludes: "Confessions of faith that made after the time of the apostles do not have the same inspired and infallible authority as the biblical creeds, but what we do see is a pattern, a pattern that is to be followed of articulating what it is that you believe that the Scriptures teach."

Using a Confession of Faith does not contradict the requirement of sound exegesis, rather it makes sure that what is being taught is truly biblical.

"But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.  But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works," (2 Tim. 3:13-17).

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Holy Sabbath Applied

In The Holy Sabbath, A.W. Pink reminds his readers that the Sabbath day is holy and "we, by the worship of Him [God] and performance of spiritual exercises therein, are to keep it holy.  And let it be carefully borne in mind that holiness pertains not only to external actions, but also and mainly to the spring from which they proceed, namely, the heart: unless we sanctify the Sabbath in our hearts, the performing of outward devotions will avail us nothing," (p. 67).  He also states that the Lord's Day is a day of rest, so believers should not work, but they should be active in spiritual exercise.  The Christian Sabbath is  also a day of rejoicing and a day of peace and joy in Christ.  "The Lord's Day is not to be spent in seeking our secular interests, nor by engaging in worldly recreations, nor by vain and trifling conversation," (p. 75).

First, Mr. Pink exhorts the believer to prepare for the Lord's Day the night before:

"In endeavouring to bring our souls into a fit frame for the duties of the Lord's Day, the evening before we should engage our thoughts with meditations suitable thereto.  This is fitting time to consider the lost Sabbaths of our unregenerate days, and which we have to account for or repent of.  This is the time to review the week now nearly ended, and put right with God our sad failures therein.  Then is the time to meditate upon the wondrous patience of God, which has so long borne with our waywardness and slackness, and who notwithstanding has spared us to approach another Sabbath.  This is the time to ponder the vanity of worldly things and how utterly contemptible they are when compared with communion with God. This is the time to give ourselves up to confession, to prayer, to praise," (p. 78).

For the Sabbath day itself, he encourages us "to be very importunate with God that He will graciously banish from our minds everything which would distract and turn us away from Him, that He would so sanctify our hearts that from the beginning to the end of His day we may be entirely given up to those ends and exercises for which He has consecrated the Sabbath...Throughout the Sabbath we are abstain from everything that would impede its spiritual observance," (p. 78).  Positively, "the reading and pondering of the Scripture should have a prominent place in the occupations of this Day," (p. 79).

Mr. Pink gives very specific guidance on how Christians should properly meditate on the Lord's Day:

"In addition to seasons of private prayer and feeding of the Word, all our spare moments on the Lord's Day should be employed in spiritual meditations.  Then is our golden opportunity for serious reflections and delightful contemplation: to turn our thoughts from things temporal to things spiritual, and to project our minds unto that eternal state to which we are constantly approaching.  We should meditate on God as Creator and delight ourselves afresh in all His wondrous works.  We should consider how we lost our original rest in God by sin, and how He might justly have abandoned us to eternal restlessness.  We should meditate upon the recovery of our rest in God by the great atonement of Christ and His triumphant emerging from the grave.  This is indeed the principal duty of this day: to dwell upon and rejoice in this recovery of a rest in God and of a rest for God in us.  This is the fruit of infinite wisdom, amazing grace, and incomprehensible love: then let us give glory to God and His Christ for the same.  We are also to remember that the Sabbath is a pledge of our everlasting rest with God," p. 79).

When thinking about how to rightly observe the Christian Sabbath, it is important to remember that "[t]here is a world of difference between spiritual liberty and fleshly license.  Those whom Christ makes free are freed Godwards and not sinwards.  The rule of obedience is the same for those who are now under the New Covenant as it was for those under the Old: it is the spring from which obedience proceeds which is altered.  Then, it was the obedience of servants in terror of death for disobedience; now, it is the worship of sons out of gratitude to a loving Father," (p. 73).

"Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.," (John 8:31-32).

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pink's Apology for the Lord's Day

In The Holy Sabbath, A.W. Pink summarizes the reasons why Christians should observe the Sabbath on the first day of the week:

"First, because the day was clearly anticipated by Old Testament typology--the striking things connected with "the eighth day."  Second, because the New Covenant necessitated a new day of rest to signify the old covenant was abrogated.  Third, because the honour and glory of Christ required it: on the day specially appointed for divine worship, God would now have us occupied with His risen and exalted Son.  Fourth, His own example bears witness thereto: His repeated meetings with His disciples (Joh 19) [sic] and His sending the Spirit on that day (Act 2:1) set His imprimatur upon it. Fifth, because the early Church so celebrated (Act 20:7; 1Co 16:1-2).  There is not a single recorded instance in the New Testament of the saints meeting together  for worship, after Christ's resurrection, on any other day but on the first day of the week!  Sixth, because we are expressly told that God has "limited" or determined "another day" (Heb 4:9) than the old one, and that because we are divinely assured that, in view of the raising up of the rejected Stone to be the Head of the corner, "This is the day which the Lord hath made" (Psa 118:24), and therefore is it called "the Lord's Day in the New Testament (Rev 1:10)," (pp. 64-65).

"Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you," (John 20:19).

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Christian Sabbath in Hebrews 4

In The Holy Sabbath, A.W. Pink looks at the differences in the Judaical Sabbath and the Christian Sabbath (pp. 41-65).  He argues that the change from the Sabbath observance on the seventh day in the Old Testament to the Lord's Day observance on the first day of the week in the New Testament is demonstrated in Hebrews 4.  Mr. Pink summarizes his exposition:

"First, Hebrews 4 opens with a pointed warning taken from the case of the unbelieving Israelites of old (Heb. 3:16-18).  Second, but though those Israelites failed to enter into it, yet there is a rest of God proposed unto us in the Gospel, and which believers enter into (v. 3).  Third, this led the Apostle [Paul] to take up the different "rests" of God and His people: the Edenic, Mosaic, and Messianic (vv. 4-10).  Fourth, in leading up to his climax the Apostle throws the emphasis not so much on the "rest" as on the day appointed to celebrate it.  In verse 7 he declares that God (prophetically) limited or determined "a certain day."  In verse 9 he expressly refers to "another day" which supplies proof that a different one from the old seventh day is now instituted.  In verse 9 this other day and the rest it memorializes is definitely designated a "Sabbatismos" or "keeping of a Sabbath."  In verse 10 he shows why the Sabbath Day had been changed: because it was on that day Christ entered into His rest," (p. 63).

"For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.  There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.  For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.  Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief," (Heb. 4:8-11).

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Book Review: A Month of Sundays

In A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in God, Glenda Mathes states her purpose: "While we worship and rest on Sunday, we must also rest daily by trusting our triune God and obeying His timeless Word.  Each of these devotions helps readers do that through a recommended Scripture reading reference, a focus verse (or verses), a meditation, and questions aimed at stimulating personal reflection," (p. viii).

This book provides a short 3 or 4 page daily devotion on a focused verse followed by 3 open-ended questions for 31 days.  Ms. Mathes concludes that "we've looked at key Scripture texts that affirm God's creation ordinance for Sabbath rest, confirm the biblical command for daily rest, and anticipate the guaranteed promise of eternal rest," (146).  Even though her stated main devotional focus is on the biblical concept of Sabbath rest, each day's devotional content does not explicitly tie in with this theme; sometimes the idea of rest only comes as an afterthought in the questions for reflection.  A Month of Sundays is definitely written to the Christian reader since there is no Gospel presentation given.

The author usually quotes from the King James Bible, except on page 40 where she quotes the same Job passage from the English Standard Version (ESV) and on page 84 where she quotes mostly from the King James for Mark 10:43-45, but replaces the word 'minister[ed]' with the words 'serve[d] or servant'.  Unfortunately, she did not explain why she was making those changes or what point she was trying to make that the King James Bible did not readily support.  On page 50 she quotes Psalm 90:14 from the ESV so that she can compare the language to Lam. 3:22-23 in the King James Bible.  This comparison allows her to focus on the word 'morning' (which is not found in the quoted focus verse) as she ends her devotional look at God as a dwelling place.  Bringing in another Bible version so that she can change the words to help make her point does not lend to the credibility of her commentary.

On Day 12 Ms. Mathes looks at Psalm 121 and discusses the "wonderful image of God as a protective covering," (p. 55).  She says: "As God's image bearers, we are called to care for others and provide for their welfare," (p. 55).  The author gives no biblical reference for this statement, but gives an example of Cain and Abel and notes that "Cain...failed to keep his brother," (p. 55).  From John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, Mr. Gill shows that Cain's question of 'Am I my brother's keeper?' (Gen. 4:9) "...was very saucily and impudently spoken...that God should put such a question to him, since he knew he had not the charge of his brother, and his brother was at age to take care of himself; and if not, it rather belonged to God and his providence to take care of him, and not to him."  This psalm clearly states that the Lord is our keeper (verse 5) and Mr. Gill affirms that the care of Abel belonged to the providence of God and not his brother Cain.  Therefore, the author erroneously applies Psalm 121 to the individual believer.

From the title of this book, I expected a more in-depth look of the Sabbath rest found in Genesis, Exodus, & Hebrews.  If that's your expectation as well, then I would recommend The Holy Sabbath by A.W. Pink.  If you're just looking for a simple devotional that includes the idea of rest, then this book adequately serves that purpose.

I found the last half of A Month of Sundays more helpful than the first, and I was especially encouraged by the content of day 17 "Light Yoke", day 26 "God's Peace", and day 27 "Sound Mind".  Overall the content is mostly sound (except as noted above) and the material thought-provoking at times.  Therefore, I recommend this book for any Christian as part of his devotional routine.

"There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.  For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.  Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief," (Heb. 4:9-11).

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Christian Minister

In his book Matthew 13: The Parable of the Sower, Samuel Stennett (1728-1795) notes that the sower in Matthew 13:3 is the "Savior Himself, and all those whose office it is to instruct men in the truths and duties of religion," (p. 48).  Then he looks at the character and duty of a Christian minister (pp. 49-50):

"He [a Christian minister] ought to be well-skilled in divine knowledge, to have a competent acquaintance with the world and the human heart, to perceive clearly wherein the true interest of mankind consists, to have just apprehensions of the way of salvation, and to be rightly instructed in the various duties he has to inculcate.  He should have an aptitude and ability to teach, and his bosom should burn with a flaming zeal for the glory of God, the honor of Christ, and the welfare of immortal souls.  He should, in fine, be endued with a humble, meek, patient, and persevering spirit.

Thus qualified for his work, he must study to approve himself unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).  He must consider well the character and condition of those he instructs, adapt himself to their various capacities, seize every favorable opportunity of getting at their hearts, and call in to his aid every possible argument to enforce divine truth.  He must give to everyone his portion in due season, milk to babes and meat to strong men; and lead them on from one state of instruction to another as they can bear it, initiating them in the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, and so bringing them forward to perfection.  It must be his object now, by sounding the terrors of the divine law in their ears, to plow up the fallow ground of men's hearts; and then, by proclaiming the glad tidings of the gospel, to cast in the seeds of every Christian grace and virtue.  He must be instant in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long-suffering (2 Tim. 4:2); put out his whole strength, be superior to every discouragement, and labor incessantly in his duty.

Pain and pleasure will attend all his exertions, and alternately affect his spirits.  The different characters he has to deal with, and different impressions the Word makes at different times; the various circumstances that arise to aid or obstruct his endeavors, and the various frames to which he is himself liable; these will all operate to create sometimes anxious fears, and at others the most pleasing expectations.  Now we shall hear him with great sadness of heart complaining.  Who hath believed my report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? (Isa. 53:1) and then, in the animated language of the apostle, thanking God for that he hath cause him to triumph in Christ, and made manifest by his labors the savor of his knowledge in every place (2 Cor. 2:14).  Now we see him go forth weeping, bearing precious seed: and then come again rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him (Psa. 126:6).--Such are the duties and labors, such the anxieties and hopes, such the disappointments and successes of those who preach the gospel, and who answer to the character of the sower in our parable [Matt. 13:1-23] who went forth to sow."

"Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation...Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you," (Heb. 13:7, 17).

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Book Review: Why Should We Sing Psalms?

Why Should We Sing Psalms? by Joel Beeke is part of the 12-booklet Cultivating Biblical Godliness series published by Reformation Heritage Books.  This short booklet, at just 30 pages, looks at why Christians should sing psalms in corporate worship.

Mr. Beeke considers three areas for why Christians should sing psalms: the biblical basis, the experiential benefits, and the beauty and glory of singing.  First, he notes three biblical reasons for singing psalms: (1) God gave the psalms for Israel and all nations to sing, (2) the psalms reveal Christ and His sufferings and glory, and (3) Jesus and the New Testament church sang the psalms.

Next, he gives us three experiential reasons for singing the psalms: (1) it causes the word of Christ to dwell in us richly, (2) it helps us to be filled with God's Spirit, and (3) it enables us to worship God in every experience.

Then, Mr. Beeke looks at two aspects of the beauty and glory of singing the psalms: (1) the psalms lift up our eyes to the hope of glory and (2) the psalms keep God supreme in our worship.  He also appeals to church history as a reason for singing psalms and notes that "when men began to turn away from a God-centered faith, they also turned away from the Psalter," (p. 28).

The arguments that Mr. Beeke presents are appealing, but as a layperson, I do not have the influence needed to incorporate psalm singing into the services of my local church.  I have tried to add psalm singing to my private worship of God, but I have not been successful using the Psalter in my devotional time.  In part, this is due to my own lack of musical skill, but I also think that the psalms are primarily meant for corporate worship.

Therefore, I recommend Why Should We Sing Psalms? for all Christians, but for change to take place in the worship structure of today's church, the singing of psalms needs to be embraced by the elders and deacons of individual local churches.

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord," (Col. 3:16).

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Right Use of Parables in Preaching

In his book Matthew 13: The Parable of the Sower, Samuel Stennett (1728-1795) looks at the proper use of parables as a mode of instruction and how they should assist in the interpreting of Scripture.  He warns "against the wanton abuse of allegory, too common among some people in discourses on religious subjects," (p. 32).

Before Mr. Stennett expounds Matthew 13, he defines what a parable is and how they should be rightfully used in scriptural interpretation.  He notes that the "word parable, as appears from its derivation, signifies a similitude or comparison...This mode of instruction is familiar and pleasant.  Sensible objects may very properly be considered as images of spiritual and invisible things; and by this use of them we are assisted in our conceptions and reasonings about matters, of which we should otherwise have scarce any idea at all," (p. 32).

First, the author looks at the rules for assisting in the interpretation of parables:
  1. The carefully attending to the occasion of them (pp. 33-34)
  2. Our attention should be steadily fixed to that object (p. 34)
  3. That great caution should be observed in our reasoning from the parables to the peculiar doctrines of Christianity (pp. 34-35)
Mr. Stennett stresses that "[w]e mean not therefore to condemn the use of metaphors and similitudes, but only to correct the abuse of them.  And what occasion there is for an attempt of this kind none can be ignorant, who consider the manner in which public preaching is conducted in many popular assemblies," (pp. 35-36).  He reminds us that "our Lord had particular reasons for speaking so frequently in parables, and that after His ascension, when the veil was taken off the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, another mode of instruction took place.  The apostles, wherever they came, held up the truth in its most plain and simple form, represented things as they were, entering into their nature, qualities, connections, and evidence, with no other assistance from figure and allegory than was absolutely necessary.  If this fact were duly weighed, I think it would check the luxuriance of some good men's imagination in this way, and bring them back to the standard of preaching in the New Testament," (pp. 39-40).

Again, the author notes that he does not want to forbid figures, comparisons, and similitudes, but warns pastors who use allegorical preaching to use them with discretion and moderation.  He cautions that:
  1. An intemperate use of figures tends to sensualize the mind and deprave the taste (pp. 42-43)
  2. The misapplication of figures gives false ideas to the hearer of the things they are made to stand for (pp. 43-44)
  3. Injudicious reasoning from types and figures begets a kind of faith that is precarious and ineffectual (p. 44)
Finally, he warns against the use of declamatory preaching defined as "all discourses, whether allegorical or not, that are destitute of sober reasoning and addressed merely to the passions; loose essays, or harangues on popular subjects, filled with trite observations, and set off with witty conceits and trifling stories, delivered in a manner more suitable to the stage than the pulpit," (p. 46).  This type of preaching does not instruct and edify, but it is pernicious because:
  1. It begets contempt in those who are ill-affected to religion (p. 46)
  2. It excites levity in those who are indifferent (p. 46)
  3. It disgusts sensible and serious Christians (p. 46)
  4. It mistakes the effect of a mere mechanical influence upon their passions, for the work of God upon their hearts (p. 46)

"For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ," (Gal. 1:10).