Round Up

Remembering Jesus – Even as a new husband I know the importance of remembering my wedding anniversary. It wouldn’t quite cut it if on that day I did nothing special for my wife and only mentally acknowledged our anniversary. She wouldn’t say, “How thoughtful! I’m glad you didn’t forget.” You don’t remember your anniversary by stating the facts. She would rightly expect that the concept of remembering our anniversary involves a layer of activity, such as me writing a note or taking her on a date. We remember our covenantal promise as I pursue, cherish, and love her afresh like I vowed on our wedding day.

The Quest for Rest – Augustine’s Confessions is one of the great classics of Christian historical theological literature.  It is admired for its beauty of composition, its sophisticated literary construction, and its vivid and honest recollections of the life of its author. Some scholars would even say it began a new genre of literature. However, Augustine’s purpose in Confessions was not to masterfully write a new type of literature. Instead, he wanted to expose himself spiritually to his readers so they would learn from his example and find rest in worshipping God through the grace of faith in Christ.

The Immanuel Mantra – I’m a complete idiot, but my future is extremely bright.

Rise Early – William Law (1686-1761) was an English Puritan theologian best known for writing works in the category of practical divinity, a category to which we refer today as “Christian living” or “devotional literature.” His most famous work was a classic titled A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. In it, he argues strenuously that the best way for a Christian to begin his day is to rise very early and spent the first hours in prayer and Scripture meditation.

God’s Christmas Name

This is from John Frame and is originally entitled, “God in Time.”

On Christmas, we celebrate something quite wonderful: God entering our time and space. The eternal becomes temporal; the infinite becomes finite; the Word that created all things becomes flesh.

Incarnation

Oh, the mystery of it all! The one who knows all things (John 16:30, 21:17) must “grow in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). The all-sufficient one (Acts 17:25) must hunger and thirst (Matt. 4:2, John 19:28). The creator of all must be homeless (Matt. 8:20). The Lord of life must suffer and die. God in the flesh must endure estrangement from God the Father (Matt. 27:46).

In Jesus, God the Son, who knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), must watch his eternal plan unfold bit by bit, moment by moment. He grows from infancy, to childhood, to adulthood, responding to events as they happen. One time he rejoices; another time he weeps. From day to day, from hour to hour, the changeless God endures change. But God the Son incarnate is still God, still transcendent. As he responds to events in time, he also looks down on the world from above time and space, ruling all the events of nature and history.

Why did God enter time in Christ? Joseph named his baby Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). It was the Father’s love (John 3:16) that sent his Son, “that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The Son of God took on the limitations of time, even death, so that we who deserve death can have life without limit, forever with God. He died in our place, that we might never die.

At the incarnation of Jesus, the angels stand amazed (Luke 2:14, Eph. 3:10, 1 Pet. 1:11-12). And at this event, non-Christian philosophers and religious teachers look on in bewilderment. In non-Christian systems of thought, it is impossible for ultimate reality to enter time and space. For the eastern religions, and for Plato, Aristotle, and the ancient Gnostics, the supreme being is impersonal, and it would lose its absoluteness if it came in contact with temporal reality. For other religions and philosophies, the supreme being, if it exists at all, is the temporal world itself, or an aspect of it. For them, “god incarnate” could be at most indistinguishable from the rest of the finite world.

Only in biblical religion is there a clear affirmation of a personal God distinct from the world he has made, who is able to come into that world without compromising himself and without losing himself in the world. As incarnate, he remains fully God, and he reveals his full deity, clearly, to his creatures, even amid all the mysteries I mentioned earlier. But this means that only in Scripture do we learn of a God who loves us so much, so wonderfully, so powerfully, that he enters time on our behalf and stands strong to win God’s battle in history against Satan and sin.

Theophany

The incarnation is wonderful, and absolutely unique. Only once did God become a man. He remains God and man forever (Col. 2:9, Heb. 7:24). He became man once, that we might be saved from sin once for all.

But the incarnation was not the first occasion on which God entered time. Scripture records other times when God met human beings in history: with Adam and Eve in the Garden, with Noah, with the patriarchs and Moses, with Isaiah in the temple, and so on. He appeared to Israel in the wilderness, in the cloud and the fire, for over forty years. His glory descended upon the tabernacle and the temple.

These events, that theologians call “theophanies” (“appearances” of God), are not incarnations. In them, God does not become flesh forever, to die for sins and rise to glory. But they are similar to the incarnation of Jesus in some ways. Certainly, they are mysterious. As in Jesus, God in theophany enters a historical process, a series of events. He becomes an actor in his own historical drama.

In Isaiah 6, God watches and listens to the angels sing his praises. He waits until they are done. Then he hears Isaiah’s repentance, observes his symbolic cleansing (6-7), speaks to Isaiah, hears his reply (8) and continues the conversation (9-13). God acts in time, responding to each event as it comes, doing what is appropriate at each moment. He changes, in a way: for at one time he listens; at another he speaks. He changes, though he is unchangeable (James 1:17).

In Ex. 32, Israel rebels against God by worshipping a golden calf. God threatens to destroy them and replace them with a new nation, made up of Moses himself and his descendants (verse 10). But Moses intercedes: Lord, remember your promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God “relents” (verse 14). He does not destroy Israel, though he they do feel his wrath. Here we see how God in theophany accomplishes his eternal plan: through dialogue with a man. He first states an initial intention (a statement of what Israel actually deserves), but then, in response to Moses’ intercession, promises mercy instead. Mercy was always his eternal plan; but he also planned to bring that mercy through human prayer, not without it. Before Moses’ prayer, only judgment was in order. Through a give-and-take between God and Moses, the Lord works out his eternal intention.

In theophany, God, whose eternal plan brings all things to pass (Eph. 1:11), awaits events that he has foreordained. He accomplishes his will, not instantaneously, but by a process. He accomplishes his will in time by becoming an actor in the historical drama of which he himself is the author. He does not hasten to bring it to an end, as he well might. As in the incarnation, he responds to events as they happen. Once he speaks of grace and blessing, another time of judgment. He speaks and acts appropriately as he responds to each situation. In these ways, the mysteries of theophany are similar to those of incarnation.

Temporal Omnipresence

But even incarnation and theophany together do not exhaust the mysterious ways in which God comes into time. For in a sense, God is always in time, in history. We do not hesitate to speak of God’s omnipresence in space: God is everywhere. We can never escape from his presence in blessing and judgment (Psm. 139:7-12, Jonah 1-2, Acts 17:28).  But if God is present in space, he is also present in time. If he is always here, then he is always now as well.

Israel in Egypt knew that God was God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Ex. 3:6); but, groaning under their bondage, they may well have wondered if God was still their God, still able to fulfill his promises after 400 years of silence. I believe that the mysterious name “I AM” (Ex. 3:14) is in part a response to this concern. God says to Moses, “I will be with you” (3:12), not only in the burning bush theophany, but also when Moses stands before Pharaoh to demand his people’s freedom.

He is still with us, now. Jesus said that he would be with us always (Matt. 28:20) in the Spirit (John 14:15-18). That means that God is still an actor in history, as well as transcending history. He is with me as I write, watching one moment pass into the next, responding appropriately to each event, bringing his sovereign Lordship to bear on every situation as it comes, hearing and responding to my prayers. But he is also looking down on the world from his transcendent, timelessly eternal viewpoint. He is both transcendent and immanent. As transcendent, he brings all things to pass according to his eternal plan. As immanent, he works in and with all things, moment by moment, to accomplish his sovereign will.

So Immanuel, God’s Christmas name, is still appropriate. Jesus’ incarnation, unique as it is, is in some respects like the way God relates to his world at all times, in all generations (Psm. 90:1). God is still an actor in our history, acting, responding, grieving, rejoicing. But he acts in history as the sovereign Lord of history.

The “open theist” movement of writers such as Gregory Boyd, William Hasker, Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, and John Sanders, believes that if we are to do justice to the give-and-take between God and his creatures in history, we must reject God’s sovereign control over history, even his exhaustive knowledge of the future. Those conclusions do not follow logically, and they are not biblical. (I shall explore open theism in greater depth in myDoctrine of God, forthcoming from P&R Publishers.) Rather, these biblical pictures of God’s actions in time should lead us to a heightened view of God’s sovereignty. Our God is one who can and does accomplish his sovereign will, not only “from above,” by his eternal decrees, but also “from below,” by making all things work together for his good purpose (Rom. 8:28). Even God’s apparent defeats in history are the outworkings of his eternal plan. In the very death of Jesus for our sins, God was acting in time to bring his sovereign purpose to pass (Acts 2:23).

So Christmas reveals in a wonderful way that God acts in time as well as above it. It shows us wonderfully how God relates to us, not only as a mysterious being from another realm, but as a person in our own time and place: interacting with us, hearing our prayers, guiding us step by step, chastising us with fatherly discipline, comforting us with the wonderful promises of the blessings of Christ. Truly he is Immanuel, the God who is really with us, who is nonetheless eternally the sovereign Lord of all.

Spurgeon Thursday

 WHY SOME SEEKERS ARE NOT SAVED

NO. 2411

INTENDED  FOR READING ON LORD’S DAY, MAY 5, 1895.

DELIVERED BY C. H. SPURGEON,

AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON,

ON LORD’S-DAY EVENING, MAY 8, 1887.

 “Behold the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear:

but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.”

Isaiah. 59:1, 2.

 THERE are some people who are not saved though  we would have expected that they would have been converted long ago. Our text explains the reason, so, without  any preface, let us come to it at once.

Young SpurgeonI. First, let us consider THE FACT CONFESSED! The people of whom I am especially thinking, just now, have been hearers of the Gospel, and diligent  hearers,  too. Their seat is seldom vacant and they are not among those who go to sleep during the sermon. They do not enjoy the Sunday after the fashion of the countryman, who said that he liked that day best because he could go to church, put up his feet, fall asleep and think of nothing at all. The people to whom I am referring really listen to what the preacher has to say. They are attentive  and they seek to retain in their memories the Truths of God he preaches. They even talk when they are at home of the striking passages, if such there are, in what they have heard. You would suppose that such persons would get a blessing from the Gospel, yet they do not.

They have now been listening for years to an earnest minister—they would not like to hear one who was not earnest. They have grown to be somewhat discriminating in their taste—they know what is the Gospel and they would not care to be present at a service in which the Gospel was not clearly set forth.  Yet, for all this, they are not saved! They stand out in the shower, yet they are not wet! They are like Gideon’s fleece, perfectly dry when all the ground  was saturated  with the dew. This is a strange circumstance, but, alas, by no means an uncommon one! We would not have thought  that there could be such people, but we are compelled to believe that there are, for we frequently stumble across them—people  who are often sitting under the sound of the Gospel, yet who never hear it with the ears of their heart! The light shines upon their  eyes, yet they do not see it, for thick scales seem to be there to hide from them the beams of the sun.

You will be, perhaps, still more surprised when I add that there are some people who go beyond hearing and yet are not saved. They have become men of prayer, after a fashion—are they not described in the chapter I read to you? [Exposition of Isaiah 58 at end of sermon—ED.]“Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness and forsook not the ordinances of their God: they ask of Me the ordinances of justice, they take delight in approaching God.” These people are in such a state of mind that if they went to their business without the repetition  of a form of prayer, they would be uneasy through the whole day! What is more, it is not merely a form of prayer—in  some cases there is a measure of life, desire and earnestness in their devotions. Only this morning, one of them sighed when the sermon was over and he said, “Oh, that I could be a friend of God!”

And a few Sunday nights ago, the one of whom I am speaking, when he reached his home, fell on his knees in his own private room and asked God to bless the Word to his soul. This same thing happened to him ten or even 20 years ago— he has often been stirred up and driven to his knees in prayer—yet  he has gone no further, but still remains, to his own consciousness, an undecided, hesitating  person, on the borders of the Kingdom of God, yet not in the Kingdom—almost persuaded, yet not fully persuaded to be a Christian! You know, dear Hearers, and I hardly need tell you, that a man who is almost honest is a rogue, and the man who is almost a Christian is not a Christian! There was a man who was almost saved in a fire, but he was Continue reading