One Who Rules in the Kingdoms of Men

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

Foundational to this biblical truth are two other biblical truths, both of which will become increasingly important for us to cement into our minds. Let me explain.

If Jesus is right here, which he is, the naturalist view of the world can’t be. When nature is Lord of human history, the meek are crushed. The powerful, greedy, and violent force their way to the top. The world, in this scenario, operates on the survival of the fittest. Translation: the meek don’t inherit anything. Thankfully, however, nature is not Lord. Jesus is Lord, and He sees fit for righteousness to prevail in the end; the meek will, in history, inherit the earth. This has everything to do with the Lordship of Christ, the Lord whom “hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.”[1] God does this all the time that we might know that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and given it to whomsoever He will.”[2]

With this truth firmly fixed in our minds, how then are we to make sense of the current state of affairs? As things stand, the unrighteous rulers of this age are having a field day. The Lawless are making the laws, and the unrighteous are declaring what makes up righteousness. Darkness is masquerading, quite poorly, as light. Where do these two premises lead? Only one place, judgment. These two truths, God’s Lordship and the exaltation of the unrighteous, cannot coincide indefinitely. At the end of the day, God wins.

So, living where we are, what should our first application of all this be? Pray. Pray hard, and here is a good suggestion for starting:

“It is time for thee, LORD, to work: for they have made void thy law.” Psalm 119:126

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Luke 1:52. See also 1 Samuel 2:5, and 1 Peter 5:5-6.
  2. Daniel 4:25, 5:21.
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The Antidote to Legalism

Legalism is a two-headed, fire breathing monster. Christians get devoured by this beast on a regular basis. Not just individuals, but entire churches. How do we go about lopping off these ugly heads?

What is Legalism?

Legalism, as I understand it, can be defined two ways:

1. By adding to the Law of God (see Deut. 12:32, Matt. 15:1-9).

or

2. By thinking we can justify ourselves by keeping God’s Law (see Rom. 3:19-20).

The first person doesn’t think that God’s Law is holy enough, so he adds to it. The second person thinks God’s Law is less holy than it is, and so he thinks he can keep it in his sinful condition. In each of these scenarios, both people have one thing in common: a low view of the Law of God.

A High View of the Law

When Christians have a high view of God’s Law, it breaks the spine of legalism in both forms. The man who sees God’s Law rightly won’t try to add or subtract anything, but rather will declare with David the perfections of God’s Word (see Psalm 19). The second person, when he sees the Law aright, realizes how far he actually falls from keeping it. A high view of the Law shows this man his sin, and leads him to Christ for forgiveness and redemption. A low view of the Law leads to a low view of sin; a low view of sin leads to a low view of our Savior.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,

nor standeth in the way of sinners,

nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord;

and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,

that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;

his leaf also shall not wither;

and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Psalm 1

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When Law and Gospel Meet

I have heard many times, and often lamented myself, that the Christian Church is far too often identified by what it stands against, rather than what it proclaims. As is generally the case, there are truths embedded in both extremes; ideas tend to swing like pendulums, oftentimes missing the full-orbed biblical truth in both directions.

When culture starts going to seed, two groups seem to inevitably pop up in the Christian camp. The first becomes entirely fixated on preaching “Thou Shalt Not” until they are blue in the face, and the second group becomes just as fixated on preaching a gospel of “Just as I Am”, with no mention of God’s law at all. It becomes clear, however, that both of these folks are only preaching half the story, and thus a truncated gospel.

There is a real cause for pause when we hear that it’s wrong to be known by what you’re against, precisely because this is the very way God’s commands are given. God could have, instead of revealing a “Thou Shalt Not,” revealed a “Thou Shall.” John Murray was quite right when he wrote that:

“Underlying each commandment is a sanctity. Underlying the first is the sanctity of the being of God—there is none other but he. Underlying the second is the sanctity of the worship of God—he may be worshipped only in a way that is consonant with his spirituality and his holiness, and therefore only in the way which he himself prescribed. Underlying the third is the sanctity of the name of God—the name of God expresses his glory and reverence for his being must carry with it reverence for his name. Underlying the fifth commandment is the sanctity of the parental relationship, underlying the sixth the sanctity of life, underlying the seventh the sanctity of the source of life or of the instruments for the propagation of life, underlying the eighth the sanctity of property, underlying the ninth the sanctity of truth, underlying the tenth the sanctity of individual possession.”[1]

God could have gone to Israel in the fire and smoke, and told them all the things that He was for (and, He certainly is all for these things, as Murray aptly points out). The point here is that there is nothing inherently wrong with being expressly against things, the Bible is such all the time.

Hopefully, however, the above quote also points out that the positive and the negative here are inescapably connected; you really can’t have one without the other. The folks who want to solely focus on gospel preaching without any reference to God’s law lose the radical nature of God’s grace. Sin is the transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4). If we do not understand the weight of our sin, we cannot ever understand the power of God’s grace toward us in Christ. On the other hand, if we are preaching a law that does not drive us to Jesus for salvation, we are probably not preaching God’s law at all. In other words, when we set the bar at such a level that we are not convicted for lawlessness, we have set the bar far lower than God’s standard.

If the world knows what the Gospel requires repentance from, that is a good thing. All men are required to repent, and all men are required to repent for actual sins. Repentance by itself, however, does nothing if it isn’t evangelical repentance. We must turn from sin, and we must turn towards Christ for salvation. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and we cannot look anywhere else.

A high view of God’s law is necessary for a high view of God’s grace.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Collected Writings, vol. 1, page 215. Banner of Truth, 1976. The next paragraph starts, “What then is the sanctity underlying the fourth commandment? It is the sanctity of every recurring seventh day as the day of rest to the Lord.” This quote is taken from an argument for the continuing validity of the Sabbath command.
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Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith

image So, consider this a recommendation. Bahnsen was known for his precision, scholarship, and deep commitment to the Lord Jesus. This work, published posthumously, displays all of these things. It also shows his pastoral care for Christ’s Church. If you are new to apologetics, or you would like to learn more about defending the Christian faith, get this book.

I would like to add some comments here, however, in light of my recommendation. Firstly, it should be noted that the theological framework presented here for apologetics is both timeless and applicable to any apologetic conversation: Bahnsen was incredibly concerned with the development and exposition of a full-orbed Christian worldview. This means, necessarily, kneeling first the Lordship of Christ over every area of life. The second comment here is that, in some ways, the specific apologetic concerns addressed in this book are primarily in the context of atheism or agnosticism. There have been other works specifically focused on “world religions” from a Reformed perspective, but this is not one. I thought that would be worth noting, since the issue seems to be more current now than perhaps when these chapters were compiled. Lastly, this book is intended for Christians. I am sure that it would be helpful to the unbeliever in understanding Christianity, but that is not the intent. This book was intended to help teach Christians the task to which they are commanded (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).

The book itself is split up into five categories: the Lordship of Christ in the realm of knowledge, the conditions necessary for the apologetic task, how to defend the faith, the conditions necessary for apologetic success, and finally answers to apologetic challenges. Each one of these sections is logically built on the ones previous to it, and contains numerous short chapters. I found the layout and logical progression of the book to be very helpful.

I wanted to end this post with a very helpful admonition from this book, especially to the theological student. Bahnsens writes that when “all is said and done, it is not the theory of apologetics which defends the faith and stops the mouths of critics. Only the practice of apologetics can do that.”[1]

May God continue to raise up faithful men who are always ready to defend the hope that is within them.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Page 151.
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Which Worldview?

Early last week I stumbled across a news article that spoke of a woman who was forced to resign her position at a Muslim school for not adhering to the Quran-inspired dress code. The dress code would require her to wear a hijab (traditional Muslim head-covering).  The woman, who wished to remain nameless, would not comply with the dress code because she identifies herself as a Christian. Initial reaction to the article may be curiosity as to whether or not refusing to submit to such a strict dress code could or should be grounds for resignation. The reader may also become angry when reading the different ways the teacher was harassed by her co-workers and superiors for not submitting to the dress code.

My initial thoughts were, “why on earth is a Christian woman teaching in a Muslim school?” It seems like a silly question to have to ask. I am no expert in statistics, but I must assume that an overwhelming majority of Christians would be asking the same question. I would guess that that same majority would agree that it is not wise for a Christian person to teach in a Muslim school. Common sense says that it must be difficult for a Christian to thrive in a school dominated by the Muslim culture. The disheartening thing, is that I would also guess that most of those Christians would say they do not have a problem teaching in, or sending their kids to government run public schools.

Just like the Muslim school, the public school promulgates an anti-Christian worldview. The agenda of the government schools is just as anti-Christian as the agenda set forth by a Mohammedan school. In both instances, Christ is not acknowledged as Lord over all. An education that is not firmly resting on the foundation of the existence of the God of the Bible is doomed. The problem is that many Christians believe the public schools are religiously neutral. Because students are not forced to wear black robes and repeat the words of the Satanic Mass, the public school is deemed to be a safe environment for our precious Christian children. They believe that if the students and the teachers leave their respective religions at the door that they can compromise when it comes to education. Dr. Greg Bahnsen comments on this:

No such compromise is even possible. “No man is able to serve two lords” (Matt. 6:24). It should come as no surprise that,in a world where all things have been created by Christ (Col. 1:16) and are carried along by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3) and where all knowledge is therefore deposited in Him who is The Truth (Col. 2:3; John 14:6) and who must be Lord over all thinking (2 Cor. 10:5), neutrality is nothing short of immorality. “Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world makes himself and enemy of God” (James 4:4).[1]

The case needs to be made that education is not neutral, and Christians sending their kids to a Mohammedan school is not enormously different than sending their kids to public schools. They may teach different worldviews, but they have one thing in common: an antithesis with Christianity. Christian parents should want their children to be educated in a Godly way. This simply cannot be done in the public school system. Education that ignores the fact that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the ultimate standard of truth is simply satanic. We conclude with more from Dr. Bahnsen:

All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are to be found in Christ; thus if one were to try and arrive at the truth apart from commitment to the epistemic authority of Jesus Christ he would be robbed through vain philosophy and deluded by crafty deceit (see Col. 2:3-8). Consequently, when the Christian approaches scholarship, apologetics, or schooling he must staunchly refuse to acquiesce to the mistaken demands of neutrality in his intellectual life; he must never consent to surrender his distinctive religious beliefs “for the time being,” as though one might thereby arrive at genuine knowledge “impartially.” The beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7).[2]

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Bahnsen, Always Ready, 9
  2. Bahnsen, Always Ready, 7
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Not Their Party

When Christians get into a scholarly scuffle, we too often end up conceding this or that starting point. This may happen for various reasons, but the Christian apologist should always be conscious of where he stands during any conversation. The Christian cannot attempt any discussion from a position of neutrality, nor can he assume that such things as “science” or “history” exist on that level of neutrality either. If Christianity is true, then science and history are fundamentally Christian. We are not walking into someone else’s party (read: worldview), they are walking into ours. If Christianity is true in the absolute sense, which it is, then the Christian apologist never has to be afraid of the facts; all of those already belong to God, and are governed by Him.

This particular understanding is something that comes by faith. Which is why, in my opinion, evidentialism falls so far flat. Consider this line from Chesterton:

It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it.[1]

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Orthodoxy, chapter six.
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Machen on Freedom and Law

This excerpt is worth sharing, so, here I go.

“…all sorts of things are being proposed to check the ravages of crime. One proposes that we shall all be fingerprinted and be treated like paroled criminals required to show identification cards as we walk the streets, whenever required to do so according to the whims of the police,–no longer allowed to go about our business unhindered until there is some sort of legitimate suspicion that we are guilty of crime. Another proposes that teachers even in private schools and Christian schools shall be regarded as government officials, being required to take an oath of allegiance as is done in Hitlerized Germany. A thousand nostrums are being brought to our attention, different in many particulars but all alike in being destructive of that civil and religious liberty which our fathers won at such a cost.

Such measures will never accomplish even the end that they have in view. Patriotism can never be implanted in people’s hearts by force. The attempt to do that serves only to crush out patriotism when it is already there. The march of communism or other forms of slavery can never checked by suppression of freedom of speech. Such suppression serves only to render more dangerous the progress of the destructive ideas.

What then is the remedy for the threatened disruption of society and for the rapidly progressing decay of liberty?

There is really only one remedy. It is the rediscovery of the law of God.”

Excerpt taken from The Christian View of Man by J. Gresham Machen, 1937. There are many more gems from this book, some which I will try to get onto here at some point.

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To Hear Christ’s Name

“I have read of an old Welsh believer who used to walk several miles every Sunday to hear an English clergyman preach, though she did not understand a word of English. She was asked why she did so. She replied that this clergyman named the name of Christ so often in his sermons that it did her good. She loved even the name of her Saviour.” (Ryle, Holiness, p. 247)

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Setting Jesus Against Himself

Sometimes Jesus is in vogue, and this happens in different ways. I am not talking about the History Channel around Christmas and Easter, but rather about ethics and liberal Christianity. There are a great many number of people who pit the Gospel accounts over against the rest of the Bible, and who likewise believe that every ethical command of God must be derived from the Sermon on the Mount. (I will get to the deep irony of this in a minute.) When Jesus speaks in the Gospels, the thinking goes, what He says trumps everything else in the Bible. Moreover than that, it is perfectly acceptable to shrug off the entire Old Testament as “ridiculous” or even “barbaric.” After all, we have New Testament Gandhi Jesus.

The problem with all of this is very simple: in order to believe in this Jesus, you must actually disbelieve what Jesus in the Gospels says. At this point, you simply cannot have your cake and eat it too. If what Jesus says goes as the rule of life for Christians, than the Old Testament comes with it.

Two Sayings in Matthew

The height of all irony in this view comes from something Jesus actually says in the Sermon on the Mount itself. Let me paste it here for you, but you may have to look it up for yourself anyways.

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” [1]

My plan here is not to do a full exegesis of this passage. [2] I really just want to point out the fact that most of the folks I described above would have an awfully hard time agreeing with Jesus here. Until heaven and earth pass away? Jesus meant that no jot or tittle would pass away until we have iPhones. This must be what He meant!

The second passage I would like to point out comes right before the Sermon. Here Jesus, when resisting the wiles of the Devil, says this, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”[3] Where is this written, Jesus? Deuteronomy. God’s Law. What Word is Jesus living by here? God’s Law. That’s from the Old Testament.

I need not belabor the point. You simply cannot extract Jesus and set Him over against the rest of the Bible. In order to do that, you must set Jesus against Himself.

Marcion lost to orthodoxy. He lost to Christianity.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Matthew 5:17-19, KJV.
  2. Dr. Greg Bahnsen did this pretty thoroughly, if you’re interested.
  3. Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3, KJV.
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Swapping Ideals

Christianity is the sort of thing that should, and necessarily will, change culture. In our own day, however, many Christians are far more content to let culture change Christianity. Reform without unity is chaos, and unity requires common goals. Here is a bit from Chesterton that will help explain this:

“Progress is a metaphor from merely walking along a road–very likely the wrong road. But reform is a metaphor for reasonable and determined men: it means that we see a certain thing out of shape and we mean to put it into shape. And we know what shape. […] Progress should mean that we are always walking towards the New Jerusalem. It does mean that the New Jerusalem is always walking away from us. We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier.”[1]

In order for true reform to happen, we cannot swap out our ideals. I have heard it leveled time and time again that the Postmillennialist is a mere “Utopian.” This charge falls short on numerous levels, and demonstrates many false assumptions about the postmillennial view. Aside from getting into all that, this particular line from Chesterton raised the question in my mind: is it reasonable for a Christian to reject a view solely on how impossible it now seems? Chesterton might say, were he himself speaking in this context, that reform simply becomes much easier if we change the ideal, because it is much easier on us that way. No one said reform was easy.

Is part of the reason Christianity has “lost” so many cultural and theological battles because reformers no longer have any unified ideal? Perhaps.

Eschatology is more important than most people like to think.

One single reformer, saying “Here I stand,” is more important than most people think too. We need sharp ideals; we need biblical ideals.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Orthodoxy, chapter VII.
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