The Intermediate State

When a believer dies, his soul goes to be with God, though his body turns to dust. The soul does not sleep. This is proved by Hebrews 12:1, among other passages. The body awaits the resurrection, of which Christ’s resurrection is the first-fruits.

I would like to focus for a bit on how to minister to the dying and the bereaved. This is a vitally important ministry, and is misunderstood by many. Firstly, there is no need to be especially talkative to such people, unless they really want to talk. Often, it is the presence, the aura of peace that you bring that is especially helpful.

Secondly, it is not about the dead that people really wish to talk. Bereaved people really wish to know other things. This is why it is not really helpful to say, “Well, that person is in a better place now.” That’s great for the dead person. And it’s true, if the deceased by a believer. But how does that help the living person? It is much more helpful to say, “You will see that person again (in the case of talking to a believer about a believer’s death), talk to them again, touch them again, hug them again. There is resurrection, and you will know them again. You will recognize them (a question often asked, by the way).” They do want to know about the intermediate state, but the reality is that the pain is very much on a physical level: it is the physical presence that is missed. It is the person as he existed in the body who is missed.

If you can utter nothing but platitudes, then it is better by far to say nothing. They will not misunderstand you if you utter platitudes (that is, they will assume that you mean well), but they will not derive much comfort from your being there, if you utter platitudes. Instead, if you cannot think of anything to say, just be there, comfortable with silence. This is ministry, too. Do not think that you must say something. For many people, they would simply prefer you be there, but be silent. It can be helpful to ask them whether or not they wish to talk. Make yourself available for the form of comfort in which they are interested.

Do not ever underestimate the power of touch to comfort. They miss the person on a physical level very much. Comfort, then, on a physical level can be very helpful, especially holding their hand and hugging. Do not be ashamed or uncomfortable if they start crying. Cry with them.

Passages for bereaved people are: Psalm 23, Job 19, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4, John 11, Revelation 21-22

For the dying person, the Gospel is the focus, especially the resurrection aspect of it. Dying believers really need to know that this is not the end, but rather the beginning of victory. They need to know that Christ’s resurrection has turned death from defeat into victory. They need to know about the resurrection body. This gives inestimable comfort. 1 Cor 15 is key here.

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True Repentance

Genesis 42
In his book I Surrender, Patrick Morley writes that the church’s integrity problem is in the mis- conception “that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin. It is a change in belief without a change in behavior.” He goes on to say, “It is revival without reformation, without repentance.” How do you know if true repentance has taken place? You can find out by looking at the fruit of repentance: a changed life, a permanently changed life. Charles Hodge said this, “The sure test of the quality of any supposed change of heart will be found in its permanent effects. ‘By their fruits you shall know them’ is as applicable to the right method of judging ourselves as of judging others. Whatever, therefore, may have been our inward experience, whatever joy or sorrow we may have felt, unless we bring forth fruits meet for repentance, our experience will profit us nothing. Repentance is incomplete unless it leads to confession and restitution in cases of injury; unless it causes us to forsake not merely outward sins, which others notice, but those which lie concealed in the heart; unless it makes us choose the service of God and live not for ourselves but for Him. There is no duty which is either more obvious in itself, or more frequently asserted in the Word of God, than that of repentance.” What Joseph is doing in this chapter is finding out if the brothers have truly changed. All his actions are directed towards reconciliation. However, reconciliation cannot happen unless true repentance has taken place on the part of the brothers. In the same way, God wants reconciliation with us. But He will not do it unless He has first enabled repentance to take place in our lives.

It is therefore vital to describe what repentance is, and what it is not. Repentance is not merely a confession of sin. That is required, of course, but it is not the full definition of repentance. Repentance means a complete turn-around in a person’s life. One poor pastor said once that repentance is a complete 360 degree turn around from sin. You can see that math is sometimes important to know! I think 180 degrees would be a much more helpful way of putting it. Well, what does repentance mean for Joseph’s brothers? It means that they will not treat Benjamin the same way they treated Joseph.

We start off the chapter with Jacob finding out that there is grain in Egypt. So, he sends off his brothers, all except Benjamin. Verse 4 seems to indicate to us that Jacob didn’t really trust the brothers. The last time he sent off one of Rachel’s offspring to the brothers, Joseph got killed (at least in his own mind). So, he wasn’t taking any chances with what would surely be a fairly dangerous journey. He keeps Benjamin close by him. That probably had the unwitting effect of arousing the slumbering consciences of the brothers. They would have been reminded of Joseph by Jacob’s actions. They have that on which to ponder as they make their way slowly down to Egypt, the place where they knew that Joseph had been sold as a slave. Never in their wildest dreams did they think that Joseph would be in a position of power. It was in Joseph’s wildest dreams, but not in theirs.

Verse 6 shows us that the brothers cannot thwart the plan of God. Joseph’s dream had been that his brothers’ sheaves of grain (!) would bow down to his, signifying that they themselves would bow down to him. Now they do it quite unwittingly. Their grain being gone, they have to bow down to the seeming Egyptian, and his large store of grain. Probably Joseph didn’t have a lot of time to react. He had to make a decision quickly: how was he going to treat them? Would he forgive and forget? Or would he try for something even deeper: reconciliation through the repentance of the brothers? He knew that he could drop the facade at any time. So he decides to try to find a way to see if they have really changed or not. He accuses them of being spies. Anyone accused of being a spy starts telling their accuser all sorts of interesting things. Joseph noticed that Jacob and Benjamin were not there with the brothers. He wanted to find out if they were still alive. After wearing them down with repeated accusations, Joseph does get them to tell him that Jacob and Benjamin are in fact still alive. Their answers to his accusations are a bit hurried and disjointed, as you might expect from people accused of a crime of which they know they are innocent, though the accusation was quite sudden and unexpected. That combination of factors helps to explain why they almost stutter with protestations of innocence. Joseph has the edge here, because he recognizes them, since they wore beards, and there were 10 of them. They hadn’t changed nearly as much as he had. He was a smooth-shaven, well-dressed, powerful Egyptian, who used an interpreter, and spoke harsh Egyptian. No wonder they didn’t recognize him!

Now, Joseph’s accusations are entirely ridiculous. Who ever heard of a spy ring consisting of ten brothers, all in the same place, with donkeys obviously brought for taking back food? It is not really credible. However, as was said, this accusation had the purpose of keeping them from recognizing him, and telling him what he wanted to know. Calvin has this to say: “it was to be feared lest they, keeping their father out of sight, and wishing to cast a veil over the detestable wickedness which they had committed, should only increase it by a new crime. There lurked, also, a not unreasonable suspicion concerning his brother Benjamin, lest they should attempt something perfidious and cruel against him. It was therefore important that they should be more thoroughly sifted.” And it was important that this happen while the brothers were ignorant of his real identity. Jesus would similarly sift the Jews of His day. He spoke in parables in order to sift them, to see if they would repent or not. Candlish says this, “In this respect he fitly represents a greater than himself, one raised to a higher glory, for a wider purpose of grace. Jesus is “exalted, a prince and a Savior, to give repentance unto Israel, and the remission of sins;” -not the remission of sins only- but repentance and the remission of sins together. Joseph could have no difficulty about giving his brothers remission of sins; he has forgiven them long ago in his heart, and right gladly would he assure them of that at once. But, acting under divine guidance, he must so deal with them as to force upon them a deep and salutary exercise of soul, which in the end is to be blessed for their more complete peace, -their more thorough unity and prosperity,- in the day when the full joy of reconciliation is to be experienced.”

Joseph gives them a taste of their own medicine by putting them in prison for three days. This has at least two purposes: one is to give himself some time to think about how he will pursue this reconciliation. The other purpose is to make the brothers aware that this is exactly what they did to Joseph. In the book The Horse and His Boy, Aslan, the Christ figure, gives the main character five scratches, to help the main character know what someone else had gone through. Aslan’s comment was this, “It was necessary that you should feel what this other person felt.” Joseph does exactly this, and the result is exactly that for which he had hoped. The brothers are thinking only about Joseph. We said earlier that their consciences had already been awakened. Now, their consciences are in full force. They all agree that it was because of their treatment of Joseph that they were going through this trial.

Now, Joseph had required that one of the brothers go back and get Benjamin. Otherwise, he would not believe their story. In verse 20, Joseph tells them that their words will be verified only if they bring back Benjamin. Joseph knows that they will have to come back, since there is at least five more years of famine left. So, the brothers in prison are surely discussing which one of them will have to go back to tell Jacob that the youngest brother will have to go back if all the brothers are to survive. Reuben does not want to do it. That is the reason for his self-justifying comment here in verse 22. However, Reuben’s comment is not so compelling. Reuben actually recommended that they throw Joseph into the pit. He is here claiming credit for his god intentions, though his good intentions were not strong enough to overturn the other brothers’ bad intentions. However, it is a piece of information which Joseph had not known before. It is Reuben’s comment that makes Joseph turn away and weep. He sees that the brothers are not completely hardened. It is also Reuben’s comment that makes Joseph pass him by and instead take Simeon to be the hostage. Simeon will have to cool his heels in Joseph’s prison until the brothers come back with Benjamin. As we will see, that is quite a long time.

Well, the brothers are ready. After Joseph unexpectedly gives them leniency, and reverses the number of those who will go versus the number of those who will stay. Joseph unexpectedly gives them their money back. Probably, this had more than one motive as well. Joseph wanted to care for his brothers. He had long forgiven them in the past, as is very clear from his statement later on when he says that it was the Lord’s doing. However, Joseph also wants to up the ante here. They are going to have to come back afraid, thinking that they would be labelled thieves in addition to the charge they already have of being spies.

After the brothers tell their father about their encounter, selectively removing anything that appears bad, they empty their sacks, and discover that their money has been returned to them. Now, we have a difficulty here. Earlier the text says that one of the brothers opens his sack to find his money. And in chapter 43, verse 21, the brothers tell Joseph on their second trip that they all found out at the same time at the stopping place. How come chapter 42 seems to imply that only one of them found out at the stopping place, and that all the rest of them didn’t find out until later? Liberal scholars say that the answer lies in the theory of two sources, and that there is no way to resolve the contradiction. I disagree. I believe that the reason has more to do with how good the brothers want to look to their father. Notice that they leave out the part of the one brother finding his money returned to him. Probably what happened is that they all found out at the stopping place. But they pretended that they had not found out. They wanted to have as much credibility with their father as possible. So they wait until they can all find out together, so that when Jacob found out (as he surely would), he wouldn’t blame the brothers. This was a needless deception on the part of the brothers, but they did it anyway.

The main point of this whole chapter has to do with guilt and repentance. That is Joseph’s entire aim, as we have seen. And in this chapter, we have seen that the brothers have admitted their guilt before God. This is an essential step in the reconciliation process. However, as we said at the beginning, we need not only to confess our sin, but also to turn away from it.

So, if you have faith, have you repented? That is, have you left behind your enslavement to sin? We admit, as good Reformed people, that only God can make us do that. But the call is to people: have you repented? It is impossible to say that you believe in God, and then to say that you can still live a life of sin. To quote Candlish again, “Thou art called to deep and salutary exercises of penitential sorrow. If instead relief for thy burdened conscience is granted, and he whom thou hast pierced utters at once the words, “Be of good cheer, it is I, thy sins be forgiven thee;”- with what a flood of tears shouldest thou be graciously mourning for these very forgiven sins? And if it should be otherwise with thee,- if it should seem as if this assured forgiveness were long of coming, and the prince, the Saviour, were long of showing himself,-surely thou canst not pretend that thou hast any right to complain. Thou canst no more take it amiss than Joseph’s brothers could, that thou shouldest have bitter days and nights to spend in thinking over all thy heinous guilt.” Repentance is a sorrowing turn away from sin. It is sorrow that we have sinned against God, not merely sorrow for sin’s consequences. Rather it is sorrow for sin itself. That is the message of repentance, and of our chapter.

The Resurrection and Ascension of Joseph

Genesis 41
Robert Dick Wilson, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary before it went liberal, once heard one of his students preach. Afterward, he came up to the man and said this: “If you come back again, I will not come to hear you preach. I only come once. I am glad that you are a big-godder. When my boys come back, I come to see if they are big-godders or little-godders, and then I know what their ministry will be.” His former student asked him to explain, and he replied, “Well, some men have a little god, and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration and transmission of the Scripture to us. He doesn’t intervene on behalf of his people. They have a little god and I call them little-godders. Then, there are those who have a great God. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show himself strong on behalf of them that fear him. You have a great God; and he will bless your ministry.” He paused a moment, smiled, said, “God bless you,” and turned and walked out. Joseph was a big-godder. He had a massive conception of who God was, and so must we. One of the biggest things about God that is important is that He has brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, and given Him the name that is above every name. But that great event in history is not the only time that God has done something like that. Even to the OT believers, God gave them a picture of what Jesus would look like. God gave them Joseph. That is why I have entitled this sermon “The Resurrection and Ascension of Joseph.” It is truly a great God that we serve, and that is proved over and over again in the pages of Holy Scripture.

God’s providence is evident in a particular way in the beginning of our story. For Joseph is made to wait two whole years before he is delivered from prison. This had a two-fold reason. One reason God did this is so that Joseph would be made perfect through suffering, just as Jesus Christ was. The second reason is that God wanted the perfect timing for the cupbearer to remember. If the cupbearer had remembered earlier, then very little good would have come out of it. But now, a great good will come out of it, nothing less that the salvation of the entire world from starvation. In a similar way, Jesus would endure two days in the grave, but on the third day, Jesus would rise again. If Joseph’s resurrection meant a physical salvation of the world, then Jesus’ resurrection means a spiritual resurrection, and then a bodily resurrection for His people.

The occasion of this great act of God was a dream on Pharaoh’s part. This dream was very scary to Pharaoh for a number of reasons. The first is that the Nile river was the source of life for Egyptians. That is what they believed. However, here the Nile is putting forth bad cows and bad corn. The Nile failed in the dream. That was also a failure of the god of the Nile, whose name was Hapi. The first part of the dream had to do with cows. Cows were sacred animals in Egypt, and symbolized Egypt itself. So Pharaoh knew that something very bad was going to happen, when he started seeing these cannibal cows. He will say later on that the cannibal cows, after eating the fat cows, didn’t even look any better than they were before. And then, after having awoken because of the vividness of the dream, he fell asleep and dreamed another very similar dream. In fact, the two dreams are so alike that Pharaoh thought of them as one. In verse 8, most modern translations say that Pharaoh told his dreams plural to the wise men. Actually, the KJV translates it accurately: he told his dream singular to the wise men. He saw it as one dream. But the interpreters thought of them as two dreams. That is why it says that there was no one to interpret them to Pharaoh. He wasn’t satisfied with any of their interpretations, because they thought of his one dream as two dreams. So the wise men of Egypt cannot interpret for Pharaoh, and they cannot even count right! Pharaoh knew they were really one dream, because there was the element of seven, the element of the later bad things destroying the earlier good things, and the completeness of the “victory” of the bad things.

In this whole process, the cupbearer suddenly remembers Joseph. He tells Pharaoh about Joseph, especially the fact that Joseph had interpreted the dreams correctly. That gets Pharaoh very excited, and all of a sudden, Joseph finds himself brought out, shaved, dressed in new clothes, and brought before Pharaoh. One little interesting detail here: the Hebrew men always wore beards, but the Egyptians never wore them. That is why Joseph had to be shaved. Otherwise, he would not have been presentable to Pharaoh. Pharaoh is so excited that here is one who can interpret dreams. However, Joseph quickly, though gently, corrects the Pharaoh. Joseph tells the Pharaoh that the interpretation belongs to God. It is the same thing that he told to the baker and the cupbearer in the previous chapter. In one word in Hebrew, Joseph disavows any claim to the wisdom necessary to understand dreams, and says instead that God gave it to him. It is vitally important to give God all the glory for any and all gifts that we have, any skills that we have. After having given a particularly devout and moving sermon one Sunday morning, Charles Spurgeon was greeted by members of his congregation. One man said to him, “Sir, that was the greatest sermon I have ever heard and that you have ever preached?” Spurgeon turned to him and said, “Yes, the devil told me that ten minutes ago” But Joseph here takes great care that the arrow should not point to him, but to God. The same thing was true with Jesus Christ. He did not point the arrow at Himself, but rather let His Heavenly Father proclaim what a good Son He had.

Joseph interprets the dream for Pharaoh. Finally, here was someone who could count. Joseph insists that the “two” dreams are really one and the same. The only they came in a two-fold manner was to emphasize how certain would be the fulfillment of this one dream.

Joseph tells Pharaoh that God has revealed what He is about to do. The future is not in the hands of Pharaoh, you see, but rather in the hands of Almighty God. However, after Joseph finishes interpreting the dream, he gives a solution. The dream presents quite a problem for Pharaoh. Joseph knows this, and so has compassion on the Egyptians, and presents them not only with the proper interpretation of the dream, but also with a solution to the problem. Joseph is not thinking of himself here as he describes what this discerning and wise person is to do. He is not jockeying for position. Joseph just wants to get out of prison! He has no idea of himself being the one chosen. That is quite important, because he did grasp after authority like Adam did. Rather, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on him the form of a servant. As a result of this humiliation, God exalted him above every other name that can be named. Only in regard to the throne would Pharaoh be higher than Joseph. That also is reflected in Christ’s experience, as described in 1 Corinthians 15:27, which says this: “For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.” God the Father is not subject to the Son. Neither is the Son subject to the Father. They are equal, unlike Pharaoh and Joseph in that respect.
Pharaoh reasons very well here. He thinks that since Joseph not only interpreted the dream correctly, but also provided a solution to the problem, there could be no one better qualified to do this thing than Joseph himself. And so Pharaoh promotes Joseph beyond any other minister in the kingdom. He is the vizier. That is the term used here. Now is fulfilled one of Joseph’s own dreams. He dreamed that the sun, moon, and stars would bow down to him. That refers to the largest superpower of the ancient world, Egypt. Now it is a reality. It is only a matter of time now before the other dream will come true, since the famine will be severe not only in Egypt, but in the rest of the world as well.

The seven years of plenty follow immediately, and Egypt and Joseph are both fruitful and multiplying. Joseph gets married into one of the highest social circles of the land. Priests were very well respected in those days. Joseph has two sons by her: Manasseh and Ephraim. These years are fairly uneventful otherwise, and so we pass on to the years of famine. The people come to Pharaoh, who immediately directs them to Joseph, who is the only one who can give to them the Bread of Life. So also, Jesus is the only one to whom we can go for the Bread of Life. Verse 57 paves the way for the brothers to come, since the famine was severe in all the lands, not just in Egypt. However, because of Joseph’s wise policy of taxation, there was grain in Egypt. Joseph probably did not sell grain to the Egyptians until later years. He was actually rationing it carefully, so as to have enough grain for seven whole years.

So what can we take away from this story? Well, we have seen that Joseph prefigures Jesus Christ in many ways. So also, he prefigures the church. Therefore, the Joseph story also applies to us through Jesus Christ.

For instance, do we take credit for a gift or a skill that we have? It should rather be used for the good of others, and to the honor and glory of God alone. We are NEVER to use our gifts and skills for our own self-aggrandizement. We are never to puff up ourselves, thinking ourselves so great, when everything we have is a gift from God. Joseph could have taken credit for his interpretation of the dream, but he did not do so. Instead, he used his skill for the good of the world, and, as it turned out, for the good of the OT church.

It is important to head off at the pass an incorrect application of this passage. This passage is not telling us today that we should follow our dreams, to have them interpreted. Hebrews 1 is very clear about this: in the OT, says Hebrews, God revealed Himself in many different ways and at various times. In these NT last days, He has revealed Himself to us in His Son. We need no other revelation than Jesus Christ, as recorded for us in Scripture. If you want to have guidance for your life, then look to Scripture, not to dreams, and not to magic, like horoscopes. The Egyptian magicians were always shown to be incorrect in their interpretations, and incomplete in their knowledge. They couldn’t interpret this dream of Pharaoh’s properly at all. That kind of thing is the way of darkness and confusion. If we want light, then we must go to Scripture, and pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth.

Furthermore, when we have the opportunity to do something great in front of someone else, we should not do it with an eye towards our own interests. This follows closely from what I said before. However, it certainly bears repeating. We are not to be interested in self. We are rather to have the same mind as Christ Jesus, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, making Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. That is what Joseph did, and it is what we should do. So, do the thing that no one else wants to do because it is too low. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, and in the very process showed them what they must do for each other. Maybe you don’t want to take care of your elderly parents or grandparents. But shouldn’t you give them that service? Maybe you don’t want to help your neighbor out with something. Shouldn’t you volunteer? Maybe you don’t want to shovel manure and clean out someone’s cow stalls. Shouldn’t you do that very thing anyway? We should never think that any kind of service to others is beneath us. For Jesus Christ humiliated Himself far more than we ever even could humiliate ourselves. He did that for us so that we could be saved from the wrath of God. Then He tells us to go out and do likewise.

And then, we should not forget God’s providence in bad times. For two years, Joseph could have cursed God for having forgotten him. But God did not forget him. He is a great God. He never forgets, unless it be our sin, when we repent of it and turn away from it. But He never forgets His people. Our trust must be the same as Joseph. He trusted that God would bring him out of his dark and low circumstances.

Do you have a big God or a little god? Are you a big-Godder or a little-godder? Being a big-Godder means that you will experience resurrection and ascension, just as Joseph and Jesus did. God resurrects His people to new life and a place that is above every place that can be named.

The Sacraments

Sacraments are signs and seals. As signs, they function like road markers that point to a city. “Minneapolis this way,” a sign might say. The sign is connected to the city, assuming that no one has tampered with the sign. It points in the right direction. Baptism says “salvation is in Christ; go this way, and repent and believe.” That function is slightly different, depending on whether the sign is administered before faith (in the case of infants) or after faith (presumed faith, in the case of adults).

As seals, they function as God’s statement “This person is engaged to me” (in the case of baptism), or “This person is in fellowship with me” (in the case of communion). With regard to baptism, we can give a further analogy: baptism functions like an engagement ring. The person is spoken for. But engagements can be broken. Baptism is not the wedding ring: that is faith. But it is like an engagement ring.

27.2 of the WCF is absolutely essential to understand, when surrounded by the debates in the PCA and elsewhere: “there is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.” This means that sometimes the Bible uses the term “baptism” when it means to talk about the thing that baptism signifies. Romans 6 and Galatians 3 are good examples of this, as has been argued in a previous post and comments. The WCF is just as careful to avoid the “empty sign” theology of Zwingli, as it is to avoid baptismal regeneration. Since no one really disputes the former, I will focus on the latter. Indications that baptism does not automatically confer union with Christ: 27:3 “The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them…the word of instituation, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.” Emphasis mine. More on this in the next WCF post on baptism. Someone will probably immediately quote 28.6 to me, which says this (usually truncated by FV advocates): “Yet notwithstanding, by the right use of the ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred, by the Holy Ghost.” What is missing, of course, is the very next essential qualifying statement: “to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.” I have highlighted the importance of these two phrases: this grace does not belong unto those of the non-elect. And, the grace of baptism is conferred in God’s own time (it is not limited to the time when baptism is administered).

Romans 6 and Baptism

First, a word about sacramental language. Oftentimes in Scripture, what is said of the sign actually refers to the thing signified (WCF 27.2). This is often missed in FV discussions, and in many discussions of Romans 6. For what Romans 6 is talking about is the thing signified by baptism, not so much the sign. This is evident, because the benefits described here are elsewhere attributed to the time-point of faith. For instance, faith-union with the risen Christ is described as being united with Christ in His resurrection in Colossians 2:5 together with 3:1 (and the entire passage in between is talking about the state of faith, not of baptism). Philippians 3 is even more clear: to be found in Him (vs 9) is functionally equivalent to faith in Christ (vs 9-10), which is functionally equivalent to participating in Christ’s death and resurrection (vs 10-11). Now, I do not want to draw too sharp a distinction between the sign and the thing signified. Certainly, faith and regeneration can happen at the time-point of baptism. But I would argue that if it does, it is because faith is also present. Therefore, baptism all by itself, that is, the sign all by itself does not confer the blessings. This is clear from the language of the WCF 27:3, wherein there is a promise of benefit to worthy receivers. That implies by necessity that there is no promise of benefit to unworthy receivers. That follows logically and indisputably. As a matter of fact, baptism becomes condemnation to unworthy receivers. Of course, it is understood that we are all unworthy receivers of baptism, and can only be made worthy by God, just as faith also is a gift. The point of my argument here is that sacramental language (of ascribing the thing signified to the sign) does NOT mean that the thing signified actually occurs at the time point of the sign. It occurs when the baptism is improved, which can be simultaneous, but does not have to be. It should also be noted that faith is clearly in the context of Romans 6 in 5:17, where receiving the free gift of righteousness has to be defined by the time-point of faith. Then also, the main point of Romans 6 is sanctification, as is clear from verses 12ff, which no longer speak of baptism. Baptism then has a function in sanctification. I trust no one would deny this. However, in order for baptism to have its effect, it must be joined with faith, as 5:17 demonstrates.

I should also say a word about Galatians 3:27, which has also been quoted as saying that baptism puts us into union with Christ. Again, this is sacramental language that must also be interpreted in the immediate context. The immediately preceding verses all mention faith in its two-fold definition: the references in verse 23 and 25 refer to THE faith, as in the Christian religion in its eschatological revealing. That definition of faith, however, is closely connected to the personal definition of faith, which we see in verses 24 and 26, where we are said to be justified by faith, and that we are said to be sons of God (note especially the plural here) by faith. So faith most certainly qualifies the statement about baptism, since verse 27 is explicitly connected with what comes before by the particle gar. Baptism (the thing signified, not the bare sign) is then defined by faith. So, contrary to Todd Harris’s assertion (which was given without any exegesis at all), neither of these passages encourages the FV, but they both support the traditional Reformed view of baptism in its relationship to faith.


Matthew 5:27-30
C.S. Lewis once stated this profound thought: “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust them; it was not IN them, it only came THROUGH them, and what came through them was longing. These things-the beauty, the memory of our own past- are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune which we have not heard, news from a country we have not visited.” Someone else has said that when a man knocks on the door of a prostitute’s house, he is really searching for God. Jesus knows what real love is. That is the solution to the sin problem. What sexual temptation shows us is that we have longings in our hearts that can only be filled by God Himself. Our longing is for Him. That is what we are really looking for.

Jesus has given us now the inspired God-given interpretation of the sixth commandment. He now moves on to the seventh commandment, which states: You shall not commit adultery. As Jesus did with the sixth commandment, so also He does with the seventh. If you will, the heart of the seventh commandment has to do with what is in the heart of a person.

The background to this is that the world constantly says things like this: “You can look but you can’t touch.” The world thinks that you are okay as long as you don’t actually engage in adultery itself, the physical act. What they fail to realize is that adultery is a matter of the heart. In fact, it is a heart idolatry. All sin is the result of some idol in the heart. As C.S. Lewis noticed, the physical things that lure us into sin are but the shadows of the real thing. They are twisted ones at that, if they are sinful. But we idolize them, both in the culture and even in the church.

So what does Jesus say here? Well, he says that adultery is not merely a matter of outward disobedience, but of inward. Adultery starts long before the actual physical act. It starts in the heart, even before a person looks with lustful intent. Verse 28 is very interesting in this regard: He says, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In Greek grammar, there is a way to express that this is what you intend to do. That is what we have here. The sentence could paraphrased this way: if someone looks at a woman in order to lust after her, he has committed adultery. In other words, the lust is already in the heart before he even looks with lustful eyes.

That greatly helps to explain what Jesus means in the next few verses. Jesus is not teaching that we should mutilate ourselves. In any case, that would not get rid of the problem. One of the early church fathers tried it. His name was Origin. He did not understand that Jesus was using hyperbole, and that what Jesus really meant was, “Deal with sin as drastically as possible.” It is a fact that blind men can still lust. Remember that we said that lust begins in the heart. It was his intent to look on the woman with lustful eyes. That was the problem.

So what does Jesus’ command cover? Well, the Heidelberg catechism again helps us here: Q 108: What is God’s will for us in the seventh commandment? A. God condemns all unchastely. We should therefore thoroughly detest it and, married or single, live decent and chaste lives. 109: Does God, in this commandment, forbid only such scandalous sins as adultery? A. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, body and soul, and God wants both to be kept clean and holy. That is why he forbids everything which incites unchastely, whether it be actions, looks, talk, thoughts, or desires. The WLC says this: 138. What are the duties required in the seventh commandment? The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behaviour; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel; marriage by those that have not the gift of continency, conjugal love, and cohabitation; diligent labour in our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto. 139. What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment? A. the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing tolerating, keeping of brothels, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage; having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company, lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.

Well, that was a mouthful. What does it all mean? Anything that hinders us from the duties required of the seventh commandment is a sin. Anything that eggs us on to engaging in the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment is a sin. That is why drunkenness and gluttony are listed here. They often lead to other sins. That is why drunkenness is a violation of the seventh commandment.

So men, since we are visually oriented, what does that mean specifically for us? It means that we must give up that favorite sin of ours. We must give up looking a woman up and down. We must give up certain movies and books, magazines and internet sites. That is what it means to cut out your right eye. Cutting your right eye out would be extremely painful. William Gurnall says this, “Soul, take thy lust, thy only lust, which is the child of thy dearest love, thy Isaac, the sin which has caused most joy and laughter, from which thou hast promised thyself the greatest return of pleasure or profit; as ever thou lookest to see my face with comfort, lay hands on it and offer it up: pour out the blood of it before me, run the sacrificing knife of mortification into the very heart of it, and this freely, joyfully, for it is no pleasing sacrifice that is offered with a countenance cast down- and all this now before thou hast one embrace more from it.”

Men, who is sufficient for this task? Are we sufficient? The moment that we think that we are is the moment that we fall. I’m sure that most of know that feeling of horror when we think that we have left that sin behind once and for all, only to fall prey to it that very same day. What Jesus would have us do is to remember before we are tempted to sin that we must deal with sin as drastically as possible. We must deal with the temptation to sin as drastically as possible. What does that mean? If your TV causes you to sin, smash it up and throw it away. If your computer causes you to sin, smash it up and throw it away. It is better for you to have no entertainment at all in your house, than to have entertainment in your house, and go to hell. Get rid of temptations wherever they occur. If you cannot go into a bookstore like Barnes and Noble without going to the magazine rack, then avoid Barnes and Noble, or take someone along with you, preferably your wife. If you can’t use a computer without visited sites that you shouldn’t, then get protection. There is a great program that I use called Covenant Eyes that monitors everywhere a person goes on the internet, and reports it to the accountability partner, whoever you choose that to be. Every computer should have some form of protection, whether it is Covenant Eyes, or a filter of some sort. If you choose to go with a filter, then you should not get what is called a negative filter. A negative filter merely screens off bad sites. The problem is that hundreds of new web-sites are launched every day. A negative filter cannot keep up with all those. A positive filter, on the other hand, keeps a list of web-sites that are okay, and you can only go to those. That is a much better filter. If you have sons in your house, or even if you have men off to college or out in the work force, you need to question them about this, and work with them in a compassionate manner. The reason I say “a compassionate manner” is because there is no worse time to live in with respect to sexual temptation than in our own age. You can’t even go to most grocery stores these days without there being some form of visual temptation.

Women, there are two main things that you can do. The first is to be compassionate toward your husband. You have to realize just how bad the temptations are. Many husbands will not confess secret sexual sin to their wives precisely because they fear that their wives will divorce them if they find out. If you feel that a man can jolly well take care of himself without your help, then you are on the fast-track to a divorce, or at least disillusionment. He needs your help if he is going to make it.

Women, there are temptations for you too, aren’t there? What about what you wear? You might say that a man should control himself. Yes, he should. But how much harder is it when all the women around him are almost dressed? This is especially prevalent in today’s youth culture, where it is hard even to find modest clothes that aren’t dorky. But that is a quest that is essential if you are to minister to those men around you. Don’t be a source of provocation. The question here is not about fashion, but about intent. Why do you wear what you wear?

Women, what about romance novels? Those are dangerous. Even some so-called Christian romance novels are but thinly disguised emotional pornography. If men are visually oriented, women tend to be emotionally oriented, when it comes to temptation. If a man other than your husband makes you feel a certain way, then don’t be around him. If certain books are a problem, then don’t read them.

If you have a problem, the place to go is not within yourself. You will never find strength within yourself for fighting this battle. You don’t have the strength. I don’t care how much of a cowboy you are, you still don’t have the strength. You need to find your strength in God. But another place you can find strength is in other believers. Now, you shouldn’t go confess your sin to just anyone. However, sexual sin in particular thrives in the darkness. As long as someone else doesn’t know about it, it will thrive, just like cancer. Cancer cannot survive in the presence of oxygen. It cannot survive out in the open. So also is lust. What you need to do is to find a compassionate, wise, older Christian who knows what this struggle is like. You need to hold one another accountable. James 5:16 says this, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” We have this unnatural fear of our community. We think that if anyone knows any of our dirty little secrets, then everyone will know. What we need to do is to trust God, find that discreet person, and confess our sin to that person. It takes bravery. But the results are worth it.

Now, again, who is sufficient for these things? No one is sufficient. There is no one who can come even close to honoring the seventh commandment all the way, no matter what our age. And older people can be just as susceptible as younger people. Hugh Heffner, manager of Playboy magazine, is in his seventies. Do not think you are immune just because you are older. There is no one sufficient. The key here is to realize what we are really looking for. We are really looking for Jesus. Lust is a parody of love. Lust is a twisted version of love. What we are really looking for is love. That can only be found in God Himself, through Jesus Christ, who loved us with an everlasting love. That is true love.

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Muller’s Thesis

A description of the task that Muller has set himself is explicit on page 37: “The underlying theses of the present study concern the continuities and discontinuities in Reformed theology during the eras of the Reformation and Orthodoxy, running Chronologicaly from approximately 1520 to approximately 1725.” Then he says, on page 38: “An operating assumption of the work has consistently been that the theology of the Reformers is not utterly identical to the theology of their orthodoxy successors, and that continuity between the theologies of the two eras is not to be equated with identity, nor discontinuity with development and variation.” He lists a few more of his targets on the bottom of page 38 and the top of page 39: the belief that Protestant scholasticism is rationalistic, and the view that Protestant Scholasticism is based on a few central dogmas (such as election, as will become clear later on). He argues that such claims “are fundamentally anachronistic” (pg 39). “They have looked down the well of history and seen their own faces reflected: those who have found central docmas in the older theology have typically not been historians but theologians and, as such, advocates of central doctrinal pivots in their own dogmatic systems” (39). He argues that “The very method of their (that is, the Protestant Scholastics) theology, the gathering of topics or loci drawn out of their exegetical work, stands in the way of such models for theological system” (39). And then, on page 40, he argues specifically for an exegetical continuity between the Reformers and the orthodox: “The history of exegesis marks one of the clearest indicators to the nature and character of the continuity in thought between the Reformation and orthodoxy.”

Adam’s Merit

I really cannot believe that Mark Horne thinks that Jim Jordan is somehow on target here. I am not going to argue the merit issue itself, since I have already done so here and here. But the Reformed idea of merit is hardly new. Here is Thomas Boston to directly, explicitly, and indubitably tear Jim Jordan’s argument to shreds (volume X, pg 376): “Proper merit is what arises from the intrinsic worth of the thing done, fully proportioned to the reward. Such is the merit of Christ’s obedience and death. But no such merit can be in our (post-conversion, LK) works; for there is no proportion between our obedience and eternal life, whatever the papists pretend…Improper merit is what arises from paction ensuring such a reward on such a work as the condition thereof; so that the work being performed, the reward becomes a debt. So Adam’s perfect obedience would have been meritorious, namely, by paction.” Is this new, Mr. Jordan? Is this not merit? Notice that my definition of the merit of Adam is *precisely* the same as Boston’s, namely, merit by pact. So Jordan and Horne at least need to retract their statement that this is new. It is nothing of the sort.

Here is Calvin to tear Jim Jordan’s argument to shreds even more: Inst. 2.17.1: “There are certain…men who-even though they confess that we receive salvation through Christ-cannot bear to hear the word “merit,” for they think that it obscures God’s grace. Hence, they would have Christ as a mere instrument or minister.” In 2.17.3, he says, “By his obedience, however, Christ truly acquired and merited grace for us with his Father…then he acquired salvation for us by his righteousness,which is tantamount to deserving it.”

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Is Islam Violent?

Here is a remarkable instance of political maneuvering by Islamic states. If any other religion is caricatured, or ridiculed, or laughed at, nothing really severe happens. But if Islam gets a taste of that, even if they misinterpret the Pope’s statements, then they are outraged. Quite frankly, the Muslim world needs to grow up, and be able to laugh at itself. Its outrage at this recent incident (in addition to the absolutely ludicrous reaction to the Dutch cartoons) only proves how insecure Islam is in the world. They will only alienate themselves to the Western world by posturing themselves in this way.

But this raises some important questions. Is Islam a violent religion? The answer to that can only be that, at the very least, it has been in the past. People will usually point the finger at Christians for the Crusades. However, we need a much more nuanced version of history here. I would recommend the Runciman history of the Crusades for an extremely thorough, detailed history of the Crusades. The upshot, I believe, is that both sides were at fault. The fact of the matter, though, is that the Muslims struck first, as even the Wikipedia article implicitly acknowledges, when it says that the Muslims had been conquering most of Africa, and that the First Crusade was a response to that.

Second question: does the Koran teach Jihad? 9:123 seems to be broad enough in its scope: “O you who believe! Fight such of the disbeleivers as dwell near to you and let them find firmness in you and know that Allah is with those who become secure against evil.” See this post for more, though some of the quotations there do not seem to be as absolute as would be necessary for the argument. See Chris’s excellent comment at the end of the comments section, as well.

Why Presbyterianism?

It is usually objected by the congre- gationalists that Acts 15 doesn’t really prescribe a normative behavior. After all, if we are not to imitate the church in regard to having all things in common, then ought we to imitate them in regard to the Jerusalem council in Acts 15?

To answer this challenge, we must go back to the lower levels of church government. First of all, we realize that elders are called by the church to serve. In the local church, then, the pastor must not be alone. This was true not only of the church in Acts, but also in the following generations, wherein Paul does instruct Timothy and Titus about the continuation of the church. In those epistles it is simply assumed that there will be elders to carry on the work of the church. This continues the wisdom principle found in Proverbs 11:14. There can be no objection, therefore, to the local church having a Presbyterian form of government, since elders and deacons are prescribed by the NT for the church.

Presbyterians argue that it is good and necessary consequence that churches are connectional. There is, after all, one holy catholic and apostolic church. Therefore, the church is connectional by definition. Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 12 about the one body surely has this implication of connectedness. This is why the PCA, for instance, is part of NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Churches): we believe that we should unite as much as possible with other like-minded believers. There should be great evidence of the ultimate unity of the body.

Furthermore, there are the passages in which we see that we ought to hold one another accountable. This is surely true of local churches as well. Churches ought to hold one another accountable.

Finally, Acts 15 does lend support to the Presbyterian position, since there will always be issues that need to be addressed by the larger church. Who decides, for instance, who is going to be ordained? If it is a larger body than the local church, then you have Presbyterianism, if even in a smaller, more analogical form. I have seen this work in a Baptist setting. They have a larger body of pastors come together to examine a candidate for ministry. What is the real difference between that and what Presbyterians do? Furthermore, Presbyterianism allows for greater interchange of prayer for other local churches; it allows for greater inter-communication among pastors, and greater networking, such that churches can better exercise church discipline. At any rate, Presbyterianism cannot be called contrary to the Bible. It is in direct harmony with the principles laid out for the church in the NT.

There is also the root of Presbyterianism, which can be found in the OT, in Exodus 18. There, the entire OT church is divided into sections, with men in charge of certain groups. There is always a higher court of appeal, if necessary.

Now, certain objections must be answered. What about red tape? That is certainly a danger. However, the less centralized the power is, the better. Yes, there is a heiarchy of power. But the power never resides in just one person. You might object, “What about Moses?” Moses was a special case, since he was actually the mediator of the people, prefiguring Christ. We have our greater Moses even now, Jesus Christ, in whom is focused all wisdom and power. But, of course, in Jesus’ case, centralization of power is a wonderful thing. The only reason it doesn’t work so well here on earth, is because of Lord Acton’s dictum: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That is why power must be decentralized, and in the hands of more than one person. Our civil government is set up along the lines of Presbyterianism. It is only as it has gotten away from that, the Supreme Court taking too much power for itself, the president doing things without approval of Congress, that things have gone bad. The original form of government worked very well. It was set up by Presbyterians, in fact. The British even called this war (besides calling it the Rebellion) “that Presbyterian war.” In short, I would argue that Presbyterian Puritans are the people who have made our country great. They are the single greatest influence on our country’s foundation and independence.

It should be noted that Presbyterianism is a temporary arrangement. In heaven, as I hope all churches agree, the government there is a strict monarchy, the Monarch being Jesus Christ!

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