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Heaven is For Real – Now a Major Motion Picture

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 23, 2014 at 7:46 pm

Heaven

Heaven is For Real – Now a Major Motion Picture

This blog article is presented unedited as it was first published on this site on October 18, 2011.  It can be found in the archives.  Now the book has become a major motion picture.  Here is what I wrote then.  44 comments followed, some of them in favor of the book.  Two and a half years later, I am happy to have this blog re-published again.

You must have heard of this book by now, Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.  The book is about a 4 year old boy, Colton Burpo, who almost died, and went to Heaven.  He then comes back and tells us all about it through his dad, the pastor!  The book is a best seller,  currently number one on the New York Times Nonfiction Paperback list.  I find that fact much more incredible than anything written in the book.

I watched his story last night on “Dateline” while flicking mindlessly through channels.  I knew this thing was big, but I was surprised how “mindless” it really was.  Today, I did a little follow up, on-line research.  One stop took me to a link to Denver television, Fox 31.  Their on-line poll asked if you believe this young boy has been to heaven.  I voted – the only way to see the results — and as usual I was in the minority.  92% (over 300,000) said they believed the young boy had been there while only 8% of respondents expressed skepticism.  I figure many of the skeptics had different reasons for their doubt than mine.

The “Dateline” account framed the story with a very interesting false dilemma. “Do you believe Heaven is real?”  If you do — guess what — this kids been there and he’ll tell you all about it.  If you don’t believe Heaven is real – then I guess you’d have to think he didn’t go there after all.

It would appear from all this young man says from his trip and the things he saw, that the Wesleyan’s have it more doctrinally correct than any other denomination.  Is it just a coincidence that this young man’s (he is now 12) father is a Wesleyan pastor?

Once again, as with the “Left Behind” series, Christianity hits the best seller list with a gross misrepresentation of what the Scriptures teach.  Evangelical Christians buy the book in an excited frenzy of belief in the extra-Biblical.  Non-Christians who are curious buy the book and this serves to show them what Christians really think (or maybe how little “think” we have).

I haven’t read the book.  I don’t plan to read the book.  I expect I’ll never read the book.  Some would say that makes me a terrible judge to know whether or not the book is correct.  All I can say is, “Here I stand – once again — gladly taking my place among the minority.”

So, as I said then, I hadn’t read the book, still haven’t read the book, and now I have a movie I can add to my list of “will not see”.  

Steve Marquedant
Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Ontario, California
www.sgbc-ontario.us
.

 

Heaven is For Real for Kids

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on October 18, 2011 at 6:31 am

Heaven is for Real is still hanging tough at number two on the New York Times best seller list under “Trade” as of this week.  Evangelicalism continues to thrill to the revelations of the little boy who took a round-trip to heaven.  You can find a blog article I wrote in September on this very site called “Heaven is for Real”.

Well, this little boy apparently isn’t going away any time soon.  He’s baaa-aack – this time with his newest installment in the Colton Burpo’s been-there-done-that franchise.  Not only did God take this little kid to Heaven and then send him back to tell us all about it – God has caused his parents to be rich beyond their wildest dreams.  Thank you modern day, believe-anything Christianity!

So here is book two in what promises to be a long-running franchise.  There’s not much new material in this volume, apparently.  One has to wonder how much more material can come from this little boy’s short trip?  Is it possible he is holding back on some vital info that will finally be revealed in “Heaven is for Real – Really”?  If eventually the well dries up – is another trip in store – maybe this time a vision of Hell?  Historically, those who write successful books on their trips to Heaven often follow them up with visions of Hell.

Here is what the CBD catalogue says about this new book.  “Written by a child for children, this special edition of Heaven is for Real highlights Colton Burpo’s round-trip to paradise during life-threatening surgery and his important takeaway messages:  ‘You are going to like heaven’ and ‘Jesus really loves kids!’

This new book is currently only available in hardcover – but that is a good thing.  A classic like this must not be put in disposable paperback.  As a hardcover you can be assured it will last a long, long time.   You can use this book and then hand it down to your children so they can read it to their children and their children’s children.  Just think, 100 years from now we can still read about the boy who went to heaven and came back to tell us all about it!

I agree with Colton and his parents that Heaven is for real.  I also agree that Colton is convinced he has really seen it.  What I find hard to comprehend is why so many others are convinced Colton’s been there.

Steve Marquedant
Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Ontario, California
www.sgbc-ontario.us 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Heaven Is For Real

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on September 6, 2011 at 2:32 pm

You must have heard of this book by now, Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.  The book is about a 4 year old boy, Colton Burpo, who almost died, and went to Heaven.  He then comes back and tells us all about it through his dad, the pastor!  The book is a best seller,  currently number one on the New York Times Nonfiction Paperback list.  I find that fact much more incredible than anything written in the book.

I watched his story last night on “Dateline” while flicking mindlessly through channels.  I knew this thing was big, but I was surprised how “mindless” it really was.  Today, I did a little follow up, on-line research.  One stop took me to a link to Denver television, Fox 31.  Their on-line poll asked if you believe this young boy has been to heaven.  I voted – the only way to see the results — and as usual I was in the minority.  92% (over 300,000) said they believed the young boy had been there while only 8% of respondents expressed skepticism.  I figure many of the skeptics had different reasons for their doubt than mine.

The “Dateline” account framed the story with a very interesting false dilemma. “Do you believe Heaven is real?”  If you do — guess what — this kids been there and he’ll tell you all about it.  If you don’t believe Heaven is real – then I guess you’d have to think he didn’t go there after all.

It would appear from all this young man says from his trip and the things he saw, that the Wesleyan’s have it more doctrinally correct than any other denomination.  Is it just a coincidence that this young man’s (he is now 12) father is a Wesleyan pastor?

Once again, as with the “Left Behind” series, Christianity hits the best seller list with a gross misrepresentation of what the Scriptures teach.  Evangelical Christians buy the book in an excited frenzy of belief in the extra-Biblical.  Non-Christians who are curious buy the book and this serves to show them what Christians really think (or maybe how little “think” we have).

I haven’t read the book.  I don’t plan to read the book.  I expect I’ll never read the book.  Some would say that makes me a terrible judge to know whether or not the book is correct.  All I can say is, “Here I stand – once again — gladly taking my place among the minority.”

Steve Marquedant
Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Ontario, California
www.sgbc-ontario.us

Will the Real Pharisee Please Stand Up!

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 4, 2013 at 12:20 pm

So, what exactly is a Pharisee, anyway?  Every Christian has some idea; in fact it has become the Christian version of “Nazi” – you win any argument by being the first to call the other guy a Pharisee.  But do many Christians know what a Pharisee is?

There are a number of passages in the Gospels which speak of the Pharisees, but one brief interaction summarizes the major elements of their theology and practice.  It is found in Matthew 15:

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

8 “‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

And what do we learn about the Pharisees from this?

The first element of Phariseeism is clearly implied, and Jesus makes it even more clear elsewhere: Pharisees were moralists.  That doesn’t just mean that they believed in morality; if that were so, every member of every religion ever would be a Pharisee.  Rather it means that they saw personal morality as the path to redemption.  It is why they became so adept at popping up in every situation to point out perceived sins.  Only a moralist could be concerned with whether or not Jesus’ disciples washed their hands.  This central element of their theology is what Jesus had in mind when He told the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  The one saw that righteousness was unobtainable and relied on the mercy of God.  But the other – the Pharisee – thought his own moral character was enough for him to draw near to God.

The second and closely related element of the Pharisaical theology is explicit in this passage: Pharisees were legalists.  This means that they multiplied legal regulations never found in Scripture.  The law detailed ceremonial washings for various occasions, but dinner was not one of them.  They did not even pretend that the issue is biblical, asking instead why the disciples broke “the tradition of the elders.”  The elevation of human tradition – what Isaiah called “the commandments of men” – to the level of God’s law is legalism.  It is not surprising that those who see personal morality as necessary to salvation would soon multiply the regulations of the law.

But the third element of Pharisaical theology is unexpected: The Pharisees were antinomians.  That seems impossible, but look at what Jesus asked: “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”  He then offered up one commandment out of the Ten and demonstrated that the Pharisees habitually broke it.  They talked a great game on the law, but when it came to actual moral commands which God expected them to follow they managed to re-write the law.  Their tradition bound both them and others to a set of extra-biblical regulations, while at the same time exempting them from the laws of God.

So that is what a Pharisee really is: a moralistic, legalistic antinomian.  Too many in our lawless age assume that this is oxymoronic, that legalism and antinomianism are and must be opposites.  This is simply untrue.  Legalism and antinomianism are instead the twin children of moralism.  Here is how it works.  Say you want to get to heaven on the basis of your own morality; you’ll find pretty quickly that the commandments of God are very difficult to keep.  This is especially true once you encounter Jesus’ teaching on the meaning of the law.  Remember how the Rich Young Ruler had his pretentions to morality smashed?  After claiming to be a law-keeper, he heard the truth from Jesus, and he went away sad.  Read through Matthew 5 closely and you’re likely to have your own sad moment as Jesus explains the deep spiritual application of the law.  Moralism cannot coexist with the moral law of God; the depravity of man won’t allow it.  The moralist, then, is forced to do two things: he must abandon the actual laws of God which genuinely apply to him, and at the same time he must concoct some new, easier set of rules which can be followed.   That is what the Pharisees did, and it is what modern-day Pharisees must continue to do.

So what would we expect a real, modern-day Pharisee to look like?

Well, in the first place, he would say or at least imply that true Christianity can be judged entirely by actions rather than by beliefs.  He might, for instance, suggest that until Christians look and act exactly like Christ they are not really Christians.  Of course Christians are supposed to act like Christ; that is the essence of Christian morality.  Remember: believing in morality is not moralism, but if we understand what Christ-like-ness really is, we won’t expect Christians to actually attain to it perfectly.  The Pharisee, however, will, because he is a moralist.  Meanwhile, in keeping with his deeds-not-creeds philosophy, he will downplay the significance of all doctrinal disputes.

Furthermore, the modern-day Pharisee can be expected to discount the law of God.  True Pharisees will object to the most obvious commands.  Perhaps, for instance, they will conclude that the Bible’s teaching on sexuality isn’t all that important and that Christians shouldn’t make too big of a deal about it.  That would fit in perfectly with a philosophy which was arguing 2000 years ago that the Bible’s teaching on honoring your parents wasn’t all that important and that God’s people shouldn’t make too big of a deal about it.

Finally, having jettisoned the morality of the Bible, the modern-day Pharisee will doubtless invent a whole new set of rules and regulations for Christians to follow.  Maybe he’ll say that Christians need to do more service outside the church than in, even though that’s pretty much the opposite of what Paul taught in I Timothy.  Or maybe he’ll argue that Christians need to eat lots of meals with Muslims and Buddhists, which of course is nowhere to be found in the Bible anyway.  What would recommend commandments like these, though, is that they’re pretty easily followed, at least as compared to the thorough, heart-mind-and-soul morality demanded by our Lord.  Remember, if you’re going to be a moralist, you have to pick a law which you are capable of following!

That is at least a biblical picture of what a modern-day Pharisee might look like.  Thank goodness we don’t actually have anyone like that in the church today!

Tom Chantry, Pastor
Christ Reformed Baptist Church
.

God’s creational provision for the accounting of time in terms of days and years, including periodic festivals?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on July 5, 2016 at 12:40 pm

richard-barcellos1

Copyright © 2016 Richard C. Barcellos. All rights reserved.

In a previous chapter mention was made of the days of creation as paradigmatic for man’s week. In Genesis 1, a creational provision for the accounting of time on the earth was infused into the created realm. Genesis 1:14-19 says:

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. 17 God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19 There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. (Gen. 1:14-19)

Commenting on Genesis 1:14-19, Wenham says:

The creation of the sun, moon, and stars is described in much greater length than anything save the creation of man. The description is also quite repetitive. The fullness of the description suggests that the creation of the heavenly bodies held a special significance for the author . . .[1]

On day four, the Creator infused into the realm of creation the means by which day and night are to be separated (Gen. 1:14, 18) and governed (Gen. 1:16, 18). Psalm 136, evoking God’s acts at creation, indicates that the Creator “made the heavens with skill” (Psalm 136:5a), “spread out the earth above the waters” (Psalm 136:6a), “made the great lights” (Psalm 136:7a), made “[t]he sun to rule by day” (Psalm 136:8a) and “[t]he moon and stars to rule by night” (Psalm 136:9a). These provisions are coeval with creation. They are the divine means by which humans are to account for temporal divisions, “for days and years” (Gen. 1:14), for “day” and “night” (Gen. 1:16).

Of special interest is the clause in Genesis 1:14, “and let them be for signs and for seasons.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates this as “They will serve as signs for festivals.” The New International Version has “let them serve as signs to mark seasons.” The variety in translation is interesting to note. This indicates that the translators wrestled with the exact nuances indicated by the terms used. In a 2003 article in the Tyndale Bulletin, David J. Rudolph argues for the translation “festivals” or “festivals and seasons.”[2] He supports the plausibility of his translation on various factors: modern English and non-English translations,[3] lexicons and theological dictionaries,[4] commentaries,[5] and “recent studies on Israel’s calendar.”[6] The bulk of his article surveys usage distribution in the Torah. His focus is on the word moed, translated “seasons” (NASB and NIV) and “festivals” (HCSB) in Genesis 1:14. He sums up his survey of usage distribution as follows:

To sum up, out of 224 occurrences of [moed] in the Hebrew Bible, 197 are singular and twenty-seven are plural (including Gn. 1:14). Table 3 indicates that of the twenty-six plural forms subsequent to the creation account, twenty-two mean ‘festivals’. This demonstrates that the plural form of [moed] eighty-five percent of the time means ‘festivals’ in the Hebrew Bible. The figure rises to one hundred percent in the Torah, the literary background of Genesis 1:14. Moreover, when all the exact lexical forms of [moed] in Genesis 1:14 are extracted from Table 3 and evaluated, the ‘festivals’ rendering occurs one hundred percent of the time.[7]

Rudolph also notes the immediate literary context within which Genesis 1:14 occurs. It contains priestly language and “places strong emphasis on order and separation.”[8] The priestly language is seen in the fourth day’s provision of “lights.” “[A]ll other occurrences of [this term] in the Torah refer to lamps in the [tent of meeting] (Ex. 25:6; 27:20; 35:8, 14, 28; 39:37; Lv. 24:2; Nu. 4:9, 16).”[9] The term “lamp” is used “as a metonymy for sun and moon (Gn. 1:14, 15, 16 [3x]).”[10] Rudolph concludes: “. . . the writer of Genesis 1 uses this cultic imagery to depict the sun and moon as being like ‘sacred lamps in the sanctuary of the universe’.”[11]

The emphasis on order and separation is seen in various ways in Genesis 1.

God divides his creation into distinct spheres. Light is separated from darkness, day from night, waters above from waters below, earth from seas, plants from trees, birds from fish, cattle from wild animals, and male from female. The verb . . . (to separate) occurs five times in Genesis 1 (vv. 4, 6, 7, 14, 18). Notably, two out of the five references are to the fourth day of creation; one reference is in Genesis 1:14.

Viewed against the backdrop of havdil [i.e., separation] imagery, the string of plural nouns . . . in Genesis 1:14 may arguably be a division of two types of time: sacred time (signs and festivals) and ordinary time (days and years).[12]

Commenting on Genesis 1:14, Gordon J. Wenham says:

What is clear is the importance attached to the heavenly bodies’ role in determining the seasons, in particular in fixing the days of cultic celebration. This is their chief function.[13]

This function is creational, both prior to the fall into sin and Israel’s later calendar.

What does all of this have to do with our discussion? There is a creational provision for accounting both ordinary time and sacred time, for days and years, and for festivals in the midst of days and years. These were to occur on a regular basis, the sun and moon being signs which indicate the passing of one day to another. The seventh day should not be forgotten in this creational sequence and qualitative distinction of time. As Randolph says, “Analogous to such a qualitative time distinction is the relationship between the first six days of creation and the seventh day.”[14] Relying on Rudolph’s work, Beale says:

Since we have seen that the notion of “sanctify” elsewhere in the OT often is related to setting apart people, things, and certainly days as holy for cultic purposes, it is natural to see that God’s sanctifying of the seventh day in Gen. 2:3 is one of those festival days included in Gen. 1:14, which is part of the temporal divisions within which Gen. 1:14 says humans are to live.[15]

Since Genesis 1:14 establishes qualitative time distinctions, the seventh day is the first occurrence of such. It is a day qualitatively distinct from days one through six; on it God rested.

One more factor is important to consider. Rudolph asserted: “. . . the writer of Genesis 1 uses this cultic imagery to depict the sun and moon as being like ‘sacred lamps in the sanctuary of the universe’.”[16] If this is the case, and I think the evidence above supports this view, this comports with viewing the heavens and the earth as God’s cosmic temple. It also ties in with Adam’s identity and vocation. As God worked in creation unto consummation, so Adam was to do the same according to his creaturely capacity and calling. As Beale puts it:

. . . just as God subdued and ruled over the chaos at the inception of creation, so Adam was to subdue and rule over the earth [and] just as God created and filled the earth, so was Adam to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”[17]

Just as God entered into his rest from his creative work, so Adam was to do the same according to his creaturely capacity and vocation. Adam, by virtue of his obedience in accord with the covenant imposed upon him, was to work then enter God’s rest. Beale says:

Just as God had achieved heavenly rest after [creating] and constructing the beginning of his creational temple, so Adam presumably would achieve unending rest after . . . extending the boundaries of the glorious Eden temple around the entire earth.[18]

As Owen says, “for herein [i.e., the covenant of works] rest with God was proposed unto him as the end or reward of his own works . . .”[19] We could add this as well: though Adam failed as a public person to work then enter God’s rest on behalf of others, Christ as a public person successfully worked then entered God’s rest on behalf of others. The rest God proffered to Adam was attained by Christ, indicated by the reward of resurrection.

The separation of days mentioned above is reflected in the subsequent narrative in Genesis. After the fall into sin, days, weeks, and years are mentioned (e.g., Gen. 5:3-32). Moses notes that after a period of days cultic acts were conducted. In Genesis 4:3 we read, “So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground.” No commands for such are mentioned prior to this event. Cain and Abel brought offerings to the LORD without a command recorded by Moses and, literally, “at the end of days.” This act of worship occurs after a non-specified period of days after the fall into sin. Somehow they knew that God required offerings and, quite plausibly, they knew these were to be offered at specific times (Gen. 1:14). As well, Moses wrote of this event that predated him, most likely either by the testimony of others passed down to him or by direct revelation from God. In either case, offerings were made “at the end of days” quite early in the post-fall narrative. The concept of days does not seem to be an introduction of anything new in man’s experience, nor does the concept of offerings “at the end of days.” If Genesis 1:14 indicates a creational provision for both days, years, and festivals (i.e., acts of worship on a given day or days), then the almost casual mention of offerings “at the end of days” makes sense.[20]

 

[1] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 21.

[2] David J. Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis 1:14,” Tyndale Bulletin 54.2 (2003): 23-40.

[3] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 23-24.

[4] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 24.

[5] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 24-25.

[6] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 25-26.

[7] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 31.

[8] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 33.

[9] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 32. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, says: “’light, lamp’ is always used in the Pentateuch to designate the sanctuary lamp in the tabernacle . . .” (22).

[10] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 32.

[11] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 32. Rudolph is quoting another scholar.

[12] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 33.

[13] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 23.

[14] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 33.

[15] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 780.

[16] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 32.

[17] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 776.

[18] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 40.

[19] Owen, Works, 18:338. Owen’s treatment of “A Day of Sacred Rest” argues in many places for an eschatological function of God’s rest from the beginning. He views God’s rest as proffering to Adam a quality of life to be obtained via obedience.

[20] See Martin, The Christian Sabbath, 63-65 for discussion on Gen. 4:3-4.

WHEN Are We Forgiven?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 20, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son

A Survey of Reformed and Puritan Views

by D. Scott Meadows

When does God forgive anyone’s sins? Are all the elects’ sins forgiven from eternity, as they are in Christ according to God’s decree? Or are all a person’s sins forgiven when he first repents and believes the gospel? What about future sins after conversion? Does God completely forgive even our future sins at the single point of our conversion, and after that, no longer exercise actual forgiveness toward us? Or does God keep forgiving believers’ particular sins again and again throughout our lives, only after we commit them, and perhaps, after we repent of them? When we pray, “forgive us our sins,” as Christ commanded us, are we pleading for something that has already been granted us, so that it is a mere formality, or are we begging something that we still need, and might be granted afterward and in answer to our hope-filled prayer?

These questions raise very interesting issues concerning the doctrine of justification and its relation to the forgiveness of sins. The matter is not easy because all these questions suggest at least an element of truth and all the truths they suggest are not easily harmonized.

Very significantly to us at CBC-Exeter, our formal subordinate doctrinal standard under Scripture, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (2LCF), stands squarely against the idea of complete forgiveness of all sins past, present, and future in every sense whatsoever, either in eternity or at a single point in time, when it says,

God does continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified, and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure; and in that condition they have not usually the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance (11.5).

So while justification is a permanent state for every Christian believer, from the moment he trusts in Christ (not actually before this), God’s forgiveness is a dynamic thing throughout our lives. According to this statement, He “continues to forgive” our sins; i.e., God forgives us particularly, repeatedly, and enduringly. Because we sin daily, we stand daily in need of His forgiveness, and the gospel promises us that we shall have this grand blessing through the renewed exercise of our faith and repentance.

My research into these matters has uncovered a fairly consistent consensus among Reformed and Puritan theologians on the matter, and that consensus is beautifully conveyed in 2LCF above.

Puritan John Owen (1616–1683) is a household name among discerning Reformed Christians today, for he may be one of the most eminent theologians in twenty centuries of church history. That does not mean he is infallible, of course, but he is an extremely reliable guide in biblical exegesis and doctrinal truth. His remarks below should carry much weight with us:

Future sins are not so pardoned as that, when they are committed, they should be no sins; which cannot be, unless the commanding power of the law be abrogated: but their respect unto the curse of the law, or their power to oblige the justified person thereunto, is taken away.

Still there abideth the true nature of sin in every inconformity unto or transgression of the law in justified persons, which stands in need of daily actual pardon. For there is “no man that liveth and sinneth not;” and “if we say that we have no sin, we do but deceive ourselves.” None are more sensible of the guilt of sin, none are more troubled for it, none are more earnest in supplications for the pardon of it, than justified persons. For this is the effect of the sacrifice of Christ applied unto the souls of believers, as the apostle declares, Heb. 10:1–4, 10, 14, that it doth take away conscience condemning the sinner for sin, with respect unto the curse of the law; but it doth not take away conscience condemning sin in the sinner, which, on all considerations of God and themselves, of the law and the gospel, requires repentance on the part of the sinner, and actual pardon on the part of God.

Whereas, therefore, one essential part of justification consisteth in the pardon of our sins, and sins cannot be actually pardoned before they are actually committed (Works of John Owen V.146–147).

Francis Turretin (1623–1687) left us a massive work of Protestant scholasticism defending Calvinistic orthodoxy, entitled Institutes of Elenctic Theology. His treatment of the subject is perhaps the fullest and most precise of all we are considering in this lecture. This complex statement, my friends, is a masterpiece of clear and faithful biblical teaching:

XVII. Third proposition: “Remission is extended to all the sins entirely of believers, of whatever kind they may be, future as well as past and present, but in their own order.” This question is moved with regard to future sins—are they also remitted at the same time and at once with the past and present sins? For there are some even of our theologians of great reputation who think that in the justification of the sinner all his sins (the future equally with the past) are at the same time and at once remitted, both because the righteousness of Christ, which is the foundation of our justification, is wholly (however great it is) imputed at once and at the same time to us and because justification ought to leave no room for condemnation (Rom. 8:1). . .

XVIII. We think the difficulty can be overcome by a distinction. All sins (future as well as past) cannot be said to be remitted at the same time and once formally and explicitly because as they are not accidents of a nonentity, so as long as the sin is not, punishment is not due to it; and since it is not due, it cannot be remitted (as a debt not yet contracted cannot be cancelled). Besides for the remission of sin there is required a confession and repentance of it, which cannot be made unless it has been committed. Hence we are ordered to seek remission of sins every day, which is to be applied to sins committed, not to anticipate their perpetration. But because in justification the righteousness of Christ is applied to us (which is the foundation upon which the remission of all our sins rests) and because from the covenant of grace God promises that he will not remember our sins, nothing prevents us from saying that in this sense sins are remitted eminently and virtually because in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us is the foundation of that remission. And thus all our sins are remitted by God, whether past or present or future, but with respect to the time in which they are committed; so that past and present are actually remitted, the future when they are committed will most certainly be remitted according to God’s promise. Thus the state of justification remaining undisturbed and the acceptation of the person remaining uninterrupted and the general remission of sins already committed, the following and future as to particular absolution are not actually pardoned before their commission; nay, before they have been repented of either generally or particularly.

XIX. I confess if we regard the eternal purpose of God in which all things, even the future, appeared to God as present (Acts 15:18) and the merit and acquisition of Christ, who offered to God a perfectly sufficient ransom for the expiation of all our sins, so that as to the promise given by God in the covenant of grace concerning their remission, remission under this relation can be said to be extended to all sins whether past or future. But if the actual remission itself is regarded, which is made by an intimation of the absolving sentence in the heart of the believer and penitent, it can be referred only to sins already committed. Thus to take away the guilt of subsequent sins, there is required a particular application of remission, not only as to the sense and assurance of remission, but also as to the true and real forgiveness itself (emphasis mine, DSM).

XX. As the person whose sins are pardoned can be considered, either as to the state of grace (in which he is constituted by justification) or as to the particular acts (which he can afterwards commit), so remission can be viewed in two aspects: either generally as to state (according to which God receives the believing and penitent sinner into grace on account of Christ and bestows upon him the pardon of all the sins of which he is guilty); or specially as to particular acts of sin into which he afterwards falls, for taking away the guilt of which a particular absolution is needed. Not that the state of justification into which he is translated can be dissolved or remission once bestowed be abrogated, because God remains always his Father, but a Father angry on account of sins recently committed (which although they cannot constitute him a “child of wrath” on account of the immutability of calling and justification, still they make him a “child under wrath,” so that he deservedly incurs the fatherly indignation of God and has need forthwith of a new justification or particular remission of these sins through faith and repentance).

XXI. Although the justified believer has not as yet the formal remission of future sins, he does not cease to be happy and free from actual condemnation because he has the foundation from which he can infer with positive certainty that it is prepared for him according to God’s promise. If the whole righteousness of Christ is at the same time imputed, its entire fruit does not flow out to us at once, but successively in proportion to the inrushings of sin (for the remission of which the believer ought to apply that ransom to himself every day). (Institutes 16.5.17–21).

Benedict Pictet (1655–1724), scarcely known today, even among Reformed Christians, was successor at Geneva to the venerable Turretin.

Should it be inquired, whether remission or forgiveness be extended to future sins; although some divines contend, that, from the moment of our entrance into communion with Christ, there is no sin of which we do not obtain the remission, yet we think it better to say, that remission is not extended to future sins. For in the first place, as long as there is no sin, punishment is not due to it, and when it is not due, it cannot be said to be remitted. Again, to remission of sin are required repentance and confession, which therefore suppose sin to be actually committed; hence we are commanded to seek forgiveness daily, which can only be applied to actually committed sins. Observe, also, that when a believer falls into sin, the forgiveness he has once received is not done away, nor do the sins forgiven him, rise up again in judgment, but still he incurs the wrath of his heavenly Father, and stands in need of fresh forgiveness (Christian Theology, p. 320).

I believe this is, in the main, what Puritan Thomas Watson (1620–1687) was driving at when he wrote,

When I say, God forgives all sins, I understand it of sins past, for sins to come are not forgiven till they are repented of. Indeed, God has decreed to pardon them; and when he forgives one sin, he will in time forgive all; but sins future are not actually (emphasis mine) pardoned till they are repented of. It is absurd to think sin should be forgiven before it is committed. If all sins past and to come are at once forgiven, then what need to pray for the pardon of sin? It is a vain thing to pray for the pardon of that which is already forgiven. The opinion that sins to come, as well as past, are forgiven, takes away and makes void Christ’s intercession. He is an advocate to intercede for daily sins. 1 John 2:1. But if sin be forgiven before it be committed, what need is there of his daily intercession? What need have I of an advocate, if sin be pardoned before it be committed? So that, though God forgives all sins past to a believer, yet sins to come are not forgiven till repentance be renewed (The Lord’s Prayer, in loc.).

Puritan Thomas Manton (1620–1677) wrote that

As soon as we repent and believe, a threefold benefit we have:– 1) The state of the person is altered; he is a child of God: John 1.12. . . . 2) The actual remission of all past sins: Rom 3.25, “To declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” It would be a license to sin if his sins were remitted before committed. 3) A right to the remission of daily sins, or free leave to make use of the fountain of mercy, that is always running, and is opened in the house of God for the comfort of believers: Zech. 13:1, “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.” (emphasis mine)

Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) had his own way of expressing these things:

These views may assist us in the intricate subject of the relation which justification bears to the believer’s future sins. On the one hand these things are evident; that there is not a man on the earth who does not offend (Jas 3.2), that sin must always be sin in its nature, and as such, abhorrent to God, by whomsoever committed; and even more abhorrent in a believer, because committed against greater obligations and vows; and that sins committed after justification need expiation, just as truly as those before. On the other hand, the proofs above given clearly show, that the justified believer does not pass again under condemnation when betrayed into sin. Faith is the instrument for continuing, as it was for originating our justified state. This is clear from Rom. 11:20; Heb. 10:38, as well as from the experience of all believers, who universally apply a fresh to Christ for cleansing, when their consciences are oppressed with new sin. In strictness of speech, a man’s sin must be forgiven after it is committed. Nothing can have a relation before it has existence, so that it is illogical to speak of sin as pardoned before it is committed. How, then, stands the sinning believer, between the time of a new sin and his new application to Christ’s cleansing blood? We reply: Justification is the act of an immutable God, determining not to impute sin, through the believer’s faith. This faith, though not in instant exercise at every moment, is an undying principle in the believer’s heart, being rendered indefectible only by God’s purpose of grace, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So God determines, when the believer sins, not to impute guilt for Christ’s sake, which determination also implies this other, to secure in the believer’s heart, the unfailing actings of faith and repentance, as to all known sin. So that his justification from future sins is not so much a pardoning of them before they are committed, as an unfailing provision by God both of the meritorious and instrumental causes of their pardon, as they are committed (Systematic Theology, p. 369).

In a discussion of the same question, the great scholar of biblical theology in modern times, Geerhardus Vos (1862–1949), quoted this statement with approval:

In justification future sins are not forgiven explicitly and formally, but virtually, that is, in principle and potentially (Reformed Dogmatics IV.159 §19).

Vos added his own explanation,

Sin as it actually exists certainly retains its character as sin as far as its inherent character is concerned. . . . When the consciousness of sin awakens in the believer, again and again there must be a renewed application of justification to the conscience. . . . The application of this single pronouncement [in the forum of heaven or before God of justification] to the conscience occurs again and again in renewal. Scripture calls that the forgiveness of sins (1 John 1.9; Matt 6.12; 1 John 2.1). (Reformed Dogmatics IV.159 §19).

That eminent systematic theologian, Louis Berkhof (1873–1957), is known for simplifying and synthesizing the best of the Reformed tradition. His comment on this is most illuminating:

The usual position of Reformed theology, however, is that in justification God indeed removes the guilt, but not the culpability of sin, that is, He removes the sinner’s just amenability to punishment, but not the inherent guiltiness of whatever sins he may continue to perform. The latter remains and therefore always produces in believers a feeling of guilt, of separation from God, of sorrow, of repentance, and so on. Hence they feel the need of confessing their sins, even the sins of their youth, Ps. 25:7; 51:5–9. The believer who is really conscious of his sin feels within him an urge to confess it and to seek the comforting assurance of forgiveness. Moreover, such confession and prayer is not only a subjectively felt need, but also an objective necessity. Justification is essentially an objective declaration respecting the sinner in the tribunal of God, but it is not merely that; it is also an actus transiens [an actuality or reality that crosses over to us, DSM], passing into the consciousness of the believer. The divine sentence of acquittal [i.e., forgiveness, DSM] is brought home to the sinner and awakens the joyous consciousness of the forgiveness of sins and of favor with God. Now this consciousness of pardon and of a renewed filial relationship is often disturbed and obscured by sin, and is again quickened and strengthened by confession and prayer, and by a renewed exercise of faith.

In all candor, I admit that the judicious Hermann Bavinck (1854–1921) seems out of step with the best of the Reformed tradition, because he denies that God actually forgives us after conversion (Reformed Dogmatics IV.224) by appealing to the permanency of our justification. But as we have seen, these two things (repeated actual forgiveness and permanent justification) are not considered incompatible by the other Reformed and Puritan theologians we have cited. C. H. Spurgeon (1834–1892), too, seems of the same mind as Bavinck (e.g., “The Glories of Forgiving Grace,” MTP #1555). That these worthies grapple with this subject and do not exactly see everything in just the same way should humble us deeply, and guard us against pontification on the fringes. Some things we know for sure because of plain biblical statements; other things are not so clear even to godly and discerning spirits.

Applying this theology, let us rejoice in our once-for-all justification in Christ by faith alone, and apply to God every day for the actual forgiveness of our sins on the basis of Christ crucified, not our repentance or faith. Ω

Three Implications of the Empty Tomb

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 26, 2016 at 4:43 pm

tomb

It has been said by some that all preaching consists of two elements–the ‘what’ of the text and the ‘so what’ of the text. Millions of professing Christians take one Lord’s Day a year to celebrate the wondrous reality of the empty tomb of Jesus. Jesus had power to lay down His life and to take it up again. I trust we all realize the tremendous theological and eternal implications of our Lord’s glorious resurrection. But what difference will it make between the time I am converted and the time I reach heaven? I may sing of it on Sunday but what help is it to me on Monday or Tuesday? For our churches facing so many different practical and spiritual issues, what difference does the empty tomb make? We must realize that we are dealing with more than an empty tomb. We are also dealing with an occupied throne. Jesus did not rise from the dead only to wander the earth for two thousand years. He ascended to heaven and sat down at the Father’s right hand. 1 Corinthians 15 is the classic New Testament text which deals with the necessity and implications and applications that arise from both the truth of the resurrection and the horrific speculation of what it will mean for all of us if Jesus never did rise. At the conclusion of the chapter Paul (v. 58) gives three applications that arise from the fact of the empty tomb. The first is that we ought to continue steadfast and immovable in the faith. The word ‘steadfast’ can be translated to mean, sit there and don’t get up. Ground yourself here. This is reinforced by the command to be immovable. There are rocks so big that no one even tries to move. The world should see the Church of Jesus Christ holding fast to the truth of divine revelation. It is the truth of the gospel of a risen and glorified and one day returning Savior. If He is dead and decayed we can choose to hold or choose to throw away. If the tomb is empty we must stand fast.

The second application is that of Spirit empowered effort and activity to obey Him. Since Christ is risen and glorified we are to be ‘always abounding in the work of the Lord’. There is no greater motivation for Christian service and unceasing labor than the empty tomb.

The third application is the truth that our labor is not in vain. Why does Paul have to say these words? Is it not because many who profess faith lose sight of this truth? What is the point of all these labors and efforts? Why do men get home from work, wolf down a quick meal and go to prayer meeting? Why do women gather late on the Lord’s Day evening with one another to pray? Why seek to send missionaries and hand out tracts and preach the same truths to the same folks week after week? Is it fruitfulness and success that moves and motivates us to the blood, sweat, and tears of laboring for the good of the Kingdom? Paul says, if the King is risen and if the King is enthroned than nothing done for Him is meaningless. It is His triumph and not our fruitfulness that determines these realities.

Jim Savastio, Pastor
Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville

The Death of Christ

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 25, 2016 at 11:44 am

William_Ames

by Dr. William Ames

1.  The death of Christ is the last act of his humiliation in which he underwent extreme, horrible, and most acute pain for the sins of men.

2.  It was an act of Christ and not a mere matter of enduring because he met and endured it purposely.  John 10:11, I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep; and 10:18, No man takes it from me, but I lay it down myself.  For the same reason it was also voluntary and not compelled.  The act arose out of power and not merely out of weakness – out of obedience to his father and love for us, not out of his own guilt or deserving.  It was designed to satisfy through victory and not to ruin through surrender.

3.  It contained the greatest punishment because it equaled all the misery which the sins of men deserved.  Therefore, there is an abundance of words and phrases describing this death in the Scriptures.  For it is not simply called a death but a cutting off, a casting away, a treading under feet, a curse, a heaping up of sorrows, and the like, Isa. 53; Ps. 22.

4.  However, it contained the punishments in such a way that their continuance, their ordination to the uttermost [deordinatio] and other circumstances accompanying the punishments of the sins of the lost were removed from his death.  Acts 2:24, It could not be that he would be retained by death.  There are reasons for this.  First, such circumstances do not belong to the essence of the punishment itself, but are adjuncts which follow and accompany those who cannot suffer punishment so as to effect satisfaction by it.  Second, there was in Christ both a worthiness and a power to overcome, as it were, the punishment imposed. 1 Cor. 15:54, 57, Death is swallowed up in victory.  Thanks be given to God, who has given us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

5.  This death was the consummation of all humiliation.  It was by far the greatest part of that humiliation.  So Christ’s death itself is often spoken of in the Scriptures by a synecdoche of the member as the full satisfaction of his whole humiliation.

6.  Within these boundaries, the death of Christ was the same in kind and proportion as the death justly due for the sins of men.  It corresponded in degree, parts, and kind.

7.  The beginning of Christ’s spiritual death in point of loss was the passing of the joy and delight which the enjoyment of God and the fullness of grace were accustomed to bring.  He lost this spiritual joy not in principle, not basically, but rather in the act and awareness of it.

8.  The beginning of spiritual death in point of conscious realization was the tasting of the wrath of God and a certain subjection to the power of darkness.  The wrath of God was most properly signified in the cup which was given to Christ to drink. Matt. 26:39, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass fromme.

9.  The object of this wrath was not Christ as such.  It was connected only with that punishment which he underwent as our surety.

10.  Subjection to the power of darkness was not servitude, but lay in the distress which Christ felt in his mind.

11.  Because of these the soul of Christ was affected with sadness, grief, fear, and dread inagony, Matt. 26:39; John 12:27; Heb. 5:7; and Luke 22:44.

12.  The soul of Christ was affected not only in the part sometimes called lower, but also in the higher; not only nor especially through its sympathy, with the body, but directly and intimately, not principally by the compassion which it had for others, but by true suffering which it underwent in our name; not from a horror of bodily death (which many of Christ’s servants have also overcome by his power), but from a certain sense of spiritual and supernatural death.

13.  There were two effects of this agony.  First, a strong prayer showing a mind astonished and a nature fleeing from the bitterness of death-yet always conditioned by and subject to the Father’s will.  Mark 14:35, He prayed that…it might be that this hour would pass from him.  John 12:27, My soul is troubled.  And what shall I say, “Father free me from this hour?” No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.  Second, there was a watery sweat mixed with drops of blood dripping to the ground.  Luke 22:44, Being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

14.  In this beginning of Christ’s spiritual death there was a certain moderation and mitigation in that there was time for those duties which were to be done before his death, namely, prayers, discourses, admonitions, and responses.

15.  The moderation was both inward and outward.

16.  The inward occurred in the momentary abatements of the pressure and distress he felt in his soul.  Thus he thought of the meaning of the office he had undertaken, the glory that would arise to his Father and to himself, and the salvation of those whom his Father had given him.  He consciously chose to embrace all the miseries of death in order to obtain these ends.

17.  The outward mitigation in this death came through the angel who strengthened him by speaking to him, Luke 22:43, an angel from heaven appeared to him, comforting him.

18.  There was no inward beginning of Christ’s bodily death except that natural weakening and dying which was caused from outside.

19.  The external beginning was shown in phases of loss and conscious realization.

20. In the realm of loss he was rejected by his own people and counted worse than a murderer; he was forsaken, denied, and betrayed by his most intimate disciples.  By all kinds of men, especially the leaders and those who were considered wise, he was called a madman, a deceiver, a blasphemer, a demoniac, a sorcerer, and a usurper of another’s kingdom.  He was stripped of his garments and denied necessary food.

21. In point of conscious realization. he was aware of the shameful arrest, the violent hauling away, the denial of ecclesiastical and civil justice, the mocking, whipping, and crucifixion with reproach and injury of all kinds.  Yet there was some mitigation in this death: first, in the manifestation of divine majesty through certain miracles, such as the falling of soldiers to the ground at sight of him and at sound of his voice, and the healing of Malchus’ ear; second, in the working of divine providence whereby it happened that he was justified by the judge before he was condemned.  Matt. 27:24, 1 am innocent of the blood of this just man.

22. The consummation of Christ’s death was the highest degree of the appointed punishment, and in this connection are to be considered the death itself and the continuance of it.

23.  The consummation of his spiritual punishment as loss was the forsaking of him by his Father, as a result of which he was deprived of all sense of consolation.  Matt. 27:46, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

24. The consummation of his death in conscious realization was the curse whereby he endured the full consciousness of God’s judgment on man’s sins.  Cal. 3:13, He was made a curse for us. The hanging on the cross was not a cause of or reason for this curse, but only a sign and symbol of it, Ibid.

25. The consummation of bodily death was the expiration of his soul in greatest torment and pain of body.

26. In this death there was a separation of the soul from the body, but the union of both with the divine nature remained so that a dissolution of the person did not occur.

27. This death of Christ was true and not feigned.  It was natural, or from causes naturally working to bring it about, and not supernatural.  It was voluntary and not at all compelled; yet it was violent and not from internal principles.  It was also in a certain way supernatural and miraculous, because Christ kept his life and strength as long as he would and when he desired he laid it down, John 10:18.

28.  The continuance of this death was a continuance of the state of lowest humiliation and not of the punishment of affliction, for when Christ said, It is finished, it applied to the latter punishment.

29. The continuance was the remaining under the reign of death for three days, Acts 2:24.  This state is usually and properly described as existence in Hell.

30. The burial of Christ for three days was a testimony and representation of this state.

Don’t Pray Like This (Matt 6.7-8)

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on September 6, 2014 at 10:21 am

Pray

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him (AV).

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (ESV).

Acceptable prayer only comes from some people praying in a certain way—in short, from Christian believers praying biblically, according to God’s revealed will. Obviously the prayerless are spiritually lost, but it is startling to consider that God rejects many if not most religious people throughout the world, along with their unscriptural prayers.

Jesus saves us from useless praying by turning our hearts toward the true and living God, and then by instructing us in the right way to pray. We must think about God in the right way, and then this will improve how we address Him in prayer.

Everybody Prays, Sort of

I speak generally, admitting exceptions. Praying in one form or another is not exclusive to Christianity. It is also found in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, for example. Complete prayerlessness is more prevalent in the modern, secular West.

Jesus assumes His disciples pray: “when ye pray.” A “prayerless Christian” is an oxymoron. J. C. Ryle states it bluntly: “To be prayerless is to be without God, without Christ, without grace, without hope, and without heaven. It is to be on the road to hell” (A Call to Prayer).

Jesus also recognizes that the “heathen” or “Gentiles” do something that is at least comparable to prayer. He warns His disciples not to pray like them.

Christians Tend to Pray Like Unbelievers

We should be deeply humbled by the realization that we do not just intuitively know how to pray as we ought (Rom 8.26). That is why the disciples properly pled with Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11.1). Our sinful hearts breed sinful habits of sinful speech in our prayers. The Lord knows that we desperately need spiritual renovation and biblical reformation to pray acceptably. His instruction here implies as much. In essence, He counsels us, “Don’t pray like this,” and then He describes the unacceptable prayers most people offer. Even as true Christians, we are prone to imitate their bad example.

According to Jesus, what about their praying was so objectionable? Two things: the form and the purpose.

The form is condemned using a rare Greek word, translated “vain repetitions” (AV) and “empty phrases” (ESV).

The verb battalogeō (“keep on babbling”) is very rare, apart from writings dependent on the NT (BAGD, p. 137b). It may derive from the Aramaic baṭṭal (“idle,” “useless”) or some other Semitic word; or it may be onomatopoetic: if so, “babble” is a fine English equivalent. Jesus is not condemning prayer any more than he is condemning almsgiving (v. 2) or fasting (v. 16). Nor is he forbidding all long prayers or all repetition. He himself prayed at length (Luke 6:12), repeated himself in prayer (Matt 26:44), and told a parable to show his disciples that “they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). His point is that his disciples should avoid meaningless, repetitive prayers.

Jesus also condemns the purpose behind such heathen praying. “They think they shall be heard for their much speaking” (or, “many words”). Tibetan prayer wheels in the Buddhist tradition are believed to have the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.[2] Roman Catholic priests assign a specific number of “Hail Mary’s” and “Our Father’s” for penance after auricular confession, which is no better. But even Evangelicals may imagine that prayer’s efficacy increases with length, and that God must be “softened up” to give us what we ask in prayer. The very notion is heathen and clearly denounced by Jesus in this passage.

Remedy: We Must Always Remember that God Is Our Caring Father

Jesus sees our spiritual problem as rooted in a wrong idea about the nature of God, especially as He relates to Christians. The word “for” (v. 8) connects two ideas: “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” You don’t need to babble incessantly in prayer. This is insulting to God, because it implies He is so hard-hearted that you must pester Him like a disrespectful five-year-old trying to get attention, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” until Daddy finally erupts, “WHAT!?”

As a Christian, you already have God’s attention and His devoted love. Your Father already knows absolutely everything and He is infinitely wise. He is committed to give you everything you need for your ultimate salvation. He already gave up His only begotten Son on the cross for you. Your prayers do not inform Him of anything, but it pleases Him that you should ask in faith, for in this way you glorify Him as your God and Father in heaven.

Keeping that always in mind will help us pray like children beloved of our heavenly Father—thoughtfully, thankfully, trustingly. Amen.

D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA
http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com

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[1] Gaebelein, F. E., Carson, D. A., Wessel, W. W., & Liefeld, W. L. (1984). The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_wheel

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Don’t Pray Like This (Matt 6.7-8)

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on September 6, 2014 at 10:21 am

Pray

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him (AV).

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (ESV).

Acceptable prayer only comes from some people praying in a certain way—in short, from Christian believers praying biblically, according to God’s revealed will. Obviously the prayerless are spiritually lost, but it is startling to consider that God rejects many if not most religious people throughout the world, along with their unscriptural prayers.

Jesus saves us from useless praying by turning our hearts toward the true and living God, and then by instructing us in the right way to pray. We must think about God in the right way, and then this will improve how we address Him in prayer.

Everybody Prays, Sort of

I speak generally, admitting exceptions. Praying in one form or another is not exclusive to Christianity. It is also found in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, for example. Complete prayerlessness is more prevalent in the modern, secular West.

Jesus assumes His disciples pray: “when ye pray.” A “prayerless Christian” is an oxymoron. J. C. Ryle states it bluntly: “To be prayerless is to be without God, without Christ, without grace, without hope, and without heaven. It is to be on the road to hell” (A Call to Prayer).

Jesus also recognizes that the “heathen” or “Gentiles” do something that is at least comparable to prayer. He warns His disciples not to pray like them.

Christians Tend to Pray Like Unbelievers

We should be deeply humbled by the realization that we do not just intuitively know how to pray as we ought (Rom 8.26). That is why the disciples properly pled with Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11.1). Our sinful hearts breed sinful habits of sinful speech in our prayers. The Lord knows that we desperately need spiritual renovation and biblical reformation to pray acceptably. His instruction here implies as much. In essence, He counsels us, “Don’t pray like this,” and then He describes the unacceptable prayers most people offer. Even as true Christians, we are prone to imitate their bad example.

According to Jesus, what about their praying was so objectionable? Two things: the form and the purpose.

The form is condemned using a rare Greek word, translated “vain repetitions” (AV) and “empty phrases” (ESV).

The verb battalogeō (“keep on babbling”) is very rare, apart from writings dependent on the NT (BAGD, p. 137b). It may derive from the Aramaic baṭṭal (“idle,” “useless”) or some other Semitic word; or it may be onomatopoetic: if so, “babble” is a fine English equivalent. Jesus is not condemning prayer any more than he is condemning almsgiving (v. 2) or fasting (v. 16). Nor is he forbidding all long prayers or all repetition. He himself prayed at length (Luke 6:12), repeated himself in prayer (Matt 26:44), and told a parable to show his disciples that “they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). His point is that his disciples should avoid meaningless, repetitive prayers.

Jesus also condemns the purpose behind such heathen praying. “They think they shall be heard for their much speaking” (or, “many words”). Tibetan prayer wheels in the Buddhist tradition are believed to have the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.[2] Roman Catholic priests assign a specific number of “Hail Mary’s” and “Our Father’s” for penance after auricular confession, which is no better. But even Evangelicals may imagine that prayer’s efficacy increases with length, and that God must be “softened up” to give us what we ask in prayer. The very notion is heathen and clearly denounced by Jesus in this passage.

Remedy: We Must Always Remember that God Is Our Caring Father

Jesus sees our spiritual problem as rooted in a wrong idea about the nature of God, especially as He relates to Christians. The word “for” (v. 8) connects two ideas: “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” You don’t need to babble incessantly in prayer. This is insulting to God, because it implies He is so hard-hearted that you must pester Him like a disrespectful five-year-old trying to get attention, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” until Daddy finally erupts, “WHAT!?”

As a Christian, you already have God’s attention and His devoted love. Your Father already knows absolutely everything and He is infinitely wise. He is committed to give you everything you need for your ultimate salvation. He already gave up His only begotten Son on the cross for you. Your prayers do not inform Him of anything, but it pleases Him that you should ask in faith, for in this way you glorify Him as your God and Father in heaven.

Keeping that always in mind will help us pray like children beloved of our heavenly Father—thoughtfully, thankfully, trustingly. Amen.

D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA
http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com

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[1] Gaebelein, F. E., Carson, D. A., Wessel, W. W., & Liefeld, W. L. (1984). The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_wheel

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