God takes Ezekiel’s Wife ‘at a stroke’

The following singular personal account in the life of Ezekiel stands out like the proverbial ‘sore thumb’. Poor Ezekiel, I feel for him. Derek Thomas calls this incident ‘one of the saddest and most difficult in Scripture.’ (God Strengthens, Derek Thomas p, 177, EP, 1993.)

Eze 24:15  The word of the LORD came to me:
Eze 24:16  “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.
Eze 24:17  Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.”
Eze 24:18  So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

I was trying to think what it feels like to have ‘the delight of your eyes taken away.’ I described it the other day like having your insides sucked out through your eyes. The inner pain is indescribable. Unless you’ve been through it you have no idea. So like I say, I feel for Ezekiel.

A very hard providence

Whether his wife had been ill for some time we aren’t told. But it seems to be sudden and unexpected: hence literally ‘at a stroke’ would be the best interpretation I feel. A mercy really, for him and his wife. No protracted illness for her or long-term care for him. Nevertheless, a very hard providence. If a man like Ezekiel delighted in his wife, I’d expect her to be a Godly woman. There was more than looks going on here. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but it seems to me this verse from Peter would describe Ezekiel’s wife and the inner beauty of her godliness. 1 Peter 3:4  ‘but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.’ (1 Peter 3:1-6) Ezekiel will see her again. He knows this. His faith is in The Redeemer, the One to come. That is, his faith is in Christ. As was his wife, I believe. This softens the blow, but a blow Ezekiel would have keenly felt.

We don’t make excuses for God

Here we are in no doubt as to why Ezekiel’s wife is taken from him. It’s for a sign to Israel. And is for their good. Though it falls on unrepentant hearts. And, we are specifically told that God was going to ‘take away the delight of his eyes’. The cause is known. We don’t have to try and work it out or make apologies for God. I certainly feel no need to make apologies for God and feel no need to defend the fact that He is the potter, and we are the clay. (Isaiah 64:8) He is The Lord, He does what He wills.

Ezekiel wasn’t to weep or grieve – he was allowed to quietly sigh – for his wife even though everything within him would want to. And God knows this, otherwise, why give that command to not weep. God isn’t oblivious to what this will cost Ezekiel and the pain His prophet will experience. Even in this, He is still ‘the Father of all mercies.’ Ezekiel is allowed to sigh, ‘but not aloud.’ What a sigh that must have been!

We aren’t told anything about Ezekiel’s wife other than that she was ‘the delight of his eyes.’ That doesn’t necessarily mean she was unbelievably beautiful to look at, but it does mean he loved her very much. She was a delight to him. When he saw her his heart skipped a beat we might say. She was to be taken from him. She wasn’t lost but taken.

The Lord gives and The Lord takes away

To the unbeliever, and maybe for some Christians, this will seem incredibly cruel. However, the caricature of a vindictive and hateful God just isn’t true. I know. I’ve walked in Ezekiel’s shoes. Admittedly, I wasn’t commanded to ‘weep not’ like Ezekiel but I do know but what it’s like to have ‘the desire of your eyes’ taken away. And taken away by God. Like Ezekiel, I was under no illusion as to who was in control. It was The Lord who took away ‘the delight of my eyes.’ I could say with Job “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) This is a salutary lesson for us all. I’m sure Ezekiel wasn’t expecting this. He could say perhaps with Job ‘For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.’ (Job 3:25) We are NOT the masters of our own destiny. We aren’t in control. That thing you live for could be gone ‘at a stroke.’ And God doesn’t have to ask your permission or give notice. God can take away from our lives whatever He pleases – and that ‘at a stroke.’ Don’t deceive yourself into thinking all will be well when without Christ and without God, it won’t be.

Had Ezekiel sinned (I mean here in a specific instance as we are all fallen – including Ezekiel)? He had not. Had his wife sinned? We aren’t told, but I think we can infer not. The death of his wife then illustrates in a most tragic and powerful way the sudden destruction that is to come upon Jerusalem. Did the people get it? Did they respond to the sign? No, they did not.

How will you respond?

Will you respond to this sign? It’s as relevant now as it ever was. In our materialistic age, especially here in the West, we push our ‘inalienable rights’ to the limit. All the time God could take everything away at a stroke. Yes, and even our most precious things. And even our very own lives. Jesus put it this way ‘You fool, this night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (Luke 12:20) Without being overly dramatic, this could well be your last day on earth. By evening you could be having to give an account of yourself before God! Without an advocate, without a Saviour that is, that is not something to look forward to.

Extreme Love from God

It probably seems quite extreme the lengths The Lord will go for the good of His lost people. He took Ezekiel’s wife, but that’s as nothing compared to the plan of God to rescue sinners. He has done this by sending into the world His Son. And the Son comes Himself to rescue and redeem.

Heb 10:5  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;
Heb 10:6  in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Heb 10:7  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

The cost of Redemption is plainly stated by Christ ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (John 10:10&11) Nothing but the blood of Christ can redeem sinners like us. This is extreme love! You have heard this and you know this.

Be Reconciled

Much more could be said but in the words of the Apostle Paul (2 Cor 5:20):

‘Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’

Giving out Gospel Tracts is hard work.

One Saturday morning members from the church went out into the town to give out evangelistic leaflets and if possible get into a conversation. Our church does this once a month or so. I do not find this ‘cold calling’ style of evangelism easy. In fact, that’s an understatement, I find it incredibly difficult. It’s not talking to people I find difficult, there’s something about giving away literature in that cold manner. I don’t know why this is. Honestly, I question whether this is my calling even though I’ve done it for years – door to door and open-air preaching. Maybe I’m just doing it all wrong.

The last time I experienced something new. Call it what you will but I just completely lost it. It was as if I was paralyzed. I just couldn’t do it. I said to myself ‘the fear of man brings a snare’ but eventually, I went home defeated and very downcast. My stomach was all churned up. I felt dreadful. It was physical. It just never occurred to me that it could be some sort of attack by The Devil. Maybe it was. I don’t know. Probably pride related.
I’m kicking myself really because if that was a moment of intense weakness, that was the time to rely on God’s power in weakness. Maybe it was some sort of ‘fainting fit’ as they were called. Maybe God was letting me know my complete and utter inability and that this was a time to trust and not a time to rely on my own feeble inner resources. My own feeble resources dried up – completely dried up! This is a good thing to know. We aren’t about God’s work in our own strength. We might get the blessing by doing the work of evangelism, but we don’t get to have the glory. We daren’t have the glory: that belongs to God alone!
 
Can any good come out of this? The first thing to know is that we need to be praying. We need to be praying in the prayer meeting. We need to pray as a team (however many that might be) before going out. And then to cultivate an attitude of dependence even if that means a feeling of complete despair in our own capability.
 
The second thing is to aware of your fellow workers. You might not be the only one conscious of complete inability. Therefore support one another. It’s very easy to get discouraged in the work. Support your struggling brethren in Gospel work. For some of us at times, it is best not to be left alone. Most of the time I’m probably fine on my own but it was a good reminder that we aren’t Mavericks – even when going out from the same church. And we aren’t sufficient in ourselves either. Our sufficiency is of God. So if someone came to me now, armed with my recent experience, I would say something like: ‘Be courageous Brother, stand with me and we’ll enter the fray in the fellowship of the Gospel – let’s give out tracts together’.
It probably all sounds quite pathetic. If you aren’t a Christian you might think we are a bunch of nitwits. But the reason we do this ‘work’ is because we want people like you to trust in Christ and be saved. There’s no other reason for doing it.

I discovered nearly everyone that Saturday found it incredibly tough. Perhaps you find it hard work as well. So what about next time? Will there be a next time? By God’s grace, there will be. But next time should the same thing happen – and it might – I need to look up, not in. Easy to say. We’ll see. Some Christians are very able at giving out tracts, I’m not. I thank God for those that are and it’s a joy to see.

Since starting to write this post a few weeks ago, in our prayer meeting, we have been going through 2 Corinthians and considering being weak. It’s not a pleasant feeling and is completely ‘counter-cultural’. We have another Evangelistic opportunity later this month. In some ways, I’m looking forward to the sense of dread, that feeling of despair so I can be weak for God. In other ways, I’m dreading it. But it’s not about us, it’s about Christ.

Sweetening the action

I’ve heard it said or prayed over the years something like ‘O Lord if you do not meet with us we are wasting our time’. Roughly translated that means we want to feel and know the presence of God in our meetings. And what Christian wouldn’t want that! I get the sentiment, I do. I do want to experience the presence of God.

But as I’ve thought about it, why would it be a waste of time to do something that Christ has directly commanded us in His Word to do? And, on top of that, we have promises that tell us God is with us. We aren’t told ‘when you meet together you’ll have a gooey warm feeling’. But we are told He will be with us.

As I read through ‘The Bruised Reed’ by Richard Sibbes, this paragraph recently stood out.

Obedience is most direct when there a nothing else to sweeten the action. Although the sacrifice is imperfect, yet the obedience with which it is offered is accepted.

We could apply these words of Sibbes in many ways, but let’s apply them to when the Church in obedience gathers for worship. When we meet together we want it to be sweet. We want something to ‘sweeten the action’ as Sibbes calls it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if we engineer our services to make sure it’s sweet, I do have a problem with that. Whatever it is that’s added, or taken away (e.g. pews), let’s make as sure as we possibly can that it isn’t to ‘sweeten the action’. Often I think it’s because we aren’t feeling something – whatever that something is – that we make adjustments to our services to sweeten them. Whereas Sibbes is telling us that because there’s nothing in it for us except the obedience, God accepts that. God accepts our obedience even if it isn’t sweet to us. Are we really adding it because we think the action is Biblical or because it makes us (or others) feel good, or sweet as Sibbes call it.

Our obedience is already tainted, it is an imperfect sacrifice, let’s not make it any worse. Especially when God accepts it for Christ’s sake. Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice and is the only ‘sweet smelling aroma’ that’s required. Praise God it is so.

The Lord Jesus Christ – Wonderfully gracious and compassionate.

You are those who have stayed with me in my trials,” (Luke 22:28)

I remember many years ago as a relatively new Christian reading this verse for the first time and being amazed by it. I’m still amazed when I  read it: staggered that such a verse should be in the Bible at all. Think about it, Jesus tells His disciples they have stayed with Him in His trials. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Isn’t it Jesus that stayed with them! And us!

Think back over the last three years of Jesus’ ministry. The Disciples had been with Jesus and often displayed their foolishness, their proneness to division, their pride and lack of compassion. Added to that, the fact they were often clueless and showed little or no understanding to the amazement of The Lord.

Then immediately after speaking these words to them, Jesus tells Peter that he’s going to betray Him. Even then He tells Peter that He had prayed for him and that his faith would not fail. He even tells Peter when he is restored to strengthen his brothers – the other disciples. Not only was Jesus aware of their past and current failings, but He also knew they would shortly all be running away and that Peter would deny Him three times.

We can be very quick to judge our fellow believers. Sometimes it’s as if we are looking for evidence that a person is not a Christian at all. Well, a Christian would never do that! Or, a real Christian would never say that! Yes, it’s shameful how we can all behave at times, and how judgemental we can be. But The Lord isn’t like that, His compassions they fail not, His mercies are new every morning.

When we fail or deny our Lord, as we surely will in some way or another: When we are restored, strengthen our brothers. Encourage your fellow Christians. Help them to avoid where you fell or help them out of the same mess you were in.

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back (James 5:19),
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 (James 5:20).

This is to be Christ-like.

We haven’t just wandered from the truth, by nature we have run after error and falsehood. Yet at measureless cost, Christ has brought us back. The Lord Christ has saved our souls from an eternal death and through His sacrifice on Calvary has covered a multitude of sins by shedding His precious blood!

In another place Jesus says to the disciples, ‘No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).’ Then there’s that great text in Proverbs 18:24 ‘A man of too many friends comes to ruin,

But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Then here in Hebrew 2:11 ‘both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,’. This is the word of God, be encouraged that though we can be ashamed of Jesus, He, is not ashamed to call us friends and brethren.

Finally here:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

If you are not a Christian this must seem like sentimental slush. Yet if you were to realise the great love God has for sinners the reality of His great love would be a source of wonderment to you.

Awake, my soul, and rise
Amazed, and yonder see
How hangs the mighty Saviour God
Upon a cursed tree!

William Williams, 1717 – 1791.

Let us look to the friend of sinners, the one who died but is risen from the dead to be a living Saviour. The following was my Dads favourite hymn which we sang at his funeral. What will be sung at yours?

I have a friend whose faithful love
Is more than all the world to me,
‘Tis higher than the heights above,
And deeper than the soundless sea:
So old, so new, so strong, so true;
Before the earth received its frame,
He loved me – Blessed be His Name!

He held the highest place above,
Adored by all the sons of flame,
Yet, such His self-denying love,
He laid aside His crown and came
To seek the lost, and, at the cost
Of heavenly rank and earthly fame,
He sought me – Blessed be His Name!

It was a lonely path He trod,
From every human soul apart,
Known only to Himself and God
Was all the grief that filled His heart:
Yet from the track He turned not back
Till where I lay in want and shame
He found me – Blessed be His Name!

Then dawned at last that day of dread
When, desolate but undismayed,
With wearied frame and thorn-crowned head
He, now forsaken and betrayed,
Went up for me to Calvary,
And dying there in grief and shame
He saved me – Blessed be His Name!

Long as I live my song shall tell
The wonders of His matchless love:
And when at last I rise to dwell
In the bright home prepared above,
My joy shall be His face to see,
And bowing then with loud acclaim,
I’ll praise Him – Blessed be His Name!

C. A Tydeman

The English Reformation and the Puritans

The English Reformation and the Puritans

This is a series of twelve (12) short lectures (about 24 minutes each) given by Dr. Michael Reeves. I’ve only just finished watching then even though they’ve been available for some time. Do watch them. The series will give you a real flavour for their time and how they continue to help us. There are some really stand out ones. Particularly the ones on Richard Sibbes and John Owen.

One would ask the question, where is the preaching on the person and beauty of The Lord Jesus Christ? Of course, we do not live in the 17th Century (but there are remarkable parallels). But is Christ any less Glorious? Is the Father any less loving? Is the Holy Spirit not able to reveal Christ to us? The Lord Jesus said “… And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”(John 12:32). The Puritans excelled at magnifying and lifting up Christ. So must we.

Follow This Link To View the series. Not sure US friends will be able to view them. Worth a try though.

From the series webpage:

Their Unlikely Story is Ours

Few stories contain heroism, betrayal, ricocheting monarchs, bold stands against repressive authorities, and redemption like this one. And fewer generations have modelled commitment to the gospel and the application of God’s Word like the Puritans of England.

In this 12-part series, Dr. Michael Reeves surveys Puritan theology and the work of the Holy Spirit when the Reformation flourished in England. Major milestones of this movement underscore the Puritans’ special place in history, as they displayed spiritual wisdom and discernment still benefiting pulpits and believers today.

Two Responses to Suffering (including a Disastrous Brexit)

The Problem of Evil has been classed as ‘The Achilles Heel’ of Christianity. Theologians and philosophers have been discussing and debating this ‘problem’ for centuries. There is a new book out on this: Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It?)’ by Greg Welty and I hope to write a brief review of this in due time. But for now, as I started that book my mind turned to two completely different responses to evil.

This present world (and its evil)

No one lives in this world for long without realising that something is wrong. And if you’ve lived long enough, and sometimes even if you haven’t lived so long, you’ll realise there’s something really really seriously wrong. Christians don’t get a free pass on suffering either. We live in the same world as everyone else. The difference is we know what it is that’s gone wrong. The ingenuity of man is remarkable and works tirelessly to make the world a better place. And that’s a good thing. But some things just can’t be fixed.

Two responses to suffering and evil

Vehemently protest against it if you will but here are two views, or two responses the Bible offers on the evil in the world. We might protest against it but the plain fact of the matter is that God quite purposefully sends some of the evils in the world. No, I don’t know which ones are sent to you and I don’t make a direct correlation between your behaviour or your circumstances and your suffering. Sometimes, maybe most times, there is no outside observable direct correlation. Not one I could confidently make anyway.

The response of the Godly

None of us always respond in an appropriate manner, nevertheless, there are, broadly speaking, two responses that are quite different. Suffering is grievous. It’s unpleasant. It’s painful. It can be long or short. We don’t like it. It’s real and comes in a multitude of ways. The vicissitudes of life are visited on all of us. The Apostle Paul describes the present suffering of believers in this way:

Rom 8:18  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
2Co 4:16  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
2Co 4:17  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

It was originally a caricature of a Salvation Army song, but in actuality, it really is ‘pie in the sky when you die’. And what right-thinking person wouldn’t want a slice of that particular pie! You might well mock, as the original composer, that it’s ‘pie in the sky when you die’. Nevertheless, it’s a true hope and expectation. Mock on, for your mocking doesn’t make it any less real. Paul compares the glory that is to come to our present sufferings. He does the calculation. There is no comparison between it and our present situation – whatever that may be. So it also has a present power as well. I have witnessed this power first hand. I am not speaking of hearsay.

Our response to suffering ought to bring us closer to God. Sadly it isn’t always the case, but often it is. It makes us realise our fragility and the need for help. We don’t have the resources but God does provide. This is my testimony and is the testimony of Christians for centuries. But as the people of God even in our darkest times, God is still keeping, guiding, and preparing us for that time when we shall see Him face to face and ‘cast our crowns before Him and fall on our faces at His throne ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’.

The response to the suffering of the believer is that it points them to the suffering of Christ and to the evil of their own hearts. ‘Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2).

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb 12:3).

That is the right response, to consider Him, to consider the redeeming costly work of Christ.

The response of the ungodly

There’s another response. And as everything leads to Brexit these days, you’ll have to forgive me for briefly considering it. What if Brexit is the complete and utter disaster many are predicting? And it may be a disaster. I think we should consider it as a serious possibility that this is the will of God being played out before us. I don’t say it is. I don’t know. I say let’s consider it as a possibility. The Bible tells us in Revelation that God sent terrible judgments on the world. What is the response?

Rev 9:18  By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.
Rev 9:19  For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.
Rev 9:20  The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk,
Rev 9:21  nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

And again in Chapter 16:

Rev 16:9  They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.
Rev 16:10  The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish
Rev 16:11  and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

They did not repent but instead, their response was to curse God. I don’t see a humble crying out to God in repentance as a response to Brexit – or to President Trump for that matter. I don’t see a National mourning for sin over Trump or Brexit. If it’s as serious as we are led to believe shouldn’t we be calling on God for help and forgiveness? I don’t see it. No, the response is to curse the providence of God. Even though it’s going to be an absolute disaster! There’s an outcry. For a second referendum, for a change of government and blame. But instead of humility or sorrow, it’s anger and resentment.

Your circumstances might be such that all this talk of the EU and Brexit has completely passed you by and is nothing more than an annoying distraction. I went to a funeral last week. There was rejoicing. The deceased was a believer. But there was much sadness too as friends and family keenly felt the departure. Pain and suffering have been described as God’s megaphone. He uses it to get our attention. Has he got yours?

Two ends

Suffering for the unrepentant, the scoffer, and Christ rejecter is but a foretaste of the judgment to come. To the Christian, suffering is but a light affliction compared to glory. But suffering for the ungodly is but a light judgment compared to the awful weight of the final judgment. Their suffering confirms their end.

Thr best response

That all sounds extremely gloomy. It is if your faith is not in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is still calling people to repentance and faith towards His Son The Lord Jesus Christ. Job was tempted by his wife to ‘curse God and die’. Job replied by saying:

“You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:10).

Many speak foolishly. In the end, Job said this to God:

… I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).”

God graciously brought Job to see that Job wasn’t God. Job was no more in control of his destiny than we are. We can hardly prevent ourselves from getting a cold. Let alone our eternal destiny!

The Good News is that God is still calling sinners, the ungodly, to Himself that they might know the love of Christ that passes all understanding. As the hymn writer says, ‘Love to loveless shown, that they might lovely be’. Christians, like everyone else, suffer in this life but their ‘song is love unknown’.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

1. My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?

2. He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But oh, my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend.

3. Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!”
Is all their breath,
And for His death
They thirst and cry.

4. They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful He
To suffering goes,
That He His foes
From thence might free.

5. In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death, no friendly tomb,
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein He lay.

6. Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.

Samuel Crossman, 1624 – 83.

F. F. Bruce – The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable?

The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? by F. F. Bruce. IVP. 6th Edition, 2009.

It’s taken me till now to read this book. And what an excellent book it is. I was very encouraged by reading it. It does have a downside. So let’s get that out of the way first.

The latest reference to any work is 1990. To me, because I’m older, that sounds quite recent – modern even. But when I think it through, that’s 28 years ago! Many of the reference works are much older, even though the research may still stand up. It’s an obvious point of criticism.  I’m sure there are more recent books that build on and enhance the work in this book. A more recent book to recommend is Michael Kruger’s ‘Canon Revisited‘ Nov 2013.

Given that, it’s a great read. It’s very helpful. It isn’t long. Just 141 pages. It has page footnotes which I like, a scripture index, suggested further reading for each chapter, and an index which I also like. If you’ve never read anything on this subject before, this is a great place to start.

In the opening paragraph to his preface (p.7) Bruce writes:

‘Reliable as what?’ asked a discerning reviewer of the first edition of this little work, by way of a comment on the title. His point, I think, was that we should be concerned with the reliability of the New Testament as a witness to God’s self-revelation in Christ rather than with its reliability as a record of historical fact. True; but the two questions are closely related. For, since Christianity claims to be a historical revelation, it is not irrelevant (or irreverent, my comment) to look at its foundation documents from the standpoint of historical criticism’.

He doesn’t shy away from the problems but shows how in terms of their historicity the New Testament documents fair very well. In fact, they fair much better than other ancient texts (ch 2, pp 21-23). He mentions the Chester Beatty (Library) Biblical Papyri. I was able to see some of these on a recent trip to Dublin. I’m not quite sure which ones are referred to in the book but see one of the pictures below I took of the manuscripts.

He takes some time looking at the miracles (ch 5) but points clearly to the resurrection of The Lord Jesus Christ.

‘This response of faith does not absolve us from the duty of understanding the special significance of the several miracle-stories and considering each in the light of available knowledge, historical research and otherwise, which can be brought to bear upon it. But these are secondary duties; the primary one is to see the whole question in its proper context as revealed by the significance of the greatest miracle of all, the resurrection of Christ’ (p.82).

The chapter on Lukes Gospel (ch 7) was really excellent. Especially so when it came to the accuracy of places, names, and titles. Very encouraging. An obvious point, which I hadn’t thought about, was how there were many writings out there that Luke was able to use in order to write his Gospel and The Acts of the Apostles.

Luk 1:1  Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,
Luk 1:2  just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,
Luk 1:3  it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
Luk 1:4  that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

The most important aspect of the book wasn’t his proof of the NT Documents historicity, which he does admirably, but his confession that it takes a work of the Holy Spirit to make a person alive to Christ. In the final analysis, even if they are accepted as completely reliable, which they are, it’s only the Holy Spirit that can grant repentance and give life. The question Christ asks of us all is ‘Who do you say that I am?’.

Mat 16:13  Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
Mat 16:14  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Mat 16:15  He said to them, But who do you say that I am?
Mat 16:16  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Mat 16:17  And Jesus answered him, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

I should have taken notes or made comments and underlining in the book. I didn’t.  Nevertheless, I thoroughly recommend this book to any believer or unbeliever for that matter. If your church has a library, put this book in it.

Here are the Chapter Titles:

  1. Does it matter?
  2. The New Testament documents: their date and attestation.
  3. The canon of the New Testament.
  4. The Gospels.
  5. The Gospel miracles.
  6. The importance of Paul’s evidence.
  7. The writings of Luke.
  8. More archeological evidence.
  9. The evidence of early Jewish writings.
  10. The evidence of early Gentile writers.

The Worthlessness of Wealth

Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death (Proverbs 11:4).

Day of Wrath – John Martin

In the day of wrath by which is meant either death, which brings us ultimately to that day, or the day itself which will bring to an end this present evil age. When this age passes we enter an eternal and permanent state. For the day of wrath wealth will have no currency, indeed it’s value will be far less than the most accelerated hyper-inflation ever seen. We could also see wealth as not simply currency but also social worth. Wealth and social standing may gain a person entry into the most prestigious celebrations – even Royalty – but in the day of wrath, any currency will fail to have any influence.

A person may be poor but aspire to wealth and yet have none. They think by aspiring to aristocracy or the wealthy, the industrialist or the successful entrepreneur there will be a way of escape. If only I were wealthy? Not so, for we are told wealth is worthless in the day of wrath. See Revelation 6: 15-17.

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. (V 15)

They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! (V 16)

For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (v 16)

The Bible nowhere condemns wealth as intrinsically wicked. There’s nothing wrong with earning money or being wealthy. But there’s no virtue with it. It will not earn favour with The Almighty. By the same token, there’s no virtue to being poor either. The politics of envy is popular in our day and is a form of rebellion towards the providence of a generous God. Back in the 1st Century if as a slave you could be free, so be it. So there’s nothing wrong with changing your position or a promotion. But riches and poverty have to be held in relation to God. Yes, that’s easy to say in the West. I know this. Go and read the parable Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and see where you would rather end up. Riches for that man were worthless. But Lazarus wasn’t saved by being poor but by trusting God, whereas the Rich Man rejected the Word of God.

But righteousness delivers from death. Death is synonymous with wrath ‘for it is given to man once to die and then judgment’ (Heb 9:27). But the text says we are delivered through righteousness. That is, by being righteous. Many understand Christians to be saying ‘we are righteous’ and mean by this ‘look how wonderfully righteous we are’. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth! We aren’t delivered by our own righteousness or by any righteous deeds. We are delivered by what has been called an alien righteousness – that is a righteousness from outside ourselves. We have no internal inherent spark of righteousness. To think otherwise is foolishness. The Bible says quite clearly ‘there is none righteous, no, not one (Rom 3:10)’  The righteousness the text speaks of must come from another. But who, since ‘there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins’ (Ecc 7:20). The Apostle John wept at the thought of no deliverer: ‘and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it (Rev 5:4).

So it isn’t just righteousness but a particular righteousness. The righteousness of a person. This person is The Lord Jesus Christ. It is He that delivers from death, destruction, and despair’.

Immortal honors rest on Jesus’ head;
My God, my portion, and my living bread;
In Him I live, upon Him cast my care;
He saves from death, destruction, and despair.
(Joseph Hart 1773-1844)

And it is only Jesus that is able to deliver from death. Having the righteousness that comes from God isn’t one option that we pick from many – which is often how it’s portrayed even by so-called ministers of religion. The truth is, it’s either the righteousness that God offers or you choose to go it alone. So if you do find yourself in an eternal hell, remember, you’ll be there because that was the choice you made.

Jesus is calling people to Himself. He says ‘come to me and I will give you rest’ (Matt 11:28-30). At the start of His earthly ministry, Jesus said ‘Repent and believe the Gospel’ (Mark 1:15). He also said ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’ (John 7:37). The Son of God, the one who died and rose, who lives for evermore, the one who has defeated death is the one who calls you to Himself. Do not delay (2 Cor 6:1-2).

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

1. Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore!
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
He is able, He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more!

2. Let not conscience let you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.
This he gives you, This he gives you, This he gives you:
‘Tis the Spirit’s glimmering beam.

4. Come ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and mangled by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, Not the righteous, Not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call.

5. Agonizing in the garden,
Lo! your Maker prostrate lies!
On the bloody tree behold Him:
Hear Him cry, before He dies:
“It is finished!” “It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Sinner, will this not suffice?

6. Lo! The incarnate God ascending,
Pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture freely;
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, None but Jesus, None but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.

(Joseph Hart 1773-1844)

Dr Nick Needham Lecturing on ‘The Synod of Dort’ at Aberystwyth

Dr Nick Needham will be coming to Aberystwyth Saturday 23rd June to give two lectures on The Synod of Dort.

If you are in Aberystwyth do come along. The lectures will take place at Alfred Place Baptist Church. Coffee at 10:30.

Lecture 1 (11:00). What on Earth was The Synod of Dort?

Lecture 2 (14:30). Why Should I Care?

Dr Needham is the author of ‘2000 Years of Christ’s Power‘ currently in Four Volumes.

Volume 1. The Age of the Early Church Fathers

Volume 2. The Middle Ages

Volume 3. Renaissance and Reformation

Volume 4. The Age of Religious Conflict

(Nick has an overview of the Synod of Dort in Volume 4 of ‘2000 Years of Christ’s Power’ Chapter 2, Section 2, p 127 – 142.)

 

 

The Gospel plainly stated.

Here’s another one from ‘Voices From The Past Vol 1‘ edited by Richard Rushing (BoT). This is from 14th May and taken from the works of John Flavel (Works, 1:176 – 187). If I’m reading it right he’s distilled eleven pages down to one. The result is a beautiful summary of The Gospel that plainly states the terrible situation of the one outside of Christ but the wonderful security to the one in Christ.

‘The curse of the law is the most dreadful thing imaginable…. Nothing can free the soul but Christ’.

And yet the dead sinner cannot see his predicament. Such is the blindness of man in sin. If you brush it of as mere religious dogma and are completely unaffected, please consider your situation. Call upon The Lord that He May have mercy on you.