Sunday, August 31, 2014

JOHN 3:16 ("For God so loved the world")

JOHN 3:16

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

John 3:16 is probably the most well-known verse of Scripture there is. Every young man who fancies himself as a preacher heads straight to this verse for his text. Martin Luther says that John 3:16 is the Bible in miniature. John 3:16 is the Gospel in a nutshell, isn’t it? However, I’ll let you into an open secret. John 3:16 is not the easiest verse in the Bible to preach. It’s not the easiest to preach because it’s not the easiest verse to understand.

On the surface John 3:16 looks as smooth as a baby’s – face! But under the microscope it’s full of hidden valleys and crevasses.  However, be that as it may, I thought we might have a wee look at John 3:16 from two perspectives, viz., contextually and covenantally.

Let’s begin by looking at the immediate context of this verse. It’s part of Jesus’ speech to Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a ruler of the Jews and he is the teacher of Israel. He has come to Jesus under cover of darkness. Notice what Nicodemus has already said to Jesus back in verse 2 of John 3, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.”

So Nicodemus is off to a good start. He’s recognized something special about Jesus on account of the signs. The Holy Spirit has already descended like a dove and remained upon Jesus, John 1:32-33. Jesus has already told Nathaniel that He saw him under the fig tree, John 1:48. Jesus has already turned water into beautiful wine at the wedding in Cana, John 2:9. Wine, as you know, is a picture of the Gospel, (e.g. Isaiah 55:1).

In John 2:11 we’re told that the “water into wine” was the beginning of the signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee. Jesus has already cracked the whip by driving the moneychanger’s out of the Temple. He upended their tables and scattered their sheep and oxen. So, Nicodemus has come to Jesus under cover of darkness knowing these things. Jesus has been talking to Nicodemus about the kingdom of God. He’s been telling Nicodemus that he must be born again, born anew, before he can enter or even see the kingdom of God. Jesus has told Nicodemus about the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to regeneration. It’s the Holy Spirit who enables people to be born again. He regenerates.

So, that’s some of the immediate context of John 3:16. It’s part of a conversation Jesus had with a teacher of the Jews. Still looking at the context, let’s now look at the words of John 3:16 in the context of the actual conversation.

The verse opens with the word “for” – “For God so loved the world…” That little word “for” immediately alerts us that this verse doesn’t stand alone. That little word tells us that this verse is part of what has been said before it. However, before we look more closely at the preceding verses we should note that in the original Greek the very first word of this verse is “so”. Literally it’s “So, for loved God the world…” That little word “so” is so very, very important to our understanding of this verse. It’s not “For God loved the world…” It’s for God so, i.e., in this manner God loved the world. Or thus God loved the world, or, this is how God loved the world.

So the question immediately springs to mind: In what way did God love the world? Is that word “so” referring to what precedes it or what comes after it? Well, we’ve already taken note of the little word “for”. That little word “for” forces the reader to take the preceding verses into consideration. So the question is this: In what manner does God loves the world?
Has it to do with Jesus being lifted up like Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness? Or is it to do with God the Father giving His Son? Well, from what I can see it’s to do with God giving His only begotten Son. However, this giving is to be understood in the context of the preceding verses.

John 3:14-15 are the immediate preceding verses, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Of course the New International Version misses out the “should not perish” bit. However, in the Received Text all of verse 15 is repeated word for word in verse 16. The word “eternal” and “everlasting” are exactly the same word in the original Greek. We can see therefore the manner in which God loves the world. It is in the giving of His only begotten Son who will be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. So that’s how God loved the world. He loved the world by giving the world His Son. Therefore God’s love is a practical love, it’s a doing love, a giving love. God’s love is a sacrificial love.

What is meant by the word “world” in this verse? Well, surely it’s speaking of people in this context. It’s not necessarily talking about birds and bees and trees and seas. It’s primarily talking about people – all kinds of people, rich, poor, old, young, Jew and Gentile. However, it’s talking about fallen people, sinful people, people in need of salvation. We know this because we know why God gave the world His only begotten Son. God gave His Son so “that whoever believes in Him [His only begotten Son] should not perish but have everlasting life.”

So, right about now we and Nicodemus should be making the connection with Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. Numbers 21 records a time during Israel’s wilderness years when the Hebrews began to complain against Moses and God. They were complaining about the food God was providing – the Manna. Numbers 21:6, “So the LORD fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people and many of the people died.”

However, the people came to Moses confessing their sins to God. So God being God provided them an out – an escape from this temporal judgment. The LORD had Moses make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. The idea was that whoever was bitten could look at the brazen serpent and live! As God gave the Hebrews in the wilderness a brazen serpent to cure them from snakebites, so He is giving the world His only begotten Son. Those who looked at the snake on the stake escaped temporal judgment of the fiery serpents. Whoever looked at the snake on the stake escaped physical death.

But why has God the Father given His only begotten? So that those who look unto Jesus can escape eternal judgment, even eternal death God gave the whole world, and not just the Hebrews, His only begotten so that the world might not perish everlastingly, but rather have eternal life.

Let’s look at this in terms of God’s Covenant. Covenantally, there are God’s blessings for obedience and God’s curses for disobedience. The Hebrews were grumbling and complaining against God in the wilderness. Grumbling and complaining about the providence of God is disobedience. So God at that time sent them a temporal curse – fiery serpents.

Now, as you know, there are only two Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Sacraments are signs and seals of God’s Covenant of Grace. The Lord’s Supper by its very nature is a clear picture of God’s providing for His people. It is God who provides the bread and wine. And it is God who provides the reality of what the bread and wine represent. In other words: A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers. That’s how our Catechism puts it.

Now, what happened to some of the Corinthians who treated the Lord’s Supper as a common meal instead of a holy meal? Referring to the Lord’s Supper, we’re told in 1 Corinthians 11:29, “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” So, what happened to those who didn’t discern the Lord’s body in the Holy Meal? What was God’s judgment on them? 1 Corinthians 11:30, “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” So, even though the Manna from heaven was not an Old Testament Sacrament, it was part God’s provision for His people in the wilderness. And those who treated it in an unworthy manner received God’s temporal judgment, as did the Corinthians regarding the Lord’s Supper.

However, the escape from the penalty was to look to God’s covenantal provision for their sin – Christ! God is ever faithful to His everlasting covenant. He provided those in the wilderness an out, an escape from the temporal punishment or chastening. Look at the brass serpent on a pole and be healed from the curse. All of mankind knows in its collective heart and individually that we grumble and complain against God’s providence, Romans 9:20. Therefore all mankind has a sense of guilt for its sin, Romans 2:15-16. All of mankind knows that there is to be a Final Judgment on the Last Day, Romans 1:18-19. But God has provided a means of escaping from remaining eternally cursed. That escape is in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! However, just as the wilderness Hebrews needed to look at the brazen serpent, so must the world look at Christ on His cross!

The brazen snake on a stake was a reminder of God’s curse as well as His blessing. For the LORD God said to the serpent in Genesis 3:14, “You are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field.” So, the serpent of the pole was a picture of the most cursed creature there is. But didn’t Christ on the cross become the curse? Didn’t He become the curse for us? Didn’t He become the curse to remove the curse from us? Paul says to the Galatians in Galatians 3:13, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’”)

Now, I’ll try not to have us jumping all over the Bible. But keep in mind that Jesus is talking to a man who knows the Old Testament Scriptures. Nicodemus knows all about the LORD sending the fiery serpents in the wilderness. And he also knows what is written in Deuteronomy 21:22-23, “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.”

We see Nicodemus a little later in John’s Gospel upholding God’s covenant stipulations regarding a man who was accursed by being hung on a tree. John 19:38-39 says, “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.”

So, Nicodemus would most certainly make the connection between the brazen serpent hanging on a pole and the Son of Man hanging on a tree. For God so loved the world that He gave, (not a brazen serpent this time), but He gave His only begotten Son. As Aaron’s rod swallowed up the sorcerer’s rods, so the rod of God, which is Christ’s cross, swallowed up death.

God loved the world. The manner in which He loved the world was by giving the world a gift. The gift of God is Jesus Christ. The purpose for God giving His Son is that whoever looks believingly to Him should not keep on perishing forever, but rather keep on having life.

So, what we see then in John 3:16 is God’s everlasting Covenant revealed. We see that God eternal plan of salvation unveiled. The mind of God is visualized for us in this verse. Those in the world who look to Jesus Christ will not perish along with the cursed Serpent and his demons, but will receive healing from their sins. For, to look at Christ’s cross is to look at the removal of God’s curse. For Jesus Christ is the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world! It was our sin that brought the curse in the first place. And it was Jesus Christ who removed our sin from us in the last place.

The cross is the place where the curse is exchanged for blessing. The cross is the place where death is transformed into life. The cross is the place where light conquers darkness, where life conquers death. Death is swallowed up in victory at the cross!

It’s covenantal. God blesses obedience. God curses disobedience. Christ was obedient unto death. He was obedient for us. Therefore His life brings all the blessings of life for those who believe in Him. And His death brings all the curses of death to those who hate Him.

God’s love is a covenantal love because the God who is love is in eternal covenant with Himself. Therefore God’s love for the world is a covenantal love. As those who refused to look to God’s provision for healing in the wilderness perished temporally, so those who refuse to look to Christ and His cross will perish eternally. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that the people of the world see the manner in which God loved the world.

God’s love is covenantal. His love for the world is in the giving of His only begotten Son. This giving of His eternal Son was planned in eternity past. In other words, the Father had covenanted with the Son to do this before the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8b speaks of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Which Lamb is that? The Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.

Now, just one last, but important thing under the heading Covenantally. It’s to do with the words in John 3:16, “that whoever believes in Him.” Always keep in mind the context of these words. Jesus is speaking these words to Nicodemus, a man well-familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures. Keep in mind that Jesus has been telling Nicodemus that he must be born again to see the kingdom of God. John 3:3, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” Now jump ahead to verse 5, “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” “‘Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” “‘Unless one is  born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”

Being born again is the same as being born of the water and the Spirit. It’s the Spirit that gives birth to spirit, flesh can only give birth to flesh. In other words, it’s the Spirit of God who must, if you will, do the work of a spiritual midwife. You can’t deliver yourself, God must do it! Flesh gives birth to flesh, those who are spiritually dead. But the Holy Spirit gives birth to those who are spiritually alive – those who are able to see and to enter the kingdom of God. 

Some have looked at the “water and the Spirit” there in verse 5 and have concluded that the water is speaking of baptism. Now, keep in mind that Jesus is talking to Nicodemus. And keep in mind that He is speaking to him Covenantally. Nicodemus knows that John the Baptist has been baptizing in the wilderness. If you need a verse for that try Mark 1:4, “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

Now, Nicodemus knows that the Holy Spirit is likened to water. He knows this because he knows the Old Testament Scriptures. E.g., Ezekiel 36:25-27 is a place that speaks of God’s Covenantal promise regarding His Spirit. Ezekiel 36:25-27, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.”

Notice the cleansing action being spoken of. “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you…” The Holy Spirit is the one who does the cleansing – “I will put My Spirit within you.” Therefore the “water and the Spirit” Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus in verse 5 is simply a reference to the Old Testament Covenant promises. And, keep in mind that Jesus is rebuking Nicodemus “the teacher of Israel” for not understanding these things. So, the “water and the Spirit” in verse 5 is simply referring to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to new life. And, of course, Covenantal baptism beautifully pictures this. As John the Baptist says in John 1:33, “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”

So you see the connection between the water and the Spirit. The sprinkling of water in baptism is a picture of what the Holy Spirit will do. According to God’s Covenantal promise, “The Spirit will cleanse you from all your filthiness.” Therefore the water in verse 5 is not so much the water of water baptism, rather it’s the Spirit who is pictured by the water in water baptism.

Anyway, meanwhile back at John 3:16. The “whosoever will” – the “whoever believes” – must be read in light of what we’ve just looked at. In other words, to be properly understood it must be read in context and Covenantally. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that a person must be born again before he can see the kingdom of God. He’s saying that he must be born of water and the Spirit before he can enter the kingdom of God. He is telling Nicodemus that only the Spirit can make a person born again. He is not saying that a person with the assistance of the Spirit can be born again. No. It’s all of God because that which is flesh can only give birth to flesh. Therefore if a person is going to believe unto everlasting life he must first be born of the Spirit! That is God’s Covenantal Plan of Salvation from all eternity.

God’s love for the world is demonstrated in the gift of His only begotten Son. His purpose for the gift of His only begotten Son is to have those He is saving believe in Him who takes away their sin. But they must be born again, born of water and the Spirit before they will truly believe. So, we might read John 3:16 periphrastically thus, “For God the Father loved the world by giving the world His Son, so that those born of the Spirit should not perish but have everlasting life.”

John 3:16 is Trinitarian, isn’t it? Our salvation is the work of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore Jesus taught Nicodemus the Pharisee that man is not saved by his own works, rather by the triune God, i.e., the Triune God alone saves by His grace alone.

We’ve seen that in order for John 3:16 to be properly understood must be looked at contextually and covenantally.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Therefore I exhort first of all that…prayers…be made for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour. 1 Timothy 2:1-3.

If Christians wish to demonstrate love for God and neighbour they ought to pray for the governing bodies having authority over them. For what hope do Christians have of living quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and reverence if the civil authority is ungodly and irreverent in its use of its God ordained authority? Governing authorities exist to promote man’s good and to execute wrath on practisers of evil (Romans 13:4).

This being said, it necessarily follows that we beg the question: By what standard? How ought the Civil Authority measure good and evil? After all he has the authority to use both the flat and the sharp edge of the sword, as the case may require. To put the question another way: What types of things ought Christians to pray for regarding these authorities whose existence is in order to promote good, restrain, and even punish evil?

Should the Christian expect non-Christian authorities to pass laws in accordance with God’s immutable Moral Law? He should if the State Constitution the Civil Authority is under requires it. But what of those nation’s whose Constitution is not founded or based upon God’s Law? What should the Christian pray for then? Surely he should pray for the same as the former. Which is to say that Christians everywhere ought to pray that they may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and reverence. Therefore Christians need to be under, and need to seek to be under, the civil authorities who honour God’s Ten Commandments.

Christians therefore must pray that the civil authorities will indeed promote good and punish evil in accordance with God’s Word. For only then will peace and quiet be possible for Christians in any nation.

Speaking very generally, this was, to a certain extent, the case in most Westernised countries prior to the 1960’s. Civil authorities in the West used to promote, for example, the Christian Sunday Sabbath (4th Commandment) by preventing department stores and the likes from opening, and keeping the pubs closed; and regulating the bar hours in hotels etc.

Also, people were required to take oaths on the Bible (3rd & 9th Commandments); and respect those in authority such as parents, teachers, police, judges etc. (5th Commandment). Murderers, (6th Commandment) in many cases, received the death penalty; adultery (7th Commandment) was certainly frowned upon (and sometimes punished), theft (8th Commandment) was abhorred and punished accordingly, lying (9th Commandment) was likewise abhorred as shameful. New “citizens” of Western nations made their oath ‘under God’ (1st Commandment). It would seem then, that only the 2nd and 10th (Graven Images and Coveting respectively) Commandments were not openly countenanced. Interestingly, Roman Catholicism attempts to absorb the 2nd Commandment (the use of images) as part of, or an appendix to, the 1st Commandment (no God but God). And, in order to maintain the number of Commandments as the traditionally accepted ten, Rome divides the 10th (coveting) in two.

All in all, before the sixties, the governing authorities in the West generally stood on the solid ground of God’s Law for promoting the good in society and punishing evildoers. With this in mind, Christians should pray that the civil authorities to whom they are subject will once again return (in the West) to the solid bedrock of God’s Law and begin to wisely implement it.

But what if there are some who do not wish to come under the implementation of God’s Law? What is there to guard their ‘civil liberties’? How is the governing authority to promote their good and punish their evil doing? To ask this question another way, should any one individual or group in society be exempted from keeping God’s Law as properly administered and upheld by its lawful authorities? For example, what about the criminally insane? Should they be punished for their crimes? Are they even eligible to commit crimes? What about refugees? etc. etc.

Surely the answer to these and like questions is that justice must remain blindfolded? Otherwise there will be no justice for all! After all, God’s Law is God’s Law for all; whether Jew, Mohammedan, Hindu, Atheist, Secularist, etc., even the criminally insane. Therefore the Christian must answer these and like questions in the affirmative. Yes, there should be no person or group above God’s Law. Each must be held accountable for his own actions. Which is not to say that the infantile and the imbecilic are expected to comply to the same degree as the mature-minded. Hence special consideration needs to precede any punishment for their wrongdoing.

God’s Word says that the Civil Authority receives his authority from God (Romans 13:1-7; John 19:10&11). Therefore “he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” Romans 13:4. To be God’s minister at law one must honour and strive to uphold God’s Law, even when meeting out due punishment.

So, who goes to jail? Only those, who have broken God’s Law, as it is read (interpreted?), and applied, by the civil authority for the good of society. But, more to the point, what is jail? Is jail not simply a secure holding place for those accused and awaiting trial for crimes? and also, for those awaiting punishment for their crime, such as murderers? Jail, itself, does not seem to be a biblical form of punishment for evildoers. Indeed, God Himself is keeping fallen angels “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day…” Jude 6. Restitution or death are apparently the only two biblical options for guilty criminals.

 Christians need to pray then for their Civil Authorities. Christ is building His kingdom from the inside out. Therefore Christian must also seek to evangelise their Civil Authorities so that their hearts might be changed by the power of the Gospel. Reconstructed hearts means a reconstructed society.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


The following is a letter I wrote a number of years ago on the subject of Covenant Theology.
I wish I had more time to delve into some of the things written in the "Covenant Theology" paper (more accurately, Dispensationalist Theology). However, I've got seven new potential members coming to a membership-class tonight with Bible Study hard on its heels!
Anyhow, no disrespect to the great O Palmer Robertson, but it astounds me that such a learned man denies the basis of all covenants, i.e. the Eternal Covenant. He seems to deny it because it doesn't fit his definition of a covenant as "a bond in blood sovereignly administered." I wonder if he has considered the meaning of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" Rev. 13:8b when looking for blood (not that I want to go down that road). Anyway, it's also unhelpful to Covenant Theology to hear another great such as John Murray tell us not to confuse "promise" with "covenant". He needs to tell this to all the Westminster Divines, and also Charles Hodge who says that "a covenant is a promise suspended upon a condition". If viewed as a "conditional promise" the Eternal Covenant, the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace, or any other covenant for that matter, Biblical or otherwise, is not easily misunderstood or confused.
That the Eternal Godhead (represented by the Father) made an everlasting covenant (or conditional promise) with the Son (representing the elect) is spelled out very clearly, e.g., in John chs. 14-17. Try John 17:6 where Jesus says to the Father, "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word". When did the Father first plan to give Jesus these men? What was the condition set for Christ to receive them from the Father? Why was Jesus obedient to the Father unto death on their behalf?
Robert Lewis Dabney in his Systematic Theology is very good at spelling out the fact that Christ represented the elect in the Covenant of Grace. Fallen man does not and cannot represent himself - he needs a Mediator! Before the Fall Adam needed no mediator in the sense that we need one after the fall. Adam represented man(kind) in the conditional promise or covenant God made with him. To say that there was no covenant here is to say that the covenant was never made with the Seed of the woman, Christ. In the Covenant of Works we should never look at Adam apart from Christ, because Christ is the second man, the Last Adam. Yes, everlasting life was offered or promised to Adam upon condition of works, i.e. perfect obedience to God's Law, which Ten Commandments were written upon his heart (albeit in positive terms) see Rom. 2:13-15 e.g. The tree was the outward test of his obedience.

The quote from Klooster in the paper is a good one. Covenant Theologians DO believe in two ways of salvation. 1. By keeping our God's Law perfectly. 2. By Christ's keeping God's Law perfectly. Gen. 2:16b, 17 "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die", Lev. 18:5, "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgements, which if a man does, he shall live by them...", Gal. 3:12 "Yet the law is not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them'" etc. Of course Adam blew it by breaking the conditional promise of life (everlasting life) thereby closing the door to all his sinful offspring, e.g. Isa. 5 "The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant". However, the door for this way of salvation was closed ONLY for sinners: but the good news is that the Last Adam, the Seed of the woman is not a sinner. Unlike the first Adam He kept the everlasting covenant. He saves us THROUGH faith in His good works, not BECAUSE of faith.
In summary, all Christians whether Dispensationalist or Covenantal need to always look to Christ to understand Covenant Theology (see e.g. Westminster Confession of Faith, 7:3). After all He is the Mediator of the covenant, He IS the Covenant (Isa. 42:6, 49:8). He is God and man in an everlasting covenant in One Person with two natures. When did God decide He was going to become also a man? Or put another way, when did He decided to covenant with man in the Person of Jesus Christ? The two natures of Christ cannot and must not be separated by us. No doubt the everlasting covenant in eternity past has a different application to the Son of God as God than it does to the Son of God as the Son of Man. However, Christ is not divided. However, as far as the covenant concerns us, He is God's representative to us and our representative to God - the Mediator.
Whichever way we look at it, the conditional promise of the covenant of Works or the covenant of Grace is all the same to you and me. The condition is faith in the One who keeps on keeping, and has kept the covenant of Works, i.e. our blessed Saviour and covenant keeper Jesus Christ. Faith in Him and His good covenant works is the condition for our salvation. This "conditional promise" is the same before and after Christ. 
The "Old" covenant was that made with Adam which he broke, but is again clearly spelled out and pictured in the Mosaic administration of the covenant of Grace showing the impossibility of fallen man keeping it perfectly. The "New" covenant was that which began to be revealed to Adam and Eve directly after the Fall, continued with Noah, confirmed with Abraham, and yes, Moses, also David, etc.
So, yes, as the Scriptures say, the Old Covenant is the Mosaic covenant, which is simply a dispensation (better to say "administration" because of the confused Dispensationalists) in which the way of salvation by works was shown to be still open BUT ONLY TO THE RIGHTEOUS ONE OF PROMISE, i.e. the promised covenant keeper, and not to those shown up to be bankrupt sinners by the Law! The Mosaic Covenant shows the great need of a Saviour, a Substitute, a Representative, a Mediator, i.e. a covenant keeper.
In conclusion, to claim that there is no "Eternal Covenant" is to open up the pit and release the hydra-serpent of Dispensationalism. However, the sword of defence is the unadulterated Gospel which cuts off all of its ugly heads. The Gospel is merely the proclamation of the Covenant of Grace (Hodge). This covenant is the Eternal Covenant formed in the Godhead in eternity past and overarches all those renewed and confirmed promises or covenants in Scripture.
For Christ's Crown and Covenant,
PS. A useful summary of Covenant Theology and of how the Westminster Divines understood it is given in "The Sum of Saving Knowledge" at the back of the Free Presbyterian edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

See also my e-book "Covenant Simplified" -

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


The following is excerpted from my e-book "On the Church" -


“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” Romans 12:2.

The preaching of the Gospel is transformative. Indeed the Apostle Paul when writing to the Romans says that “The gospel of Christ… is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Romans 1:16b. Paul is speaking at the time when the Church was transitioning from being predominantly Jewish in nature to becoming all inclusive, which is to say that the national Church, (i.e., Old Testament Israel), was beginning to include other nations (such as the Greeks) to become the New Testament Church.

This, of course, is in the course of the ongoing fulfilment of the “Cultural Mandate” which was given by God to Adam (as Mankind’s representative) and Mankind as recorded in Genesis, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Genesis 1:27-28.

The Tower of Babel episode made sure that mankind would start spreading throughout the whole world. There the Triune God said, “‘Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.” Genesis 11:7-8.

Cultural Influence
The word “culture” comes from the Latin cultura meaning “growing, cultivation.” The verb “cultivate” is taken from the Latin colere meaning “tend, cultivate.” It will be remembered that Adam was to “tend and keep” the Garden. As he cultivated the garden he was also cultivating his own mind horticulturally, botanically, zoologically etc.

We, of course, now live in a fallen world, a world in which sin, misery and death are ever present. However, it is into this world that God speaks His Word. He uses the “foolishness of the message preached” (i.e., the Gospel) to speak His Word (1 Corinthians 1:21).

In the 1980s Glasgow began to transform itself from being a smoky industrial city to being voted “the European Capital of Culture” for 1990. Glasgow’s motto is “Let Glasgow flourish” which in full is “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of Your Word, and the praising of Your name.” Of course as one would expect while living in a fallen world there are those who would not credit God and His Word for the cultivation of Glasgow. However, Glasgow has indeed flourished!

The Scottish bard wrote, “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as others see us!” We agree with Robert Burns: Seeing ourselves as others see us “wad frae mony a blunder free us.” But let us say that some Power gave us the gift to see a whole nation as others see it. Would that not be something? Well, when the Almighty opens someone’s eyes he or she is able to see the nation, even the whole world, as Christians see it.

Having been born of God’s Spirit how would a Christian view a nation? And can this view from many a blunder free it? Take any Western nation. Western cultures are Christianised cultures. Some more, some less – a lot less! To be Christianised does not mean that everyone in the nation is Christian. It simply means that they are under the influence of the so-called Judeo-Christian ethic (i.e., the Christian ethic). In other words, the teaching of the Old and New Testaments, i.e., the Bible, permeates that culture – to a greater or to a lesser extent.

Culture is religion externalised. Language, poetry, music, food, mode of dress, politics, architecture, art et al are expressions of culture, of a nation’s religion. Says Henry Van Til,

Through sin man fell away from God and his religion became apostate, but through Christ man is restored to true religion. It is therefore more correct to ask what the role of culture is in religion that to put the question the other way around … Man, in the deepest reaches of his being, is religious; he is determined by his relationship to God ... Hutchison … says, “For religion is not one aspect or department of life besides the others, as modern secular thought likes to believe; it consists rather in the orientation of all human life to the absolute.” Tillich has captured the idea in a trenchant line, “Religion is the substance of culture and culture is the form of religion.”[1]

Christian religion in its Calvinist form is true religion. Henry Van Til ties the development of the West to John Calvin where he says,

Now Calvin proclaimed alongside of church and state a third realm, an area of life that has a separate existence and jurisdiction. It is called the sphere of the adiaphora, the things indifferent. This is the court of conscience. No pope nor king may here hold sway.
This area is not restricted to a few insignificant matters of taste and opinion among individuals, but it includes music, architecture, technical learning, science, social festivities, and the everyday question, ‘what shall we eat and what shall we drink and where-withal shall we be clothed?’ Now Calvin proclaims freedom from church and state for this whole large area of life in his doctrine of Christian liberty, making man responsible and accountable to God alone in his conscience.[2]

The teachings of Christianity influence culture for the better. Christianity does not destroy culture. Using the Bible as its blueprint, Christianity transforms culture, making it more wholesome in the realm of morals without being moralistic. In other words, Christianity helps cultures and whole nations think Christianly. Therefore, on account of its positive influence, Christianity frees nations from making too many blunders before God! Regarding America says Ronald Kirk,

Early Americans exalted a Biblical education as the foundation necessary to build and maintain a Christian culture – an expression of Christ’s prayer, Your Kingdom come; Your will be done on earth. The Christian seminaries worked to ensure a literate and capable pastorate. Pastors were then the best educated among the people, not limiting their studies to things usually considered spiritual things, but to the sciences, literature, and the arts as well. Why? The Bible itself teaches, every subject belongs to God and is worthy of study (e.g., Job 37:14; Psalm 85:11).[3]

Culture & Language
Language plays a major role in the development of any culture. Indeed, any culture that loses its native language loses its identity! One only has to travel to Scotland or Ireland to find a people suffering from cultural amnesia! Many of the hills, glens, towns and villages have Gaelic names of which many of the natives, because they have lost their native tongue, are unable to relate to placenames. Thus, they are (like those living in Babel at the time when the great Tower was destroyed), linguistically confused and have become somewhat detached from their environment. With the social fabric unravelling, the cultural cohesion thus weakened and in many ways the idea of “belonging to the land” thus destroyed, makes it easier for a disinherited populace to migrate.

According to the Old Testament historian Alfred Edersheim, using the Biblical chronology, Bishop Ussher dates the year of creation (at least the creation of man) as 4004 BC. Therefore barely 6,000 years have passed since God formed man from the dust of the ground. Ussher’s chronology is the view held by Christian orthodoxy (to which I adhere). He dates the great Deluge, when God wiped out all of mankind (bar the eight on the Ark), as 2348-9 BC.

Getting to where I want to go, Ussher dates the confusion of Tongues at Babel as 2233 BC. Therefore barely 115 years had passed since the earth started to be repopulated by (Noah's three sons) Shem, Ham, and Japheth (and their respective wives!) Of course, treating this as factual history tends to cause derision in those who operate under Evolutionary presuppositions! But, be that as it may, we are here at the moment talking about the Christian view of history. Therefore since we are dealing with a real historical event (as recorded in the historically dependable and therefore accurate Bible – in Genesis 11 – we can presume that the population that gathered to build the Tower of Babel would not have been that great of a multitude.

At this time, according to the Bible, at the time of the building of the Tower, “the whole earth had one language and one speech.” Genesis 11:1. Literally the Hebrew has: “Now had the whole earth one language and words few.” (John Joseph Owens) The Hebrew word for "words" in this passage is of course “dabar-im” (the “im” ending in Hebrew being for the plural). Those at the Tower of Babel literally were men of few words!

Part of the Cultural Mandate given in Genesis 1:26-28 to mankind in Adam, and repeated when Noah et al exited the Ark (Genesis 9:1-7), is the cultivating of language, which necessarily includes the coining of new words. It should be remembered that God Himself in the very beginning, by merely speaking His Word, created things that are (e.g., space, time, and matter) from things that are not (Genesis 1; Hebrews 11:3). Thus, when God confused the languages at Babel, in order to spread man over the face of the whole earth, He was ensuring that man would cultivate the new language that each (family group?) had been given. It is at this juncture that we are faced with a problem – if our thesis (that Hebrew was the original or pre-Babel tongue) is to hold up.

We believe that when Moses wrote the Pentateuch (i.e., the first five books of the Bible - Genesis to Deuteronomy) he made use of written records of genealogies and such like that Noah had preserved from the Flood. E.g., pre-Deluge Genesis 5:1 states, “This is the book of the genealogy of Adam.” If Moses was able to read and utilise this book and such like records, then he was familiar with the original language. Since Moses wrote in ancient Hebrew, we believe that the pre-Babel spoken and written-language was ancient Hebrew. Of course all this only accounts for one of Noah's three sons, i.e., the Hebrew-speaking Shem - from which we get the Semites. A descendant of Shem is of course Eber, from whose name we believe we get the title of the people referred to as the Hebrews (Genesis 10:21).

The three main clans then at the time when God confused the original language of the men of few words were Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Here is what Alfred Edersheim has to say about this (apologies for its length!):

In accordance with the general plan on which Holy Scripture is written, we read after the prophecy of Noah, which fixed the future of his sons, no more of that patriarch than that he “lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years” and that he died at the age of nine hundred and fifty years.
Regarding the division of earth among his three sons, it may be said generally, that Asia was given to Shem, Africa to Ham, and Europe to Japheth. In the same general manner a modern scholar has traced all existing languages to three original sources, themselves, no doubt, derived from a primeval spring, which may have been lost in the “confusion of tongues,” though its existence is attested by constant and striking points of connection between the three great families of languages. The more we think of the allotment of Europe, Asia, and Africa among the three sons of Noah, the more clearly do we see the fulfilment of prophecy regarding them. As we run our eye down the catalogue of nations in Genesis 10, we have little difficulty in recognising them; and beginning with the youngest, Japheth, we find of those known to the general reader, the Cymry of Wales and Brittany (Gomer), the Scythians (Magog), the Medes (Madai), the Greeks (Ionians, Javan), and the Thracians (Tiras). Among their descendants, the Germans, Celts, and Armenians have been traced to the three sons of Gomer. It is not necessary to follow this table farther, though all will remember Tarshish or Spain, and the Kittim, or “inhabitants of the isles.”
Passing next to Shem, we notice that he is called “the father of all the children of Eber,” because in Eber the main line is divided into that of Peleg, from whom the race of Abraham sprang, and the descendants of Joktan. The descendants of Shem are exclusively Asiatic nations, among who we only notice Asshur or Assyria, and Uz, as the land which gave birth to Job.
We have reserved Ham for the last place, because of the connection of his story with the dispersion of all nations. His sons were Cush or Ethiopia, Mizraim or Egypt, Phut or Lybia, and Canaan, which, of course, we know. It will be noticed, that the seats of all these nations were in Africa, except that of Canaan, whose intrusion into the land of Palestine was put an end to by Israel. But yet another of Ham’s descendants had settled in Asia. Nimrod, the founder of the Babylonian empire.[4]

For “Scythians,” see e.g., Colossians 3:11. My old professor Francis Nigel Lee would hyphenate the word so that it read “Scyt-hians” or Scot-ians? mentioned by Edersheim are also, I believe, mentioned as the forefathers of the Scots in the historical discourse in Scotland’s “Declaration of Arbroath.” Edersheim (above) mentions that “a modern scholar” (I do not know who) traces all existing languages to three original sources (Shem, Ham, and Japheth?), “no doubt, derived from a primeval spring.” Thus, according to Edersheim (and other reputable scholars) there is evidence of a linguistic “primeval spring.” I venture that this primeval spring (as I noted above) is ancient Hebrew. Thus, one would expect to find a residue of the ancient Hebrew spoken by those pre-Babel men of few words (dabar-im) even in contemporary languages.

Says Francis Nigel Lee,

From the Ancient-Irish Leabhar Gabhala (alias The Book of Invasions), we glean that at least some of the early inhabitants of Ireland had come from Iberia alias Spain. They called their new habitat ‘New Iberia’ alias ‘Hibernia’ – later abbreviated first to ‘Ierne’ or ‘Erne’ and then to ‘Eire’ and ‘Erin.’ The feasibility of the above claims can to some extent be seen in the ancient languages concerned. Quite apart from the Celtic source of many ‘Later-European’ words, one should also consider the grounds there may be for tracing many Hebrew words to an origin similar to the source also of Celtic. Both Proto-Celtic and Proto- Hebrew can to some extent be seen to derive from common roots – either Pre-Babelic or Early-Postbabelic. Thus Crawford’s Ereuna – subtitled: Investigation of the Etymons of Words and Names, Classical and Scriptural, Through the Medium of Celtic. Moreover, as Crawford further remarks, Japheth shall be found to dwell in the tents of Shem. Genesis 9:26f. In Herodotus, the oldest of historians, it is mentioned that the Celts were the most western people of Europe. They had, in fact, penetrated to the most remote recesses of the British Isles. Colonists from Phoenicia were the founders of States in Greece – and even as far as Britain. Doubtless they brought their customs and language with them. The early language of Phoenicia seems to have been understood by Abraham, who conversed with her inhabitants without an interpreter. Consider the identity or similarity of some of the commonest words in Hebrew (H), in Anglo-Saxon (A), in Irish (I), and in Welsh (W). There is: ab (HI), father; adon (HW), lord; and ain (HI), eye. Ish (H) is comparable to aesc (A) & eis (I), man. Asaf  (H) and osap (I) both mean: gather. Arur (H) and airire (I) mean: curse. Ben (H) and bin (I) mean: son. Then there is berith (H) and breith (I), meaning: covenant. Dag (HI) means: fish. Dad (H) and did (I) mean: breast. Gever (H) and gwr (W) mean: strong man. Tan (HA) means: basket. Malal (H) and maelan (A) mean: speak. Phar (H) and fear (A) means: bull. rosh (H) and reswa (A) mean: chief. And ur (HI) means: fire.[5]

At the heart of all languages one would also expect to find revelation of Christ the Word (Hebrew Dabar) Himself, for it is He that gives all words (dabar-im) their true meaning (John 1:1; Col. 1:17). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” John 1:14. The Spirit of Christ goes with us. Abraham Kuyper could, perhaps, be called a Theologian of Culture. He poetically writes,

The word is the material with which poetry is created, yet the word itself is not spiritual, but it is the material garment of the spiritual thought.”[6]

Christian Influence
Christianity influences nations primarily from the pulpit, i.e., from preaching to the church congregation. The Bible is expounded from cover to cover, which is to say that the Gospel is proclaimed while the Law is explained (and the congregation members take what they are taught and gradually disseminate it in their respective communities). The Gospel brings liberty to the nation, by setting the individuals in it free from bondage sin, self and Satan, and the Law, properly understood and properly applied, enables the Christianised (i.e., the Gospelised) nation to retain that liberty. Healthy pulpit: Healthy nation.

Where the Gospel is stifled, God’s Law is flouted. By Gospel we mean the Good News that Jesus Christ died for sinners, i.e., for breakers of God’s Law. By Law we mean the Ten Commandments that show that all of us are sinners, and therefore that we are in need of the Saviour of sinners, Jesus Christ. Not only does the preaching of God’s Law expose us as sinners in need of salvation in Christ, but, as well as showing Christians how to live their lives in demonstration of their gratitude to God for saving them, it also shows us how to restrain evil in our nation. Christianity helps us to see the nation as God sees it and helps to free that nation from many a blunder!

Many pulpits in the West preach another gospel, which is not the Gospel. They preach what is known as the Social Gospel. This message of the Social Gospel has more to do with Marxism than the salvation of the individual by grace through faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Others preach a gospel that is devoid of God’s Law. Indeed they preach against the Law, as if the Ten Commandments were something evil, something to be rejected! Either way, the Gospel is robbed of its power. In this limp condition it cannot transform the individual and certainly not the nation!

Christians ought to pray that God will raise up gifted preachers; preachers able to proclaim and explain the Gospel with the Law, so that the lives of its hearers will be transformed by its power, so that they will transform the nations in which the live, so that their culture will be a Christian culture. Yes, God redeems individuals, but by an individual at a time, He eventually redeems whole nations! May your culture be Christian! Bottom line: Healthy pulpit: Healthy nation!

[1] Henry Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture, Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, 1959 (Reprint 2001), p. 37.
[2] Ibid, p. 99.
[3] Ronald W Kirk, Thy Will Be Done – When All Nations Call God Blessed, Nordskog Publishing, Ventura, 2013, p. 56.
[4] Alfred Edersheim, Old Testament Bible History, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1876-77, (1890 reprint in 1980), pp. 58-59.
[5] Francis Nigel Lee, Roots & Fruits of Common Law, CH. 5: COMMON LAW AMONG THE VERY ANCIENT MIGRANTS TO THE BRITISH ISLES,
[6] Abraham Kuyper, (Prime Minister of the Netherlands 1901-5), Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace In Science & Art, e-book.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


(I inadvertently deleted this post which is Part 1 of a three part series)


Who can speak and have it happen
    if the Lord has not decreed it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that both calamities and good things come?
Why should the living complain
    when punished for their sins?
Lamentations 3:37-39 (NIV)

In the army there is a hierarchical system that runs all the way from the Commander-in-Chief right down to the Private. If you were to view the rank structure as a ladder, the Private is at ground level. First rung up would be Lance Corporal. The next rung would be Corporal, then Sergeant and so forth all the way up to Warrant Officer Class One. From there it’s Sub-Lieutenant, Lieutenant, Captain, Major and so forth all the way up the ladder to the General who is the Chief of Army.

That is roughly how it is in the Army. Everyone all the way down to the ground level, whether they realise it or not, is in the process of implementing the Chief of Army’s intent. The Chief of Army calls the shots and the Army implements them.

However, in ordinary everyday life, as Scripture says, “God is in heaven and you are on earth” (Ecclesiastes 5:2), which is to say that you are on the ground level and God is in Heaven. Therefore, you are not even on the ladder! But, every last one of us, whether conscious of it or not, is in the process of implementing the Most High’s intent.

The bottom line is that God is sovereign. He is the Most High. There is none above Him. There is none His equal. He is the Creator. We are His creatures. God is God and we, His creatures, need to learn to let God be God! However, letting God be God is easier said than done!

In the following, as we consider God’s sovereignty, we shall attempt to let God be God. We’ll see that God’s sovereignty is confronting, covenantal and comforting.

1. God’s Sovereignty Is Confronting
God is the great Commander-in-Chief. He is the One that calls all the shots.
“Who can speak and have it happen
 if the Lord has not decreed it?” Lamentations 3:37. This is a rhetorical question, which is to say that no one can speak and have it happen if the Lord Himself has not commanded it!

Think about it: The eternal Triune God spoke creation into being from nothing: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1. Why? Why did God create the heavens and the earth? Was it because He was lonely? How can the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit ever be lonely when They have each Other from eternity unto eternity?

This is where it starts to get confronting. The Almighty, all-knowing, and ever present God created the heavens and the earth for His own glory, full stop; period; end of story. What? As the line in the pop-song asks, “What about me? It isn’t fair…” Well, not so fast with all your “It isn’t fair” talk! It’s not about you. It is about God!

I hear you say, “Well, if I were God there would be no tears, no death, no mourning, no crying and no pain! God can’t be sovereign. He can’t be in control because I can see suffering all around. There’re wars going on. There’re people killing and raping, kidnapping and robbing. God is not sovereign. For a sovereign God would not allow evil to flourish!” Such is the thinking of some.

God’s sovereignty is very confronting. How can Scripture say, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” Lamentations 3:38. If you were to look at the way this verse is worded in ye olde KJV you’d read, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil proceed?” Good and evil coming from God? Surely this cannot be!

Before any of us start doing mental gymnastics and brain contortions to try to make sense of the idea of evil proceeding from the mouth of God let us try to get things into some sort of perspective.

The population of Australia has the highest incidence of melanomas. Sorry for anyone who has had one, but was the doctor being evil by surgically removing it? From the doctor’s perspective he was doing a good thing. And every sensible human being understands that the surgeon is inflicting pain for the greater good. However, let’s say you are a little baby, infant or a young child getting inoculated against measles or chicken pox or whatever. All you see is someone coming at you with a needle and inflicting pain on you. You do not understand why someone is causing you pain.

The doctor wants a world without disease. Therefore, he/she has to inflict some pain and some suffering to bring about that end, doesn’t he? Well, so it is with the Sovereign God. God is working all things together for good, including evil things or calamities. 

So then, right from the very first word God uttered when He spoke creation into existence He knew that there would be pain and suffering. “Then,” I hear you ask, “Why did He do it? If God knew that there was going to be all this pain, suffering, death and misery, why did He go ahead with creation?” Now, we all, I’m sure, know someone who has died or has suffered or is presently suffering. God’s sovereignty is really confronting when we think about someone suffering, isn’t it? Why God? Why the pain?

Perhaps something of an answer may be found in the words of Joseph when he said to his brothers who had sold him into slavery in Egypt,You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Or as that verse is rendered in ye old KJV, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Genesis 50:20.

So we see then that, even though people do bad things, evil things, to each other, the sovereign God means that evil or calamity for good.

Let’s summarise before we move on: The sovereign God created a creation in which evil, calamities, pain, suffering and death presently exist. He created creation for His own glory. And even though we suffer in this life and die, as Paul puts it in that well-known verse of Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Bottom line: Even if we do not understand why, whatever evil or calamity comes upon us comes upon us for our own good (at least for those who love Him), from out of the mouth of the sovereign God. He is the One who decreed or commanded it.

In the Book of Job neither Job nor his wife understood why God did what He did to them (albeit by permitting Satan free-rein and open slather). Job’s wife said to him, “‘Curse God and die!’ He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble [“evil” KJV]?’” Job 2:10.

Okay, we’ve seen that everything that happens happens because God has decreed, i.e., commanded it to happen. God is Commander-in-Chief. Therefore, everything that happens happens because it is His intent.

How are we to make head or tail of this? How are we to understand God’s intent at a ground level?