Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Eschatology and all that...

Does the study of the end times really need to be so confusing?

As I sang the hymn below at the Sunday service this past week I asked myself that question. The words are so moving and seem to sum up so clearly and so cogently the message of the Scriptures about the end times. Christ is coming and we must be ready! I personally find all the charting of specific events rather confusing and often rather distracting. I think also it can distract hearers from their desperate need for repentance in view of Christ's coming. So if you, like me find it confusing, then let your end times theology be shaped by this summary of the Scripture.  Let's keep it simple, and let's keep singing, "Lo! he comes..."

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favoured sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.

Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded,
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment! Come away!

Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear;
All His saints, by man rejected,
Now shall meet Him in the air:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
See the day of God appear!

Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Saviour, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

A Significant Anniversary for Bradley Road

I wrote the article below for a community magazine in Wrexham which should hopefully be published in November, along with the accompanying photo.

This year Bradley Road Evangelical Baptist Church marks a significant anniversary.  There has been a church building on the site since 1899, but the current modern building was officially opened 20 years ago on 11th November 1995.

Many long-standing members of the church who were there that day are still with us and were actively involved in the construction.  One member speaks of that time saying ‘pages could be written’ of how God provided for them so that the church could be built.

Bradley Road Church is a community of people who believe that the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a life-changing message that is still relevant for Wrexham today.  Back in 1899 the first pastor of the church, Joseph Beaupre, preached his first sermon to the church from a book in the Bible called 1 Corinthians.  This verse reads, ‘We preach Christ crucified.’  He said in this sermon, ‘We preach Christ crucified because it is the power, and the wisdom of God.’  He went on to say that it was his prayer that this message would be ‘a blessing to God’s people and lead to the salvation of many in our midst.’

That is the same message that we share today and the same prayer that we pray.  Over the last twenty years we have watched the church grow and diversify, just as Wrexham grows and diversifies.  Whoever you are and wherever you are from, you would be welcome to visit us and find out more about what we do and why we do it.  We meet every Sunday at 10:30am and 6pm.  You would be especially welcome to join us for a thanksgiving service to celebrate this twentieth anniversary, which will take place on Sunday 8th November at 6pm. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Community Eating

Last night before our Bible Study and Prayer Meeting, the church put into practice what we have been learning from the book of Acts: We enjoyed a community meal together. "We are church," as we have been hearing on Sunday mornings and the early church ate together regularly.

Revelation 19 encourages us to look forward to The Marriage Supper of the Lamb where the great multitude from every tribe, nation and language are gathered. Last night was a little foretaste of this, I felt. Cross-culture, cross-generational, and despite our differences, old and young, adults and children, South Africans, Portuguese, English and Welsh enjoyed shared in the joy of the Lord together around a table, naturally flowing then into a time of Bible Stu

dy and prayer.

Here's to many more such joyful occasions!

Friday, 25 September 2015

Glyndwr University Freshers' Fair

Yesterday was an encouraging day for those from the church who helped at the stall we had at the Glyndwr University Freshers' Fair. The great thing about students is that they tell you what they think, which makes it very easy to engage them in gospel conversation! We were able to give out a large number of church information leaflets, as well as gospel literature, including 'Ultimate Questions' by John Blanchard and 'Things God Wants Us to Know' by Roger Carswell. We were right next to the Gideon's stall, so between us and them, many students went home yesterday with a New Testament and literature clearly presenting Christ and Him crucified!  Benedito even managed to give a John's Gospel to a lion!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Study to Study

This week I have had to move my study to another office space in town. So hundreds of books packed into boxes by friends from the church (that's Benedito from Portugal in the picture), then carried across town, then back onto the bookshelves!

Look at the shelves behind Benedito - the commentaries are no longer in biblical order. That's no fault of those who were helping me. I simply asked them to put the books on the shelves - I'll rearrange them later. But this got me thinking: Do we know the order that the books appear in the Bible? Would we be able to arrange them in the order they should be?

This reminded me of the 1689 Baptist Confession. The first chapter, "On the Holy Scripture", includes with it the list of canonical books in the order they appear in the Bible. Knowing this stuff was considered by the early Baptists to be important enough to include in their Confession of Faith. It also reminded of a little South African man I knew called "Chalkie" who used to lecture us on children's ministry.  During one lesson he spoke about teaching children the order of the books of the Bible. He asked the question, "If you don't learn the order of the books, why would you expect children to bother?"

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

"They devoted themselves to...the breaking of bread"

Apologies to those who came here after Sunday morning to find a link to the sermon that I said would be worth listening to.  The link won't work so I will try again tomorrow.  In summary, the message is by Art Azurdia who spoke two years back at a minister's conference I attended.  He has some persuasive arguments for understanding Acts 2:42 "the breaking of bread" as a reference to the fact that the church regularly ate together, not to the Lord's Supper.

Hopefully I can get it working tomorrow.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Jesus Paid It All

We'll be singing this hymn on Sunday, more in the style of the video posted below, but for a more contemporary feel, listen to Kristian Stanfill's version on YouTube.

This hymn is particularly relevant to our church, because we have been going through the Ten Commandments. These commandments are not a ladder for us to climb our way up to heaven, but are a mirror showing us our sinfulness and our need for a Saviour.  With this in mind, the chorus is particularly powerful:

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Day of Judgment, Day of Wonders

Below is a summary of what the Bible teaches with regard to the Day of Judgment:

The New Testament is full of expectation for the return of Christ.  As the disciples watched Jesus ascend into heaven two angels declared to them that “‘this same Jesus…will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:8).  The apostle Paul comforted the Thessalonians by reminding them that ‘the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout...’ and Jesus exhorts the churches to godliness and service by saying, ‘Behold, I am coming quickly!’ (Rev. 22:7). 

When the Lord comes again His purpose will be to execute the judgment which His Father has committed to Him (Jn. 5:22).  All people from every nation will stand before Him (Matt. 25:32) and they will have to give an account of their thoughts (1 Cor. 4:5), words (Matt. 12:36) and deeds (2 Cor. 5:10).  The judge of all the earth will then reward each person according to what he has done (Matt. 16:27), ‘eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honour, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth – indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil…’ (Rom. 2:7-10).  This quote from Romans reminds us that the Final Judgment will be based not on faith or lack of faith, but ‘on what people have done, which reveals their faith or lack of faith.’[1]  We are clear that no one will enter the kingdom of God whose name is not found written in the ‘Book of Life’ (Rev. 20:15), for without faith in the blood of the Lamb that was slain (Rev. 13:8; 21:27) no man can stand in the judgment (Ps. 1:5).  Of course, the Reformed position is that justification is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  However, the Bible also teaches that our works provide the evidence of our justification.  On the Last Day the Lord will point to the works of believers as the evidence of their faith in him and will then graciously reward them for these works done in his name (Matt. 25:34-40).[2]

On that day, the dead will also be present.  Jesus warned that the hour was coming “‘in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.’” (Jn. 5:28-29).  Similarly, we read in Revelation 20:28, ‘And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God…the sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them.’

These and many other passages of Scripture supply abundant evidence that there is a Day of Judgment coming in which God will judge every person from the beginning of time by the Man he has appointed (Acts 17:31), that is, Jesus Christ, who was dead and is now alive forever more.

[1] Peterson, Robert, ‘The Annihilation of Hell’, in Risking the Truth, ed. by Martin Downes (Christian Focus Publications), p. 211.
[2] The evangelistic illustration of two people dying, one a Christian the other not, and standing before the living God, is so common that much work will need to be done to ensure that we are not misunderstood when we say that ‘judgment is according to works’.  The illustration continues, ‘God will ask you, “Did you believe in my Son?” and if you’re answer is "no", you will have to go to hell forever.’  When teaching that judgment is ‘according to works’ to the people of God we must be careful to maintain the distinction between justification on the basis of works, and justification by grace through faith in Christ which naturally leads to good works, which serve as the evidence of our justification.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Final Sabbatical Update

In the words of a well-known singer/songwriter: 'And there you have it!' [Any guesses who it is?] Today is the final study day of my Sabbatical, and I've cleared the desk ready to begin sermon preparation next week. It became clear to me a few weeks ago that I was not going to complete everything I had started, but I have two sections completed which you would be welcome to read if you are interested. There are four other sections I have started, which I intend to keep working on. The plan is to go back to the John Owen Centre at the end of April and discuss what I have done so far and talk about how to round up these other sections that still need finishing.

Thanks for all your interest, prayers and support. We are away over the Easter weekend visiting family in Southampton.  I am really looking forward to preaching again a week on Sunday, God willing.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week 11

You may notice the word 'hell' in the titles of many of the books above. When reading one of these books on a train down to London a few weeks ago, the man sitting opposite me said jokingly that he didn't approve of the book I was reading! It does appear to be a rather unpleasant collection.

Yet studying hell has been far from unpleasant. It would be wrong, I think, to study this doctrine without a sense of burden for those who do not know Christ, but this should not distract us from what it tells us about God, namely his holiness, his justice and his unfailing dedication and love for his people. It has been a privilege to immerse myself in study these past nine weeks.

I have one week to go. I have a lot of things I want to finish up and I pray that what I have studied will be of benefit to the people of God when I return to active ministry in less than two weeks.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week 12

Pastor Josh Roberts preached a fine sermon at our evening communion service this last Sunday on the ordinances, namely, Baptism and the Lord's Supper.  I was particularly encouraged when we sang a Joseph Hart hymn, as I had seen his grave at Bunhill Fields the previous week. Read these amazing words:

A Man there is, a real man,
who once on Calvary died.
His blood for guilty sinners ran
from hands and feet and side.

2 This wondrous Man, of whom we tell,
is true Almighty God;
He bought our souls from death and hell;
the price, His own heart’s blood.

3 That human heart He still retains,
though throned in highest bliss;
and feels each tempted member’s pains;
for our affliction’s His.

4 Come then, repenting sinner, come;
approach with humble faith;
owe what you will, the total sum
is cancelled by His death!

5 His blood can cleanse the sin-stained soul,
and wash our guilt away;
He will present us sound and whole
in that tremendous day.

Joseph Hart*, 1712-1768

There is nothing new to report regarding the Sabbatical.  I keep reading, writing, thinking and praying.  I have been thinking about the best way to present this material to the church when I return. It makes sense to me not to do a topical study on hell say in four or five sermons.  I think this would be too heavy.  Rather, I am planning to preach through a book of the Bible and speak about these difficult matters as they come up in the Scriptures, reasoning from the Bible and showing how this difficult doctrine is clearly taught in the Word of God.  So, Lord willing, when I return to preaching, I am going to work through the Ten Commandments in Exodus in the morning service, and then preach through the Gospel of Matthew in the evening.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week 11

Grave of John Bunyan,
author of Pilgrim's Progress
Before catching my train back to Wrexham from London last Friday I spent a couple of hours walking around Bunhill Fields. This was a moving experience, for as a wise Christian pastor said to me, 'We don't believe in holy places, but visiting places such as these [Bunhill Fields] brings home that the Lord worked in real people in real places.'  Notably, at Bunhill Fields, one will see the graves of John Bunyan (see picture), John Owen, Susannah Wesley (mother of John and Charles), John Gill, Isaac Watts, Joseph Hart and many more.  I thought it was great that in church this last Lord's Day, we sang at least three of Watts' hymns!

I had a very good time at the John Owen Centre last week.  I was able to discuss some issues that had been troubling me, or which were difficult to understand.  I now have some clear direction for the final weeks and to summarise what I will be doing in the weeks ahead, all I can say is, more of the same!  Reading, thinking, praying, writing...

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week 10

Last night I sent some work off to the John Owen Centre.  I will be down in London on Thursday and Friday to discuss the work I have done so far and talk about what I should focus on in the final weeks.  I cannot believe that it is Week 10 already!

The last two weeks of writing have been challenging.  I had forgotten how different writing something for people to read is to preparing a sermon for people to hear.  The discipline of writing has shown me the importance of being precise.  This skill of precision is something I need to work on when preparing and delivering sermons.

Thanks for all the support, encouragement and prayers!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Annihilationism's Achilles' Heel

Two terms need to be defined:

Annihilationism: This is the view that the Bible does not teach the eternal, concious torment of the wicked, but rather, the annihilation of the wicked, both body and soul.  When this occurs varies, depending on who you read.  Some Annihilationists suggest that the soul will be destroyed immediately upon death.  (Presumably the natural decay of the body and the final destruction of the elements in the Day of Judgment will destroy their bodies, but I have yet to find this discussed anywhere by defenders of this view.)  Others believe that this annihilation occurs after a period of torment of body and soul after the Day of Judgment.  When this annihilation takes place is again unclear.  

It would be unfair to accuse Annihilationists of ignoring the Bible.  Clark Pinnock has written an essay (read the essay in Four Views on Hell, ed. by William Crockett) in which he refers to numerous biblical passages which appear to defend his view (here is just a sample of the many verses he cites: Ps. 37:2, 9-10; Mal. 4:1-2; Matt. 10:28, 13:30, 42, 49-50; 2 Thess. 1:9, & Phil. 3:19).  And who would accuse John Stott of not believing the Bible?  Yet John Stott was sympathetic to the Annihilationist position.  It is not the Annihilationist's belief in the Bible that we question.  Rather, it is their interpretation of the Bible on this issue that needs to be evaluated.

Achilles' Heel: I like Wikipedia's definition (I think we can trust Wikipedia here!): "An Achilles' heel is a deadly weakness in spite of overall strength".  In my view, a careful comparison of Matthew 25:32-46 and Revelation 20:10-15 is the Achilles' heel of the Annihilationist's position.

To understand what I am talking about, you will probably find it helpful to read Matthew 25:32-46 and Revelation 20:10-15.

We must begin by considering the context of Matthew 25.  In Matthew 24 the disciples point out the Temple buildings to Jesus who then says that all of it will be torn down (24:1-2).  Curious, the disciples ask two questions: Firstly, When these things will happen?  Secondly, What will be the sign of His coming and of the end of the age?  John Murray’s careful study of this chapter cannot be ignored. Murray convincingly shows us that in this chapter, Jesus distinguishes between two events: The destruction of the Temple in AD 70; and his second coming in glory to judge the world.  Verse 34 refers to AD 70.  Verse 36 refers to his second coming, about which we still do not know the hour! 

Matthew 25, then, is the practical application of Matthew 24:36.  The three parables in this chapter teach us to be prepared for Christ’s second coming.  Those who are ready are those who have faith which results in fruitfulness, contrary to the religious leaders, the blind guides, the white-washed tombs.  These three parables teach us that works are evidence of true saving faith and that we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ by doing the good works he has prepared for every believer (cf. Eph. 2:10).  Although our works will not save us, they will provide clear evidence that we are saved.  Conversely, there will be some who call Jesus ‘Lord’, but their lack of works will be evidence that they never belonged to him.  It is to this group of people in the last parable, known as the goats on Jesus’ left side, that we now turn.

In verse 44 Jesus addresses the goats.  He says to them, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”

The verse can be broken up into three parts:

1. ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones’.  The wicked are commanded to depart from the presence of the Lord and are addressed as those on whom the curse of God rests.  When we hear Jesus address the wicked as the accursed ones, or ‘those who are cursed’, we should not think of some hex or superstitious curse.  Jesus is using Old Testament vocabulary.  In the Old Testament, those on whom God’s favour rested were blessed.  Those on whom God’s wrath rested were cursed.  Deuteronomy 28 is a prime example.  Look at only a few verses from the chapter, comparing verses 1-4 with verses 15-18:

Verses 1-4: Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.  All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God.  Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.  Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.

Verses 15-18: But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country.  Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.  Cursed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.

In Matthew 25:41, Jesus is contrasting the cursedness of the wicked with the blessedness of the righteous in verse 34.  Whereas in Deuteronomy 28 the righteous were promised God’s blessing in the land, the righteous of verse 34 are promised the blessing of God in his eternal kingdom.  But the wicked – their curse is not a temporal curse in the land, but separation from the blessing of God for all eternity.
2. ‘into the eternal fire’ The place the 'goats' are sent to is described as the eternal fire.  This fire is as eternal as the life promised to the 'sheep' in verse 46, for the same word is used and the context surely demands this parallel as the simplest reading. 

Few dispute this parallel reading of verse 41 with verse 46, but some have argued that it is the fire that is eternal and that the wicked are consumed (or annihilated) in this eternal fire.  Although the verse speaks about an eternal fire it would seem unnatural to read this as referring to the fire alone.  Why is the fire eternal?  It is eternal because that which it burns is never consumed.

3.‘which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’  These words remind us of Revelation 20:10 where ‘the devil is thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also…’ The verse goes on to explain that these ‘will be tormented day and night forever and ever.’  Verses 13-15 go on to explain that the dead are judged according to their deeds and that any whose names were not found written in the book of life were ‘thrown into the lake of fire’.

Revelation 20 teaches us then that God intended the lake of fire to be a place of eternal torment, day and night, forever and ever, for the devil and his angels, and a place where the wicked will also be sent after their deeds have condemned them in the Day of Judgment.  It would be unnatural to read Revelation 20 as teaching anything else.  What does torment day and night forever and ever mean?  It means torment day and night for ever and ever.  This place that has been prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:44) is a place of unending, conscious torment.

In his examination of the proof texts for the traditional view, Pinnock makes a quick reference to Revelation 20 in his discussion on Revelation 14, but makes no reference to the obvious link it has with Matthew 25. (See Four Views on Hell, pp. 155-8).  Scripture interprets Scripture and as I have shown above, Revelation 20 helps us to understand Matthew 25.  It is hard not to conclude that Pinnock is using selective exegesis when he states (note the italics and the reference to Revelation 20 at the end):

Regarding Revelation 14:11, we observe that, while the smoke goes up forever, the text does not say the wicked are tormented forever.  It says that they have no relief from their suffering as long as the suffering lasts, but it does not say how long it lasts.  As such it could fit hell as annihilation or the traditional view.  Before oblivion, there may be a period of suffering, but not unendingly.  Besides not teaching the traditional view, the text does not describe the end of history either, which is termed the second death, an image very much in agreement with annihilation (Rev 20:14). (Four Views, p. 157, italics mine).

With this Scriptural evidence in mind, comments such as these by Pinnock make no sense: ‘One receives the impression that “eternal punishment” refers to a divine judgment whose results cannot be reversed rather than to the experience of eternal endless torment (i.e., eternal punishing).’ (Four Views, p. 144).  And, ‘Similarly, the apocalypse of John speaks both of a lake of fire that will consume the wicked and of the second death.' (Four Views, p. 146, italics mine).

Monday, 23 February 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week 9

I spent a fair amount of time writing things down last week and also today.  I need to try and put it in some logical order now in preparation for my meeting with Garry Williams next week (5th March) when I will submit what I have done so far.

I thought to myself earlier this afternoon, 'If I were to preach a series of sermons on hell, how would I begin?'  This is the introduction that came to mind.  I think what is written below could be expanded into one sermon, perhaps an introductory one.

Any thoughts?

The Doctrine of Hell

Before we begin I need to ask a pastoral question.  Do you believe the Bible?  Do you believe that the Holy Scripture is “the all-sufficient, certain and infallible rule or standard of the knowledge, faith and obedience that constitute salvation?’  Do you believe that God through the Scriptures has revealed himself and made his will known for our salvation?  Before studying the doctrine of hell, you need to have come to settled conclusions about the doctrine of Scripture.

C.S. Lewis said in The Problem of Pain: ‘There is no doctrine which I would be more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.  But it has the full support of scripture and specially of our Lord’s own words.’  C.S. Lewis may very well have said what you are presently thinking and the truth of the matter is that if you begin study the doctrine of hell without first being 100% convinced that the Scripture is the very word of God and therefore every word is to be believed – unless you are 100% convinced of this, you will abandon the doctrine of hell.  Either you will abandon it completely, as many have done.  Or you may put up with it because, "that’s what we’re supposed to believe”, but you will never allow this doctrine to shape your view of the world and your understanding of God and how he sees the world and what he is planning for the future.

So settle this matter now.  Do you trust the Scriptures?

Now, for those who know that God cannot lie and therefore trust every word he has spoken through His Son, let me offer a pastoral word.  I studied the doctrine of hell during my sabbatical, because if I am honest, I wanted to discover from the Scriptures if there was any way that the traditional view of hell which I had been taught and which I had taught might not be true.  Believing the Scriptures, I went to them and it did not take me long to see that it is impossible to escape the fact that the Bible teaches that the wicked, those who do not know God, those who reject the gospel, will suffer eternal, conscious torment in hell, away from the presence of the Lord, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What I hope to show, however, is that this doctrine does not take away from, but rather magnifies the attributes of God.  There are aspects of God’s character which we cannot fully appreciate and praise him for if we neglect the doctrine of hell.  I am thinking particularly of his holiness, his justice and indeed, even his love.  As an older and experienced gospel minster said to me when he heard I was studying hell, “When studying hell, never drift far from the cross.”  How true!  The Bible never divorces hell from the cross.  Hell is what the entire human race deserves.  Hell is what Jesus Christ came to rescue his people from and hell is what the infinite Son of God bore on the cross when he was offered up as a sacrifice for sin.

Keep these words in mind (sing them!) when wrestling through with the doctrine of hell:

GLORY be to Jesus,
who, in bitter pains,
poured for me the life-blood
from His sacred veins.

2 Grace and life eternal
in that blood I find;
blest be His compassion,
infinitely kind!

3 Blest through endless ages
be the precious stream,
which from endless torments
did the world redeem.

4 Abel’s blood for vengeance
pleaded to the skies;
but the blood of Jesus
for our pardon cries.

5 Oft as it is sprinkled
on our guilty hearts,
Satan in confusion
terror-struck departs.

6 Oft as earth exulting
wafts its praise on high,
angel-hosts rejoicing
make their glad reply.

7 Lift ye then your voices;
swell the mighty flood;
louder still and louder
praise the Lamb of God.

Italian, c. 1815;

tr. by Edward Caswall, 1814-78

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week 8

"Some of us will escape death, but none of us will escape Judgment."  So says Alistair Begg in a sermon entitled, "He will Judge the World."  Watch the full sermon below (after you have read my latest Sabbatical update, of course!).

I completed my reading list from the John Owen Centre last week, so this week I am planning to do some writing as this will be helpful to pin down some of my thoughts and conclusions.  I feel like I am making good progress with the Hebrew, and I am keeping up with the Greek too.  I have managed to keep the Greek going (on and off) since Bible college days, but I intended to use this Sabbatical time to do further revision and improve my grammar and vocab - and, I am pleased to say, so far so good.

The languages are proving particularly helpful when dealing with particular words relating to Judgement and Hell.  For instance, just considering the New Testament, you may be aware that the newer NT translations tend to use the word "hell" to translate a number of words in Greek, including "gehenna" and "hades".  I am intending look a little deeper into how the word "hell" came to be used in our English translations, and also whether we might be better serve ourselves and our hearers by using transliterations of the words Jesus himself used.

Thanks again for the comments.  Keep them coming.  They are encouraging.  And thank you for your continued prayers.

Here's the sermon by Alistair Begg.  This guy can preach!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week 7

I had some sound advice yesterday morning from a man with many years of ministry experience.  He said to me, "When you are studying hell, never drift far from the cross."  How true!  Romans 5:8 says, "God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

Matthew 8 is a powerful chapter.  For the first time in this gospel Jesus begins to expound upon the nature of hell, describing it as "outer darkness" and a place where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (v. 12).  Before this, however, he has shown compassion to a leper and healed a Gentile centurion's servant.  And having performed these amazing acts of mercy he says, "[M]any will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven..."

How will these people from the east and west come?  How will they be able to recline at the table in the kingdom of heaven?  It is all through the cross.  On the cross, Jesus endured the outer darkness for his people!  To quote Cornelis Venema, "Christ, by virtue of his life of obedience and his atoning death, met the demands and the penalties of the law on behalf and in the place of his own people." (Venema, Cornelis, P., The Promise of the Future, p. 446.)

I hope by the end of this week to have completed the reading list that was given to me.  Next week then (DV) I will start writing.  I think the best way forward will be to start by defending the biblical position on hell.  Following that I will consider the main alternative views, namely, Restorationism, Universalism and Reconciliationism.  And then, having considered the alternatives, I will show why the alternative views cannot be defended biblically.

That's where I am headed.  Thanks for your prayers.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Herman Bavinck on Eternal Punishment

"If human sentiment had the final say about the doctrine of eternal punishment, it would certainly be hard to maintain and even today find few defenders."

Bavinck later says: "Human feeling is no foundation for anything important...and neither may nor can it be decisive in the determination of law and justice."

This is a good place to begin when considering the doctrine of Hell. If we try to make sense of it through our feelings, we will create for ourselves all sorts of problems. So, we must begin by accepting that God is just and perfectly determines what is right and what is wrong. As Bavinck says, "Over and over our sense of justice and our our compassion clash. We are either too soft or much too severe in our judgment. But in the case of the Lord our God this is not, and cannot be, so."

Sabbatical Update - Week 6

Last week I met with Dr Garry Williams at The John Owen Centre.  This centre is part of London Theological Seminary where a good number of the pastors who preach at our church (as well as many FIEC pastors) have trained.

At this meeting, Dr Williams gave me a reading list and then he and I discussed the way forward for the next two months.  I found this discussion time extremely useful and he helped me to set some reasonable goals for the weeks ahead.

The work I will be doing will be divided into three parts:
  1. Exegetical: Looking carefully at the Scriptures dealing directly and indirectly with Judgement and Hell; Presenting a clear biblical argument for Hell and why it is eternal; Using these passages to show why teachings such as Annihilationism, Conditional Immortality, Universalism, Restorationism, etc. do not work and why they are false.
  2. Rational: Considering the logic of the doctrine of Hell, why it is just, and why it actually magnifies, rather than detracts from, the love of God.
  3. Practical, Pastoral, Preaching: Having considered the above, I will then look into the practical and pastoral questions which I have posed in an earlier post, such as how a believer deals with this doctrine when he has lost a loved one who did not believe, how and why this doctrine must be preached, etc.
Your prayers and comments would be appreciated!

I am also meeting every Monday morning with Philip Eveson, former principal of London Theological Seminary, who lives in Wrexham.  He is teaching me Hebrew.  My first lesson was this morning and it was very enjoyable.  He is pushing me hard, and wants me to complete all 28 lessons in the course he has devised.  So prayers for this too, please!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week 5

We are back in Wrexham! Thanks so much for your prayers. We had a good flight, not without its challenges (!), but at least now we are home.

Tomorrow I will be heading down to The John Owen Centre. I feel really refreshed after the SA holiday and I am now eager to get studying.

You might have guessed that the picture in this post is not of Wrexham! I had to finish with one more picture of Cape Town! This is a view of Hout Bay, taken from Chapman's Peak Drive.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week 4

This week my nephew and nieces went back to school and we began to think about returning home. With all the cold weather in the UK it's going to be a big shock to the system to leave 34 degrees Cape Town and step off the plane in Manchester.

Last week we had a family weekend away in Hermanus with all my family here. Hermanus is famous for its whales although there are not many around at this time of year.

We look forward to seeing you next week, God willing. Prayers for the journey back would be appreciated. The girls will be going back to school, Sian will be getting us all back into family routine and I will be heading down to London towards the end of next week to begin the study 'leg' of my Sabbatical (see Sabbatical Update - Week 1 to see what I will be studying).

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

This is why I love Cape Town

The 'tablecloth' unfolding over Table Mountain
This picture is taken from the top of Lion's head,
which I climbed with my brother, sister, nephew,
niece, and Lillian.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week 3

Today we celebrated my mother's 70th birthday with a lunch. All her children were there along with her six grandchildren. It was wonderful to be able to do this with the family in Cape Town.

Anwen has not been herself since we arrived so we decided earlier this week to take her to the doctor. It turns out she has an ear infection and sinusitis. After paying for the consultation and then the medication I was much more appreciative of the NHS! It can get expensive.

This week will be more of the same, enjoying time with family and hopefully catching up with some old friends. The cousins are all getting on brilliantly for which we are so thankful. The kids are keen to go swimming with the penguins so we'll make sure we fit that in. (I'm serious this time! Google boulders beach Cape Town.)

Regarding the study, I have now confirmed with The John Owen Centre in London that I will have an initial meeting on 29th January to talk through a study plan. I am really looking forward to this.

Thanks for all your encouragement and prayers.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week 2

It is good to be back in South Africa. All the familiar sounds and smells and doing those things I did when I was a boy: Fetching water from the well, chasing lions out of the back garden, cooking on the open fire and trying to track down the nearest WiFi spot!

Gotcha WiFi! I should have posted this sooner but I haven't had easy access to Internet. This is simply to say that we are here, having a great time and really enjoying renewing contact with family.