Advent Snippets Over The Years

“There is quite a postmillennial flavor that comes through in Mary’s Magnificat. The Eschatological “NOW” age is dawning and with that “NOW” age comes the King and the Kingdom and the consequence of the arrival of the King will be the real end of the wicked who are characterized as proud, rich, and mighty oppressors of God’s lowly people. There is then a corresponding lifting up of God’s people who have been oppressed and are lowly and hungry.

The age to come in Christ has come and is now rolling back this present wicked age. The expectation is that this rolling back, while Spiritual in its most fundamental Kingdom expression, is a rolling back that is corporeal and tangible and so postmillennial at the same time. Real wicked men who are of their Father the devil and who are chiefs in synagogues of Satan are brought down and God’s persecuted oppressed righteous are raised up.

To deny postmillennial eschatology is to deny the heart of Mary’s expectations in her Magnificat.”

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The celebration of Christmas means the King has come and with the coming of the King there is the Kingdom He brings. When Christmas rolls around each year it is a celebration not only of Salvation won but also of Triumph guaranteed. The King has come and now all lesser Kings must make obeisance. With the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ the age to come has come face to face with this present evil age and is rolling the present evil age back as the epochs of time pass by.

Christmas is a time to renew our confidence that though the wrong seems yet so strong God is the ruler yet and has set His resurrected Regent on Mt. Zion to rule over the affairs of men.

Merry Christmas and let’s do Battle for the already victorious King of Kings.

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It’s Christmas Eve day!

Mary is 9 Months pregnant and w/ Joseph is looking for quarters.
The Shepherds are getting ready for “just another day at the office.”
The Kings of the East are plodding along day after day

Herod is a minor league Middle East Despot not a great deal different from your current average, Barack, Hussein or Mohammed.

And yet despite all this “normalcy,” it is just hours until the birth of he who taketh away the sins of the world.

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In the Genesis record, God said, “Let their be light” (Gen 1:3) and that light appears overcoming the darkness, saturating the creation realm with God’s authority.  In Isaiah the Servant of the Lord was promised to be a light both to Israel and to the Nations who were not yet covenanted with God as Israel was,

“I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness,
I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You,
And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the nations.” Isaiah 42:6

He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6

In the Gospel accounts, that Servant of the Lord promised … the Lord Christ is the Redemptive light come to inaugurate a new age, a new realm, and a glorious new day as from the Father of lights (James 1:17). He is the light who enlightens every man (John 1:19) Christ is the new covenant age light that shines in the darkness (John 1:5). The Apostles saw He who was the radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:1) as the glory of the One and only who came from the Father (John 1:1-4). As the age to come Light, the followers of the Lord Christ never walk in darkness (John 8:12). Christ as the Redemptive light of the age to come demonstrated and revealed itself with a white-hot intensity at the transfiguration wherein even His clothing became dazzling white (Mark 9:1-4).  In the crucifixion He who is “the Light of the World” is snuffed out and as on cue, the light goes out for three hours Christ (Matthew 27:45). Light is picked up again in John’s Revelation wherein John the Revelator falls as dead as before a supernova God-man (Rev. 1:14-17). Finally, as the Scripture started with light, it forms an inclusio by ending with He who is the light, as it closes with the motif of Christ as the light which illuminates the new Jerusalem.  He who ever was very light of very light remains the light of the world (Rev. 22:4).

 

Covenantal Succession … Covenantal Nurture

It is the assumption of Scripture that infants are genuine members of the covenant.  That is the reason why in the text before us this morning parents are commanded to nurture their children in terms of Christian covenantal thinking.

There is no debate on that point when we consider the Old Testament. All concede that Circumcision was the sign and seal that indicated membership in the Covenant. It is only in the New Testament where we begin to find widespread and sometimes heated disagreement that NT infants, just as their OT counterparts, are to be branded with a brand that indicates that they are genuine members of the covenant. In the NT, so the reasoning goes of those who go their own way on this matter, infants are not members upon birth, of the covenant.

Of course, if those who demur with us on this point are correct this means that one of the purposes of Jesus death and resurrection was to the end that infants of covenant parents would be expelled from a covenant in which they had previously been a party too before the death and resurrection of our Lord Christ.  This is an odd way to think about a “New and Better” covenant.

Covenant succession merely holds that God’s general way of collecting the Church is via His gathering into the Church the children of His children.

Causes of the decline of Covenant succession

1.) Social Contract theory as applied to the Church

According to this understanding of social order theory long established in the Enlightenment West, each person is by nature an independent locale of sovereign self-authority,  having full legal capacity to act on their own behalf and so not subject to the authority of another. In this theory, each atomized individual is absolutely equal to every other atomized individual and so by sovereign “right” authorized to act upon his own determination.

With this theory, man’s natural liberty was held as being the privilege to do whatever he wanted to do.  In this theory man himself determines what shall be given up in order to live in civil society. Man, as the individual sovereign is everywhere supreme.

Well, you can see how this social contract theory, when adopted by the Church would lead to the idea that it is the individual man himself who does or does not consent to belong to this community of faith.

Whether as pertaining to a broader social order or as pertaining to the Church an objection must be raised to this theory that we believe has had such a baleful influence upon both the social orders of men and upon the Church of Jesus Christ.  Men have never existed as sovereign atomized individuals using their own sovereign free will to determine whether they will or will not be a party to a social contract or to being claimed by God in Baptism. Instead, men are born as members of peoples, as well as Churches as ordained by Him. So, just as men do not choose their own civic obligation but are born to it so men who are born to believing parents do not choose their belonging to the Church but are ordained by God to that end.

2.) Revivalistic Assumptions vs. Scriptural Assumptions

With the first great awakening as followed by the 2nd great awakening, the emphasis as it relates to speaking about conversion moved from the covenantal nurture of children in the covenant to having a dramatic personal emotional experiential encounter with Jesus.

Louis Bevins Schenk in his book on “The Presbyterian Doctrine of Covenant Succession writes,

“The presumption of regeneration in the case of children of the covenant, based upon the covenant promises, was largely displaced by the Church’s practice of recognizing as Christians only those who gave ‘credible evidence,” satisfactory to themselves of regeneration.”

This is the conversion mindset in which most of our churches think today. From evangelism programs like “Romans Road,” “Evangelism Explosion,” or the “Four Spiritual laws,” this is the contemporary Church’s understanding of how conversion occurs. Before this time the whole idea of “altar calls” that have become famous with Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham would have been a curious phenomenon.

However, while never denying that God deals with some people like this — particularly those who come to Christ as adults — this isn’t the model that we find emphasized in Scripture as it pertains to covenant children. In Scripture, the parents are to lay hold of God’s promises that God will be God to us and to our children for a thousand generations and then are to train their children up in the faith in light of God’s promises. In this model, the whole idea of a dramatic conversion experience slips away in favor of covenantal nurture.

3.) Datable Conversionism vs. Covenant Succession Conversionism

Consistent with what was just mentioned the whole ascendancy of a datable conversion became the be all end all for much of the Church. The idea is that “every Christian knows the day they were ‘born again.'” This stands in contrast to the idea of covenantal succession where God

4.) The failure of Covenantal Nurture

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

Too often the cash value of baptism to many who are party to the contemporary Church is that they have kept their religious responsibility to their children. They have had them Baptized.

This is why the form distinctly says, in the charge we just read that parents

“must, therefore, use the sacrament for the purpose that God intended and not out of custom or superstition.”

While we are of the persuasion that in Baptism God has placed His claim upon us we are not of the persuasion that Baptism entered into apart from covenantal nurturing laid upon us as parents guarantee our child is right with God.

Listen to the 19th century Southern Theologian R. L. Dabney on this point,

The instrumentalities of the family are chosen and ordained of God as the most efficient of all means of grace—more truly and efficaciously means of saving grace than all the other ordinances of the church. To family piety are given the best promises of the gospel,.. How, then, should a wise God do otherwise than consecrate the Christian family, and ordain that the believing parents shall sanctify the children? Hence, the very foundation of all parental fidelity to children’s souls is to be laid in the conscientious, solemn, and hearty adoption of the very duties and promises which God seals in the covenant of infant baptism. It is pleasing to think that many Christians who refuse the sacrament do, with a happy inconsistency, embrace the duties and seek the blessing. But God gives all his people the truths and promises, along with the edifying seal. Let us hold fast to both.

~ R.L. Dabney

So, if we are to return to a time where covenantal succession is again the norm in our families and in our churches and among our people we must once again practice covenantal nurture. We must teach our children the Scriptures. We must catechize our children. We must anticipate and answer their objections before they have those objections that we know will arise. As we are teaching our children God’s judgments, statutes, and laws we must point out to them how the culture and too often the visible Church wars against those judgments, statutes, and laws. We must introduce our children to systematic thinking because there is nothing non-systemic and non-systematic in the thinking of God. We must dip and saturate our children in a Christian Worldview that they will see non-Christian worldviews as strange, exotic and ugly.  As parents, we must love them, and not provoke them. We must live out before them the majesty of God’s grace that has redeemed us for the sake of the finished work of Christ alone.

Some areas to keep an eye on in order to practice covenantal nurture,

a.) Protect your children from the culture,

Media

The media is a messaging machine and that messaging is seldom based on a Christian world and life view. As such children need not be exposed to Media until they are far far older and have the ability, as coming from covenantal nurturing, to identify and sniff out the false theology behind the false messaging.

Neil Postman in his now classic work warning against the danger of modern Media wrote,

“But it is much later in the game now, and ignorance of the score is inexcusable. To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple.”

If we are going to practice covenantal nurture in hope of covenantal succession we must understand that technology is, as a rule, no friend of Covenantal succession.

Public Schools

“I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.” ― Martin Luther

I am as sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social, nihilistic 4. ethics, individual, social, and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.

Dr. A.A. Hodge

b.) Protect your children from unexamined friendships

From the youngest of ages, it is your role to be the portal that all must pass through in order to get to your children.  You must be aware that other children of other families may not share the same Christian confession that you own. This means you must be sharp to watch out that friendships are not cemented with those who will, perhaps quite apart from malicious intent, challenge the truths that you are seeking to instill within your children from Scripture. You are seeking to nurture and disciple your children in the Christian faith. If you allow your children large swaths of “playtime” with other children — even other children from Christian homes of a different confessional stripe — you are courting a bad result in your efforts of covenantal nurture.

The Message of Covenantal nurturing

The message to our children that we must start with in terms of covenantal nurturing is that God provided Christ as the one who would fulfill all the law’s obligations as laid upon the sinful children of Adam and who would give to those same children the righteousness of Jesus Christ to those who would in faith rest in Christ’s righteousness alone as their acceptability to God.

The covenantal nurturing message to our children is that God is at war with unbelieving man and has reconciled Himself to unbelieving man by the finished work of Jesus Christ. It is only by the reconciling work of Jesus Christ in His work on the Cross whereby we and they can have peace and blessing with and from God.

We must nurture our children in the way of a faith that rests in Christ’s work alone in Justification but then also teaches them that in Sanctification their faith is to work as they turn to the law and to the testimonies for God’s word on how they shall live as Christians.

We must remind our baptized children that God’s claim is upon them and so they are to grow in the Christian faith. Our challenge is not that they might decide to become Christian but that they would know God’s eternal claim upon them and become what they have already been freely declared to be in Baptism.

We must nurture them to learning of God’s character. His Sovereignty, His Justice, His Wisdom, His Holiness, His Goodness, His Mercy, and His Grace.

We must nurture them to trust in God’s Word and God’s promises as opposed to their experiences, emotions, and mystical revelations. We must nurture them what it means to be a kind and caring people while at the same time warning them against the dangers of a suicidal altruism.

We must nurture them in the ways of taking godly dominion to every area the sovereign God calls them and of the great truth of our postmillennial hope.

We must nurture them in the truth that repentance is a life long project. But then that even our repentance needs repenting over. We must model before them a humility that seeks to shed every ounce of that ugly sin of self-righteousness. We must demonstrate to them what it means to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought and to consider not only our needs but the needs of others. We must pray that they will see us on our knees praying for Wisdom and that they will hear us honestly attest ourselves to as being not yet wise.

God grants us His grace for what parent could possibly think themselves sufficient unto such a calling?

But God is Faithful and being faithful we anticipate that even in all our failures with our children He will be to our seed and their seed the God who calls them to Himself.

How Is It That We Are “Not Under Law?”

Romans 6:14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

When St. Paul writes about not being “under the law,” he is not at that point teaching us that being Christian means being antinomian. The not being under the law that Paul is referencing here has to do with the freedom from the condemnation of the law that is a reality for all those outside of Christ. Man, as being mortal is always governed by some law and so it is literally not possible to be free from law in the sense of having a lawless existence.

Freedom from the condemnation of the law is the good news the Gospel brings. Outside of Christ, we are forever burdened by the accusation of God’s law that we are guilty of not keeping God’s law. In Christ, we are free from that accusation (and the condemnation following) that we are guilty of because of our violating God’s law, and we are free from the condemnation of God’s law precisely because Christ is the one, in His crucifixion, who, as our substitute, already received in Himself the penalty and condemnation that was properly designed for us due to our breaking of God’s law.

Having been set free from the condemnation of God’s law we are now at liberty to walk in terms of God’s law without any fear because there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We are those who no longer walk consistent with our sinful former appetites but who now walk according to our law honoring desires as we are new creations.

That God’s law still functions in our life is the great presupposition of Scripture. After all, how could we ever successfully honor the call to lay aside sin

in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.  (Ephesians 4:22)

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us … (Hebrews 12:1)

unless there was a standard by which we could know whereby that sin is determined? If we are not under law in the sense that the law no longer exists for the Christian then there is no possibility for us to sin, since without law sin does not exist. If we are not under law in the sense that the law no longer exists for the Christian then right and wrong and good and bad really are only existential social constructs with the result that every Christian does what is right in their own eyes. 

Observations Surrounding the Cross …. Forgiveness

Luke 23:27 And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. 28 But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”…

33 When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. 34 But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.

Note the difference responses of our Lord relating to the different participants in the Crucifixion narrative. In the context of the weeping and wailing of the “Daughters of Jerusalem,” Jesus doesn’t ask the Father to “forgive the Jews for they know not what they do.” In point of fact we know from earlier encounters with the Jews Jesus said that the vengeance of God upon the Jews for the killing of the Son of the Vineyard owner came at the cost of their very lives,

What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” When they heard it, they said, “May it never be!” 17 But Jesus looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief corner stone’?

18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”

For the Romans crucifying Jesus, Jesus pleads for the Father to forgive them. For the Jewish women lamenting the crucifixion of Jesus, Jesus, in a likely prophetic reference to AD 70, warns about the coming wrath of God.
This distinction between these two kinds of speech for two different kinds of people is also captured in the difference of Christ towards Judas and Peter. To Peter Jesus says,

31″Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

While to Judas, Jesus says,

“What you are about to do, do quickly.”

The difference between Judas and Peter is one was the son of perdition while the other was one of the elect. One wonders if that might not be the discriminating difference also in the way Jesus does not plead forgiveness for the Jews who crucified Him but does plead forgiveness for the Romans who served as those executioners who would do the bidding of the Jews in crucifying Jesus Christ?

Addendum

Some have insisted upon reviewing Christ’s request for forgiveness for the Romans soldiers that at that point the Roman soldiers would have been forgiven at that moment, in the sense of sins forgiven, since the Father and the Son are in agreement. This overlooks one meaning of the word forgiveness.

One meaning of the word “forgiveness” can be deferment or temporary suspension of the charges. Sanday advocates for this in his commentary on Romans when reviewing vs. 25 of chapter 3 he notes that forgiveness (remission — paresis) may be a “temporary suspension of punishment which may at some later date be inflicted.” So, when the Lord Christ prays, “Father forgive them (suspend the charges for the time being) for they know not what they do,”  the request is for a deferment or temporary suspension of the charges. As such, when Jesus prays this I don’t think it is proper to think that at that point the Roman soldiers’ sin is forgiven in the sense of the debt canceled.

We should end here by noting that usually when forgiveness is used in the Scriptures it has reference to a legal and not emotional / psychological resolve. Forgiveness occurs after there has been a debt incurred followed by the legal satisfying of that debt. For example, when we are forgiven by God it is not because God has a warm fuzzy towards us and is willing to let bygones be bygones. God forgives us because our indebtedness to Him as violators of His law as been satisfied for us by the work of Jesus Christ in our stead on the Cross. Our forgiveness is thus a juridical (legal) reality. God forgives us because our debt has been paid by our surety.

(Surety — a person who takes responsibility for another’s performance of an undertaking, for example, their appearing in court or the payment of a debt.)

Modern man would do well to re-examine his idea of forgiveness. We tend to think that forgiveness is an emotional or psychological disposition towards someone who has committed offense when in point of fact forgiveness is a legal term that requires, when necessary, restitution before forgiveness can be extended.

What we typically call “forgiveness” is perhaps better termed charity or mercy.

 

 

Progressive Reduction … Progressive Advance and the Postmillennial hope

The movement of Scripture seems to require a postmillennial eschatology.

Think about it. The Old Covenant moves from the Universal to the Particular after the fall. After the fall God’s salvation design is towards all men, but after the flood and after Babel that design is particularized to one people (Israel). From there the failure of Israel, like the failure of mankind prior to the flood, means an even more progressive reduction moving to “the remnant” and then finally culminating in this progressive reduction in the election of Jesus Christ to be God’s representative for the Redemption of His people. However, with the resurrection of Christ, we find the reversal of the previous progressive reduction to a progressive advance and broadening of redemption. What had been, prior to the arrival of Christ, a redemptive movement of the many to the one, with the resurrection the redemptive energy reverses and is now from the one to the many. We are still looking at election and representation, but the further salvific development unfolds so that from the center reached in the resurrection of Christ the way no longer leads from the many to the One but rather, as seen in the incorporating of the Nations, the movement of Redemption is progressively advancing from the one to the many. Consistently traced out this pattern and trajectory requires a belief in postmillennialism.

This hour-glass movement of Redemption (progressive reduction and narrowing to progressive advance and broadening) is most clearly articulated in Galatians 3:6 – 4:7. In that passage St. Paul begins with the promise to Abraham and his seed and reveals how ultimately the promise is to the Christ (3:16) who effectuates the ransom by His substitutionary death (4:5). This vicarious atonement results in the broadening of Redemption’s reach as all men and people may now become descendants of Abraham (3:26, 29) by faith alone in Christ alone.  All may become “sons and heirs” (4:4-7) through baptism.

Maybe Warfield’s “Universal Postmillennialism” was correct?

In an interesting aside one can also see this double helix hourglass movement in the Christian measuring of time by way of metaphor. Before Christ (BC) the years are numbered in a progressive reduction. However, with the arrival of Christ (AD) the numbering of the years continues to climb progressively year by year. This becomes an excellent illustration for the way that the first Christians measured redemptive time. The center and focal point is Christ and with Christ time is reoriented with the Christ event.