Saturday, November 05, 2005

How should a Cessationist deal with ‘Reformed Charismatic’ phenomena?

Phil Johnstone has picked up a gauntlet rather inadvertently dropt by Adrian Warnock so while the tribulator finishes off dealing with the so-called ‘rubber prophecies’ and the North London Reformed Charismatic searches for a colaborator and tries to sideline David Wayne by making him referee (!), I thought that I’d get my retaliation in first and prepare the ground for the cessationist exegesis by asking:
How should a Cessationist deal with ‘Reformed Charismatic’ phenomena?

And answering:
1 By not placing the limitation at God’s door.

a) God can do anything he chooses to do.

b) God does permit unresolved conflicts to arise within the body of Christ and he permits them for our good.

c) When we draw lines to map out exact limits for ourselves, God delights to give us cases to deal with that don’t fit our guidelines.

2 By not conceding that those spiritual things that should properly be considered to continue are the property of the charismatic side of our coming together.

a) We should not rename ‘miracles’ as ‘extraordinary providences’ and, truly, seeing ordinary providences as being miracles has generally more to do with personal dispositional outlook than with any particular view on the continuation of gifts.

b) Healing ought to be expected just as much by the Reformed cessationist as by the Reformed charismatic. Two corollaries of this are that healings should not be dismissed as spurious just because they take place in an emotional atmosphere and that holding that the proper place for healings is in private at a visitation by the elders is not a cessationism issue.

c) Vision, especially as part of conversion experience (and in that case, even more especially with conversions from Islam) and especially when death is near, is to be embraced by the cessationist no less than by the charismatic.

3 By accommodating as much of the charismatic interpretation of the triple cessation of word gifts as can be achieved.

a) With prophecy in a context where prophecy along the lines of the Grudem definition is expected, cessationists should be no more sceptical about the truth of what is said than the charismatics are. However, just because we cessationists believe that prophecy per se has ceased doesn’t mean that we cannot insist that the New Testament record of the operation of prophets shows great stress being placed on there always being more than one of them there while they prophesied.

b) About tongues it has to be admitted that the cessationist is not going to accept that the glossolalia indulged in today is a spiritual gift (sorry, charismatics.) However, it ought to be admitted that its practice in private does seem to have the general effect of refreshing the mind. Seeing glossolalia as a mind game, no more spiritual than chess, sudoku or the cryptic crossword might seem insultingly condescending but it isn’t meant to be. There are cessationists who practice it and they needn’t be ashamed of doing so.

c) When it comes to knowledge, cessationists need to get back to recognising that someone saying, ‘The Lord told me that …’ is, historically speaking, just a manner of speaking that some people have, and that there need be no more claim of special spiritual insight by the charismatic who uses it than by a cessationist. On the other hand, cessationists should feel as free as a charismatic to respond to the supercilious, ‘The Lord told me to tell you that …’ with something like, ‘That’s funny, because he hasn’t told me the same thing.’ (For both cessationist and charismatic we need to be sure that God hasn’t already convicted us about such-and-such before giving the snappy answer.)

Altogether, it would be easier if the Reformed charismatic were to be converted to the cessationist exegesis and it would be easier if there weren’t cessationists who think that they have ‘good and necessary’ cause to extend cessation to healing, vision and miracles as well. (I knew someone once who thought that he must get married on the grounds that the gift of celibacy has ceased! No!) It seems to me that a willingness of cessationists to trust their charismatic brethren far enough to accommodate them to the extent marked out above should go a long way towards prompting charismatics to look again to their interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

18th Century Theology with Thomas Boston 6

—•— Imputation of Righteousness —•—
(From ‘Whether or not the sins of believers while unrepented of, make them liable to eternal punishment?’)

Argument 5.
• Believers, even in their worst case, have a perfect righteousness, and so are perfectly righteous: therefore, they can never be liable to eternal wrath.
• The reason is, because to be perfectly righteous, is to be conformed to the law; but to be perfectly conformed to the law, and yet to be liable to the condemnation of the law, is a flat contradiction.
• It is true, that the righteousness is not originally and inherently theirs; but it is derivatively theirs, and imputed to them; which, with respect to Adam’s sin, was sufficient to make us actually liable to eternal flames: and why shall not the imputed righteousness of Christ be sufficient to make us free from that actual liableness to the revenging wrath of God?
• Are they not perfectly righteous; hath the law any more to require of them than what it has got?
• There were but two things it could demand, according to the strictest tenor of the first covenant: to do and to suffer perfectly; and they have, in Christ their head, both done and suffered accordingly, Rom. 8:3, 4, “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” &c.; Rom. 6:10, 11; Gal. 4:4, 5.
• “We learn, (says Beza: [Confess. point 4. art. 23.]) to pay by him, who hath set himself debtor and payer for us, who hath put himself in our place, and hath paid our debt, as the principal debtor, even unto the uttermost penny, in such wise, that the rigour of the law, which did before fear us, now comforteth us in Jesus Christ; forasmuch as life eternal is due to those who have fully obeyed the law, and Jesus Christ hath fulfilled the same for us.”
• Now, surely, what Christ hath done for us, is as good as if we had done it ourselves; yea, for the honour of the law, it is a thousand times better, because of the incomparable dignity of the person.
• What, then, should make them liable at any time to eternal wrath, being at all times clothed with this perfect righteousness?
• It cannot be, that falling asleep, and faith not being in exercise, they let the grips of it go, and therefore they are thus made obnoxious to divine vengeance.
• But surely it is not so easily made ineffectual.
•If inherent grace remain so securely under the grievous backslidings of the regenerate, that they cannot become children of the devil; much more doth the imputed righteousness remain, so that they cannot become children of wrath, that is, actually liable thereto, Eph. 2:2.
• If they cannot keep the covenant, the covenant will keep them.
• If any shall say, that God will not impute it to us for the covering of that particular sin or sins we lie under for the time, till we do anew receive it by faith for that end; it is false: for if a perfect righteousness be at all imputed, it covereth all sins.
• The ground of this opinion seems to be a mistake anent the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, as if the imputation of it were a making of it ours, and that this imputation were carried on by repeated acts, so as it is still made anew as the soul stands in need of it, falling into new sins.
• That the first of these is a mistake, appears from this, that Christ’s righteousness is ours before it be imputed, I mean not in order of time, but in order of nature.
• It is not ours, because it is imputed; but is imputed, because it is ours.
• It is evident, that it is used in this matter forensically, and is a judicial word and act; and is nothing else but a legal accounting of a thing to be ours.
• Now we know, “that the judgment of God is according to truth;” and therefore he cannot account that to be ours which really is not so. [Leigh’s Crit. Sac.]
• And the word itself will import no other: for whether you understand the primary signification of it to be the casting up of an account, and finding the total sum, as Arithmeticians do; or the concluding of a thing by reason and argument, as in Logic; it still imports the being of the thing so, before it be imputed; as two tens are twenty, before the Arithmetician cast up the number, and the Logician finds the conclusion in the premises, before he gather it out of them.
• So, in this metaphorical sense, we are sinners in Adam, before Adam’s sin be imputed to us, or we be reckoned guilty of his sin; and also righteous in Christ, before his righteousness be imputed to us.
• Hence I cannot but judge, that the Westminster Assembly, in their definition of justification, [Shorter Cat.] are much more accurate than several learned foreign divines, who make our justification formally consist in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness: for indeed, as they accurately give it, it is presupposed to our justification, as the ground thereof.
• Now, the way how Christ’s righteousness becomes ours, is by faith (as the aforesaid Assembly teacheth), and that as it doth make up an union betwixt Christ and the elect person; which I conceive to be the primary and immediate effect of faith.
• Hence issues a communion betwixt Christ and the believer; so that as all his sins, wants, &c., become Christ’s; the righteousness, obedience, and death of Christ become theirs: which so being, God accounts it, and judicially owns and acknowledgeth it to be theirs, as indeed it is; and therefore justifies them; that is, pardons their sins, and accepts them as righteous upon the account of the righteousness they appear before him clothed with. So Witsius teacheth. [Oec. foed. Dei. alicubi.]
• Now, what is it to be righteous, but to be conformed to the law?
• And seeing no righteousness can be sustained at the tribunal of God but that which is perfect, it remains that believers, at their first believing, are reputed perfectly conformed to the law of God; that is, to have perfectly obeyed and suffered; and this in regard of their union with Christ: and therefore, unless this his state be changed, which can never be till the union be dissolved, which the scripture holds forth as constant and perpetual, he can never be liable to eternal wrath.
• Hence it follows, that the opinion of a repeated imputation is also a mistake: for the imputation can no more be anew made, than the soul can be anew united to Christ Jesus.
• And, as Durham saith, [On Rev. iii. p. 158.] “Imputation being a judicial word and act, it supposeth an instant sentencing of such a righteousness to belong to such a person, as it were, and to be accepted for him: for if he hath not perfect right, there is no legal imputation (to say so); but if it be perfect, then it is an instantaneous act.”
• I add, and if instantaneous, then it is not repeated; nor is it a continued act, formally considered, though virtually it be; that is, the virtue of the imputation once made in the court of heaven never ceaseth, but remains still in force for all time to come. (Works VI 24-26)


Thomas Boston was a Scottish preacher of genius. His writings are more readily available than ever before, in book form (including the ubiquitous Fourfold State of Man ), increasingly on the web (including bits of the ubiquitous Fourfold State of Man), on unsearchable CD rom and 0n searchable CD rom.

Selah 6

Psalm 7:5
let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground and lay my glory in the dust. Selah.

Must Shimei then have lost his mind
to ambush David as he trod
his ruin’s road to Mahanaim?
No Abigail to plead for him
but David, reaping what he’d sowed,
forbad to pay him back in kind.

His accusation in the wind
of cuckoldry and regicide;
suppression of Saul’s family’s claim.
Discount for now his family name,
was Nathan’s charge unjustified
and just as if I’d never sinned?

A fusillade of sticks and stones —
His supplication could have had
judgment delivered from the throne
but now dethroned he stands alone
to leave alone a man gone mad —
The rattling of his cupboard’s bones.


And all the bones are shuddered out of joint;
no judgment falls on those who mocking wait;
though patently he has done nothing wrong
(his accusation puts him on the throne!)
Magdaline need not fret for God of late
his risen, conquering, glorious Son anoints.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Meanwhile, this Sunday Night in North Finchley … 4 Part 1

Sermon preparation for the record and for the day ahead:

—•— Sonship as a Matter of Life and Death —•—
Part 1

Eighty years after Jochebed his mother entrusted him to the waters of the Nile in his tarred basket of bulrushes, Moses returned to Egypt with a message for Pharaoh and some miracles to back it up. We are always liable to be diverted away from messages by miracles but in this case the message is embedded in the meaning of the miracles. Moreover the meaning of the miracles is reflected in the contextual details of the departure of Moses from Midian as well.

Exodus 04[18-23]

18 Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him,
“Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt
to see whether they are still alive.”
And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.”
19 And the LORD said to Moses in Midian,
“Go back to Egypt,
for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.”

20 So Moses took his wife and his sons
and had them ride on a donkey,
and went back to the land of Egypt.
And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.
21 And the LORD said to Moses,
“When you go back to Egypt,
see that you do before Pharaoh
all the miracles that I have put in your power.
But I will harden his heart,
so that he will not let the people go.

22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh,
‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son,
23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.”
If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”

If we take time to outline vv. 18-23 we will see that we have three contrasting pairs, In 18f. we have a matter of life and death: Moses asks to go see: ‘whether my brothers in Egypt are still alive .’ and God tells him: ‘all the men who were seeking your life are dead.’ In 20f. we have a contrast of tenderness and hardening: Moses has ‘his wife and his sons ride on a donkey,’ but Pharaoh’s soon-to-be proverbial hardening is revealed before the journey even starts. Vv. 23f. is a tale of two firstborn sons to be announced in the face of Pharaoh’s hardness: ‘Israel is my firstborn son, let him go that he may serve me.’ opposed to ‘If you refuse I will kill your firstborn son.

This is Moses’s second attempt to check on his people but, whereas the first attempt ended in disaster, this one will succeed. In his first attempt, Moses tried to ‘help’ his beleaguered fellow Israelites while still operating from the palace and his interfering left a dead Egyptian buried in the sand, which manslaughter having been discovered, Moses had had to flee for refuge. It is fairly certain that ‘the son of Pharaoh’s daughter’ did not ask for permission to go and visit his relatives but the husband of Jethro’s daughter does ask permission and it is granted when Jethro graciously and peaceably dismisses him.

It might seem strange to us that Moses doesn’t just tell Jethro that God has told him that his relatives in Egypt are still alive and that he has a mission to accomplish. By putting the matter to Jethro in the way that he does Moses is neither being deceitful nor indicating any doubt about what God has told him concerning the Israelites. By putting his request in terms of the Israelites still being alive, Moses is indicating to Jethro that this is a matter both of blood and of honour.

Apparently it is after Moses has spoken to Jethro that God gives Moses the welcome news that there is nothing now to fear from the body-in-the-sand incident of forty years ago. We know from Exodus 2:15 that ‘When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses,’ so there must have been a change of Pharaoh but surely, if the former Pharaoh was to be properly honored, even in death, Moses should now be the enemy of the son as he was of the father? Apparently not, the father Pharaoh being dead, Moses is no longer persona non grata in the Egypt of his son.

Of Moses’s two sons we read in Exodus 18:3-4 that ‘ … The name of the one was Gershom (for [Moses] said, "I have been a sojourner in a foreign land"), (4) and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, "The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh").’ In Exodus 18 they are being brought back to the camp of Israel by their Grandfather because Moses had send them home at some stage but in Exodus 4 they are on their way to Egypt with Zipporah their mother. In Exodus 4 the details are so sparse that we couldn’t know from there even that there were two of them and we are left to deduce that they were quite small from the fact that they share a donkey with their mother. Moses’s tenderness in providing the donkey contrasts quite shockingly with the disposition of God as they continue towards Egypt:

Exodus 04[24-31]

24 At a lodging place on the way
the LORD met him and sought to put him to death.
25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin
and touched Moses’ feet with it
and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”
26 So he let him alone.
It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,”
because of the circumcision.

27 The LORD said to Aaron,
“Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.”
So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him.
28 And Moses told Aaron
all the words of the LORD
with which he had sent him to speak,
and all the signs that he had commanded him to do.

29 Then Moses and Aaron went
and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel.
30 Aaron spoke all the words
that the LORD had spoken to Moses
and did the signs in the sight of the people.
31 And the people believed;
and when they heard
that the LORD had visited the people of Israel
and that he had seen their affliction,
they bowed their heads and worshiped.

These eight verses have the records of three significant meetings and all three are about representation. It is hard enough to understand vv. 24-26 without removing them out of their context so let’s just outline the three meetings in order to get as much help as possible with vv 24-26. Vv. 24-26 tells us of a ‘meeting’ between the wife of Moses and God over the life of one of Moses’s sons, presumably Gershom, the firstborn. Vv. 27f. tell of a meeting between Moses and Aaron at the ‘mountain of God.’ Vv. 29-31 tell of the meeting with ‘all the elders of the people of Israel’ at which ‘the people believed.’

As representatives the elders believe and worship on behalf of the entire nation and, because of Moses’s weakness, Aaron will speak for Moses at least at the beginning of his ministry. Aaron is introduced to the miracles that have been given for performance as signs but at the same time Zipporah is learning about the significance of circumcision in a most traumatic way!

Just as we need to see this incident in the context of representation, we also need to bring to it the things that have been done and said beforehand. Was Moses visiting his kinsmen a matter of life and death? So is this a matter of life and death! Will Pharaoh’s attitude be one of hardness of heart? What does that say about God’s disposition towards Gershom here? Why, since Moses sent two sons off to Egypt with their mother, is only one son involved in this incident if not because there is a direct link between the threat to Pharaoh’s firstborn in v. 23 and the threat to Moses’s firstborn in v. 24?

Because the threat is to Moses’s son rather than to Moses. It doesn’t help that all the English versions seem to want to ‘help’ us by importing Moses into v. 25 where, in Hebrew, the feet don’t have to be his and he doesn't have to there. Moreover, and just to seal this, the ‘bridegroom of blood,’ that Zipporah declares, is better read as ‘kinsman’ than as ‘bridegroom.’ We wouldn’t hold Moses to having claimed more actual brothers than Aaron because of his request of Jethro to ‘let me go back to my brothers in Egypt,’ so we shouldn’t insist that Moses must be there because Zipporah talks about ‘a kinsman of blood.

We could describe God’s disposition towards Gershom as that of the angel of death seeing no sign why he should ‘pass over’ the little encampment there and allow Moses’s heir join in the Exodus experience. Just as with the real Passover, the sign is the shedding of blood and the seal of circumcision is enacted at the very start of the Exodus just as it brings the Exodus to an end at Gilgal [Joshua 5:1-7]. After Gershom’s circumcision we can’t think that what God says about Israel being his firstborn son is only a manner of speaking.

We shouldn’t lose sight of Zipporah in this and her declaration here is fit to be put beside Rahab’s declaring for the God of Israel to the two spies (again at the end of the Exodus) and with Ruth’s resolution in Ruth 1:16-17 ‘But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. (17) Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

And having come this far and added Zipporah to the ranks of ‘Mothers in Israel,’ we should take a break by pointing to yet another mother ‘pierced’ by the stern disposition of God against her son:

Luke 02[33-38]

33 And his father and his mother
marveled at what was said about him.
34 And Simeon blessed them
and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is appointed
for the fall and rising of many in Israel,

and for a sign that is opposed
35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also),
so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess,
Anna, the daughter of Phanuel,
of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived with her husband seven years
from when she was a virgin,
37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She did not depart from the temple,
worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.
38 And coming up at that very hour
she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him
to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Don’t let Anna’s representation of all the other mothers in Israel distract you. Nor should you get in a turmoil about Joseph being called ‘his father,’ because ‘Pepe’ (if you’ve got the Latin) is taking a representative role in this passage as well. The sword piercing through Mary’s own soul is foreshadowed by Zipporah’s experience with her firstborn and the blood of Gershom’s circumcision, which points to the slaying of the lamb and the Passover, also points inexorably and wonderfully to the death on the cross of ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Monday, October 31, 2005


The Freedom-giver’s story
turned the world upside down
for it changed the lives of people
as it spread from town to town.
And, shinning through the darkness,
see the message plain today
written large so he that runs may read
that ‘Jesus is the Way.’

He said:
‘I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life,
no one comes to the Father but by me.
The Spirit will lead you into all truth,
you shall know the truth,
and the Truth shall set you free.’

The freedom that he gave up
was the freedom that he gave.
See those nail-pierced hands of Jesus
still stretched out with power to save.
And the life he gave a ransom
is the life he gives to men.
See him, through the clouds, ascending:
‘This same Jesus will come again.’

The darkness that he passed through
brought our souls into his light,
by submission and subjection,
Jesus won the freedom-fight,
as the fruit of his rejection,
to our God we’re reconciled,
in the silence of the victim,
hear the cry of a new-born child!

‘And if the Son shall free you, you shall be free indeed.’