Ad Gloriam Dei

"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corintians 10:31

"Let us pursue the things which make for peace and those by which one may edify another"- Romans 14:19

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." - Proverbs 27:17

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Magnalia Christi Americana (The Great Works of Christ in America)

The following are some extracts from Cotton Mather's account of the early history of the Church in New England, 'Magnalia Christi Americana' or 'The Great Works of Christ in America' , which I am reading at the moment.

Prior to sailing from Southampton, the following occurred (Book I Ch. II Sect. 4):

Mather writes the following of the character of the Church (Book I Ch. III Sect. 7):

He goes on to warn of the dangers of materialism resulting from a wrong response to the prosperity attending obedience to God (Book I Ch. III Sect. 7):

Sunday, November 25, 2012

George Whitefield on Real Christian Fellowship

From 25th November in 'George Whitefield Daily Readings' edited by Randall J. Pederson:

"Content not yourselves with reading, singing, and praying together; but set some time apart to confess your faults, and to communicate your experience one to another. For want of this (which I take to be one chief design of private meetings), most of the old Societies in London, I fear, are sunk into a dead formality, and have only a name to live. They meet on a Sabbath evening, read a chapter, and sing a psalm ; but seldom, if ever, acquaint each other with the operations of God's Spirit upon their souls ; notwithstanding this was the great end of those who first began these Societies. Hence it is, that, they have only the form of godliness left amongst them, and continue utter strangers to the state of one another's hearts. My brethren, let not your coming together be thus altogether in vain, but plainly and freely tell one another what God has done for your souls. To this end, you would do well as others have done, to form yourselves into little companies of four or five each, and meet once a week to tell each other what is in your hearts that you may then also pray for, and comfort each other, as need shall require. None but those who have experienced it, can tell the unspeakable advantages of such a union and communion of souls. I know not a better means in the world to keep hypocrisy out from amongst you. Pharisees and unbelievers will pray, read, and sing psalms; but none save an Israelite indeed, will endure to have his heart searched out."

Strictly-speaking, this is not exactly that quoted by Pederson, but he has added some from elsewhere and I have included part that he did not as I just wanted to cut-and-paste.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Calvin on the Christian Life

Simply brilliant. Have been reading Book 3 Chapter 7 of Calvin's Institutes. You must read at least the first two sections. See here. Battle's translation is better if you have it.

So much that is flawed with Christians is self-centredness, pride and seeking their own way of doing things, whether in the Church or in their personal and family lives. Calvin slays these pernicious weeds!

Oh that Christians were utterly God-centred, but they too frequently seek their own way. We are not our own, Calvin says again and again, and he repeats again and again we are God's, we are God's.

What one of us does not need to be constantly reminded and constantly fighting for utter devotion to God and His will, and dying to oneself in every area of our living?

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Abba: God's Fatherly Love

This is from a discussion I had with some brethren that I thought might be helpful:

We have an intimate bond with our adoptive Father which is precious and wonderful, and we need to live in the light of it.

One emphasis in Calvin's Institutes which I found helpful was the importance of believing in God's fatherly love:

'By piety I mean that union of reverence and love to God which the knowledge of his benefits inspires. For, until men feel that they owe everything to God, that they are cherished by his paternal care, and that he is the author of all their blessings, so that nought is to be looked for away from him, they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience; nay, unless they place their entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves to him in truth and sincerity.' (Institutes Book 1 Ch. 2 Sect. 1)

This is not to the exclusion of a godly fear. God is not our "buddy", nor do I believe a father should be. My children love me greatly and like to hug me, but they still fear me, without being in terror of me. Thus in fallibly seeking to be a Biblical Father, my children understand how one can fear God and yet love Him as Father. As men, this is one of our God-given duties.

Do we believe in the depths of our being that God is a loving Father? Do we feel it? Do we trust Him? Do we believe at all times He is looking after us, providing for us and doing what is best for us?

Do we treat Him as a judge or even capricious? We are justified and our guilt is taken away. Is our faith in our justification and adoption and the spiritual and emotional impact this ought to have what it should be? We are once-justified in Christ. We are no longer under condemnation. When we sin, we seek the forgiveness of a Father who chastises us by His Spirit; we are not seeking clemency from our Judge, Jailer and Executioner. This is the whole point of Romans 8 after the inward struggle of Romans 7:

'For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”... And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose...

'What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...

'For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Anglicanism and the Lord's Day

The following is an extract from the Anglican Catechism as found in the various editions of the Book of Common Prayer (e.g. 1662, C of I 2004):

You said, that your Godfathers and Godmothers did promise for you, that you should keep God's commandments. Tell me how many there be?
Answer. Ten.

Which be they?
IV. Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all that thou hast to do; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt do no manner of work, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, thy cattle, and the stranger that is within thy gates.For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it.

The more Evangelical Articles of Religion of the Church of Ireland (a.k.a. the Irish Articles of 1615) written principally by the greatest Irish Anglican, Archbishop Ussher of Armagh, which were replaced with the more ambiguous and less godly 39 Articles of the Church of England by the High-Church Laudians in 1635, and under which English and Scottish Presbyterians served in the Anglican Church of Ireland without Episcopal ordination, state the following:

56. The first day of the week, which is the Lord's day, is wholly to be dedicated unto the service of God: and therefore we are bound therein to rest from our common and daily business, and to bestow that leisure upon holy exercises, both public and private.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Calvin on the Sabbath Rest

Calvin writes the following on Genesis 2:3 -
3. And God blessed the seventh day ... Thus we may be allowed to describe the day as blessed by him which he has embraced with love, to the end that the excellence and dignity of his works may therein be celebrated... God therefore sanctifies the seventh day, when he renders it illustrious, that by a special law it may be distinguished from the rest. Whence it also appears, that God always had respect to the welfare of men. I have said above, that six days were employed in the formation of the world; not that God, to whom one moment is as a thousand years, had need of this succession of time, but that he might engage us in the consideration of his works. He had the same end in view in the appointment of his own rest, for he set apart a day selected out of the remainder for this special use. Wherefore, that benediction is nothing else than a solemn consecration, by which God claims for himself the meditations and employments of men on the seventh day. This is, indeed, the proper business of the whole life, in which men should daily exercise themselves, to consider the infinite goodness, justice, power, and wisdom of God, in this magnificent theater of heaven and earth. But, lest men should prove less sedulously attentive to it than they ought, every seventh day has been especially selected for the purpose of supplying what was wanting in daily meditation. First, therefore, God rested; then he blessed this rest, that in all ages it might be held sacred among men: or he dedicated every seventh day to rest, that his own example might be a perpetual rule. The design of the institution must be always kept in memory: for God did not command men simply to keep holiday every seventh day, as if he delighted in their indolence; but rather that they, being released from all other business, might the more readily apply their minds to the Creator of the world. [TJD: I.e. it isn't about sleeping the day away.] Lastly, that is a sacred rest, which withdraws men from the impediments of the world, that it may dedicate them entirely to God. But now, since men are so backward to celebrate the justice, wisdom, and power of God, and to consider his benefits, that even when they are most faithfully admonished they still remain torpid, no slight stimulus is given by God’s own example, and the very precept itself is thereby rendered amiable. For God cannot either more gently allure, or more effectually incite us to obedience, than by inviting and exhorting us to the imitation of himself. Besides, we must know, that this is to be the common employment not of one age or people only, but of the whole human race. Afterwards, in the Law, a new precept concerning the Sabbath was given, which should be peculiar to the Jews, and but for a season; because it was a legal ceremony shadowing forth a spiritual rest, the truth of which was manifested in Christ. Therefore the Lord the more frequently testifies that he had given, in the Sabbath, a symbol of sanctification to his ancient people. Therefore when we hear that the Sabbath was abrogated by the coming of Christ, we must distinguish between what belongs to the perpetual government of human life, and what properly belongs to ancient figures, the use of which was abolished when the truth was fulfilled. Spiritual rest is the mortification of the flesh; so that the sons of God should no longer live unto themselves, or indulge their own inclination. So far as the Sabbath was a figure of this rest, I say, it was but for a season; but inasmuch as it was commanded to men from the beginning that they might employ themselves in the worship of God, it is right that it should continue to the end of the world.
Full version at See also

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Laudian Settlement of 1662

The following quote from the Anglican scholar Dr Robert S. Bosher is very perceptive about the Laudian rejection of the more thorough Continental Reformation:

"..the Laudian triumph resulted in a judgement of equal moment - that the Ecclesia Anglicana was of another spirit than Geneva... In the Elizabethan settlement the Reformation had been given a peculiarly English expression, and we may interpret the settlement of 1662 as an equally characteristic version of the Counter-Reformation."

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Comment on Religion and War with Particular Reference to Ireland

This is something I wrote in response to some comments on a newspaper's blog, one of which called for the closing of churches to stop the animosity in Ulster:

Again we hear the old Atheistic lie: “every war in history has had religion at its roots”. Is this true from an objective assessment? Was Hitler and Stalin’s invasion of Poland due to religion? Was WWI due to religion? Was the Vietnam War due to religion? Did the Romans attack the Carthaginians because of religion? Did Napoleon fight his wars because he was opposed to the religion of his enemies?

The fact is that war can have a religious motivation, sometimes a nationalistic one, sometimes an economic one, sometimes because there is an egoist at the helm. Frequently it has been atheists who have caused a number of the aforementioned wars, usually tied in with a socialist revolutionary spirit.

Let is be noted, despite the obvious, though complex religious aspects to the troubles in Ireland, that a number of the revolutions/ rebellions/ freedom struggles in Irish history are actually linked with this socialist revolutionary spirit. The 1798 Rebellion was linked with the French Revolution, the 1920’s Revolution was linked with the Communist struggles elsewhere and the recent “Troubles” was linked with the revolutionary spirit of the ‘60’s, e.g. French students came over and taught the Republicans how to stage riots and make petrol bombs. One need only enter “Republican West Belfast” to still see that rabid, extremist socialist spirit sprawled on the walls.

Although most of us deplore this violent revolutionism and terrorism, nevertheless there was economic and nationalist provocation behind this. The landowners (including native Irish Catholics) abused the poor people over the years, leading to the terrible Potato Famine. What is often overlooked is the abuse of the Presbyterian people by the same landowners. Many of these Protestants fled Ireland in the 18th Century because of this, leading to the prominent Scots-Irish bloodline of rural America, and the American War for Independence (“that Irish Presbyterian rebellion” as it was called).

Please note as well that when the English invaded Ireland, they were Catholics invading Catholics, and that one of the reasons was to make the Irish Church toe the Roman line. As long as the English were Catholic, then Rome encouraged the Irish to be obedient to their English masters, but when the Reformation happened, then Rome’s view changed.

Why was Ireland so little affected by the Reformation and the people vehemently opposed to Protestantism? One of the main reasons was that the snobbish English aristocrats allowed services and religious books in Latin and English, but not “barbarian” Irish. Elizabeth I fought against Puritan attempts (not to be confused with Cromwell) to translate the Bible into Irish. Protestantism was inextricably linked with Nationalism.

Despite this, you will find many Irish “Catholic” surnames in Protestant churches, and in the Great Revival of 1859 what was noted was the peace around the Twelfth. Loyalist paramilitaries are usually deeply opposed to colleagues who “find religion”. They hate Biblical Christianity as much as those who think that all wars are started by religion!

"Close all the churches"? He is really naive who thinks that Republican and Loyalist terrorists care about going to church!

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Francis Turretin on the Descent of Christ into Hell, or rather His Descent into Hades

The misleadingly-titled Apostles' Creed states in the 5th Article that "He descended into hell." How is this to be understood, and what, more importantly, is the Biblical teaching on the matter? I recently scanned the following from the P&R English translation of Turretin for some of the brethren and I'm sure it will be useful for a wider audience, esp. as ignorance is leading some Evangelicals away from the historic belief of the non-Lutheran churches:

Francis Turretin on the Descent of Christ into Hades

Extract from Institutes of Elenctic Theology,
Topic 13, “The Person and State of Christ

Question 15

Was the soul of Christ, after its separation from the body, translated to paradise immediately? Or did it descend locally to hell?

The former we affirm; the latter we deny against the Papists and Lutherans.

The Statement of the Question

I. The question concerning Christ's descent into hell is twofold: the one with the Papists and some Lutherans, who hold a local descent of Christ; the other among the orthodox themselves concerning the true sense of the article – whether it is to be referred to the spiritual anguish of Christ or to his burial and his most abject state under the dominion of death. We are now to examine the first and will speak of the last immediately afterwards

Il. The Papists maintain that the soul of Christ from the time of its separation from the body straightway descended locally to hell until the resurrection.

In the Catechism of Trent, it is proposed to be believed: “Christ being now dead, his soul descended into hell, and remained there just as long as his body was in the sepulchre” (Catechism of the Council of Trent, Art. 5 [trans. J. A. McHugh, 1923], pp. 62 and 64).

And that no one might think this was only done by virtue and power and not by essence (as Durandus held, cf. Sententias theologicas Petri Lombardi Commentariorum, Bk. 3, Dist. 22, Q. 3, 4 [1556], p. 215), it is added in the same place, “It is to be entirely believed that the soul itself really and by presence descended into hell.” However they wish him to have descended thither for the purpose of freeing the souls of the fathers of the Old Testament detained in limbo and of carrying them with him to heaven.

Ill. The Lutherans agree with them in asserting the substantial descent of Christ into hell; not only into limbo, but into the very place of the damned, to show his victory there and exhibit his triumph.

On this account, they wish it to be referred to the state of exaltation and not to that of humiliation (as Brochmann determines, ‘De Servatoris Nostri Jesu Christi,’ Sect. 14, Q. 6, 7 in Universae theologicae systema [1638], 1:920-23).

IV. Hence the question took this form: Whether Christ descended locally into hell or only to the limbo of the fathers and to purgatory for the purpose of leading out the souls of the pious or to the very place of the damned to openly exhibit his victory. This our opponents hold; we deny.

V. First, the soul of Christ immediately after its release from the body mounted up into paradise, according to the promise made to the thief, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

(1) In vain do our opponents wish the words to be understood of the deity only, with which the soul of the thief was to be in paradise.

They involve the futurition in paradise or the translation not only of the soul of the thief, but also of Christ; that as Christ and the thief truly suffered, so they were to be carried together also into heaven, that both conditions might be common to both. And thus they were consolatory not only in order to the thief, but also to the Lord himself that in a short time they would both emerge from their distresses. Thus in the same manner, they might be in heaven as to their souls as they were on the cross together as to their bodies.

Hence Cyprian: “The thief was made a partaker of the kingdom, who had been made by his confession a colleague in martyrdom” (‘De Passione Christi’ [attributed to Cyprian] in Amold Camotensis, Opera, p. 50 in Cyprian, Opera led. John Oxoniensem, 1682]). The words themselves prove this. Christ does not say, "I will be with you" (which designated the presence of the deity in paradise), but “thou shalt be with me,” in order to promise him the fellowship of his humanity. Fellowship with Christ in his kingdom is promised. Now this cannot be understood of the deity (which concedes to no one such a privilege), but of Christ, the God-man (theanthropo), who calls believers into a share of his kingdom.

(2) No better do others wish the word “today” to be referred to the words of Christ, not to the introduction into paradise. Thus the sense is, “Today I say to you,” that thou shalt be with me in paradise.

As Suarez well remarks, this is an elusion, not an interpretation. For there was no need for Christ to indicate this, which the verb of the present tense and the expression of Christ itself sufficiently indicated. Rather he wishes to encourage the thief (constituted in agony and breathing after the grace of Christ) by this consolation that his petition would be fulfilled on that very day.

(3) Thomas Aquinas also gratuitously feigns, “Paradise here denotes generally the place of happiness, wherever it may be, in which they are said to be who enjoy the divine glory; whence the thief as to place was in hell with Christ, as to reward in paradise; so that paradise is wherever Christ is and wherever God is seen” (ST, Ill, Q. 52, Art. 4, p. 2305).

But what is this except to mingle heaven not only with earth but also with hell? Thus the thief on the cross would have been already in paradise because he was there with Christ. Christ, however, speaks of that paradise, where he was not then.

Finally, in no other way is paradise to be understood than as Scripture elsewhere speaks of it: as the seat of the blessed (2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7), which Bellarmine (‘De Sanctorum Beatitudine,’ 3 Opera 2:426) and Suarez (‘Commentaria ... in tertiam partem D. Thomae,’ Q. 52, Dist. 42 in Opera Omnia [1856-78J, 19:697-743) acknowledge.

The thing itself proves this because the promise of Christ ought to answer to the petition of the thief, “Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” To which Christ answers, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (i.e. in my kingdom).

VI. Second, the soul of Christ was in the hand of the Father: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Therefore it was not in hell because according to the style of Scripture the hand of the Father is not to be understood with respect to power (according to which the hand of God is everywhere, Psa. 139: 7 -10) or as it is the terrible hand of God, the Judge; but as the consoling hand of the Father of mercy with respect to glory and grace; or the condition of the blessed usually described by being in the hand of God.

It is confirmed by this – that Christ by this phrase wished to proclaim that nothing more remained to be done by him, both as to freeing others and as to undergoing new torments. But as the body was about to enjoy its repose in the sepulchre, so the soul also was about to rest from all its labours and be bathed in the greatest joys. For to commit or commend the soul has a relation to foregoing labours. Christ, however, could not have said, “I commend my spirit,” if after death he was yet to descend into hell and suffer the most grievous burdens.

He commends his spirit to the hand of his Father in the same manner as David and Stephen commended their souls because these were the very words of David before (Psa. 31:5), from whom Christ took them, and of Stephen afterwards (Acts 7:59), who imitated Christ himself; yea, as Peter recommends all believers to commit their souls to the faithful Creator (1 Pet. 4:19); not assuredly that they may descend into hell, but be received into heaven (as the ordinary gloss has it, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit that you may receive it, leaving the body”).

Hence among the fathers the hand of the Father and hell are opposed. Cyril of Alexandria says, “The innocent above, the guilty below; the innocent in heaven, the guilty in the abyss; the innocent in the hand of God, the guilty in the hand of the devil” (De exitu animi [PG 77.1082 J).

VII. Third, if according to the soul Christ truly and locally descended into hell, either that was done to suffer something there or to free the fathers or to preach the gospel to the dead, or to show his victory to the devils.

But the first cannot be said because he finished all things on the cross (John 19:30) and by one offering he perfected forever them that are sanctified (Heb. 10:14).

Not the second because they were already admitted into heaven; nor were they ever in a fictitious limbo, as was proved before.

Not the third because preaching the gospel belongs only to the state of this life, not to the condition of death. If Peter says, “The gospel was preached to the dead” (1 Pet. 4:6), this is not to be understood in the compound sense (as if he had preached to the dead as such because since they are not in the state of the way, they need no more any preaching), but in the divided sense (i.e. to them who are now dead, but who formerly lived when the gospel was preached to them).

Not the fourth because that descent ought to be penal, not triumphal and belongs to the state of humiliation, not of exaltation.

VIII. Now that such was the descent of Christ various arguments prove:

(1) According to the style of Scripture, a descent into hell signifies the most terrible adversities and most exquisite pains (Gen. 37:35; Job 14:13; Psa. 6:5; 86:13; 130:1).

(2) The passages which speak of the descent into hell denote his extreme misery, not a triumph (to wit, in which he was not on that account to be left, but to be freed by the Father, Acts 2:30, 31).

(3) The descent into the lowest parts of the earth is opposed to his ascension above all the heavens, which is a part of the exaltation (Eph. 4:9). Therefore it ought to be a part of his humiliation.

IX. The “heart of the earth” in the style of the Hebrews means nothing else than what is within the earth, for lb is put for thvdh (which is the middle) and what is internal is often called the middle, whether it is in the middle or not. The borders of Tyre are said to have been “in the midst of the seas” (Ezek. 27:4) because washed on all sides by the sea; the mountain is said to have “burned unto the midst of heaven” (Deut. 4:11), i.e. up to the middle region of the air.

Thus “to be in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40) means nothing else than to be within the earth whether that be nearer or more remote from its surface. In this way is intimated the state of Christ's body in the sepulchre (which was in the earth, in which it rested until the third day).

X. When Christ is said to have “descended into the lower parts of the earth” (eis ta katotera mere tes ges, Eph. 4:9), a local descent is not implied, but his humiliation and manifestation in the flesh which he assumed on earth, so that it is nothing else than to descend to the earth (which is the lowest part of the universe) by a construction sufficiently known to the Hebrews, in which the governing word stands for the apposition – “in the lowest parts of the earth” (Psa. 139:15), i.e. in the earth, which is the lower part with respect to heaven.

Thus not the parts of the earth are compared with each other, but the heaven and the earth, parts of the universe. Nor do the words of the text admit of any other meaning. There is an opposition between the ascent from earth to heaven and the descent from heaven. However, as the ascent has the earth as the point from which and heaven as the point to which, so in turn the descent has heaven as the point from which and the earth as the point to which. This Cajetan saw, who by the lower parts of the earth wishes to be understood “the earth which is the lowest part of the world as distinguished from the lower parts of the heaven which are in the air. And thus he would more clearly have expressed it, because he descended first to the lower part of the earth.”

Sources of Explanation

XI. When Peter says “the soul of Christ was not to be left in hell” (Acts 2:27 from Psa. 16:10), a local descent cannot be understood, but the detention in the sepulchre because this is referred by Peter to the resurrection.

This is gathered:

(1) From the connection “my flesh,” says he, “shall rest” (i.e. in the sepulchre) “in hope, because thou wilt not leave.”

(2) From the phrase added for explanation, “Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One” (i.e. me) “to see corruption” (to wit, in the body), which otherwise it would undergo if left in the sepulchre.

(3) From a comparison with Acts 13:34,35, where God is said to have raised up Christ from the dead that he might not see corruption.

Nor is this opposed either by the word psyches [“soul”] which as Emanuel Sa (de phrasibus Scriptura) remarks, is put by a synecdoche of a part for the whole, for the whole person itself frequently elsewhere (Psa. 3:2; 17:13; Acts 7:14) or of a part for a part, for the body itself (Lev. 19:28; 21:1, 11; Num. 5:1; Luke 6:9) as Virgil (“We bury the soul in the tomb,” Aeneid 3.68 [Loeb, 1:352-53]), or by the word “Hades”, which evidently is often put for the sepulchre, as will be proved hereafter.

XII. The passage in Peter, when “Christ quickened by the Spirit” is said “to have preached unto the spirits in prison” (tois en phylake, 1 Pet. 3:19), does not favour the local descent into hell.

(1) Peter does not speak of "the soul," but of "the Spirit." Therefore it cannot be understood of any descent of the soul. For that Spirit cannot here be taken for the soul but for the Deity is gathered from the preceding verse. No other Spirit is meant than he by whom he was quickened. This cannot be said of the soul, neither subjectively because that only is quickened which can die (which cannot apply to the soul), nor efficiently because quickening is a work of infinite power. On this account, the Deity itself must necessarily be understood.

This is often thus designated elsewhere (Rom. 1:4; Heb. 9:14; 1 Tim. 3:16) where he is said to have been “justified by the Spirit,” which Cajetan, Gagnaeus, Thomas Aquinas, Lyranus and others understand of the deity and the Holy Spirit.

(2) It treats of the apeithesasi (i.e. rebellious spirits) who did not obey those giving them good advice (such as the fathers cannot be called, whom they wish Christ to have led out of limbo [in which they were detained] to heaven). Nor can it be said that they indeed were unbelieving at first but afterwards repented because this is not in the text, but is rather opposed to it. For eight only are said to have been saved, the rest to have perished. Yet if some had repented, Peter would not have called them apeitheis.

(3) There is no mention here of liberation, but only of preaching.

(4) The “prison” (phylake) treated of here is taken only in two ways in Scripture, either for a nightly guard, or for a prison in which the guilty are detained (Luke 3:20). Since, in truth, it cannot be used here in the first sense, it ought necessarily to be taken for a prison (as the interlinear Gloss says, “the prison of darkness and unbelief”). Nowhere in Scripture is any place called a prison where happy spirits are contained.

(5) The preaching is not said to have been made to the spirits being in prison, as if they were in prison at the time of the preaching. For to what purpose would it have been made since there is granted no exit from it?

But it is said to have been made formerly in the time of Noah (in which God's patience waited for men) to them who (at the time in which Peter writes) are in prison. Hence Peter does not say ekeryxe tois pneumasi en phylake, but tois en phylake pneumasi ekeryxe. Thus the substantive verb must be supplied, not as the Vulgate has it iis qui in carcere erant as if they were in prison at the time of the preaching, but tois ousi (“who are,” to wit, at the time of the apostle's writing). For that pote Peter does not join with the words en phylake, but with apeithesasi in this manner, tois en phylake pneumasi apeithesasi pote, clearly distinguishing the times in which they were rebellious in the days of Noah and in which they were thrust into prison on account of their rebellion.

Thus the meaning of the passage is plain, as our Beza has most happily explained it. “Christ,” says he, “whom I said was quickened by the Spirit, having gone, not by a change of place, but by a certain special manifestation of his presence, by revelation and operation, as God is often said to come in Scripture, not literally but figuratively and metaphorically; not in the body, which he had not yet assumed, but by that very Spirit or divine power by which he rose again and was quickened, and inspired (by which the prophets spoke, 1 Pet. 1:11) preached to those spirits, which are now in the prison of hell, where they suffer the punishment of their rebellion to his preaching in the time of Noah.”

This Andradius saw, saying that this is the meaning of the passage – “in which Spirit (coming long before) he preached to those spirits who now in prison pay the deserved penalty of their former unbelief, since they never wished to believe Noah telling them of their duty and building an ark by God's command” (Defensio tridentinae fidei catholicae 2 [1580], p. 294).

XIII. If Christ is said by the resurrection “to have been loosed from the pains of death” (Acts 2:24), it does not follow that he endured pains up to the moment of his resurrection and that his soul departed into hell, where he could be affected by such pains. The passage can be understood in two ways:

(1) That “the pains of death” by a grammatical figure (hen dia dyoin) are put for a painful death. Christ, it is said, “will baptise with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (as Matt. 3:11), i.e. with spiritual fire, as Virgil, “I sing of arms and men,” i.e. the armed man (Aeneid 1.1 [Loeb, 1:240-41]). It is certain that the death of Christ was connected with the most exquisite pains, nor was that death resolved except in the moment of the resurrection.

(2) The passage to which Peter alludes (Psa. 18:5) employs the expression chbly mvth, which properly denotes cables and chains by which the man is detained as a captive in death, from which he is released by the resurrection. Thus there is no need to invent in addition any suffering of the soul after death. However, Peter, following the Septuagint, retains the word odinas, which can connote both the torments he suffered in death and the chains of death, by which in a measure he was bound in the sepulchre. Thus the meaning may be “whom” (namely, Christ) “God hath raised up, having loosed the chains of death because it was impossible that he should be always holden [krateisthai] like a captive by it.”

XlV. The triumphal song which Paul sings (after Hosea, 1 Cor. 15:54,55) is rightly referred to the resurrection of Christ, by which he began to triumph over sin, death and hell. But it cannot pertain to a descent into hell, which was the lowest degree of his humiliation, in which he seemed to be only not swallowed up by death.

Question 16

May the descent into hell [Editor: Hades] be rightly referred to infernal torments and to a most abject state under the dominion of death in the sepulchre? We affirm.

The Statement of the Question

I. By the preceding question, the false opinion of the papists concerning the local descent of Christ into hell was refuted. Now its true and genuine sense must be given. About this again the orthodox do not altogether agree among themselves, some referring it to the spiritual anguish and hellish torments which he suffered (as Calvin, Beza, Danaeus, Ursinus and others, even various confessions of the churches), others maintaining that it pertains to his burial and three days' detention in the sepulchre (as Zanchius, Piscator, Pierius and others).

Il. However, we must observe before all things that we do not inquire concerning the origin of this article – whether it was contained from the beginning in the Apostles' Creed and constantly acknowledged and received by the churches. For it is evident that no mention is made of it in the Nicene Creed and in the Roman, according to Ruffinus (A Commentary on the Apostles' Creed 28 [NPNF2, 3:553-54 D. The ancients who published confessions and set forth the rule of faith (such as Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, Augustine and others) say nothing about it. Also it is referred by Ruflinus only to the end of the fourth century.

This article does indeed occur in the Athanasian Creed, but the article of burial being omitted is a clear proof that they were considered as one and the same thing. So it is very probable that this article was transferred from the Athanasian to the Apostles' Creed and at first perhaps was placed in the margin for the purpose of explication; then from the margin into the text itself where it was afterwards retained and incorporated with it. But this question being now dismissed, we treat here only concerning its true sense (about which all do not agree).

Ill. However, since there is no other cause for this discrepancy than the ambiguity of the word sh'vl [Editor: Sheol] and hades and the manifold sense of the phrase “to descend into hell,” these must be briefly discussed.

The word sh'vl [Editor: Sheol] is spoken in Scripture in four ways:

(1) For a sepulchre (Psa. 16:10; 49:15);

(2) For the place of the damned (Luke 16:23);

(3) For the greatest torments (Psa. 18:5; 116:3);

(4) For extreme humiliation (Isa. 14:15).

Hence to descend into hell [Editor: Hades] is used in four ways:

(a) It denotes to be buried (Gen. 37:35; 42:38);

(b) To descend into the place of the damned (Num. 16:33);

(c) To feel infernal pains (1 Sam. 2:6);

(d) To be extremely humbled (Matt. 11:23).

According to this fourfold signification, there can be a fourfold meaning of this article. So that it may be referred either to:

A local descent into the place of the damned (as the papists and Lutherans hold and refuted by us already);

Or to the burial of Christ,

Or to his infernal sufferings,

Or to the extreme degree of his humiliation.

The Reasons for the Burial and the State of the Dead

IV. They who hold that this article does not differ from his burial rest especially upon these reasons:

(1) That Peter (from Psa. 16:10 in Acts 2:31) seems clearly to refer to the burial of Christ, “David seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell.”

(2) Everywhere in Scripture sh'vl [Editor: Sheol] is put for the sepulchre and to descend into hell for to descend into the sepulchre (as Arias Montanus, Emanuel Sa and other papists and lexicographers teach).

(3) In various creeds mention is made of a descent into hell, no mention being made of the sepulchre (as in the Athanasian Creed, which evinces that they were taken by him for one and the same thing). And here can be referred the fact that Paul mentions Christ's death, burial and resurrection according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3, 4), but says nothing of his descent into hell. However he would have spoken of it if he had believed that such an article meant anything else than his burial.

V. Still it is not probable that this article is the same as the burial.

(1) It would be a tautology (tautologia) scarcely to be endured in so succinct and brief a creed.

(2) It cannot be said that this article was appended to the former concerning the burial to explain it, since it is more obscure than the former.

Thus it is not to be referred precisely to the burial, but to the state of death or his detention in the sepulchre under the dominion of death (as this phrase is often used to describe the state of the dead; cf. Gen. 37:35 where Jacob, bewailing his son Joseph whom he believed to have been tom in pieces by wild beasts, says, “I will go down” lsh'vl “unto my son mourning”; not indeed into a sepulchre because he supposed he had been tom in pieces by wild beasts and not buried, but simply to death or the state of the dead). Thus “in death there is no remembrance of thee, in sh'vl who shall give thee thanks?” (Psa. 6:5; cf. Job 17:13-15; Psa. 30:3; 49:15; Isa. 14:11,19,20).

VI. Also, the passage of Peter (Acts 2:27) drawn from the oracle (Psa. 16:10) seems necessarily to demand this: “Thou wilt not leave my soul eis hadou” (supply oikon, employed by him to prove the resurrection). He says this prophecy was fulfilled by the resurrection of Christ, so that the meaning is: “Thou wilt not leave my soul” (i.e. my life) or “me in death, but wilt raise me up from death by the resurrection.” Here belongs what is said in v. 24 concerning “the pains” or “chains of death” by which he was holden as a captive by death (from which he was released by the resurrection). It was impossible (both on account of the glory of his divinity and on account of the holiness of his humanity) to be held any longer by it.

Reasons for the Torments

VII. But neither is the other opinion to be repudiated which understands this descent of the extreme sufferings of Christ endured both in the garden and on the cross. It agrees:

(1) With the style of Scripture which usually designates the most grievous torments by “hell” and the “pains of hell,” as we have already said;

(2) With the creed, that the most weighty and special sufferings of Christ be not passed over in silence (which would be the case, unless the descent of Christ into hell be understood of the internal sufferings of his soul). For the preceding articles speak only of the external sufferings of the body.

Reconciliation of the Two Opinions

VIII. If it is asked which of these two opinions ought to be retained, we answer both can be admitted and be made to agree perfectly with each other.

Thus by the descent into hell may be understood the extreme degree of Christ's suffering and humiliation, both as to soul and body; and as the lowest degree of humiliation as to the body was its detention in the sepulchre, so as to the soul were those dreadful torments he felt. And thus this last article will be apposite for expressing the last degree of Christ's humiliation, whether as to disgrace of body or as to anguish of soul.

Nor should it seem wonderful if these two parts (mutually diverse from each other) should be joined together in one and the same article. It is not unusual in Scripture for a single sense to put on various relations (schesin) and for many things to be embraced together, especially when the things are mutually subordinated and connected with each other. Since this phrase may be referred now to abjection of the body, then to griefs of the soul (and Christ should have undergone both conditions), it was not without reason that the ancients added this article to the preceding in order to set forth more distinctly this state of Christ.

Sources of Explanation

IX. The constant and indissoluble union of the human nature with the divine in Christ does not hinder him from being able to suffer both in soul and in body the punishment due to us. The union with the Word causes him indeed to be always holy and free from all sin; but not that he should be always happy and glorious (since he came that he might suffer). Christ always had the glory of person as God-man (theanthropos); but he ought not to always have the glory of human nature (which he was to obtain only after his resurrection) because he was to be tempted in all things equally with us and be made a curse for our salvation.

X. As he is properly said to be damned who in hell endures the punishment due to his own sins, this term cannot be applied to Christ, who never suffered for his own but for our sins; nor did he suffer in hell, but on earth. Still there is no objection to saying that the Son of God was condemned for us by God, just as elsewhere he is said to have been made a curse (katara) and malediction for us. Nor is it more absurd to say that Christ was condemned than that the Lord of glory suffered and was crucified and for our sake was crucified and chastened (as is so often said).

XI. The vision of God belonging to the saints in heaven by glory differs from that of believers on earth by grace. They who see God in the former manner can be subjected to no further punishments and pains because they are in their native country, constituted in a state of happiness. But it is not the same with believers who, although they see God by faith, do not cease to be exposed to various afflictions. Christ on earth (as man) saw God in the latter sense, and far more perfectly than believers; but this vision did not hinder him from suffering and complaining that he was forsaken of God.


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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Great Christian Example?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is portrayed as a great example of the Christian faith, e.g. in Christian Focus' "Ten Boys Who Didn't Give in". (Christian Focus' children's books are a blessing from God, but one of the main criticisms I would have is their uncritical presentation of some Christians and professed Christians.) Although, he is a great example of courage and conviction (so is Gandhi), it is questionable whether he was a Christian based on the following account of his life and beliefs:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a neo-orthodox German theologian, pastor, preacher, radio broadcaster, and prolific writer in the 1930s and early-1940s, during the rise, rule, and downfall of Adolph Hitler. He was greatly fascinated with neo-orthodox thought, theology, and terminology, and was greatly influenced by the major theologian of neo-orthodoxy, Karl Barth (1886-1968). Bonhoeffer's writings are credited with helping to father the "Death of God" theology which was popularized by the Anglican Bishop John A.T. Robinson in the decade of the 1960s.

Bonhoeffer was in reality a practical atheist and a religious humanist who denied virtually every cardinal doctrine of the historic Christian faith (Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge, New York: Macmillan Co., 1972, pp. 9-12). Bonhoeffer readily acknowledged "the debt he owes to liberal theology." Declaring that it was impossible to know the objective truth about Christ's real nature and essence, Bonhoeffer proclaimed that God was dead.

Moreover, Bonhoeffer believed that the true Christian was the confessing believer who totally immersed his life in the secular world, becoming a secular Christian. Rejecting the objective unalterable moral standards of the Bible, Bonhoeffer proclaimed a situational ethics -- that right and wrong are determined solely by the "loving obligations of the moment" (Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge, New York: Macmillan Co., 1972, pp. 9-12, 378; Ethics, pp. 38, 186; No Rusty Swords, pp. 44-45).

The son of a Berlin professor of psychiatry, Bonhoeffer studied theology at Tubingen, Berlin and at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer, student chaplain and lecturer at the University of Berlin, joined the anti-Nazi pastors in the German "church struggle." In 1935, he was appointed head of the Finkenwalde Confessing Church Seminary, which was closed by the government in 1937. In 1939, Bonhoeffer rejected the possibility of a job in America, safe from the impending European war. He was convinced that he had to face the difficulties ahead with the Christians in Germany. Back in Germany during World War II, Bonhoeffer was forbidden to preach or to publish.

Though claiming to be a disciple of Gandhi and his credo of non-violence, Bonhoeffer worked as a double agent in the anti-Nazi resistance movement and in the German military office, and eventually joined the wartime conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. His arrest in 1943, however, arose from his direct involvement in smuggling fourteen Jews to Switzerland. He was hanged by the Nazis at Flossenburg on April 9, 1945.

Although only 39 when executed, Bonhoeffer left a rich legacy of books, some of his best known being Sanctorum Communio, Act and Being, The Cost of Discipleship, and Life Together, as well as letters, papers, and notes published by his close friend and biographer, Eberhard Bethge. These include Letters and Papers from Prison, Ethics, and six volumes of collected writings (Dr. Ruth Zerner, City University of New York, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer," Eerdmans' Handbook To The History of Christianity, 1977, p. 603).

Although Bonhoeffer presented his own strain of neo-orthodox existentialism, many evangelicals have been taken in by his warm-hearted piety and by his high sounding devotion to Christ and call to suffer for His sake. His religious terminology may appear to be evangelical, but its substance was existential. Yet, there are those today who continue to present Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a genuine Christian hero (e.g., Don Matzat, Chuck Colson, and the editorial board of Christianity Today). Grand Rapids Baptist College (GARBC -- now Cornerstone College) scheduled a play in the fall of 1991 which extolled Bonhoeffer's memory. And Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr., has used quotes from Bonhoeffer to expound on the nature of true Christian fellowship ("The Riches and Responsibilities of Fellowship," The Master's Current, Winter 1994, p. 2). All such accolades to Bonhoeffer are clearly unwarranted.

The following is a summary of beliefs and influence of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as taken from some of the over 14 books and documents attributed to him:

1. He believed that "God is teaching us that we must live as men who can get along very well without Him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us." Bonhoeffer also believed that the concept of God as a "supreme Being, absolute in power and goodness," was a "spurious conception of transcendence," and that "God as a working hypothesis in morals, politics, and science ... should be dropped, or as far as possible eliminated" (Letters and Papers from Prison, S.C.M. Press edition, Great Britain: Fontana Books, 1953, pp. 122, 164, 360).

2. He believed that mankind had become of age and no longer needed religion, which was only a deceptive garment of true faith; he suggested the need for a "religionless Christianity." To Bonhoeffer, "the Christian is identified not by his beliefs, but by actions, by his participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world" (Letters and Papers from Prison, S.C.M. Press edition, Great Britain: Fontana Books, 1953, p. 163). Thus, Bonhoeffer's final writings have given impulse to Marxist theologians sponsoring "liberation theology" and to others wishing to promote a worldly social gospel.

3. He refused to discuss the origin of Christ, His relationship to the Father, His two natures, or even the relationship of the two natures. Bonhoeffer was adamant in his belief that it was impossible to know the objective truth about the real essence of Christ's being-nature (Christ the Center, pp. 30, 88, 100-101).

4. He questioned the Virgin Birth, and in reality denied it (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 215).

5. He denied the deity of Christ; he advocated that "Jesus Christ Today" is not a real person and being, but a "corporate presence" (Testimony to Freedom, pp. 75-76; Christ the Center, p. 58).

6. He denied the sinlessness of Christ's human nature and further questioned the sinlessness of His earthly behavior (Christ the Center, pp. 108-109).

7. He believed that Christ exists in three "revelatory forms" -- as Word, as sacrament, and as church. From asserting that Christ is the church, he followed that all persons in the church are identical with Christ (Christ the Center, p. 58; The Cost of Discipleship, p. 217). This amounts to pantheism!

8. He believed that Christianity is not exclusive, i.e., that Christ is not the only way to God (Testimony to Freedom, pp. 55-56).

9. He was a prominent figure in the early ecumenical movement, as evidenced through his associations with the "World Alliance for International Friendship" (a forerunner of the apostate World Council of Churches [WCC]), Union Theological Seminary, and Visser 't Hooft (who later became the first General Secretary of the WCC) (Testimony to Freedom, pp. 22, 212, 568). Bonhoeffer also reached out to Roman Catholics, prefiguring the broader ecumenism that blossomed after Vatican II in the mid-1960s.

10. He was a practical evolutionist (No Rusty Swords, p. 143), and believed that the book of Genesis was scientifically naive and full of myths (Creation and Fall: A Theological Interpretation of Genesis 1-3).

11. He adhered to neo-orthodox theology and terminology concerning salvation (Testimony to Freedom, p. 130), was a sacramentalist (Life Together, p. 122; The Way to Freedom, pp. 115, 153), believed in regenerational infant baptism (Letters and Papers from Prison, Macmillan, pp. 142-143) as well as adult baptismal regeneration (The Way to Freedom, p. 151), equated church membership with salvation (The Way to Freedom, p. 93), and denied a personal/individualistic salvation (Letters and Papers from Prison, Macmillan, p. 156).

12. He placed little or no value on the Old Testament --"... the faith of the Old Testament is not a religion of salvation" (Letters and Papers from Prison, S.C.M. Press edition, Great Britain: Fontana Books, 1953, p. 112).

13. He denied the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture, believing that the Bible was only a "witness" to the Word of God and becomes the Word of God only when it "speaks" to an individual; otherwise, it was simply the word of man/men (Testimony to Freedom, pp. 9, 104; Sanctorum Communio, p. 161). To Bonhoeffer, the Bible was meant "to be expounded as a witness, not as a book of wisdom, a teaching book, a book of eternal truth" (No Rusty Swords, p. 118). He also believed in the value of higher criticism/historical criticism, which is a denial of the inerrancy and authenticity of the Bible (Christ the Center, pp. 73-74).

14. He had no faith in the physical resurrection of Christ. Bonhoeffer believed the "historicity" of the Resurrection was in "the realm of ambiguity," and that it was one of the "mythological" elements of Christianity that "must be interpreted in such a way as not to make religion a pre-condition of faith." He also believed that "Belief in the Resurrection is not the solution of the problem of death," and that such things as miracles and the ascension of Christ were "mythological conceptions" as well (Christ the Center, p. 112; Letters and Papers from Prison, S.C.M. Press edition, Great Britain: Fontana Books, 1953, pp. 93-94, 110).

Dr. G. Archer Weniger declared, "If there is wholesome food in a garbage can, then one can find some good things in Bonhoeffer, but if it be dangerous to expect to find nourishment in a garbage can, then Bonhoeffer must be totally rejected and repudiated as blasphemy. It is worse than garbage" (FBF Information Bulletin, May 1977, p. 12).

* The material in this report was adapted in part from a paper by Don Jasmin (Fundamentalist Digest, P.O. Box 2322, Elkton, MD 21922-2322). See also the 9/13/93 and 9/18/95 issues of Christian News (p. 21 and pp. 11-13, respectively), and the Oct-Dec 1991 Bibliotheca Sacra, pp. 399-408.]

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Monday, December 08, 2008

The Eternal God and Time: Timeless or Everlasting?

Often one hears that because God is eternal that He is timeless, or that He is outside of time, or that He is looking 'in on time', or that all time is present to Him at once, or that if He wasn't timeless then He would be subject to something outside of Himself, or God has to be timeless because He created time, or because He can do many things at once or can do things instantaneously, then He must be timeless.

Stop and think: where does the Bible say any of this? Where does it present data that inevitably leads to such statements? I can't think of any. Can you? Isn't this just speculation?

Let us think about some of these statements. Is God presented as timeless in the Bible, or is He only presented as interacting with events in time? "Didn't God do certain things in eternity?" you may reply. Yes, He did do things in eternity, but what is eternity? We are all going to live in eternity future - are we going to be timeless? Eternity past is just that infinite period prior to the creation. That's all we know. Indeed, events within eternity past are given a time frame, e.g. "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). The decree happened BEFORE the creation.

God is certainly omniscient; He knows all things, but that is not to say that He is timeless. He knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), but this is far different from being present at the beginning, middle and end all at the one time, which is what the "timeless" view is saying. If all things are actually present to Him at once (and not that He knows all of history from the beginning), then all things are present at once, i.e. all peoples, events, etc., have always been, or are eternal, and the Universe takes on a pantheistic quality. Surely this is irrational and utterly against Scriptural theology?

Also, what is time? Time is just a progression, or sequence, of events, or (in some cases) thoughts. This progression may indeed take place slower in certain parts of the Universe than others (as per Einstein), but this is not to say that God does not operate in His own time, to which all other time frames are relative to.

To Materialist, like Einstein (his fatal flaw), time is dependent on material things (hence the space-time continuum), but this neglects the immaterial. Time is not created. It isn't a force. It is merely the progression of material or immaterial events.

If God is not timeless, then this is not to say that He is subject to something outside Himself. To say that God is love, is not to say that He is subject to love outside Himself, is it? It is may be 'ultimate time' is an attribute of God Himself. He is the standard for all time events. If time is an attribute of God (albeit everlasting and incommunicable in that sense, just as God has infinite knowledge, but we have knowledge), then time isn't created. It isn't outside of God at all.

God can do many things at once, but that is just to say that He is almighty, not timeless. God can do things instantaneously, but that is just to say that He is again almighty, or infinitely fast.

A thousand years are as one day in His sight, but this is just to say that just as a grain of sand is nothing to us in comparion, due to our size, and yet it is huge to a virus, so also a thousands years is huge to us, but it seems like a day to Him (and in reality even less!). This is just a statement of relativity.

There is no Scriptural warrant for describing God's eternity as "timeless" as far as I can tell. All we know is that it is "everlasting":
"Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God." (Psalm 90:1)
Anything else is man-made speculation. It is easy to make pious assertions and seem to exalt God, but is it pious to make assertions with no Biblical warrant? Is this bearing a witness to the truth, or is it exalting ourselves above what He has chosen to reveal to us. I don't know all about God and time, but I do know that God has not revealed that He is timeless.

(See also Robert Reymond's New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith on God's eternity, and R.L. Dabney as quoted by Reymond.)



Monday, October 13, 2008

Enjoying God

Our congregation is studying the Shorter Catechism in our Home Fellowship Groups. It was disappointing to see the first chapter of the book that we are using virtually ignoring the question of enjoying God. Glorifying God is only half of our chief end. There is one chief end that encompasses BOTH glorifying and enjoying God.

How different this is to our Puritan and Covenanting forefathers! Ussher begins his Body of Divinity with the question of happiness and what men especially desire. Perkins defined theology as "the science of living blessedly forever". Thomas Vincent in his commentary on the Catechism deals in a balanced way with both glorifying AND enjoying God. This was Puritanism! It was so much more than the Five Points of Calvinism, and pure forms of worship and Church Government.

John Piper's Desiring God is a much needed antidote to the imbalanced half-answer that many Reformed Christians really give to the first question of the Shorter Catechism, even if his "glorifying God BY enjoying Him forever" goes too far (in my opinion).

(Although this blog is called "Ad Gloriam Dei", the real motto of our family is "Ad Gloriam et Delectorem Dei", but that was too much of a mouthful for a blog title.)



Sing a New Song! Shouldn’t We Compose New Hymns, Instead of Singing Old Psalms?

Given that there are several exhortations in the Bible to “sing a new song”, shouldn’t Psalms-only advocates ‘take a leaf out of their Psalter’ and obey the exhortation to compose new songs and hymns for congregational worship?

‘Sing to Him a new song! Play skilfully with a shout of joy!’ (Psalm 33:3)

‘He has put a new song in my mouth — praise to our God! Many will see it and fear, and will trust in the LORD.’ (Psalm 40:3)

‘Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD, all the earth.’ (Psalm 96:1)

‘Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! For he has done marvellous things; his right hand and his holy arm have gained him the victory.’ (Psalm 98:1)

‘I will sing a new song to you, O God! On a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to you!’ (Psalm 144:9)

‘Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, and his praise in the assembly of saints.’ (Psalm 149:1)

‘Sing to the LORD a new song, and his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you coastlands and you inhabitants of them!’ (Isaiah 42:10)

This is a fair question and one that I asked when I was a teenager examining the practice of the Church in which I was raised. Let me answer it in my imperfect way.

Did Those Contemporary to Scripture Compose New Songs?

Just like the appeal to Paul’s exhortations to sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”, the superficial interpretation that “sing a new song” calls for new man-made composures should be carefully examined in the light of the history of the Old and New Testament Churches, and the early, post-Apostolic Church.

This is not to invoke “tradition” as authoritative, but to aid us in the normal task of interpretation. We usually interpret words and phrases as contemporaries understood them. We should have lots of examples of hymn-composition, if this is how they understood these words, but we don't. We don't even have a little! This doesn’t seem right, if the exhortation to sing a new song” is a call for new compositions.

More importantly than extra-Biblical sources, Scripture itself gives no indication that we are called to add to, or take from, the God-given Hymnal.

If those contemporary to Scripture didn’t practice the composition of new hymns, except for prophets like David called to this task, then it seems unlikely that “sing a new song” could refer to such a practice. Is there an interpretation that makes more sense in the light of the rest of Scripture and known Church practice?

What Does New Mean?

“A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another.” (John 13:34)

‘And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another.’ (2 John 1:5)

‘He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning.

‘Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining… He who loves his brother abides in the light…’ (1 John 2:6-8,10)

When we hear the word “new”, we usually think of something freshly made that didn’t exist before, but Scripture doesn’t always use the term this way.

Christ calls the exhortation to love one another “a new commandment”. Did this commandment not always exist? Yes, it did. Christ Himself says that the Law could be summed-up in our love for God and for our neighbour. Indeed, the Second Table of the Law is devoted to loving our neighbour, for love is the fulfilment of the Law. As John said, it was not a new commandment, but an old commandment they had from the beginning. So clearly Jesus didn’t mean that it had not previously existed.

John also says that there is a sense in which the command to love one another is new because a radical change has happened when the light of Christ shines in the heart of true believers.

Even the Psalms which are the “new songs” in question are not particularly new, in the sense of not having previously existed. The content in each case was sung many times before, and indeed several of them repeat what the other “new songs” already stated. Interestingly, Psalm 96 would appear not to be a new composition. It was extracted from a longer song that is found in 1 Chron. 16:8-36 and only encompasses vv. 23-33 of that chapter. (Or was this latter song an expansion of the former?)

Newness as Freshness

“New” in the Scriptures can mean that it is so unusual, fresh and different, that it is as if it had never existed previously. In my opinion, this definition fits what Christ was saying in John 13:34. This commandment had fallen into such disuse by the selfishness of men that it was something new to them, even though it was as old as God himself.

John Calvin agrees with this idea of “newness” in commenting on the various verses that speak of a new song. He describes this newness as “rare and choice”, “exquisite and not ordinary”, “singular and worthy of remembrance”, “not one which was common”, “unusual and extraordinary”, “singular or uncommon”, “rare and unusual” and “distinguish[ed] from those with which the saints commonly and daily praised God”.

Matthew Poole similarly talks of this newness as “renewed”, “fresh”, “new matter or occasion for a song”, “new and great occasion” and “new mercies”. How many new occasions does God give us for renewed praise to our God?

But maybe these are just Psalm-singing Presbyterians from centuries ago? The modern Anglican Derek Kidner also describes this “newness” as “freshness” in his comments on these various Psalms.

In commenting on Psalm 96:1, he says, “The new song (cf. on 33:3) is not simply a piece newly composed, though it naturally includes such, but a response that will match the freshness of His mercies, which are ‘new every morning’.” Here he does not draw away from the fact that David’s song was one newly composed for the occasion in question (nor does Poole or I), but he emphasises “the freshness of His mercies, which are ‘new every morning’.”

The late 19th Century, hymn-singing Baptist, Charles Spurgeon similarly states the following:

“We ought to make every hymn of praise a new song. To keep up the freshness of worship is a great thing, and in private it is indispensable. Let us not present old worn-out praise, but put new life, and soul, and heart, into every song, since we have new mercies every day, and see new beauties in the work and word of our LORD.”

Spurgeon goes on to quote Augustine and others who take the same interpretation. It is worth noting Diodati’s comment that Spurgeon quotes: “sung with such fervency of affections as novelties usually bring with them.”

New Songs for New Creatures

In commenting on the new song of the nations (Psalm 96), Spurgeon further comments:

“Men are made new creatures and their song is new also. The names of Baalim are no more on their lips, the wanton music of Ashtaroth ceases; the foolish ditty and the cruel war song are alike forgotten; the song is holy, heavenly, pure, and pleasant.”

The Exultation of Victory

Derek Kidner, in commenting on Psalm 144:9, also emphasises the hope of victory that the “new song” expresses. The New Geneva (or Reformation) Study Bible similarly states, “Often such ‘new’ psalms are found in contexts of victorious war and can be seen as shouts of victory.”

Singing a New Song, not Composing One

It is a fact that the Psalms were new songs when they were composed, but this is not an exhortation for us to compose a new song. The Psalmist calls us to sing his new songs, but he does not command us to compose new ones ourselves. This is an important distinction.

Nor is he calling us to only sing songs that are new; clearly this would be absurd and irrational, and is contrary to the commandments to sing the Psalms.

For us, the purpose should be that we are filled with the joy and freshness of God’s mercies, and I believe that it is really this newness that the Psalmist is pointing us to, and what he is calling us to join with him in. Let us join him in singing his new songs, the old Psalms, with such fervency of affections as novelties usually bring with them.”

A New World of Fresh Mercies

Matthew Henry comments that the Psalmist entered a “new world” of “fresh mercies”. Often when God mightily delivers us from the old, long-endured burden of affliction, it is as if we entered a new world. The song of deliverance, although used many times before (like the Psalmist), becomes for us a new song because of the freshness of God’s mercies toward us.

When we sing of a “new song” in these Psalms, we should not think, “What new song should I compose today?” or “What newly-composed song should I sing?” but “How new and fresh are God’s mercies to me! What a place of freedom and joy I find myself in through my Saviour Jesus! Let me sing this old Psalm with the fresh joy of salvation!”

Let us constantly remember:

‘Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not; they are new every morning! Great is your faithfulness! “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”’ (Lam. 3:22-24)


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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs: Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16

Psalms, Psalms and Psalms?

Historical Presbyterians, Baptists and Congregationalists know that we must only worship God in the way that He commands, but how can one justify singing man-made hymns in worship? Where does God ask us to compose our own songs and sing them to Him?

Often an appeal is made to Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16:

Paul tells us to sing ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’. It doesn’t just say ‘psalms’, it also says ‘hymns and spiritual songs’, so we can sing other songs than the Book of Psalms.”

You Psalms-only guys make Paul say that ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ are ‘psalms, psalms and psalms’? That’s ridiculous!”

These statements are due to a lack of familiarity with how the Bible uses these terms. This brief study is an attempt to shed some light on what Paul actually meant.

It may surprise some people to know that Psalms-only adherents (e.g. historic Presbyterians, Baptists and Congregationalists, and the Early Church) don’t believe that “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” are “psalms, psalms and psalms”. So what are they?

What Do the Greek Terms Mean?

Firstly, let’s remember that Paul was writing in Greek, not English. In today’s world, when we talk about ‘hymns’, we mean songs other than the Psalms, but it is illogical to apply our modern English usage to the Greek of Paul’s day. What did Greeks mean by these words?


The word “psalm” is not exclusive to the Bible. Today, we talk about ‘psalms’ as the Book of Psalms in the Bible, but to the Greek-speaking peoples ‘psalmos’ could be applied to any song that was accompanied by string-instruments by derivation from the Greek word for plucking. This term came to have a more generalised meaning over time.


A ‘hymn’, or ‘hymnos’, was a song of praise, usually to deities or heroes. In English, we refer to Christians songs outside of the Book of Psalms by this term, but the Greeks, and even the Greek-speaking Jews and Christians, didn’t make such a distinction by this term.

Spiritual Songs

‘Songs’ is a general term, but it is specifically defined in this context as “spiritual”, although the Greek grammar allows for the adjective “spiritual” to apply to all three nouns.

These three terms in and of themselves say nothing about what Paul was referring to. Indeed, if it wasn’t in the Bible, it could apply to the entire repertoire of songs that one could come across in life. However, it is in the Bible, so how do the Scriptures use these terms?

The Greek Version of the Book of Psalms

The Greek version on the Old Testament was known as the Septuagint, referring to the 70 scholars who were supposed to have translated the original Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. How the Septuagint uses the terms “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” is important because this was the Bible used by the NT Christians, and many of the Apostles’ quotations of the OT in the NT show their extensive use of this version.

It was the title that these scholars gave to the Hebrew Sepher Tehillim, “Psalmoi”, which gives us the title of the “Book of Psalms” in our English Bibles. However, in this “Psalmoi”, the individual songs are categorised using the three terms, “psalms, hymns and songs”. The Book of Psalms isn’t just Psalms!

Psalms, Hymns and Songs as Titles

In our English Bibles, we will see titles to many of the Psalms: only 34 don’t have any. However, in the Septuagint there were even more titles with only 2 lacking a title. In this Greek version (not necessarily our English Bibles), 67 titles include the word ‘psalm’, 6 include the word ‘hymn’ (Psalms 6, 54, 55, 61, 67 and 76) and 35 the word ‘song’. Even some of those that were entitled “hymnos” in the Greek should more accurately have been translated as “psalmos”, but the fact the Greek translators used the word “hymnos” shows the interchangeableness of these two terms to Greek Jews and Christians.

Frequently, these terms are used in groups, such as “a psalm of a song”, “a song of a psalm”, “a psalm, a song”, “in psalms a song”, “in hymns a psalm” and “in hymns, a psalm, a song”. Note that the Seventy referred to some of the Psalms as “a psalm in the hymns” or “a psalm and a song in the hymns”. They referred to the collection of Psalms as “the hymns”.

Here I refer to the titles, but all three terms are also used in the body of the Psalms themselves.

Psalms, Hymns and Songs in the Psalms

In the text of the Psalms themselves, the terms “hymn” and “song” (together with their cognate verbs and substantives) are used throughout as descriptive of the Psalms, e.g. “He put into my mouth a new song, a HYMN to our God” (Psalm 40:3).

At the end of Psalm 72, the Septuagint says, “The HYMNS of David, the son of Jesse, are ended”, presumably referring to all the Psalms up to that point, or something similar.

One of the most interesting texts in the Septuagint Psalms is Psalm 137:3, which reads, “There they who took us captive demanded of us words of SONGS, and they led us away said, ‘Chant us a HYMN out of the SONGS of Zion.’” Clearly the Songs of Zion were the Book of Psalms, but they were also hymns. The Psalmist goes on to call these "the LORD's song".

The Hebrew “Book of Hymns”

Although the Seventy entitled the Greek version of the Psalms as “Psalmoi”, they would have been more accurate to have translated it as “The Book of Hymns” because the Hebrew title was Sepher Tehillim, and the equivalent of Tehillim in Greek was ‘hymnoi”.

It is only traditionalism from the Greek usage that means that we call the book “Psalms” and not more accurately from the Hebrew “Hymns”.

Psalms, Hymns and Songs in the Rest of the OT and Apocrypha

In 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah (and elsewhere) the Psalms are referred to as hymns or songs, and the singing of the Psalms is referred to as “hymning”.

In the Septuagint Apocrypha, the same terminology is used in Ecclestiasticus, and 1 and 2 Maccabees.

Clearly, the Greek Christians would have been familiar with the Psalms being “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”. Everyone was calling them hymns and songs (apart from modern English-speakers!).

Psalms Spoken of as Hymns by Jews and Christians

The Songs and Hymns of the Greek-speaking Jews

The fact that the Hebrew title for the Psalms should really have been translated “The Book of Hymns” is interesting when one considers the use of “in hymns, a psalm”, and also the way that the Greek-speaking Jews referred to the Book of Psalms. Two of the best-known unbelieving Jews who spoke Greek are Philo and Josephus.

Philo never used the term “psalmos” in reference to the Psalms, but “hymnos”. This amazing absence of the term “psalmos” in his writings has caused some scholars to speculate that some Greek versions of the Psalms were actually (and more appropriately) entitled “Hymnoi”, rather than “Psalmoi”.

The Early Church Hymns

As McNaughter says, not only the Greek-speaking Jews, but the Early Greek Church also referred to the Psalms as hymns, citing the Apostolic Constitutions, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Eusebius, Hilary, Athanasius, Jerome, Augustine and Cassian.

When Emperor Domitian burned huge quantities of Bibles and Psalters during his persecution of the Christians, where were the man-made hymnals? When the Early Church authors wrote their multitude of letters and books, where are the hymns? They do not exist. How can this be, if man-made hymnody was the early Christian practice?

The Middle Age and Beyond

McNaughter states, “Testimonies from the Middle Ages could be multiplied at great length, but Bede, ‘the Venerable,’ gives their gist when he speaks of the whole Psalter as called ‘Liber Hymnorum” by universal consent. Thereafter, through the Reformation period and down to modern times, the Psalms are spoken of incessantly as hymns.” This is no surprise as hymns are songs of praise, especially directed to deity. Is the Book of Psalms a collection of hymns? Yes.

The New Testament Use of Psalms and Hymns

The Hallel (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26)

When Jesus and His disciples finished the Last Supper, they “hymned.” It is generally accepted that they followed the Jewish practice at the Passover in singing Psalms 113 – 118, which is known as the Hallel. It seems that the singing of these Psalms is referred to here as singing hymns.

Singing in Prison (Acts 16:25)

Paul and Silas prayed and “hymned” to God while imprisoned at Philippi. As they sang from memory, it seems more than likely that they sang the Psalms that they would have learnt in their youth.

Each of You has a Psalm (1 Corinthians 14:26)

It is interesting to note that at the Corinthian worship services, they sang Psalms. There is no mention of man-made hymns, let alone the composition of man-made hymns. Now, admittedly, these “psalms” could have been man-made, but the natural use of the term is that they were the Canonical Psalms. There is certainly no evidence of man-made hymnody either here or anywhere else in the NT.

Hymning in the Psalms (Hebrews 2:12)

In quoting Psalm 22:22, the writer to the Hebrews says, “…I will hymn to you.” So, again, to the distinction between psalms and hymns is blurred.

One could look at further instances of the use of psalms and hymns in the NT, but these examples give an idea that our modern use of the word “hymn” as songs to God distinct from the Book of Psalms is foreign to the NT.

Jewish Parallelism

We may say that Paul should have said “psalms” and left at like that, but we impose our own meaning of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” on him. The same goes for the titles of the Psalms”: in 12 of them psalms and songs are put together. Isn’t this all a bit superfluous? Isn’t a psalm a song? Again, this shows the distinction between modern English-speakers and Jews. We should remember this distinction and take it into our interpretations.

“Doesn’t it seem a bit of a mouthful?” one may say, but the Jews weren’t British or American, they like using long parallelisms in their speech. In 1 Kings 2:2, David charged Solomon before he died:

to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgements, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses”.

Again, in Deuteronomy 30:16 (and elsewhere), Moses says something similar:

to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgements

“Why doesn’t they just say obey God’s commandments?” says the modern Evangelical. David and Moses were a bit more poetic than that. These are all commandments, but there are different categories in God’s commandments, just as there are three categories for the Canonical Psalms. One is further reminded of the various categories that David applies in Psalm 119.

Similarly, in Acts 2:22, Peter (a Jew) speaks as follows:

Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs…”

Peter could have said “Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles” and left it at that, but he didn’t. He was more Jewish than us (funny that!).

Paul was a Jew and spoke like a Jew, and wrote “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” because he was Jewish, not because he was distinguishing the Spirit-inspired Psalms from man-made products.

Songs from the Spirit, not Songs from the Pub

As stated previously, the word “spiritual” could apply to all three terms, but I am inclined to think that it refers to “songs” only. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul was exhorting his readers to be different from the unbelievers who wasted their lives in drinking and singing drunken songs to Bacchus:

And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”

The heathen sang songs when they were filled with wine, but we sing songs too when we are filled with the Holy Spirit: these songs are spiritual.

What does the word “spiritual” or “pneumatikais” mean? We think of “spiritual” as being religious, but the word has a far stronger meaning than this. As Dr. B. B. Warfield of Princeton said (The Presbyterian Review, July 1880):

Of the twenty-five instances in which the word ["spiritual"] occurs in the New Testament, in no single case does it sink even as low in its reference as the human spirit; and in twenty-four of them it is derived from "spirit" (pneuma), the Holy Ghost. In this sense of belonging to, or determined by, the Holy Spirit, the New Testament usage is uniform.’ ‘The appropriate translation for it in each case is “Spirit-given,” or “Spirit-led”, or “Spirit-determined”.’

These songs are given by the Holy Spirit, they are not merely religious. Some would argue that the hymns of Charles Wesley, for example, are given by the Spirit, but is this really what Spirit-given means in this context? I think that “pneumatikais” is too strong a term for mere man-made hymnody.

What about the psalms, hymns and songs of Scripture, including those which weren’t included by the Spirit in the Book of Psalms? Were they merely man-made products – “spiritual”, but not inspired? None of them were like modern hymns: they were either personal utterances of praise (some of which may not properly be termed songs, but are nonetheless praise) and not meant for public worship (e.g. the ‘Songs’ of Hannah, Jonah and Hezekiah), or they were given for public worship in the Temple or Synagogue, but only produced by prophets and prophetesses (e.g. Moses, David and Habakkuk).

It is also noteworthy that many of them were produced by a specially-inspired class within the Levites who were devoted to God’s praise (1 Chron. 16:4-7), e.g. Asaph and the Sons of Korah. It is also noteworthy that just as some prophecies ended-up in the Canon of Scripture and many did not; so also some inspired songs made it into the Canon-within-the-Canon, i.e. the Book of Psalms, and some did not.

Does God command us to compose our own “spiritual” songs for public worship, or are there examples of it in the Scriptures? The silence is deafening. The Spirit-given songs are all inspired. We have no reason to believe that “spiritual” refers to anything else.

The Word of Christ

Not only are these songs given by the Spirit, but they are the Word of Christ:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

How does the Word of Christ dwell richly within us? By teaching and admonishing one another through singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs together. These “psalms, hymns and songs given by the Spirit” must be “the Word of Christ”. This makes sense if these terms refer to the Canonical Psalms, but can even Charles Wesley’s hymns be spoken of in this way?

Psalms, Hymns and Hymns?

If “psalms” refer to the Book of Psalms, and “hymns” refer to man-made productions, then what are “spirituals songs”? Is Paul saying “psalms, hymns and hymns”? What sense does that make? Those who ridicule us with the absurd interpretation that we say that these are “psalms, psalms and psalms” should consider the implication of their own interpretation when they hold that “psalms” is the only term that refers to songs from the Book of Psalms.

The only interpretation of these terms that make sense are that they collectively are an expansive term for the Book of Psalms, with the various categories of song within it.

Are the Scriptures Anything Else but Scripture?

It may be argued by some that although psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are different categories of song, and that these categories are found in the Book of Psalms, yet why should we think that they are restricted to this Book; maybe even the songs of the Wesleys could be referred to as “psalms”?

As we have seen previously there are real difficulties with this: are they Spirit-given in the Scriptural sense? Are they the Word of Christ? Should we sing songs to teach each other that are any less inspired than what we use in reading from the pulpit?

Another fundamental issue with this interpretation is: how do the Scriptures use these terms? We should not ask merely how they are used outside of Scripture. For example, when we read that the Bereans “searched the Scriptures daily whether these things were so”, do we think that these were writings in general, even though the term could be understood in that sense? Why is that? It is because we know from the use of this term in the Bible what is meant by it.

Even so, we know from the use of the terms “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” that the Bible refers to the Book of Psalms when referring to the congregational worship of God’s people. We have no reason to understand it any other way.

No Warrant for Singing Man-made Hymnody

All the Scriptural evidence points to the “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” being the various categories of song found in the Canonical Psalms. There is no evidence that hymns are man-made as distinct from the Book of Psalms, nor is there evidence any where is Scripture of the composition or singing of man-made productions in when Christians meet together for worship. Neither is there evidence in history from the period covered by the Scriptures, nor the period immediately after it.

Those who claim to hold to Biblical worship and seek to worship God as He asks, have no warrant to compose or sing man-made songs. The only logical conclusion is to restrict ourselves to what God has provided in His grace as sufficient for us: the Book of Psalms.

Let us sing "the LORD's song" (Psalm 137:4).


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