Monday, June 27, 2016

By Faith Abraham

Image:  Rhododendron, North Garden, Virginia

"By faith Abraham..." (Hebrews 11:8).

In his book What is Faith?  J. Gresham Machen makes the point that the Biblical word faith does not so much refer to something actively done by men but to something passively received by them. Salvation is by grace through faith.

Thus, Machen writes:  “faith means not doing something but receiving something; it means not the earning of a reward but the acceptance of a gift.” He continues:

Faith, in other words, is not active but passive; and to say that we are saved by faith is to say that we do not save ourselves but are saved only by the one in whom our faith is reposed; the faith of man presupposes the sovereignty of God (p. 195).

Though the language here is about the faith of Abraham, it is really about the grace of God.  Abraham is not special because of something he did, but of something God did in him.  Nonetheless, Abraham demonstrated the fundamental trust in the Lord and in his promises that is typical of those who have experienced saving faith.


Friday, June 24, 2016

The Vision (6.24.16): Scenes from CRBC's 2016 VBS

Image:  VBS began each morning with the kids lining up behind the "Bible-bearer" to come into the meeting hall.

We held our annual "Puritan" Vacation Bible School at CRBC this week.  The theme this year was was the life and teaching of the apostle Peter.  It was a great week of fun and learning.

Image:  Recreation.

Images:  Scenes from Craft session.

Image:  A game during Bible lesson review.

Image:  Wall drawing of Peter reflecting the VBS theme (Mark 1:17).

Image:  Singing "My God is So Strong!"

Image:  Lunch was served each day.

Cove Creek Pirates Repeat!!!

Image:  2016 Cove Creek Major League Pirates

Catching up....

Last Saturday (6.18.16) was Championship Saturday and the Closing Ceremonies at Cove Creek baseball park.

The Pirates, my son Isaiah's team which I coached, won the Major League (11-12 year olds) regular season with a 12-4 record and played in the tournament championship against the Cubs, a rematch from last year's tournament finale.  It was an epic game.  After the regulation sixth inning we were tied at 6-6 and went into extra innings.  Finally, in the bottom of inning 8 the Pirates scored a heart stopping walk-off run to win 7-6 and achieve a repeat of last year's championship.

It was a good day in the Riddle household with my son Joseph's Minor League team, the Rangers, also winning their championship.

Image:  Teams gather for closing ceremonies

Image:  Isaiah was voted the Sportsmanship Award by his peers for the third consecutive year.

Image: Rangers' dogpile after their upset win!

Image:  Some Pirates holding the 2015 and 2016 tournament hardware at the post-game team picnic.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Vision (6.17.16): Noah Condemned the World

Image:  Pulpit, Christ Church, Philadelphia

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith (Hebrews 11:7).

There have been many fanciful imaginings of Noah’s conversations with his neighbors while building his ark.  Most are largely extra-scriptural.

There is however, this brief note that Noah “condemned the world” and Peter’s brief description of Noah as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5).  From these we get the sense that Noah attempted to warn his fellow men of the wrath to come.  He identified the sins of the people, and he called for repentance.  Noah was willing to be an unpopular preacher preaching an unpopular message.

We don’t know how long it took Noah to build the ark.  Some have suggested 120 years. Even the lowest guesses have suggested it took decades.  Noah preached and warned for years.  John Owen observed:  “And there is no doubt but that before, and whilst he was building the ark, he was urgent with mankind to call them to repentance, by declaring the promises and threatening of God” (Hebrews, Vol. 7, p. 3).  But at the end of that time, when the door of the ark was closed and the flood began, he had not won a single convert outside his own household.  We hear of pioneer missionaries like Carey in India and Judson in Burma who labored in preaching for years before seeing their first converts.  Noah labored for years, but apparently saw no fruit!

The Canadian writer Roy Daniells wrote a poem titled “Noah” in which he imagined Noah’s opposition:

            They gathered around and told him not to do it.
            They formed a committee and tried to take control.
            They cancelled his building permit and they stole
            His plans.  I sometimes wonder he got through it.
            He told them wrath was coming, they would rue it,
            He begged them to believe the tides would roll,
            He offered them passage to his destined goal,
            A new world.  They were finished and he knew it.
            All to no end.
                                    And then the rain began.
            A spatter at first that barely wet the soil.
            Then showers, quick rivulets lacing the town,
            Then deluge universal.  The old man
            Arthritic from his years of scorn and toil
            Leaned from the admiral’s walk and watched them drown.

[From Garrison Keillor, Ed. Good Poems (Viking, 2002):  p. 90.]

Though we are told that Noah condemned the world, we can assume he took no joy in it.  Compare:

Ezekiel 18:23 Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?

It is said that the Scottish preacher Robert Murray McCheyne could hardly preach to his people about hell but with tears pouring down his cheeks.  Perhaps that is also the way that Noah preached about these things, and the way we should too.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ex Nihilo Creation

Image:  Roses, North Garden, Virginia, June 2016

Note:  Some expanded notes from my 6/5/16 sermon on Hebrews 11:1-6.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear (Hebrews 11:3).

To be a Christian necessarily means to believe in the special creation of the world as described in the Bible.  As the catechism teaches, God made the world in the space of six days and all very good.  Only a Christian understands how the world came into being.  He does so because he trusts the Biblical account of creation.

When it says the world was framed by the word of God, we might think of two things:

First, we think of how God made the world by his divine command:  “Let there be light.”

But, second, we also consider how the world was made by the Son of God:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
 2 The same was in the beginning with God.
 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Hebrews 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

The inspired author adds, “so that the things which are seen were not made of the things which do appear.”  This is a proof for what we call the ex nihilo view of creation (creation out of nothing).  The pre-Christian pagans believed in the eternity of the world.  Everything that exists has always been.  This view was re-articulated in modern science in the view known as the “steady state theory.”

Christians rejected that.  Why?  Because there is only one being who is from everlasting to everlasting.  That is God himself.  If the stuff that makes up the world had always been then it would be eternal.  This is an attribute that belongs to God alone.  To reject ex nihilo creation is to run the risk of pantheism, of worshiping the creation as divine.  It is to run to idolatry, to have a god above God.

In J. Gresham Machen’s What is Faith? He offers this assessment of Hebrews 11:3b:  “Here we have, expressed with a clearness that leaves nothing to be desired, the doctrine of creation out of nothing, and that doctrine is said to be received by faith.  It is the same doctrine that appears in the first verse of the Bible.” (p. 50).

Machen also warns against those who promote pantheism as a substitution for theism “on the ground that it brings God nearer to men” (p. 53).  He argues:

In reality, however, it has exactly the opposite effect. Far from bringing God nearer to man, the pantheism of day really pushes Him very far off; it brings Him physically near; but at the same time makes Him spiritually remote; it conceives of Him as a sort of blind vital force, but ceases to regard Him as a Person whom a man can love and whom a man can trust.  Destroy the free personality of God, and the possibility of fellowship with Him is gone; we cannot love or trust a God of whom we are parts (p. 53).


Friday, June 10, 2016

The Vision (6.10.16): But without faith it is impossible to please God

Image:  Rose bush, Spring 2016, North Garden, Virginia

Hebrews 11:5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Enoch’s claim to fame is that, like the prophet Elijah, he did not experience physical death but was taken to be with God (translated) (see Genesis 5:21-24).  The focus in Hebrews 11:5b is on the fact that Enoch pleased God.  This likely comes from the description that he walked with God (Gen 5:24), or he conducted himself in a godly manner.

We need then to pay attention, however, to the explanation that follows in v. 6, beginning, “But without faith it is impossible to please God…..”  The point is not to say that Enoch’s godliness was a good work that justified him in God’s sight.  It is rather to say that because Enoch was a believer there naturally there flowed from him a life that pleased God.

Apple trees produce apples.  Peach trees produce peaches.  Rose bushes produce roses.  Saved men produce godly fruit.  It is not the godly fruit that saves them.  You can go out and duct tape apples to a dead thorn bush all day long and that does not make it an apple tree!

This verse likewise demolishes any simple idea that God’s love is indiscriminate toward all people.  Those who are not converted, those who have not trusted in Christ, are not pleasing in his sight, no matter all the good they might do.

Notice what v. 6 does NOT say.  It does not say,

            But without good works it is impossible to please God….

            But without baptism or church membership….

            But without conservative politics…..

            But without homeschooling….

            But without modest dress and decorum….

            But without some particular conservative lifestyle…..

Instead, it simply says, “But without faith it is impossible to please God…..”

Since Vatican II (1965), the Roman Catholic church falsely teaches a concept of “anonymous” Christians, people who do not confess Christ but who live lives pleasing to him.  Some hyper-Calvinists also teach that one can be regenerate but not confess faith.  This verse contradicts both those teachings.  Here faith means saving faith.  Without explicit faith in Christ, consciously confessed, one cannot please God.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Machen: Religion’s Absolute Dependence on Doctrine

Here is another brief excerpt from J. Gresham Machen’s What is Faith? (1925; Eerdmans, 1962) in which Machen interprets the significance of the central statement in Hebrews 11:6.

“…for he that cometh to God must believe that he is…” (Hebrews 11:6).

….Here we find a rejection of all the pragmatic, non-doctrinal Christianity of modern times.

In the first place, religion is here made to depend absolutely upon doctrine; the one who comes to God must not only believe in a person, but he must also believe that something is true:  faith is here declared to involve acceptance of a proposition.  There could be no plainer insistence upon the doctrinal or intellectual basis of faith.  It is impossible, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, to have faith in a person without accepting with the mind the facts of the person.

Entirely different is the prevailing attitude in the modern Church; far from recognizing, as the author of Hebrews does, the intellectual basis of faith, many modern preachers set faith in sharp opposition to knowledge.  Christians faith, they say, is not assent to a creed, but it is confidence in a person.  The Epistle to the Hebrews on the other hand declares that it is impossible to have confidence in a person without assenting to a creed.  “He that cometh to God must believe that he is.”  The words “God is” or “God exists,” constitute a creed; they constitute a proposition; and yet they have here placed as necessary to that supposedly non-intellectual thing that is called faith.  It would be impossible to find a more complete opposition than that which here appears between the New Testament and the anti-intellectual tendency of modern preaching (pp. 47-48).


Monday, June 06, 2016

Machen on Pedagogy and Faith

Image:  J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)

Yesterday morning I started preaching my way through Hebrews 11, the great faith chapter.  As part of my preaching preparation for this topic, I also started reading J. Gresham Machen’s What is Faith? (1925; Eerdmans reprint 1962).

In the opening chapter, the Reformed defender of orthodoxy in the face of modernism, who had taught at Princeton and later withdrew at the formation of Westminster, attacks the modern shift in educational philosophy, from facts to experience.  Though written in the 1920s it has an uncanny contemporary ring to it, particularly for the ears of any who have done any college level teaching.

Here are some of Machen’s thoughts:

…The old fashioned notion of reading a book or hearing a lecture and simply storing up in the mind what the book or lecture contains—this is regarded as entirely out of date.  A year or so ago I heard a noted educator give some advice to a company of college professors.—advice which was typical of the present tendency in education.  It is a great mistake he said in effect, to suppose that a college professor ought to teach; on the contrary he ought simply to give the students an opportunity to learn.

This pedagogic theory of following the line of least resistance in education and avoiding all drudgery and all hard work has been having its natural result; it has joined forces with the natural indolence of youth to produce in present-day education a very lamentable decline….

The undergraduate student of the present day is being told that he need not take notes on what he hears in class, that the exercises of memory is a rather childish and mechanical thing, and that what he is really in college to do is to think for himself and to unify his world.  He usually makes a poor business of unifying his world.  And the reason is clear.  He does not succeed in unifying his world for the simple reason that he has no world to unify.  He has not acquired a knowledge of a sufficient number of facts in order even to learn the method of putting facts together.  He is being told to practice the business of mental digestion:  but the trouble is that he has no food to digest.  The modern student, contrary to what is often said, is really being starved for want of facts (pp. 15-17).

Interestingly, just after I read this I attended an orientation meeting at a large university which my daughter will be attending this fall in which the president told the parents that the administration did not want our children simply sitting in the classroom listening to lectures and taking notes.  I’m thinking, however, that there might not be anything wrong with that.  Some knowledge simply needs to be transferred from those who know it to those who don’t.  And there’s not much for the student to work with till he has mastered some basic facts.

Machen’s discussion of pedagogy, of course, had a spiritual end.  His point was that the modern shift in education also reflected a modern shift in Christian doctrine and practice.  Modern liberals did not want to bogged down with doctrinal precision in defining who Jesus is, particularly given that they were dismantling the traditional and confessional view of Jesus.  They preferred the mystical approach.  Just trust Jesus, but don’t bother with controversial attempts to define who he is.  So Machen observes:

The preacher says:  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” But how can a man possibly act on that suggestion, unless he knows what it is to believe (p. 43).

He later adds:

It is perfectly true that faith in a person is more than acceptance of a creed, but the Bible is quite right in holding that it always involved acceptance of a creed.  Confidence in a person is more than intellectual assent to a series of propositions about the person, but it always involves those propositions, and becomes impossible the moment they are denied (p. 48).


Friday, June 03, 2016

The Vision (6.3.15): Made a Gazingstock

Some notes on the exposition of Hebrews 10:32-33 from last Sunday morning's sermon at CRBC:

Hebrews 10:32 But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; 33 Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.

Some people get obsessed with thinking about the past.  They relive their “glory days” in high school or college.  As someone has said, “The key to a good past is often a bad memory.”  If there are unhealthy ways of thinking about the past, however, we must also that there can be healthy and positive ways to consider the past.

Our inspired author here calls upon the wayward Hebrew Christians to consider their previous experiences in the faith:  “But call to remembrance the former days….”  Sometimes it is good to look back and remember what you’ve experienced and to understand how you’ve developed.

One might think the author of Hebrews would have exhorted the Hebrews to think back on times of peace, joy, and tranquility in the faith.  But that is not what he does.  He calls upon them to think back to a time when they experienced hardship and persecution, which had come soon after the time when they learned about Christ (“were illuminated”).

We might think it would be the worst thing for a new Christian to experience hardship and persecution soon after his conversion, but God sometimes allows it in his wisdom for their good.

He describes their persecution in v. 32b by saying, “ye endured a great fight of affliction.”  The word for fight here is athlesis, the root for the English words “athletic” or “athlete.”  It refers to a grueling contest, competition, or struggle.

In v. 33 he adds that these afflictions came in two ways:

First, they came partly by being made a public spectacle (see v. 33a).   The KJV uses the word “gazingstock.”  The word here is a participle coming from the verb theatrizo.  This is the only time this verb occurs in the NT.  It literally means to bring onto the stage, but figuratively means to be made a spectacle or an object of shame.  The related noun theatron is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians to describe the suffering of the apostles:

1 Corinthians 4:9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle [theatron] unto the world, and to angels, and to men.

There are numerous examples in history of Christians having been made “gazingstocks.”

One of our Particular Baptist forebears was Benjamin Keach (1640-1704).  He was converted and baptized as a teenager.  In 1664, when he was only 24 years old, he published an anonymous booklet titled “The Child’s Instructor” in which, among other things, he denied infant baptism.  The booklet fell into the hands of an Anglican minister who discovered Keach was the author and brought charges of sedition against him.  When Keach refused to renounce the teaching in the booklet he was imprisoned and ordered to be pilloried.  To be pilloried was to be bound by the head and arms in something like stocks while a crowd was encouraged to throw items at the victim.  One book says “the usual fare was vegetables, dead animals, and stones,” and many of the pilloried suffered “permanent damage” (Beeke and Pederson, Meet the Puritans, p. 387).  Thankfully, in Keach’s case, the crowd that gathered was sympathetic and he was able to preach to them while bound.  Still, the stand for Biblical truth meant the risk of being made a gazingstock.

When I was a missionary in Hungary, I heard many peers of my generation tell me of being singled out in their schools by teachers and administrators, during the communist times, because they or their parents were believers.

Second, they became companions [koinonoi] of other undergoing affliction (v. 33b).  They did not desert brethren who were suffering for the faith (cf. Matthew 25:40; Acts 9:4).

May the Lord continue to preserve his faithful in this generation.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle