The Westminster Confession of Faith and General Equity

The Westminster Confession of Faith is probably the most prominent of the Reformed confessions. It has stood the test of time providing a biblical framework for theology. I am not sure if its writers knew the impact it would have on the Christian world when it was written. While I substantially hold to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (referred to in this article as the 2LBCF), there is much that can be gleaned from the Westminster Confession of Faith (referred to in this article as the WCF) especially given that my confession is based in part on the WCF. However, these documents are not perfect and were written by mere men requiring us to not hold them to the level of Scripture. I want demonstrate what I see as an inconsistency in the WCF as it relates to the role of the state and what is called “general equity”.

What is “General Equity”

General Equity means that the judicial laws that applied under Old Testament Israel do not apply in the exact same way to states today, but that their moral equivalent applies for today. This concept of “general equity” is laid out in both the WCF and 2LBCF:

To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use.

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith 19.4

To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) 19.4

Both the Westminster divines and the Particular Baptists who framed and adopted the 2LBCF held this idea of “general equity” as it relates to God’s law. An example of this is a quotation from William Perkins (thank you to Dr. Tom Hicks for this quotation):

Judicial laws so far as they have in them the general or common equity of the law of nature are moral and therefore binding in conscience as the moral law

A Discourse on Cases of Conscience in The Whole Works, London, 1631, 1.520

Both were identifying themselves with the Reformed community. However, only one confession was being consistent in its application of general equity: the 2LBCF.

Correct, Yet Inconsistent

Although the WCF does teach the biblical view of general equity, it does not apply that principle consistently. If we go back to the 1646 edition of the WCF, we will see an interesting section as it relates to the magistrate:

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven:(e) yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be. preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed.(f) For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) 23.3

I will note that this is the original WCF and is quite different in this chapter from the American revision done here. This change may have been adopted at or very close to the same time the American Constitution was ratified, conveniently. I’m glad that our Presbyterian brethren are more Baptist than they would probably admit and certainly like to be.

The 1646 edition, though, painted an interesting picture of what the state was to do with its power. It was not to hold the keys of the kingdom nor was it to administer sacraments, but it could punish you for blasphemy, heresy, and abuses of worship. It was to ensure that proper worship was enacted in a land. There is no concept of religious liberty as found among Particular Baptists.

The inconsistency comes where judicial law is applied in a way that is not congruent with general equity. There is a movement beyond the simple application of a “moral” equivalent whereby the framework (at the very least) of the judicial law (s) is applied to the contemporary state. An example of this is in the use of the proof text the WCF used to support the suppression of blasphemy:

And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death.

Leviticus 24:16 (NKJV)

Clearly, at the very least, the divines thought that it was necessary to use capital punishment as it relates to “suppressing” blasphemy in the land. This went hand in hand with ensuring that true teaching is taught in the land and is “proved” through the use of another Old Testament passage:

But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall [a]put away the evil from your midst.

Deuteronomy 13:5 (NKJV)

Again, a judicial law that applied to a particular people (and a particular covenant) is applied to the contemporary state. While there may not be a complete application of the law, there is at the very least (through the use of this passage as a proof text) an application of it beyond general equity (putting to death a false teacher). If 19.4 was held to consistently, there would never have been the usage of judicial laws from Israel being applied to the contemporary state. I think this demonstrates the influence of the times in which the Westminster Assembly found themselves in and the integral nature the Assembly had with Parliament (see From Shadow to Substance The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704) page 109).

Conclusion

There is much we can be thankful for as it relates to the WCF. The 2LBCF would not exist without it and its influence on the Reformed world cannot be understated. But, as with any confession of faith, it is not infallible. With the influence of the cultural setting these men were in, it seems to have led to the inconsistency on their application of general equity and that different from what we find in Reformed thinking. May God continue to Reform His church.

THREE SIMPLE WORDS: Grace, Faith, Regeneration

I want to start out by asking a question. I’m just going to mention three simple words and I want you to put them in chronological order. While contemplating the order in which you believe these words should be placed, I ask you to truly question what the words actually mean. The words are:

1) Grace

2) Faith

3) Regeneration 

If you had to place a chronological order on those three words, what order would you put them in? In my personal experience, most people place them in the order of grace, faith, and then regeneration. The reasoning is that God must first give us grace but then we choose whether to accept His gift before any regeneration can occur. This is a false doctrine that has infiltrated the Church and confused many well intentioned believers; many of whom are not even aware they are confused. While I would never advocate for rejecting your fellow brother or sister in Christ over this, one should still be aware of the depth of this doctrine and how it lays the foundation for the understanding of who God is and what He has done for you. It is my hope that by the end of this article, you will be able to fully (or at least begin to) understand the proper order of these three words.

Grace is completely God’s doing. It is His unmerited favor toward His own and it is the backbone of our salvation. We are saved through grace (Acts 15:11), believe through grace (Acts 18:27), and are justified by grace (Romans 3:24). What a gracious God we serve (Psalm 86:15, Jonah 4:2)! Ephesians 2:8 tells us that we are saved through faith by grace. Grace has to take place before any faith can occur.

And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,

Romans 9:23. NASB

God showered His grace upon us before the foundation of the world. Before anything ever was, He had a plan. Part of that plan was to call the vessels of mercy to Himself. Even while we were still enemies of God, He showed His love for us and lavished us with grace (Romans 5:8, Ephesians 1:8). The fact that grace comes first is not usually the part that confuses people. It is the proper order of faith and regeneration that gets sticky. As I have already stated, this is not the correct order at all.

God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, To see if there is anyone who understands, Who seeks after God. Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.

Psalm 53:2-3, NASB

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

Luke 9:23, NASB

While some claim a conditional statement implies a necessary choice, this is not always so. Oftentimes, as is the case here, it only necessitates a requirement. However, a requirement does not always necessitate an ability to fulfill it.

First of all, it is impossible for one to choose God. Before salvation, we serve the dominion of Satan (Acts 26:18). We are at war with God and hate Him (John 3:20a). Nobody chooses the enemy. Even the most infamous traitors in American history were not serving the enemy. They may have been OUR enemy, but they were not THEIR enemy. Whether it was money, allegiance, or some other common bond, our enemy had become their ally. In the same way, nobody who chooses God is an enemy of God at the time. In order for one to choose God, a change must first occur. There must be a common bond.

Scripture not only tells us we are at war with God, hate God, and belong to Satan, but it also takes it a step further by telling us we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13). Opponents of pre-faith regeneration are forced to take verses such as these and manipulate them to say what they want. Even some of the staunchest literalists have changed these passages to say we are almost dead or are currently in a state of dying. This might sound nice except for one simple fact. It says we are already dead! The dead man does not choose to come back to life. Even Lazarus had no control over when he would be raised from the dead. In fact, Jesus left him there to rot for four days before raising him! Those who are spiritually dead can control when they are raised no more than Lazarus could.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

1 Corinthians 2:14, NASB

We see this verse speaking of the natural man. The natural man is a man of his own desires. He is a man at war with God. He is the unregenerate man bound by the chains of sin who still serves the dominion of Satan. Scripture tells us plainly that this man cannot understand the things of the Spirit. However, the Christian is a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). He is the regenerate man who has been set from the chains of sin. He has turned his eyes to the Light (Acts 26:18). He has been renewed, not on the basis of any righteous deeds we may have done but by the Holy Spirit through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5).

The Holy Spirit does not reside in the natural, unregenerate man. The Holy Spirit resides only in the regenerate. Our bodies are the very dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Having the Holy Spirit is synonymous with being saved. It is utterly impossible for a man to be saved without the Holy Spirit. It is equally as impossible for a man’s body to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit if he has not been regenerated. As a result, there is no way faith can come before regeneration. 

First, the grace of God is poured out to us. This occurred before the foundation of the world. Next, in God’s timing, we are washed anew and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. At this time, we become a new creature in Christ. We now possess the ability to understand the things of the Spirit because the Spirit resides within us. Lastly, faith occurs. It is only after grace and regeneration that one can truly have faith in God. That said, please don’t view this as a mechanical process of “if this, then that,” as that’s not what I’m implying. I am merely reviewing the logical order of salvation. In the practical sense, faith comes at the very moment of regeneration. There are no regenerate unbelievers. This is important to point out as it has been the victim of many a strawman. While we should all be pleading with unbelievers to choose this day whom they will serve (Joshua 24:15), this means the “choice” we made was not of some act of Libertarian Free Will but an irresistible calling of God Almighty, as He had already changed our very nature and desires. I am thankful for this because if it were up to me and my own works/choices, I would be left with nothing but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and a lack of Christ. Soli Deo Gloria!

~ Travis W. Rogers

THEONOMY: A Doctrine of Ignorance and Error

About a year ago, I wrote an article called Theonomy No More. In it, I addressed certain points such as why a theocracy is an unbiblical (and horrible) idea, how it inconsistently applies the threefold division of Law, and how it minimizes the completed work of Christ. Since writing that article, I’ve received multiple comments (some good, some bad) and have observed what appears to be a rising tide of those promoting the position. As a brief follow-up, I want to focus on why theonomy is a doctrine of ignorance and error.

6Some people have strayed from these things and have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

1 Timothy 1:6-7, NASB

When Paul was writing to Timothy, he instructed Timothy to teach sound doctrine and to be careful of those who had turned aside to teach things they knew nothing of. While it may sound harsh, I believe theonomists are committing a similar error. I want to be clear that I do not automatically count a theonomist as a false teacher or heretic. There are many who are dear brothers in our risen Lord. However, the underlying concept and method being employed does share a common vein. They continually make proclamations of Law while understanding nothing of it. In fact, while promoting error, they typically do not even do it with any form of consistency, which I will briefly highlight. While this won’t be an exhaustive refutation of theonomy, my hope is that it will be enough to cause the reader to question it.

Undoubtedly, anyone who has ever encountered a theonomist has likely heard the person employ Matthew 5:17 as the definitive prooftext.

17Do not presume that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter shall pass from the Law, until all is accomplished!

Matthew 5:17-18, NASB

I guess that settles it. If not even the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until heaven and earth pass away, the argument must certainly be over! After all, I’m still here typing this article instead of enjoying eternity with our Lord. Then again, maybe there might be more to the story.

by abolishing in His flesh the hostility, which is the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances,

Ephesians 2:15a, NASB

In this, we are explicitly told Jesus abolished “the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances.” This is just another way of saying the Ceremonial Law has been abolished. The word used for “abolished” is καταργέω (G2673). It carries with it the idea of an external force putting a stop to something. For all my cessationist brethren out there, it’s the same word used in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, where Paul speaks of prophecy and knowledge being done away at the coming of the perfect. This poses quite the dilemma for the theonomist who desires to use Matthew 5:17 in an all-encompassing manner. Clearly, Christ has abrogated, at a minimum, a part of the Law. Therefore, the verse can’t possibly be saying no part of the entirety of the Law (Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial) will be abolished before heaven and earth pass away, as the Ceremonial Law was abrogated in His death, burial, and resurrection. It necessitates and “all or nothing” approach be deemed inadequate and incorrect.

With the Ceremonial Law being out of the picture, that leaves the Moral and Civil Law. While it could very well be that Christ was only referring to those two, with the Ceremonial Law being explicitly removed from the topic at hand, it does open the door to the possibility that another one may be on the chopping block as well. In fact, I will make the assertion that the Civil Law no longer applies either and that we are only bound to the Moral Law. While I believe the the “commandments expressed in ordinances” refers to both the Ceremonial and Civil Law, a case can still be made to one who disagrees.

One thing that must be kept in mind is that the Civil Law was only given to ethnic Israel. It was given for the purpose of preserving a people for the coming Messiah. Even before the Law was given to mankind, God’s Moral Law still existed and sin was still in the world (Romans 5:13). This is because it’s universal law that applies to all of humanity. Unlike the Moral Law, the Civil Law was only given to a specific people for a specific purpose. Not once do we see the early Church calling believers to uphold the Mosaic Civil Law. You can search until your eyes bleed but you won’t be able to find a single verse advocating for it. This is because they were not bound to it. Conversely, we do see Jesus making proclamation that the entirety of the Law rests on God’s Moral Law (Matthew 22:37-39).

At this point, we can see the Moral Law is the foundation of all binding law. We’ve also seen how the Ceremonial Law has been abolished. While there is no single verse that speaks to the abolition of the Civil Law, there is a clear example of who was and was not bound to it. Yet, we are all bound to the Moral Law. Of course, this isn’t to say the Civil Law doesn’t have any virtue to it. As I made clear in last year’s article, I’m not promoting antinomianism. Even the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith recognizes the Civil Law has a certain moral use to it through its general equity. But this does not mean believers are bound to observe it. This is because Christ fulfilled it in His active obedience. Believers are grafted into Him and His fulfilling of the Civil Law. There is only one aspect of the Law that we are now bound to: Moral Law.

Even among those who uphold this position, there tends to be uncertainty. Of course, we’re finite creatures living before an infinite God. Questions are certainly going to pop up. As stated, certain aspects of the Civil Law are helpful when held to the Moral Law. We are to strive for obedience in our duty to God (Commandments 1-4) and our duty to fellow man (Commandments 5-10). In our duty to man, we are not to murder, steal, covet, etc. These are all helpful and beneficial to society. But it does not mean we are to implement abolished Law in order to achieve it. While I may not agree with implementing the Civil Law, I also contend that applying morality to legislation is not synonymous with legislating morality. We can never make the unbeliever righteous by forcing him to obey the Civil Law. In fact, even if he were to follow it perfectly, he would still be unrighteous because it would not be with the motivation of obedience to God. In this case, even his perfectly kept legal standing would be as filthy menstrual rags (Isaiah 64:6). The only way to achieve righteousness is to be in Christ. Nobody in Christ should ever seek to bring back that which He has fulfilled. What we should be doing is seeking to demonstrate our love for Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:15).

We should strive to obey the Moral Law, not out of selfish ambition but out of a love for God. Because we love God and seek to obey His commandments, we apply the second table of the Law to legislation out of a desire to obey the first table, but the first table should not be legislated itself. While the Law does serve as a mirror, the first table should be proclaimed, not legislated. For instance, some may say we should outlaw working on the Sabbath in order to help prevent someone from reaping God’s wrath for practicing a Fourth Commandment violation (Exodus 20:8-10). But this would be no different from outlawing non-Christian places of worship in order to prevent a First Commandment violation (Exodus 20:3). It simply is not what we see prescribed in Scripture. To make an argument to the contrary is to make an argument from silence, while defending error born in ignorance of the Law and what it teaches.

~ Travis W. Rogers

The Provenance and Audience of Galatians

Note: The following is a paper I wrote for a course at CBTS, unedited besides the headers and a few grammatical touch-ups. My prayer is that it will be helpful for those seeking to form a more accurate understanding of the chronology of Paul’s ministry. I also pray it will help form a healthy skepticism of modern theories in biblical studies. This paper will defend the traditional view.

The date, place of composition, and intended recipients of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is a matter of great controversy in Pauline scholarship. The chronological anchors are few, and none so sure as to preclude rival interpretations. This has birthed a variety of opinions, with some defending the Epistle as being Paul’s earliest, latest, and virtually everything in between.[1] Time, place, and audience cannot be treated independently, and the likelihood of a conclusion for one of these factors will determine the likelihood of conclusions concerning the rest. So, to form the most plausible complete picture of the letter’s origin, we will have to analyze three issues in turn: the respective merits of the North and South Galatian hypotheses, the evidence for a pre- or post- Apostolic council date, and the evidence in favor of a specific place of composition. The uncertainty of the evidence forbids dogmatic conclusions, but we will argue that it is overall favorable to the ancient view: North Galatia is the audience, a late post-council date is the time, and Rome is the place of writing.

North or South?

Historically, the view that the South Galatians were the intended recipients of the letter is an anomaly. As one of the great defenders of the South Galatian hypothesis admits, “The ‘North Galatian’ hypothesis held the field almost unchallenged until the eighteenth century.”[2] The reason for the South Galatia theory’s recency is its proposal that the addressed Galatians were not true ethnic Galatians, but rather inhabitants of the Galatia’s southern province beyond where the ethnic people lived. This, coupled with the fact that the cities of South Galatia ceased to be part of the Galatian province within two centuries after the writing of the New Testament, made the notion that Paul was addressing people who merely lived in the rim of the province an unnatural conclusion for most interpreters. Even when 18th Century commentators first began to consider the South Galatian churches as a possible audience, their theories did not exclude the churches of North Galatia initially.[3] Few, after all, would argue that the Epistle’s terms themselves would more naturally refer to South Galatia than to North Galatia; the contemporary argument has been that the terms could also be appropriately used for South Galatian churches. Opponents of the North Galatian hypothesis argue that Paul cannot be referring to the churches of North Galatia because of other considerations beyond the terminology. Those other considerations tie into the arguments for a pre-Apostolic council date and will be dealt with later. We will first concern ourselves with explaining why it would, in fact, be strange for Paul to use the terms he does if he was addressing exclusively non-ethnic Galatians.

There is no evidence that non-ethnic Galatians would have been referred to as “Galatians” or that the biblical writers addressed the southern cities as Galatia, even if it was technically part of the same province. The province did not even have the official name, “Galatia,” but was only popularly called that because the ethnic Galatians formed a large area of it – an area that the churches in the South were excluded from.[4] Outside of the brief and inconclusive reference in 1 Corinthians 16:1, the other biblical references to the Galatia all decidedly point beyond the southern cities to the regions where the ethnic Galatians lived. Peter undoubtedly is including the inhabitants of ethnic Galatia in his first epistle’s greeting when he references it after Pontus and before Cappadocia; both border Galatia’s northern territory (1 Pet. 1:1). In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke mentions Paul’s visiting of Galatia in his second and third missionary journeys and appears to be referring to the ethnic territory (Acts 16:6, 18:23). Many defenders of the South Galatian hypothesis have insisted that Luke could have just as easily been referring to the cities outside of ethnic Galatia, but in context this is unlikely. Luke had already referred to the southern cities of that province multiple times and never referred to them as Galatia; the use of a new name usually implies a new place. In Acts 16, Luke had already referred to Paul visiting some of the very cities proposed to be the subjects of Paul’s Epistle (Lystra and Derbe) before mentioning Paul’s missionary work in Phrygia and Galatia, implying that Galatia was distinct from those cities. His use of Phrygia and Galatia in the same breath in both Acts 16 and Acts 18 also indicates that Luke is not speaking provincially, since Phrygia was not a province. And while it is possible that Luke had a different practice when referring to Galatia than Paul, it is more likely that Paul and his close travelling companion would use similar language when describing the places he visited on his mission trips, especially since Luke probably got the information he records in Acts 16 and 18 from Paul himself. The default conclusion should be that Paul’s nomenclature is consistent with the other biblical writers.

We must also consider the internal evidence that Paul is referring to ethnic Galatians in the Epistle. The very singling out of Galatia as the problem territory suggests both that Paul is not referring to the southern cities of the province and also that the controversy was not contemporaneous with the Judaizing addressed at the Apostolic Council. Luke records that Judaizers spread from Judea itself and then confronted Paul and Barnabas at Antioch (Acts 15:1). There is no indication that it even spread beyond Antioch by the time of the Council, which appears to have occurred soon after it reached Paul’s location. But even if it had reached the cities of South Galatia, it would have travelled there through Cilicia and doubtless would have affected the neighboring cities as well, since the cities of South Galatia had strong commercial and social ties to the regions surrounding it – indeed, more so than they did to the ethnic Galatians north of them. The problem would not have disappeared from Antioch either; the persistence of the problem at Antioch was the very reason Paul was sent to meet with the Apostles at Jerusalem. What reason, then, would there have been to single out the churches of South Galatia when they would have merely been one of the many regions assaulted by the heresy? The targeting of South Galatia becomes especially unaccountable when we consider that a frequently suggested place of Paul’s writing is Antioch itself, which – as we have said – would have been battered by the heresy at the proposed time of Paul’s writing. And even if one were to suggest that Paul was writing to the South Galatians at a later date (a rare view), the close connection to neighboring cities and churches make it difficult to imagine that such a heresy would ever be the peculiar problem of their churches. The singling out of churches in Galatia would suggest that the more isolated, backwater churches of ethnic Galatia are in view, because a truly local problem is considerably more likely to emerge in such a community. A more isolated audience also better comports with Paul’s perplexity about the culprits. He asks, “who hath bewitched you” (Gal. 3:1) and “who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” (Gal. 5:7), and says of the instigator, “he that troubleth you shall bear his judgement, whosoever he be” (Gal. 5:10). This perplexity better fits a problem that peculiarly sprung up, rather than the situation in Acts 15 where there is no mystery – those agitators came from Judaea.

Lastly, even if it would have been excusable for Paul to refer to the churches of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe as “churches of Galatia,” would it have been appropriate for him to call them “foolish Galatians” if they were not part of the Galatian people? Is there any precedent in referring to non-ethnic Galatians as “Galatians” either in Scripture or any other works of antiquity? The Galatians were viewed as fickle and barbarous descendants of the ancient Celts, and the inhabitants of Lystra and Derbe would have surely shuddered to identify with them. Reymond responds to this objection by asking, “What other single term could Paul have used which would have more accurately covered all of the churches he founded on his first missionary journey if he had wanted to write a letter to all of them?”[5] But we reply by asking, “Why not simply ‘fools,’ instead of ‘foolish Galatians’?” It is no less strange to call them such an unfitting name simply because there is no good umbrella term for them. The very absence of a fitting alternative simply reinforces the point we have already made – the cities of South Galatia were not distinct enough from their neighbors to warrant a special name, which decreases the likelihood that there was a theological issue peculiar to their churches.

Pre- or Post-Council?

            Again, the South Galatian hypothesis is not so much fueled by the Galatian terminology itself, but by other considerations that would make an ethnic Galatian audience extremely unlikely. Those considerations stem from an insistence that the Epistle had to have been written before the Apostolic Council. If it was written before the Council, then the North Galatian hypothesis runs into the difficulty that there is no hint that Paul had gone to churches in that region yet, and it is unlikely that the Judaizer controversy would have extended that far by this point (as we have argued, though, the early date creates similar problems for the South Galatian hypothesis, too; it would merely be somewhat less difficult with a pre-Council date). We have already laid out evidence for a post-council date through the arguments in favor of an ethnic Galatian audience – whose churches appear to have formed in Paul’s second missionary journey – and through our argument that the Galatian controversy does not likely coincide with the controversy in Acts 15. But we must still reckon with the problems that South Galatian advocates insist are created by a post-Council date.

            One problem alleged by such a dating is that, if we agree with the South Galatian advocates that Galatians 2:1-10 refers to Paul’s famine relief visit, it is inexplicable that Paul does not mention the Apostolic Council of Acts 15. But if we believe that Galatians 2:1-10 is a reference to the Apostolic Council (as most North Galatian advocates do), then we run into the problem of Paul not mentioning the famine relief visit when his argument depends on referencing all previous trips to Jerusalem, and then there is still the problem of Paul not incorporating the Apostolic decree into his argument, which we are told would have been a powerful tool in the controversy. The only solution, they contend, is that the Epistle was written before the Apostolic Council.

            But we will contend that these alleged difficulties hang on a misunderstanding of Paul’s arguments in the first two chapters, and that the preponderance of evidence supports Galatians 2:1-10 being a reference to the Apostolic Council, not the famine relief visit. There are great chronological difficulties created by the insistence that Galatians 2:1-10 is a reference to the famine relief visit of Acts 11-12. The first issue is an unnatural interpretation of Galatians 2:1, when Paul says, “Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem…” To make this line up with their chronology, they insist that “fourteen years after” is referring to fourteen years after Paul’s conversion described in Galatians 1:16, rather than the more immediate chronological event of the first visit to Jerusalem described in Galatians 1:18. While it is possible that the event in verse 16 – as the pivotal moment – is the starting point of all Paul’s later chronological reckoning, it is normative that listings of durations pile on sequentially and have the most immediate event as the starting point of the next calculation. This is especially likely in this case because Paul does not simply say that he went up to Jerusalem after fourteen years, but that he went up “again” (παλιν) to Jerusalem, which tells us that he has his first visit to Jerusalem immediately in mind when he makes this statement. It is, therefore, the most obvious place to begin calculating the fourteen years.

            But this is not the only chronological difficulty of equating Galatians 2:1-10 with the relief visit. Even if we considered the fourteen years as being reckoned from Paul’s conversion, that would still place the famine relief visit at approximately 46 AD. The problem with this is that the death of Herod Agrippa – which Josephus fixes as having taken place after Claudius Caesar reigned three years[6] – occurred in 44 AD. But Acts 12 indicates that Herod was still alive at the time of the famine relief visit, only dying sometime after Peter’s miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12:20-23). Sensitive to this issue, defenders of the South Galatian hypothesis fix on the words of Acts 12:1, which describe the incident with Herod occurring “about that time [of the famine relief visit],” so it could have been somewhat before it. But to put it at least two years beforehand stretches credulity; the narrative strongly suggests that the events of Acts 12 overlap with the famine relief visit, because Paul and Barnabas are depicted as departing for Jerusalem immediately before Acts 12 and then are described as returning from that visit right after Luke finishes telling us about the events of Peter and Herod. It would be bizarre for Luke to sandwich his telling of Acts 12 in between his brief, five verse description of the famine relief visit if those events had no chronological overlap.

            Much more parsimonious is the view that Galatians 2:1-10 depicts events surrounding the Apostolic Council. Using the more natural way of chronological reckoning, we are left with Paul telling us that those events occurred 17 years after his conversion, which perfectly accords with the standard dating of the council around 49-50 AD. Furthermore, the principal events of this section correspond perfectly with what occurred at the time of the Council but are nowhere hinted at during the famine relief visit. On the contrary, Acts 15 presents the controversy as erupting for the first time then, beginning with men from Judaea coming down to teach the brethren while Paul is at Antioch and then having the controversy emerge again at Jerusalem. The “much disputing” at the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:7) and the need for an Apostolic verdict does not comport well with the notion that the chief Apostles already stood against such Judaizers three years earlier, but we would have to believe that if we accepted the episode in Galatians 2:1-10 to be the famine relief visit. The only superficial similarity with the famine relief visit is Paul’s statement that he went to Jerusalem by revelation (Gal. 2:2), which South Galatia advocates interpret as a reference to Agabus’ prophecy of the famine (Acts 11:28). But this in no way precludes Paul from having received a revelatory command from the Lord to go to Jerusalem in Acts 15 and then – after bringing the matter to elders at Antioch – being sent out with the other brethren as described in Acts 15:2 on account of the controversy. It is unreasonable to allow this single detail to cause us to identify Galatians 2:1-10 with an episode that otherwise has no described resemblance to it.

            But if Galatians 2:1-10 references the Apostolic Council, why does Paul not mention the famine relief visit? Critics argue that it would have been necessary to do so, because the point of Galatians 1:11-24 was to prove that Paul had a divinely given message, and that he had not received his commission even from the other Apostles. Therefore, he would have needed to list all his visits to Jerusalem to vindicate his true apostleship. But this is a non sequitur; Paul sufficiently demonstrated the divine nature of his apostleship by retelling how he was converted directly by God and did not so much as see any Apostle until three years afterwards – and even then, he saw just two of them for no more than fifteen days, which is hardly enough time to be mentored. Nor did he linger in Judaea; he immediately left for Syria and Cilicia where his ministry grew enough in reputation that those in Judaea glorified God because of him. The fact that Paul’s ministry was established before he had virtually any contact with the Apostles or disciples in Judaea (with even that contact not being until three years after his conversion) is all the proof he needed to give that his message was independently given to him from God, not from man. He had no need to mention a famine relief visit eleven years after his conversion because his ministry was well known by that time and had been vindicated as independently established. The visit could neither support nor detract from the verified independence of his apostleship and would have thus been completely irrelevant to his argument. The only way it could have been relevant is if – like the Acts 15 visit – it helped to vindicate the supernatural nature of his ministry, which is what he endeavors to prove in the first two chapters. The Acts 15 visit did this because he had an opportunity to meet with the pillars of the Church and hear that they preached the same gospel that he did. That the living disciples of Christ preached the same message he received by direct revelation was a powerful testimony to the legitimacy of his apostleship. But when he went to Jerusalem during the famine relief visit, the church there was experiencing the Herodian persecution, and the primary targets (the Apostles) likely were not accessible – Peter, for example, may have been in prison for part of the visit. There is no hint in Acts that Paul met any of the Apostles during the famine relief visit, which is understandable given the circumstances.

            The other difficulty alleged by South Galatia advocates is Paul not explicitly mentioning the Apostolic Council’s decree. In the eyes of some, its absence from a post-Council Galatians would be so inexplicable that it would threaten to undermine the inerrancy of Scripture altogether. Longenecker writes, “Paul’s silence in Galatians regarding the decision of the Jerusalem Council forces the irreconcilable dilemma of declaring that either (1) the Acts account of the Council and its decision in Acts 15 is pure fabrication, or (2) the letter to the Galatians was written prior to the Council.”[7] According to him, the decision is “the coup de grâce to the whole conflict,” and it is inconceivable Paul would have not mentioned it if he was aware of it.[8]

            But with all due respect, to call the decision of a council the coup de grâce when Paul spends much of the first two chapters treating the authority of men – indeed, even the authority of Apostles and angels – as utterly inferior to the divine revelation of the gospel is to entirely miss the point. Paul does not finish his greeting without stressing the divine authority behind his apostleship and message, saying he is not an apostle “of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1). He goes on to say that even if he (an Apostle with apostolic authority) were to preach another gospel, he should be accursed (Gal. 1:9), because his gospel “is not after man” (Gal. 1:11) but given directly by the risen Lord Himself (Gal. 1:12). Paul tells us that the authority of the Apostles makes no difference to him when it comes to this issue (Gal. 2:6), and he is perfectly willing to oppose Peter, the chief of the Apostles, “to the face” (Gal. 2:11) when his practice contradicted the truth of the gospel. Paul does not bring up his encounter with the Apostles at the time of the council for the sake of their authority – he goes out of his way to deny that his message depends on such authority; rather, he brings it up because the episode vindicated the supernatural character of his gospel. If the living disciples preached the same gospel that he received independently through revelation, this demonstrates that Paul’s experience was by no means a hallucination; it was a supernatural revelation possessing divine authority. Paul’s point is that the Galatians are striving against God, not man. If Paul were to appeal to the authority of a council against the Galatian heretics, it would effectively undermine all his previous statements about not depending on such authority, and worse, it would make him seem insecure about his message’s divine origin by implying that it needed the authority of others after all. Paul would show no such timidity. The coup de grâce against the Galatian heretics would not be the decision of the council, but the divine testimony that “if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Gal. 2:21).

            Space prohibits us from addressing every objection against a post-Apostolic Council date, but the above deals with the most major two. We will turn to considering the question of its place of origin. Our answer will depend on what we have already established as well as the consideration of a new piece of rarely consulted evidence: the colophons.

Place of Origin

            If one owns an older printing of the Bible, he will likely find the words, “Unto the Galatians written from Rome,” appended to the end of the Epistle. This is known as a colophon (or subscription) and can be found in virtually all English translations before the 20th Century in the Pauline letters, as well as the common foreign translations from the same period, like the Luther Bible. They are, however, lacking in the vast majority of modern translations as well as many modern printings of the King James Version, such as those put out by Thomas Nelson and Christian Art Publishers. What are we to make of these colophons? Where did they come from, and why do many contemporary Bibles not have them? These questions are intensely relevant to our subject, because if the Galatian colophon has credibility, it would make an early dating of Galatians impossible and render it as one of the latest of Paul’s epistles.

            The presence of the colophons in vernacular translations since the time of the Reformation is a direct result of their presence in the Greek texts they are based on.  Every Greek printing of what is commonly known as the Textus Receptus has them, including all the editions by Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevir brothers.[9] Nor were they invented at the time of the Reformation; these colophons can be found in the majority of Greek manuscripts. They are included in many ancient copies, such as Codex Vaticanus,[10] and are there in truncated form in some other manuscripts, like Codex Sinaiticus.[11] Besides their presence in the Greek manuscripts, the colophons can also be found in the early vernacular translations, such as the two Syriac versions and the Coptic.[12] And while they are not found in the important witness of P46,[13] their presence in the manuscript tradition is much stronger than many variants noted in NA28, which makes the absence of any mention there conspicuous. It appears that their near complete disappearance from modern Bibles stems from more internal considerations than the manuscript tradition. Even the Trinitarian Bible Society – which is committed to printing the Textus Receptus and Bibles that derive from it – does not include the colophons found in all the Textus Receptus’ editions in its products.[14] Their rationale is not primarily based on manuscript evidence, but on the alleged unreliability of the colophons, which seems to be the chief basis for their removal from other modern editions.

            We will immediately concede that the colophons were almost certainly not part of the text when Paul first penned his epistles. They are clearly distinct from the main body of the text and indicate that they reflect on the letters sometime after their original compositions. Proof of this can be seen in the colophons of those pairs of epistles written to the same churches or people. For example, First Corinthians reads, “The first epistle to the Corinthians was written from Philippi by Stephanas, and Fortunatus, and Achaicus, and Timotheus” (1 Cor. 16:24). The colophons of Romans, Galatians, Philippians, etc. do not refer to them as the “first” epistles to those churches, which indicates that the author of the colophons knew there was only one epistle for each of those, but that First Corinthians would be followed by another inspired text. The case of First Corinthians is especially telling, because it is not the first epistle Paul wrote to them (1 Cor. 5:9), but only the first inspired one. While it is possible that Paul had a supernatural revelation that he would write further inspired epistles in such cases and that those were the first of the inspired ones, it is more natural to take them as subscriptions that were added at a later date. This would meant that the letters had already been circulating before the addition of the colophons, which would explain why some manuscripts either do not contain them or have truncated versions of them.

However, just because the colophons are not original to the letters does not immediately rule out their authority. It could be that, before his execution, Paul desired to make certain details about his inspired letters’ respective origins known. We know that he was allowed to continue writing well into his second imprisonment, writing to Timothy to bring him books and parchments (2 Tim. 4:13), so this is not an impossibility. And even if they do not originate with the Apostle or bear any sort of apostolic authority, at the very least they are our earliest historical witnesses to the origins of Paul’s epistles. The very fact that they appear only in Paul’s epistle testifies that they were not added after it was common to compile full Bibles, but rather emerged around the time when collections like P46 were popular. This is reinforced by the appearance of the colophons in the Syriac and Coptic versions (many scholars argue that the Peshitta Syriac dates as early as the 2nd Century[15]). While some may argue that certain variants of the colophons appeared later, it is difficult to date their general appearance after the 2nd Century. Space precludes us from considering all the objections levied against the accuracy of many of the colophons, but this is not necessary anyways; even if some proved to be inaccurate in certain details, this does not negate the potential accuracy of the others or their general reliability. Nor does it take away their standing as our earliest witnesses, therefore making each of them worth consideration.

Because of their antiquity, and because they have come to dominate the manuscript tradition by God’s providence to the point where they are contained in all Reformation-era Greek texts, we consider the colophons innocent until proven guilty. They are clearly distinct from the main body of Paul’s epistles and so we do not claim that they have the same authority or are theopneustos. We do, however, judge that theories of any letter’s origin that match with the witness of the colophons have a significant support that other theories cannot claim. We also find that the colophon’s assertion that the Epistle was written from Rome harmonizes well with several other facts about the letter. Dating the letter around the time of the first Roman imprisonment would make it about ten years after Paul first began church planting in Galatia. Some have viewed this as a great weakness of a Roman provenance because of Paul’s marveling that the Galatians had “so soon” fallen away from his gospel (Gal. 1:6), but we believe this later date is actually a more realistic appraisal of the evidence. As Lightfoot astutely observes, “The rapidity of a change is measured by the importance of the interests at stake. A period of five or ten years would be a brief term of existence for a constitution or a dynasty. A people which threw off its allegiance to either within so short a time, might well be called fickle.”[16] When the interest at stake is submission to the King of the Universe through obedience to His gospel, ten years is very soon indeed to go from enthusiastic subjects to rebels. When we look at some Christian writers over a hundred years after the Apostles, we often marvel how quickly many went astray from the pure teaching of the primitive Church. How much sooner, then, would it be for the Galatians to have departed from the true gospel only ten years after they began to hear it, when the Apostle who preached it to them was still alive? The language of “soon” is perfectly appropriate. And we will turn the tables – the other language Paul uses in the letter is not so appropriate for a date significantly earlier than what we propose. His language does not suggest that the Galatians had simply been introduced to the gospel at this point, but that they had some measure of success and fruit by this point, increasing the Apostle’s bewilderment. He says, after all, that they had “run well” (Gal. 5:7). Therefore, our chronologies must not only leave enough room for a sizeable number of Galatians to fall away, but also enough time for the gospel to spread, discipleship to occur, and for fruit to be produced. It is unlikely that this could have occurred by the incredibly early date of 49 AD, but it is plausible for a date in the early sixties.

            Additionally, there are a few hints in the letter that Paul may be writing during or slightly after his Roman imprisonment. He says, “From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). The “marks” could easily be a reference to his imprisonment at Rome. In our estimation, though, the more significant part of this verse for our purposes is the first part, when he says, “From henceforth let no man trouble me.” He certainly did allow himself to be troubled afterwards if this is his earliest Epistle – he would go on to deal with the theological and practical problems of Thessalonica and Corinth! But if this were written late in his imprisonment or slightly after, all his polemical letters would have already been written, making this statement more explicable than it would be under alternative theories. If written in the sixties, the statement could be taken in a more natural sense: Paul is experiencing persecutions and senses his ministry is almost over, and therefore he can no longer be troubled with such matters. He would confine himself to little more than personal correspondence after this Epistle.

Conclusion

            Unless one were to accept the colophons as inspired, we have no canonical declaration concerning the place, audience, and date of composition for Galatians. We can, therefore, make no dogmatic conclusions. But not only are there no insuperable arguments for departing from the ancient view championed by the colophons, our research has suggested that there are good reasons for favoring it. We advocate, therefore, the traditional understanding that the Epistle was written to the North Galatians from Rome approximately 30 years after the resurrection of our Lord.


[1] J.B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Andover, MA: Warren F. Draper, 1870), 42.

[2] F.F. Bruce, “Galatian problems. 2. North or South Galatians?” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 52 (1969-70): 247, accessed April 21, 2021, https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/api/datastream?publicationPid=uk-ac-man-scw:1m2967&datastreamId=POST-PEER-REVIEW-PUBLISHERS-DOCUMENT.PDF.

[3] Bruce, “Galatian problems. 2. North or South Galatians?” 249.

[4] Robert L. Reymond, Paul, Missionary Theologian. (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 107. Logos

[5] Reymond, Paul, Missionary Theologian, 107.

[6] Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 19.8.2, accessed April 21, 2021, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2848/2848-h/2848-h.htm#link192HCH0008

[7] Richard N. Longenecker, The Ministry and Message of Paul, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 48.

[8] Ibid, 49.

[9] “Parallel Bible: Galatians – Chapter: 6,” Textus Receptus Bibles, accessed April 20, 2021, http://textusreceptusbibles.com/Parallel/48006001/BEZA/TRS/ELZEVIR.

[10]  Codex Vaticanus, Vatican Library, accessed April 20, 2021, https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Vat.gr.1209#, 1493.

[11]   Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Sinaiticus,accessed April 20, 2021, https://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/manuscript.aspx?book=40&chapter=6&lid=en&side=r&verse=18&zoomSlider=0, 84 f4v.

[12] Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, 43.

[13] Papyrus 46, Institut für Neutestamentliche Textfurschung, accessed April 21, 2021, http://ntvmr.uni-muenster.de/manuscript-workspace, 1530 (086r).

[14] M. H. Watts, “Subscriptions to the Epistles, Trinitarian Bible Society, accessed April 21, 2021, https://www.tbsbibles.org/page/Subscriptions?&hhsearchterms=%22subscription%22

[15] Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended, 5th ed. ( Des Moines, OR: Christian Research Press, 2006), 156.

[16] Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, 48.

EVANGELISM: Whose Job Is It?

EVANGELISM. It’s a topic many people enjoy hearing about. It’s one of those subjects that makes us feel encouraged as we listen to the stories. It makes us feel thankful for all the faithful Christians who are working to further advance the kingdom of God. Unfortunately, too few of us will go beyond this. When confronted with an opportunity, we make excuses as to why we shouldn’t bother anybody. We may become nervous and try to avoid any awkward moments. We may become afraid of how the other person will respond. Then again, maybe it’s because we simply don’t understand what evangelism is really all about. It’s my hope that, as we dive into the Scripture, we can unpack what it teaches on the subject and then apply it to our lives.

The word translated as “evangelist” is only used only three times in all of the New Testament and literally means “a bringer of good tidings”. The three passages it can be found in are Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; & 2 Timothy 4:5.

On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him.

Acts 21:8

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,

Ephesians 4:11

But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:5

Based on Ephesians, we can clearly see this is an important and distinctive role given from God, just as were apostles, prophets, and, presently, pastors and teachers. In Acts, we see Phillip is described as the evangelist. Notice the definite article. There was no confusion that Phillip was given this particular role by God for the purpose of equipping the saints and building up the body of Christ. Interestingly enough, in all of Scripture, Phillip is the only person who is personally identified as being an evangelist in the official sense (chapter 8 of Acts covers some of his works as an evangelist). The closest other spot we come is the passage in 2 Timothy.

If I were to make the statement that not all people are called to be pastors, I’m fairly certain there would be unanimous approval from everyone reading this. What about teachers? Aren’t we warned that not many should become one (James 3:1)? Considering pastors and teachers are official roles, does it stand to reason that not all are called to fill the official role of evangelist? I would say this is a valid statement. So, does this exempt Christians from evangelism? Does it exempt those Christians who do not fill the official role of teacher from going out and teaching others? Not at all! Look again at 2 Timothy 4:5. Notice that Paul is not actually referring to Timothy as an evangelist. Though the same word is being used here, we can see it is only being used as a reference point. Paul is not saying Timothy is filling the role of evangelist. He’s telling him he needs to do the work of an evangelist. Timothy was called to do a great many things though filling the official role of evangelist was not one of them. Some are spiritually gifted in specific ways and God places those people in unique positions. Pastors and teachers fit that bill as well. Evangelists are no different. That being said, there was no confusion that he was to perform the duties of evangelism nonetheless.

To further drive home this point, we need to look at another word. Whereas the word translated as “evangelist” is used only three times in the New Testament, its root word is used 55 times and is translated multiple ways. It is translated as “preach” 23 times, “preach the Gospel” 22 times, “bring good tidings” 2 times, and other methods another 8 times. The very foundation of the word is clearly one of great importance. In fact, without it, we can’t even accomplish the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

Though not all are called to be teachers, all Christians are called to teach to some degree. Christ Himself has commanded it! So how are we to accomplish this? How do we make disciples of all nations? How can we make disciples of all nations unless they first hear the good news (Romans 10:14)? How is this accomplished? Through evangelism (Romans 10:15)!

The word translated as “bring good news” is none other than the root of evangelist. I love how the KJV words it: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” It actually uses the same Greek word twice in the one sentence. Though some have the supernatural gift of evangelism so that they may fill the specific role, God has told us He counts it as a beautiful thing when His own share His gospel with the lost. Perhaps many can relate to Danny Akin when he says, “I don’t have the gift but I do have the responsibility.

Sadly, evangelism has steadily been reduced to the other guy’s job. It’s taken a back seat to the struggles of daily life and the already tight time constraints. As the bride of Christ, my fear is that we’ve simply lost our evangelistic fervor. How can this be when Scripture tells us the very souls of men are at stake? I love the way Charles Spurgeon had a zeal for evangelism. He understood God’s sovereignty yet he also understood God’s natural method for bringing new saints to Himself. Spurgeon said, “We believe in predestination; we believe in election and non-election: but, notwithstanding that, we believe that we must preach to men, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and ye shall be saved,’ but believe not on him and ye be damned.”

We, as Christians, have a duty to proclaim Christ crucified. We have a duty to evangelize to the lost. To some, it comes easy. To others, it is a work and a chore. Regardless, we are all called to perform this work just as Paul charged Timothy. After all, it isn’t called work without good reason. It may not always be easy but it is always critically important. John MacArthur makes a very valid point regarding the method of evangelism. He states, “It is also important to note that the purpose of evangelism — whether by an ordinary Christian to a neighbor, by a pastor to the unsaved in his congregation, or by an evangelist to the general public — is to carefully but simply help unbelievers become aware of their sinfulness and lostness and to proclaim Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Lord. Any human manipulation in that process, no matter how well intentioned, always becomes a barrier to genuine belief.

In John 4, we see this was the method Christ used in evangelizing to the Samaritan woman at the well. While speaking to her of living water and never thirsting, he also made it abundantly clear that she was living in a life of sin. This was done by pointing out how she was living with another man out of wedlock as well as what were likely multiple previous marriages. There was no promise of health, wealth, and prosperity. There was no sinner’s prayer. It was a clear cut method of lovingly pointing out her desperate need for a Savior while telling her the way to eternal life. Psalm 90:8 says, “You have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.” There will come a day when the unsaved will hear of their inability to save themselves. Would you rather they hear it from you first or from God Himself on the Day of Judgment?

To take another look at Spurgeon’s example, he took this approach quite often. He was not afraid of how others would respond. He was more concerned with how God would judge. In his sermon, “Compel Them to Come In,” regarding those who simply feel they cannot believe or perhaps find it to be an inconvenient time, he stated, “No, my friend, and you never will believe if you look first at your believing. Remember, I am not come to invite you to faith, but am come to invite you to Christ….Our first business has not to do with faith, but with Christ. Come, I beseech you, on Calvary’s mount, and see the cross. Behold the Son of God, He who made the heavens and the earth, dying for your sins. Look to Him, is there not power in Him to save? But did I hear you whisper that this was not a convenient time? Then what must I say to you? When will that convenient time come? Shall it come when you are in hell? Will that time be convenient? Shall it come when you are on your dying bed, and the death throttle is in your throat — shall it come then? Or when the burning sweat is scalding your brow; and then again, when the cold clammy sweat is there, shall those be convenient times? When pains are racking you, and you are on the borders of the tomb? No, sir, this morning is the convenient time.

It’s this kind of passion that needs to be rekindled in the church. Under the oversight of the elders of a local church (and not divorced from it as a solo project), we need to recover our heart for the lost. Then, we need to take action and evangelize. Sadly, this problem isn’t new to our culture. In fact, Jesus himself addressed the situation and even gave the remedy.

Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Matthew 9:37-38, NASB

I once attended a 9Marks conference where it was proclaimed that “no church is accidentally evangelical. It must be intentional.” If we are met with resistance, it shouldn’t discourage us. After all, we aren’t saving anybody. We’re simply going fishing (Matthew 4:19). God does all the work in salvation but He has commanded us to preach His word to the lost so that He might then follow through and perform His miraculous work. Trust that God is in control and remain faithful. As the old hymn says, “Trust and obey.” Evangelism shouldn’t be the arduous duty that this day and age makes it out to be. It doesn’t need to be feared nor should it be limited to weekly church events where there’s safety in numbers. Evangelism is a joyful privilege that encompasses our entire lives. It’s an opportunity to preach Christ crucified and extend the offer of eternal life to all who will believe. Is there no sweeter encouragement? Sadly, not all will see the glory of Heaven but, rest assured that not a single one of God’s elect will see the fires of Hell.

Closing with one final quote from Spurgeon, “That is why we preach! If there are so many fish to be taken into the net, I will go and catch some of them. Because many are ordained to be caught, I spread my nets with eager expectation. I never could see why that should repress our zealous efforts. It seems to me to be the very thing that should awaken us to energy — that God has a people, and that these people shall be brought in. When I cease to preach salvation by faith in Jesus, put me into a lunatic asylum, for you may be sure that my mind is gone.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Lessons Learned From the Thomas Collier Incident

The Particular Baptists were not strangers to controversy. One of, if not their biggest, disagreements with the establishment around them was on the issue of infant baptism. They were distinct in that they generally argued against it from the perspective of covenant theology (see Sam Renihan’s book, From Shadow to Substance). Although they agreed with Reformed orthodoxy on many things, they would not capitulate to the Church of England nor to their Puritan brothers, whom they identified with as Separatists. Controversy not only found itself from the outside, but also from within. The Particular Baptists, beginning in the 1640s, were faced with a substantial threat from a prominent and active member among them: Thomas Collier.

Historical Background

Thomas Collier was not a fringe or silent member of the Particular Baptists. He was quite active and, “served as a chaplain, pastor, evangelist, church planter, and associational leader in the west. Over the span of his long ministry, Collier covered considerable territory, geographically and theologically.” (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 174) Just because a man is in this position does not mean error will not follow, although one would think he would have the spiritual maturity to avoid the heresies he would espouse. But espouse heresy he did. In the 1640s and into the 1670s he was teaching heresy. Renihan gives us a picture of his teachings:

…Collier published heretical expressions regarding the trinity, denying the distinction of the persons…In 1674, Collier boldly placed himself outside the boundaries of Protestant orthodoxy in a book entitled The Body of Divinity. Two years later he espoused heterodoxy even more explicitly in his Additional Word to the Body of Divinity. Among other things, he taught that God exists in a “increated” heavens, that Christ died for the universe, that man is able to believe the gospel of his own power, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, that believers could lose their salvation, that salvation remained possible after death, and other heresies regarding the hypostatic union of the Mediator, Jesus Christ, asserting that God the Son was a creature.”

Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 174-175

In other words, Collier was attacking the biblical teachings of the church. These deviations went to the heart of the Christian, let alone Particular Baptist, faith. This was not just about baptism or who the members of the new covenant were anymore. This was a fight for the faith itself. And the response of the Particular Baptists was one that needed to be proportionate to the teachings brought against them. Given he was no small fish in the Particular Baptist pond, this problem had to be dealt with quickly. And try they did.

A prolific author and active church-planter, Collier’s open and published embrace of heresy could not go unanswered. In fact, regional pastors and some of the members of the church in Southwick where Collier was pastoring took notice and requested help from London leaders in order to deal with his deviations.

Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 175

Collier was addressed by Nehemiah Coxe, William Kiffen, and others, although there was no repentance on the part of the heretic. “…it was clear that Collier had no intention of changing his mind or putting down his pen on the matter.” (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 178)

In response to the beliefs of Mr. Collier, and to distance themselves from him, what would come to be known as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith would be published (it was originally called A Confession of Faith put forth by the Elders and Brethren of many congregations of Christians (Baptized upon profession of their faith) in London and the country).

In fact, the Confession was published the same month (August of 1677) that elders from London and Bristol were declaring Collier a heretic (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 178).

Lessons Learned

While there are probably many things that could be learned from the Collier incident, there are three items that can be gleaned.

  1. Sound doctrine is crucial to eternal life. This should seem rather obvious but it is good to re-iterate. What you believe will impact how you live especially as it relates to what we believe about God, His Word, and the Gospel. With the Gospel in particular, Paul was adamant about ensuring it was taught, and if another “Gospel” was taught, those who espoused it were damned to hell (Galatians 1:8). What Collier taught was against orthodoxy and ultimately went to the heart of the faith. Who God is, salvation, who Christ is, all these things were taught in a way that could not be reconciled with the Christian faith and really led to another Gospel, thereby securing him as a heretic.
  2. Having association with other like minded churches can be very helpful. While associationalism is not commanded in the Scriptures, it is a very helpful way for churches to support one another. We see this clearly in the Collier incident. Churches worked together to try to stamp out Collier as he made a stink among the brethren with his heresies. This strong associationalism can allow other knowledgeable brethren to deal with issues in other churches without being authoritative over a local church or substantially interfering in their affairs.
  3. Properly defining what we believe is very important. The 2nd LBCF coming out of this incident with Collier showed how important it was to clearly define what orthodox doctrine is and what the Particular Baptists believed. The Particular Baptists did not want to be associated with Collier in any way and wanted to ensure that there was no confusion in what “real” Particular Baptist theology was. This Confession was that official response. Properly defining as a church what is believed in said church is crucial. The Reformed were very careful to define their beliefs and were not casual or lazy in how they defined core orthodoxy. This meant that substantial time had to be given to their expositions and defenses, but it meant they could clearly define who they were as opposed to those around them, namely Rome (although the Particular Baptists were primarily dealing with the Church of England, Presbyterians, Independents, and Anabaptists, but there may be more). We need to clearly define what we believe and use this to take a stand against heterodoxy.

Conclusion

Collier is by no means an isolated incident in false teaching creeping into the church. The church has constantly been dealing with false teaching in one way or another and it was no different for the Particular Baptists. Their commitment to Biblical truth was what guided them through this difficult time and the Lord ultimately united them in it. May we have the strength and passion for truth as the Particular Baptists.

THE WRATH OF GOD: Eternal or Temporary?

WEEPING AND GNASHING. If you’re a Christian, this phrase should mean more to you than merely what happens when your team loses the Super Bowl. The idea of weeping and gnashing of teeth is meant to fill one with dread over the terrors of hell. By the grace of God, He chose to save me from such a final destination so that I love Him and glorify Him forever in worship. Just as a recognition of our depravity should wake us up to the need of a Savior, the knowledge of hell should drive our praises of His lovingkindness and mercy. So what does that make of those who deny the eternal torment of unbelievers? For starters, it minimizes what they have to be thankful for. Instead of being thankful for salvation from eternal misery, they can only be thankful that they get to partake in eternal worship. But will those who end up having their souls destroyed really care in the end? Obviously not.

I recently had a very short discussion with someone who was promoting the idea of the total annihilation of the soul. He felt like eternal torment was outside of God’s character. After all, how could a God of love be willing to torment anyone for all of eternity? Such a perspective is severely lacking in the understanding of the very thing they seek to question: God’s character. While God is indeed a God of love, He is also a just God who has repeatedly stated that He will pour out His wrath in judgment. The person just couldn’t wrap his mind around God tormenting people for eternity. He felt such a view was unbiblical and an affront to God. To justify his position, he used Matthew 10:28 which says:

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 20:28, NASB

While I was able to see why that verse, if isolated from the rest of Scripture, could be interpreted in that way, to do so requires a very low view of Scripture and is lazy. Aside from lazy study habits, such an interpretation places the emphasis on the wrong word. Instead of emphasizing DESTROY, it should emphasize COULD. The verse in Matthew isn’t saying God will destroy the souls of unbelievers. The context is about the power of God. But just because God CAN do something, doesn’t mean He WILL do it.

There are plenty of places in Scripture that speak of eternal torment in Hell. The common theme is that there is eternal destruction (1 Thessalonians 1:9) in an eternal fire (Matthew 25:41) that cannot be quenched (Matthew 3:12). While believers will enjoy everlasting life, unbelievers will face everlasting contempt (Daniel 2:12) through eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46). The smoke of their torment shall go up (Revelation 14:11) and they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).

Or we can just believe God is lying to us and that He’ll actually just annihilate the souls of unbelievers and let them find their peace. After all, that’s exactly what it would amount to. Upon final judgment, those who reject Christ would now find their peace in annihilation. While believers get to glorify God forever, it’s not like unbelievers are really missing anything. Going back to the Super Bowl analogy used above, it would be like me not caring who wins after I die. I’m dead. I’ll have absolutely nothing to care about at that point. If I’m going to be annihilated with zero cognizance or existence, why do I care what happens after that? The eternal bliss of the unbeliever would essentially match the eternal bliss of the believer in Christ. Such a view only minimizes the importance of repentance and faith in Christ. There’s a reason Scripture is so clear on the matter. It’s not only a valid scare tactic, but it is also an exposition of righteous judgment from a just God.

Reader, I care deeply for your soul and want nothing more than to worship God in eternity as we bow before a mighty King (Psalm 93:1) and merciful Father (Luke 6:36). Just as eternal life means eternal life, eternal fire means eternal fire. It’s not merely reserved for the devil and his demons. If this were so, there would be no reason for dire warning. If you do not know Christ as Lord and Savior, take heed of this warning as it is from no less than God Himself. Time will come for us all.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Loving our Neighbor as Ourselves Means Rebuking Them

The above picture is of two bumper stickers I have on my car. The “Hate Crime” sticker is one I had custom made. The idea for the wording isn’t mine; I got it from a sign that I saw a Facebook friend holding. On the surface it may seem a bit exploitive, using a charged term in our culture to make a spiritual point. Some might even deny that failing to warn sinners of the judgement to come is a hate crime. They might say it may be wrong, but it’s not necessarily hatred. However, I think the Bible would teach otherwise. Jesus famously tells us that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). What many don’t realize is that Jesus is actually quoting from the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18) when he uses those words. In the same chapter of Leviticus, the very verse before the quotation from Jesus, we read this:

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.

Leviticus 19:17 (KJV)

Here God declares we shall not hate our brother, and this is immediately followed by a command that contrasts hating our neighbor: rebuking them. To let our neighbor continue in sin without at least a warning is to show hate to them. This may seem strange to modern world. If anything, to tell someone else that what they’re doing is wrong would be seen as demonstrating hate. People don’t have negative feelings to those around them when they fail to tell them that they are wrong, they’re just “minding their own business.” However, just as love, biblically speaking, is an act, not a feeling, so hatred is also an act. Just because one doesn’t have negative feelings toward his neighbor doesn’t mean it isn’t still hatred when he fails to help his neighbor. The real roots of failing to help one’s neighbor is cowardice and laziness. Cowardice, because that person doesn’t want to come under pressure for having called out sin, and laziness because we’d rather tend to our own affairs than help out a neighbor. Both of these are ultimately rooted in a prioritization of oneself over others, and this is a mindset we cannot, as Christians, have:

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

So, we cannot hate our neighbors by failing to warn them. This includes our brothers in the church as well as unbelievers. If we truly are Christians, we should want to be told when we are sinning against the God whom we love. Surely, if our brothers are in Christ, they should want the same. If they are not in Christ, then they need to be warned that what they’re doing is sin and the Gospel needs to be proclaimed to them that they may be saved. Rebuking our neighbor also means rebuking them for the unpopular sins, not just the popular ones. Everyone wants to call someone out for the sins that are not socially acceptable, but are you willing to bring up sins that the culture finds acceptable or even sees as good? The command to rebuke our neighbor does not mean that we have to be harsh when we rebuke them. Sometimes kindly pointing out someone’s error is better. Other times, a more harsh tone is required (see Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians for letting a man living in sin remain in their congregation in 1 Corinthians 5). This also doesn’t mean we need to be the sin police, constantly snooping in others’ live to make sure they’re not sinning. But if we see someone in sin and they don’t seem to be aware of what they’ve done, we have an obligation to warn them, if possible. I write this article as a rebuke to myself, as I have many times failed to warn others of their sin. So let us all remember to love our neighbors as ourselves and rebuke those in sin, for their sake. And if you are not a Christian, I implore you to repent for your sins which have put enmity between you and God. The wages of your sin is death (Romans 6:23), but in Jesus Christ there is forgiveness of sin. Turn to God and believe in Jesus and you will be saved.

Addendum

I wanted to add an addendum to my article as there was a little bit of confusion. I was not trying to suggest that in every single instance one must warn their neighbor of sin, or we would be in sin themselves. Sometimes it is not the appropriate time to bring something up because of other overriding priorities. If I needed to rush someone to the hospital, I shouldn’t stop outside the hospital door to have a two-hour conversation with someone leaving on why they shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain.  We are only able to warn our neighbor with the opportunities given to us, and sometimes those opportunities never come.  In general, however, we should have an attitude of warning our neighbors, rather than letting them continue in sin, as God’s righteous law tells us.

There was also the issue of whether not Leviticus 19:17 applies in a New Covenant context, as it was written to Jews living in the covenant land. It is clear to me that it bears all the markings of abiding moral law. Jesus, as mentioned earlier, quotes the very next verse. He also tells us that in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), that the definition of neighbor was not restricted to Jews, as the Samaritan neither lived in Judea, nor was ethnically fully Jewish.  In Leviticus 19 itself should have given us indication of this, as it says of the non-Jews living in the land “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself” (Leviticus 19:34).  Finally, James, clearly writing in a New Covenant context tells us that to love one’s neighbor as oneself is the Royal Law (James 2:8) and implies it is abiding law on the Christian. 

What Does It Mean To Have Our Minds Set On Eternity?

The world is constantly battling for our minds. We are bombarded with the world’s way of thinking daily. The evil one is seeking to hinder us in our walk with God. Our mind is the gateway for our actions and the way we think always impacts how we live. This is why having a worldview that is Biblical is the only consistent way to live in this evil world that we must remain pilgrims in. The battle for our minds is here.

Trouble of the World

What is the “world” in this sense? Is God’s creation evil since sin is in the world and we are told not to “love the world”? Let us look at what Scripture says about creation.

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Genesis 1:31 (NKJV)

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving;  for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 (NKJV)

In both these places we are told that created things are “good”. There is nothing that God has made that is inherently evil. We should enjoy those things that God has given us: the birds, the fish, the animals, all creation is ours to enjoy and it points back to the Creator who made it (Psalm 19:1). Now, how do we deal with passages that seem to associate the world as being bad?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 2:15-17 (NKJV)

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James 4:4 (NKJV)

These passages seem very clear in the their indictment of the world. However, the “world” here (Greek word κόσμος) is not referring to the created world (as we have already established above) but the system that is opposed to the things of God (A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament by Alexander Souter is great for further study). The world is that way of thinking that is against God. Lust, pride, etc. are things that are of this “world” and are sin, and therefore “lawless” (1 John 3:4). These fundamental principles will help us to understand what it means to have our minds truly set on eternity.

The Christian’s Relation to the World

With this grim picture of the κόσμος, how are we to live? Unfortunately, the Christian tendency in running from the world’s evil thinking is to run from society itself. We create these “Christian” communities that have their own cultures outside of the society we live in. This principle is discussed by R.C. Sproul in his book Pleasing God. It is seen as being separate from the world and somehow biblical. That is not to say that cultures that Christians create are necessarily bad, but I think there is a tendency to do so as a reaction to the culture around them. Just look at the radical homeschool movement, where sending your kids to public school is sinful, women must wear dresses, and heaven forbid a woman work outside the home. And again, I want to be careful here. There are those who do so out of genuine conviction and there should be some sensitivity (this can be seen in Romans 14). But when these become the standard for obedience to God and are done in an unbiblical manner, then the matter changes, and this tends to be what happens when these “cultures” are created.

Christians are not to separate themselves from this world. Jesus prayed to His Father in the Gospel of John:

I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.

John 17:15 (NKJV)

It is not God’s will that we live in segregated communities apart from society. This is contrary to Scripture. Paul also makes the point against segregation in 1 Corinthians:

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NKJV)

Paul wanted to clarify what he was talking about. Sinful people of this world are not to be avoided (generally speaking). We would have to leave this earth to completely avoid them! It is the one who claims Christ yet shows no repentance that we are to avoid — church discipline is in view here. Also, how are we to tell the lost about Christ while we are separated from them! We would have to disobey Christ’s Great Commission in order to leave this world. We are to be living in this world and be a light in a dark place.

Using Our Minds Rightly

What does all this have to do with how we think about eternity? What we THINK or BELIEVE about our relation to the world will dictate how we live in it. If we think that the way we are to live with eternity in mind is to leave the world, we will have a warped view of what it means to genuinely have a heavenly mindset. A heavenly mindset is the one that is constantly thinking about the things of God. The Psalmist lays this bare:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

Psalm 1:1-4 (NKJV)

The one who is righteous follows God’s law and his MIND is focused on it. He is constantly meditating on it. His grounding in God’s law leads him to prosper and walk obediently. And where is God’s law found? In His Word. This is the foundation of how we are to live in this world and think rightly. This ultimately is where we should look and where all thoughts and worldviews must be vetted. Manmade rules of how we are to think rightly will never be able to compare to this and, in fact, do nothing to stop the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23).

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NKJV)

This passage really summarizes what it means for us to have minds set on eternity. We are to think on those things that are good and our obedience to God will follow as a result. This verse is not forbidding the thinking of things that are evil (meaning thinking of the things themselves, not actually sinning in our thoughts) since this would require us to leave this world. The world is the devil’s playground, full of sin, and is opposed to God. But as already discussed, we are called to live in it and it is not our Lord’s will that we leave it. The Scriptures themselves contain many instances where there are things that are not lovely, admirable, noble, pure, etc. Paul here is not creating a dichotomy between thinking of that which is good and not. What he wants is the Philippians to have their minds focused on the good so that it will change the way they live. The Reformation Study Bible notes on verse 8:

Concluding these exhortations, Paul calls his readers to a life of obedience, the right response to the peace of God. The virtues listed are not exhaustive but representative, and they come to expression in countless ways (note the repeated “whatever”). Thinking on such things is not an end in itself, but preparation for purposeful action (v. 9).

The Reformation Study Bible, page 1724, English Standard Version

This is what being eternally minded means. This is how we are to walk. As our minds are properly set on eternity, our lives will follow in obedience.

Should You Dine Out on the Sabbath?

COVID has not shut the doors of our sanctuary since early 2020, but it has shut the doors of our kitchen. After the benediction and after-service catch-ups, the saints will by-and-large return home to sup with their families, while the hungry remnant plays hot-potato until someone gets stuck with choosing the restaurant. But after a few months of Sunday wings, our brother Sean came to the conviction that the new routine is not biblical. For the record, he has never made it out to be more than a personal conviction or insisted that we do otherwise, but because I take a potential violation of the Sabbath command seriously, I thought that it warrants a careful, systematic response. So, encouraged by the request of others, I will try to do that here. This practical issue is not its own island — it stems from our understanding of the scope, nature, and implementations of the Sabbath command. I pray that it will be useful even for those considering matters outside of this specific Sabbath question.

The Sabbath as Positive-Moral Law

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy 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 sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Exodus 20:8-12

The Sabbath command is moral law. God thundered it out from Mount Sinai as part of His perfect, righteous standard to the condemnation of His hearers. The Hebrews begged the voice to cease (Exo. 20:19) — the Law pierced their hearts and revealed their worthiness of death, because it confronted them with the law already written in their hearts (Rom. 2:15). The commandment, which was ordained to life, they found to be unto death (Rom. 7:10), because it was that moral law they knew demanded the judgement pictured by the burning, black mountain. The Sabbath commandment cannot be excised from the other nine and treated as purely ceremonial; it was given with the others for the undoing of the Israelites, so that they might fear and submit themselves to the mercy of the great God who spoke. God circumvents any attempt to treat it as ceremonial law by grounding it in creation itself, leaving no excuse for those who would separate it from the other nine.

Yet, though the Sabbath command is moral law, it is not simply moral law. In the words of the Confession, it is a “positive moral” commandment (2LBCF 22.7). “Positive,” when used in this sense does not mean “good” (although the commandment certainly is good), but rather refers to something commanded by God in addition to what is dictated by the law of nature. To quote Richard Barcellos, “Positive laws are those laws added to the natural or moral law.”1 The Confession uses the same language to describe Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as non-natural institutions — they are God-given institutions given for a specific people living in a specific age.

The Sabbath command is uniquely described as positive-moral. How can it be both? Consulting the Confession again, it tells us “it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God” (2LBCF 22.7). The law written on the heart of man teaches him three things concerning this commandment:

1. God should be worshiped.

2. Worship requires a proportion of time.

3. The time and manner of this worship should be determined by the One being worshiped.

The last of those three precepts of moral law obligates man to seek positive law — there is a universal, binding demand upon all men to discover when, where, and how God has commanded Himself to be worshiped in the age they live in. Positive and moral law, accordingly, are intimately linked in the fourth commandment. But although they are linked, they are also distinct. The positive law necessitated by the moral law may be (and has been) changed according to the good pleasure of God. We must learn what has and hasn’t changed to worship Him correctly.

The Purpose of the Sabbath in its Covenantal Administrations

There is a two-fold purpose for the Sabbath. God tells us the first reason immediately after giving the commandment: “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 sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exo. 20:11). This Sabbath was given (according to the One who gave it) to point to God’s work and His completion of that work. It was not given merely for the ceasing of our work — our rest from our labors is a means to an end, which is to worship God for His work. But the work of God we must acknowledge is more than His first creation — we must principally acknowledge the completion of His work for the new creation. It is impossible to enjoy God’s Sabbath rest apart from the completion of His work for His new creation:

For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: … There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

Hebrews 4:2-6,9-10

Those who enter into God’s rest are only those who believe and approach the throne of grace through the free salvation offered by the High Priest, Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:14-16). The true Sabbath, then, that our weekly celebration points to is the rest we have in Christ through His finished work of redemption. We dare not pollute this rest through our own works — by ceasing from our works and enjoying the fruits of His, we acknowledge that our rest was accomplished by the monergistic act of God. We cannot add to His work, because we cannot add to the perfection of Christ’s righteousness or to the infinite worth of His payment.

The second reason is implicit in the commandment and made explicit by the Lord: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Resting in God’s promises, meditating upon His work for us, and rejoicing in Him is for our good. God completed His works for our sake, and set His Son to be a propitiation for our sins because of His love for us. By observing the Sabbath, we proclaim the rest we have in our God to the whole world, modelling the fruits we enjoy because of His blessings in a small way. Contrary to a popular understanding, the Sabbath was not made for man because everyone needs rest. Scripture indicates no such thing, and God will give the wicked no rest day or night as the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever (Rev 14:11). Before God says anything about rest He tells us to keep the Sabbath holy, and any Sabbath-keeping that doesn’t involve holy rejoicing in God’s rest from His work is no Sabbath-keeping at all, and is no more worthy to be called a fulfillment of the Sabbath command than taking off work for St. Patrick’s Day. The rest is a means to an end, and that end is keeping the Sabbath holy by acknowledging the completion of God’s work and participating in the rest He bought us.

This will bring us to the meat of the matter — the Sabbath can only be kept by God‘s Covenant people. The Sabbath command, as we have said, is moral law and binds all men, yet it binds them by compelling them to seek the way God commands them to worship Him, and to join themselves to His Covenant people so they can do so. Covenant membership is an absolute prerequisite. The very framing of the commandment indicates this, with God telling Israel, “thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Exo. 20:10). There is no hint that the commandment is to be exercised outside of the Covenant nation and her members — the gates mark the boundaries of the cities of Israel (as a quick word study will bear out, it is never a reference to private property). In fact, this language indicates that it is only to be exercised by the Covenant nation. The same language is used for celebrating other Covenant holidays, like the Feast of Weeks: “And thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you” (Deut. 16:11). These, of course, were holidays only the Covenant nation could celebrate. It also parallels the language used to describe those who needed to be circumcised: “And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin … And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised” (Gen. 17:11-13). Every fourth commandment group that could be included in the circumcision commandment is found again (thou, thy son, and thy manservant). Only women and cattle are excluded (for obvious reasons), as well as the stranger in the gates, because — in the days of Abraham — there was only a Covenant house instead of a Covenant nation, and most people do not have unemployed strangers living in their house.

Although they are moral law, then, the Ten Commandments were couched in language peculiar to the Covenant they were given in, and could not be framed the same way in all other periods of redemptive history. In a small way, we see this in the fifth commandment when God promises long days “upon the land” for those who honor their parents (Exo. 20:12); when Paul repeats this in the New Testament, it becomes “on the earth” (Eph. 6:3), because the New Covenant people will inherit much more than the physical land promised in the Old Covenant — they will inherit the New Heaven and Earth. But as positive-moral law — as the universal, binding commandment to seek how God commands to be worshiped in the current age — the Sabbath command is more dependent on its covenantal administration than any other. Most obviously, the day has been changed from the seventh to the first. God having finished His work of redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His people no longer celebrate the Sabbath rest at the end of the week — as something at that we experience at the end of our toil. God has finished the work and plunged us into the Sabbath rest found in Christ, and this rest opens the new week — inaugurating the new work of the new creation. But another change has taken place: God’s Covenant community has progressed from a Covenant house, to a Covenant nation, and now finally to a worldwide Covenant people. No longer a mixed community of believers and unbelievers, the members of the New Covenant are only those who have the law of God written on their hearts (Jer. 31:31-34). Gone are the days of a physical institution representing God’s people, with everyone in them participating in the ordinances, celebrations, and blessings regardless of whether they had a right to the reality pictured by them. Now, only those circumcised in the heart have a right participate in the Lord’s Passover, to receive God’s ordinances, and to celebrate the rest they have in Christ. Try as one might to import the second half of Exodus 20:10 lock, stock, and barrel, it’s an impossible task, because the Church has no gates for a stranger to be within (unless you’re a theonomist). Verse 10, above all, indicates that the Sabbath is to be celebrated within the Covenant community, which is now composed only of believers. Yes, it’s a command that binds all, but it binds all to first become believers so they can observe it.

The Issue at Hand

The argument against eating out on a Sabbath goes as follows: “It’s a violation of the Sabbath command to go to restaurants, because the commandment forbids us from forcing others to work on the Sabbath. And as a moral law, we sin by supporting others when they break it.” My answer to the first part follows from everything outlined above: the Sabbath is to be observed by the Covenant community, and cannot be observed outside of it. The language God uses in Exodus 20:10 is a standard way of denoting the entire Covenant community, which in those days was the whole nation-state of Israel. Even those who had no part in the object of our Sabbath rest points to had to cease from their labors, because the Covenant nation as a whole was designed to point to the rest God’s true people would have. It nowhere forbids people outside of the Covenant community from working, nor is there any place in where believers are worried about the Sabbath-keeping of foreign pagans in the Old Testament or neighboring unbelievers in the New Testament. Since the commandment only forbids the working of those living in the Covenant community, and since the only New Covenant community is the Church of believers, it goes beyond the commandment to forbid the working of an unbelieving waitress. It is certainly no part of the law of nature that unbelievers should benefit from the worship God institutes any more than it’s the law of nature that unbelievers should receive the ordinances of Covenant entry, which was then circumcision. Their involvement was part of the positive (as opposed to moral) aspect of the commandment, and was permitted only because of the corporate nature of the Old Covenant. Not only does it not logically follow for unbelievers outside the New Covenant to participate in a commandment meant to be exercised by the Covenant community, it is also the case that all positive law falls under the regulative principle of worship, and must be explicitly be given by each covenant to be validly practiced. Therefore, it is no more legitimate to enforce Sabbath-keeping for unbelievers than to baptize infants.

As for the second part of the argument, it presupposes something that will not be granted — that unbelievers are more guilty of a Sabbath violation when they work than when they don’t, and so we participate in their sins by paying for their services. The chief end of the Sabbath command is not to rest, but “to keep it holy.” The rest is a means to an end — a command to stop concerning ourselves with the things of the world so that we can focus on worshiping God in the way He has commanded, and enjoy the rest He has given us through Christ. If unbelievers are not working, they are certainly not worshiping God, but spend the day worshiping their idols — literal or figurative. If they take off the Sabbath as a way to share in its blessings while having no part in Christ, they violate two commandments: they profane the Sabbath and take the Lord’s name in vain. Those outside the Covenant have no right to share in the blessings of its rest, but will have their part with those who will never know rest — “There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked” (Is. 48:22). It was necessary for a time that those belonging only to the Old Covenant should enjoy Covenant holidays and Covenant ordinances, but that time has ceased. God was eager to make it cease, and never enjoyed the lip service of the pretenders. These are His words against them:

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

Isaiah 1:11-15

Why should we compel unbelievers to do that which God has no delight in? Why should we encourage them to act as if they have a part in the Covenant blessings? Why should we affirm any attempt to keep the Sabbath without joining God’s Covenant, when Scripture no where tells us that this is possible? Our message to unbelievers should be this: repent and believe, be baptized, and keep the Sabbath — in that order. We should no more want them to keep the Sabbath before joining the covenant than we should want them to be baptized before professing faith. Until then, they will do more good preparing food for believers then taking the day off to engage in whatever sin their heart delights in. By making food, they at least give believers one less secular task to worry about, giving them a bit more time to keep the Sabbath holy.

[1] https://www.rbap.net/doctrinal-assumptions-and-technical-terms-of-the-confession-on-the-sabbath-22-7/#_edn7

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