Thomas Schreiner on God’s sovereign rule in the book of Acts

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“God’s sovereign rule over all things does not mean that everything that occurs is intrinsically good. It was God’s plan that Jesus suffer and die for the sins of his people. A common theme is that believers must be prepared to suffer as well. The death of Stephen indicates that God’s plan is often worked out through the suffering of his own people. In Acts 12 Herod took action against the church and beheaded James the brother of John. Luke expresses no shock, recording the event abruptly and without detail. The death of James scarcely led to the conclusion that God is not in control, for Peter was released supernaturally, probably because of the church’s fervent prayers. Luke is not suggesting that the church failed to pray for James. He offers no explanation for the deliverance of Peter and the execution of James, proposing no neatly packaged answer for why some suffer and others are spared. God’s rule over the world does not lend itself to formulas by which evil can be easily explained. Given Luke’s worldview, he must have believed that God could have delivered James as well, and yet no reason for God’s actions are given. The rationale for much of what happens is obscured from human vision. Still, God’s control over all is conveyed powerfully by the conclusion of the story. The same Herod who executed James is struck dead by God when he fails to give God glory. God rules over the kings of the earth, and the evil that they inflict is under his hand, but God himself is untainted by evil.”

– Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, p. 141

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Richard Bauckham on “The Lord God the Almighty” in the Book of Revelation

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The Greek word παντοκρατωρ (pantokrator), generally translated into English as “omnipotent” or “almighty”, is one of my favourite words I learnt a few years ago in Greek class. When I think of the word pantokrator my mind immediately jumps to the one verse I associate it with most: “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” (Rev. 19:6).

Earlier this year during the first semester, I was in a second-hand bookstore in Cape Town (wherever I go I am always on the look-out for second-hand bookstores because I have often found theological gems – together with books of philosophy, history, world religions and poetry – at bargain prices, books that many others simply do not grasp the worth of). Among many other books I bought that day was The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Bauckham. I received Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony as a gift from a dear friend a few months prior to this and knew I had to take this book. It was an absolute bargain at only R10 (for my international readers, that is about the cost of a 1 litre Coke). I thought I wasn’t going to get around to reading it any time soon because I had so many books lined up already, but as Providence would have it, it turned out that this book is a prescribed work for our New Testament module. As I mentioned, the Greek word pantokrator is of interest to me, and as I read Bauckham’s book I was particularly interested in what he had to say regarding God’s omnipotence in the Book of Revelation:

“THE LORD GOD THE ALMIGHTY

This designation occurs seven times in Revelation (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 19:6; 21:22), four of these in close association (1:8; 4:8; 11:17) or close proximity (16:5-7)to the designation we have just discussed [“The One who is and who was and who is to come”]. A shorter form, ‘God the Almighty’, is used twice (16:14; 19:15), keeping the number of occurrences of the full expression to no more than the significant number seven.

This designation is also connected with the divine name, since it is a standard translation of the expanded form of the divine name: YHWH elohe has sebaot (the LORD, the God of hosts) (e.g. 2 Sam. 5:10; Jer. 5:14; Hos. 12:5; Amos 3:13; 4:13). John also uses it (as comparison of Rev 4:8 with Isa. 6:3 will show) as equivalent to the shorter form YHWH sebaot (‘the LORD of hosts’), which is very common in the Old Testament prophets because it indicates Yahweh’s unrivalled power over all things and therefore his supremacy over the course of historical events. Its use in Revelation testifies to John’s desire to continue the prophetic faith in God. The Greek pantokrator (‘almighty’) indicates not so much God’s abstract omnipotence as his actual control over all things.”

– Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, p. 30

The last thing Bauckham says here is what especially intrigued me about the word pantokrator back in Greek class. I felt that the English translation of “omnipotent” or “almighty”, though not strictly speaking wrong, was lacking a bit of the real meaning of the word, which would more literally be translated as something like “all-ruling” (pan = all; krateo = to rule) or more loosely “he who holds sway over all things” – indicating not only that God possesses all power in an abstract sense (that he is almighty), but also that he actually exercises that power in his providence and governing of the world, as in the sense of “…our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” (Ps. 115:3)

J.C. Ryle (1816–1900): God’s elect are safe

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“Those whom God has chosen to salvation by Christ, are those whom God specially loves in this world. They are the jewels among mankind. He cares more for them than for kings on their thrones, if kings are not converted. He hears their prayers. He orders all the events of nations and the issues of wars for their good, and their sanctification. He keeps them by His Spirit. He allows neither man nor devil to pluck them out of His hand. Whatever tribulation comes on the world, God’s elect are safe. May we never rest until we know that we are of this blessed number! There breathes not the man or woman who can prove that he is not one. The promises of the Gospel are open to all. May we give diligence to make our calling and election sure! God’s elect are a people who cry unto Him night and day. When Paul saw the faith, and hope, and love of the Thessalonians, then he knew ‘their election of God.’ (1 Thess. 1:4; Luke 18:7.)”

– J.C. Ryle (1816–1900), Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, on Matthew 24:15-28, p. 320

Thomas Shepard (1605–1649): Only those prepared here will enjoy Christ hereafter

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Thomas Shepard (1605–1649) was an American Puritan minister and a significant figure in early colonial New England. The first time I heard (or rather read) about Shepard was when I read Jonathan Edward’s (1703–1758) Religious Affections, in which Edwards references Shepard extensively. The following is an excerpt from his work The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). It’s a bit long but definitely worth the read:

“Observe: Those only who are ready and prepared in this life for Christ, shall enjoy eternal and immediate communion with Christ; those only who are fitted shall partake of his fellowship; for of all these virgins (though many of them were otherwise very well qualified) only those which were ready did enter in with the bridegroom, which readiness in these wise virgins was not, nor is not, any Popish preparation, either meritorious, or congruous or wrought by the power of corrupted or adorned nature; but divine and glorious, wrought by the power of Christ, out of his eternal love to the vessels of glory, as an antecedent, not moving cause of this eternal fellowship; it is the first degree of our resurrection with Christ. Rom. ix. 23, ‘Vessels of glory prepared unto glory;’ the same word which is used here, there are two ends God hath appointed all men to, either to be vessels of wrath; who are those? verse 22, ‘Those that are fitted for destruction;’ others of glory; who are those? ‘Prepared unto glory.’ 2 Cor. v. 5, with 8. How comes Paul and all the saints to know, and groan for to be out of the body, and to break the cage, and to be with the Lord? one reason is, they are wrought and moulded, and fashioned for that condition by the hand of a merciful God, even as one may know what vessels are for especial use, by their metal, and curious engravings upon them.

REASON 1: MEN ARE UNFIT FOR HEAVEN

Because all men’s souls are naturally unfit and unprepared to enjoy communion with Christ; it is said, (Rev. xxi.) unclean ‘Nothing enters into the new Jerusalem on earth, which is unclean, and defileth;’ and, (Heb. xii. 14,) ‘Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.’ Now, naturally all men are defiled, and unclean vessels, and under the power of their sins, loathing angels’ food, the grace of Christ, and weary of the fellowship of Christ; and, therefore, they must be prepared for the Lord first; this is one reason why preparation to every holy duty is needful, and so needful, that let men perform any holy duty, wherein they draw near to Christ without a heart prepared, (Ps. x. 17,) their performances are rejected, or not blessed; and hence Rehoboam, though he did maintain the worship of God at Jerusalem, ‘yet he prepared not his heart,’ (2 Chron. xii. 14;) and hence Hezekiah mourns, and begs pardon for this, ‘that he is so purified according to the purification of the sanctuary.’ Now, to a holy duty, and communion with Christ here, this is needful; sore eyes can not behold the sun without grief; sick bodies loathe the best food; if the Lord should let a carnal heart into heaven with that heart he hath, and not change his nature, he would not stay there if he could escape; but having his swinish nature, he would be in his mire again; and the government of Christ being a bondage to him, he would break bonds, and break his prison, if he knew where to fly from the presence of the Lord; and hence, no work so wearisome as Christ’s now, no time so uncomfortable and tedious as abiding under Christ’s wings in his ordinances now. 1 Cor. xv. 50, ‘If flesh and blood can not enter into the kingdom of heaven, much less corruption.’

REASON 2: PREPARATION IS A WORK OF GRACE

In regard of the rich grace and wisdom of his love toward his people; for who sees not, but that it is a curse to be unready as these foolish virgins, who were therefore shut out? O, therefore, it is grace and mercy to make ready, and indeed an answer to prayers, and a comfort against all fears of the saints, who are then desirous to be with the Lord when they are indeed ready; readiness for Christ doth not destroy grace, but being a fruit of God’s grace, advanceth it. Rom. ix. 23, the apostle makes it the first fruit of glory, that the saints are ‘prepared unto glory;’ glory of mercy is the end, preparedness thereto is the means, or way leading to that end; if God appoints the end, his wisdom leads also first to the means which lead at Last to the end; if out of his rich grace he appoints the end, out of the same grace, by this other, he leads to this end; and though you think it not now grace, you shall say it is so another day, when, with these foolish virgins, you shall say, ‘O that I were ready!’ I know not almost which is greatest love, to prepare for glory, or to bring into the possession of it; to make a vessel of poisonous dross a vessel of gold, or when it is so, to fill it; for the Lord to look upon a man when he is in his blood, and then to wash him; when a man is as water spilt upon the ground, and a broken vessel of no use, now for the Lord to pity, and fit for use, it is exceeding rich grace.

REASON 3: THE BRIDEGROOM PREPARES THE BRIDE

In regard of the honor of the Lord Jesus, it was one part of the honor of Christ to have John go before him, and (Luke i. 17) ‘to prepare a people ready for the Lord.’ As it is part of a prince’s honor to have his bride ready, and attired to welcome and entertain him, when he shall return to her, she owes this honor to him, and he expects this honor from her; so the Lord Jesus deserves this honor from all his people to be in readiness for him. Suppose these virgins had turned harlots, and gone a-whoring from him till his very coming, and then had been taken in, what might the world think? Doth he love the fellowship of harlots? for a man’s heart to go a-whoring from the Lord, after the world, or lusts, to die so, is to disgrace the Lord Jesus; and hence (Phil. iii. 17 to the end) there are two sorts of men professing godliness; some mind ‘earthly things,’ others look and mind ‘a Saviour from heaven;’ the one disgrace Christ, and are enemies to him; and hence Paul weeps for them; the other are his friends. And are princes so far respected as all things are ready for them? and is the Lord worthy of no such respect, so as that his people should be unready? No, know it as he said, (Mal. i.) ‘He is a great King.’

The particulars wherein this readiness consists I have spoken of in the first part of the parable, and shall now only speak of them in the subsequent uses.

APPLICATION

Terror and astonishment of heart to all those that are wholly unready, that have no readiness at all to meet, or to have fellowship with the Lord Jesus; if those that are ready be received in, then those that be unready shall be shut out.

There is a number among us, young and old, of all sorts almost among us, that swarm up and down towns, and woods, and fields, whose care and work hitherto hath been like bees, only to get honey to their own hive, only to live here comfortably with their houses, and lots, and victuals, and fine clothes, etc., but not to live hereafter eternally. Suppose the Lord should stop thy breath, and cut thee off, what would become of thee? I trust to God’s mercy, I hope I should go to Christ, though I am not assured; but are you ready for Christ? Yes, I hope I am; O, poor wretch ! why cost hope so? if thou never hadst one hour’s serious thoughts, What will become of me? or, How shall I be ready? feeling thy unreadiness and unfitness thereunto. Or if thou hast had any thoughts, never west possessed with any strong fears of eternity, and separation from the Lord Jesus, which hath damped thy mirth, and sunk thy heart, and perplexed thy thoughts, and made thee think with terror upon thy conscience, What will become of me? nor made thee desirous to ask others that question, as it is commonly one of the first, though but a common work, to think of dying presently: I have lived long without God and Christ in the world, and die I must shortly, and what will become of me then?

But you have slept quietly enough in the night, and sung care away and cast fear away in the day, and thy heart never had one hour’s fit of shaking and trembling at eternity to come, when it is the nature of true fear ever to have the eye upon what it fears, till it is taken away; and if difficulty attend the same, to remove it; it can not be quiet, but will cry for help, if possibly help may be had; this you never did: no, thou never hadst so much as these foolish virgins, viz., to be awakened at all, but a spirit of slumber hath been upon thee; God hath given thee eyes, but thou canst not see; ears, and thou canst not hear; thou sayest (it may be) that thou cost hope thou art prepared; alas! thou hast not a virgin’s name, much less nature, nor cost thou not deserve it neither; thou hast not forsaken thy loose company, nor yet come to the company of the wise, neither cost thou desire it, or think thyself unworthy of it; thy lamp is out; nay, thou never hadst any light at all, never madest profession at all, as if one ready for Christ; but O, poor wretch, all is yet to do with thee! if so, then remember that if thou diest now, thou shalt never have communion with Jesus Christ in glory.

OBJECTION: WHAT IF I HAVE NOT YET RECEIVED CHRIST?

Answer: I know it is the misery of men, they can make nothing of this till they feel it: but two things I will say:-

1. Do but consider, what if thou shouldst be deprived of the light of the sun; nay, only of bread, only that one creature, and have clothes, sun, friends, all other blessings but that, would it not be a woe with a witness? would it not cut a man’s heart to hear him cry bread, bread, a little bread, for the Lord’s sake, to save my life! there is but a drop of the sweetness of Christ in that. O, what a misery will it be to pine away, and famish under wrath in chains of darkness, and to cry, O, a little refreshing from the presence of Christ, and canst not get it, but to live ever tormented without that, when thy soul shall cry, Lord, thus long have I been tormented without thee, till my spirits are weary, and my heart faint; now, O, now a little mercy,-O, no.

2. That though thou seest it no great matter to be separated from Christ now, yet when the heavens shall be in a flaming fire, and the earth shall give up the dead that be in it, and Christ shall appear in infinite glory, admired of angels, blessed of saints, crowned of God, comforting his-elect, ‘Come, O, come, ye blessed;’ then you shall think this separation something. O that you would now go home and mourn, and look up to the Lord, that he would make thee ready a vessel of honor, and acknowledge it is righteous with him if he should never do it!”

Daniel de Superville (1657–1728) on 2 Peter 3:9

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Daniel de Superville (1657–1728) was a Huguenot pastor who fled France for the Dutch Republic in 1685 and became the minister of the Walloon church in Rotterdam. He is known particularly for his published Sermons. Below is an excerpt from one of his sermons, this one on 2 Peter 3:9 (The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”):

“The impatient voyager who complains of the length of its course, never thinks of the many cities and inhabitants, who, situated on the borders of this river, derive benefit from that which is tedious to him. The man who complains that God hides himself and retards his promises, overlooks the beneficial consequences of these delays of providence which often promote the good of the human race. ‘The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, (as some men count slackness) but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ While the providence of God is sketching out his great designs, and proceeding slowly to the accomplishment of his general promises; it executes, in the course of its arch, numberless particular designs of immense advantage. He assembles the number of the elect, conducts every one of them gradually forwards to perfection, completes the church, and displays his mercy and patience towards all mankind.”

– Daniel de Superville (1657–1728), Sermons, 20

John Calvin (1509-1564): We ought not to judge of the love of God from the condition which we see before our eyes

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This phrase from John Calvin’s (1509-1564) commentary on John 11:5-6 is better than mountains of gold:

“…we ought not to judge of the love of God from the condition which we see before our eyes.”

Beautiful! Memorize that! He goes on to add directly afterwards:

“When we have prayed to him, he often delays his assistance, either that he may increase still more ardour in prayer, or that he may exercise our patience, and, at the same time, accustom us to obedience. Let believers then implore the assistance of God, but let them also learn to suspend their desires, if he does not stretch out his hand for their assistance as soon as they may think that necessity requires; for, whatever may be his delay, he never sleeps, and never forgets his people. Yet let us also be fully assured that he wishes all whom he loves to be saved.”

John Wycliffe (c. 1320–1384) on the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin

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I have placed John Wycliffe (c. 1320–1384) under the category of Medieval Theologians, despite him often being called “The Morning Star of the Reformation”, simply because Wycliffe both lived during the Middle Ages and his theology mostly still reflected the tenets of Medieval theology. He lived two centuries prior to the Reformation proper (of the 16th century). Below, he explains the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. I could have put in some effort to change the 14th century English to modern English, but thought it may be interesting for the readers to see for themselves how the English language has changed since then, and thus left it unaltered:

“The first parable stondith in a question of Crist [Christ]; he axith [asked] which man of hem [them] hadde an hundrid shepe to kepe, and he were nedid [needed] to save hem [them] ech on, and he hadde lost oon [one] of hem [them]; ne wolde he not leeve fourescore and nyntene in a sikir deserte and go and seke pis lost sheep til pat he fond it ; and when he haddefounden it, wolde leien it on his shuldris wip joie and whanne he comep hoom, he clepep [called] togidre his frendis and neigboris, and seith to hem, Be ye gladde and panke me, for Y [I] have founde my sheep that was perishid. Certis [Certain] Y [I] seie to you that there shal be joie in hevene upon oon [one] synful man pat doith penaunce, he tho more than upon foure score and nyntene rigt-wise that have no nede of penaunce. This man is Jesus Crist that was of the Jewis, and he was herty [hearty] and wyse and hadde in his kepynge the aungelis confirmed in hevene, and with hem [them] mankynde. Nynty and nyne bitokeneth thes aungelis, for thes nyne ordres that ben knytted in Crist; and this oo [one] sheep is mankynde, that acordith more to-gider than these nyne ordres of aungels. This oo [one] sheep that was lost perishide by synne of Adam, as the psalme seith. Hevene is clepid [called] disert by many enchesouns, for it is selde visited of men, that slowly comen thidir, and it is not tilid as is erthe here with us, and it is florishid with goostly trees that evermore ben grene, for grenesse in virtues may nevere faile in hevene. And this is a sykyr place; for fendis tempten men not there. Crist lefte this aungel kynde dwellyng in hevene; for Crist toke not angels kynde but toke here mannis kynde, and bi his greet virtue he suffride peyne as other men thre and thitty [thirty] yeer [year], and brougt mankynde to hevene, and bade the aungelis his frendis, and man next him in manhede, rejoyeshe hem [them] with him, for he hadde saved mankynde that was perishide. And bi this aungels in hevene, mankynde, and feendis, shulde be gladde bi resoun [reason]; for the more that ben dampned the more is fendis peyne, and thus is more joie in hevene of this oo [one] sheep, than of nyne ordris of aungels that neden noo penaunce, for the synneden nevere.

This o [one] sheep that is mankynde synede for the more parte, and was quykid [quickened] bi Crist, that was oon [one] with his bretheren; and he, algif he mygte not synnen, suffride peyne for his sheep. And more joie is in hevene of him and his membris than of nyne ordris of angelis, for thei ben beter and lyveden more medefully as trewe knygts of God.

The seconde parable of Crist stondith in this, that a wyse womman that hadde ten dragmes, if she hadde lost oon [one], she wolde Iigtne her lanterne, turne up hir house to seke this lost dragme, and whan she hadde founden it, she wolde make joie as it was seid bifore of him that lost th sheep.

This womman is Jesus Crist, wysdom of the fadir [Father]; these ten dragmes ben his resonable creaturis, for thei ben maid alle to ymage and licnesse of the Trinite. The tenthe dragme that was lost is mankynde, the lanterne that was ligtid [lit] is the manhede [manhood] of Crist, the turning up of this house is changinge of statis that ben maid in this world by manhede of Crist. For the angel wolde not suffren [suffer] Joon [John] to knele and worshipe him, for his lord was Joones [John’s] brothir, and the aungelis weren hise servauntis; and so many thingis of this world weren turnid [turned] up so down, sith evry parte of this worlde was beterid [bettered] bi Cristis [Christ’s] manhede.

We may touche in this gospel what spedith men and what thing lettith [prevents] men for to be saved, for men mote [must] nede do penaunce in berynge of this sheep, and have ligt of this lanterne for to fynde this lost dragme.”

– John Wycliffe (c. 1320–1384), Select English Works, 1:8-9