A Frowning Providence – Why?

There are times in the Christian’s life when God’s providence is not pleasant. What I mean by this is sometimes God in his sovereignty allows hard trials to befall his people. The 30-year-old Christian man gets the diagnosis that he has lymphoma. A Christian mother has to go through the painful and heart-breaking experience of a miscarriage. A Christian wife is abused by her wicked husband. A teenager comes to faith in Christ and his family disowns him. The list goes on. Sometimes God’s providence is dark. He moves in a mysterious way and it happens that the dark clouds of providence hang heavy over our heads.

Why do these things happen to God’s people? Why? We don’t have all the answers. God doesn’t always tell us “why.” To be sure, there are some places in Scripture that do tell us “why.” That’s the subject of a book I suppose. For now, I want to point out a helpful sentence in the Westminster Confession that talks about this:

As the providence of God does, in general, reach to all creatures; so after a most special manner, it takes care of his Church and disposes all things to the good thereof. (WCF 5.VII)

 Here’s how A. A. Hodge commented on this phrase in the Westminster Confession:

These Sections [of the Confession] teach also that there is a relation of subordination subsisting between these several systems of providence as means to ends in the wider system which comprehends them all. …The providential government of God over mankind in general is subordinate as a means to an end to his gracious providence toward his Church, whereby he gathers it out of every people and nation, and makes all things work together for good to those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28), and of course for the highest development and glory of the whole body.

 Archibald Alexander Hodge, A Commentary on the Confession of Faith: With Questions for Theological Students and Bible Classes (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1869), 143.

We might not always have the answers for why God allows his people to face tough providences. But we can trust him when we face difficult times in life because we know that he’s in total control. And we know he is sovereignly working all things for our good, the good of his church. William Cowper’s hymn, “Light Shining Out of Darkness” is applicable here:

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

This hymn is found in William Cowper, The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper, ed. H. S. Milford (London; Edinburgh; Glasgow; New York; Toronto: Henry Frowde, 1905), 455.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Baptism: Immersion Only? (Hodge)

Outlines of Theology, rewritten and enlarged ed. One question that Christians sometimes ask is this: What is the proper mode of baptism?  In other words, when we baptize someone, should it be by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling?  Reformed Christians will answer: Yes!  The main question about the mode of baptism is not how much water, but only the fact that water is used.  For example, the Westminster Confession notes that dipping is acceptable, but so is pouring or sprinkling (28:3). This Reformed view – that dipping, pouring, or sprinkling are all valid modes of baptism – is found in Scripture.

A. A. Hodge did a nice job of explaining this in chapter 42 of his “Outlines of Theology.”  In the following paragraphs, Hodge notes that the baptisms in the NT are not necessarily and always done by immersion.  In fact, Hodge notes that immersion is sometimes not even probable in these examples:

(1) The baptism of the eunuch by Philip, Acts 8:26–39, is the only instance which even by appearance favors immersion. But observe (a) the language used by Luke… applies just as naturally to baptism performed by affusion [pouring – spl] as by immersion. (b.) The Greek prepositions, εἰς, here translated into, and ἐκ, here translated out of, are in innumerable instances used to express motion, toward, unto, and from.—Acts 26:14; 27:34, 40. They probably descended from the chariot to the brink of the water. Philip is also said to have “descended to” and to have “ascended from the water,” but surely he was not also immersed. (c.) The very passage of Isaiah, which the eunuch was reading, Is. 52:15, declared that the Messiah, in whom he believed, should “sprinkle many nations.” (d.) Luke says the place was “a desert,” and no body of water sufficient for immersion can be discovered on that road.

(2.) Every other instance of Christian baptism recorded in the Scriptures bears evidence positively against immersion. (a.) The baptism of three thousand in Jerusalem on one occasion on the day of Pentecost.—Acts 2:38–41. (b.) The baptism of Paul.—Acts 9:17, 18; 22:12–16. Ananias said to him “standing up, be baptized,” ἀναστὰς βάπτισαι, and, “standing up, he was baptized.” (c.) The baptism of Cornelius.—Acts 10:44–48. (d.) The baptism of the jailor, at Philippi.—Acts 16:32–34. In all these instances baptism was administered on the spot, wherever the convert received the gospel. Nothing is said of rivers, or much water, but vast multitudes at a time, and individuals and families were baptized in their houses, or in prisons, wherever they happened to be at the moment.

 Archibald Alexander Hodge, Outlines of Theology: Rewritten and Enlarged (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1878), 614–615.

Shane Lems,
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Will the Jews Be Restored to Their Land?

Some dispensationalists teach that the Jews will one day return to their land en masse.  They believe that the OT prophecies about Israel in the future must be taken “literally” (e.g. Isaiah 11:11-12, Hosea 3:5, etc.).  It’s not quite that easy or simple, however.  I appreciate A.A. Hodge’s arguments against a future return of the Jews to Palestine:

1st: The New Testament is entirely silent on the subject of any such return, which would be an inexplicable omission in the clearer revelation, if that event is really future.

2nd: The literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies concerned in this question would be most unnatural, (1) Because, if the interpretation is to be consistent, it must be literal in all its parts. Then it would follow that David himself, in person, must be raised to reign again in Jerusalem, Ezek. 37:24, etc. Then the Levitical priesthood must be restored, and bloody sacrifices offered to God, Ezek. 40. to 46.; Jer. 17:25, 26. Then must Jerusalem be the center of government, the Jews a superior class in the Christian church, and all worshippers must come monthly and from Sabbath to Sabbath, from the ends of the earth to worship at the Holy City, Isa. 2:2, 3; 66:20–23; Zech. 14:16–21. (2) Because the literal interpretation thus leads to the revival of the entire ritual system of the Jews, and is inconsistent with the spirituality of the kingdom of Christ.  (3) Because the literal interpretation of these passages is inconsistent with what the New Testament plainly teaches as to the abolition of all distinctions between the Jew and Gentile; the Jews, when converted, are to be grafted back into the same church, Rom. 11:19–24; Eph. 2:13–19. (4) Because this interpretation is inconsistent with what the New Testament teaches as to the temporary purpose, the virtual insufficiency, and the final abolition of the Levitical priesthood and their sacrifices, and of the infinite sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ, and the eternity of his priesthood, Gal. 4:9, 10; 5:4–8 Col. 2:16–23; Heb. 7:12–18; 8:7–13; 9:1–14.

3rd: On the other hand, the spiritual interpretation of these Old Testament prophecies—which regards them as predicting the future purity and extension of the Christian church, and as indicating these spiritual subjects by means of those persons, places and ordinances of the old economy which were typical of them—is both natural and accordant to the analogy of Scripture. In the New Testament, Christians are called Abram’s seed, Gal. 3:29; Israelites, Gal. 6:16, Eph. 2:12, 19; comers to Mount Zion, Heb. 12:22; citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, Gal. 4:26; the circumcision, Phil. 3:3, Col. 2:11, and in Rev. 2:9, they are called Jews. There is also a Christian priesthood and spiritual sacrifice, 1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Heb. 13:15, 16; Rom. 12:1.

This is a longer discussion to be sure, but Hodge’s points are certainly worth thinking about when asking and answering this question about eschatology!

The above quote is found in Archibald Alexander Hodge, Outlines of Theology (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1863), 454–455.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI