Easter and the Fear of Hell (Boston)

Works of Thomas Boston, 12 volume hard cover set (Boston) Although many people mock the truth of hell’s existence, some people struggle with the fear of hell.  Some people are afraid of spending eternity facing a punishment in a place where there is forever weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It’s hard to think about suffering God’s eternal wrath against sin.  On this topic,  Thomas Boston does a great job explaining how the resurrection of Christ can drive away the fear of hell and give a great and joyful hope of heaven:

Hell is a fountain of fears. Sometimes the godly are above, sometimes under the fears of hell. It is terrible, the thought of being excluded forever the presence of God! “Who can abide with everlasting burnings?” When we look down to the pit, it seems hard to escape it; when we look up to heaven, our souls faint, lest we never get there.

But fear not: for Christ died; and if so, he suffered the torments you should have suffered in hell, as to the essentials of them. He was under the punishment of loss; God forsook him, Psalm 22:1. He endured the punishment of sense, even to drops of blood, and the wrath of God poured into his soul. Then God will not require two payments for one debt. Christ lives, he rose, and entered heaven as a public person; and therefore, believer, you shall as surely go to heaven as if you were there already, yea, the apostle says we are there already. Eph. 2:6, “We are raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” as our Head. Jesus lives forevermore; and therefore you shall be forever with the Lord.

“He has the keys of hell and death.” Suppose your father or best friend on earth had these keys, would you be afraid? But we may have more confidence in Jesus than in ten thousand fathers or even the mothers that gave birth to us. They may forsake us, and a mother may be found that will not have compassion on the son of her womb; but, O believer, Jesus has said, “I will not forget you,” Isa. 49:15, 16, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have carved you upon the palms of my hand, you walls are continually before me.” Though Satan be the jailor of hell, yet he keeps not the keys; they hang, believer, at the belt of your best friend.

 Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sixty-Six Sermons, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 9 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1851), 22–23.

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

They Shall Come To Me (Bunyan)

In John 6:37 Jesus said, “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (NIV). These words of Jesus convey a precious relatity and a comforting promise. They are well worth memorizing! Here’s how John Bunyan commented on these words in Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ. I’ve updated the language slightly for ease of reading:

[I conclude] that coming to Jesus Christ rightly is an effect of their being, by God, given to Christ beforehand. Note: They shall come. Who? Those that are given. They come, then, because they were given, “They were Yours, and You gave them Me.”

Now, this is indeed a singular comfort to those that are coming in truth to Christ, to think that the reason why they come is because they were given by the Father beforehand to him. Thus, then, may the coming soul reason with himself as he comes: “Am I coming, indeed, to Jesus Christ? This coming of mine is not to be attributed to me or my goodness, but to the grace and gift of God to Christ. God gave first me to him, and, therefore, has now given me a heart to come.”

John Bunyan, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, p. 254 (Works, Volume 1).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

A Captive Still[?!] (Newton)

 I’ve been studying a couple of the stories in the Gospels where Jesus powerfully casts out demons with a mighty word.  Since I was a little boy I’ve loved these stories since I know that the realm of darkness is real and it’s terrifying.  I’m so thankful that Jesus is a million times stronger than Satan and all the demons put together.  Here’s part of a hymn John Newton wrote based on Mark 5:18-19 (the story of “Legion”).  Although Newton wrote it from the perspective of the man with the “Legion”, I can’t help but think this hymn is also somewhat autobiographical.  (Note: “staid” means stood still or waited.)  Go ahead and read it out loud:

“Legion was my name by nature,
Satan raged within my breast;
Never misery was greater,
Never sinner more possessed:
Mischievous to all around me,
To myself the greatest foe;
Thus I was when Jesus found me,
Filled with madness, sin, and woe.

Yet in this forlorn condition
When he came to set me free,
I replied to my Physician,
‘What have I to do with Thee?’
But he would not be prevented,
Rescued me against my will;
Had he staid till I consented,
I would be a captive still.”

Later in the hymn, Newton does mention how Jesus changed the man’s heart to obey him, tell others about him, and live for his glory.  It is true that while we were sinners and enemies of God, he loved us, gave his Son for us, and changed our hearts to make us willing and ready from now on to live for him.  God be praised: sovereign grace can change the hearts of those who are enemies and haters of God and make them into loved and loving friends of God!

John Newton, Works, vol. 3, p. 408.

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

He Crushed Satan… (Cyril)

 I’ve come to appreciate Cyril of Alexandria’s 5th-century commentary on Luke.  I don’t necessarily agree with everything in it, but it is interesting, edifying, and enlightening.  While studying the account of Jesus casting the demon out of the man in the synagogue (Lk 4:33-35; cf. Mk 1:33-26), I came across these helpful comments by Cyril.

The evil demons therefore were cast out, and made moreover to feel how invincible is His might: and being unable to bear the conflict with Deity, they exclaimed in imperious and crafty terms, “Let us alone: what is there between us and Thee?” meaning thereby, Why dost Thou not permit us to keep our place, whilst Thou art destroying the error of impiety?

But they further put on the false appearance of well-sounding words, and call Him the Holy One of God. For they supposed that by this specious kind of language they could excite the desire of vainglory, and thereby prevent His rebuking them, returning as it were one kindness for another. But though he be crafty, he will fail of his prey: for “God is not mocked;” and so the Lord stops their impure tongues, and commands them to depart from those possessed by them.

And the bystanders being made witnesses of so great deeds, were astonished at the power of His word. For He wrought His miracles, offering up no prayer, to ask of any one else at all the power of accomplishing them, but being Himself the living and active Word of God the Father, by Whom all things exist, and in Whom all things are, in His own person He crushed Satan, and closed the profane mouth of impure demons.

Cyril, Commentary on Luke, Sermon XII.

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

What Mind Can Grasp “I AM”? (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.7: St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies Commenting on John 8:24, Augustine had some brilliant reflections on Jesus’ words: Unless you believe that I am [εγω ειμι] you will die in your sins.  Note below how Augustine went back to Exodus 3 to explain Jesus’ words in John 8.  (Side note: this is why non-Christian groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons tend to avoid Augustine):

There is much implied in His only saying “I Am;” for so also had God said to Moses, “I Am who Am.” Who can adequately express what that AM means?

…Perhaps it was too much even for Moses himself, as it is too much for us also, and much more so for us, to understand the meaning of such words, “I am who am;” and, “He who is hath sent me to you.” And supposing that Moses comprehended it, when would those to whom he was sent comprehend it? The Lord therefore put aside what man could not comprehend, and added what he could; for He said also besides, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” This thou canst comprehend; for “I am who am,” what mind can comprehend?

…The Lord Jesus Christ, I think, said nothing else by these words, “If ye believe not that I am;” yea, by these words I think He meant nothing else than this, “If ye believe not that I am” God, “ye shall die in your sins.” Well, God be thanked that He said, “If ye believe not,” and did not say, “If ye comprehend not.” For who can comprehend this?

In other words, Jesus is not telling people to comprehened what it means that he is “I AM,” but to believe it!

(The above quote is found in Augustine of Hippo, “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John,” in vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, p. 220-221)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Which Jesus Do You Worship? (Machen)

 Many people will say something positive about Jesus.  I’ve heard someone who didn’t profess to be a Christian tell me he thought Jesus was a good guy.  I also had a Mormon get upset with me because I told him the Mormon religion and the Christian faith are worlds apart.  He got in my face and passionately told me loved Jesus in his heart.  I was wondering “which Jesus?”  J. Gresham Machen wrote well about this in chapter two of The Person of JesusHis argument was that the Christ who walked among us long ago, Jesus of Nazareth, is who Scripture says he is: God-in-the-flesh, truly man and truly God.  Here’s Machen:

“…It is not a sin to worship Jesus.  On the contrary, it is the highest and noblest privilege and duty ever given to man.  It is not a sin to worship the real Jesus.  It is not a sin to worship the Jesus who is God and man.  But it is a sin to manufacture a Jesus who was man only and not God, and then after you have manufactured that purely human Jesus to bow down and worship him.”

J. Gresham Machen, The Person of Jesus, p.24.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Jesus: A Contentless Banner?? (Schaeffer)

 Many Christians have noted a dichotomy in modern thought.  On the upper level is value; on the bottom level is fact.  On the upper level is faith; on the bottom level is reason.  On the upper level is religion; on the bottom level is science.  On the upper level it is non-rational; on the bottom level is rational.  In other words, the upper level is about personal feelings and beliefs and the lower level is made up of more solid and real things like reason, science, and facts.  Francis Schaeffer discussed and critiqued this modern view in his excellent book, Escape from Reason.  In this book he gives a good Christian and biblical answer to modernity’s false dichotomy.

One area where this false dichotomy shows up is in how people today think of Jesus.  For most people, Jesus belongs to the upper level of religion and faith but he does not belong to the bottom level of fact and reason.  For many Westerners, Jesus can mean anything to anyone – what Francis Schaeffer called a “contentless banner.”  Here’s Schaeffer:

I have come to the point where, when I hear the word “Jesus”—which means so much to me because of the Person of the historic Jesus and his work—I listen carefully because I have with sorrow become more afraid of the word “Jesus” than almost any other word in the modern world. The word is used as a contentless banner, and our generation is invited to follow it. But there is no rational, scriptural content by which to test it, and thus the word is being used to teach the very opposite things from those which Jesus taught. …It is now Jesus-like to sleep with a girl or a man if she or he needs you. As long as you are trying to be human you are being Jesus-like to sleep with the other person, at the cost, be it noted, of breaking the specific morality which Jesus taught. But to these men this does not matter because that is downstairs in the area of rational scriptural content.

We have come then to this fearsome place where the word “Jesus” has become the enemy of the Person Jesus and the enemy of what Jesus taught. We must fear this contentless banner of the word “Jesus” not because we do not love Jesus but because we do love him. We must fight this contentless banner, with its deep motivations, rooted into the memories of the race, which is being used for the purpose of sociological form and control. We must teach our spiritual children to do the same.

This accelerating trend makes me wonder whether, when Jesus said that toward the end time there will be other Jesuses, he meant something like this. We must never forget that the great enemy who is coming is the anti-Christ. He is not anti-non-Christ. He is anti-Christ. Increasingly over the last few years the word “Jesus,” separated from the content of the Scriptures, has become the enemy of the Jesus of history, the Jesus who died and rose and who is coming again and who is the eternal Son of God. So let us take care. If evangelical Christians begin to slip into a dichotomy, to separate an encounter with Jesus from the content of the Scriptures (including the discussable and the verifiable), we shall, without intending to, be throwing ourselves and the next generation into the millstream of the modern system.

Francis A. Schaeffer, Escape from Reason (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2014).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015