Archive for the 'Wrath' Category


the righteousness of god in the gospel (2)

Our previous post argued that when Paul speaks of ‘the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel’ (Roms 1:17) he means precisely that; in the gospel God reveals himself acting righteously, that is, acting consistently with all he is in himself (Roms 3:21-26).  Among the ways God reveals himself acting righteously is in declaring righteous those who are ungodly; he passes a verdict of righteous (justifies) on people who are unrighteous.  How he does so righteously remains to be explored, however, what ‘justifying the ungodly‘ (Roms 4:4) does underline is that the righteous standing of sinners is not one they deserve but one God gifts.  Thus Paul speaks of ‘the gift of righteousness’ (Roms 5:17), in fact, lest there is any doubt he speaks of, ‘the free gift’ of righteousness (Roms 5:15,16,17), indeed ‘a free gift by grace’ (Roms 5:15,17; 3:24).  In this sense our righteousness is truly ‘of God’.  It finds its source, initiative, and quality or nature in God.  Paul writes,

Phil 3:9
…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith.

But how can a righteous God declare righteous the unrighteous?  How can he render a righteous verdict on lives that are unrighteous?  On the face of it, such an apparently false verdict does not glorify God’s righteousness but shames and disgraces it.  Where is God’s righteousness in imputing (reckoning or counting) righteous those who are ungodly?

Scripture tells us faith is imputed or reckoned as righteousness (Roms 4:4).  Does this mean that faith itself is the righteousness that God requires to declare us righteous?  No, for this would make righteousness ‘of man’ and not ‘of God.  Understood in this way faith becomes a form of works and the righteousness procured ‘my own’ (a righteousness which Paul repudiates) and not a righteous standing sourced in God. Besides faith itself does not deal with the problem of human unrighteousness; faith cannot cancel existing guilt and is not said to so do.  No, while faith is reckoned for righteousness it is not because faith is itself righteous. The reason faith counts as righteousness must be found elsewhere?

Is, as some say, the righteous life of Christ imputed to the believer as his righteousness?  Well, certainly Scripture does not say it is.  Scripture does not say that God takes the righteous life of Christ and reckons it to us as righteousness.  To be sure the righteous life of Christ gives value and worth to Christ’s death nevertheless the life of Christ it is not said to be imputed.  We must let Scripture speak and not our traditions. Again and again Scripture locates the basis of God’s justifying verdict in the death of Christ.  It is there and there only God finds a basis to declare the ungodly righteous.  The death of Jesus is God’s great initiative to establish a righteousness sourced in him and displaying his glory.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Notice, we are ‘justified by his grace as a gift‘.  Why?  How?  ‘Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation [mercy-seat, propitiatory] by his blood’.  Here, is God’s righteousness in the gospel.  Here is solved and unveiled the justifying verdict of the unrighteous. Here God finds an adequate moral motive to ‘justify the ungodly‘.  In sinners there is none, in the blood of Christ there is.

Redemption was necessary.  Sin had created a debt that must be paid. It is an offence that must be addressed.  Left unpunished sin impugns God’s righteousness.  God’s glory is at stake where sin is unjudged. The debt of sin must be met. The price must be paid.  It could of course have been paid by God simply wiping out humanity.  But such a way of displaying his righteousness is not where the heart of God truly lies.  He wishes to righteously bless not curse, save not destroy.  Thus the glorious wisdom of the cross. Here God’s heart of love and grace is displayed in all his righteousness in salvation.  Here the debt of man is paid in full and in such a way that God is perfectly glorified in who he essentially is.  

How is this redemptive debt paid?  By faith? No.  By Christ’s life imputed? No. It is paid by the value of the blood of Christ.  Christ’s blood is the ransom price (Rev 5:9).  In the words of Romans again, ‘ and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [mercy-seat, propitiatory] by his blood, to be received by faith.’

This language is alien to us unless we are familiar with the ceremonies of the OT law (intended as models of what would  be realized in Christ). To these we must turn if we are to understand the basis of our justification.

the mercy-seat

When Israel left Egypt they travelled through the desert living in tents.  God resided among them in his own tent (the tabernacle); it was his travelling palace and sanctuary.  In the innermost tent of this travelling palace was the ark of the covenant.  The ark was a box containing (among other things) the two tablets of the covenant, the law. Covering the box was a slab of pure gold called ‘the mercy-seat’ above which were cherubim (symbols of rule and authority). Although God could not be contained by heaven and earth, the ark was God’s designated throne in the world. From it he ruled Israel and in fact the nations. He ruled righteously, the tablets of law below the throne expressing what he required of man.  If they were flouted then God’s righteous anger would necessarily be aroused for he hates all unrighteousness.  It defies him and destroys all that is good and right.  His throne is dishonoured  and everything defiled by it.  Where sin erupts  under his rule (a defiance of all that God is) his glory (all that he is) must be upheld thus judgement and cleansing/purging must take place.  

And the reality, of course, is that Israel did sin and did arouse God’s anger.  Their sin both defied and defiled yet in grace God provided for sin.  Mercy was available from the very seat of his throne.  It was called, as we noted, ‘the mercy-seat’ or ‘covering’.  Its title hints at its function; although the seat of God’s throne from which he ruled it suggested that God’s rule in a sinful world, although righteous, would be merciful and would provide a covering for broken law.  But it could not be merciful per se.  The slab did not cover sin just by existing.  It functioned in mercy and became a covering for a broken law only when sprinkled with blood.  The blood of an animal sacrificed as a sin offering must be splattered on the mercy-seat and it was the value that God placed on the blood of the sacrifice that enabled him to forgive sins and cleanse from unrighteousness.

The blood meant the High Priest and people (both sinful) did not die, instead the judgement was borne by the sacrifice and God’s holy justice satisfied*.  The blood provided purification.  It cleansed. It made a sinful people clean before God (Lev 16:16, 30).  The blood of a slain goat apparently satisfied God’s moral nature enabling him to accept as righteous an unrighteous people; it (along with the scapegoat) made atonement (Lev 16:16). Blood enabled a throne that must otherwise, because of sin, be a throne of righteous judgement, become a throne of righteous mercy; God could justly justify.

The basic principle of the OT is that it is blood that atones and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebs 9:18-22).   However, these OT sacrifices were of mere dumb animals, in reality they had no atoning worth.  It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebs 10:4). These sacrifices were not pleasing (of moral value) to God (Hebs 9:8).  Their fragrance was merely sensory and not spiritual. Their value was symbolic and not substantial.  They had no intrinsic moral virtue that could deal with the problem of sin.  They but pointed forward to blood of a different value; the blood of Christ.  When Scripture speaks of the blood of animals it simply speaks of ‘blood’ but when it speaks of the blood of Christ it is always identified distinctly with him; it is ‘his blood’ (Roms 3:25), ‘the blood of Christ’ (1 Cor 10:16), ‘the blood of the Lord’ (1 Cor 11:27); ‘his own blood’ (Acts 20:28), ‘Jesus blood’ (Hebs 10:19), for it is ‘precious (valuable) blood’ (1 Pet 1:19)

It is the value of this blood, his blood, that enables righteous mercy.  Here was not the blood of an uncomprehending animal but the blood of a Son who voluntarily came to do the will of he who sent him. Animal sacrifices though chosen carefully by men were worthless, Christ’s body, fashioned by God for the express purpose of sacrifice, would be the sacrifice to fulfil and finish all sacrifice (Hebs 10:5).  Every aspect of his full and selfless obedience in life prepared him to be the perfect flawless sacrifice for sin. Every step in life was one of intentional consecrated obedience in the direction of the cross where he would be the sin-bearer.  The cross with all its awful implications of sin-bearing and divine judgement was willingly embraced because it was the will of God.  Here was immeasurable obedience.  Here was a righteous act of surpassing moral worth – the Holy One willing to be made sin and become a curse, bearing our sin in his own body on the tree, the one who had life in himself entering death and dismissing from his body, his spirit.  Here in this conscious and deliberate act of self-immolation, intended that God may act in and through it and be perfectly glorified in all that he is – his truth, wisdom, power, holy wrath, grace, love and righteousness – a ransom was found that redeemed.  The debt of sin was cancelled and indeed so great was the glory that this bloody selfless sacrifice bought to God, God was in turn indebted.  If Christ in an intentionally sin-bearing death (ordained by God and undertaken by his Son) brought such glory to God then God was in righteousness obligated to honour this intent.  He must show mercy for mercy is that for which this righteous blood cries.  Mercy is God’s only righteous response.  And, of course, he does, for the mercy which this blood demands is the same mercy that the throne upon which it lies splattered delights.   Blood, the blood of Christ, is the great basis of justification (Roms 5:9). Hear once more the words of Romans 3

Rom 3:25-26 (HCSB)
God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.

Here then, is the basis of the justifying righteousness of God, apart from law-keeping, though both law and prophets bore witness to it. It is as simple and plain as it is sublime.  The infinite value of Christ’s atoning blood is reckoned to us, and reckoned for righteousness by faith.   When God sees Christ in death he sees a mercy-seat covered in blood, the blood of sacrifice for sin, blood that pays debt and cleanses and thus he can be righteous and declare righteous those who have faith in Jesus.  This is the righteousness ‘of God’; he who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Thus with Horatius Bonar we say

I hear the words of love,
I gaze upon the blood,
I see the mighty sacrifice,
And I have peace with God

’Tis everlasting peace,
Sure as Jehovah’s Name;
’Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
For evermore the same.

And with Isaac Watts

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.

But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.


 *  Controversy rages as to whether atonement simply expiates (removes sin) or also propitiates (removes wrath).  It appears to do both.  Wrath after all is simply the divine reaction to sin.  Thus, if the blood does not atone the High Priest and nation die. Death here, as always, is punishment, it is judicial wrath.  In fact, the institution of the Day of Atonement is a direct result of God’s wrath erupting in fiery judgement, a symbol of consuming wrath, because of disobedience (Lev 16:1).

Lev 10:1-7 (ESV)
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.

And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near; carry your brothers away from the front of the sanctuary and out of the camp.” So they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said. And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that the Lord has kindled. And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses.

Fire consuming is a symbol of purifying judgement.

Exod 15:6-7 (ESV)
​​​​​​​​Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, ​​​​​​​your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; ​​​​​​​you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. ​​​

Deut 4:23-24 (ESV2011)
Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Lam 2:3 (ESV2011)
He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around.

Thus the fire that consumes the sacrifice implies righteous wrath and judgement, propitiation.

Lev 6:8-13 (ESV)
​The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall be on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. And the priest shall put on his linen garment and put his linen undergarment on his body, and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and put them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.

Lev 6:24-30 (ESV)
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. In a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting. Whatever touches its flesh shall be holy, and when any of its blood is splashed on a garment, you shall wash that on which it was splashed in a holy place. And the earthenware vessel in which it is boiled shall be broken. But if it is boiled in a bronze vessel, that shall be scoured and rinsed in water. Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy. But no sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place; it shall be burned up with fire.



preaching postmortem salvation is neither legitimate nor loving

A number on the evangelical left (for evangelical left read neo-liberals) are intent on foisting some version of universalism (that all will ultimately be saved) or quasi-universalism on the evangelical community.  Unfortunately, among many they are likely to find an open ear for not only do many have a woefully inadequate basic knowledge of what the Bible teaches but the salvation of all is naturally appealing.  One example of a quasi-universalism is the belief that in hell there will be a further opportunity to repent and trust in Christ.  We are told that holding out such a hope is surely, at the very least, a generous and loving approach.  Is it not better to hope that all may ultimately be saved than to say that millions will be in hell?

Well, it is only a generous and loving hope if it is true.  If, however, there is no biblical ground for such a hope and every indication that the opposite is the case, it is far from loving.  It is not loving for a doctor to tell a patient with a life-threatening illness that although they would be better to get it treated immediately nevertheless if they don’t they shouldn’t worry for they can get it treated at a later date.  This is not loving, it is criminally irresponsible and negligent.  Doctore are likely to be struck-off for such advice.

Likewise, those who preach that there is an opportunity for sinners to be converted in hell when no such optimism is merited from the biblical revelation (which is after all the basis for all Christian belief) are not acting in love but are being criminally negligent and are also in danger of being ‘struck-off’.

The whole thesis of universalism (that all will be saved) whether as a belief or a hope faces intractable opposition from Scripture.  In the previous post we noted that Jesus himself, when asked about the number who will be saved, is guarded in his response.

Luke 13:22-30 (ESV)
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.’

His words, ‘“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.‘ by themselves would lead any responsible teacher of Scripture to be chary of any universalistic inclinations they may cherish.  His immediately following words would be enough to close completely the mouth of any who fear God from positing or preaching postmortem conversion.

‘When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” 

The picture is clear.  There is a time of opportunity but it is not forever.  God’s patience and grace is not extended forever.  The invitation to the heavenly Kingdom is not indefinite.  There is a point when some may wish to enter but find they are too late.   Yes, undoubtedly people from every nation will be in the kingdom (it will be universal in its scope and vision and embrace), but not all from every nation will be there.   Undoubtedly, the ultimate fulfilment of Jesus’ words lies at his Second Coming and his Kingdom is completely realized.  Then the door is shut.    Ironically those who are ‘shut out’, and are on the outside in this text are some who assumed they were on the inside (we ate and drank in your presence and you taught us…).   There is a ‘cast out’ group who wish they were not.  And their bitterness and gall is because they know they will have no further opportunity to enter.  They are told to ‘depart’,  a word pregnant with finality (Cf Matt 7:23).

Jesus (and it is nearly always Jesus who spells out the terrible fate of the damned) says something similar in Matt 25.  In the parable of the Wedding and Ten Virgins the five careless virgins find themselves shut out from the wedding celebrations (another image for the Kingdom of God) with no prospect of a late entry.

Matt 25:10-13 (ESV)
And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. 

Once again (with the arrival of the bridegroom) the door is decisively shut against them and there is no hope of it opening, however much they plead.  Notice again, here they wish to enter and are refused.  At the end of the chapter the parable gives way to plainer language when Jesus says,

Matt 25:41-46 (ESV)
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 

However, one interprets this text it is clear that on the day of judgement there are two final and unalterable destinies for humanity.  Everyone finds himself in one or the other and there is no further possibility of a switch.

In the story of the rich man in hell (again recounted by Jesus) the rich man in hell is told,

Luke 16:26 (ESV)
And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

Two points are worth observing here.  Firstly, the chasm or gulf is not the unrepentant heart of the rich man (a weak and specious suggestion some forward).  It is clearly a gulf God has fixed.  Again we are reminded of doors that God has shut;  people do not remain in hell because they want to be there but because their fate is now fixed.   Secondly, from this insight (however parabolic) into the state of the damned, N T Wright’s view that those in hell are effectively de-humanised has a hard time justifying itself.  The rich man seems only too human and that is part of the terror of the picture.

In desperation, some tell us that the gates of the New Jerusalem are never shut (Rev 21:25) so that those outside (the lost in hell) can enter.  But this interpretation is as derisory as it is desperate.  The open gates signify the security of the city – it has no enemies to fear .   Indeed nothing that defiles it can enter (v27).  Only the redeemed can enter (Rev 22:14) while eternal outside are those with unwashed robes – the unholy (v15).  To try to introduce some kind of postmortem salvation here is not only contrary to the rest of Scripture but to the thrust and intention of the text itself.  Indeed, the angel who gives the vision, far from speaking of a postmortem evangelism (salvation after death), speaks of destinies already drawn and decided.

Rev 22:10-13 (ESV)
And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”  “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

The writer goes on to make a very solemn pronouncement.  He says,

Rev 22:18-19 (ESV)
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. 

It is a very serious thing to meddle with what God has revealed, one may find oneself among the ‘shut out’.

This post does not by any means tackle all the arguments of those who espouse a universalitic hope.  But I hope they will help reassure some believers that what evangelicals have taught for centuries is truly biblical; that ‘today is the day of opportunity’, that hell is forever and fixed for those who find themselves there, and that of all things that are unloving the most unloving is to allow sinners to think that they may stall in trusting Christ now for they will have an eternal opportunity to do so, perhaps damnably unloving.

In the words of Mike Wittmer,

‘I wish that God would empty hell, that he would save everyone who has ever lived. But I can’t say I hope for that, because I don’t have a promise from God to hang my hope on. Christians may have lots of good wishes for deceased atheists, but we don’t have hope. Not because we are mean or stingy, but because we dare not offer more hope than God promises in Scripture. That would be false hope, the cruelest hope of all.’


the ugley vicar and hell

John Richardson has an excellent article on hell in the Guardian newspaper.  See here.


you will not surely die

Given the present trend in trendy evangelicalism to pooh-pooh hell and promote variations of universalism (all will ultimately be saved) we should remember the first lie in the garden was to deny judgement.

Gen 3:1-4 (ESV)
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. ​​​​​​​​​​​He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” ​​​ And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.

The serpent’s words may change but his lie remains the same.


japan, cosmic judders, and god’s judgements

The Big Questions (a UK TV show that discusses moral and religious questions) was tackling its normal three questions on Sunday.  Predictably the leading question was whether faith in a benevolent God  is called into question by the recent tsunami in Japan.  Just as predictably the biblical answer was not given, or, at best, partly given.

The apparently self-evident virtue of the human race makes it shockingly and morally reprehensible that tsunamis, earthquakes or any other catastrophe should be visited upon us. If there is a God, and he is responsible, then he is in the dock, and guilty.  Confronted with natural disaster (and most other evils) the normally forgotten God takes centre stage as the Machiavellian villain with humanity the innocent and hapless victim.

As a parody, it would be side-splittingly funny if it wasn’t so serious.

Such a view is, of course, the mythology of orthodox humanism; in fact, precisely the opposite is the true state of affairs.  There is nothing innocent about humanity.  Humanity is no oil painting.  Our whole history is one of perennial selfishness, hostility, inhumanity, hatred and destruction – and that’s just towards each other.  Our attitude to our Creator over our history is even more damnable.  Without exception we have rebelled against his creatorial kindness.  We know he exists but live resolutely as though he did not, refusing to give him the honour and thanks and allegiance that we ought.   We will take his daily provision of life and good things as our due without a thought of thankfulness but if a tsunami happens he will be the first to get the blame. We are brazen in our arrogance.  The wonder is not that tsunamis happen but that they don’t happen more often.

For, let me be as crystal clear, just as seed-time and harvest, sunshine and rain come from the hands of God so too do natural disasters.  In the Bible, these are judgements that warn of a coming cosmic judgement.  They are, according to Jesus, birth-pangs of the end.

Matt 24:3-8 (ESV)
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

They serve as a trumpet call to repentance… the fore-shadowing of judgement soon to come. All too often, however, the warning is ignored and the judgement simply serves to reveal the latent hostility of the human heart towards its Maker.   In Revelation, having described in vivid imagery various plagues inflicted by God upon rebellious humanity as a wake-up call, John comments,

Rev 9:20-21 (ESV)
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

Yes, tsunamis are divine judgements, but they are deserved judgements.  That some paint divine judgement (in the form of tsunami) as reprehensible shows a breathtaking lack of moral self-awareness.  The self-evident reality of life and a truth the Bible regularly asserts is that no-one, absolutely no-one, deserves anything other than judgement from a holy God, even if he is also (as he is) a God who loves.  The putting of God in the dock is the very essence of our moral depravity.  It shows a complete lack of moral and creaturely compass; the risible spectacle of the creature holding the Creator to account – a creature, let it be said, with a moral track record that should inspire anything but self-confidence.

That we, to a man, deserve tsunamic judgement  is the fundamental reason the Bible gives for human suffering yet no-one so much as hinted at it on the programme, not even those who were representing Christianity (Roms  1:18-22; 2:1-16; Rev 6,8).

Of course, why God should visit a tsunami and earthquake on Japan and not the UK, we do not know.  There is a mystery to suffering as one participant ably pointed out.  Why one should suffer and not another we do not know.  But the mystery is not that some suffer, it is that others do not.  It is the mystery of God’s patience with a world ripe for judgement.  That God should send cosmic wake-up calls, warning shots across the bow, is an act of incomprehensible mercy and grace. This is precisely the point Jesus makes to his own people.

Luke 13:1-5 (ESV)
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

God speaks to our world in disasters.  He reminds us that we are not the powerful self-determining race we think and calls on us to repent of our idolatries, submit to his majesty and fear him.   Japan is one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world but is exposed as utterly powerless when God speaks.  If we are wise we will see this.  But we are rarely wise.

On The Big Questions one participant declared his belief in man, not God.  Man was the shaper of his own destiny. Man in his goodness and ingenuity would rise above disaster and overcome it.  I hope and trust that many will help those in Japan who have suffered such loss.  Many who do will be Christians rightly expressing God’s own ongoing grace and mercy to those who survive.  But this defiant and deranged humanism is precisely why judgements come,  precisely the response that John predicted, and precisely why a final tsunamic judgement on our world of cosmic propotions is sure and certain.

From it and in it none will escape.

There will be no heroes rocketed into space to avert this meteoric judgement.  None, who will burrow into the earth’s crust to kick-start its stalled motor or who will travel to a dying sun to re-ignite its combustion.  Humanity will not be, as in the movies, the architect of its own salvation.  Only in God is salvation.  Only in repentance and self-humbling lies hope.  Salvation is available now.  It is full and free if we but repent of our rebellion and submit to God and his Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the one who rescues from the wrath to come.  God offers salvation now for those who repent and believe the gospel.

This is the Christian perspective on tsunami.  It is a message the world needs to hear even if it is outraged by it.  It is the message we Christians must have the courage to proclaim.


imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (4)

I had intended by now to beginning addressing the three issues I said I would in the first blog (historical, biblical, and theological difficulties with IAO and attempts to make it a necessary part of gospel orthodoxy).  However, before tackling these I want to point out a couple of worries I have with where IAO seems to lead.

IAO seems to detract from the cross.

Now let me be clear.  I am not saying at all that those who champion IAO intend to detract from the cross.  Protagonists of IAO of whom I am aware are jealous for the cross and what it achieves.  Yet I notice that often when commenting on justification and gospel righteousness by far their greatest emphasis is on the life of Christ rather than the death of Christ.  Gresham Machen is an example of this.  Machen was a real warrior of the gospel who challenged the liberalism of his day heroically and in ways that have yet to be answered.  For Machen, the gospel was paramount and the cross was central.  Yet, as he lay dying (a day before his death), the American Presbyterian theologian, sent a final telegram to his friend John Murray, a fellow theologian, containing the words, ‘I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.

Now I am not aware of other circumstances surrounding the telegram.  Perhaps at that point Machen was still heavily involved in debate over IAO.  Indeed, he may have mentioned the cross too in his telegram, I don’t know.  But it seems to me strange that when dying Machen’s hope focussed on the life of Christ (active obedience refers specifically to Christ’s life) rather than his death.  To my mind, to focus with gratitude at the point of death on Christ’s righteous life rather than his sin-bearing death is to put the emphasis in the wrong place.  That so many quote these words of Machen with evident approval suggests that many others do the same.  This I think is far removed from the emphasis of Scripture which lays hope overwhelmingly in the death and resurrection of Christ (as I hope to show in a later blog).

A theological construct that results in godly believers placing their central eternal hope anywhere other than the death of Christ is for me deeply worrying.

IAO seems to promote expanding Christ’s substitutionary sin-bearing death into a substitutionary sin-bearing life.

One way to make acceptable such an emphasis on the life of Christ as opposed to his sin-bearing redemptive death is to say that his life too is sin-bearing and redemptive.  Indeed, if his righteous life is vicarious then logically must it not be sin-bearing?   This is exactly what many teach.

The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 asserts,

‘…during his whole life on earth, but especially at the end, Christ sustained, in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race’.

This is echoed by Gresham Machen in “The Active Obedience of Christ,” in “God Transcendent” (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), 191.] where he writes,

Every event of his life was a part of his payment of the penalty of sin, and every event of his life was a part of that glorious keeping of the law of God by which he earned for his people the reward of eternal life.

Horatious Bonar wrote,

It was as the Substitute that He was the outcast from the
first moment of His birth. His vicarious life began in the manger. For
what can this poverty mean, this rejection by man, this outcast
condition, but that His sin-bearing had begun?
[Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness, (London: J. Nisbet & Co., 1879),  pp. 26, 27, 29, 32].

A. A. Hodge in his work on the atonement wrote,

The Scriptures teach us plainly that Christ’s obedience was as truly vicarious as was his suffering, and that he reconciled us to the Father by the one as well as by the other [Archibald Alexander Hodge, The Atonement, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1953), pp. 248, 249].

John Piper too, in ‘Counted Righteous in Christ‘ speaks of the crucifixion as ‘the climax of his atoning sufferings’.

Indeed John Calvin himself promoted this belief.

. . when it is asked how Christ, by abolishing sin, removed the enmity between God and us, and purchased a righteousness which made him favourable and kind to us, it may be answered generally, that he accomplished this by the whole course of his obedience. This is proved by the testimony of the Paul, “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). And indeed he elsewhere extends the ground of pardon which exempts from the curse of the law to the whole life of Christ, “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his son, made of a woman, made unto the law, to redeem them that were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5). Thus even at his baptism he declared that a part of righteousness was fulfilled by his yielding obedience to the command of the Father. In short, from the moment when he assumed the form of a servant, he began, in order to redeem us, to pay the price of deliverance . . .   [John Calvin, Calvin’s Institutes, vol.2, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962),  p. 437].

Notice how IAO and a wrath-bearing life are allied.

Such views astonish me. We are not simply being told that the life of Christ is part of the whole of God’s redeeming plan which none dispute, nor that the victory the atonement would accomplish was displayed in his miracles that overcame the effects of sin, we are being told that his incarnation is wrath-bearing , paying the penalty for sin, and atoning. As a baby Jesus was bearing God’s wrath, sin-bearing and atoning!  Are we really to believe such views are basic to mainstream evangelical orthodoxy?  They may be part of forms of reformed orthodoxy but are they mainstream evangelical?  More importantly still, are we to believe they are biblically warranted?  Was Christ suffering vicariously for my sins throughout his life?  Was he vicariously experiencing God’s wrath against my sin as he attended the wedding at Cana, dined with Mary and Martha, rested with his disciples? As we read the epistles where are we taught  that Christ’s life was vicariously atoning, sin-bearing, and wrath-bearing (Calvin’s quoted texts are misinterpreted as I will try to demonstrate in a later blog).

It takes only a little knowledge of the Bible to know that he bore our sins on the tree (1 Pet 2:24) where also he bore the curse (Gals 3:13).  It is not his life but his blood shed in death that cleanses us from sin (1 Jn 1:7).  Scripture after Scripture in the NT makes this plain.  In the garden, his place of greatest agony prior to death, he anticipated ‘the cup’ but he did not drink it (Matt 26:39).  Christ was not forsaken by his Father in life – indeed they worked together in full and perfect communion.  It is on the cross he is forsaken as he becomes the curse.  It is there, in abandonment, that he ceases to address God as Father and calls him ‘My God’ as he becomes the sin-bearer.  It is at the cross he was ‘delivered for our offences’ (Roms 4:24).  In life he experienced the opposition and wrath of men and suffered at their hands for righteousness sake, he learned obedience and all it cost in a fallen world, but it is only in death he suffers at the hand of God and bears divine wrath.  It is shed blood that atones.    A fact the Lord deeply engraved on the hearts of Israel through the sacrificial system.

Lev 17:11 (ESV)
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

In my view claiming Christ’s life is vicariously sin-bearing is not only misguided but detracts from the unique glory of Christ’s death.

IAO can lead to some strange places.  Error does this of course.  A mistaken idea in one area so easily has a knock-on effect and often leads to ideas more mistaken than the first.  IAO seems to do just this.


god’s wrath is real and personal

The Bible teaches us God’s wrath is real and personal.  God is angry because he has been attacked.   The essence of human rebellion is an attack on God’s right to be God.  We have attempted to unseat him.  In our antagonism we would rather worship empty things rather than Him.  Consequently he is stirred to deep anger.

C H Dodd was one of a string of theologians who have attempted to dismiss the idea of God’s wrath and with it the need for a penal substitionary atonement.   Apparently when he came to translate the word ‘propitiation’ he was heard to mutter under his breath, ‘what rubbish’. So well known was his antagonism that one English Cleric wrote a ditty.  It ran like this:

There was a Professor called Dodd
Whose name was exceedingly odd
He spelt if you please
His name with three ‘d’s
While one was sufficient for God.

The argument is ad hominem.  The poem ridicules Dodd for his hubris; Dodd has ideas above his station.  He knew better than God and as a result has a wilful disregard for the staringly obvious; professing to be wise he became a fool.

Ps 75:9
For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, with foaming wine, well mixed; and he will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.

Ps 7:11
God judges justly, and God is angry with the wicked every day.

Isa 13:9 (ESV)
Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.

2Thess 1:6-10 (ESV)
God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.

If this is not real and personal, what is?

the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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