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June 2011  •  Volume XIII, Issue 14


Glorious Things Spoken of the Church (1)

What do you think of Christ’s church? "I’m not really that excited about it." "To be honest, it is peripheral in my life (though I know this is wrong)." "I think that I love God in Jesus Christ, but I have little enthusiasm for His church."

Psalm 87 is a part of God-breathed Scripture specifically designed to help us in this regard. It sets forth the glory of Jehovah’s church. In what does its glory consist? How must its glory be conceived? Psalm 87 calls us to emulate God and His attitude to His church, as well as the faithful saints of all ages and their estimation of her: "Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God" (3)! You and I must think God’s thoughts after Him about His beloved bride, the church. We must say from our hearts what God says about His church.

God’s evaluation of His church is not that of the ungodly world. The Samaritans declared, "this city [of Jerusalem] of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and ... rebellion and sedition have been made therein" (Ezra 4:19). The Edomites cried out concerning God’s city, "Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof" (Ps. 137:7)! The false church of Rome has called Christ’s church, reformed according to the Word of God, an "assembly of heretics."

But listen to God extol His church in His Word! "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King" (48:2). "For the Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation" (132:13). The church is the apple of God’s eye, "the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Tim. 3:15).

The people of God speak glorious things of the church. Augustine’s famous book, The City of God, was named after Psalm 87:3 and similar verses. John Calvin declared, "The state or kingdom of the church constitutes the principle and august theatre where God presents and displays the tokens of His wonderful power, wisdom and righteousness." Again, "A right judgment cannot be formed of the happiness of the church, except when we estimate it according to the standard of God’s Word." Again Calvin said, "If we do not prefer the church to all the other objects of our solicitude, we are unworthy of being accounted among her members." Spurgeon wrote, "Whatever glorious things the saints may say of the church in their eulogies, they cannot exceed what prophets have foretold, what angels have sung, or what God Himself has declared. Happy are the tongues which learn to occupy themselves with so excellent a subject."

In order that we, God’s children, may speak glorious things of the church, we are taught of her glories in Scripture, including in the Psalms (e.g., Ps. 46; 48; 87; 122; 137). As part of God’s Word, He has commanded His ministers to preach these Psalms (II Tim. 4:2). Also He has commanded us to sing them (Ps. 95:2; Col. 3:16). Psalm 87 tells us in its title that it is a "Psalm or Song."

In Psalm 87:1, "His foundation is in the holy mountains," "His" refers to God.  God founded Jerusalem in the "holy mountains" (1)—this is one of the "glorious" things spoken of the church (3).

Jerusalem is situated on a chain of mountains running north-south, parallel to the east coast of the Mediterranean. More precisely, Jerusalem is situated on four "holy mountains" (1): Zion, Moriah, Scopus and Ophel. As a city founded on the mountains, Jerusalem is elevated. It is not one of the world’s highest peaks—too high (and cold) a mountain would be unsuitable for a pilgrimage and capital city—and even Hebron to the south is higher, but apart from the southern approach, you must ascend to get to Jerusalem. This is especially evident in the pilgrimage Psalms (Ps. 120-134). "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help" (121:1). "Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together: whither the tribes go up" (122:3-4).

As a city founded on the mountains, Jerusalem is well defended. Enemy troops must climb up to reach it—tiring! This also makes it difficult for them to transport munitions and supplies. The elevation of Israel’s capital city was a defence: "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth even for ever" (125:2). Also, Jerusalem’s walls were built on her hills. If it is harder to attack your enemy when he is in a high fortification, it is easier to attack your enemy from your own high fortification. "Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell [i.e., number] the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following" (48:12-13).

As a city founded on the mountains, Jerusalem is steadfast, firm and unshakeable. Hills are a picture of firmness (46:2), especially Jerusalem’s hills: "They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever" (125:1).

Now in the New Testament age of the one, holy, apostolic church of Jesus Christ, consisting of believing Jews and Gentiles, the earthly city of Jerusalem is no more beloved or favoured of God than Dallas, Delhi, Dublin or Dakar. Jerusalem fell to the Romans in AD 70, for the church had outgrown her Jewish swaddling bands and become catholic or universal. The hour Jesus had spoken of has come and now is "when the true worshippers ... worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23) and the earthly mountains of Jerusalem and Gerizim are irrelevant (20-21; cf. Mal. 1:11).

Next time, Lord willing, we shall consider to what the glorious elevation, mighty defence and unshakeable firmness of Jerusalem’s foundation refer in the New Testament age, the days of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. Rev. Stewart

Jude’s Quotation of Enoch

"What about the prophecy of Enoch in Jude 14-15 (‘And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him’)? Is this endorsing an apocryphal writing? Does this militate against the Protestant teaching about Scripture?"

The question brings to mind a personal experience. I was undergoing that very frightening event in my life called "the classical exam." I had graduated from seminary; I had passed my three full days of oral exams before the synod; I had received and accepted a call, and now was the final and decisive exam, which would determine whether the churches considered me fit for the ministry of the Word. Seven years of study and a lifetime in that great calling of the ministry were in the scales of this exam.

Unlike the synodical exams at which the (more sympathetic) professors asked the questions, at the classical exam, all the ministers within the classis participated. I was being examined in knowledge of Scripture. The quizzing minister put this question to me: "Do you believe that there are divinely inspired books that are not included in the Bible?" He mentioned a few of them. I had been taught the truth of the organic inspiration of the Bible, by which is meant that God eternally determined the whole of the Scriptures as a perfect and complete record of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The question seemed to me to be at odds with that truth. And so, wondering why it was asked, I answered, "No." My questioner immediately responded with the remark, "You are wrong." Well, as you all know, I passed anyway; apparently the classis did not consider the question sufficiently important to make an issue of it. And, at this point I am sufficiently old to announce publicly that I am still of the position that I was right and my questioner wrong.

There are two aspects to our Korean reader’s question; I will answer them separately.

The first aspect concerns whether or not Jude 14-15 is a quotation of an apocryphal writing called The Book of Enoch. We should note that this reference in Jude to the prophecy of Enoch does not agree fully with any passage in The Book of Enoch, and is likely not a quotation from any book. Those who do not believe that it is a quotation from The Book of Enoch prefer to refer it to oral tradition. Among those who take this position is John Calvin. The editor to Calvin’s commentary adds that this is "the most common opinion," before continuing, "There is no evidence of such a book being known for some time after this epistle was written; and the book so called was probably a forgery, occasioned by this reference to Enoch’s prophecy." H. C. Thiessen agrees (Introduction to the New Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1954], p. 294).

On the other hand, R. C. H. Lenski, the Lutheran commentator, holds to the idea that this is a direct quotation. He spends considerable time in discussing the whole matter, but says that the infallibility of Scripture is not called into question.

If it is true that Jude is referring here to a tradition that had come down to the church over the centuries, it would not be contrary to Scripture’s integrity that Jude should quote it. There are other examples, one notable instance of which is found in Acts 20:35, which states that Christ said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." This word of the Lord Jesus is not recorded in any of the four gospel accounts.

It may be argued that these words of Christ were spoken much closer in time to the use of them by Paul (in Acts 20) than the words of Enoch recorded in Jude’s epistle. It may also be argued that Paul is quoting Jesus rather than Enoch, but what difference does it really make? It was the Spirit of Christ who inspired Enoch (and Jude).

This brings me to the second question: Does this militate against the Protestant teaching about Scripture? I presume the reader means: Does a quotation that itself does not appear in the Bible militate against the infallible inspiration of Scripture? The answer is most emphatically that it does not.

Even if the content of Enoch’s preaching came down through tradition, that prophecy was inspired in Enoch in the same way that Paul’s speeches, quoted in Scripture, were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Enoch was a prophet of God and spoke His Word.

Further, we may be sure that the excerpt from Enoch’s prophecy referred to by Jude is correct, for the Holy Spirit inspired Jude to write what he did. If the tradition of the prophecy was faulty, the Spirit would not have inspired Jude to use it. Let us remember that the same Holy Spirit who inspired the prophecy of judgment on the wicked in the pre-flood days, is the same Holy Spirit who inspired Jude to write his epistle. The Holy Spirit surely knows what He said through Enoch.

Further, Enoch was a prophet of God. Paul even quotes from secular writers, the most notable of whom is Aretus, whom he cited on Mars Hill (Acts 17:28). The following points have to be understood from this. 1) Aretus, though an unbeliever, spoke truly in the statement Paul quotes. 2) Aretus surely spoke this in the context of his own pagan worship of many gods, but that does not alter the fact that the statement as such is true. 3) Paul is not saying Aretus spoke by the Holy Spirit; he is only saying that Aretus, in this statement, made a correct observation. 4) Since Scripture is infallibly inspired, the statement of Aretus was indeed made by him.

To speak such formal truths is not beyond the capability of unbelievers. When I studied plain geometry, I learned and memorized the so-called Pythagorean Theorem. Pythagoras was not a believer, but this mathematical statement is true—from a formal point of view. If you put it into the context of Pythagoras’ philosophy, that the ultimate reality is number, then it is false because Pythagoras’ philosophy is false. If I had said in a test that the Pythagorean theorem was false because Pythagoras was an unbeliever, my Christian school teacher would have marked it wrong, I’m quite sure.

Enoch prophesied in a time similar to the time Jude wrote his epistle and our time. Let the wicked understand that such prophecies against them will surely be fulfilled on them. God’s written Word stands unmoved and unchangeable: the Lord’s return will be terrible to the ungodly! Repent and believe the gospel of Christ!  Prof. Hanko

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