Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
Bookmark and Share

May 2003, Volume IX, Issue 13


Unbreakable Scripture (3)

Last time we considered the fact that the phrase, "I said, Ye are gods" (Ps. 82:6) is a poetic hyperbole from an otherwise obscure portion of the OT. If this statement "cannot be broken" (John 10:34-35), then surely no Scripture can be broken.

However, there is an argument against this interpretation—an argument even made by some leading evangelicals—which would nullify this testimony to the inerrancy of Scripture from Christ’s words in John 10:34-35. They say that when Jesus said, "the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35), he was making an ad hominem argument. That is, they say that Christ did not personally believe in the inerrancy of Scripture or at least that He was not affirming it here. Rather, they say that He knew that His Jewish opponents believed in the inerrancy of Scripture and (while He did not believe it Himself) He used this against them.

This interpretation fails for two main reasons. First, where Jesus disagreed with the Jews and their religious leaders, He told them plainly. He did not evade issues or let them pass. He spoke clearly against their erroneous understanding of God’s moral law (Matt. 5). He opposed their view of divorce and remarriage (Matt. 19). He rejected their earthy views of the Messiah (John 6). Against the Sadducees, He asserted the bodily resurrection of the dead; and against the Pharisees, He explained that the Christ was David’s son and David’s Lord (Matt. 22). Fearlessly, He told the unbelieving Jews that they were not sons of Abraham but sons of the devil (John 8). If the Jews were wrong in believing the OT to be inerrant, would not Christ have corrected them?

Second, we know that Jesus did not say "the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35) merely as an ad hominem argument, because He always wielded the Scriptures as God’s unbreakable Word. "For verily I say unto you," He declared, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18). His confession of Scripture was "thy word is truth"—all of it, absolutely (John 17:17). In the wilderness He triumphed over the devil with the Scriptures as His final, unassailable authority ("It is written;" Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). How could He have said these things if He believed that the Bible contains errors? How could He have said these things if He did not believe that God’s Word is inerrant?

Saints of God, we have a wonderful gift from our Father: the unbreakable Scriptures! You can trust its proclamations for your salvation. You can rest on its promises for your hope beyond the grave. Place your full confidence in the Holy Bible and in the glorious Saviour whom it presents! Rev. Stewart

The Fear of God

My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments (Ps. 119:120). Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love (I John 4:18).

The question sent in to us in connection with these texts is: How do we harmonize these verses with respect to "fear?"

The question arises out of the fact that the Scriptures in these passages (and many more could be added) seem to speak of fear in a contradictory way. Paul tells the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear, but John insists there is no fear in love, that, in fact, perfect love casts out fear, and that fear is torment. On the one hand, the believer is urged to fear it; on the other hand he is warned against fear.

Both the Hebrew and the Greek use an identical word for "fear," although it has two distinct meanings in Scripture. (I ought to mention in parentheses that the Hebrew has many different words for "fear," but the word most frequently used has the same two meanings as the Greek.)

One meaning is "dread" or "terror." This is the way it is most commonly used among us. If I fear something, I am in terror of it.

The other meaning can best be translated by words such as "reverence, respect, awe." I myself prefer the word "awe" and think this meaning comes closest to the biblical idea.

In Psalm 119:120 the Scriptures are clear on the fact that the term means "terror" or "dread." That this is true is clear first of all from the fact that the Psalmist sings of his "flesh" trembling for fear. Our flesh is our nature from the viewpoint of the sin and weakness which characterizes it. That our flesh should tremble for fear of God is understandable because God is a holy and righteous God who hates sin and punishes it severely in this life and in the life to come. Our flesh dreads God!

But, in the second place, it is clear that Psalm 119:120 means dread because the verse is an example of Hebrew parallelism in which the first and second parts of the verse explain each other. The second part reads, "I am afraid of thy judgments." One can easily see how the two parts develop each other more fully.

In the NT the same idea is found in I John 4:18. When the apostle speaks here of love, he refers to God’s love for us, not our love for God. If we know the love of God for us, we need never be afraid of Him. Nor can we be afraid of Him. How can we dread coming into the presence of one who loves us? Love casts out fear. If, on the other hand, we do not know the love of God, then we are afraid of Him because we are, in ourselves, sinners who will surely receive our just punishment for sin. Fear torments us for the fires of hell lick about our feet even while we are here in the world, only to consume us after death. But when the love of God, revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ, is shed abroad within our hearts, then that love casts out fear.

But Philippians 2:12 speaks of fear as a necessary virtue in the working out of our salvation because he refers to fear as reverence or awe. Both words (reverence and awe) fit beautifully here. We work out the salvation God has graciously given to us. We do this with reverence because we do this before God’s face as an act of worship of the Most High. And we work out our salvation with awe because we are filled with awe at the greatness of our God who has given us such a glorious salvation.

Because Scripture uses the same word with such diverse meanings, there must be a relationship between the two meanings. I find this relationship to lie in the following ideas.

Because we know that we justly deserve God’s most terrible judgments and punishments for our sin, we stand before Him in reverence and awe. We marvel that He has, out of mere grace and without any merit on our part, made us the objects of His love and given us Christ, His own Son, to make us His people. As we ponder what blessings are ours because of His love, that reverence and awe increase.

If we should be involved in a plot to kill the queen, only to be caught and found guilty, we would be filled with terror as we are dragged into her presence; but if our queen not only pardoned us but also made us an heir to the throne, we would be in awe of such unmerited kindness and we would be unable to speak of the queen with anything but reverence. God has done infinitely greater than that for us.

The second relation between the two meanings of the term is this: Even when saved from our sins and in awe at the greatness of God’s mercy towards us, a certain dread remains in our hearts. Even saints, when confronted with God’s holiness felt a certain terror (cf. Isa. 6). That terror properly manifests itself in reverence and awe. Fear is, therefore, to be so afraid of offending God by our sins, after He has done so much for us, that we are careful to obey Him in all we do. This is why "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Thus we "do his commandments" and sing his "praise" (Ps. 111:10). Prof. H. Hanko

Is Universal Atonement True? (7)

(16) Another argument against unlimited atonement flows from the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Father chose to save the elect alone and not the reprobate, the Spirit applies redemption to the elect alone and not the reprobate, but the Son (allegedly) died for the elect and the reprobate. Thus there is a radical disjuncture between the extent of the saving work of the Father and the Spirit (elect but not reprobate) and the extent of the saving work of the Son (elect and reprobate). Where then is the unity between the three Persons of the Godhead? They are not all of "one mind" and they do not all have one purpose. In fact, one Person of the Trinity (the Son) is working for a goal (the salvation of the reprobate) not shared by the other two Persons (the Father and the Spirit). The Father elects His people to be redeemed, the Spirit applies this redemption to the same elect people, but the Son (allegedly) dies to redeem some whom the Father chose not to redeem and some to whom the Spirit wills not to apply redemption. The teaching of a death of Christ for all men head for head is forbidden by the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity and runs counter to Scriptural statements regarding the unity of the extent of the saving work of the Father and the Son (John 10:15-17; Rom. 3:25-26; II Cor. 5:18-19; Eph. 1:4-7), the Son and the Spirit (Gal. 4:4-6; Heb. 9:14), and the Father, the Son and the Spirit (II Thess. 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6; Rev. 1:4-6).

(17) Universal atonement is contradicted by the Biblical presentation of Christ’s atonement as a work which actually saves. Christ delivered us from the kingdom of the devil (Heb. 2:14-15). He propitiated God’s wrath against us by bearing God’s righteous indignation against our sins (I John 4:10). He reconciled us (Rom. 5:10) and redeemed (Gal. 3:13) and ransomed us (Matt. 20:28). Scripture does not teach that Christ makes salvation possible by His death. Nowhere does it say that. The Bible teaches that Jesus actually delivered, reconciled, redeemed and ransomed us by His cross. He did not merely make it possible for all men to be delivered, reconciled, redeemed and ransomed. On the cross, He turned away God’s punitive wrath against us for ever. It is not true that Jehovah’s wrath is only potentially turned away from all men so that all can be saved if they, by an act of their "free will," choose Jesus. Furthermore, this view would make entrance into God’s kingdom depend on man’s decision and not on God’s election.

If Jesus paid the price for all men yet some men perish in Hell, then Christ’s atonement does not save all for whom it was made. Then too it is not substitutionary, for if He bore the punishment of the reprobate—in their stead!—why do they perish? If some end up in Hell for whom Christ died, then God punished their sins twice, once on Christ and once on them. How can the infinitely just God require payment for sins twice? How can He demand punishment of the sinner in Hell when satisfaction has already been made for his sins? And how can some whom Christ delivered, reconciled, redeemed and ransomed dwell forever as God’s enemies in the prison of Hell? Remember there is no condemnation for those for whom Christ died (Rom. 8:34). Rev. Stewart

If you would like to receive the Covenant Reformed News free by e-mail each month (and/or by post, if you are in the UK), please contact Rev. Stewart and we will gladly send it to you.