Force of Truth by Thomas Scott

Thomas Scott was an Englishman who became an Anglican Evangelical minister during the Eighteenth Century. He wrote an autobiography entitled Force of Truth.

In the first chapter he tells of his pre-conversion days and how he endeavoured to appease God in most inappropriate ways.

At one point, he came across a religious book that denied the the need for a Saviour. The book argued that God’s standards were low enough for fallen humanity to meet, and that Jesus was simply an example to us.

Scott tells us that the book “argued, and I thought it proved, that there were no eternal torments; and insinuated, that there were no torments except for notorious sinners; and that such as should fall just short of heaven, would sink into their original nothing. With this welcome scheme I silenced all my fears, and told my accusing conscience, that if I fell short of heaven, I should be annihilated, and never be sensible of my loss.” (Force of Truth, p.12)

Scott goes on to attribute doctrines like these to Satan, “for they lead to forgetfulness of God, and security in sin, and are deadly poison to every soul that imbibes them, unless a miracle of grace prevent.”

Something to think about.

Cunningham’s Theological Lectures

These lectures of Cunningham were first delivered in Edinburgh during the 1840s to first year seminary students who hoped to become ministers in the Free Church of Scotland. They were first published in 1878, some 17 years after Cunningham’s death, on request of his former students.

A new, paraphrased kindle edition is now available on Amazon.

The new preface (by the book’s new editor), in part says this:

The lectures by William Cunningham…, after dealing with some important preliminary matters, became an exposition of the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith. As such, it is a commentary on the nature of the Bible.

This work is not simply a reprint of William Cunningham’s original theological lectures. They have been paraphrased and revised to make them a little more accessible to modern readers. As such, this work is not a suitable source for academic research or referencing. The originally published text of 1878 should be used for such purposes. I hope, however, that this edited version will give the reader easier access to the theological perspectives of William Cunningham.

The text as I have amended it is still essentially a 19th century document. Many of the forms of expression are from the 1840s. Nevertheless, its language has been ‘straightened out’ by shortening very long sentences, turning passive voice to active in places, and translating the occasional Latin quotations into English. In a few places I have summarised Cunningham’s words rather than rearranged them. I have also made the language more inclusive by replacing the word ‘man’ with ‘person’, or like term, except where I believe Cunningham unambiguously meant adult male person or persons.

Cunningham’s lectures were originally published … to meet a perceived need. Some ministers of the Free Church of Scotland believed that their church was departing from its scriptural and confessional standards. They hoped that these introductory theological lectures, which they had heard from Principal Cunningham during the early 1840s, might aid the cause of Biblical truth.

Much has occurred theologically since 1878, and not all of the changes have been for the betterment of the Christian church. I believe that the theological lectures of William Cunningham can be an encouragement to Christians today – particularly to students of theology – because they state positive truths clearly. They also correct some wrong views about the Bible that are still held and promoted today. Cunningham identified and refuted them some 180 years ago.

 

Eternal Punishment

The idea is not new, but it has recently been renewed. That is, the denial of eternal punishment for those who do not put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

As Robert Lewis Dabney wrote long ago, he could understand why people do not want the teaching of eternal punishment to be real. It is not a matter for joy. The problem is, as Dabney said (like it or not) it is real.

Jesus himself tells a story in Luke that implies a parallel in extent between Lazarus’ good after-life and Dives’ bad one. Matt 25 indicates that life for the justified is eternal in the same way as the punishment is eternal for the wicked who join the devil and his angels.

Jesus repeatedly warned that, in the outer darkness, there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth, not annihilation. He warned that the place of punishment was eternal (the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched) which at least suggests that the punishment for those who find themselves there is too.

The atonement of Jesus deals with the sins of his people. Those who trust Jesus are promised eternal life freed from their sin by his life, death and rising from the dead on their behalf. Those who go on in their rebellion have no atonement and will go on in their sin forever. The eternity of the punishment parallels the unending nature of the rebellion of sinners.

A supposal about idols

Exodus 20:22 says this — Then the LORD said to Moses, Speak in this way to the sons of Israel: “You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven. You shall not make anything to be with Me — gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.”

The LORD spoke from heaven to give the 10 commandments. This terrified the people who heard it. The LORD then told them by Moses to be impressed with the fact that God has spoken to them, and not to make idols.

My question is “How does the LORD speaking relate to not making idols?”

My supposal (proposed answer) is as follows:

We are to form our understanding about God and his will for our salvation from what he himself has told us in his word. We are not to be inventive when it comes to our theology. We are simply to receive and apply all that God as revealed in his word.

To do otherwise is to make “God” into an idol of our own devising.

The latter part of the text (quoted above) refers to gods of silver and gods or gold. The word “gods” in ancient Hebrew can also be translated “God”. The italicised section “anything to be” is the translator’s guess at how the words that appear in the text might be linked together.

My additional supposal is that the linking words might not be necessary. The LORD probably is saying “You shall not make with Me (out of Me) a God of silver or a God of gold.”

My reason for supposing this can be found in Deuteronomy 4:15-16: “Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb … lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image.”

The LORD was warning people against making the true God into an idol of their own imagination. People will do this when they do not give God’s word its due preeminence in their thinking. In Exodus 32, Aaron did precisely what the LORD had told Israel not to do. He made a gold calf and told people that this is the LORD who took them out of Egypt.

Our God is self-defined. He has given us his written word in the Bible. That alone is our standard. There  we find all that God has revealed about himself and his will for our salvation.

Of Junia and Andronicus (Romans 16:7)

Romans 16:7 seems to be of great interest to some people for reasons other than the indication it gives that Paul knew and respected them. We are told by Paul that these two people were his relatives, that they were in Christ before him, and that they were esteemed among the apostles.

From things that I’ve read, some people want to believe that Andronicus and Junia (who was most likely a woman) were apostles.  The aim of this belief seems to be that, if Junia were an apostle, then woman ought to be ordained into the teaching ministry of the church.

I think that there are several problems with this sort of inference.

There is the ambiguity of the Greek preposition ‘en’. It can have the force, along with the dative form of a noun, of ‘in’, ‘with’, ‘among’, ‘at’ or even ‘to’.

The word episemos can mean ‘illustrious’ or ‘of note’.

So we have this request from Paul that the church at Rome greet his relatives, Andronicus and Junia ‘who are illustrious (or of note) among the apostles’.

Some believe that Paul means these two were particularly eminent apostles, others say that the apostles thought these two were pretty impressive Christians. The first group thinks Andronicus and Junia were apostles, the other group does not think they were apostles.

Let the fight begin! But I think the effort to sort out the meaning of the preposition etc, though interesting and possibly instructive, would not resolve what I see as the main question.

If Andronicus and Junia were really eminent apostles, don’t you think we would have heard  a little more of them?

The original twelve were prominently identified in the four gospels as particularly chosen by Christ, even though one was a devil. They were called, named, and instructed. They witnessed all that Jesus began to do and teach. They were commissioned to take the good news of salvation to the nations.

After Judas’s death, the choice of Matthias was preceded by a description of the requirements needed before a person could become an apostle of Jesus Christ (Acts 1). Any candidate had to have witnessed the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ (This is why there are no apostles of Jesus Christ today, unless they are 2000 years old). So, after finding two candidates who fulfilled all these requirements, the apostles prayed asking the Lord to indicate which of the two should replace Judas. The lot fell on Matthias.

Paul was called to the apostleship by the direct intervention of the risen Lord Jesus. Paul himself refers to his calling as being one born out of time (1Cor. 15:8). Nevertheless, there are many occasions in the book of Acts where the story of his calling is told.

In short, the apostles of Jesus Christ do not pop out of nowhere. In every case, scriptural evidence is given for the calling — along with details of how, when, and where. This is particularly true of eminent apostles like Peter, James, John and Paul.

For this reason, I do not believe that either Andronicus or Junia were apostles of Jesus Christ.

A few thoughts on Psalm 1

The first Psalm speaks of a happy man. This man is happy because he does no wrong and because he knows God through His word.

Now, if you think about things correctly, you’d realise that this Psalm is not talking about any of us. As Paul say, ‘We all like sheep have gone astray’.

Besides our personal failure to fulfil any of the requirements of happiness as described by this Psalm, there is another difficulty.

The Psalm is only talking about a singular male person. In Psalm 32:2, where it talks of the happiness of the ‘man’ to whom the Lord does not impute sin, the word ‘man’ there is actually the Hebrew word for human beings, irrespective of age or gender.

In Psalm 1, as I said, the word ‘man’ means male, a singular male. The singular male is set in opposition to the many wicked, the many sinners.

In Luke 24:43, Jesus says that the whole Old Testament foretells him. The Psalms are essentially about our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the happy man because he alone fulfilled all the requirements for happiness. He did that for his people. He worked righteousness for them.

Again, when He meditated on the law of the Lord, he saw there his job description. He would live that good life, but as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, he also became the sinless sin-bearer. Jesus willingly received the condemnation that our sins deserve. The Old Testament temple sacrifices pointed to the death of Jesus for his people.

That is why Psalm 1 can talk about the way of the righteous. Jesus is the way (and the truth. and the life). The Lord God acknowledges that way, and for Jesus’ sake He justifies those sinners who trust themselves to the Son of God who died and rose to save his people from there sins.

It is through this happy man, Jesus, that the happiness promised to Abraham comes to the nations. By means of the good news of Jesus, miserable sinners can have life instead of death, and joy instead of bitterness. Jesus is that fruitful, flourishing tree — the tree of life.

Footnotes to previous posts

In previous posts, I wrote about the singing of Psalms and the absence of musical instruments in church worship in the New Testament church. I argued that the Psalms were and are the church’s song book, and that use of instrumental music in worship was and should still be regarded as Judaizing; that is, the introduction of Old Testament ceremonial practices into the New Testament Church.

Since writing those posts, I’ve come across some footnotes that relate to them.

In The Baker History of the Church Vol 1: The birth of the Church (AD 30-312), 2004, Ivor Davidson makes the following observation:

There was also singing of “Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16). The Jewish [sic] Psalter was the primary songbook, and believers found clear images of their Lord, his suffering, and his exaltation in the Psalms … Psalms were read aloud as well as sung, as they were in Jewish worship, and singing in general would almost always have been undertaken without any kind of instrumental accompaniment. Indeed, in later Christian writers there would be a great deal of polemic against musical instruments, which were strongly associated with worldly entertainment (p.118, see also endnote 12, p. 378)

In volume 2 (AD 312-600) of the same series, A Public Faith, 2005, Davidson wrote as follows:

About the actual music of Christian worship we know a lot less then we might wish. So far as we can tell, singing remained unaccompanied virtually everywhere, but the absence of musical instruments did not mean that the aesthetic qualities of worship were treated lightly (p.267).

I’d only add that there is no evidence of the use of musical instruments in the NT itself, and musical instruments were shunned in the early church for that reason, and not only because of pagan usage. The use of instrumental music in worship was regarded as part of the Levitical service that had been abolished in Christ. John Chrysostom, for example explicitly referred to it as being of the ‘child’ phase of the church that Paul mentions in Galatians 3:24-25 when he was speaking against the use of OT practices in the NT church.

The Psalms were and should still be sung because they are God’s word, they speak of Christ (Eg., Luke 24:44 and Hebrews 1-3), and as such they constitute His praise rather than ours.  It is His praise that we are to sing. We should sing the Psalms in our church worship with grace in the heart, unaccompanied by anything but the Holy Spirit who speaks by and with His word.