The death of history predicted 1837

About 18 years ago, I was reading an article from the 1850s about the attacks that were then coming on Christianity in Europe. The attacks were in the form of doubting the historical validity of the New Testament narratives of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The author referred to a paper of 1837/8 which argued that those attacks on the historicity of Christianity will eventually result in the death of history as a discipline.

So, I have been searching for that paper, on and off, for about 18 years.

I had already come across a pamphlet by Richard Whately who made a clever application of the arguments of the 18th century philosopher, David Hume.

Hume had claimed that a miracle is an impossibility, or at least, no account of a miracle was to be believed. He said that it was more likely for a witness to a ‘miracle’ to be mistaken than for a miracle to have occurred.

In 1819, Whately applied the interpretive principle of Hume to the history of Napoleon, claiming that the accounts of his victories were clearly miraculous accounts, so any supposed witness to those alleged events were not to be believed. Pop! goes that history of Napoleon, four years after the Battle of Waterloo, if one really accepted Hume’s premise.

This was the beginning of an idea. If one were to apply the techniques of unbelieving Biblical criticism to everything, nothing of reality will remain.

Now, at last, I think I’ve found the 1837 article. It is entitled, THE FALLACY
OF THE MYTHICAL THEORY OF DR. STRAUSS ILLUSTRATED FROM THE HISTORY OF MARTIN LUTHER. The author was a German professor, J. F. Wurm at the seminary in Blaubeuern.

In 1835, David Strauss had published The Life of Jesus. In it he claimed that the accounts that we have of the life Christ in the New Testament are mythical; that is, they are elaborate constructs that have little connection with actual events. In response, Wurm wrote his satirical paper applying Strauss’ methods to the life and works of Luther, as he supposed an academic might reconstruct them in the year 2836.

In his postscript, Wurm said that he hoped that people, a thousand years in the future, would not write general history as some in his day were writing New Testament history:

But perhaps it was worth our while to endeavour to see how they might write at that date, if a criticism which is seeking to establish its sway in the nineteenth century should again come into existence in that far distant age. Applied to a portion of history which lies only three hundred years behind us, this criticism appears, not only repulsive, but absurd. But, when a thousand years more have elapsed , it may sketch the caricature of the reformation history with the same appearance of philosophy, and of freedom from prejudice, with which it now seeks to throw a new light upon the evangelical history.

In my view, it has taken less than 150 years to reach that point of absurdity. We have already seen this sort of abuse of the critical method destroy the craft of historical research.

What began as a hatred for truth as revealed in the New Testament documents, has increasingly become a hatred for objective truth in any discipline.

John 3:16: God loved the world in this way

[I’ve been particularly lazy of late, and I thought that I’d stop being lazy and write something on John 3:16. After reviewing my old posts, I found that I’d already written what I wanted to say. So here it is! (So, I’m still lazy.)]

In the Greek language there is a way to distinguish between ‘natural’ and ‘actual’ consequences.

Houto … hoste + infinitive form of the verb indicates a statement of natural consequences. For example, ‘He is such a generous person that he would give me the shirt off his back’ – this is true whether he actually does or does not give you his shirt. It is a statement about the nature of the person.

Houto … hoste + indicative form of the verb indicates a statement of actual consequences: ‘He is such a generous person that he actually did give me the shirt off his back’. This is not just what the person would do, but what he really did do.

John 3:16 indicates a statement of actual consequences. God really sent his son, Jesus, and Jesus really did save.

In this way God loved the world.’  I’ve found that people often think the ‘so’ in translations of 3:16 means ‘so much’.  The force of the word ‘so’ is about manner, not amount. It says, ‘This is how God’s love is shown. In this way particular way.’

God the Father gave the Son, who in his humanity became the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin. This how God demonstrates his loved the world. Our social, political or economic circumstances are not good guides to help us figure out if God loves us. The message of the Gospel is that only sure way to know.

For whom did Jesus die?  For all and any who will trust Him — those to whom the Holy Spirit brings new birth. What is the effect? Everlasting life rather than the death penalty. ‘We judge in this way: that if one died for all, then all died; and he died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again.’ 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.

To ignore Christ’s death for sinners is to ignore God’s love for sinful humanity.  To reject Christ’s life, death, and return to life as the necessary condition for our peace with God is to reject God’s love.

The message of the Bible is NOT primarily one of condemnation.  It is first and foremost a message of hope, of rescue, of life.  It is Good News.  If God intended simply to condemn, the Bible would have been unnecessary.  The Lord Jesus came to seek and save that which is lost.  To give his life a ransom for many.

Trusting Christ is the way a person receives God’s gift of eternal life.  Not to trust Christ simply leaves a person under the judgment that is due to our sin.  What makes the difference between a Christian and someone who is not a Christian?  Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ has come as the light of the World.  Our natural reaction as sinners is to run away from the light (like cockroaches do, I suppose).  The light is hated because it shows up our sin; our rebellion against God.  Jesus came to save his people from their sin.

So, if we come to Christ on His terms and in His way, that is a demonstration of the power of God at work.  What is the work of God? That we trust in the one whom God has sent.  We must trust Jesus Christ. If we trust him, we ought to tell the good news of Jesus to others.

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.

Have mercy on me, a sinner

Today in church we considered these words from a parable that Jesus told about a Pharisee and a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). In the story, these two men were praying in the temple.

Of the two, the tax collector got the idea of the temple. It was the place where God assured his people that He was a God who forgives. He forgives wrong doers on the basis of an acceptable sacrifice — one that God had instituted.

The pharisee thought that he had made the grade. He had done sufficient for God to accept him. He had not come looking for mercy; he had come for congratulations. That is why he prayed to himself about his religious activities. Jesus said that these things did not justify the pharisee before God.

The tax collector, the bad guy, had come to understand that he was a lawless person whose bad deeds had offended his God and creator. His words indicate that he understood the temple’s purpose. He said, “Have mercy on me a sinner!”

This was not a request that God should simply overlook the tax collector’s bad deeds. It was a plea that God would act to take away his guilt by an acceptable sacrifice. Literally, the tax collector says, “Make propitiation for me, a sinner!”

To make propitiation means to do whatever is necessary to remove the cause of offence.

On the day of atonement, in the days of the temple, the blood of a bull was sprinkled by the high priest onto a gold plate that was on top of the ark of the covenant. That plate was called the mercy — the propitiation — seat. Propitiation was made by the death of a substitute.

The tax collector recognised that one must die for him if he were to be rescued from the death and judgement that his sins deserved. He was asking God to make propitiation for him.

Our Lord Jesus, who was telling this story, is the answer to that prayer. In Romans 3:24-25 we are told the Christ Jesus, God the Son, is the propitiation for our sins by his death. This propitiation is received by faith. We simply trust that Christ has done all that is necessary to remove our guilt and to reconcile us to God. This is good news.