The Prophetic Gift

There is often a deep difference between Christians who believe in the gift of prophecy being used in the Church today, and those who believe that the gift of prophecy ended with the closing of the canon. I have always tended towards the continuationist position: believing that the gift of prophecy can and should be used in the present-day Church. I see such descriptions as those given in 1 Corinthians 12-13 as giving a strong indication that the gift of prophecy is something that continues today. Others, however, believe that since the word of God is complete (since the closing of the canon, meaning nothing can be added to the revealed word of God, the Bible) then the gift of prophecy is now redundant.

I was recently enlightened on this matter through a sermon at church given by Richard Turnbull, and he gave a very good account of the misunderstanding that can occur about prophecy, and through this misunderstanding we can perhaps see why the two camps are opposed rather than united. It is my hope that through sharing a little of what Richard preached and a little of my own reflections we can somehow be drawn together on this usually divisive issue of whether or not the gift of prophecy is for the Church today.


Cessationism or Continuationism?

When talking about the spiritual gifts Christians are roughly divided into two camps:

  • Cessationsists believe that the spiritual gifts, such as those outlined in 1 Corinthians 12, ceased after the days of the Early Church. They argue that the Bible teaches that those gifts were present in the days when there was no revealed canon of Scripture, yet would say that such gifts were not meant to continue after the canon of Scripture became clear.
  • Continuationists hold that the spiritual gifts, including prophecy, remain part of the ministry of the Church, and that such gifts should be used in mission and the edification of the saints.

As far as our discussion goes, however, we will focus only on the gift of prophecy. Here we can see the cessationist argument much more clearly: if we believe that Scripture cannot be added to or taken away from then we can see that to be able to make a prophetic utterance and declare “thus saith the LORD” would run counter to the assertion that the Bible alone is the authoritative revealed word of God. This then brings us to the 3 types of prophecy, which in my mind clears up the muddled opposition between cessationist and continuationist positions.

The 3 Types of Prophecy

The existence of the prophetic gift is, to a well-versed Christian, impossible to deny. The question is whether that gift continues today, and if it does, what that means. Here it is good to break down the various types of prophetic gift.

  1. The Prophets – The first type of prophecy is that which the Old Testament prophets practised. The prophets of old, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Joel et al, gave prophecies which were 100% infallible. We can add to such a list the prophets of the New Testament, John (in the Book of Revelation), John the Baptist and, although surpassing them all still a prophet, Jesus Christ. The prophecies and word of these infallible prophets are now part of the canon of Scripture. This form of prophetic gift has most definitely ceased. If it hasn’t, then we must advocate that the Bible is not the sole revealed authoritative word of God – such a position is anathema.
  2. The Speaking of the Word – the sec0nd type of prophecy is by far the most necessary and valuable: the speaking of God’s revealed word into the hearts of men, women and children. Here there is great overlap with teaching and preaching, but nevertheless it can be described as prophecy because sometimes a word from a preacher will enter a man’s heart with such powerful force that it is clearly God working through the preaching of His word by faithful servants. Even many cessationists would say that this form of prophecy is alive in the Church today.
  3. Exhortation and encouragement – sometimes a believer may receive a strong prompting to share a Bible verse or say an encouraging or exhorting word to another person. This is situational prophecy. The word given is not 100% infallible but needs to be tested against God’s revealed word in Scripture, yet it can be a Spirit-driven prompting to encourage, exhort or provide for a fellow saint or for someone who is not yet a believer. It is a “word in due season” which neither adds nor takes away from God’s word yet is a using of the gift of prophecy.

If we then look at these three types of prophetic gift we can see that many who claim to be prophets today are, in fact, engaging in the first type – and are thus clearly false prophets for their attempts to claim equality with God’s revealed word. Many continuationists would concur that such false prophecy has no place in today’s Church. We can also see that the second type is generally accepted by cessationists. So we are left with only the third category in which cessationists and continuationists differ, and it is a matter which it is not necessarily one which should divide churches but rather one in which we can easily live side-by-side in unity despite a minor difference of opinion on this matter.


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Pilgrim’s Progress – Christiana Comes to the Cross

In the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress, which follows the pilgrimage of Christian’s wife and children, we see Christiana (the wife) come to the Cross. First we have Great-heart giving a discourse on how Christ’s righteousness has been laid on us, but here we see how the way in which our pardon has been received can bring us great joy:

“Great-heart. Yes; it was the belief of this that cut off those strings [of the burden which Christian carried], that could not be cut by other means; and it was to give him a proof of the virtue of this, that he was suffered to carry his burden to the cross.

“Christiana. I thought so; for though my heart was lightsome and joyous before, yet it is ten times more lightsome and joyous now. And I am persuaded by what I have felt, (though I have felt but little as yet,) that if the most burdened man in the world was here, and did see and believe as I now do, it would make his heart the more merry and blithe.”

The joy of knowing the pardon gained for us by the Blood of Christ is such that it should deeply and profoundly affect us. To know that this pardon was bought at such great cost, even the immense suffering upon the Cross, should bring us into deep affection towards our Lord and Saviour that to cease thanking Him and praising Him should be beyond our thoughts.

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Does God Always Heal Those With Faith?

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NKJV)

Does God Always Heal?

Many in today’s church would argue that yes, God will always heal the person who has faith. There is a tendency within these circles to blame a lack of healing on a lack of faith. But is healing so entwined with faith? It is true that Jesus performed many works of healing, and it is often the case that He praised those He healed for their great faith. (See Luke 7:1-10 for example.)

Yet it is not always the case that those healed possessed great faith. There are numerous examples where Jesus heals those who had little or no faith. See the subsequent verses in Luke 7, where the widow’s son was raised even though neither he nor his mother expressed any faith.

So if God heals those with or without faith, can it be equally true that God denies healing to some despite their great faith? Our opening passage written by the Apostle Paul gives the striking and authoritative answer to this: yes, God does deny healing to some, and it is not for any lack of faith on their part that he does so.

“By His Stripes We Are Healed”

One of the most often quoted verses in Scripture to support the claim that those with faith are always healed is this verse from Isaiah: “By His stripes we have been healed.” I want to briefly look at this because, on face value and taken out of context this does seem to plainly state that Jesus has healed us if we put our trust in Him. But let us look at the context:

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:5-6

Here we can see that when the Holy Spirit, speaking through Isaiah, says that “we are healed”, the whole passage is referring to Jesus taking upon Himself our sins, our iniquity. The first three lines of verse 5 are about His bearing our sins, and then comes the line on healing. Then the whole of verse 6 deals with how we have all sinned and how He has borne our iniquity. It would therefore be the most compelling case that this phrase, “And by His stripes we are healed,” is not an out of place declaration of physical (or mental) healing, but rather fits in well as a statement of our healing from sin.

The Danger of the “Always Healed” Doctrine

The idea that those with faith are always healed can, in fact, be dangerous and cause much discouragement to Christians who are taught such and yet do not experience the healing that they want. The teaching that you simply need more faith and you will get the healing you want can bring those who do not experience such healing to question their own faith: do I really believe? Am I really a man (or woman) or faith? Does God actually love me? What’s wrong with me that God doesn’t heal me? Or, for those with a penchant for expressing faith: “I believe I am healed,” whilst walking around with a broken leg.

Paul didn’t believe the “always healed” doctrine. He heard clearly from God that his own ailment, a messenger of Satan no less, was not going to be taken away from him. God said to Paul that “My grace is sufficient for you.” Did Paul lack faith? Clearly he did not, but would go great strides by faith and was the most prolific writer of the New Testament.

Why Suffering?

I want to close this post with a few reflections on how God uses suffering. If we believe that sometimes God allows us to suffer rather than be healed, we must at least start to address why there is suffering in the Christian life. This is a huge topic in its own right, and I do not pretend to have all the answers, but we can make some points.

Firstly, we are, as Christ’s followers, called to partake in His suffering. We are called blessed when we are persecuted and slandered, because Jesus was persecuted and slandered. The Apostle Paul says we should be “conformed to His death”. (See Phil 3:9-11.)

Then, God will often use suffering to bring about a greater good than that which can be achieved by constant well-being. Our illnesses may enable us to become more compassionate and sympathetic to others who are suffering. We may find that poor health brings us more time, and with that greater time to spend in prayer. We may find that certain sins are able to be overcome because we experience God’s discipline through sickness.

There are many other ways in which God can use suffering, and we must always bear in mind that God’s ways are so high above our ways that we cannot hope to comprehend the fullness of His wisdom this side of eternity. But what is clear, and something I hope I have been able to relate a little, is that God does both allow and use illness and does not always desire to heal everyone who has enough faith.

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Prosperity Teaching and Pilgrim’s Progress

Book coverProsperity Teaching, and the associated false doctrines which profess obedience to Christ but are instead based on making out that God is a man-pleaser, are fairly common in this day and age. We may think of them as the result of the consumerist and materialistic world we live in, with their emphasis on material blessing and the full physical blessings of total healing for those with true faith. Yet in my reading of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, written in the 17th century and published in 1678, I have found a passage which speaks directly to those who advocate such profound errors.

The Town of Fair Speech

Christian, the main character of Pilgrim’s Progress, and his travelling companion Hopeful, chance upon another traveller called Mr. By-Ends. Mr. By-Ends comes from the town of Fair Speech, and this is some of the discourse upon their meeting:

Chr. This Town of Fair-speech, said Christian, I have heard of it, and, as I remember, they say it’s a wealthy place.
By-ends. Yes, I will assure you that it is; and I have very many rich Kindred there.
Chr. Pray, who are your Kindred there? if a man may be so bold.
By-ends. Almost the whole Town; and in particular, my Lord Turn-about, my Lord Time-server, my Lord Fair-speech, (from whose ancestors
that Town first took its name) also Mr Smooth-man, Mr Facing-both-ways, Mr Anything; and the Parson of our Parish, Mr Two-tongues, was my Mother’s own Brother by Father’s side; and to tell you the truth, I am become a Gentleman of good Quality, yet my Great Grandfather was but a waterman, looking one way and rowing another; and I got most of my estate by the same occupation.
Chr. Are you a married man?
By-ends. Yes, and my Wife is a very virtuous woman, the Daughter of a virtuous woman; she was my Lady Feigning’s Daughter, therefore she came of a very honourable Family, and is arrived to such a pitch of breeding, that she knows how to carry it to all, even to Prince and Peasant. ‘Tis true we
somewhat differ in Religion from those of the stricter sort, yet but in two small points: First, we never strive against Wind and Tide: Secondly, we are
always most zealous when Religion goes in his Silver Slippers; we love much to walk with him in the Street, if the Sun shines, and the people applaud him.

Christian then perceives that this man is indeed a reprobate and puts to Mr. By-Ends that he should not only follow religion in blessing and applause, but also in times of trial:

Chr. If you will go with us, you must go against Wind and Tide, the which, I perceive, is against your opinion; you must also own Religion in his
Rags, as well as when in his Silver Slippers, and stand by him too, when bound in Irons, as well as when he walketh the Streets with applause.
By ends. You must not impose, nor lord it over my Faith; leave me to my liberty, and let me go with you.
Chr. Not a step further, unless you will do in what I propound, as we.
Then said By-ends, I shall never desert my old Principles, since they are harmless and profitable. If I may not go with you, I must do as I did
before you overtook me, even go by myself, until some overtake me that will be glad of my company.

Here we see how Mr. By-Ends is unwilling to follow Christ unless it brings material favour and an easy path along with the applause of men. This is prosperity teaching to a fault, and so we can see that such heresy is not new, and neither is it any more true for being an old heresy.

The Prosperity “Gospel” in Pilgrim’s Progress

Let Mr. By-Ends and some of his other fellows show you the full errors he, and the prosperity teachers, have fallen into:

Save-all. That’s bad; but we read of some that are righteous overmuch; and such men’s rigidness prevails with them to judge and condemn all but
themselves. But I pray what, and how many, were the things wherein you differed?
By-ends. Why they after their head-strong manner, conclude that it is duty to rush on their Journey all weathers, and I am for waiting for Wind and
Tide. They are for hazarding all for God at a clap, and I am for taking all advantages to secure my Life and Estate. They are for holding their notions,
though all other men are against them; but I am for Religion in what, and so far as the times and my safety will bear it. They are for Religion when in
Rags and Contempt; but I am for him when he walks in his Golden Slippers in the Sunshine, and with applause.
Hold-the-world. Ay, and hold you there still, good Mr By-ends; for my part I can count him but a Fool, that having the liberty to keep what
he has, shall be so unwise as to lose it. Let us be wise as Serpents; ’tis best to make hay when the Sun shines; you see how the Bee lieth still all
winter, and bestirs her only when she can have Profit with Pleasure. God sends sometimes Rain, and sometimes Sun-shine; if they be such fools to go through the first, yet let us be content to take fair weather along with us. For my part I like that Religion best that will stand with the security of God’s good blessings unto us; for who can imagine that is ruled by his Reason, since God has bestowed upon us the good things of this Life, but that he would have us keep them for his sake! Abraham and Solomon grew rich in Religion. And Job says, that a good man shall lay up Gold as Dust. But he must not be such as the men before us, if they be as you have described them.


By-ends. My Brethren, we are, as you see, going all on Pilgrimage; and for our better diversion from things that are bad, give me leave to propound
unto you this question:
Suppose a man, a Minister, or a Tradesman, Etc. should have an advantage lie before him to get the good blessings of this life, yet so as that he can
by no means come by them, except in appearance at least, he becomes extraordinary zealous in some points of Religion that he meddled not with
before; may he not use this means to attain his end, and yet be a right honest man?
Money-love. I see the bottom of your question, and, with these Gentlemen’s good leave, I will endeavour to shape you an answer. And first, to
speak to your question as it concerns a Minister himself: Suppose a Minister, a worthy man, possess’d but of a very small benefice, and has in his eye a
greater, more fat and plump by far; he has also now an opportunity of getting of it, yet so as by being more studious, by preaching more frequently and
zealously and because the temper of the people requires it, by altering of some of his principles; for my part I see no reason but a man may do this,
(provided he has a Call) ay, and more a great deal besides, and yet be an honest man. For why?
1. His desire of greater benefice is lawful (this cannot be contradicted since ’tis set before him by Providence); so then he may get it if he can,
making no question for Conscience sake.
2. Besides, his desire after that benefice makes him more studious, a more zealous Preacher, Etc. and so makes him a better man; yea makes him better improve his parts, which is according to the Mind of God.
3. Now as for his complying with the temper of his people, by dissenting, to serve them, some of his Principles, this argueth, 1. That he is of a self –
denying temper; 2. Of a sweet and winning deportment; 3. And so more fit for the Ministerial function.
4. I conclude then, that a Minister that changes a small for a great, should not for so doing be judged as covetous; but rather, since he has
improved in his parts and industry thereby, be counted as one that pursues his Call, and the opportunity put into his hand to do Good.

Money-love goes on to speak of similar assertions, but now let me bring you to the replies which Christian later gives to Mr. By-Ends’ question:

The Christian Response to Prosperity TeachingChristian

Chr. Then said Christian, Even a babe in Religion may answer ten thousand such questions. For if it be unlawful to follow Christ for loaves, as it is
John 6. how much more abominable is it to make of him and Religion a Stalking-horse, to get and enjoy the world. Nor do we find any other than Heathens, Hypocrites, Devils, and Witches, that are of this opinion.
1. Heathens; for when Hamor and Shechem had a mind to the Daughter and Cattle of Jacob, and saw that there was no ways for them to come at them, but by becoming circumcised; they said to their companions, If every male of us be circumcised, as they are circumcised, shall not their Cattle, and their substance, and every beast of theirs, be ours? Their Daughter and their Cattle were that which they sought to obtain, and their Religion the Stalking-horse they made use of to come at them. Read the whole story, Gen. 34. 20, 21, 22, 23.
2. The Hypocritical Pharisees were also of this Religion; Long Prayers were their Pretence, but to get widows’ houses was their Intent; and greater
damnation was from God their Judgment, Luke 20. 46,47.
3. Judas the Devil was also of this Religion; he was religious for the Bag, that he might be possessed of what was therein; but he was lost, cast
away, and the very son of Perdition.
4. Simon the Witch was of this Religion too; for he would have had the Holy Ghost, that he might have got Money therewith, and his sentence from
Peter’s mouth was according, Acts 8. 19, 20, 21, 22.
5. Neither will it out of my mind, but that that man that takes up Religion for the World, will throw away Religion for the World; for so surely
as Judas designed the World in becoming religious, so surely did he also sell Religion and his Master for the same. To answer the question therefore
affirmatively, as I perceive you have done, and to accept of as authentic such answer, is both Heathenish, Hypocritical, and Devilish, and your Reward will be according to your Works. Then they stood staring one upon another, but had not wherewith to answer Christian. Hopeful also approved of the soundness of Christian’s answer; so there was a great Silence among them. Mr By-ends and his company also staggered and kept behind, that Christian and Hopeful might outgo them. Then said Christian to his fellow, If these men cannot stand before the sentence of men, what will they do with the sentence of God? And if they are mute when dealt with by vessels of Clay, what will they do when they shall be rebuked by the flames of a devouring Fire?

And thus we see John Bunyan giving, through Christian, the right response to those who assert that earthly abundance and the applaud of men are things to be desired, and showing that those who set their minds upon earthly things, and thus use Christianity as a means of obtaining earthly blessing, are not of the true Christian faith at all.

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Psalm 2 – Why Do the Far-right Rage?

The European Elections took place last week and the majority of the results were announced on Sunday. There were gains made by Eurosceptic parties in most of Europe, and in the UK we saw the hard-right party UKIP take first place. Elsewhere hard-left parties did well and generally the ruling parties and the pro-European parties fared worse than 5 years ago.

The Far-Right

The shock was that the far-right had made major gains in a number of countries and in France the Front National had come first. The European far-right could, in many ways, be said to be the West’s version of Boko Haram or al-Qa’ida. Indeed, the history of far-right extremism gives us pogroms and murders, and found its true horror in the rise of Nazi Germany.

But what does God say about these matters? Is there cause for worrying about the rise of the far-right in Europe? Well, yes, there should be concern due to the scapegoating methods of these groups and the historic (and even quite recent) record of brutality and murder by the far-right extremists. We should rightly seek to counter their message of hate, and we should seek to steer the political debate away from the politics of blame and accusation towards a politics of peace and betterment for all in society. Yet this concern should not lead us to fret. Why?

Psalm 2

Well, perhaps it is good to look at Psalm 2.

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”

Psalm 2:1-6 (ESV)

Notice that those who oppose the Lord and His people are plotting in vain. And note the Lord’s response: He holds them in derision. He laughs. Though they may attack His Name and His people the Lord knows their end, that they will perish and that His people will prevail.

And so we can see that because God is Sovereign and is Omniscient He knows and can be sure that the vain plotting of men will come to naught. The far-right may claim that they are speaking for Christ, or that they are speaking for the common man, but these are deceptions and lies. The true heart of the far-right is evil and set against the Name of Christ. The Lord knows what He will do to them.

And so no, we should not fret; we should not worry about such events which Michele Hanson described as “things…getting creepy again.” We should trust in the Lord and know that He is Almighty.

Christ Has the Victory

Psalm 2 continues:

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 2:7-12 (ESV)

So let all the rulers and all the politicians take note (and let us as well) that it is only in Christ that we find peace and love, and that those who engage in the politics of hatred will be subject to the wrath of God.

If you are not committed to and saved by Jesus Christ, and would like to hear the Gospel (Good News) Message, do take a moment to watch this short video:

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The Glory of the Lamb – Revelation 5

In my previous post I looked at Revelation 4 and the wonderful picture of the glory of God contained therein. It is truly an amazing passage and speaks of the glory of and the worship of God.

In Revelation 5 the message of glory and worship continues, but in this chapter the focus is the Lamb. (The Lamb is Jesus Christ, and, besides showing how gloriously worthy He is, Revelation 4 also shows the error of those who deny that Jesus is God the Son.) I share the passage below so you can read and be filled with wonder yourself.

The Glory of God

Revelation 5 – (NKJV)

And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.

So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.”

And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
10 And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

14 Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.

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The Glory of God – Revelation 4

Scripture has certain passages in it which are simply mind-blowing. The book which is perhaps the most misunderstood of all the Biblical books is Revelation, yet in this book are some of the most glorious descriptions in the whole of Scripture of God’s omnipotence and glory. As such, I am currently reading through Revelation to gain a greater knowledge of God rather than try to ascertain or surmise upon the fulfilment of the prophecies contained therein.

Early in the book there is one of those “mind-blowing” passages declaring the glory of God and the worship given to Him. In this post I am sharing with you Revelation 4. My next post will be on Revelation 5. In chapter 4 we see God’s glory and the worship given to God, whilst in chapter 5 we then see the glory and worthiness of Jesus and the worship given to Him. They are two gloriously inspiring chapters.

The Glory of God

Revelation 4 – (NKJV)

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”

Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.

Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”

Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:

11 “You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.”

(See my post on the Glory of the Lamb – Revelation 5 here.)


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What’s So Great About the Doctrines of Grace – Review

What’s So Great About the Doctrines of Grace, by Richard D. Phillips, is a very valuable book exploring the primary doctrines of Reformed Theology.

My own journey into the doctrines of Reformed Theology began early in my Christian life. I developed a belief in the sovereignty of God, became convinced of the need in a Christian walk to have a firm faith that the God who saves us is also able to keep us as His – and saw this backed up in Scripture – and had a view that God had chosen me, not the other way around, and that grace was the how and why we were saved, not salvation based on our merit.

It was only fairly recently that I discovered that there was a systematic theology which encapsulated these doctrines, and was also so much bigger than I imagined theology was in day-to-day life. That system is Calvinism, or Reformed Theology, and since discovering some of the riches of this grace-filled and God-centred belief system I have begun to find a new, albeit at times faltering, freedom in my Christian walk.

To the Doctrines of Grace

I was pointed towards this book by a friend of mine on Google+ (we have a small community there on Reformed Fellowship) who shared a link to a free copy of the e-book version. The book is fairly short, easily one to read again and again, and within its pages it packs quite a punch.

Starting off with the doctrine which underpins the whole of Reformed Theology, the Sovereignty of God, the book then covers the famous TULIP set of doctrines: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints.

Each has a chapter devoted to itself and the format of each chapter takes the form of a Scripture passage, an investigation of that passage and a bringing in of other verses in the Bible which show the truth of that particular doctrine. The initial Scripture passages are very well chosen for each chapter, and the Sovereignty of God chapter is a prime example at the start of the book:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. – Isaiah 6:1

Richard Phillips then goes on to explore the great vision of Isaiah described in his book in chapter 6 verse 1 through to chapter 7 verse 14, showing how the vision he experienced transformed him and showed him that God is the Almighty, Sovereign Lord, rightly to be feared.

The additional Bible passages in each chapter show how well supported, Scripturally, each doctrine is, and with an amazingly good approach Mr. Phillips devotes some time in each chapter to show how great and wonderful that doctrine is, and how it is a doctrine to be loved and embraced for its bringing of great freedom and joy to it adherent.

I really only have one gripe with the book and that is in the chapter on Limited Atonement. Generally the book is exceedingly well balanced between pointing out where Arminianism falls down and showing where Calvinism is of a great strength. In the chapter of limited atonement, however, there appears to be too much emphasis on saying why Arminianism is wrong, rather than pointing out just how true and great the doctrine of limited (or particular) atonement is. This is a shame, as the other chapters are handled so well – and it is perhaps more striking because the other chapters are handled so well.

That is a small gripe, however, and is certainly no reason to pass over the book or even pass over the chapter.

An Impact on Me

This book has not solved all my problems. Also, we must remember that no book or doctrine can replace our personal relationship with Jesus and our Father in heaven. Having said that I have been greatly, and positively, influenced by this book. It has firmed my beliefs in God’s sovereignty, my security in Christ and my freedom to walk in the path God has chosen for me. It has also brought moments of great joy and a much more secure peace for a much greater part of the time.

I would thoroughly recommend that you get yourself a copy and give it a read. I for one certainly plan to read it again.

(You can purchase the Kindle version here. I receive no reward or commission for this link.)

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The Incarnation – A Christmas Message

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 5:2-11 (NASB)

Birth of JesusThe Incarnation gives us such a wonderfully glorious insight into the nature of God. It is often said in Reformed circles that God’s highest desire is to be glorified. Whilst this may be true – God is working in order to bring glory to Himself, for it is He who is to be exalted above the highest heavens – it is equally true that God is working all things for the good of His saints, and it is also very true that God is not a proud tyrant seeking fame, but is of a humble heart. We see this in the Incarnation.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God and God the Son, “emptied Himself.” He didn’t stop being God. No, that would have required Him to deny who He is, but what He did do was willingly leave the glory and unimaginable splendour of His heavenly home and come to be born as a babe, to average parents (for it was commonly supposed that Joseph was the father), in a strange town, in a place reserved for animals. Jesus took upon Himself all the frailties of humanity, yet was without sin.

As God, He could have called out to His Father at any time and have been immediately whisked back to heaven. Yet He did not do that. He remained on earth, first as a totally helpless baby, then as a child and then as an adult, until the time for His ministry had come. Then He taught, showed example and performed the miracles which showed He was, indeed, the Christ. Then, out of humble obedience, He suffered and died upon the Cross.

It is this humility of God the Son, who never sought glory for Himself but rather the glory of His Father, which we would do so well to learn from, as Philippians 2:5 directs us to do. How often we seek to gain some honour for ourselves! O how we want to shout out our rights and point out the faults of others. But this was not the way of Jesus. He sought not for His rights but the glory of God the Father and the good of His people. So, may we be like-minded this day in which we mark the Incarnation and throughout the year to come.

May God bless you all this Christmas!

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The Limitations to Spiritual Attack

In the Christian life we can expect many trials. It is not a life of cosiness and comfort in the pleasures of wealth, power and prestige. Those who teach that “you only need faith and everything will be okay” are like the false prophets of old who said “peace, peace” when destruction was coming upon Israel: they deceive with promises of comfortableness, blinding their hearers to the truth.


We are attacked as Christians, but there is a limit to what the devil can do.

Scripture says that: “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence” (Matthew 11:12). Those who belong to Christ can expect attack from both within and without the Church. Oftentimes men of deceitful and violent hearts will enter the Church with the purpose to cause disruption and harm to the true, invisible Church. Jesus warned us to beware the false teachers and false prophets, calling them “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. Like wolves they seek to devour the sheep. Others, openly hostile to God and His Church, will seek to ridicule, perform violence – sometimes literally – and cause other hardships to those who confess Christ.

We should not be arrogant in condemning these people, but rather we ought to “love our enemies, and pray for those who spitefully persecute us”. We need to remember that we also were once enemies of God, and, bar the grace of God, we would still be violently opposed to the purposes of God. No, we should not be arrogant in our salvation but rather humble, knowing that we are also sinners, though thanks be to God that we are now reconciled to God in Christ. We must acknowledge that it is not the people who are our real enemies, but rather we should heed the words of the Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12

Having acknowledged that it is the devil who is behind the attacks that come upon God’s people, we might become discouraged at such hostility. How do we counter this? It is through knowing the position which the devil has and the position that God holds.

God is Sovereign, He is Almighty, and He is Omnipotent. He is not limited by anything other than His own character, and there is no event, however small, which He does not know of and of which He is not the prime director. Every word of God’s mouth is sure, every word in His inspired Word is infallible. His purposes shall be fulfilled and every promise kept.

Soldier on horseIt is not so with the devil. The devil is limited. First, he is limited because by his very nature he is a created being. He is not omnipotent, neither is he omnipresent nor omniscient. Second, he has been defeated by Christ. Just as the devil bruised Christ’s heel, so Christ has crushed his head. The devil is a poor old man in his dying days, having been disarmed and defeated at the Cross.

But the most profound aspect in which the devil is limited is shown in the book of Job. I will let my friend Richard Swartz make this point, for he did it so well (you can follow Richard on Google+):

Satan can do nothing without God’s divine permission. Not one thing! “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away.” (Job 1:21) It comes down to the sovereignty of God, each and every day and each and every way. Not a single purpose of God is ever thwarted. (Job 42:2)

In order for the devil to make an attack on a man he must first gain God’s permission. Then the rules of engagement are laid down by God, and finally the outcome is again determined by God. (see Job 1:6-12, Luke 22:31-32.)

As we have our trials and come under attack, whether physically or spiritually, we would do well to remember that the devil is limited whilst God is without limit, and that if we belong to Christ there is nothing that can happen to us that will ultimately harm us.

And to conclude, these are Jesus’ words on fear:

And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! – Luke 12:4-5.


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