Text Box: July, 2001
A Basket of Figs
Dedicated to the idea that the decree makes the difference.  Jeremiah 24:2,3





Regarding Not His Hands

Setting New Records

Access into Grace


Regarding Not His Hands


Because they regard not the works of the Lord, nor the operation of his hands, he shall destroy them, and not build them up.  --Psalm 28:5


What a heritage to leave behind!  Shortly before Timothy McVey was executed for bombing the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, he distributed a copy of Invictus, a poem by a minor American author, William Ernest Henley.  It is short, but packed with arrogance and blasphemy.

Out of the night that covers me,

  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

  For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

  I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

  My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

  Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

  How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

  I am the captain of my soul.   1875


The poem, wicked though it is, pretty much captures the thinking of a great many Americans.  It is often commended in school literature classes as the work of a liberated soul.  Instead, it is a work of a soul in bondage to sin.  How do teachers live with themselves, when their students follow the logical consequences of their teaching?


Henley knew about Christ’s teaching regarding the “strait gate,” and he knew that the Bible [the scroll] was charged with warnings against the wicked.  But he chose to defy all of these in terms of his “unconquerable soul.”  Neither he nor McVey conquered death, however.  [See Romans 5:14]

It is impossible to be neutral.  This must be so if God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things.  The fault here is a simple one:  the wicked do not regard “the works of the Lord, nor the operation of His hands.”  The penalty is severe and spiritual, because God is a Spirit, and His most severe punishments are spiritual ones.

Men resist the idea of a God who rules all things because they want to leave some wiggle room for themselves.  They are willing to debase God in order to exalt themselves, and they reserve their worst invective against those who point out the lie.  They do not want to deal with such a God, for such a concept requires that salvation be of grace and man wants to believe the fiction that he is “master of his fate.”


Setting New Records

It was a great game of Balderdash.  I was playing with my Catechism Class.  Every once in a while I have the eight kids over to the house for a game night, and we were having a wonderful time.  For you not acquainted with the game, it mainly involves making up believable definitions of strange, unfamiliar words and trying to deceive the other players into thinking that your definition is the real one.  It is a great game that I never win.

I pulled off a coup.  I do not remember the word, but I remember the definition that I made up, “a glove worn by Russian peasants in the 17th Century.”  To my delight I hooked every one of them.  There was a massive point shift in my direction and I ended up by winning the game.  [For the first time, I might add.  Would you believe that I had some satisfaction from beating a bunch of junior/senior high kids in a board game?]

In the same way, I suspect that something in this article may hook most of my readers.  I suspect that there will be something in it that will offend everyone.  That is no small task in the present theological environment.  There are some people, I suppose, who will grant the privilege of believing anything I want, as long as I stay within bounds [bounds decided by them, of course.]   I suppose that some super-pious people will get offended because I have already talked so much about myself.

What has happened to men?  Why have men turned into such babies?  I think I know the answer.  Men have been feminized.  I think I know the latest turning point in the process.  It was when Candidate Dukakis was condemned for his reaction to a question from a reporter about a hypothetical rape of his wife.  Candidate Dukakis was crucified in the press for not showing enough “sensitivity” in his answer [I forget his exact words—something boring and dull], an hypothetical answer to an hypothetical question.  The Candidate subsequently lost the election and the incident was not lost on future candidates.  We still do not know what Candidate Dukakis would have done under a real tragedy.  He seemed to take his electoral defeat by Ronald Reagan in a manly way—meaning he did not weep, as Patsy Schroeder did in another election.  But people forgave Patsy—she was a woman, after all.  A generation ago Candidate Edmund Muskie wept and was finished as a candidate, as being perceived as weak.

I do not weep at movies—in fact, I rarely go.  It is very difficult for me to get emotional about fiction.  It seems such a sissy thing to do—why should I be un-manned?  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern did not know Hamlet’s “stops,” and people do not know mine.  People have a hard time figuring out what I think.  I like it that way.  People do not have a right to intrude into the privacy of my mind and I don’t let them in unless there is a reason for it.  Solomon had it right, “A fool utters all his mind.”  Intruders of all types will be treated badly, whether they intrude into my house, intrude into my mind, and especially if they try to rape me emotionally.

It is not that I don’t like people. I do, very much.  But I expect to be treated on my own terms, just as I expect to treat them on their own terms.  Jesus treated people with dignity and respected their privacy.

Man is a sinner, but he is created in the image of God.  Even a criminal who was condemned to be beaten with stripes was not to be despised—and his dignity required a limitation on the number of stripes. [Deut. 25:1,2].  It was forbidden to beat a man to a bloody pulp—he was not to be despised in the eyes of the people.  There is to be dignity even in death and punishment.  A man could stand tall, even in his death as a criminal.  “Take it like a man,” my uncles used to tell me.

The modern spirit is against “taking it like a man.”  I suppose revivalism had something to do with it.  Emotion and weeping replaced conversion.  It was enough that a man “walked the aisle,” wept at the “mourners” bench, and gave emotional “evidence” of repentance.   Of course, emotion has nothing to do with repentance.  Repentance is not an emotion; it is a change of life.  It is not sufficient for a man to weep while he beats his wife; he must stop beating her.  But we learned at our revivals how to sing “Oh, How I Love Jesus,” sometimes with our hands stretched to heaven and tears running down our cheeks.  It was a good escape from facing the responsibilities of obedience in the “real” world.  Revival and emotion replaced the responsibility to learn and understand doctrine—to take the Bible seriously.

More, a man should stand tall as a man, take his responsibility for his wife’s welfare and her faith, giving her someone to respect and honor.  He should start by drying his tears. 

I suppose that the counselors have had something to do with it, too.  Arrogant men thrust themselves into the place of God, presuming to know what is in the hearts of men.  They fancy themselves able to provide remedies for man’s sin and misery.  How dare they pretend such things!  God does not give men such privilege.

God has reserved for Himself the knowledge of men’s hearts.  Men do not even know their own hearts, let alone the hearts of other men.   Jeremiah 17:9,10  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.   Only God can penetrate the inner man and reveal motives and secret things.  Solomon had it right again:  2 Chronicles 6:30  Then hear thou from heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and render unto every man according unto all his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men.

There were other turning places before Candidate Dukakis, such as the legalization of homosexuality; the decadent and cowardly decision of psychiatry to label the sin normal.  [Of course, sin is man’s “normal” condition since the fall and the curse of God – but it is wicked to surrender to perversity, setting evil for good and good for evil.]

We do not want to be uncomfortable or ill at ease.  That’s why we find churches that “minister to our felt-needs,” saying little about our real needs.  It is good that Jesus didn’t follow that formula.  Who among men felt the need for the Son of God to die on the cross?  After all, a man should be comfortable in church, shouldn’t he?  Isn’t that what Jesus is all about? 

No wonder we have become a nation of crybabies, victims, and whiners, multiplying  suits at law.  We have no fortitude to endure tough things.  We used to be told, “That’s life,” and we knuckled down and worked harder in face of adversity.  Now we expect comfort and ease, so that not even our feelings are disturbed.  We look for someone to blame if things don’t go to our choosing.  We choose leaders, not for their policies or for their fortitude, but because they can “feel our pain.”  We have become limp-wristed and effeminate.  It is no longer a good thing to teach your boy to be a man.  It is better to teach him to be sensitive, to smother his aggression, to be girlish,  as if God’s gift of testosterone is a curse.


Access into Grace

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:  By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.   --Romans 5:1,2

I finally got around to reading my January/February issue of Books and Culture.  In it Robert H. Gundry at Westmont College was taking Calvinists to task for insisting that Christ’s life of perfect righteousness, including His death, was the foundation of our justification.  His specific complaints had to do with the “strongly Reformed tone” of the document “The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration,” published by Christianity Today, June 14, 1999.

In the theological battles that followed the Protestant Reformation none were more important than the struggle over the relationship of faith to the salvation of the soul.  Against Rome the Reformers insisted that salvation was by faith alone.  Against the Reformation, Rome expressed her doctrine clearly at the Council of Trent: Sixth Session:

CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema. 

The issue was, and is, not unimportant.  Rome has never yielded on this, for to do so would eliminate the whole system upon which her wealth and influence depend.

But a major crack soon appeared in the ranks of those who opposed Rome.  The Remonstrance [followers of Arminius] and the Socinians [Unitarians] brought in a deadly error that has become widespread in evangelical circles in America.  This was the idea that faith takes the place of righteousness in the eyes of God.  The faith of the individual substitutes for Christ’s righteousness.  Subjectivism replaces the objective anchor of the obedience of Christ.

Although there were many variations of the error, the essentials were something like this:  “God knows that no sinner can do that which will make him just before God.  Obedience to all the precepts of the Law of God lies beyond man.  Man would therefore be without hope, if God did not require of him something which man could do.  In mercy and grace, God sent His Son into the world to show man that He loved him.  If man would just open his heart and believe that God loves him, then God would accept his faith instead of obedience to His law.  Like a bankrupt, man cannot pay the whole bill, but God will accept what man can pay.  Man can choose to believe, and God accepts that faith in place of righteousness.  God accepts man’s good intentions of which faith is the prize and gem.”

The doctrine does not bear the weight of the examination of Scripture.  The Bible is clear.  It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and His perfect obedience to the law, including suffering its penalty on the cross, which clears man’s debt and sets him free.  God cannot deny Himself, and He cannot pretend that man has fulfilled the law when man hasn’t done so.  Justification is not based upon some pretense in God or some overlooking of transgression.  This would require God to deny His own word:  Exodus 34:7  Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty ; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.  The mercy that God shows does not involve clearing the guilty.

The text quoted above gives the true doctrine.  It is by faith that we have access into the grace wherein we stand.  It is grace that brings us to Jesus Christ, and it is His righteousness that satisfies the debt we owe to God.  2 Corinthians 5:21  For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

The righteousness which the redeemed offer to God has nothing of them, but is wholly the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.  He took our sin, so that His righteousness could be imputed to us.  Paul clearly makes the case in Romans 7:18,19 “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”

Just as the sin of Adam came upon all men to condemnation, so the righteousness of Jesus Christ comes upon all those who believe in Him.   By faith we see that Christ died for our sins and we give assent to the verdict of God concerning His Son:  Galatians 2:19-21  For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.   I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.   I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

The doctrine of the Arminians and Unitarians has been devastating on morality and decency among those who are in error.  Good intentions replace obedience, and good feelings are offered in place of good deeds and sound doctrine.  If God will settle for some human-generated good feelings concerning Jesus Christ apart from union with Him, then why shouldn’t my neighbor be satisfied with my good intentions? “I am convinced that I had no idea I was breaking the law,” becomes the excuse for every crooked politician who corrupts the law.   “He is such a loving man,” is a justification for every kind of misdeed among the clergy.   Truth gets overwhelmed with globs of sentiment and professed intentions.  “God knows my heart,” is supposed to cover all.

But doesn’t Paul say that Abraham’s faith was imputed to him for righteousness (Romans 4:22)?   The great theologian Charles Hodge wrote on this verse:  “Faith justifies by appropriating to ourselves the divine promise.  But if that promise does not refer to our justification, faith cannot make us righteous.  The object of justifying or saving faith, that is, of those acts of faith which secure our acceptance with God, is not the divine veracity in general, nor the divine authority of the Scriptures, but the specific promise of gratuitous acceptance through the mediation and merit of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  {Charles Hodge, Commentary on Romans 4:22)

Abraham was justified by faith because his faith united him to Jesus Christ, who was present in the promises of the Old Testament.  Just as Paul wrote to the Galatians:  And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.  So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.  [Galatians 3:8,9]  Abraham by faith looked forward to the coming Redeemer, just as we look back to Him.

As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it:

Q61:  Why do you say that you are righteous by faith only?

 A61:  Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God; [1] and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only. [2]

1.  I Cor. 1:30; 2:2

2.     I John 5:10; Isa. 53:5; Gal. 3:22; Rom. 4:16


There is a great difference between the reality itself and the means for attaining the reality.  As far as salvation is concerned, the reality is Christ.  He is obtained only by faith.  Those who trust their faith will not be saved.

 The Finger of God

But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.  --Luke 11:20


By this one statement, Christ revealed the carnal dreams of Israel and showed the nature of His kingdom.  Israel expected that when Messiah came, He would drive out the Romans and their oppressors and set up a carnal kingdom, and they would rule with him in a kingdom of peace and prosperity.

They didn’t know the nature of their enemy.  The real enemies of men are the evil ideas and lusts that reside in their own hearts.  The real conflict for the souls of men takes place there, not on the bloody battlefields of the world. 

It is the truth that sets us free, the conviction that all our sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ.  In delivering us from guilt by faith through the Gospel, the Lord Jesus sets us free to please Him, whether it is in life or in death.  To God be the glory!


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