The Resurrection: An 18th Century Defense for 21st Century Christians

January 19, 2015

The two key elements at the heart of Christianity are the cross and the empty tomb. Rarely do many outside of the faith deny the veracity of the cross. It seems self-evident that the man Jesus would have died. But, the element more difficult to believe is that of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just as Paul found the men at Athens skeptical of the resurrection (Acts 17:32), so do we too today have people who struggle to accept this most important truth. In fact, without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity itself falls apart. Paul makes this explicitly clear in 1 Corinthians 15:12–19:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.[1]

Christianity stands or falls on the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In an age of skepticism regarding anything supernatural, Christians find it difficult to show people the truth of Christianity because of denials to the resurrection. This though is not a new phenomenon.

During the rise of the Enlightenment period in the 18th century, it became common to embrace only what could be verified using normal human faculties. Since no one could reproduce a resurrection, logically, it must be impossible. Therefore, when one removes the supernatural emphasis from Christianity, particularly through the denial of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all of Christianity falls. Thankfully, there were people who fought against the tide of anti-supernaturalism during the Enlightenment period. One such man was John Gill.

John Gill was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire, England on November 23, 1697. His parents were God-fearing individuals of the Calvinistic Baptist tradition. His early years were spent studying in the local grammar school where he excelled in languages.

The church at Kettering recognized his gifts as a preacher and in 1719 became pastor of the famous Horselydown congregation in London where he served for a staggering 52 years until his death in 1771.

Gill would become a prolific author and one of the most influential theologians of the Particular Baptist cause.

Gill’s Defense of the Resurrection

Gill, was a frequent preacher and teacher upon all things doctrinal and the doctrine of the resurrection was no exception. He preached sermons at the famous Lime Street Lectures in 1731 on the subject. In it he defended the reality of the resurrection from the dead. While we cannot spend a detailed amount of time analyzing his defense, we can make some general conclusions about how he defended the resurrection and how we can learn to do the same today from his example.[2]

First, Gill knew his opponents and their arguments. Gill, even uneducated beyond some initial grammar school, made it his goal as both a Christian and as a minister of God’s Word to be informed in the writings of the orthodox and the unorthodox alike. Gill, expertly versed in Jewish thought and literature, also was aware of ancient pagan authors and the arguments they made. He was aware of Christian thinking on the issue from the early church through the Reformation and post-Reformation Puritan period in which he found himself. He was aware of the arguments made by those who agreed with a resurrection and those who denied it.

Second, he progressed through his argumentation in a logical way. First, he considers that the doctrine of resurrection is a “credible” thing. It is not completely impossible to consider, even in a secular-thinking world. From there he goes to more explicit references in Scripture to argue for the resurrection of the dead. Finally, he considers how the resurrection is necessary because it is connected with all kinds of other doctrines in the Bible. He clinches it with the key: If Christ is raised, so too are we. This leads the reader along the argument, slowly building the case, so as when one reaches the end, he faces an insurmountable amount of material defending the resurrection from the dead.

Third, we can see that clearly the core of the defense of the resurrection for Gill comes straight from the Scriptures. When much Enlightenment thinking was turning to the other “book of the revelation of God” namely nature, to define the world, Gill still sees the lasting answers in God’s special revelation, Scripture. Predicated on all of this is the concept that our theology can only be derived from the Scriptures itself. It is God’s communication to man and thus gives us the answers we are looking for. Instead of rooting his argument in the conclusions of others, he looks to the Scriptures to defend this crucial doctrine.

What Can We Learn from Gill’s Defense?

It is not just the secular atheistic world that denies the core supernatural elements of our faith but also much of liberal Christianity too denies the miraculous and especially the resurrection from the dead. It is imperative that we understand and defend this crucial element of our faith. If the resurrection of Christ is denied then our faith is in vain. What then can we learn from Gill when defending the truth of the elements of our Christian faith?

First, the maxim of “know thy enemy” is completely true in this instance. If we want to honestly interact with those who disagree with our position, we need to know what they are saying. Too many Christians attempt to argue against the arguments of liberals and atheists alike and know nothing about what they actually believe about the subject. Study the issue especially as articulated by those who disagree with you.

Second, know the Word of God. There is no more important tool in your arsenal than the Word of God. Gill demonstrates his vast knowledge of the Word of God on the subject and can draw Scriptures from all over the Bible to rally to his argument. Knowledge of the Bible and how it systematically fits together helps to provide a strong argument for affirming the truth of the resurrection because it creates a systematic understanding of the teaching in the entire Bible.

Finally, know how to make your argument. The reality is that the unbelieving mind cannot grasp the spiritual things of God. You cannot convince them with logical arguments that the resurrection is reasonable or possible apart from the Word of God. The mind of the unbeliever is hostile to God. So, our goal is to present the truth claims of the Scriptures and pray that the Spirit of God would use this Word to draw our hearer to Christ. So, Gill’s approach to simply systematically walk through the Scriptures as the best and most reasonable defense of the resurrection is our most basic approach.

Conclusion

Our world may seem more sophisticated today than it was in Gill’s time. Yet, frankly, little has actually changed. The arguments are the same. Nothing new is under the sun. Unfortunately what has changed is how little we care about history. Many of these fights have been raging for hundreds of years. Think about how much we can learn from those who have gone before us. Gill’s comprehensive defense of the resurrection should help us in our own defense of this crucial doctrine. And there is no more important doctrine. In closing, Gill’s words as to the importance of the resurrection are fitting:

The whole gospel is connected with it; if there is no truth in this, there is none in that. As the doctrine of the resurrection receives confirmation from the doctrines of personal election, the gift of the persons of the elect to Christ, the covenant of grace, redemption by Christ, union with him, and the sanctification of the Spirit, so these can have no subsistence without supposing that.

[1]All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.

 [2] The sermons are available at http://www.pbministries.org/books/gill/Sermons&Tracts/sermon_87.htm

 


Books at a Glance

January 16, 2015

Books at a Glance Logo

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Ecclesiastes 12:12b

The words of the Teacher of Ecclesiastes are surely true. Just glancing at my library of books makes me echo the same statement. It seems there is a never ending barrage of books coming forth from publishers. Frankly, it’s exhausting at times to keep up with writings, let alone the best writings. A recent endeavor called Books at a Glance is helping to take the exhaustion out of keeping up with the latest and greatest of Christian books.

The thing is, the maxim, “leaders are readers” is most assuredly true. We Christians need to stay abreast of the latest and greatest scholarship in biblical, theological, and historical studies. Frankly, there is little excuse for the Christian who wants to grow in the faith to not spend time growing through the richness of the studies that godly men and women are producing. Yet, where is the time? How can I keep abreast of all of the wonderful material being made available?

That is where Books at a Glance comes in. Through author interviews, book reviews, and especially book summaries, you will stay abreast of all of the best that Christian literature has to offer. And now, with their partnership with Westminster Bookstore (detailed here) you will be able to receive excellent prices on the exceptional books that Books at a Glance are offering.

There are free elements to the service they provide, but the biggest advantage is a paid membership that provides the incredibly helpful book summaries. We’ve all been down the road where we purchased a book that turned out to not be what we expected. Here, Books at a Glance will provide good summaries of the books so you can understand the book, and yet decide whether you’d like to go further and purchase and read the book. Book reviews provide more brief looks into books with recommendations on reading, and author interviews give helpful additional information to makes reading their books all the more edifying.

Recent reviews include Learning to Dream Again: Rediscovering the Heart of GodA Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness Through Abiding in ChristSpurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those who Suffer from Depression, and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More – Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. Let these be a taste for you of what you can glean, but get on their 30 day program and get a free book summary, and consider growing in your understanding of excellent Christian material available by purchasing a premium membership. I believe you will not regret it, and will only be thankful for it!


Faithful to the Original

January 12, 2015

My wife grew up with a great love for classical literature and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of her favorites. She has read it a number of times and is very picky about how movie adaptations reflect the original work of Dickens. Thankfully we are able to find versions that have language that is almost exactly the language of Dickens from the novel. She often has some quibbles about somethings that were left out but what was is there in the ones she enjoys she felt were faithful to the original.

That got me thinking how we as Christians are to be faithful to the original. This phrase has a number of concepts that can be attached to them. For instance, two thoughts came to be about how we are to be faithful to the original in:

1) Following Jesus

1 John 2:4-6 reads, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” It is made quite clear here that one of the assurances we have that we are in the faith is that we walk as Jesus did. John is discussing walking in the truth which is more than just words but action. Jesus was truth not only in what he said but in how he lived. Not to embrace the social gospel or anything but the reality is, if we are Christians we are to be faithful to the original, that is Christ, by walking as he did. Our lives, our thoughts, our actions, our behaviour, our teaching should be just as Jesus’ was.

2) Teaching the Word

2 Timothy 3:15 reads, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” One of the things that a teacher/preacher of the Word of God must be is faithful to the original. We are called to “rightly handle the word of truth.” We are to know the Word and proclaim the Word. As ambassadors of Jesus Christ our job is not to create our own message but to accurately proclaim His message. Every preacher and teacher of God’s Word must know it so as to proclaim it accurately being as careful as possible to be faithful to the original.

There are many other aspects of the Christian faith and ministry that force us to consider how faithful we are to the original. The reality is our lives and ministries are to be faithful to the God that has both created our lives and providentially put us into our ministries. Every thought we think, every action we perform, every word we utter, is to be in conformity to the image of Christ. An image is an exact representation of the original. The question becomes how faithful to the original are you? Are you an exact image or only a reasonable facsimile?

We like movie versions that are pretty faithful to the original. I only hope and pray that my life and my ministry might be also said to be faithful to the original when it is seen by the world and the church.


“A Life of Satisfaction and Enjoyment”: The Glorious Reward of Heaven

January 5, 2015

The great English poet, John Donne (1572–1631), has given us a lyrical contrast between life here on this place and what heaven will be like:

“Here in this world, He bids us come; there in the next, He shall bid us welcome.”

Christians of all times and all places have looked forward to that day when they would move from this world and to another where we would be welcomed with open arms by our Father. Christians do not believe that when one dies that it is simply the end. No, they believe that there is something beyond this life; something far better than what we have now. Now, we are “aliens and strangers” (Eph 2:19), and our true citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). And while Christians long for that time when “He shall bid us welcome” most have a rather confused view of what heaven will be like, and frankly, who will populate it.

Therefore, it is imperative to answer these two most fundamental questions when considering the doctrine of heaven. First, what is heaven? What will it be like? What will it’s nature be? What can we expect? Second, who goes to heaven? Who will be the resident population of heaven? What must one do to enjoy the glorious reward of heaven?

What is Heaven?

Our world is fascinated with the supernatural, the angelic, the other-worldly. Whether it be people who make pilgrimages to “Area 51” in the Nevada desert to prove that there is life out there in the universe, or the myriads of television viewers imbibing the constant stream of the fantastic supernatural creatures like vampires or zombies, most want to believe there is more than just what we absorb with our senses. There must be something more than this physical reality that we see here and now. And many want to truly believe, despite their religious persuasion or even their lack thereof, that there is something beyond death. But ask your average person in North America what heaven will be like and you will get some typical answers:

  • White robes
  • Harp playing
  • Cloud floating
  • Halos

Their understanding of heaven is that at death that we will proceed to enter into the “pearly gates” as long as St. Peter has us on his list and we will remain for all eternity relaxing on clouds playing harps looking like the innocent angel statues that frequent most Christian book stores. The problem with this is, it is exactly what heaven will not be. This then begs the question, what will heaven be like? For answers to this question we must turn to our only authoritative source, the Bible.

The reality is, heaven is not just an ethereal place where we float around. Instead, the Scriptures tell us that there will be after the final judgment, a new heaven and a new earth. Isaiah 65:17 reads, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” [1]

What we know of as the current space-time-mass continuum, all of the heavens and the earth; the entire universe, will be completely changed. Yet, it will not be destroyed. While some people today envision a full and final destruction of the universe which will leave absolutely nothing, the Scriptures instead present a new creation. In light of God’s purposes to redeem creation that had been marred in the curse (Romans 8:19–21), everything will be restored to absolute perfection. This will not mean the absence of the physical, but the physical made perfect. This is nowhere more clearly spelled out than in Revelation 21:1–8:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

The theme here is one of newness. All things become new, yet not all things are fundamentally different from what they once were. While the effects of sin will be removed there will still be heaven and still be earth and the holy city Jerusalem will be there. This is a physical realm populated by physical people. We have a tendency, even in Evangelical churches, to sort of imbibe a platonic dualism that sees spirit as somehow “better” than matter. That one day we will shed this body and be pure and whole. The problem is, the Scriptures teach us that when we shed this physical body we will put on another physical, resurrected body (1 Corinthians 15:35–49). And the place where these bodies will dwell will be on a physical new heavens and new earth.

This connecting of heaven and earth in a new creation presents a number of new changes. The Scriptures tell us there will be no sea, that there will be a new Jerusalem, where God Himself dwells, there will be no more darkness or sin, and no more tears. The dwelling place of the redeemed will be a place untouched by the ravages of sin. What God once called “very good” in the original creation will once again be very good as sin is purged and the curse is fully and finally destroyed. Everything that we think of as wonderful and beautiful will only be more so in heaven. Even our work, our service to god, will be redeemed. We will not float upon clouds playing harps but will joyfully serve Him on a real physical earth (Matt 25:23; Rev 22:3).

For those who will dwell in heaven, the final judgment and recreation of the universe to be our dwelling place is not something to fear but is something to rejoice over. René Pache captures this well when he writes,

It is told us that at the creation of the world “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God [the angels no doubt] shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). Since then, this joy has become dimmed by the fall and by the curse of sin, so that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of travail. When, at last, the new heavens and the new earth appear, the whole universe will resound with praise. Myriads of myriads and thousands upon thousands of beings around the heavenly throne have already sung of the God of creation, of redemption, and of judgment…. They will certainly burst forth again when, all things having become new, there will be seen descending out of heaven from God the new Jerusalem, prepared as  a bride adorned for her husband.[2]

Who Goes to Heaven?

Once one understands the true nature of heaven, the logical question is, who will populate this renewed Eden? If it will be a physical place where people will dwell working, serving, and glorifying God through the use of their gifts and talents, who will these people be? Again, the average person in North America, when asked the question of how one gets to heaven will simply answer that you just have to be good enough. When we die and we stand before the gate to heaven, our good deeds and our bad deeds will be weighed on the divine scale and as long as the good outweighs the bad, then entrance is guaranteed. Who goes to heaven? Good little boys and girls who never did too many wrong things. Again, if we want to know who will be in heaven, we have to turn to Scripture and see what the prerequisites are for citizenship in the New Heavens and New Earth.

Pache is clear here about those for whom heaven is opened. “His will, then, is unmistakable: all sinners are invited to heaven, through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.”[3] The entrance requirements to heaven are to simply respond in faith to the message of the Gospel proclaimed on earth. For all those who hear they are a sinner, repent of that sin, and trust in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice alone for their salvation, the doors are opened unto them. For all those who do not, there will be no place for them in heaven. No amount of good deeds done on earth, no amount of good intentions, will earn you a place in heaven. Simply, one sin will deprive you from an eternity with God in paradise. Instead, the Scriptures call you to repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ; only then will you find that at death, you will have such a great reward.

Why is Heaven a Glorious Reward?

Frankly, the reality of what the Scriptures teach about heaven far surpasses the fluffy cloud, angelic harp-playing, that so many believe. The great English Puritan Richard Baxter remarked that “this is a life of desire and prayer, but that is a life of satisfaction and enjoyment.”[4] Often, when we consider the doctrine of heaven we only consider the myriads of questions regarding the details and neglect the true and real importance; that everything in the new heavens and new earth are beautiful and joyous. All of the physical details presented in the Scriptures point to a vastly beautiful realm of wonder and joy. Anything that we could hold dearly to in this life will be far better in the next. Yet, even for all the beauty that we will see around us in heaven, there is something far more important. Wayne Grudem writes about that when he says,

But more important than all the physical beauty of the heavenly city, more important than the fellowship we will enjoy eternally with all God’s people from all nations and all periods in history, more important than our freedom from pain and sorrow and physical suffering, and more important than reigning over God’s kingdom—more important by far than any of these will be the fact that we will be in the presence of God and enjoying unhindered fellowship with him.[5]

What beauty and wonder is there in the statement in Revelation 21:3 that reads, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” What better thing is there than to consider that God will dwell with man face-to-face? From the very beginning of creation when man walked with God, we have been striving to be with God again. Now, God, through His Son’s reconciling work, will provide that avenue. God will dwell with man in a new heavens and a new earth. In fact, God’s presence will mean there will be no more need for a sun because His glory will light the city (Revelation 21:23).

What better thing to look forward to for the Christian is the reality that God will dwell with man? It is fitting to close and consider again the words of Grudem,

When we look into the face of our Lord and he looks back at us with infinite love, we will see in  him the fulfillment of everything that we know to be good and rich and desirable in the universe. In the face of God we will see the fulfillment of all the longing we have ever had to know perfect love, peace, and joy, and to know truth and justice, holiness and wisdom, goodness and power, and glory and beauty. As we gaze into the face of our Lord, we will know more fully than ever before that “in your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11). Then will be fulfilled the longing of our hearts with which we have cried out in the past, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple (Ps. 27:4). When we finally see the Lord face to face, our hearts will want nothing else. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you…. God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25–26). Then with joy our hearts and voices will join with the redeemed from all ages and with the mighty armies of heaven singing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8).[6]

[1] All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.

[2] René Pache, The Future Life (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1962), p. 330.

[3] Pache, The Future Life, p. 372.

[4] Richard Baxter, The Saints Everlasting Rest, (London: Printed for Thomas Underhill and Francis Tyton, 1654), p. 115.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p. 1163.

[6] Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 1164.