Covenant Reformed News
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Rev. Angus Steward
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Vol. 9, No. 17

  The Church, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth (1)
  Rahab’s Lie (2)
  Christ’s Will to Gather Jerusalem’s Children (2)

The Church, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth (1)

Previously, we considered the relationship between Scripture and tradition. Now we shall consider the relationship between Scripture and the church, which I Timothy 3:15 calls "the pillar and ground of the truth." Does the church authorize Scripture, so that the Bible has no authority without the church’s say-so? Does the church produce the Word or does the Word produce the church? or both? and in what senses?

First, we need to identify the church in I Timothy 3:15: "the house of God, which is the church of the living God." The church here is the church institute with her office bearers, sacraments and worship. Thus I Timothy 2 tells us that only men should pray in her assemblies (8) and that women must dress modestly (9) and must not teach nor usurp authority over men (12). Also it is the institute church which has deacons and elders (3:1-13), including teaching and ruling elders (5:17).

Faithful institute churches are "the pillar and ground of the truth." A "pillar" is a vertical column. The "ground" here is the band around the top of the pillar. Thus the church is the bulwark or stay which supports and upholds the truth taught in the Scriptures before the world.

Rome appeals to I Timothy 3:15 in support of her claims. "We are the church, possessing the fulness of salvation. We are founded on Peter. We have the pope, tradition, the seven sacraments, etc. We are indefectible; our church can never apostatize." In effect, they read, "the [Roman] church" is "the pillar and ground of the truth." "Since we are the church, what we teach must be truth. Therefore all our doctrines are true: the mass, prayers for the dead, Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven, clerical celibacy, etc." Thus Rome claims that to assail her is to attack God’s church and truth.

The context, as well as the whole Word of God, forbids us to identify Rome as the true church. Just before our text, the offices of the church are set forth: bishops (elders) and deacons (3:1-13). Popes, cardinals, archbishops, etc., are not biblical offices. After our text, we read of the doctrines of devils and seducing spirits in the "latter times" (the period between the first and second comings of Christ): "forbidding to marry [think of priests, monks and nuns], and commanding to abstain from meats [think of Rome’s laws on fasting]" (4:1-3).

I Timothy was written to Timothy when he was in Ephesus (1:3). Faithful institute churches, wherever they are, which hold up the truth in the world are "the pillar and ground of the truth." A congregation or denomination has a right to the name "church" if (and only if) it holds up the truth revealed in God-breathed Scripture. Rev. Angus Stewart

   Rahab’s Lie (2)

By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace (Heb. 11:31).

Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? (James 2:25).

In the last News I began to discuss these passages and answer the question "Why is Rahab commended for lying about the Hebrew spies?" The fact is that, if one consults the passages and the narrative in Joshua 2, one can actually find no evidence of Scripture’s approval of Rahab’s lie. Scripture approves Rahab’s faith in hiding the spies, but does not approve of her lie.

The problem is that Scripture does not condemn the lie either. If one, therefore, argues that Rahab’s lie was approved by God from the fact that no condemnation is mentioned, the argument rests on Scripture’s silence. This is not a strong argument, simply because there may very well be other reasons why Scripture is silent on the question. And, indeed, this is the case.

It is not surprising that Scripture does not explicitly condemn Rahab’s lie, if we consider that Scripture’s purpose in narrating this history is to demonstrate the power of Rahab’s working faith by which she clung to the promise God had given to Israel.

Rahab is listed among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. Here faith is described as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (1). That is, faith is considered in this chapter as a powerful subjective assurance of the truth of God’s promise, the contents of which could not be seen, but were hoped for by all believing Israel. The contents of that promise were the coming of the seed of the woman and salvation from sin and death in Him.

Believing that promise, the faithful in Israel did things which seem on the surface to be inexcusably reckless. They left home to wander in a strange land which was nothing but a barren wilderness—as Abraham did. They exchanged riches, honour and fame, for slavery—as Moses did. They walked around a city fourteen times—confident that in this way an impregnable fortress would be captured. They submitted to imprisonment, torture and death when they were forced to stand alone—as Jeremiah did.

Rahab had that faith. She was a prostitute. She belonged to a city which was humanly impossible to capture. She was known throughout the city. But she cast her lot with a group of foreign invaders, a strange people of whom she knew almost nothing, and those who were a threat to her own city. The only reason she did this was because she believed that Jehovah God was with that people and that her salvation, also from her sin of prostitution, was with that people. This is an amazing faith. And out of this faith flowed the works of which James speaks, for faith is bold, confident, willing to pay any price, willing to suffer any loss; it is the work of God!

The account of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 is for our instruction: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2)."

But Rahab lied! How like us! Her faith was strong and overcame almost impossible obstacles. But it was also weak. It clung to Christ, but it was not immune to fear. It trusted firmly in God, but it wavered at a critical moment.

Is that so strange? Are we unable to identify with Rahab? We who also have faith?

Rahab was confronted with a serious problem, and it was not difficult for her to justify the telling of a lie. If she told the truth, the spies would be captured and the plan of Joshua to learn as much as he could about the city would be frustrated. The easiest course of action, and one seemingly good for the cause of God, was to lie and hide the spies until she could help them escape. And, besides, if the spies were found in her house, she herself would surely be put to death as a traitor to the cause of her city.

Yet, it is not difficult to see that her lie demonstrated a weakness in her otherwise strong faith. Cannot the Lord prevent the police from discovering the spies? Supposing she would have told them the truth. Is the Lord unable to help her and the men to whom she showed hospitality? Of course, He could. He made the walls of Jericho fall!

There is no need for Scripture to make a special point of condemning Rahab’s lie. Scripture is crystal clear on the whole question of lying. It simply enjoins the believer to tell the truth—always! Scripture does not say: "Speak the truth, but if things get too dangerous it is all right to lie." Nothing of the kind. The three friends who were thrown into the fiery furnace could have lied to escape Nebuchadnezzar’s threat. Daniel could have lied when he was kneeling in prayer by his window facing Jerusalem, and thus escape the lion’s den. But they told the truth! And God saved them.

The point is this. We must always tell the truth. But telling the truth is more than admitting something. If Rahab had told the truth when the police came to her door, she would not merely have said: "Yes, I am hiding the spies from Israel." But she would also have said: "I am keeping the spies in my house, because they are sent from the people whose God is the Lord. He alone is God. Our gods are idols. We must forsake our sin, turn to the living God, and make peace with Israel." That was the truth.

That is what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did. And that is what Daniel did. And, more importantly, that is what Christ did before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate.

That requires the courage of faith in great measure. Daniel’s three friends did not know that God would save them from the fiery furnace. They told Nebuchadnezzar that even if they would be killed, they would not bow before the image which the king had made. To tell the truth is, under some circumstances, very dangerous for the child of God. But he must speak the truth anyway, for that is his calling.

God had given Rahab a remarkable faith. It was also weak. We are like she was in so many ways, although it is frequently doubtful whether our vacillating and frightened faith can rise to the levels of hers. Rather than question her faith, we do better to take courage from her in our own walk and calling in the world.

Prof. Herman Hanko

Christ’s Will to Gather Jerusalem’s Children (2)

Last time, we saw that Christ speaks of two different groups in Matthew 23:37: Jerusalem (the scribes and Pharisees) and Jerusalem’s children (the spiritual seed who were mostly of the common people). Christ does not say that He willed to gather Jerusalem but Jerusalem did not will it. Nor does He say that He willed to gather Jerusalem’s children but Jerusalem’s children did not will it. Christ says that He willed to gather Jerusalem’s children but Jerusalem did not will it.

The scribes and Pharisees did all they could to stop the Messiah from gathering His elect chickens. They asked Him questions trying to trip Him up (Matt. 22). They said that His teaching contradicted Moses and His miracles were done by the power of the devil. They agreed to excommunicate those who confessed him as Christ (John 9:22). Jesus cried: "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (Matt. 23:13). Yet their calling was to point the people to Christ!

Some claim that though Christ willed to gather Jerusalem’s children (true), Jerusalem stopped Him (false). The text itself does not say whether or not Christ was successful in gathering Jerusalem’s children. It merely teaches that Christ desired to gather His people and that the scribes and Pharisees did not will it. Whether He did gather Jerusalem’s children or whether He failed must be ascertained from elsewhere.

We know that Christ gathered Lazarus, Mary and Martha, blind Bartimaeus, Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, etc. As Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:27-28). Also, "the sheep follow [Christ]: for they know his voice. And a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers" (John 10:4-5). Christ came to do God’s will (John 4:34; 6:38) and God’s will is always done. "But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased" (Ps. 115:3). "Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven and in earth" (Ps. 135:6).

As Augustine put it: "Our Lord says plainly, however, in the Gospel, when upbraiding the impious city: ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ as if the will of God had been overcome by the will of men, and when the weakest stood in the way with their want of will, the will of the strongest could not be carried out. And where is that omnipotence which hath done all that it pleased on earth and in heaven, if God willed to gather together the children of Jerusalem, and did not accomplish it? Or rather, Jerusalem was not willing that her children should be gathered together, but even though she was unwilling, He gathered together as many of her children as He wished: for He does not will some things and do them, and will others and do them not; but ‘He hath done all that He pleased in heaven and in earth’" (The Enchiridion, xcvii). Rev. Angus Stewart