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Covenant Reformed News - September 2021 Featured

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Covenant Reformed News


September 2021 • Volume XVIII, Issue 17



The Wheels and Steeds of God’s Chariot

Ezekiel 10 contains an amazing theophany or appearance of Almighty God. We behold His glory cloud and throne, as well as four huge wheels and four cherubs, with eyes filling both the four wheels and the four cherubs.

But what is going on in Ezekiel 10? What unifies the various elements of the theophany or vision of God? The divine chariot! And what a chariot it is!

What is the idea of the chariot in Ezekiel 10? In a nutshell, Jehovah in His awesome chariot is leaving His temple in Jerusalem because of Judah’s grievous sins. Then, and only then, will the city fall and the house of God be destroyed.

Chariots were the most expensive and impressive means of conveyance in the biblical world. Wealthy and powerful King Solomon was the first in Israel to acquire chariots on a national scale and station them in strategic cities (I Kings 4:26; 9:19; 10:26). Chariots indicated regal splendour and military might.

Pharaoh’s Egyptian army was not the only force with chariots at the Red Sea. There Jehovah rode upon His “horses” and “chariots of salvation” (Hab. 3:8). Psalm 104:3-4 proclaims that God “maketh the clouds his chariot,” “walketh upon the wings of the wind” and “maketh his angels spirits,” “his ministers a flaming fire.” According to Psalm 18:10, the Lord “rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.” This psalm goes on to speak of His majestic presence in terms of “darkness,” “thick clouds,” “brightness,” “hail stones,” “coals of fire” and “lightnings” (11-14).

What about chariot wheels? In the ancient world, man-made chariots had either two or four wheels, with the four-wheeled chariots being larger, more costly and more powerful. Jehovah’s chariot has four identical wheels in Ezekiel 1 and 10.

The wheels of earthly chariots were a few feet in diameter but those of the divine chariot are “so high that they were dreadful” (1:18). Imagine, for a moment, four wheels that are each, say, 45 yards or 50 metres high!

In Ezekiel’s visions, God’s chariot has wheels within wheels (1:16; 10:10). In English literature and language, “wheels within wheels” is a metaphor for that which is highly complicated, often involving secret scheming and machinations.

However, when Ezekiel describes the four wheels of God’s chariot “as if a wheel had been in the midst of a wheel” (10), he is stating that these wheels are omnidirectional. Jehovah has no trouble in manoeuvring His chariot, unlike the difficulty a human charioteer has in turning a man-made chariot with its wheels.

Whereas earthly chariot wheels contained nails or other means of attachment, God’s chariot wheels are filled with eyes (1:18; 10:12). This imagery strikes us as surreal and unnerving. In Ezekiel’s vision, the point is that even God’s wheels have eyes to see and can see everything, bespeaking the divine omniscience.

One of the major dangers for those in earthly chariots in a battle was that they could not see everything that was going on in the melee. They did not have eyes in the back of their heads, as we often put it. How different for the all-seeing and all-knowing Triune God when He rides forth in His chariot!

Have you grasped it? Four gigantic omnidirectional wheels filled with eyes! These are the amazing wheels of the stupendous chariot of the omniscient divine rider!

In Old Testament times, chariots were pulled by two or three or four horses, but who or what pulls God’s chariot? Ezekiel 1 refers to them as four “living creatures” (5, 13-15, 19-22), bursting with vitality and vigour, unlike the beasts of burden that grow tired.

Ezekiel 10 identifies the four living creatures as cherubs (15, 20) who protect and guard the divine presence (cf. Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:20). That these living creatures or cherubs are angels is evident from the Psalms, for a cherub pulls the divine chariot in one place (18:10) but angels perform this task in another text (104:3-4). Pharaoh, Solomon and Nebuchadnezzar doubtless chose their most powerful horses to pull their chariots, but, unlike the Most High God, they did not have mighty angels to perform this work!

Each of the four angels has four faces: the faces of a man, an ox (a domestic animal), a lion (a wild animal) and an eagle (a bird). These four angelic steeds far excel horses that pull an earthly chariot, for each possesses and vastly surpasses the intelligence of a man, the strength of an ox, the royalty of a lion and the flight of an eagle.

Each of the four cherubs not only has four faces but also four wings. With their wings, the living creatures can move the chariot up (the angels are under the chariot, not in front of it) and down, as well as backward and forward. Thus God’s chariot not only has four omnidirectional wheels but four heavenly steeds that can move in any direction.

With their wings, the living creatures can speed the chariot very fast, much quicker than any prize stallions. Yet this rapid, omnidirectional conveyance of the divine chariot by the cherubs is effortless. To rise, they simply lift up their wings (Eze. 10:16, 19; 11:22); no flapping is needed (1:9). To stand still, they merely let down their wings (24-25). Unlike horses, their legs and feet always stay straight (7).

The living creatures move the wheels and the chariot fast, yet effortlessly, and omnidirectionally, yet perfectly smoothly. No lengthy turning manoeuvres are needed. God’s chariot never lists to one side or gets stuck in a rut. There is a perfect correspondence between the movement of the four angels and that of the chariot’s four wheels, “for the spirit of the living creature was in them” (10:17; 1:20, 21). Imagine the smooth conveyance of an earthly chariot if the spirit of the horse were also in the wheels! Rev. Stewart

 

A Shipwrecked Faith

The question I’ve chosen to answer in this issue of the News is this: “In I Timothy 1:19 we read, ‘Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.’ Arminians argue that a man who is said to have ‘shipwrecked’ his faith is someone who once had true saving faith but who, through his sinful way of life, is now lost and will perish everlastingly. How else are we to understand what Paul is talking about here?”

Before answering the question, it should be noted that Paul is speaking to Timothy as a minister of the gospel and through him to every minister of the gospel. Those who preach the gospel of grace must themselves be examples of what they preach. They must themselves believe the gospel, holding fast to the Word of God, and they must live a life of moral purity. The exhortation of the apostle Paul, therefore, is timely especially today when we hear so often of the lamentable falls of those who bring the gospel and of other preachers who seem to believe nothing.

Most commentators take “faith” to refer to the (objective) faith, the doctrines and teaching of the Word of God, but that is not the way the word is used in the context. In every other reference in I Timothy 1 (2, 4, 5, 14), the reference is to the grace of believing. That, however, makes the question we are answering even more urgent. Those of whom Paul speaks did not just put away the (objective) faith but faith itself. Did they first have true saving faith and then put it away?

Since we believe the great biblical doctrine of the preservation and perseverance of the saints, we know that saving faith and a good conscience cannot be lost, nor can those who really have them go shipwreck. Jesus says in John 6:37-40, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Faith and a good conscience once received as a gift of God cannot be lost (Phil. 1:6; I Pet. 1:5). Faith and a good conscience were purchased for God’s own at the cross and given to us by the Spirit, and neither the work of the Son nor the work of the Spirit can be in vain.

But what does the Word of God in I Timothy 1:19 mean, then?

Some explain the passage by focusing on the word shipwreck and suggesting that shipwreck does not necessarily mean that those who are shipwrecked perish everlastingly. They may only suffer loss. In other words, Paul is describing those who wander from the right way and suffer spiritually as a result, but repent and return, and so are saved. That explanation might work except that Paul is talking about Hymenaeus and Alexander (20), who were blasphemers and heretics (cf. II Tim. 2:17-18), and whom Paul had committed to Satan (I Tim. 1:20), and who, as far as we know, never repented of their evil deeds and doctrines.

Paul uses a word translated “put away,” but this does not imply that these wicked men ever had true faith and a good conscience. The same word is used of the unbelieving Jews in Acts 13:46 and the translation there gives a better sense of what the word means: “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” The Jews to whom Paul spoke never had saving faith and a good conscience, but, when those things were preached to them, they “pushed them away” and “rejected” them.

That is what the evildoers of I Timothy 1:19-20 did, especially Hymenaeus and Alexander. Though they had been in the church for a time, they had in word and deed rejected faith and a good conscience—they never believed and never lived the kind of life that gives a good conscience before God. One can put away and reject what one never had in one’s heart.

In II Timothy 2:17-18, Hymanaeus is mentioned again, along with another man named Philetus. They denied the future bodily resurrection and so overthrew “the faith of some.” Some believed their lies and not the truths of Scripture, and that troubled others in the church, suggesting to them that it is possible to have faith and a good conscience, but then lose everything. Paul tells those worriers in II Timothy 2 that God’s people cannot be lost: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (19).

It should also be noted that in I Timothy 1:19 the Word of God does not say that they put away faith. It states that “some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.” In rejecting crucial teachings of Scripture, they also rejected faith in Christ as the only way of salvation, and the necessity of a holy and God-glorifying life. They did not really believe and in their unbelief they made shipwreck concerning faith.

The reference to shipwreck does not mean either that they were shipwrecked but managed to salvage something in the end. It refers to the complete destruction of the “ship” in which they sailed and of themselves. To make shipwreck concerning faith and a good conscience does not leave any hope of salvage.

It is understandable, though, that the apostasy of some distresses the people of God, for men like Hymenaeus and Alexander are often very knowledgeable and prominent in the church, have a reputation for piety and are looked up to by many. They may even be ministers of the gospel whose falls Satan uses to attack the assurance of some.

It is important in such cases to remember what the Word says in II Timothy 2:19. God knows who are His own, and His knowledge of them is eternal, unchangeable, almighty and saving. They cannot be lost and cannot lose what God has given them. Also believers, by departing from iniquity, show that they are different from those who make shipwreck concerning faith and a good conscience. Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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Last modified on 02 October 2021

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