Monday, December 12, 2011
Blessing and Cursing
Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29:18 ESV)
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18 KJV)
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6 ESV)
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou has rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou has forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. (Hosea 4:6 KJV)
I have been told before by a beloved brother who believes in a form of Dispensationalism that Covenantalism wants to claim the blessings of the Covenant between God and Israel, but it refuses to accept the curses that God also attaches to the Covenant. It is, perhaps, the case that many who espouse Covenantal Theology (CT) fail to appreciate and reflect upon the stipulations and consequences of the Covenant between God and His people. In one sense, all of the requirements of the Covenant were fulfilled in Christ, and therefore His obedience has secured what our inevitable disobedience would have forfeited otherwise. Insofar as CT folks are proclaiming this truth, there is no imbalance as to recognizing that, ultimately, the curses were realized in Christ's crucifixion, and because of His innocence He also procured all of the blessings of the Covenant, as testified before the world in His resurrection.
However, there is another wrinkle to the Covenant relationship, because although Christ has procured all of the benefits of the Covenant for His people and has endured all of the penalty of the curse which we incurred by our sinful state and actual transgressions--although all of this is true--it is also true that God's dealings with His people in the present age are founded upon His revealed law, given to them as a means of life; or what Calvin called the third use of the law. Calvin also considered the third use of the law to be its most important use, for the ultimate purpose of God's people is to bring glory to His name, and the way to glorify God is to live as His character demands; i.e. by every word that proceeds from His mouth.
Therein lies the principle of the abiding validity of the law, which Jesus' sermon on the Mount assumes as the basis for the Christian life. Many folks get hung up on whether or not the civil and ceremonial laws continue under the present reign of Christ, but the principal fact to which all Christians ought to agree is that we are all bound to image the character of God as it is revealed in Christ. Christ broke none of God's laws , ergo neither should we. Only then does the question, "what laws of God continue to apply to us as they did for Jesus Christ?"
Putting aside that question for a moment, I wish to go back to the issue of God's Covenant. If Christ accomplished for us the procurement of blessing and the remission of guilt that would entail curses, what exactly is the relationship between the Christian and the law of God as it regards the Covenant of God with His people? Are Dispensationalists are right to charge with inconsistency those Covenantalists who do not accept the curses as part of their reality as God's people? I would argue that they are, for while the ultimate realization of blessings and cur sings have been finished once for all in the work of Christ, there remains the very much unrealized work of sanctification in the lives of God's people, the Church. CT folks do love to recognize that God's gracious Covenant extends to their children by virtue of God's promises to be faithful to those who are faithful to Him (i.e., those who are true believers) for generations to come. All CT folks recognize that this promise is conditional, that is, God retains the prerogative to refuse a child of the Covenant for His own heir and to abandon that child to Satan. However, His promises indicate the typical response of God that we can expect. We might remind ourselves that God often promises destruction that He sometimes withholds, which is a good thing. If He is free to show mercy upon whom He wishes, He is also free to withhold it from whom He wishes, and only His promise and His law guide us in how we are to think about God's character as a general principle of action.
Therefore, the stipulations of the Covenant that have always been basic -- love God, love neighbor, trust in God's character for one's claims to His kingdom and to sonship, and so forth -- these stipulations form the background for present day blessings and cur sings for the people of God. The upshot of this conclusion is that the people of God ought to always look to themselves in times of cultural decomposition. A little leaven leavens the whole lump, whereas widespread disobedience brings God's vengeance and discipline ever closer to hand. If people want to argue about why the Church in Europe has been dying, or why the Church in the USA is in decay, one need not point to the sins of abortion, or homosexuality, or feminism, or warmongering, or economic injustice. These are not causes of cultural decay in the West. They are consequences of cultural decay. They are symptoms of a Church in retreat from the law of God. They are curses upon a people who have failed to live up to the express image of God given to us in Christ. Many people rebuff at such a conclusion because it is a religious claim. However, if you took a garden and the predominant number of workers who made it what it was decided to stop tending it, who else would be to blame? And who could argue that those who have presently taken up the task to built it according to their own image are the cause of the loss? Add this to the fact that God has always promised to provide unassailable victory to His people when they abide in His character and commandments.
Christianity survived Rome because God was mighty to give victory to those who stood upon His name and His commands. It survived the schisms of the early Church and the Reformation because God was mighty to give victory to those who stood upon His name and His commands. Not because the people were inherently righteous, but because they knew that upon which their righteousness was founded and they, in their great gratitude, felt compelled to walk as He said they must walk before Him; not looking for a reward in this life, but recognizing that with each step of obedience they were advancing their King's reign over darkness and would hasten the day of His final triumph when death itself would be wrested of all its power. Only when the Church has abandon its true source of power -- the very simple, but often difficult trust and obey; the trust and obey that would take in the exposed Roman infants into their homes, the trust and obey that would not take advantage of another simply because it was possible to do so and the prevailing sentiment was to do so where one can, the trust and obey that would work hard without corruption while everyone else worked hard at corruption, the trust and obey that did not consider one's own rights and property worth shaming a brother or sister in public court trials, the trust and obey to remain faithful to a spouse in all circumstances, the trust and obey to raise children with one's own life rather than the accoutrements of monetary capital and prevailing pagan expertise.
Without the knowledge of God, without the vision of Christ's Kingdom pervading every step in the Christian walk, the people perish, they cast of restraint and run headlong into destruction. Blessed, happy is the man who keeps the law of God, who does not forget or forsake His ways.
Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life! (Psalm 119:33-40 ESV)