Posted in theology

The opposite view of Elisha’s servant

By Elizabeth Prata

During preparation for battle, prophet Elisha’s servant was weak kneed and worried. There seemed to be a lot of them and not a lot of us.

When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15-17).

Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel saw the throne of God in heaven through visions. Paul (we assume) was lifted up to heaven and saw things he could not express. John, Peter, James saw heaven come down in the form of a transfigured Jesus in His glory. These men had glimpses of things beautiful and glorious. Paul (we assume) seemed especially affected, the way we spoke of the experience in 2 Corinthians 12:7. He said what he saw was of surpassing greatness. The word surpassing here in Greek is hyperbole, you might recognize the term. Here it is in a strong emphatic meaning beyond measure, excessively beyond, surpassing excellence.

This all makes me want to see heaven even more! But what about the opposite? What if we could pray to the Lord as Elisha did, and say, “Lord, open their eyes and show them their future, in punishment and torment in the Lake of Fire, where the worm does not die.” If people could see hell, would they repent? Would they believe God means what He says?

Just imagine for a moment that the eyes of all unconverted men were opened to see the situation in which they stand. Oh! What doleful cries of agony and terror would rise from every dwelling, when they saw that the Almightiness of Jehovah is all ready to be let loose upon them, body and soul, forever. ~M’Cheyne, “The Believer’s Joy”

Would they be aghast, not at seeing God who encircles His throne with holiness and glory so strong it wold kill you to merely glimpse it, but the orange-lit fires of hell, a blazing furnace of sulphur, where the screams and cries of the damned echo eternally.

Jonathan Edwards evoked the picture of hell in his famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. His preaching about our sin and its just and due punishment, sent people flinging themselves into the aisles at the thought of such wrath for sin. Edwards wanted, not to scare them, but to awaken them to the fact that there does exist a just punishment for sin, and that the day of reckoning may come sooner rather than later for any person in the church that day.

The veil had been momentarily lifted through Edwards’ word pictures and viewing that scene in their mind’s eye was one of grief and pain for the hearers. Stephen Williams, who had attended the sermon that day, said that “The [sic] shreiks and crys were piercing and amazing.”

Until salvation comes, unrepentant sinners stand on a precipice so gaping, the fires so hot, hell so yawning, and that the punishment is eternal, that it is hard to grasp the weight and fact of it. Truly, the unregenerate mind does not even try to grasp it.

Fortunately, though God allowed Elisha’s servant to glimpse his majesty and might, we don’t need God to allow glimpses of hell in order to visualize the fact of coming punishment, nor do we need vivid word pictures like Edwards’, as helpful as sermons like his were and are. Any person at any time can read about it in His book, the Holy Bible. Jesus explained about it, the Spirit inspired other verses and passages about the reality of hell. It’s the opposite of bountiful joy, eternal torment. Jesus spoke more about hell than any other issue.

Jesus talks about hell more than he talks about heaven, and describes it more vividly. There’s no denying that Jesus knew, believed, and warned against the absolute reality of hell. Source

It begins and ends there. Learn about a holy God who judges and saves. See the written, inspired descriptions of joys abounding in heaven and torments unspeakable in hell. Comprehend the law and grace available to your inquiring eyes.

In that moment, God gave Elisha’s servant a mercy in allowing him a glimpse of God’s protective might. But in reading the Bible, we can not merely glimpse, but absorb and enjoy learning about Jesus, His love and His wrath- both.

Edwards’ word pictures alone were enough to startle a congregation and elicit moans and cries on the spot. Imagine the real reality of the lake of burning sulphur, of not being lovingly placed there, but thrown, like a used tissue. Of being in it forever. read His word on to gain knowledge of our sin, His punishment for it, and the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, the gracious remedy.

fire fall down

Posted in book review, theology

Book Review- Heaven and Hell: Jonathan Edwards on the Afterlife by John Gerstner

By Elizabeth Prata
Heaven and Hell: Jonathan Edwards on the AfterlifeHeaven and Hell: Jonathan Edwards on the Afterlife by John H. Gerstner
Dr. Gerstner was an enthusiastic student of the famous Jonathan Edwards. He spent a good deal of his professional life studying Edwards and his theology. In this book, he examines the teaching of Edwards on the subjects of heaven and hell.

A short work, at times felt more like Cliff’s Notes, but it is such a weighty subject, particularly the way Edwards deals with it, that I don’t know if my heart and soul could stand the pain of reading about hell any more deeply that was already presented.

I didn’t agree with all Edwards had to say on the subject (i.e. earth being the location of hell after the conflagration, or that devils torment us in hell) but alternately, Edwards did raise interesting points. Like this one: are men punished for sins IN the state of punishment as well as in the state of trial?

One comes to appreciate Edwards’ attention to the doctrine. His pleas, constant and earnest as they were, to avoid hell ran consistently with the Bible’s frequency on the subject (3-to-1 in favor of threats and warnings vs comforts and lovelies). Here is one excerpt from an unpublished sermon where Edwards remarks on his own frequency of hell’s mention-

And indeed when I went about preparing this discourse it was with considerable discouragement. I thought it was now some time since I had offered any discourse of this nature. But so many had been offered with so little apparent effect that I thought with myself I know not what to say further.

But however because I must warn you from God whether you will hear or whether you will forbear I have warned you again. It has now been told once more, whether you will yield to the power of God’s Word, to the force of the awful warnings and threatenings which the Word of God sets before you [or not]. If you will not hear now you may possibly solemnly lay these things to heart when you come to die. And if you continue in your stupidity to the last, being given up of God to a dreadful degree of hardness that is beyond the alarm of approaching death, which is the case with some, yet as soon as ever you are dead you will be fully sensible of all.

Edwards’ motivation for the frequency of hell’s mention stems from a vivid understanding of God’s character, his wrath and His grace. His sermons are clear on the wondrous character of God and his unchangeableness in dealing with sin. Edwards fervently wanted his hearers to spend eternity in grace, not wrath. Some were converted, some were not. Some even stayed on the fence, Edwards says that “they were neither awakened, nor at ease.”

Gerstner uses copious amounts of quotes from Edwards’ sermons and writings, and many footnotes for further study.

Edwards once remarked that the only way for men to have ease on earth is to delete the doctrine of hell, and so it is the same to this day. Recommended.

Posted in hell, theology

What about hell?

By Elizabeth Prata

I love to speak of Jesus’s love, mercy, grace, salvation, and sanctification. However I also think it is important to speak of His justice, wrath, and consignment of the rebellious to hell in torment forever. Jesus spoke both of His kingdom to come and hell constantly. Yet, we don’t. We should. Many of those on earth won’t be joining Him in His kingdom to come unless they repent of their sins and believe on Him. Jesus taught quite a bit on wrath, hell and the consequences of sin. I read this week for background to this essay that the Bible runs 3-to-1 on wrath vs. love as a topic.

As Bible.org sums it up,

It may be worth noting that in Deuteronomy 28 (and following), the blessing section (28:1-14) is a great deal shorter than the cursing section (28:15-68).

Paul taught that thinking about and teaching about the rapture and the joy to come is encouraging. It is, but remembering the wrath we ourselves were under before salvation and is still poised over every unbeliever is a worthwhile thing to ponder, too.

I started a new book this week, John Gerstner’s treatise, Jonathan Edwards’ on Heaven & Hell. It’s quite illuminating. Though hell should not be a popular subject, (after all it’s the weightiest in the universe), it should not be marginalized, either. Here is the blurb on the book-

Dr. Gerstner was an ardent student of the famous Jonathan Edwards. In this short work, previously published by Baker, he examines the teaching of Edwards on the subjects of heaven and hell.

Hell is a real place and unconverted people will be cast there at the Day of Judgment. If it not real, then where did Jesus descend to during his three-day death to proclaim to the spirits bound there? (1 Peter 3:18-20). Though people try to debate this, dampen, it (annihilationism, universal salvation), hell is real.

If you are looking for a resource on the topic of hell, here are a few items for you-

Described as

a. Everlasting punishment. Mt 25:46.
b. Everlasting fire. Mt 25:41.
c. Everlasting burnings. Isa 33:14.
d. A furnace of fire. Mt 13:42,50.
e. A lake of fire. Rev 20:15.
f. Fire and brimstone. Rev 14:10.
g. Unquenchable fire. Mt 3:12.
h. Devouring fire. Isa 33:14.
4. Prepared for the devil, &c. Mt 25:41.
5. Devils are confined in, until the judgment day. 2Pe 2:4; Jude 1:6.
6. Punishment of, is eternal. Isa 33:14; Rev 20:10.
7. The wicked shall be turned into. Ps 9:17.
8. Human power cannot preserve from. Eze 32:27.
9. The body suffers in. Mt 5:29; 10:28.
10. The soul suffers in. Mt 10:28.
11. The wise avoid. Pr 15:24.
12. Endeavour to keep others from. Pr 23:14; Jude 1:23.
13. The society of the wicked leads to. Pr 5:5; 9:18.
14. The beast, false prophets, and the devil shall be cast into. Rev 19:20; 20:10.
15. The powers of, cannot prevail against the Church. Mt 16:18.
16. Illustrated. Isa 30:33.

John Gerstner (RC Sproul’s mentor) was an ardent student of Jonathan Edwards’ works, as noted above. From Gerstner’s essay on Edwards’ Rationale of Hell, we read Gerstner’s thoughts interspersed with Edwards’-

“those that have a sinful fear of God fear God as evil, but a right fear fears him as great and excellent.” (Edwards). Thus there is a right and wrong fear of God. This wrong fear of God, fearing him as an evil and dreadful being, drives men from God.

“A sinful fear makes men afraid to come to God.” (Edwards)

But, on the other hand, there is a proper fear of God, as the good and holy being that he is, and this right fear makes men afraid to go from him.

Eve and Adam had a sinful fear of God and they fled from Him. Those who are in Him would have a healthy fear to flee away from Him, but instead fly toward Him in all circumstances. On so many levels, once we are converted, everything turns upside down (or right side up, depending on yoru perspective!)

So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Luke 3:7).

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape the sentence of hell? (Matthew 23:33)

I’m sorry not to be uplifting or sentimental today. Sometimes I feel the weight of the lost and their permanent eternity, or I give a mournful shaking of my head when I see important topics being shunted aside, and I feel compelled to write about the more unpopular subjects. Hell might not be popular, but it is very real. I recommend John Gerstner (especially at Ligonier.org) and Jonathan Edwards for credible treatment of the subject.

wrath 3

Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

What does a true revival look like? Part 1

We all want revival. We all want the Spirit of God to enter each one of us and make us obviously set apart into a royal priesthood, doing good and devoting ourselves to prayer, hearing of the word, and breaking bread in loving fellowship. We long for our church and life to mirror the earliest days of the first century church of Acts.

However when churches schedule a special Revival speaker, or goes to a Revival conference, and we emerge smiling for a few days but then the waves of euphoria fade, we call that revival. It’s what we’ve become used to as our experience of “revival.”

Yesterday our pastor read from a biography of Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century theologian and pastor who is ‘credited’ with sparking the Great Awakening in America with his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

The extended quote Pastor Mark read was about what life was like in their village while the Awakening (revival) was going on.

Here is Jonathan Edwards from his book, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God on what happens in a heart that is falsely revived, IF they are even lucky enough to hear a preacher who preaches sin in the first place, an increasingly rare event nowadays:

Very often, under first awakenings, when they are brought to reflect on the sin of their past lives, and have something of a terrifying sense of God’s anger, they set themselves to walk more strictly, and confess their sins, and perform many religious duties, with a secret hope of appeasing God’s anger, and making up for the sins they have committed. And oftentimes, at first setting out, their affections are so moved, that they are full of tears, in their confessions and prayers; which they are ready to make very much of, as though they were some atonement, and had power to move correspondent affections in God too. 

Hence they are for a while big with expectation of what God will do for them; and conceive they grow better apace, and shall soon be thoroughly converted. But these affections are but short-lived; they quickly find that they fail, and then they think themselves to be grown worse again. They do not find such a prospect of being soon converted, as they thought: instead of being nearer, they seem to be further off; their hearts they think are grown harder, and by this means their fears of perishing greatly increase. But though they are disappointed, they renew their attempts again and again; and still as their attempts are multiplied, so are their disappointments.

When the Spirit of God moves, it is obvious what is happening. The community changes immediately. Read what Edwards wrote about life in a truly revived community:

These awakenings when they have first seized on persons, have had two effects; one was, that they have brought them immediately to quit their sinful practices; and the looser sort have been brought to forsake and dread their former vices and extravagances. When once the Spirit of God began to be so wonderfully poured out in a general way through the town, people had soon done with their old quarrels, backbitings, and intermeddling with other men’s matters. The tavern was soon left empty, and persons kept very much at home; none went abroad unless on necessary business, or on some religious account, and every day seemed in many respects like a Sabbath-day. 

The other effect was, that it put them on earnest application to the means of salvation, reading, prayer, meditation, the ordinances of God’s house, and private conference; their cry was, What shall we do to be saved? The place of resort was now altered, it was no longer the tavern, but the minister’s house that was thronged far more than ever the tavern had been wont to be.

That is just beautiful. But why wouldn’t it be? The Holy Spirit of God is beautiful. They are simply reflecting Him in a way we are not used to seeing en masse.

The key to revival is awareness of one’s sin and God’s wrath against it. People who have become aware of their sin will naturally do the things Edwards described. Far from being a dolorous position, people who know their sin are joyful, because now they know and understand grace. See more Edwards’ Faithful Narrative-

The unparalleled joy that many of them speak of, is what they find when they are lowest in the dust, emptied most of themselves, and as it were annihilating themselves before God; when they are nothing, and God is all; seeing their own unworthiness, depending not at all on themselves, but alone on Christ, and ascribing all glory to God. Then their souls are most in the enjoyment of satisfying rest; excepting that, at such times, they apprehend themselves to be not sufficiently self-abased; for then above all times do they long to be lower. 

Some speak much of the exquisite sweetness, and rest of soul, that is to be found in the exercise of resignation to God, and humble submission to His will. Many express earnest longings of soul to praise God; but at the same time complain that they cannot praise Him as they would, and they want to have others help them in praising Him. They want to have every one praise God, and are ready to call upon every thing to praise Him. They express a longing desire to live to God’s glory, and to do something to His honor; but at the same time complain of their insufficiency and barrenness; that they are poor and impotent creatures, can do nothing of themselves, and are utterly insufficient to glorify their Creator and Redeemer.

A revived community will reflect God’s heart, which is contained in His Son, who is the Word. (John 1:1-5). People’s passion will be to seek God more, through His word. (Hebrews 1:1-2). Edwards sees a love for His word come alive in the people who have been truly revived:

While God was so remarkably present amongst us by His Spirit, there was no book so delightful as the Bible; especially the Book of Psalms, the Prophecy of Isaiah, and the New Testament. Some, by reason of their love to God’s word, at times have been wonderfully delighted and affected at the sight of a Bible; and then, also, there was no time so prized as the Lord’s day, and no place in this world so desired as God’s house. Our converts then remarkably appeared united in dear affection to one another, and many have expressed much of that spirit of love which they felt toward all mankind; and particularly to those who had been least friendly to them. Never, I believe, was so much done in confessing injuries, and making up differences, as the last year. Persons, after their own conversion, have commonly expressed an exceeding great desire for the conversion of others. Some have thought that they should be willing to die for the conversion of any soul, though of one of the meanest of their fellow-creatures, or of their worst enemies; and many have, indeed, been in great distress with desires and longings for it. This work of God had also a good effect to unite the people’s affections much to their minister.

The dominant thread in Edwards’ recounting of the aftermath of the Revival, is self-hate. It’s true. People all around had come to recognize their own depravity, and thus in contrast, God’s beauty. This was what the Awakening helped them see, understand, utter, live. The revival was thrust forward on waves of self-hate.

Martin Luther wrote, as summarized by John MacArthur,

Martin Luther, as you know, launched the Protestant Reformation. He was a Roman Catholic priest who came to understand the truth of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from works, and ceremonies, and all the rest; and so he determined that he would confront the Roman Catholic system, the great monolithic system of error and deception, and he selected 95 different statements, 95 different protests – that’s why we’re called “Protestants” – 95 different assertions that ran contrary to Catholicism. He wrote them down and he nailed them on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

The fourth of his protests, the fourth of his 95 assertions was that a penitent heart, a heart that comes to God and receives salvation is characterized by – here’s his term, “self hate.” Self hate. Quoting from Luther’s fourth statement. “And so penance remains while self hate remains.” He said that self hate was the true interior penitence. “This,” said Luther, “is essential to the gospel.”

This is why revivals of today fail. The audience does not hear a message of self-hate, they hear messages of self-love. Self-love will never, ever revive a heart or convict one of sin.

Special speakers are hired to come to our churches for a week, or people clamber aboard buses to be shuttled to arenas where special speakers await…who give the message that we are worth something to God, we are good, we are just waiting to be whatever we can be. Our dreams can ambitions can be fulfilled. We can have all our rights, privileges, respect, honor, and affirmation, plus Jesus. In today’s revivals, Jesus is the add-on, nestled alongside to a person who is usually pretty good but just needs an extra boost. In Edwards’ Awakening, first the person understands his abasement, comes to see his depravity through Jesus’ eyes, and loathes it. Then and only then, can he see Jesus as He is, glorified, holy, and beautiful.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at a revival in the Bible that is tremendous in its power and effect.
jesus poster

Posted in Uncategorized

The Necessary Angst

The natural man knows there is a God. We know this because he suppresses this truth in unrighteousness. (Romans 1:18). There is no such thing as an innocent pagan. Deep down they know there is a God, and if they know there is a God they know they do wrong (sin) and someone has to call them to account for it. (Romans 1:19-22).

I remember before coming to the Lord at age 43, I’d pursued all sorts of lines of questioning. The basic unanswered question that drove me was this:it seemed ridiculous to assume that man’s life ended at death. For man to have ‘evolved’ over millions of years only to life a short life of 40 or 50 or 70 years and then die for good seemed a waste. And if man’s life did not end at death but continued in some sort of afterlife, how was it decided who got in? It seemed equally ridiculous that everyone got in. That would simply replicate life on earth, and so, what would make it heaven? I mean, would Hitler get in? It was logical to think there was some sort of standard. But what? And there my queries ended, because I could not understand the Jesus-blood-resurrection part of it. That seemed ILlogical, so I abandoned the issue. But the issue remained in my heart and mind, like a burr under a horse’s saddle. I had angst about it. Continue reading “The Necessary Angst”