Thursday, March 01, 2012

Storm The Gates -- Part 4

John Bunyan’s book The Holy War describes the capture and re-taking of Mansoul. The gates were taken advantage of by Diabolus and his armies because they were not guarded properly. When King Shaddai decided that he was going to gain control of it again, he chose to assault the gates also. The Eye Gate and the Ear Gate were the primary ways of going back into the city. So he determined that he would have his best men to attack the Ear Gate. It literally shook while these men assaulted it. While the allegory is best understood as preaching that is being used to reason with the Ear Gate, Bunyan does an excellent job in describing the ways that it falls back to the control of King Shaddai.

The first to assault the Ear Gate was Captain Boanerges and his first assistant, Mr. Thunder. The second man to assault the gate was Captain Conviction and his first assistant, Mr. Sorrow. The third man sent in is Captain Judgment and Mr. Terror. Obviously Bunyan is describing the most effective tones of evangelistic preaching. Although all of these techniques, authority, passion, conviction, godly sorrow, judgment, and a fear of the judgment awaiting every man, it appears that much of this kind of preaching has fallen by the wayside.

Captain Judgment and Mr. Terror (knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; 2 Cor. 5:11) are dressed in red uniforms with an insignia of a burning furnace. When he stepped up to speak immediately after Captain Conviction, his words rang out.

‘O ye, the inhabitants of the town of Mansoul, that have lived so long in rebellion and acts of treason against the King Shaddai, know that we come not today to this place, in this manner, with our message of our own minds, or to revenge our own quarrel; it is the King, my Master, that hath sent us to reduce you to your obedience to him; the which if you refuse in a peaceable way to yield, we have commission to compel you thereto. And never think of yourselves, nor yet suffer the tyrant Diabolus to persuade you to think, that our King, by his power, is not able to bring you down, and to lay you under his feet; for he is the former of all things, and if he touches the mountains, they smoke. Nor will the gate of the King’s clemency stand always open; for the day that shall burn like an oven is before him; yea, it hasteth greatly, it slumbereth not.

‘O Mansoul, is it little in thine eyes that our King doth offer thee mercy, and that after so many provocations? Yea, he still holdeth out his golden sceptre to thee, and will not yet suffer his gate to be shut against thee: wilt thou provoke him to do it? If so, consider of what I say: to thee it is opened no more forever. If thou sayest thou shalt not see him, yet judgment is before him; therefore trust thou in him. Yea, because there is wrath, beware lest he take thee away with his stroke; then a great ransom cannot deliver thee. Will he esteem thy riches? No, not gold, nor all the forces of strength. He hath prepared his throne for judgment, for he will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebukes with flames of fire. Therefore, O Mansoul, take heed lest, after thou hast fulfilled the judgment of the wicked, justice and judgment should take hold of thee.’

‘O thou woeful town of Mansoul, wilt thou not yet set open thy gate to receive us, the deputies of thy King, and those that would rejoice to see thee live? Can thine heart endure, or can thy hands be strong, in the day that he shall deal in judgment with thee? I say, canst thou endure to be forced to drink, as one would drink sweet wine, the sea of wrath that our King has prepared for Diabolus and his angels? Consider betimes, consider.’

Bunyan writes that while Captain Judgment is giving his speech that Diabolus is noted to be trembling from fear. Now we come to another element of preaching—judgment. All effective evangelistic preaching has authority, conviction, and expressions of judgment in it. To Diabolus it is very clear that there is coming a day of reckoning for him and all those that he has managed to sway in the wrong direction.

Back in the 1940’s, a man named C. S. Lewis, wrote a little book called The Screwtape Letters that is a supposed dialogue between a senior demon and a junior demon. The senior is dispensing various forms of advice as to how to trip up their “patient” who is a Christian and sending him to Hell. Some parts of the book are filled with great hilarity but most of the book is deadly sobering because it makes you think about how subtle that devil works in our world to trip up and hinder people in their walk with God.

One of the things that Screwtape, the affectionate uncle devil, commends to Screwtape, the gnarly little nephew devil, is that they gain access to the pulpits of the churches through the preacher. In fact they have a line about “long live our men in the pulpit.” They have turned him into a double-agent of sorts and don’t mind it at all when he takes a few Bible verses and sprinkles them throughout his “sermon” which is more of a moral talk than a biblical message. Some of Screwtape’s directions to Wormwood are as follow:

• He may even use the Bible but just keep him an atheist.
• He may use various verses from the Bible to cast an illusion of being spiritual just make sure he stays like that. Keep him living a spiritual illusion.
• Keep him repulsed about a bloody cross and the blood of the Savior. Keep him from affirming anything to do at all with the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
• Let him scoff at the simple message of the Gospel and the New Birth. Let him think that repentance, baptism in Jesus name, and receiving the Spirit is something that rednecks and hill-billys do. Make him give the idea that folks who believe that are either heretics or snake-handlers.
• Let him aspire to the “higher” forms of educational and religious quackery that believes in universalism and complete tolerance for all the ways that will lead men to heaven. It is sort of like wrapping rat poison in taffy.
• Let him water down God and His attributes of holiness, justice, love, omnipotence, and so forth until God is just a “being” of sorts. He can be male, female, or even non-gender specific. He can be Allah, Vishnu, Buddha, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or even Puff the Magic Dragon. Let our man in the pulpit in the name of tolerance re-define God.
• Let our man in the pulpit preach social causes so that his folks are feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless, and passing out money to pay light bills. If you can keep him focused on everything but prayer and ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4), you get him to chase after the by-products of Christianity.
• Make sure that you keep him in the middle of folks who are dying so he can dispense advice that all who die are on their way to heaven regardless of how they lived on Earth. Screwtape tells Wormwood that they will be waiting for their subjects and when they arrive, they can say, “Our man sent you to us!”
• Let our man explain away all the miracles in the Bible as nothing more than fables, tales, and allegories that were early man’s attempt to explain the true meaning of life.
• Get him to cast aspersions on the virgin birth, the sinless nature of Jesus Christ, the absolute monotheism of God, and the resurrection. Tell him to tell the “gang” that the resurrection did not physically take place but only in the hearts of the followers of Jesus.

For those reading this who may think that it is all so far-fetched, I encourage you to take a look at the landscape of American Christianity and see for yourself. Christianity is loaded with ways and means of self-help, dream fulfillment, and obtaining a blessed life. In fact, last year one of the best sellers on the NYBL was Rob Bell’s book entitled Love Wins. In that book, Bell single-handedly shut down hell and saved everyone with a 250-page book. The problem was that America is so biblically illiterate that it could not weed through the deception that Bell brought to us.

So when we read old books like Bunyan’s The Holy War they seem so radical. Especially when he paints Captain Judgment and Mr. Terror attacking the Ear Gate with a warning of final judgment and a lake of everlasting fire and torment and how all men are going to be accountable. Yet whether we want to believe it or not, it is going to happen.

However, don’t think that what we are dealing with is a new problem. It has been taking place for a long time and there have been many detractors concerning eternal punishment. William G. T. Shedd wrote a book, The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment, in 1885. The book actually was the by-product of some biblical studies, lectures, and articles for a periodical that he wrote the previous year. Here are a few quotes from that book.

The dogmatic bearings of Universalism are not to be overlooked. The rejection of the doctrine of Endless Punishment cuts the ground from under the gospel. Salvation supposes a prior damnation. He who denies that he deserves eternal death cannot be saved from it so long as he persists in his denial. (Preface to 1st Edition)

No error is more fatal than that of Universalism. It blots out the attribute of retributive justice; transmutes sin into misfortune, instead of guilt; turns all suffering into chastisement; converts the piacular (atoning) work of Christ into moral influence; and makes it a debt due to man, instead of an unmerited boon (prayer) from God. (Preface to 1st Edition)

The strongest support of the doctrine of Endless Punishment is the teaching of Christ, the Redeemer of man. Through the doctrine is plainly taught in the Pauline Epistles, and other parts of Scripture, yet without the explicit and reiterated statements of God incarnate, it is doubtful whether so awful a truth would have had such as conspicuous place as it always has had in the creed of Christendom. (p. 12)

Lastly, I give to you a series of Scriptural references concerning this doctrine:

• Matthew 25:31-33, 41, 46.
• Mark 9:43-48
• Mark 8:36; Cross Ref. with Luke 9:25
• Luke 16:22-23
• Matthew 10:28
• Matthew 13:41-42
• Matthew 7:22-23
• Luke 12:9-10
• Matthew 23:16, 33
• Matthew 26:24
• Luke 12:46
• Mark 16:16
• Matthew 11:23
• Matthew 13:40-50
• John 8:21
• John 5:28-29
• Matthew 3:12
• Matthew 13:30
• Matthew 13:47-48
• Matthew 25:10
• Matthew 25:19-30

If you take the time to read these passages, do they sound as if they will be restorative and temporary?

One more post to go on the last of Bunyan’s preachers—Captain Execution and his assistant, Mr. Justice.

Thanks for reading. . .

Philip Harrelson

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