Category Archives: Bible

My TIVO is Possessed by the Devil – Part 2

I wrote here about how I thought my TIVO might be possessed by the Devil because I was unable to delete a recorded movie, named ironically Devil in the Blue Dress. Well, God “exorcised” the problem. We had an electrical storm that knocked out power the other night, and that caused the TIVO to reset. And da Devil is done gone! Hallelujah!

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The Awakening

Book 2 1Excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years

In that September of 1862, the giddy victories of the year before had given way to the soul-numbing realities of a brutal and bloody war. Beginning with the Valley Campaign in the early spring and continuing all summer through to Sharpsburg, what had seemed glorious the year before became for all a dreaded experience that promised only more pain, suffering, and death. Those who believed this war would be over quickly came face-to-face with the sobering realization that it would likely go on for a long while and cost many more lives.

Thomas Paine once said of another war, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” When a man’s soul is tested by the worst of what life can throw at him, especially when he looks death in the face, he becomes contemplative of his mortality. Unnoticed by all but a very few, a change was taking place; an “awakening” was slowly spreading over the army. It would begin in the Army of Northern Virginia and eventually spread to all of the armies of the Confederacy. It would profoundly impact the lives of the many soldiers touched by it, and it would eventually be felt elsewhere in the nation long after the war ended.

*****

In An Eternity of Four Years an entire chapter is dedicated to an event that took place in the Army of Northern Virginia during the war. Chapter 16 is titled “The Awakening” and focuses on two points. The first is the spiritual awakening that took place during the war and the beginning of Ethan’s spiritual recovery from his lapses in judgment and bouts of self-pity over losing Rachel.

As the above excerpt from Chapter 16 of An Eternity of Four Years suggests, the “sobering realization” of what the war was about (seeing the elephant), and when men “look death in the face,” they do indeed become “contemplative” of their mortality. Such a man then becomes much more open to the calling of God.

Both sides of the conflict experienced this awakening but in different ways. The North had many Catholics in its ranks and the intensity of the awakening was not as strong as in the southern armies, which had far more evangelical Protestant members. It is estimated that over 100,000 men came to Christ during this period in the South, while some 100,000 to 200,000 did so in the much larger northern army. That represents about 10% of all who served. Most of those new Christians who survived the war went home taking their new faith with them to become active members of local churches and evangelists for Christ. Thus what they experienced during the war was felt long after it by those they touched with the Gospel message.

I have already discussed how Major General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson was a great man of faith. So were many other southern leaders, including General Robert E. Lee. While Lincoln’s government did encourage spiritual matters in the military, even providing for chaplains in each regiment, the southern government was not as supportive until later in the war. People like Lee, Jackson, and Leonidus Polk, the “fighting bishop,” strongly encouraged the regiments to see to the spiritual needs of the soldiers.

Local churches back home were encouraged to send “spiritual men” to act as chaplains in the various regiments. Because of the awakening, there was a serious need for Bibles and New Testaments for the soldiers to read. The South didn’t have the resources to meet these printing needs, and the blockaded ports seriously limited their ability to import religious material from Europe. Local churches and Bible societies attempted to fill the gap and print religious tracts, especially those giving the Gospel. Even some northern Bible societies sent tracts south.

Chaplains and men referred to as “colporters”* would pass out what Bibles and tracts they could get, but they never had enough to meet the need. When the colporter showed up in camp, they would be swamped by the men clamoring for tracts. A simple tract on the Gospel would be cherished by the man who had it as if it were the most expensive Bible with gilded pages, reading it over and over until he memorized it.

B3 AA Cover Master1In The Avenging Angel, I introduced a new character who helps Ethan in his efforts against the Klan. He is known only as “Brother Samuel.” He was in the army with Ethan and seriously wounded at First Manassas. After that Brother Samuel became a colporter with the various regiments from Louisiana. He not only supplies Ethan with information he needs in his role as The Avenging Angel, but he also acts as Ethan’s spiritual conscience, sometimes gently chastising him for what he is doing—taking revenge on the murderers of his friends.

God often uses terrible human events to further the Gospel message and call people to Christ. The American Civil War was one such time when He spoke to men through their suffering. If only we would listen more.

*Also rendered colporteur from the French for a peddler of books, usually religious material such as Bibles and religious tracts.

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A Study of Ephesians 2:8-9

In both of my books, especially, An Eternity of Four Years, I make reference to Ephesians chapter 2 verses 8 and 9. This passage is one of the most important proof texts regarding the doctrine of Christian salvation to be found in the Bible. To understand its meaning, we need to dig down into the underlying Greek text and support what we find with some other passages. But first, some background.

There exists in Christianity different interpretations of the doctrine of salvation, that is, how does one get to Heaven? All of these are “based” on Scripture. It should be obvious that if these varying interpretations of Scripture are at odds with each other, we are faced with two possible choices: 1) none are right, 2) one is right. The option that two or more are right would seem to be invalid if they conflict.

We will define salvation here as seeking to spend eternity with God in Heaven and thus avoiding eternal condemnation separated from God in the fires of Hell. This definition is also Biblical, but we will not get into that at this time.

For the sake of this discussion, the doctrine of salvation will be divided into two main camps. The first we will call “works.” This implies that the person seeking salvation must need such, and he must act in a manner consistent with a righteous lifestyle in order to earn salvation. That begs a definition of “righteous lifestyle.” Since the Bible states that the “judge,” in this case, God, is perfect, we must also define “righteous lifestyle” as one that is just as perfect as that of the judge. That pretty much removes any room for error. And it also suggests none of us are capable of meeting that standard. Can anyone claim to live a perfect existence?

Some denominations do teach this system. Because of the stated limitations, they must create some system of overcoming said limitations. Thus we get things like venial and mortal sins, meaning only some sins will disqualify you, the “mortal” ones. That also suggests the need for some system of penalizing, or cleansing if you prefer, those who commit “minor” sins (which would be all of us), and that would be purgatory, where one does “time” until one works off the sentence through the prayers of those still alive. The problem with purgatory is that it does not exist in Scripture.

This system of works implies judging ones worthiness using a bell curve (yes, like in school). That would imply some of us are better than others. I’m not as bad as Hitler, so I must be “good.” That is an invalid argument, because it rejects the perfect righteousness of God as the standard and instead uses Hitler as the standard.

The other doctrinal system we will call “grace” and for a good reason. Grace takes the position that man is incapable of ever generating human righteousness that can meet God’s perfect standard, whether he is Hitler or Mother Teresa. Man cannot ever do enough good to compensate for the bad.

For the purposes of this discussion, we will define “grace” as unmerited favor, something freely given that is not deserved or earned. And this brings us to our study passage.

Ephesians 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

While our focus will be on verses 8 and 9 (For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.), notice who does all the work in the preceding verses.

(He) made us alive together with Christ… (V5)

(He) raised us up together (V6)

(He) made us sit together in the heavenly places (V6)

(That) He might show the exceeding riches of His grace (V7)

Now verse 8 – For by grace you have been saved…. The Apostle Paul is speaking to believers in the city of Ephesus, and here he states the basis of their salvation is grace – unmerited favor. The means is found in “through faith, and that not of yourselves…” Faith is what activated the grace.

The phrase “and that not of yourselves…” has created some confusion among the denominations. There is a lot of debate centered around the demonstrative pronoun “that” (touto translated “this” in some translations). Some think it refers back to “faith,” meaning God must supply the faith man needs to believe. That suggestion is not valid, because the demonstrative pronoun is neuter, whereas “faith” is feminine. We have a gender disagreement.

What then does the “that” refer back to?

The neuter touto usually refers to the preceding phrase or clause. If so, then it refers back to the concept of salvation (2:4–8a), whose basis is grace and means is faith. Thus salvation does not have its source in man (it is “not from yourselves”), but rather, its source is God’s grace for “it is the gift of God.”

That last phrase is very interesting, because a gift cannot be earned, otherwise it is not a gift but compensation for some act (works).

This concept is further re-enforced by verse 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. Salvation is not a result of working for it. If that were the case, man would have a basis upon which he could say, “I’m better than you. In fact, I was good enough that God was really impressed and invited me to come live with him.” That is boasting and never condoned in Scripture.

Ephesisns 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

There. Man does not work his way into Heaven. He does not earn it. If he did, he could boast about it. It is a gift from God, and it is gained by trusting (faith) that Christ solved the problem on the Cross 2,000 years ago—and nothing more.

Thus, I leave you with this.

Galatians 2:16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

And…

Galatians 2:21 … for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.

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Maj. General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson – A Man of Faith

Perhaps one of the most gifted tactical commanders in U.S. military history, Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born in 1824 in Virginia. His father and an older sister died of typhoid fever when he was very young, leaving Jackson’s mother, Julia Neale Jackson, a widow with three young children and a lot of debt. Julia sold the family’s possessions to pay off debts and took in sewing and taught school to support her family. Julia remarried, but her husband Blake Woodson did not like his stepchildren. The following year, after giving birth to Thomas’ half-brother William Wirt Woodson, Julia died leaving the children orphaned.

Thomas and his siblings were shifted around among relatives until Thomas eventually settled with uncle Cummins Jackson in Jackson’s Mill in Virginia where he worked as a sheepherder.

Jackson as a young manIn 1842 Thomas was accepted to West Point. His education background weak, Thomas struggled with his studies, but through dogged determination, which was his style, he graduated 17th in a class of 59 students.

As a second lieutenant in the 1st Artillery Regiment, he fought in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. During the assault on Chapultepec Castle, Jackson refused an order to retreat, arguing instead such was riskier than continuing the fight. Events proved him right when his actions allowed the assault to succeed.

In the spring of 1851, he accepted a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), in Lexington, Virginia where he was a Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Instructor of Artillery. He was unpopular as a teacher; his droning teaching style often put cadets to sleep. He was sometimes mocked by the students as “Fool Tom” and “Old Jack.”

Thomas was eccentric in many ways and was somewhat of a hypochondriac with strange ideas about health. He often sat up ramrod straight, believing such properly aligned the internal organs for better digestive function. He famously sucked lemons during the Civil War to ease his peptic problems. It is somewhat of a mystery where he managed to obtain these lemons. So strange were his mannerisms to others, some actually thought he was crazy.

In 1853 Jackson married Elinor “Ellie” Junkin, who died in childbirth soon after. In 1857 Thomas married Mary Anna Morrison from North Carolina. They had a daughter who died less than a month after birth and a second daughter, Julia Laura, was born in 1862 not long before her father’s death.

Thomas Jackson was a devout Presbyterian and always eager to discuss matters of faith and Scripture. Some of his military strategies came from the Book of Joshua. During the Civil War, he often personally witnessed to soldiers and was not above chastising his men for profanity as he did to Dr. Hunter McGuire, his corps surgeon, when he was using profanity to hurry orderlies moving the wounded to safety. Stonewall admonished the doctor, “Sir, don’t you think you can manage these men without swearing?” McGuire nodded and promised to try.

Jackson was asked why he could remain so calm during battles, and he replied, “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me.”

Jackson would often join his men around the campfire and sit silently, deep in thought. Many believe he was in prayer as it was his practice to pray often.

In his book Christ in the Camp by J. William Jones, a chaplain in the Army of Northern Virginia, the good reverend relates the following story about Jackson.

Stonewall_JacksonReverend Dr. William Brown, former editor of the Central Presbyterian, arrived in Jackson’s camp near Centerville in 1861. A friend of Brown remarked to him how the strain of battle seemed to have taken its toll on Jackson. He related how he had encountered Stonewall in the woods walking about aimlessly, speaking incoherently, and gesturing wildly with his arms. He could only conclude that Old Jack was crazy.

Later that night, Brown spent time with Jackson, and the subject of prayer came up. Jackson related the following, “I find it greatly helps me in fixing my mind and quickening my devotions to give articulate utterance to my prayers, and hence I am in the habit of going off into the woods, where I can be alone and speak audibly to myself the prayers I would pour out to my God. I was at first annoyed that I was compelled to keep my eyes open to avoid running against trees and stumps, but upon investigating the matter I do not find that the Scriptures require us to close our eyes in prayer, and the exercise has proven to be very delightful and profitable.”

On another occasion the subject of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “pray without ceasing” came up in a discussion and how hard that command was to keep. To which Jackson insisted we could accustom ourselves to it, and it could easily be obeyed. “When we take our meals, there is the grace. When we take a drought of water, I always pause, as my palate receives the refreshment, to lift up my heart to God in thanks and prayer for the water of life. Whenever I drop a letter in the box at the post office, I send a petition along with it for God’s blessing on its mission and upon the person to whom it is sent. When I break the seal of a letter just received, I stop and pray to God that He may prepare me for its contents and make it a messenger of good. When I go to the classroom and wait for the arrangement of the cadets in their places, that is my time to intercede with God for them. And so for every other familiar act of the day.”

His friend asked if he did not sometimes forget these occasions? He replied, “No. I have made the practice habitual to me and can no more forget than forget to drink when thirsty. The habit has become as delightful as regular.”

There is no question that Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was a man of faith and a powerful prayer warrior as well as a gifted military tactician. His successes on the battlefield are famous and studied even today at West Point.

Thomas Jackson was killed at the very height of his military career. Just as he was experiencing the success of his famous flanking move on the Union army at Chancellorsville, he was accidently shot by his own men and lost his left arm as a result. Of his wounding Robert E. Lee wrote, “You have lost your left arm; I have lost my right arm.” Seeming to recover at first, Jackson died of pneumonia a few days later with his wife at his bedside. Often delirious, in the end he uttered these words, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks…” Then he paused. A smile slowly spread over his face, and he said quietly with an expression of relief, “Let us cross over the river and rest in the shade of the trees.” Then without pain or struggle, his spirit passed from Earth to God who gave it.

I am of the opinion that God took Stonewall Jackson home because of his military genius, which could have caused the war to end in a way that was not part of God’s plan for this nation. If Jackson had lived, some believe Lee might have prevailed at Gettysburg.

Note: The second image above was taken only a few days before he was wounded at Chancellorsville. 

Excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years

This was Old Jack’s style. He wanted to see the battlefield for himself. Some of Jackson’s staff became concerned about the danger, and Sandie Pendleton finally asked, “General, don’t you think this is the wrong place for you?”

Old Jack replied, “The danger is over. The enemy is routed. Go back and tell Hill to press on.”

I did not think the danger was yet over, and though the enemy was routed, some were putting up an occasional spirited resistance when well led by their officers. And we did not know exactly where the enemy was. Had they stopped and prepared to make a stand, and we were about to blunder into them? Like Pendleton and others in our party, I had a most uncomfortable feeling about this scout.

We reached a clearing with an unfinished church about 150 yards out from Lane’s lines. I was riding behind Jackson when a single shot rang out to our right. It sounded to me as if it came from our rear where two of Lane’s North Carolina regiments were deployed. Others though it might have come from our right front. That shot was soon followed by several others, and that swelled into almost continuous firing like a string of firecrackers going off. I had no doubt then. The firing was coming from Lane’s North Carolina brigade to our right rear.

Blazing fire suddenly tore though our party and Hill’s! Several of Jackson’s staff were wounded or killed immediately! Two horses were shot from under their riders, and others wounded and frantic tore off in every direction. More shots rang out, screaming horses and screaming men, and those still in the saddle headed for the nearby woods.

Jackson took cover in the woods to our left away from the firing only to be met by more musketry on that side. Lane’s North Carolina Brigade had mistaken us for Federal cavalry! Lieutenant Morrison jumped from his wounded horse and ran towards the North Carolina lines screaming for them to stop firing. One of the Lane’s officers yelled it was a lie and to keep firing!

While blundering through the dark woods, Jackson was hit in the right hand and left upper arm, shattering the bone near the shoulder. Little Sorrel was also wounded, and the frightened animal ran back out on the road and away from the firing toward the Federal lines! Jackson managed to get control of his mount with his wounded hand and the help of Captain Wilbourn and signalman Wynn who brought him to relative safety on side of the road.

I somehow remained unwounded, but Pepper was decidedly unhappy about all the shooting and managing him was difficult. I joined Wilbourn and Wynn with Jackson, who they had laid down under a tree. “How bad are you hurt, sir?”

Grasping his left arm, he looked up at me. “I fear my arm is broken,” he replied almost calmly.

Wilbourn turned to Wynn. “Quickly now, go fetch Doctor McGuire and an ambulance!” He then bound the wound to stop the bleeding and said, “General, it is remarkable that any of us escaped.”

Jackson agreed, “Yes, it is providential.”

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Dispatches From The Front #8

After Action Report

We are home again and I am mostly recovered from the trip. We learned a lot; at least I did. I came away with a greater understanding of the American Civil War and how very difficult it was on those who fought it, especially the Confederates, who were not nearly as well supplied as the soldiers from the North—not that they had it easy-peasy either, but they were better equipped and supplied. Late in the war, many Confederates were shoeless and their uniforms were rags or a mixture of military and civilian clothing.

I also came away with a greater understanding of the brutality of the war and its staggering loss of life. For those who survived and returned home, it is hard to imagine most did not suffer from PTSD or “nostalgia” as they called it back then. I have seen no records on that, and likely they don’t even exist. I suspect it was the faith of many that precluded at least some of that. Which brings me to ….

I brought back only one souvenir, a book I purchased in the gift shop at the Gettysburg Battlefield, Christ in the Camp by J. Williams Jones, first published in 1886. Jones was a chaplain in the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV), and his book is about the Awakening or Great Revival that took place during the war, especially in the ANV. I devoted a whole chapter to this in An Eternity of Four Years (Chapter 16). Ethan was a man of faith, and also a man “fallen from grace” because of his loss of Rachel and the situation he found himself in (the war) that prevented his searching for her. That chapter was one of the moments he recovered his faith, at least for a while, and attempted to respond to God’s calling for him. It gives some details on this Great Awakening that took place.

Christ in the Camp is full of interesting stories from many soldiers of many denominations. I am barely through about 20% of the book and will be writing more about this in future posts. If these men in the book are examples of what Christianity is suppose to look like, then we are badly missing the mark today. Their faith pervaded everything they did. They lived what they believed. For example, General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s application of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 …pray without ceasing… was eye-opening for me. (I will explain that in a future post.) Today, we often just go through the motions of being spiritual.

Did they get everything right? No, because like us they were fallen men. They got slavery wrong, for one thing, and used Scripture to support their position. But keep in mind, not everyone then was an ardent Bible-reading/believing Christian that lived the Life of Christ through faith. Some were merely “Bible-thumpers” that used Scripture for their own ends. We sometimes have a tendency to read into Scripture what we want to see there, and I suspect a lot of that was happening in the South. It would be unfair to judge all Christians by those kinds of “Christians.”

One thing that has come out in what I have read so far is the issue of slavery is rarely if ever mentioned associated with the war. What they speak of in the many letters and comments is their desire to build a new nation free from a tyrannical government seeking to subject them through force and protect their homes and families from the invaders. For them, the fight was a “good fight.” Today, we look back and see that “good fight” tarnished by the issue of slavery, but that was not their perspective.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of Dispatches From The Front. I certainly enjoyed writing and experiencing them.

I will close with an excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years, Chapter 16 – The Awakening.

*****

Cornfield

The Cornfield

The long line of caissons and cannons, ambulances, supply wagons, and weary men crossed the Potomac and slowly plodding south away from the killing fields of Sharpsburg, Maryland. The army was both physically and mentally spent, incapable of taking the field again anytime soon. It needed to rest, to recover, rebuild and re-equip before it would again be an army.

In that September of 1862, the giddy victories of the year before had given way to the soul-numbing realities of a brutal and bloody war. Beginning with the Valley Campaign in the early spring and continuing all summer through to Sharpsburg, what had seemed glorious the year before became for all a dreaded experience that promised only more pain, suffering, and death. Those who believed this war would be over quickly came face-to-face with the sobering realization that it would likely go on for a long while and cost many more lives.

Thomas Paine once said of another war, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” When a man’s soul is tested by the worst of what life can throw at him, especially when he looks death in the face, he becomes contemplative of his mortality. Unnoticed by all but a very few, a change was taking place; an “awakening” was slowly spreading over the army. It would begin in the Army of Northern Virginia and eventually spread to all of the armies of the Confederacy. It would profoundly impact the lives of the many soldiers touched by it, and it would eventually be felt elsewhere in the nation long after the war ended.

I first became aware of its presence during our withdrawal from Maryland. I was dismounted and walking along with Blue as we led our weary mounts south. One of the Tigers from the 1st Louisiana, his face still blackened with gunpowder from biting off the ends of the paper cartridges to reload his musket, a bloody bandage around his head, shoeless, and his uniform in tatters, stepped out of the formation and approached us. “Beggin’ yer pardon, Captain, may I have a word with you?”

“Of course,” I replied. “How may I be of service?”

That is when I noticed he was weeping though he tried to hide it. “Sir, I understand you are a good man, a godly man who knows the Scriptures, an’ I need to ask ya something.”

“What is it?”

“I ain’t much for church-goin’. Preachers just seem to preach, but I‘ve seen the Lord in you. I seen you in that bloody-awful Cornfield, how you helped the wounded, protected them, and gave comfort to the survivors when we were driven back to Dunker Church. You weren’t ‘fraid a nuthin’. They was balls flying all around you, but you weren’t scart at all. But I was scart, plumb scart of dying and especially knowing I’m going to hell. An’ I don’t want to go there. I been through enough hell right here, and I reckon the one in the Bible has be a whole lot worse.” He paused to collect his thoughts. “Something happened to me in that Cornfield, and some of the boys said you were the man I need to speak to about it.”

*****

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A Study of Hebrews 6:4-8

This will be the first post in a new category: Bible. If you have read The Last Day of Forever or An Eternity of Four Years, you will know there is a strong spiritual thread laced through both books. Ethan struggles with his faith and often fails, because he is human like you and me.

In a previous post I spoke about “The Hebrew,” Judah P. Benjamin, and now I will address the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Bible. (They are kind of alike, right?)

One of the more controversial passages in the Bible is found in Hebrews chapter 6, and some of the finest expositors I have heard interpret it incorrectly.

Hebrews 6:4-8 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (NKJV)

Some claim that this passage is teaching that a believer can lose his salvation and point to words like: impossible, once tasted, fall away, renew, repentance, and burned, and say “See, you can lose your salvation!” There is one problem with that interpretation: This passage has absolutely zero to do with salvation or losing it! Hebrews is apologetic in character; it is a defense of the faith.

The author is unknown, but the epistle is full of Paulineisms so some believe Paul wrote it. More likely it was someone who spent a lot of time with Paul, like Barnabas or another of Paul’s disciples. It was written before the siege of Jerusalem (AD68) and fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple (AD70). We believe that because the epistle makes mention of the animal sacrifices and Temple worship as if they were still being practiced.

The epistle was clearly written to Jewish believers in Jesus Christ as Messiah who are likely part of a larger Jewish community. For them at the time of writing, it has been perhaps 40 years since the Cross, and they were under tremendous pressure from non-believing family members and others in the local Jewish community, who are trying to convince them they have made a mistake. They must have been thinking Jesus just may not have been the Messiah after all. He promised to come back, but He hasn’t yet. Maybe it is time to return to our old system of worship, the Law.

What would that mean for them?

  1. The law was a Conditional Covenant – “Carrot and stick” system to manage Israel and through which God could relate to His people.
  2. It was designed to point out the impossibility to achieve righteousness through human effort. No universal indwelling of believers by the Holy Spirit, thus no guidance, enablement like we enjoy today. Keeping the Law was done through human effort alone.
  3. It was designed to point to the need for a mediator (Christ – the Lamb pictured in the Levitical offerings.)
  4. It was a system whereby, through the Levitical sacrifices, they could be declared “judicially blameless” from sin under the terms of the covenant and find forgiveness for one year, then the process had to be repeated.
  5. They looked forward to the coming of Messiah and His Kingdom

Context review… A quick review of the 13 chapters of Hebrews demonstrates four things very clearly

  1. It was written to Jews and the message has a strong Jewish context that would have resonated with Jews, but not so much with Gentile believers.
  2. These Jews were under some kind of pressure to abandon their faith in Jesus as Messiah and return to their old ways of worship under the Law, thus all this Old Covenant New Covenant contrasting.
  3. The problem for them is they have not advanced spiritually and are still babes in Christ and are thus easily swayed because …
  4. Their faith is weak. Faith and the consequences of the lack of faith are the core themes of Hebrews.

Chapter 6 begins by the writer saying they need to move on and not go back. “Dead works” = a system of worship that is now dead – the Law. The only option for them is to move forward because “back” is no longer there to go back to. And what happens when they try to go back? – Verse 4 “It is impossible … if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance…”

“Fall away” in the Greek means to abandon a former relationship or association. “Restore” should be translated “renew” (see 2 Corinthians 4:16; Colossians 3:9-10). The Greek means “to make new,” “to produce something new,” “to bring into use,” “to dedicate.” “To” is the Greek eis, which can have a spiritual application in the sense of connecting a separate divine reality with a cosmic reality.

“Repentance” actually means “a change of mind (or one’s way of life) for the better” and is not used here in the context of salvation or from sin but refers to spiritual maturity. Returning to the Levitical sacrificial system is returning to ritual and rejecting reality (the Cross). The Old Covenant has been replaced by the New Covenant (Romans 6:14-15).

Summarized: It is impossible … for those who have fallen away (abandoned a former relationship or association – faith in Christ as Messiah) to renew them again (for them to grow spiritually) to repentance (to have the divine imparted to them – maturity, Christ-likeness).

More simply: it is impossible for those who turn back to the Law and its system of sacrifices with its looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, to find spiritual growth and gratification there again. You can’t go back, because “back” isn’t there anymore!

The writer spells out the consequences of attempting this with an agricultural metaphor (verses 7 and 8), which is saying God brings blessings (rain on the field) upon those who are His, and the field (you) can bear fruit or briars. If the latter you can expect chastisement (burning the field) to get rid of the “briars” so you can become productive. This does not refer to the fires of hell.

Hebrews is simply an apologetic defense of the faith and a warning to those Jews who would abandon their faith in Jesus as Messiah and would attempt to return to an old and now obsolete system of worship where they will no longer find judicial blamelessness through the sacrifices. That is no longer available because of the Cross. Nor will they find the possibility for spiritual growth. And if you do go into this apostasy, you will be an unproductive child of God, and you can expect chastisement to bring you back to the truth and fruit production.

The Message for us today

  • There is no going back for believers.
  • There is no standing still for believers.
  • There is only spiritual advancement as an option.
  • Anything else will bring chastisement, because God will burn your field of briars for fruit production.
  • God didn’t save us to just become His trophies on a shelf. He saved us for service and to be productive for Him and His Plan.

You can’t go back, because “back” isn’t there anymore.

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