Darkness and Hell at Christmas Time

carols

For some reason Christmas has become too angelic, all lights and glitter and shining cherubs on gaudy Christmas cards. There is some truth to this, of course. When Christ came as a child the true light shineth. But Christmas is also about demons and hell and darkness. It is about the darkness of eternal fire. It is about the terrors of death. It is about the dragons that live in our own hearts. There is nothing wrong with rejoicing in the light, but if we forget the darkness the light loses its potency.  It is easy at Christmas time to take the light for granted. To forget what Christ actually came to do.

It may come as a surprise that many of the Advent and Christmas songs we sing mention this darkness and hell. Here are a few lines from those songs to give some perspective on what Christ came to do.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel is one of the best carols to show who we were before Christ came. It views God’s people as in exile and  bondage to Satan and in need of rescue. Verses 3 and 4 bring this out.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

The fourth verse of the song Savior of the Nations, Come has these lines in it:

From the Father forth he came and returneth to the same
Captive leading death and hell, High the song of triumph swell.

The final verse of Good Christian Men Rejoice, says, “now ye need not fear the grave.”

Joy to the World, talks about Christ coming to make his blessings flow “far as the curse is found.” This includes redemption, but it also includes victory over all his enemies.

Let All Mortal  Flesh Keep Silence, says that Christ descends “from the realms of endless day, that the powers of hell may vanish.”

Lo, How a  Rose E’re Blooming, states that Christ “dispels with glorious splendor/the darkness everywhere.”

Of the Father’s Love Begotten says in verse 3:
He is found in human fashion death and sorrow here to know
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe
May not henceforth die and perish In the
dreadful gulf below evermore and evermore.

I am sure there are some I have missed. Numerous Christmas songs speak specifically of Christ’s victory over sin, which means his victory over death and Hell.

The Scriptures speak of this as well. In Matthew Jesus’ birth is not follow by peace on earth, but by Herod killing the children and Joseph fleeing with his family to Egypt. The battle begins at the Incarnation. Herod knew this. Unfortunately, we often do not.

In Luke we see the same themes of Christ’s Kingship and rule driving out those who oppress His people.

Mary states that when God sent Christ he:
Showed strength with his arm
Scattered the proud
Put down the mighty
Filled the hungry
But sent the rich away empty.

Zacharias says that Christ came so:
We should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us..
That we will be delivered from the hand of our enemies.

Christmas is not just about a child born in a manger. It is about a King who came to banish all the powers of darkness and Hell. When the angel came to Mary and the angels sung to the shepherds the end of our enemies was already at hand. Christ came to destroy all our enemies. So don’t forget darkness, Hell, Satan, Herod, death, and sin during this Christmas. Christ did not come to wear a halo and lay sweetly in a manger. He was King at his birth and came to conquer.

One and the Same

Paul carefully demonstrates, in opposition to the Judaizers, that the method by which Abraham obtained salvation is the type, the model of the method in accordance with which the believers in the New Testament must believe, whether they be Jews or pagans. Abraham is the father of believers (Rom. iv. 9-25, Gal. iii. 7-9, 17 f., 26-29). The law has neither annulled nor altered the covenant of grace (cf. Heb. vi. 13-18). Such being the nature of the covenant with Abraham, it is clear that, in the degree which is has reference to what is of essential nature, it remains always in force. We still live today under this covenant of grace; the Christian Church is founded upon it. Even at this present moment man is justified by faith just as Abraham was. Christians are called the children and heirs of Abraham, because faith in the promise of redemption assures their redemption exactly as faith in the same promise assured Abraham’s redemption. “If you are Christ’s,” says Paul, “then  you are Abraham’s posterity and heirs according to promise” (Gal. iii.29).

…For this reason this reason it is necessary to understand the Old Testament a being one in essence and substance with the New. Even though God communicates His revelation to us in the course of the unfolding of history and in a progressive manner, and thought consequently mankind progresses in the knowledge, possession, and enjoyment of the revelation, yet God is always identical with Himself, and remains so. (Pierre Marcel in Infant Baptism. All punctuation, etc. is his.)

Reaping Wrath for Your Baptism

William Gouge (1575-1653) on those who are baptized yet remain in their sins.

Vain is the rejoicing of many, who boast of their baptism, and think themselves by its power to be as good Christians as the best, and yet live and lie in their sin, being more smeared and defiled than they were when they were born…If that fire of the Holy Spirit does not burn up the dross of sin in you, and this water does not wash away the filth of sin, you were never fully baptized. It may be that the hand of some minister sprinkled a little water on your face, but Christ’s blood has not as yet been sprinkled on the soul. The whole benefit you reap by your baptism is to add another day for which you shall dearly answer for the abuse of so honorable an ordinance. (A Holy Vision for Family Life)

 

Reformation Begins Where You Are

House

Herman Bavinck states in his book The Christian Family “There has never been a time when the family faced so severe a crisis as the time in which we are now living. Many are not satisfied with remodeling; they want to tear things down to the foundation.” He said this in 1908, which is surprising.  But he saw around him the seeds of the slow destruction of the family from ideaology such as feminism, individualism, statism, socialism, materialism, and evolution. Here is his answer to the dire diagnosis, which comes at the beginning of a chapter on marriage and family and following a chapter on dangers confronting the family

All good, enduring reformation begins with ourselves and takes its starting point in one’s own heart and life. If family life is indeed being threatened from all sides today, then there is nothing better for each person to be doing than immediately to begin reforming within one’s own circle and begin to rebuff with the facts themselves the sharp criticisms that are being registered nowadays against marriage and family. Such a reformation immediately has this in its favor, that it would lose no time and would not need to wait for anything. Anyone seeking deliverance from the state must travel the lengthy route of forming a political party, having meetings, referendums, parliamentary debates, and civil legislation and it is still unknown whether with all that activity he will achieve any success. But reforming from within can be undertaken by each person at every moment, and be advanced without impediment.

What a great point he makes here!  A reformation from the state requires this and that, but a reformation in the home only requires our will and resolve. Bavinck then goes on to say how weak external changes are and how many recommended external changes to law and society fly in the face of reality, that is nature. Continue reading

Sermon: With His Own Blood, Hebrews 9:1-14

Several people really enjoyed this sermon. One friend commented that it was one of the clearest gospel presentations she had heard. That was encouraging.  The point is pretty simple: only the blood of Jesus can cleanse our conscience, the inner man. Or to put it negatively, our works cannot make us acceptable to God.

Westminster Assembly on Matthew 5:16-20

The following is a quote from The Sum of Saving Knowledge, Section II by the Westminster Assembly

That the righteousness of every true Christian must be more than the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees; for the scribes and Pharisees, albeit they took great pains to discharge sundry duties of the law, yet they cut short the exposition thereof, that it might the less condemn their practice; they studied the outward part of the duty, but neglected the inward and spiritual part; they discharged some of the meaner [lesser] duties carefully, but neglected judgment, mercy, and the love of God: in a word they went about to establish their own righteousness, and rejected the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus

But a true Christian must have more than all of this; he must acknowledge the full extent of the spiritual meaning of the law, and have a respect to all the commandments, and labor to cleanse himself from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and “not lay weight upon what service he has done, or shall do,” but cloth himself with the imputed righteousness of Christ, which only can hide his nakedness or else he cannot be saved; so says the text [Matthew 5:16-20].

Calvin on Falling Away & Election

I preached on Hebrews 6:1-8 this past Sunday. During my study I found this quote by Calvin, which accurately summarizes my basic position. This comes from his commentary on Hebrews 6.

How can it be that he who has once made such a progress should afterwards fall away? For God, it may be said, calls none effectually but the elect, and Paul testifies that they are really his sons who are led by his Spirit, (Romans 8:4) and he teaches us, that it is a sure pledge of adoption when Christ makes us partakers of his Spirit. The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away; for the Father who gave them to be preserved by Christ his Son is greater than all, and Christ promises to watch over them all so that none may perish.

To all this I answer, that God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts. But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, in some sort engrave his word on their hearts. Otherwise where would be the temporary faith mentioned by Mark 4:17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.

I like how Calvin maintains that the elect and reprobate are in separate categories. The elect and reprobate do not get the same things. Only the elect get the Spirit, have the earnest of the Spirit, and are renewed after the Spirit. He is also clear that the reprobate do receive a taste of God’s grace and some knowledge of him, beyond just natural law. But this is not the same thing or to the same degree as the elect get. This seems to be the best way to reconcile the various passages on apostasy and election.