Introducing “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices” by Thomas Brooks

Recently Thomas Brooks’ old book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, came up in conversation. I had made a joke about doing a course called, “Defense Against the Dark Arts” where we would study sin, temptation, and how to protect ourselves against them. There was some interest in the topic, so I’ll be blogging chapter by chapter through Brooks’ book. Brooks is an actual Puritan – he lived during the 17th century in England and was part of that movement – and his work shows all the marks of Puritanism. On the plus side, Puritan writings contain a deep theology aimed at helping people to know and experience God. This is often called “experiental” or “experimental” theology. Theology for the purpose of living worship. Another hallmark of this kind of writing is its extreme organization. Books were often meticulously outlined. This is a bit of a mixed blessing – while there is a good structure and organization to the book, just reading the outline can be overwhelming. Finally, Puritan were writers in the 17th century and so their language can be difficult and the sentences hard to read. I haven’t found Brooks to be too difficult but other writers’ styles – like John Owen – definitely hampers comprehension.

You can find a free PDF of the book here.

After 8 pages of outline, Brooks throws in essentially three introductions – the Epistle Dedicatory, a “Word to the Reader”, and an introduction. We’ll look at each section in turn.


The Epistle Dedicatory

Brooks’ addresses “Watchmen”, that is, pastors and those who have been charged to be caretakers of souls. To this end he enjoins them:

Christ, the Scripture, your own hearts, and Satan’s devices, are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched. If any cast off the study of these, they cannot be safe here, nor happy hereafter. It is my work as a Christian, but much more as I am a Watchman, to do my best to discover the fullness of Christ, the emptiness of the creature, and the snares of the great deceiver; which I have endeavored to do in the following discourse, according to that measure of grace which I have received from the Lord.

He then goes on to describe Satan’s work in tempting believers to sin and the variety of ways and means he has. Temptations suit the unique frame of heart of each believer – “Whatever sin the heart of man is most prone to, that the devil will help forward.” (Page 10)

Brooks lists seven reasons he wrote this book:

  1. Satan has “a better advantage” against us than we think. In the famous words of G.I. Joe, knowing this is half the battle.
  2. A bunch of people asked him to write this book.
  3. While writing this he felt especially under spiritual attack.
  4. This stuff is really useful.
  5. He doesn’t know anyone else who has written on this.
  6. He has friends who are far away and wants to write to them.
  7. He doesn’t know when he will die, so he figures why not write a little somethin’-somethin’.

Finally Brooks blesses the readers, asks for their prayers, and makes his purpose clear:

That you would make it your business to study Christ, his Word, your own hearts, Satan’s plots, and eternity–more than ever. That you would endeavor more to be inwardly sincere than outwardly glorious; to live, than to have a mere name to live. That you would labor with all your might to be thankful under mercies, and faithful in your places, and humble under divine appearances, and fruitful under precious ordinances. That as your means and mercies are greater than others–so your account before God may not prove a worse than others.

For a close, remember this, that your life is short, your duties many, your assistance great, and your reward sure; therefore faint not, hold on and hold up, in ways of well-doing, and heaven shall make amends for all!


A Word to the Reader

Here Brooks addresses the reader directly and tells them to “buy the truth” (Proverbs 23:23) whatever the cost. He gives four pieces of counsel:

  1. “You must know that every man cannot be excellent, yet every man may be useful.”
  2. “It is not hasty reading—but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul… It is not he who reads most—but he who meditates most, who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.”
  3. “Know that it is not the knowing, nor the talking, nor the reading man–but the doing man, that at last will be found the happiest man…Reader, If it is not strong upon your heart to practice what you read, to what end do you read? To increase your own condemnation?”
  4. There are marginal notes that are worth reading. (Seriously, that’s his fourth piece of counsel. We’re suppose to read them.)

Introduction

Brooks sets the context in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11: a unrepentant church member who had been disciplined earlier (perhaps the incestuous person from 1 Cor. 5:1ff) was sufficient (v. 6) and asks the church to forgive this person (vv. 7-10) so that the disciplined member may not be overcome with sorrow. A second reason to forgive this disciplined member is in v. 11: “lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” Brooks takes this as his theme verse for the book. He unpacks this verse a little in the introduction:

  • “Lest Satan should overreach us. The word … is taken from the greedy merchant, who seeks and takes all opportunities to beguile and deceive others. Satan is that wily merchant, that devours, not widows’ houses–but most men’s souls!”
  • “He is but a Christian in title only, who has not personal experience of Satan’s stratagems.”
  • “Satan has his several devices to deceive, entangle, and undo the souls of men.”

Brooks will prove that Satan has these “devices” (strategies, plots, machinations, stratagems, or more generally “ways”). He will then enumerate in good Puritan fashion each device. He will show us “the remedy” – that is, how to resist and overcome these devices not just generally but specifically for each device. Then Brooks wraps up with a few concluding remarks.

This post is already at one thousand words so we’ll pick up next time with “proving the point” – Satan has devices at his disposal to entangle and ensnare the souls of believers.

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Early Christian Community

Recently we heard a sermon on Acts 2:42-47 that described the earliest Christian community. One person mentioned that they wish the contemporary church was more like what was described. I’ve heard that complaint a lot and it does seem fair – we are far away from what is described by these few verses. I wanted to draw attention to two texts – one outside of the New Testament and one later in Acts.

First, the Epistle to Diognetus was written as early as 120 AD and contains a defense of the Christian faith. Chapter 5 contains a brief description of the manner of Christians during that time, which I’ve reproduced here in full:

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

A few highlights:

  • Christians live by revealed truth – not “speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men”
  • Christianity transcended cultural boundaries and norms
  • Christian practice was decidedly pro-life over against a culture that permitted and encouraged the slaughter of children. Hence, “they do not destroy their offspring.” or more literally, “they do not throw away fetuses.” For more, see Tertullian’s around 200AD.
  • To paraphrase Tim Keller, pagans were “generous” with their bodies and strict with their money; Christians are generous with their money and “strict” with their bodies. We share everything except our spouses.

What kind of witness would this bring against a hostile culture?


The second text I want to mention is Acts 5;1-11:

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

I’ll let D. A. Carson speak on this one:

THE ACCOUNT OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA, whose names are recorded in the earliest Christian records because of their deceit (Acts 5:1-11), is disturbing on several grounds. Certainly the early church thought so (Acts 5:5, 11). Four observations focus the issues:

First, revival does not guarantee the absence of sin in a community. When many people are converted and genuinely transformed, when many are renewed and truly learn to hate sin, others find it more attractive to be thought holy than to be holy. Revival offers many temptations to hypocrisy that would be less potent when the temper of the age is secularistic or pagan.

Second, the issue is not so much the disposition of the money that Ananias and Sapphira obtained when they sold a piece of property as the lie they told. Apparently there were some members who were selling properties and donating all of the proceeds to the church to help in its varied ministries, not least the relief of the needs of brothers and sisters in Christ. Indeed, the man called Barnabas was exemplary in this respect (Acts 4:36-37), and serves as a foil to Ananias and Sapphira. But these two sold their property, kept some of the proceeds for themselves, and pretended that they were giving everything.

It was this claim to sanctity and self-denial, this pretense of generosity and piety, that was so offensive. Left unchecked, it might well multiply. It would certainly place into positions of honor people whose conduct did not deserve it. But worse, it was a blatant lie against the Holy Spirit — as if the Spirit of God could not know the truth, or would not care. In this sense it was a supremely presumptuous act, betraying a stance so removed from the God-centeredness of genuine faith that it was idolatrous.

Third, another element of the issue was conspiracy. It was not enough that Ananias pulled this wicked stunt himself. He acted “with his wife’s full knowledge” (Acts 5:2); indeed, her lying was not only passive but active (Acts 5:8), betraying a shared commitment to deceive believers and defy God.

Fourth, in times of genuine revival, judgment may be more immediate than in times of decay. When God walks away from the church and lets the multiplying sin take its course, that is the worst judgment of all; it will inevitably end in irretrievable disaster. But when God responds to sin with prompt severity, lessons are learned, and the church is spared a worse drift. In this case, great fear fell not only on the church but also on all who heard of these events (Acts 5:5, 11).

It is written: “He whose walk is upright fears the LORD; but he in whose ways are devious despises him” (Prov. 14:2).

The church has always been a mixture of both supernatural blessing causing good works and false believers doing evil.

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Reflections on Mark 14

Mark 14:3-9 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

  • Is it possible to waste something on God?
  • Worship is costly. “… I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (1 Chron. 21:24)
  • Costly worship may bring the rebuke of other disciples but it brings the praise of Christ

Jesus is not flippant towards the poor, as if he implying that since the poor will always be here we need not help. He is alluding to Deuteronomy 15:1-11, which rather than portraying the presence of the poor as a fateful inevitability commands us to action. First, notice the contrast:

Deut. 15:4 – “But there will be no poor among you…”
Deut. 15:11 – “For there will never cease to be poor in the land…”

God’s institution of providing for the poor through the wealth of the common people is not a magic panacea nor is it useless. Though we will always have the poor with us, the impossibility of fully solving the problem does freeze us in inaction but rather pushes us all the more. With God’s blessing upon us there need not be any poor among us. And though “there will never cease to be poor in the land,” God commands us to “wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”

“She has anointed my body beforehand for burial.” The women who went to the tomb thought they would anoint Jesus for burial but were too late. He was not there. Let us not delay in adorning Christ.


Mark 14:27 – “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

Mark 14:29 – “Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’”

Mark 14:30 – “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today… you yourself will disown me three times.”

Mark 14:31 – “But Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ … ”

How more certain could Peter’s denial be? Christ Himself said it was written beforehand in Scripture. Peter denied it. Jesus made it explicit and personal. Peter denied it.

What warnings in Scripture do we fail to heed?


Mark 14:60-64 – “And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.”

The other charges Jesus need not answer, as their own testimony did not agree about what he had said three years earlier (John 2:19). But what could he do when directly questioned about being the Christ?

  • If he remained silent, what would that communicate? That he was afraid? That he couldn’t prove the claim? That he didn’t know?
  • If he said, “No, I am not the Christ,” wouldn’t that be a lie? And a lie against his own fundamental nature?
  • If he said, “Yes, I am,” wouldn’t he be charged, convicted, and killed?

Christ could not not tell the truth. Truly He is the man “who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind” (Psalm 15:4 NIV). He is the one who will dwell on God’s holy hill. (Psa. 15, Psa. 24, Psa. 2:6)


Mark 14:65 – “And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.”

Mark 15:17-18 – “And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!””

Mark 15:31 – “So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.””

Christ works as our priest, prophet, and king. And He was fully humiliated in all three offices.

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Reflections on Genesis 49-50

Genesis 47:6: “… Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land.”

Genesis 49:29-30: Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place.

Better to be buried in a small cave in the promised land than in the best land in all of Egypt.

How inconvenient would this be – to carry a dead body through the desert in a time of famine; to bring all those people; to weep for forty days? Does it matter?


Genesis 49:33: When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

The idiom “was gathered to his people” is a way of talking about death. What does it say about belief in the afterlife?


Genesis 50:15-17 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.

  • Afraid to face their brother directly, they send a messenger to deliver fabricated words.
  • Their consciences are still loaded with guilt
  • They feared that Joseph’s care was only for them because of their father.
  • Joseph sees through the lie immediately and is grieved.

Aren’t we like the brothers? When we sin against God and feel grief we fear that God’s forgiveness may somehow be less than genuine. We bring fabricated words in an attempt to secure, if it were possible, more forgiveness. Is Christ grieved over this? Doesn’t He see through this? Was His work insufficient to secure a full pardon?

Read the words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne:

I feel when I have sinned an immediate reluctance to go to Christ. I am ashamed to go. I feel as if it would not do to go, as if it were making Christ the minister of sin, to go straight from the swine-trough to the best robe, and a thousand other excuses. But I am persuaded they are all lies direct from hell.

John argues the opposite way—‘If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father.’ The holy sensitiveness of the soul that shrinks from the touch of sin, the acute susceptibility of the conscience at the slightest shade of guilt, will of necessity draw the spiritual mind frequently to the blood of Jesus. And herein lies the secret of a heavenly walk. Acquaint yourself with it, my reader, as the most precious secret of your life. He who lives in the habit of a prompt and minute acknowledgement of sin, with his eye reposing calmly, believingly, upon the crucified Redeemer, soars in spirit where the eagle’s pinion [wings] range not.


Genesis 50:18-21: His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

  1. Their bowing down is an ironic fulfillment of Joseph’s original dream in Genesis 37. Not irony in sheer coincidence, but dramatic irony: the very actions they took to stop the dream from coming about were the actions that ensured that the dream would be fulfilled.
  2. Joseph doesn’t punish them because they don’t deserve it, or because they have children, or because dad wouldn’t want him to, or any other “horizontal” reason. Joseph doesn’t punish his brothers because that judgment belongs to God alone. “… am I in the place of God?” See also Joseph’s reason for not sleeping with Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:9 – “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” – and how he interprets dreams in Genesis 40:8 – “Do not interpretations belong to God?”. Joseph’s view of reality, the lenses that he sees all things through, is that everything is in reference to God. Joseph thinks of all things “vertically”.
  3. Man being in the place of God is the heart of folly and arrogance. God being in the place of man is the heart of grace and mercy.
  4. God ultimately overrides human sin, evil, and catastrophe for His glory and our good.

Genesis 50:20 is a succinct definition of the doctrine of providence. We are not subject to fate, futility, chance, or blind luck. History moves on towards a single purpose with God sovereignly orchestrating events. We may often wonder why a particular evil has happened – God has not promised to nor is He required to answer us in this way. But when we wonder if good can come out of evil God has answered definitively at the cross. See Acts 2:23, Acts 4:27-28.


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Rock of Ages (When the Day Seems Long) by Indelible Grace Music

Listen here

Rock of Ages, when the day seems long
From this labor and this heartache, I have come
The skies will wear out, but you remain the same
Rock of Ages, I praise your name

Rock of Ages, you have brought me near
You have poured out your life-blood, your love, your tears
To make this stone heart come alive again
Rock of Ages, forgive my sin.

Chorus:

Rock of ages. Rock of ages.
Bind your children until the kingdom comes.
Rock of ages your will be done

Rock of Ages, when in want or rest,
My desperate need for such a Savior I confess
Pull these idols out from my heart embrace.
Rock of Ages, I need your grace.

Rock of Ages, broken scorned for me.
Who am I that you would die to make me free?
To give me glory, (you) took the death and pain.
Rock of Ages, my Offering.

Repeat Chorus

Rock of Ages, “It is done!” you cried.
The curtain’s torn and I see justice satisfied
Now write your mercy, on my heart and hands.
Rock of ages, in faith I stand.

Rock of Ages, my great hope secure.
Your promise holds just like an anchor to my soul
Bind your children with cords of love and grace.
Rock of Ages, we give you praise.


Genesis 47:9 - “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life…”

This hymn has gotten me through many days.

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Reflections on Genesis 46-47

Genesis 12:10 – Now there was a famine in the land.  So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.

Genesis 26:1 – Now there was a famine in the land — besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time –and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar.  the LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live.”

Genesis 46:3 – Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.”

  • There was a famine in the promised land in the time of Abraham and he went down to Egypt – no comment from the narrator or God.
  • There was another famine in the promised land in the time of Isaac and he was forbidden to go down to Egypt.
  • There was yet another famine in the time of Jacob and he was commanded and encouraged to go down to Egypt.

Is it a sin for people to go down to Egypt to flee famine?  Maybe, Yes, and No.  It depends.  Beyond the most trivial matters it is difficult to answer, “Is it a sin to do X?” Often this question comes from sincere believers but it has been abstracted away from any concrete situation or people.  Perhaps we can’t answer the question because it is ill-formed.  Perhaps there is no appropriate answer for the question they are asking.  It depends.

But what does it depend on – their situation?  Ultimately, no.  On hearing and obeying the Word of God.  As important as exercising our God-given rationality is, we should not shy away from seeking His face and asking for His help.


 

Genesis 46:30 – Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”

Luke 2:29 – “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation.”

Nunc dimittis. Now dismiss.  When Jacob saw Joseph – his son who he thought was dead – his joy was so full that he felt that his life had reached its conclusion.  When Simon saw Jesus – the Son who would die – his joy was so full that he felt like his life had reached its conclusion.

Who or what are you waiting for?


 

Genesis 47:25 – And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord we will be servants to Pharaoh.”

With Joseph in charge, everybody wins:

  • Pharaoh increases in wealth
  • The Egyptian people are kept alive
  • Joseph is honored in the sight of all
  • The house of Israel is saved
  • God is glorified, even by unbelievers

This is the sign of God’s blessing.  The Egyptian people view Joseph as a savior, not as a despot.  What will it be like when the savior greater than Joseph arrives?

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Regrets

Non-regrets

  • Towards my wife
    • I have never regretted being patient with my wife
    • I have never regretted encouraging my wife
    • I have never regretted spending time with my wife
    • I have never regretted paying attention to my wife
    • I have never regretted being gentle towards my wife
  • Towards my work
    • I have never regretted attempting what I was told was impossible
    • I have never regretted redoubling my efforts to solve a problem
    • I have never regretted assisting a co-worker
    • I have never regretted double checking my work to be thorough
    • I have never regretted learning something about the code, the product, or the procedures we use
  • Towards my God
    • I have never regretted spending time reading the Bible
    • I have never regretted spending time in prayer
    • I have never regretted spending time worshipping
    • I have never regretted making my petitions known to God
    • I have never regretted trusting in the Lord for His provision

Regrets

  • Towards my wife
    • I have always regretted making a joke at her expense
    • I have always regretted becoming angry with her
    • I have always regretted being impatient with her
    • I have always regretted not listening to her attentively
    • I have always regretted not prioritizing her needs – physical, emotional, and spiritual
  • Towards my work
    • I have always regretted cutting corners
    • I have always regretted lying about the quality or completeness of my work
    • I have always regretted not taking notes about what I should know or tasks I should accomplish
    • I have always regretted being impatient with coworkers
  • Towards my God
    • I have always regretted the slightest sin, no matter how sweet it seemed at the time
    • I have always regretted not studying the Bible more
    • I have always regretted not committing my cares to God
    • I have always regretted not knowing and experiencing Him as deeply or often as I should
    • I have always regretted blaming Him for His providence
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Reflections on Genesis 40-41

Gen. 39:20-21: And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

Gen. 40:23: Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

Though men may forget you, the Lord does not.


Gen. 37:3: Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.

Gen. 37:23: So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore.

Gen. 41:41-42: And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck.

God can redeem even the most painful and personal loss.


Gen. 41:39-40: Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.”

John 2:3-5: When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.

The Spirit of God can shine forth so powerfully in a man that unbelievers in authority will trust so fully that they command their servants: “Do whatever he says.” This is the “wisdom from above”.

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Two questions on Romans 5:12-21

I recently received two questions regarding two different verses in Romans 5:12-21. The zeroth rule of interpretation is to pray for illumination.

O Father, would you open our eyes that we may behold wonderful things from your word.  Amen.

And the first rule of interpretation is to never read a single Bible verse – always read in context.  Here is Romans 5:12-21 from the ESV:

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

There’s a lot here.  We need to read this slowly and to read this multiple times.  Summarizing a larger section of text is a good exercise and aids our understanding.  Provisionally, let’s use:

Just as sin and death came through Adam, justification and life come more abundantly through Jesus Christ.

For further study, we could outline these verses to attempt to capture the flow of Paul’s thought in a bit more detail than a single sentence offers.  This is left as an exercise to the reader.

The first question:

Romans 5:15 says, “For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” Does that mean more people will be saved than go to hell? What does it mean that “much more have the grace of God” than death from Adam?

My initial thought is no, this does not imply that more people will be saved than go to hell.  Jesus seems to imply the opposite when he says in Matt. 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Also, in Luke 13:23-30 someone asks Jesus, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (v. 23) to which Jesus responds, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and not be able.” (v. 24) This also seems to imply that those who will be saved are fewer than those who will not be.

We can also ask, what does “much more” modify?  The ESV could be read to make a contrast between the “many” who died through Adam and then the “much more” being saved through Jesus.  But it appears that the object is “the grace of God” and not those in Christ since the sentence ends with “… abounded for many.”  If it were referring to those saved then Paul would be repeating himself in an awkward way.  Now, that’s certainly possible but unlikely.  Though the ESV doesn’t give us much help on what an alternative could be, we can look at how other translations handled this verse.

“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Chris” (Rom 5:15 HCSB)

“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Rom 5:15 NIV (1984))

“But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.” (Rom 5:15 NASB (1995))

“But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:15 NLT, 2nd edition)

These translations all show, in one way or another, that the “much more” is attached to the “grace of God”/”God’s grace” than to a group of people.  The NLT does make clear the meaning – the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ is greater than the disobedience of Adam.  I believe that fits the context best.

The second question:

Romans 5:18 says, “as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification for all men.” If Adam’s trespass affects all men (I agree with that), then the second half of the verse seems to apply to all men as well, right (I don’t think I agree with this)? How does limited atonement fit in here?

This is a good question – this is a classic proof-text for universalists, that is, those who would say that all (or perhaps the vast majority) of people will be saved.  It seems ad hoc to have the first mean “all people without exception” and then limit the second “all” to a certain set of people.  Doesn’t the text leave both “all”s unqualified?

First, an important point about the word “all”.  All almost never means all without exception.  If I went to a meeting at work and asked, “Are we all here?”, I’m not asking if all 6 billion people currently living on Earth are currently in the meeting room. And I’m certainly not asking if all people who have ever lived, are living, or will live, are currently in the meeting room.  The context implies a limitation - are all the people who are suppose to be at this meeting here? For “all” to be a truly unqualified and universal in scope, there are usually clarifying statements.  For example, John 1:3 says, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”  Col. 1:15-17 and Heb. 1:1-4 both reinforce this point and both verses include language to clarify that “all” is universal in scope.

Second, the previous verse clarifies the members of each group by specifying that “those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness [will] reign in life through … Jesus Christ.” The group of people who enjoy Christ’s benefits are those who “receive” him.

Third, context has setup a sharp contrast between Adam and Christ – the work of Adam’s disobedience that brought sin and death and the work of Christ that brought justification and eternal life.  And this work is done for those who are “in” them.  If we read Romans 5:18 this way:

Therefore, just as one man’s transgression brought condemnation upon all men [in Adam] , so also one man’s righteousness brought justification and life for all men [in Christ]. (Rom. 5:18 Bob’s Living Translation)

Those who are in Adam receive Adam’s work (disobedience) and wages (death).  Every single person born (save one) was “in Adam”.  Those who are in Christ receive Christ’s work (righteousness) and wages (eternal life). Not every single person born is or will be “in Christ”.  We are “in Adam” by natural birth and are only “in Christ” by supernatural birth.

Fourth, we can look at other verses that say essentially the same thing.  In 1 Cor. 15:22-23 Paul says,

“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

If we just read v. 22 we would inclined to equate both “all”s.  But v. 23 explicitly limits the group to “those who belong to Christ”.  Again, the “all” here means all in Christ.

Fifth, we can argue by the absurdity of the contrary.  If “all” means that all people without exception are saved, perhaps by some kind of efficacious universal redemption, then a number of other doctrines and verses seem absurd:

  • The way is actually not narrow, but impossibly broad.
  • Romans 8:1 assures us that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But there never was any condemnation for anyone regardless of being in Adam or in Christ.
  • In fact, Paul’s insistence on justification by faith apart from works in the previous four chapters is meaningless.
  • Why would Paul preach the gospel to those who haven’t heard it if they didn’t need to hear it to be saved?
  • Romans 10 contains a long argument about a righteousness that comes by faith and the necessity of someone to preach the gospel to those who haven’t heard it.  But if all people without exception are saved, this point is not just moot but actually wrong!
  • Romans 1:18-3:20 establishes the problem statement that the rest of the book answers – all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God.  Though that is certainly less than ideal, if all without exception are saved then it’s not really a pressing problem.

There are probably other doctrinal absurdities.  Finding these is left as an exercise to the reader.

Finally, the second question also asks what this has to say with limited atonement.  Usually, when people use the phrase “limited atonement” they are thinking of the L in TULIP, perhaps better identified as “definite redemption” or some other sort of phrase.  But a reading of “all” as “every person without exception” is not just a threat to a Calvinistic or Reformed doctrine of atonement but even to an Arminian or Lutheran understanding of the atonement.  So in the broadest sense possible anyone who has a “limited” atonement would have a problem with reading “all” that way.  The non-universalist is required to limit the atonement in scope (as in definite redemption), in efficacy (as in Arminian schemes), or in mechanism (as in hypothetical universalism).  But all of that is worthy of a separate blog post.

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“Does the Bible Teach Prevenient Grace” by Willaim W. Combs

I finished reading a 16-page article by William W. Combs, “Does the Bible Teach Prevenient Grace?” Combs believes not and his article sets out as a brief survey of the history of interpretation and examines a few key passages.  At least twice Combs tips his hand, saying

Apparently, Wesley did not want to identify involuntary
transgressions as sin in order to maintain his illusionary doctrine of
Christian perfection.

(But Combs, tell me what you really think!)  Later in the appendix classifies both Norman Geisler and Roman Catholics as Semi-Pelagian which, perhaps warranted, neither would define themselves as such.

The history and exegesis is necessarily brief for a paper of this size.  I wonder if Combs is engaging with the best of Arminian scholarship on the subject.  Though the overall number of citations is large for a paper of this size, the number of different sources is a bit small.  Nevertheless, Combs provides a good overview of the position while offering a standard Calvinist response.

In a debate between Michael Horton and Roger Olson (part 1 and part 2), Roger Olson anticipates the objection that the Bible does not teach prevenient grace by making an analogy to the Trinity.  Even though the Bible does not explicitly teach the Trinity, Christians having no problem holding that doctrine.  So even though the Bible does not explicitly teach prevenient grace, Christians should have no problem holding that doctrine.

I think we can challenge the analogy: first, that the doctrine of the Trinity and Prevenient Grace do not have the same theological priority; second, the Bible does explicitly teach the doctrine of the Trinity; third, even if we grant the first two points there are still other verses to explain.

  1. Historically, the doctrine of the Trinity was a the subject of the first ecumenical councils of the church.  To deny the Trinity puts one outside of Christianity by any reasonable definition.  Though I believe that the Bible does not teach prevenient grace, I don’t believe that the distinctions of Calvinism are a “make or break” doctrine.
  2. I think Olson falls into the word/concept fallacy. Just because, say, Genesis 1-3 doesn’t use the word “covenant” does not mean that the concept is not there.  Nor does it follow that we are not justified to read and understand Genesis 1-3 under the rubric of covenant.  Olson is right that the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible.  Olson is also right that the Trinity is a developed doctrine.  But to say that the Bible does not explicitly teach the Trinity or that the Bible merely implies the Trinity is to relegate the doctrine to a clever solution to a particularly difficult problem, not the core of who God is.  I challenge the unstated assumption that the doctrine of the Trinity is merely a later doctrinal development.
  3. Even if we grant that prevenient grace and the doctrine of the Trinity were somehow analogous, we have to still deal with other texts that seem to directly contradict our understanding.  Combs showed how John 6:35 and John 6:44 explicitly teach the opposite of prevenient grace.  Combs points out another point that I had not considered before – that under prevenient grace passages like Romans 3:1-20 and Eph. 2:1ff can only describe a hypothetical person.  That is, if God has sent grace to every single person without exception such that their free will has been recovered, then no such person actually exists. Combs says, “Paul spends a good deal of time telling us things like ‘there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God’ (Rom. 3:11) and ‘a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God’ (1 Cor. 2:14). But according to Arminianism there never has actually existed any person like the apostle Paul id describing. It does not seem reasonable that Paul would write to the Romans and Corinthians emphasizing a depravity that does not exist, nor has ever existed”

In conclusion, Combs paper is a good, short introduction to the topic.  Against the Arminian concerning the doctrine of prevenient grace I think we can rightly ask for chapter and verse.

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