15 May 2006

Truth is old, but the reverse may not hold

by Dan Phillips

There is a danger in saying that truth is always old.

In itself, the statement is certainly true. Truth is always old. Our perception of it, however, is not. Our statements of it, are not necessarily always old. I would add that anything "new" should be viewed with suspicion, and put to the most rigorous test. It should never be accepted simply because it is new, or popular.

Let me give an example: Dispensationalism. (Please read carefully what follows.) A constant criticism is that it is new. Some reject it for that reason alone.

This has always struck me as ironic, coming from Calvinists. Our forefathers met with exactly the same criticism from Romanists, in their day. They responded by citing church fathers who stated or accorded with the same truths, but mostly they responded that Scripture isn't new, so their (Scriptural) view also is not new.

Reject Dispensationalism if you believe it does not accord with the Bible. Put forth your better, more Biblical view. But don't reject it solely because you think it is new.

Take a more specific example of a traditional thought that right-minded folks have held for centuries, if not millennia: seeing Canaan as a type of Heaven, and crossing the Jordan as death. If there is a direct Biblical basis for this identification, I've never seen it.

On the contrary, I find it a distressing equation. Canaan was filled with giants and fortified cities (Numbers 14:38-39). After they entered it, Israel faced many bloody battles, some of which they lost. While living in it, they were tempted to and committed apostasy, and they were severely judged by God.

Eventually, they were thrown out of it.

That's Heaven? I hope not! More importantly, not by anything I read in Scripture!

I love Spurgeon dearly. (Surprise!) He's probably my favorite preacher to read, ever, by a vast margin. But in his March 15 evening devotion, he wrote: "When I cross the Jordan, the work of sanctification will be finished...." Where did this imagery of Jordan/death start? If it's in the Bible, I've missed it. Crossing the Jordan certainly presented no crisis in Israel's sanctification.

Or again, in Spurgeon's March 13 morning devotion, the great preacher encourages the downtrodden by quoting a couple of lines:
"A few more rolling suns, at most,
Will land thee on fair Canaan’s coast."
If that's true, I'm not encouraged! Is that what going to Heaven is? I'm going to go from a land where I constantly face my own miserable pronenesses to sins within, and disheartening battles without -- to a land where I'm constantly going to face my own miserable pronenesses to sins within, and disheartening battles without? There will be giants and pagans and well-fortified villages in Heaven? There's a chance I might be thrown out?

As Jonathan Edwards once was heard to remark, "Yikes!"

Okay, Edwards probably never said that, but I do. Of course I know what Spurgeon meant, and what he meant was true. But what he said was simply, in my view, a mistake. But it is old! It's very old! Old, yet mistaken. It happens.

I want old truth, only old truth. As old as the Bible. Let us just make sure that our "old truth" really is that old, and not just an old misconception that should have been reconsidered and retooled ages ago.

Dan Phillips's signature


philness said...

The Monkeys are getting old. Good post Dan. Give me that old time religion.

DJP said...

Well, but... that monkey isn't very old.

Gryphonette said...

You know, I'd wondered about that, i.e. "Canaan" presented as a foreshadowing of Heaven, and never thought it made a whole lot of sense.

I suppose it's because it's the land the LORD gave the Israelites, and the usual contrast in Scripture is Egypt:bad/Canaan:good.

Which is true so far as it goes, but it doesn't go as far as Canaan:Heaven.

I'd think Canaan:God's Revealed Will, and is valid strictly in this temporal realm.

Not meaning to detract from your overarcing point, which was sound. ;^)


Bohemian Baptist said...

In his own defense:

"I am going to use the passage of the Jordan as our forefathers used to employ it, namely, as a type of our passage out of this world into the place appointed for our rest. Canaan is only measurably a type of that better land, for the Canaanite was still in the land and Israel had to fight many a battle to obtain possession of the country. In our more perfect Canaan there are no enemies to encounter, no sins to struggle with, and no powers of darkness to conquer. Still, I think the type, if imperfect, has been so long established in the Christian Church and has yielded so much of edification to godly people, that I may safely use it."

C.H. Spurgeon, "Crossing the Jordan" Sermon #2039

DJP said...

Oh, what a terrific catch, BB -- thanks!

It still leaves me a bit uneasy. "OK, this isn't really true, but it's old, and it's useful, so...."

Kay said...

You know, you're going to have to stop waving the dispensational thing about like a tickle-stick and post something a bit more in depth about it over at your place.

Everytime you mention it, you're always saying what it's not, or how I shouldn't see it, or why I shouldn't neccessarily reject it.

Knuckle down and turn your hand to some actual explanation, alright?

thearmoury said...

Dan - Spurgeon often used language from Pilgrim's Progress in his sermons. The reference to "crossing the Jordan" was a common word picture in their day that referred to the passage of death into eternal glory (Pilgrim's Progress Section II, Part 8):

"This river has been a terror to many; yea, the thoughts of it also have often frightened me; but now methinks I stand easy; my foot is fixed upon that on which the feet of the priests that bare the ark of the covenant stood while Israel went over Jordan. Josh. 3:17. The waters indeed are to the palate bitter, and to the stomach cold; yet the thoughts of what I am going to, and of the convoy that waits for me on the other side, do lie as a glowing coal at my heart. I see myself now at the end of my journey; my toilsome days are ended. I am going to see that head which was crowned with thorns, and that face which was spit upon for me."

The pilgrim's progress : From this world to that which is to come, John Bunyan

Robert said...

I do not reject Dispersationalism solely becuase it is "new"(18th century). But I believe the facts about its recent origin need to be clearly pointed out to those IFBx (usually) types who assume that the Pre-Trib,Pre-Mill position is the historical, "literal" position going all the way back to the Church Fathers. It isn't. (Neither is their usual anti-Calvinism, by the way). I want to force them to use Biblical exegesis to defend their position, not "tradition".

DJP said...

Robert --
I want to force them to use Biblical exegesis to defend their position, not "tradition".

Works for me!

DJP said...

To Libbie --

< innocent humming >

Gordon said...

Good post, Dan. I think a literal exegesis of Scripture makes the dispensational point of view pretty obvious. Thanks for posting this.

Steve said...

Robert said, "I do not reject Dispersationalism..."

Grudem, Geisler, and Erickson seem to have overlooked dispeRsationalism in their texts...

Robert said...


Sow i nead too git A speil-checkker! (Darn it Jim! I'm a scientist, not a writer!!!) ;)

Screaming Pirate said...

Its ok Robert. I make a fool out my self just about every time I post. I am bad at spelling my self so if you want to feel better look at my blog or at my comments on this blog. I am quite sure i am quite famous for my bad grammar and spelling.

But Dan "The Man" Phillips I have to agree with your observations on dispensaltionalism. And I must agree with libbie here. When you going to actually adress dispensationalism in detail? I am rather eager to hear it.

Momo said...

I'm just going to toss this one out here and run. But . . .

. . . didn't the author of Hebrews use the analogy first and Bunyan and others only borrowed it from him? (Hebrews 3)?

And doesn't it sort of seem to fit when we consider that the Red Sea crossing was Old Covenant redemption (the anti-type, of course, being in the death of Christ)?

IF the Red Sea crossing corresponds to our deliverance as the redeemed of Christ from Egypt, and . . .

IF the wilderness journey corresponds to the perseverance of the saints in this life (and it does in Hebrews 3 and 1 Corinthians 10) . . .

THEN wouldn't arrival in our promised home be a fitting end to the analogy?

Admittedly, the analogy is not perfect, for reasons already stated, but doesn't it have at least a basis in the Word?

Daniel said...

The Jordan River: "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come."

It strikes me that the promised land pictures the "rest" that we, as Christians, are supposed to enter into. The Israelites were Jews before the crossed the Jordan - and they were Jews after they crossed - the only difference was that they were entering into a land that God had promised them. To do this the ark of the promise preceded the Israelites into the Jordan - the Israelites crossed on dry ground - a feet they could not have orchestrated on their own - and when they were in the land promised to them the ark of the promise followed them up the banks. Thereafter God drove out the inhabitants of the land so that the Jewish people could live in it - not all at once mind you, but little by little. The land was appropriated by faith and not might.

This pictures sanctification - we cross the Jordan when we accept God's promises of sanctification - and only then do we enter into that promised rest - not that it comes in a day - but as we are faithful and appropriate through faith the promised rest - God goes before us and gives us the land where our feet tread.

On eschatology: Jesus is coming back - and we ought to be ready.

My approach on eschatology is to continue to reject what doesn't agree with my understanding of scripture - hoping that eventually whatever remains will form a cohesive eschatological view! lol!

Daniel said...

"feat" - sigh.

donsands said...

"Historical arguments are not the final test for the truthfulness of any doctrine. Scripture is our sole authority for both doctrine and practice. Yet the history of a doctrine can be highly relevant. We have much more reason to be confident of a doctrine such as the Trinity, which has been taught since the first centuries of the church age, than a doctrine first taught 150 years ago." Keith Mathison
I thought this was a good thought, and agrees with DJP's thoughts.

I believe the Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus will return. How many times will He return ...?

FX Turk said...

You're just mad because I took a swipe at Dispys today.

DJP said...

You're just saying that to make me visit your blog.

FX Turk said...

I took a swipe at Dispys, but it wasn't at my blog. I think. I did a lot of posting today.

FX Turk said...

I also wanted to make sure I said this:

this age, and the age to come.

That's all. After that, you can draw as many diagrams about theology as you want. I'm not going to fight with you because Phil says that's nasty.

artfling said...

There are several reasons to reject dispensationalism (besides the fact that it has too many syllables). I have never read a nondispie ever refute it based soley on history. The fact is that the many Hal Lindsey like predictions by various authors made dispensationalism an embarrassment to Christianity. When I finally heard the post-mil version I was ripe to hear something that wasn't so silly. And boy did it make sense. Plus I didn't seem to need those velcro charts for moving the dates around. My favorite refutations of dispensationalism begin with the time texts. So what does soon literally mean? Read the first several verses of Rev. The 5th chapter of James. The 10th chapter of Hebrews. 2000 years ago they were ready for something big that was to take place soon.

Jeremy Weaver said...

I took a swipe at Dispies too. A pretty specific Dispy, in fact.

thearmoury said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gordon said...

Artfling--I can surely understand your aversion to date-setters like Hal Lindsay and others of his ilk, but please don't judge all of us dispensationalists by them. Some of us know better than to try to pin (or velcro) the rapture to a particular day.

Chris said...

Libbie --

If we keep careful records of all the things that Dan says Dispensationalism is not, we'll get to his beliefs... eventually. I'll be around then... I think.

Roger said...

I've always wondered about the crossing Jordan picture as well. Many songs use that as the metaphor for death and entry into heaven. I was always taught by my pastor father (a dispensationalist by the way) that crossing Jordan is illustrative of a stage in the Christian life of learning to walk by faith. The wandering in the wilderness has given way to a focus on a commitment to faithful obedience. This then results in facing the "giants in the land" and learning to claim victory. A good book with respect to this is "Victorious Christian Living 0 Studies in Joshua" by Alan Redpath

thearmoury said...

To underscore bohemian baptist's earlier post - e.g. Spurgeon's "Crossing the Jordan" Sermon #2039, it should be noted that many of these men (including Bunyan), faithfully preached the Old Covenant examples as shadowy previews of God's present blessings, and future glory that will be revealed in Heaven - all of which illustrate the reality of God's faithfulness to His people. Much of the preaching and literature from the past made these ideas very common; but it should be clear that a person's view of the continuity/discontinuity between the Old and New covenants will affect these issues a great deal. Ultimately, we who are in Christ have entered into His rest (Hebrews 3-4); but we also look forward to the final consumation of our salvation in future glory (Phil. 3:20-21), remembering that the Lord is faithful to fulfill all His promises.

Not to avoid the broader point of the post (which is crucial): that which is old is not automatically good, unless it comports with Holy Writ - that goes for any idea of any age. Here is an especially good principle for our hymnody as well, whether old or new: All that is new is not necessarily bad; nor are all things old necessarily good - e.g. "God of Grace and God of Glory."


Pastor Mike
Longing earnestly for Beulah land (Oh, here we go again)... ;)

John H said...

"Reject Dispensationalism if you believe it does not accord with the Bible."

"Your terms are acceptable" ((c) Men in Black)

DJP said...

...and the next sentence?

Jim Bublitz said...

It would seem that this would be a good time to plug my blog:


Sorry, given the topic of the post, I couldn't resist :-)

c.t. said...

Your only problem can be in the context of thinking that Canaan is 'actually' supposed to be heaven. It's a type. The 'rest' is also Jesus, just as the sabbath is. When you disconnect the Old Testament from the New you miss alot. As for giants and fortified cities: Thomas Watson wrote a good book on the necessity that heaven must be taken by storm. With God's help...

Five Solas
Doctrines of Grace
Classical Covenant Theology
and just say no to sacramentalism and clericalism...

Michael Herrmann said...

I've always assumed (yea, I know(C: ) that crossing the Jordon, as a metaphor for death, was based on 2 kings 2 where Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordon just before Elijah rides the chariot of fire to heaven. He crosses the Jordon and passes from this life into the next.


Dr Danny Boy said...

The use of “Canaan Land” as a metaphor of “heaven” is only used once in the Bible. It is found in a passage that spans Hebrews 3 and 4.

Hebrews 3:17-18 says “ But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?”

Then, after arguing that a “rest” is promised to Christians, but has not been realized, the author states in Hebrews 4:9 “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.”

If the Holy Spirit uses Canaan as a metaphor for heaven, I suppose we can also. However, with all metaphors, we must use caution to extending the analogous elements to the extreme. This is especially true since the use of the metaphor was to illustrate the fact that some “did not enter in” not to emphasize the conditions once they entered.