They burned incense to the Queen of Heaven: A story

(I used to write short stories a long time ago)

Year:  587 B.C.
Place:  Judah

Yakov was inspecting his vineyard one day when Halachi came by.  “Yakov ,” Halachi said, “Do you care to join me for worship this week?”
“I have regular worship meetings in my family and village. You know that,” replied Yakov .
“Yes, but you aren’t worshiping according to the traditions,” Countered Halachi.
“What traditions?”  Why?  We have Moses’ writings.”
Halachi was ready for this response.   “True, but Moses’ writings have to be interpreted properly.  How do you know you are reading them correctly?”  The truth was, Yakov didn’t know.   He admitted there were some hard passages in Torah.  “I’ll tell you what,”  Halachi offered, “Just come and see.  I’ll answer any questions you have”
“Okay,” Yakov agreed.

(Later that evening)

Yakov was met by clouds of strange incense and different orders of worship.  Then he paled noticeably.  “Halachi,” asked Yakov in a heated voice, “Why are your friends worshiping that cow?”  Yakov pointed to a bronze cow in the corner.
“Yakov ,”  replied Halachi condescendingly, “They aren’t worshiping that cow.  Don’t be silly.  They are worshiping God.”
“So God looks like a cow?”
“No.  They are worshiping God through that cow.”
“I don’t understand the difference,” said Yakov .
“Okay.  Basics.  Is creation good?” asked Halachi.
“So God wants us to honor his good creation,” pressed Halachi.
“I suppose so,” conceded Yakov .
“Yakov , I know Torah as well as any.   Worshipping metal images is wrong.   But we aren’t doing that.  We are worshiping God through the image.”

One year later

“Yakov , what news from the front?” yelled Shaul, a leader in the Jerusalem militia.

“Nebuchadnezzar has not yet advanced.  I guess he is waiting for us to weaken a little more he throws everything at a final assault,” mused Yakov .   It wasn’t a bad plan, he admitted.  It was one he would have done.   Jerusalem couldn’t last much longer.   Yakov ‘s plan changed from a simple resistance and hoping Nebuchadnezzar got distracted, or Pharaoh got involved, or something.  Now, instead of winning Yakov could only think of getting out of here alive.    Both options seemed dim.

“How long do you give us?”  Yakov noticed that Shaul asked that question out of earshot of the others.

“Maybe a week.  No longer than a fortnight, certainly.”

“How did we get here, Yakov ?   Why did Jehovah-Baal forsake us?   Weren’t we faithful to the traditions of our fathers?”

Yakov had trouble focusing on Shaul’s question through the thick incense.   “Must we have all this incense going,” he asked?

“Come now, Yakov.   All sides agree that incense is proper in worship.”

“But this incense seems different.”

“Yes, it is the incense of extreme prayer and hope.  This incense is to the Queen of Heaven.  She will deliver this city.”

Yakov wasn’t sure anymore.  Halachi’s arguments seemed good at the time.   The crops were better than usual and it made sense of the chaos in Yakov’s life.  Something still felt off with the worship, though.  If God was spiritual and created heaven and earth, then it seemed odd that he would be so constricted to a metal cow.   What did a cow have to do with God anyway?

Yakov didn’t get to find the answer to that question, as the wall beneath him shook.

“I guess that week turned into today” shouted Shaul.   Yakov couldn’t shout back as the wall rumbled again.


“The Garden-Gate has been breached!” Someone shouted. Yakov looked up to see Babylonian troops spilling in through the breach.   Shaul died in a hail of arrows.   The soldiers advanced upon Yakov.   Given the narrow alley, Yakov could fight them one at a time.  Their numbers would make the difference.   And then the first line fell to unseen arrows.


“Quick lad.  We have a few minutes.  Come this way.”

“Who are you?

“My name is Willie-Rechab.   I can get you out if we leave now.”

“But what about the city, my men–

“They are dead men, and you will be, too.”

“But why do you care about me?”

“I noticed you didna burn incense to the Queen of Heaven.   But don’t think it is cause ya deserve rescue.  You don’t, but ne’ertheless, here is an out if ya will tak it.

Metal cow-gods be damned, Yakov thought, here is life.


Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Clean Power

The following  is from John Piper’s talk on Martyn Lloyd-Jones, though I had read the works in question long before I had heard the talk.

Martin Lloyd-Jones’ Personal Experiences of Unusual Power

Lloyd-Jones had enough extraordinary experiences of his own to make him know that he had better be open to what the sovereign God might do.

Another illustration comes from his earlier days at Sandfields. A woman who had been a well-known spirit-medium attended his church one evening. She later testified after her conversion:

The moment I entered your chapel and sat down on a seat amongst the people, I was conscious of a supernatural power. I was conscious of the same sort of supernatural power I was accustomed to in our spiritist meetings, but there was one big difference; I had the feeling that the power in your chapel was a clean power“.
Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years (Piper’s website lists the reference as being in volume 2, The Fight of Faith, p. 221, but that is incorrect.  It is in volume 1, page 221.)

Justification by faith *how?*

Many cavail against the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone, noting how it (superficially) seems to be against James’s words.   Admittedly, this is a tough point for Genesio-Lutherans to answer, but if we understand the causal models (instrumental, efficient, final, etc) correctly, there is no problem.   We believe that works function as a subalternate final cause in justification, and in that sense we are in complete agreement with James 2.   The synergist, by contrast, has a much more difficult position in dealing with Paul’s claims.  James Buchanan relates Melancthon’s words, “If the exclusive term, only, is disliked, let them erase the Apostle’s corresponding terms, freely, and without works” (Buchanan, 129).

Fearfully disagreeing with Carl Trueman

I used to be a critic of Trueman, but he won me over in the course of the years.   His works on John Owen show just how sharp a theologian he is.   Still, I have to disagree with him on the literary aesthetic of the Southern Presbyterians.

He writes,

 What a pair of tedious prose stylists!  Berkhof (note the spelling, Del) wrote a dictionary; dictionaries are meant to be boring; that’s the deal.  But these guys wrote continuous prose that is too often as wooden as it comes — except, of course, when Dabney is hating, which he does do exceptionally well at times.

I disagree.  Both gentleman had mastered Milton and Gibbon.  Dabney can be laborious at times, but he often soars the heights.  Thornwell is about as close as one can come to truly classical American literature.

Holiness and Superstition

If the legal purifications and washings, which were of God’s own appointing, did not make those who used them more holy; and the priests, who were holy garments and had holy oil poured on them, were not more holy without the annointing of the Spirit; then surely those superstitious innovations in religion, which God never appointed, cannot contribute more holiness in men.

Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 243.

The contradiction of Christian Reconstruction

This came up on one of the Covenanter Facebook groups:

Recons believe that we can have a political order based on God’s law.   Further, most recons believe in a toleration of various Christian subgroups in this Christian state.  Fair enough.  The problem is that most of these groups–in particular the most Reconstructionist of these groups–violate God’s law on worship.    So it comes down to having a state based on God’s law, except where worship is concerned (which is arguably the most important part).

Turretin Review, vol. 1, part 2

Decrees of God

God’s Foreknowledge of Future Contingencies:

Middle Knowledge: God’s foreknowledge about future contingent events whose truth depend not on God’s free decree (being anterior to this), but upon the liberty of the creature (which God certainly foresees). As Turretin clarifies, Whether besides the natural knowledge of God (which is only of things possible) there is in God a middle knowledge of men and angels where he knows what they may without a special decree preceding (I: 214).

Turretin responds: things not true cannot be foreknown as true. Now, conditional future things are not true apart from the determination of the divine will; for example, the Sidonians would have repented if the powers had been supplied to them, for they would have been indifferently disposed in their nature to repend or not repent, those powers being given. ..No effect can be understood as future without the divine decree, so no future conditional can be knowable before the decree.
Again, knowledge either makes the event certain or foresees it as certain…
A thing may be contingent in two ways:
• by depending on God as first cause (as all of creation is thus contingent, since God didn’t have to create)
• by depending on prior second causes (which produce or not produce their effects).
Turretin is speaking of these contingents.

A future contingent implies both certainty of event and mode of production. As future it is certain, but as contingent in its mode of production. It has the former from the decree of the First Cause, the latter from the constitution of the second cause. The mode of production is clarified by the Westminster Confession of Faith V.2: It identifies God as the First Cause, corresponding with the first point made by Turretin, but notes that the First Cause orders the events to happen in three modes: freely, necessarily, or contingently.
An event can be both infallibly certain yet contingent. Thus, all things take place by the necessity of consequence, not the necessity of the consequent. Turretin notes that man’s actions can be free because they are spontaneous and follow rational judgment, but necessary because of God’s decree (I: 211).

Free Will

(Turretin, I: 502). God does not compel rational creatures to act by a physical necessity, he only effects this–that they act both consistently with themselves and with their own natures (508). This necessity is one of consequence–it secures the action and result of a cause. It is necessary according to the eternal premotion of God, but it is spontaneous according to the mode of acting (509). The premotion does not take away the mode proper to the nature of things.
For example, the harp player is the cause of music, but not of the dissonance plucked from the strings. Quoting Alvarez, “It does not follow that God is the cause of sin because he determines to the act; because the deformity follows the act, not as in the genus of nature, but as it is in the genus of morals and as it is caused by the free will (510). Relating the concourse of God and the free will of man 1. The concourse of providence and the human will is not of collateral and equal causes, but of unequal and subordinate (512). This follows on anyone’s gloss since God is by definition the First Cause.

2. God moves secondary causes according to their nature and mode. Thus, it is necessary according to the source (as coming from the First Cause), but free as to the mode. 3. Absolute liberty belongs to God; dependent liberty belongs to the creature. “The subject of free will is neither the intellect, nor the will, but both faculties conjointly” (I: 660). Here Turretin examines the Scholastic problem of the priority between intellect and will. Viewed in different lights either one can work. Practically speaking, people do not separate these two in their actings so we can speak of them together.

Turretin gives his famous discussion concerning the “necessity of necessity.” Non-Reformed positions, while prating long about free will, rarely interact with the hard questions it raises. Only the Reformed position does justice to both necessity and liberty. “Choice” belongs to the intellect; …

The will is determined by God with respect to decree but only in a concursive sense (God determines the actions but leaves the modes of acting free). We deny indifference of will but affirm rational spontaneity (665). Concourse and concurrence: When God and man’s will overlap. The question is how may we best explain man having liberty while being under the control of God’s providence? Turretin follows Aquinas: second causes are predetermined by God; When the free will moves itself, this does not exclude its being moved by another, from whom it receives the very power to move itself (ST, 1, Q. 83, Art. 1)
1. God gives second causes the strength and faculty to act
2. God keeps and sustains them in being and vigor.
3. He excites and applies second causes to acting
4. He determines them to acting
5. he rules them to accomplish the ends.

Anthropology and Sin

Original Sin: Those who deny original sin have to explain why death is prevalent even among infants and imbeciles. Romans says the wages of sin is death. If the curse of death is universal, it necessarily follows that the wages of sin is universal. Yet, how can they be held accountable for sin before the giving of the law (Romans 5:12-13)? Only something like the Covenant of Works can really answer this question. Yes, the curse of death is imputed to us (as our Eastern friends tell us). Yes, death is the enemy. But as Paul makes clear, how can there be death without the wages of sin?

Rome and the Superadditum

Rome, pace Bellarmine (“De Gratia prime hominis,” 5, 6 in Opera [1858], 4:23-29, quoted in Turretin, I:471), viewed in natural man a contest between flesh and spirit, and God’s superadded gift is like a “golden bridle” to reign in the flesh. By contrast, Turretin notes that if original righteousness were an added gift, then man’s nature would have been inherently lacking. Rome places concupiscence before the fall; Protestants place it after the fall. At this point Rome cannot escape the age-old stereotype that it views matter as “not quite bad.” If concupiscence is natural to man’s created state before the fall, then ultimately man’s problem isn’t sin but finitude. The inevitable conclusion is that God made man’s very matter one of disorder (472). Protestants do believe in concupiscence, though. We see it as an inclination to sin after the fall. Still, we reject a positive principal of sin in the human nature. This rejection, plain and simple, precludes any possibility of a so-called Manicheanism.

If Reformed seminaries are not teaching through this book, then their students will not be prepared to face challenges from Rome and neo-Socinians.