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Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge: Christian Living, ‘A Life of Character’

February 24, 2017 1 comment

jrmiller-lifeofcharacterContinuing in the Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge, I now find that I’m well ahead of the schedule for the 13 books, so I may very well add a few more along the way – not to the 26 book level, but adding and reading more books from the remaining categories from the light reader and avid reader lists.  I’ve come across a new, free e-book this month, to add to the “light reader” category of a book published in 2017:  Sam Waldron’s “The Lord’s Day:  Its Presuppositions, Proofs, Precedents, and Practice,” 138 pages and available free from the Chapel Library  in several formats including PDF and Kindle.

For the Christian Living selection, I enjoyed reading J.R. Miller’s A Life of Character.  I first learned of this author from the daily Grace Gems devotional email, which sometimes features short devotional thoughts from Miller, who wrote in the late 19th century.  The Grace Gems site features the online text of several of his books; in their list of authors and brief summaries, J.R. Miller is listed as the best for this topic, Christian living.  ‘A Life of Character’ is an easy, straightforward read, not too long but covering many different topics with great devotional thoughts.

The overall topic reminds me of similar treatment in Jeremiah Burroughs’ Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, which I read at the end of 2016. Like Burroughs, this book includes the use of many metaphors, such as how our life should be like a song or a musical instrument.  Here I remembered an old poem, set to music years ago by Wayne Watson in the song Touch of the Master’s Hand.  Throughout, the reading is simple but to the point and often convicting.  Christian living, personal holiness, is so much easier to read about, but as noted in Burroughs’ work, takes a lifetime of practice.

Here are a few selections from Miller’s work:

We need the patience of Christ also, in our mingling with others, in our business associations and contacts, in our social relations, and in all our dealings with our neighbors. Not all people are congenial and patient to us. Some want their own way. Some are unreasonable. Some fail to treat us right. Possibly in some cases—the fault may be ours, at least in part. Others may sometimes think of us—as we do of them. However this may be, the patience of Christ may teach us to bear with even the most unreasonable people, sweetly and lovingly. He was patient with everyone, and we are to be like Him. If we are impatient with anyone, we fail to be true to the interest of our Master, whom we are always to represent.

and

We forget that heaven is not far off yonder—but begins right here in our everyday lives, if it is ever to begin at all for us! Isn’t that what the prayer means, “May Your will be done on earth—as it is in heaven”? “On earth,” that is—in our shops, and our drudgery, and care; in our times of temptation and sorrow. It is not a prayer to be taken away out of this world into ‘heaven’, to begin there the doing of God’s will; it is a prayer that right here and now on earth—we may learn to live—as they do in heaven.”

also

We cannot make the people about us so loving and sweet—that we shall never have anything to irritate or annoy us. The quietness must be within us. Nothing but the peace of God in the heart—can give it. Yet we can have this peace—if we will simply and always do God’s will—and then trust Him. A quiet heart—will give a quiet life!

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Challies’ Reading Challenge: Biography, Robert Murray McCheyne

February 16, 2017 Leave a comment

biography-mccheyneContinuing in the 2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge, I have now completed four of the books – classic novel, history, book about theology, and a biography  —  with two more in progress (a children’s book, The Hobbit; and Christian Living, J.R. Miller’s A Life of Character).  Of the four completed so far, I have most enjoyed the biography – Andrew Bonar’s classic that tells us of someone who might well have been forgotten, the life of an ordinary pastor who died at age 29 (lived May 1813 to April 1843).   As John Piper observed in this article, a tribute to McCheyne’s life,  Robert Murray McCheyne is one of church history’s amazing young people greatly used of God in their short lives:

It is amazing to me how God has raised up extraordinary young people with great impact and then cut them off in their youth, and then has preserved their impact with a book for decades to come, and centuries.

This biography was published about two years after McCheyne’s death, a compilation of McCheyne’s own personal journal and letters, combined with narrative from his friend Andrew Bonar.  The story is told chronologically, with brief information about McCheyne’s parents and upbringing, but really beginning the story at age 18, when he was saved, and continuing with the events of his life, including excerpts from McCheyne’s writings each year.  Illness and early death were more common in those days.  McCheyne’s oldest brother, David, died at 26, when Robert was 18; his brother was a godly man who had prayed for Robert, who up until that time had been worldly, interested only in the social life of a teenager.  David’s death had a profound impact on Robert, and was used of God to bring the younger McCheyne to salvation.

As Bonar relates, his friend was ill frequently throughout those short years that Bonar knew him.  McCheyne himself sometimes even expressed the thought, that he would not live as long as others.  The missionary trip to Palestine in 1839, which included McCheyne, Andrew Bonar and a few others, was done in part because of McCheyne’s health; and though he had one serious illness and almost died during that trip, overall the trip did restore McCheyne to better health, for a while at least.  When McCheyne took ill with the typhoid from which he died in the spring of 1843, Bonar again noted that McCheyne had often been ill before – and thus it surprised him and all his friends, they did not realize the danger and his soon death, until the last few days.

Along with biographical material, much of the biography is devotional, with many great quotes from McCheyne, such as the following excerpts from his journals and letters:

I am tempted to think that I am now an established Christian,–that I have overcome this or that lust so long,–that I have got into the habit of the opposite grace,–so that there is no fear; I may venture very near the temptation—nearer than other men. This is a lie of Satan. I might as well speak of gunpowder getting by habit a power of resisting fire, so as not to catch the spark. As long as powder is wet, it resists the spark; but when it becomes dry, it is ready to explode at the first touch. As long as the Spirit dwells in my heart He deadens me to sin, so that, if lawfully called through temptation, I may reckon upon God carrying me through. But when the Spirit leaves me, I am like dry gunpowder. Oh for a sense of this!”

and

One thing we may learn from these men of science, namely, to be as careful in marking the changes and progress of our own spirit, as they are in marking the changes of the weather. An hour should never pass without our looking up to God for forgiveness and peace. This is the noblest science, to know how to live in hourly communion with God in Christ.

McCheyne was ever focused outwardly on evangelism and doing the Lord’s work, while inwardly growing and studying in personal holiness.   The section on the trip to Palestine was especially interesting, for the descriptions of the Holy Land at that time as well as the simple background of how people traveled over 150 years ago – how long the journey actually took, and the physical hardships contrasted with the ease of traveling in our modern world:  extreme heat unknown in Scotland (and no air-conditioning), travel by camel (including an interesting description of how to mount and ride camels) and the ever-present fear of disease and death.  I had heard about this missionary trip, and after reading  about it in McCheyne’s biography, I am interested to read the actual published work about it (available online here  ), which Bonar also later mentions – the time that he and McCheyne set aside from their busy schedule, to complete the book for publication.  From McCheyne’s letters during the trip, here is one interesting description:

A foreign land draws us nearer God. He is the only one whom we know here. We go to Him as to one we know; all else is strange. Every step I take, and every new country I see, makes me feel more that there is nothing real, nothing true, but what is everlasting. The whole world lieth in wickedness! Its judgments are fast hastening. The marble palaces, among which I have been wandering to-night, shall soon sink like a millstone in the waters of God’s righteous anger; but he doeth the will of God abideth forever.” — Robert Murray McCheyne, 1839 — trip to Palestine.

Another topic presented in this book is a revival that began during their absence, and continued after their return at the end of 1839.  What little I had previously read about actual revivals was more historical observation, that evangelical Christianity up until about 1860 had a different view or mindset in reference to revival; revivals were more frequent, and more expected, but that the general trend changed starting in the 1860s—and Charles Spurgeon lived during this transition time, when modernism and liberalism began to take hold in the Christian church.  The presentation in McCheyne’s biography reflects this earlier time, and Bonar provided good insights into the actual revival and its impact, and the ending results afterward:

That many, who promised fair, drew back and walked no more with Jesus, is true. Out of about 800 souls who, during the months of the Revival, conversed with different ministers in apparent anxiety, no wonder surely if many proved to have been impressed only for a time…. The proportion of real conversions might resemble the proportion of blossoms in spring and fruit in autumn. Nor can anything be more unreasonable than to doubt the truth of all, because of the deceit of some. The world itself does not so act in judging of its own. The world reckons upon the possibility of being mistaken in many cases, and yet does not cease to believe that there is honesty and truth to be found.

McCheyne had a tremendously positive impact on the people around him – the many people who loved him, both at his own church as well as others who continually wanted him to come and speak at their churches, and his friends including Andrew Bonar.  This book provides a great introduction to this great young Christian man and his impact within the Christian church, and now his continued impact throughout history since his time.

James White, and Islamic Sharia Law Versus the Mosaic “Holiness Code”

February 7, 2017 2 comments

In a recent group discussion concerning James White’s conversation with a Muslim, it was stated by one person that some Christians (theonomists) are just as bad as Muslims with Sharia law, for wanting to impose the Mosaic law — “and I wouldn’t want to be under either system.”

I haven’t studied theonomy in detail, but to compare Sharia law to the Mosaic law is a very flawed idea, on several levels.  One very obvious difference here: has any theonomist or group of theonomists actually imposed Mosaic law, on any modern-day society?  But at a more basic level, this idea is an example of modern-day evangelical confusion regarding the role and purpose of the Old Testament law.  I also find it especially ironic that the same group that hosted James White for a discussion with a Muslim, is apparently quite unaware of James White’s own teaching and view on this very issue.  White’s sermon series “The Holiness Code for Today” (series available here), a recent series through the Levitical law, responded to this very mistaken idea – as he even said, an idea prevalent among unbelievers as well as many evangelicals – that the Mosaic law is some type of  “iron age, outdated morality only for the Jews”  (and now, even considered by some to be on the same level as Islamic sharia law).

As noted in a few recent blog posts (this one on Leviticus 19, also this one), James White explains (the historic Protestant view) that we recognize the overall moral precepts in God’s law, including the moral law as applied to the particular circumstance of the nation Israel as a nation of God’s people, a people in covenant with Yahweh.  The Mosaic law (Israel’s civil and ceremonial law) was not a harsh, obsolete code for an ancient Near Eastern civilization; it also was not a “covenant of works” requiring strict obedience to every precise point as a works method of salvation.  Mankind was always saved in the same way, by faith in God’s redemptive work, both before and after Calvary.  Yes, the Jews of the first century had turned the Mosaic code into a “works salvation” but that was not its purpose from the beginning, as is clear from many Old Testament texts, particularly passages in Deuteronomy and the Psalms.  Though it is true that some texts describe the Mosaic law as a burden, this view ignores the reality of the many scriptures that describe the Old Testament law in very positive terms.  The Mosaic law was instead a specific application of God’s unchanging moral law, to the situation of Israel as a nation, laws civil and ceremonial and meant to govern the people of God in their daily life.  Thus, the whole Bible stands together – there can be no excuse that in our day we don’t need to study the Old Testament; God’s moral law does not change, and we can benefit from study of the Mosaic code by considering, for each law, the moral precept behind the particular circumstance.

By contrast, here is sample of actual laws in the Sharia law system, a system that has actually been implemented in certain societies throughout history:

According to Sharia Law: (Basic Laws of Islam)

  • Theft is punishable by amputation of the right hand.
  • Criticizing or denying any part of the Quran is punishable by death.
  • Criticizing Muhammad or denying that he is a prophet is punishable by death.
  • Criticizing or denying Allah, the god of Islam is punishable by death.
  • A Muslim who becomes a non-Muslim is punishable by death.
  • A non-Muslim who leads a Muslim away from Islam is punishable by death.
  • A non-Muslim man who marries a Muslim woman is punishable by death.
  • A man can marry an infant girl and consummate the marriage when she is 9 years old.
  • A woman can have 1 husband, who can have up to 4 wives; Muhammad can have more.
  • A man can beat his wife for insubordination.
  • A man can unilaterally divorce his wife; a woman needs her husband’s consent to divorce.
  • A divorced wife loses custody of all children over 6 years of age or when they exceed it.
  • Testimonies of four male witnesses are required to prove rape against a woman.
  • A woman who has been raped cannot testify in court against her rapist(s).
  • A woman’s testimony in court, allowed in property cases, carries ½ the weight of a man’s.
  • A female heir inherits half of what a male heir inherits.
  • A woman cannot drive a car, as it leads to fitnah (upheaval).
  • A woman cannot speak alone to a man who is not her husband or relative.
  • Meat to eat must come from animals that have been sacrificed to Allah – i.e., be “Halal”.
  • Muslims should engage in Taqiyya and lie to non-Muslims to advance Islam.

Just a sample list from among a huge body of law.

Seriously – where is the moral precept behind these Sharia laws?  Anyone who honestly studies the Mosaic law will recognize that it is not merely some ancient-age law code, and that it was nothing that should be compared to Sharia law.

In addition to White’s study, another good reference for understanding the Mosaic law is A.W. Pink’s The Divine CovenantsI do not agree with everything in Pink’s work, and especially in the Davidic and New Covenant section Pink went too far astray into the spiritualizing hermeneutic — but that is another topic.  However, the section on the Sinaiitic covenant is quite helpful, as here he considers the ideas of various commentators and responds with good scriptural arguments to the idea that the Mosaic covenant was a “works salvation” covenant.  For consideration here, an excerpt from this section that looks at the Mosaic law and the scriptures in great detail:

at this point we are faced with a formidable difficulty, namely, the remarkable diversity in the representation found in later Scripture respecting the tendency and bearing of the law on those who were subject to it. On the one hand, we find a class of passages which represent the law as coming expressly from Israel’s redeemer, conveying a benign aspect and aiming at happy results. Moses extolled the condition of Israel as, on this very account, surpassing that of all other people: “For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?”  Deut. 4:7, 8). The same sentiment is echoed in various forms in the Psalms. “He showed his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them” (Ps. 147:19, 20). “Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them” (Ps. 119:165).

But on the other hand, there is another class of passages which appear to point in the very opposite direction. In these the law is represented as a source of trouble and terror—a bondage from which it is true liberty to escape. “The law worketh wrath” (Rom. 4:15); “the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56). In 2 Corinthians 3:7, 9 the apostle speaks of the law as “the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones,” and as “the ministration of condemnation.” Again, he declares, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Gal. 3:10). “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law” (Gal. 5:1-3).

Now it is very obvious that such diverse and antagonistic representations could not have been given of the law in the same respect, or with the same regard, to its direct and primary aim. We are obliged to believe that both these representations are true, being alike found in the volume of inspiration. Thus it is clear that Scripture requires us to contemplate the law from more than one point of view, and with regard to different uses and applications of it.