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Commentary on Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

February 11, 2021 Leave a comment

Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress has retained its popularity down through the ages, and even inspired a few commentary volumes (from Charles Spurgeon and others), illustrations, teaching series for adults and children, and even several movies. I recently read through all of Pilgrim’s Progress (both parts), along with an interesting commentary book, Lectures on the Pilgrim’s Progress and on the Life and Times of John Bunyan, a 19th century work by George B. Cheever.  I read the full Pilgrim’s Progress once, over 20 years ago as part of a Sunday evening church class series (on the first part), and had listened to Librivox’s free audio recording (again, of part 1) a few times, but this was the first time in many years to read the full book in print — and now, along with a full commentary.  Cheever’s book includes a section, almost half of the book, on John Bunyan’s life, a commentary on Bunyan’s autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.  Then Cheever continues with commentary on sections of Pilgrim’s Progress, in chronological sequence through part I, followed by one lecture on part II.

Cheever’s style takes some getting used to, but the content gets interesting after a while, particularly his discourse on each part of the story.  Pilgrim’s Progress is a book that ‘grows on you,’ with its depth of characters and depictions, the ‘layers’ of meaning, that I appreciate far more now than in my early Christian years.  After having been through more life difficulties myself, I appreciated the different characters, particularly identifying with some characters more so than others — a great gift from John Bunyan, why this book retains its popularity down through the ages, that every reader can find some characters they relate to.  For example, in part I Faithful tells Christian of his encounter with Shame [Christian himself met others but had not met Shame], a great passage with instruction on how to respond to shame’s temptations:

Faith. What? why, he [Shame] objected against religion itself. He said it was a pitiful, low, sneaking business for a man to mind religion. He said that a tender conscience was an unmanly thing; and that for a man to watch over his words and ways, so as to tie up himself from that liberty that the brave spirits of the times accustom themselves unto, would make him the ridicule of all the people in our time. He objected also, that but a few of the mighty, rich, or wise were ever of my opinion; nor any of them neither, before they were persuaded to be fools, to venture the loss of all for nobody else knows what. He, moreover, objected the base and low estate and condition of those that were chiefly the pilgrims of the times in which they lived; also their ignorance, and want of understanding in all worldly knowledge.  … … . But at last I began to consider that that which is highly esteemed among men is had in abomination with God. And I thought again, This Shame tells me what men are, but it tells me nothing what God, or the Word of God is. And I thought, moreover, that at the day of doom we shall not be doomed to death or life according to the spirits of the world, but according to the wisdom and law of the Highest. Therefore, thought I, what God says is best—is best, though all the men in the world are against it. Seeing, then, that God prefers His religion; seeing God prefers a tender conscience; seeing they that make themselves fools for the kingdom of heaven are wisest, and that the poor man that loves Christ is richer than the greatest man in the world that hates Him; Shame, depart! thou art an enemy to my salvation. Shall I listen to thee against my sovereign Lord? how, then, shall I look Him in the face at His coming? Should I now be ashamed of His way and servants how can I expect the blessing? 

It’s a commentary on many topics, from Christian’s experiences and other characters encountered.  Spiritual growth over time, one lesson brought out in scenes from Part 1, includes this insight from Cheever, about ‘Hill Difficulty’:

We see plainly that as a clear-sighted Christian looks back upon his own experience he sees himself in many aspects, and through the prism of his own nature he sees a thousand others; he sees through and through the motives, thoughts, feelings, veils, and hiding-places of every possible variety of the children of this world, because he has been one of them.  He sees some stopping with their characters in perfection at one stage of his own experience, and some at other stages; some more advanced towards the point where he himself really set out to be a Christian, and some less; but many he sees, through the perfect knowledge he has of his own past refuges of lies, evidently trusting in the same refuges; refuges where he himself would have stopped and died as a pretended Christian had not God had mercy on him.  On the other hand, a man of the world, a wicked man, an unconverted man cannot see beyond the line of his own experience; the things of the Christian are hidden from him, for he has never gone into them; it is a world unknown, a world hidden by a veil that he has never lifted, a region of blessedness, knowledge, and glory, where his feet have never wandered; a region of sweet fields and living streams and vast prospects, of which he knows nothing and can conceive nothing.  It is all like the unseen future to him.

Pilgrim’s Progress Part II is quite different, and tends to be neglected in comparison to the well-known first part.  Cheever’s lecture points out that the second part can be understood as the journey of many ordinary believers, as contrasted with that of the spiritual giants, the famous Christian teachers such as Bunyan himself.  At times, part II seemed harder for me to relate to,  as it portrays the women and children having a relatively easy life, and with good counsel and guidance all through their journey. Christiana’s four boys even grow up and all marry godly Christian women, the characters are doing works of charity, and all is pleasant with no great challenges.  As the commentary points out, this was Bunyan’s interest in affirming God’s positive purpose for marriage (in the Lord) and the local church.  As such, it reflects the experience of those who are given these blessings from God, strong marriages with godly partners, and solid local churches that rightly teach God’s word and have healthy leadership and communication.  Bunyan’s church era instead faced great persecution, which included his 12 years in prison, and possibly the churches of that era, the late 17th century, did not experience, or at least to as great an extent, the problems we are familiar with:  churches where great error is taught, and/or abuse of authority from the leadership. 

In the women and children characters, Pilgrim’s Progress Part II also describes the every-day believers that have been given more common grace including calm temperaments, and personalities and social skills within the normal range.  They are naturally more easy-going and more humble, such that the famous places where Christian had extreme difficulties (the Valley of Humiliation, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for instance) are much easier for them.  Here I am reminded also of an observation from Joni Eareckson Tada, in The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking with Jesus: in her ministry work, she had observed two children who had lost their legs in an accident and would never walk again, yet their attitude was much more accepting and positive, than her own very negative reaction and struggle with God about what had happened to her.

Then again, part two includes many other characters (Cheever likens the variety of pilgrims to that of The Canterbury Tales) and describes other personality types, or parts of our personalities.  One such example is Mr. Fearing, a great contrast from the superficial characters such as Talkative, Ignorance, and Self-Will.  The actual description from Bunyan is quite detailed, and then Cheever spends two full pages of commentary, pointing out the problems taken to excess with Mr. Fearing, as well as his strengths.  In response to the simplistic attitude that would exhort believers, ‘Don’t be a Mr. Fearing’, it is worth noting that Bunyan included this reason, as to why such a believer should go about in the dark all his life:  the wise God will have it so; some must pipe, and some must weep.  The Apostle Paul also described the different types of believers, a verse often referenced in the topic of counseling:   1 Thess. 5:14, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

Pilgrim’s Progress and Cheever’s Lectures on the Pilgrim’s Progress are great works for re-reading and reference, with a lot of observations regarding various trials and temptations, and different aspects of the Christian’s personality and experience.

The Christian Mindset: Proverbs 3 Study

November 24, 2020 Leave a comment

When Christians think of the term ‘worldview’ or ‘mindset,’ it’s common to associate this with the objective truths of the gospel, of a set of Christian truths and their application — possibly encompassing apologetics, a Christian “worldview” conference, or a church class on the errors of CRT or other false teachings infiltrating the evangelical church.  But there is another way to think of this, not in terms of the objective, external doctrines of Scripture, but the inner life, the “orthopraxy” that is manifested outwardly from the inner heart attitude, the fruit of biblical wisdom. 

The general, national evangelical scene of recent years, and the trials that the country and world have faced, have revealed a disconnect, with widespread shallow thinking and lack of discernment among many in professing Christendom. In response to this, the current local church recently taught a 12-part Wednesday night series on “The Christian Mindset.”: a study in Proverbs 3:1-12 and its five key teachings, as a helpful study to improve one’s biblical focus and discernment.

These 12 verses in Proverbs 3 start with an introduction (verses 1-2), the setting of Solomon teaching his son, imploring his son to remember his father’s teaching, for the benefit of keeping his commandments:  long life and peace.  Then, verses 3 through 12 come in five sets, or stanzas, key ideas, such that this scripture passage can be seen as a meta-narrative on the Christian life.

  • REMEMBER God’s steadfast love and faithfulness (verses 3-4)
  • Trust in the LORD, acknowledge God (verses 5-6)
  • Humility:  Fear the LORD, turn from evil, do not be wise in your own eyes (verses 7-8)
  • Honor the LORD with your wealth (verses 9-10)
  • “Kiss the rod” and submit to the LORD’s chastening and pruning (verses 11-12)

Several lessons emphasized the foundation, the significance and importance of remembering God’s great steadfast love (Hesed) and Faithfulness (Emet) to us.  These terms appear in scripture, and frequently together, throughout the Old Testament.  Hesed, which translates to seven different English words including the words mercy and steadfast love, occurs about 250 times total and over 100 times in the Psalms.  God’s love is also compared to a rock — rock-like stability and protection to His people — such as in Deuteronomy 32:4.  Interestingly, the Hebrew word for Love, Ahove, is the term that describes sentimental love, from one person to another, also referring to the human love of things, such as Esau’s food that Isaac loved.  Yet steadfast love is a different word with a much deeper and stronger meaning.  

Other Old Testament texts expand the picture of what is taught in Proverbs 3:3-4, such as the importance of remembering what God has done, as shown in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.  The Israelites were to rehearse before the priest their history and what God had done for them. and to praise God for His goodness and the bounty that God has given—the land flowing with milk and honey. 

The next two verses (5-6) about trusting in the LORD:  additional verses include Isaiah 12:2, Psalm 112:7, and Psalm 125; Those who trust in the Lord are like mount Zion, which cannot be moved.  The study here also referenced John Piper’s “Future Grace” teaching:  gratitude works for past events, but “malfunctions” as a motivator for the future.  Thus, our primary motivation for living Christian life, is confidence in future grace.  Cross-reference also James 4:13-16, “if the Lord wills,” along with “lean not on your own understanding.”

Verses 7 and 8 , on humility: Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking about yourself less. There is a proper fear of the LORD, and even a proper dread (see Isaiah 8:13), as we are to fear God, the one who has power to throw both body and soul into hell.

Then comes the part about money and stewardship, verses 9-10:  honor the LORD with your money.  It’s not a particular quantity or percentage, but the heart attitude and sacrificial giving.  Again, Proverbs 3 is supplemented with many other scripture texts:  1 Timothy 6 about the love of money, Jesus’ words that we cannot serve two masters.  It’s about honoring the LORD in this way, and here we can also reference 1 Samuel 2:30, the LORD’s words to Eli the priest:   for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.

The fifth, last stanza is the topic of discipline, also referred to as discipline, chastening, or pruning, a topic I recently explored in this recent post, a look at a Charles Spurgeon devotional and Hebrews 12:7-8.  This truth is likewise addressed in many places, including here in the Proverbs 3 “summary statement.”

The full “hymn” here in Proverbs 3 is a great summary of these five key emphases that we should all aim at in our daily Christian walk, as the Christian mindset.

Suffering, Spiritual Growth, and the Biographies of Saints

November 13, 2020 4 comments

Over the last several years I’ve learned, through experience as well as study, the purpose of suffering in the Christian life, as well as the difference between afflictions sanctified and non-sanctified.  For it is not the affliction itself that causes growth, but the response to it, as a spiritual growth opportunity, a point brought out often in the “Gospel According to Habakkuk” series over the last few months. 

Another aspect of suffering, for Christians, is the relationship we have to our heavenly Father, the one who brings the trials into our lives–it is done with God’s loving care, measured, with a limit, and not to the end of wrath and punishment.  In reading Charles Spurgeon’s Faith’s Checkbook devotional, the reading for October 19 especially speaks to the measured chastisement, with this interesting observation:

As many as God tenderly loves He rebukes and chastens: those for whom He has no esteem He allows to fatten themselves without fear, like bullocks for the slaughter. It is in love that our heavenly Father uses the rod upon His children.

This truth is referenced often in the Psalms and in Hebrews 12:7-8, that we often observe the wicked and the ungodly having great prosperity without great trials or difficulties, while the godly are often regarded “as sheep to the slaughter” with many difficulties in this life.  It’s easy to see this in those who do not show any outward interest in Christianity, yet prosper.  But sometimes this even shows up in the lives of well-known “celebrity” Christians–wealth and success in life and in ministry, an easy going life of  common grace, without great trials or difficulties.  Yet, this may well be an indication that the “successful Christian” may actually be an “illegitimate son” exempt from the discipline that all God’s true children have participated in.  Certainly within a pastor’s ministry, before any hardship and subsequent spiritual growth, such a case shows a person who is unable to relate to and help others in need–and in a pastor, great insensitivity in any type of pastoral /  counseling ministry.  

Here I recall David Murray‘s testimony of early ministry years, when he had not yet had any great trials–and it showed in his lack of sympathy and inability to provide counseling to the members of his congregation.  In time, God did bring a great trial, through which he learned and changed to become far more effective in his ministry.  Charles Spurgeon found a similar positive effect from the great trials he went through during his early years as a pastor in London–the intense trials at first taking him by surprise, leading him to study the topic of suffering and why it was happening, and then later seeing the positive benefit to his ministry.

The negative examples, such as “celebrity” pastors in ministry for many decades without experiencing any great suffering – whether internal (such as mental depression) or significant external events of loss or failure — accordingly, give us pause to consider and discern for ourselves, if such people are really God’s children after all.  Unbroken success and wealth, without any significant suffering, reveals shallow characters that show great arrogance and lack of concern for the well-being of their sheep, the people in their congregation, and so they fit into Spurgeon’s description (above):  those for whom He has no esteem He allows to fatten themselves without fear, like bullocks for the slaughter.

Certainly Christians can be blessed with great wealth and success, yet we can observe the overall balance of their lives and their experiences.  Christian singer / songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman, for example, has been blessed of God with great financial success–yet such success was moderated by an extreme tragedy, that got his attention and brought about spiritual growth — and also proving the other part of Spurgeon’s observation:  As many as God tenderly loves He rebukes and chastens.

So, in our own lives, let us apply this teaching of scripture, this point brought out in many places such as the Spurgeon devotional.  Also, by continuing to draw near to God; and if we haven’t learned the lesson from previous afflictions, to let the current ones (or ones soon to come) tesach us, that these would become sanctified afflictions.

Lessons from Habakkuk

August 14, 2020 Leave a comment

I’m taking another look through the minor prophets, and particularly the book of Habakkuk.  Alistair Begg’s “No Simple Answers”, which I listened to last fall, provided great down-to-earth application.   Another good one is James Montgomery Boice’s 5 part series from a few decades ago.  Boice mentioned someone saying that he had never heard church sermons on Habakkuk; in our day sermons are more available, including more attention to this minor prophet.  A local-area PCA church is also currently doing a series on Habakkuk, a more detailed approach with 5 messages and still in progress. 

Boice’s series emphasized the overall theme of God’s Sovereignty, and God and History, and how we wrestle with problems and dealing with God’s answers.  Habakkuk was a deep thinker, and like us he remembered his nation’s better times — King Josiah’s brief revival, which turned out to be more from the top-down, an incomplete revival.  Habakkuk then saw the moral decline and wickedness of the nation, and wanted God to do something–very likely, he wanted God to send revival.  The answer was not what he wanted to hear; Boice likened it to God telling American Christians that His answer to American Christianity would be, “I’m not going to send revival, I’m going to send the communists.”  Ironically, a generation later, there is a lot of truth in that idea, as to the judgment that God has sent–though not in the obvious outward way that Boice, during the Cold War with the Soviets, probably thought of.

Referencing Martyn Lloyd Jones, who preached on Habakkuk in the years soon after WWII and later published a small book (which is unfortunately out of print, and used copies quite expensive), come these four points regarding history:

  1. God is in charge of history
  2. God causes history to follow His own plan, a divine plan
  3. History follows a divine timetable — “I am going to do something, in your day”; also Hab. 2:3.  God appointed the time.
  4. History is bound up with the divine kingdom.  The point here is that history was not about “the Babylonian problem.”  God is concerned with building His kingdom through His people.  Boice also referenced Matthew 24 and the general instruction to believers: watch out, do not be deceived; you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.

How did Habakkuk get to the point of Habakkuk 2:1, where he waits for God’s answer?  One view, from Martyn Lloyd Jones and shared by James Boice, demonstrates four steps in how we should approach all problems that we don’t understand:

  1. Stop, and think
  2. Restate the basic principles, the things you know; firm footing
  3. Apply the basic principles to your problem
  4. If, having done all this, you still don’t have answer to the problem: commit it to God and wait for Him to answer it in HIs own time. (Habakkuk 2:1)

The recent Habakkuk series (mentioned above) takes the view that Habakkuk in 2:1 is still in a hostile mindset, not really responding in faith.  Habakkuk uses a military term of watching, as though he is preparing himself to battle the Lord regarding this:  the judgment is so unfair.  When Boice gets to Habakkuk 3, he notes a similar thing (if perhaps less bluntly): Habakkuk at the end of chapter 1 had still been thinking in terms of himself, not yet seeing things from God’s viewpoint.  As brought out in the current series, Habakkuk 1 provides expanded lessons regarding the moral law of God and its three uses, the problem of self-righteousness, and judgment.  The wicked in Habakkuk 1:4 are a different group than the wicked in verse 13, showing Habakkuk’s comparative scale between his fellow countrymen and the pagan Chaldeans (Babylonians).  Habakkuk was among the righteous remnant, but it’s a small step to self-righteousness, when he complains (verse  ) “the law is paralyzed.”  Yet if the Law becomes the main thing, you’ll trip over it.

Both of these series are helpful, bringing in sound theology along with good illustrations and application to our time.  I look forward to the continuing lessons in the current Habakkuk series.  

Living in a 2 Timothy 3:5 World (and Thoughts on Thomas Boston)

June 17, 2020 6 comments

The last few months have been quite interesting, a time for serious consideration as to what God is doing in this world and in His church.  First came the pandemic, a judgment on the world and also on the church specifically, as churches were closed (and went to online services) for public health consideration.  Even now, though some churches have begun meeting again (with varying levels of social distancing or non-social distancing), many of us are still working from home, and continuing at home on Sunday morning, watching online services.

Among all the noise, ignorance, and politics, I have found especially helpful several articles such as these from Joseph Pipa and others at GPTS, addressing the issue of attending public worship, and God’s judgment on the church:

Corporately, God is refining His church. As Christians, we have repeatedly and rebelliously profaned God’s Holy Day with work and recreation (which God connects with idolatry, Ezek. 20:13-16); because of the virus, many are prohibited from working or playing every day of the week.
Increasingly, the church has substituted entertainment for holy Worship.  God has closed the doors of our churches. God’s people have grown satisfied with having one service on His day; God has removed all services. We have taken lightly the privileges of corporate worship; we are unable to worship corporately.

More recent events are addressed in this article, Pagan America Dressed in Christianity, which provides a good application (it has happened before at other points in history) of 2 Timothy 3:5: having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power — as seen in the rioters, the President, and the evangelical response.

I recently read Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot: God’s Sovereignty in Afflictions, an excellent, easy to read book (republished in modern English) that addresses so well the issue of trials, suffering, and pride versus humility — a very convicting read.  Along with describing how believers should benefit from their trials, Boston pointed also to the proud, the foolish, and unbelieving response of those who do not learn from the trials of life.  From expositions of passages in the wisdom literature – especially Ecclesiastes, also a few from Proverbs — this book is very helpful in explaining God’s Sovereignty in our afflictions, and that God is the Author of our afflictions.

How evangelicals have generally responded to recent events shows the great immaturity of the professed church, which increasingly looks (at best) like the Corinthian church.  It seems that many have identified their faith with politics, and specifically American Republican politics, and are interested in conspiracy theories, denial of the pandemic, and asserting of “my rights!” and the American constitution.  We still have the form, the outward shell of Christianity — but for many, sadly that is all they have, a form of Christian religion but denying its power.  Another bible verse also comes to mind:  Luke 18:8When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?  This is a time like that of the prophets of Israel, who continually prayed and desired for the peoples’ repentance, and for revival to come.  Yet, like Habakkuk, distressed at the evil of his people–instead of revival, God sends judgment.  But when the majority of the visible Church, the outward expression of Christianity (including the evangelical part and many of its leaders), is only a form without the power, one showing great hypocrisy to the watching world, how can genuine heart revival come?  Instead, though God has been very patient — judgment must come.  Of course we do not rejoice in the judgment, but lament – see this post, A Jeremiad.

A sampling of Boston’s observations, for further thought regarding what we’ve seen recently, both among unbelievers as well as in the visible, evangelical church:

The careless sinner is not concerned with discovering the design of Providence in the crook, so he cannot fall in line with it. Instead, he remains unfruitful in the trial, and all of the pains taken by the great Vinedresser on his behalf are lost.

Despite all of their trouble, they do not look or turn to God.
There they are ever suffering and ever sinning—still in the furnace but their dross is not consumed nor are they purified. And such is the condition of those who now cannot submit under the crook.

This is to be in the company of the proud, getting the lot altered by force to the mind. They are like those who, taking themselves to be injured, fight it out with the enemy, win the victory, and then divide the spoil according to their will.

There is no way they can abide the trial, so God takes them off of it, like reprobate silver that is not able to abide it.

Boston’s outlook is not at all negative, but The Crook in the Lot explores both sides: those who humble themselves under God’s mighty hand, who learn from their afflictions, as well as those who instead continue in pride, showing themselves as among those who divide the spoil with the proud (Proverbs 16:19).  His many exhortations and reminders to believers are of great encouragement, and accurately describe how life actually happens: the various types of trials (including long continuing ones, shorter more intense ones, some due to lex talionis) and the ‘partial lifting up’ that may occur — the removal of some particular difficulties (see this previous post), though a partial lifting, sometimes bringing other problems instead.  The full and final lifting up will not occur in this life, and so we wait patiently for the next life.

will nothing please you but two heavens—one here and another hereafter? God has secured one heaven for the saints, one place where they will get all their will, wishes, and desires. There will be no weight on them there to hold them down. This is in the other world. But must you have it both here and there or you cannot accept it?

Do not expect the lifting up to follow immediately upon your humbling. No, you are not to merely lie under the mighty hand, but lie still, waiting for the due time. Humbling work is a long work; the Israelites had forty years of it in the wilderness.

And whatever accomplishment of the promise happens here, it is not the essence of the promise, but a sample or a pledge. … The unmixed blessing is reserved for the other world, but this world will be a wilderness to the end, and there will be crying intermixed with the most joyful songs.

Lessons From the Book of Job

March 13, 2020 8 comments

Over the last few years I’ve looked for good sermon series in the wisdom literature, and especially on the book of Job, but had not found any until recently.  Now two such series, both from Reformed/Covenantal speakers/authors, are available:  a 9 part series from Danny Hyde (with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals), “Whom Do I Trust?” as well as a still in-progress series on SermonAudio from Dr. Michael Barrett (covenantal premillennialist, at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary), series, “Dealing with Hard Providences.”  (Note:  SermonAudio for Michael Barrett also shows a much older (1991) sermon series in the book of Job; I have not listened to that earlier series.)

Both of these series provide some interesting points, with different approaches to the book and emphasizing particular sections of the 42 chapters.  Barrett points out more of the historical context, during the time after Noah’s flood and before Abraham, and suggested authorship of Solomon.   A main idea brought out in both is that Job’s three friends had right and correct theology, as far as it went—but very wrong application to Job’s particular case.  Along the way, both note the repetition, the three full cycle pattern of speeches from Job, then Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  Hyde here makes good application from the friends’ first speeches:  the friends are actually saying the things noted by Satan in the prologue: man-centered theology, what can I get from God?, and even a version of the prosperity gospel in Bildad’s first speech:  just do the right thing, confess your sins and return to God, and you’ll be blessed.  Ironically enough, that is what happens to Job at the end, doubly blessed by God, and yet not for any reason on Job’s part.  It is not as though God can be manipulated like a slot machine by a ‘formula’ of doing particular outward acts in order to get the material blessings you want.

Another good observation (from both) is Job’s increasing faith throughout the dialogues.  As noted in the ‘Whom Do I Trust?’ series, Job’s speeches get longer and the others’ speeches shorter, showing Job dealing with his problems and increasing in faith.  The faith is often temporary, and then Job lapses back into despair, as also noted in Barrett’s series.

As sometimes happens, here I note a few areas of disagreement or questionable matters, on secondary issues:

  • Danny Hyde describes the behemoth and leviathan as modern-day animals such as water buffaloes and crocodiles.  Online resources have considered the details of these texts, to show that these animals fit with the very early time of the book of Job and do not really work as descriptions of modern-day animals; good evidence exists that these were what we know of as dinosaurs and historically were called dragons; reference this article from Creation Ministries International.
  • In the Barrett series, the dream and spirit references made by Eliphaz (Job 4:12-21; see this article) were legitimate revelations from God, in that age before the closed canon when God communicated by dreams — to unsaved biblical characters such as Joseph’s pharaoh; other examples here would include Nebuchadnezzar, Abimelech (Genesis 20), and Laban (Genesis 31) – and in visions and theophanies to His people.  (Though I would add that dream visions also came to God’s people, such as Joseph himself.)  Elsewhere I have read, regarding Job 4:12-21, that this spirit was actually not God but demonic (see, for example, this Days of Praise devotional).

I would have liked to see more treatment of the fourth, younger, friend Elihu.  Danny Hyde seems to just put him in the same category as the three friends, and completely skips over the Elihu chapters as well as the epilogue that mentions Job sacrificing for his three friends (specifically named), because the three friends had not spoken rightly about God.  Barrett briefly mentioned Elihu, noting that he didn’t quite know what to make of Elihu and had different feelings (depending on his mood) regarding Elihu.  Future messages in his series may add more teaching about Elihu.

Still, though, full treatment of everything in Job would require a commentary, rather than a survey series.  The 9 part series from Danny Hyde, as well as Michael Barrett’s series (in progress) accomplish their purposes, teaching on the major theme of the book of Job along with great application to the Christian life and how we deal with suffering when it happens.

Transgenderism, and Christian Resources

December 30, 2019 3 comments

Fred Butler at the Hip and Thigh blog recently shared a link to a set of recent messages from Don Green, done at his church on the topic of Transgenderism.  The full set of audio files as well as transcripts are available at this link.  It’s an informative set of seven lectures on this topic, dealing with worldview issues, scripture, and the medical news.

As several others have noted, the ‘next stage’ of cultural decline, transgenderism, has become prominent in the national news in just the last few years, accelerating quickly to the point where it’s even impacting women’s sports.  Another recent resource I’ve appreciated is the Mortification of Spin’s recent podcast on this issue.

Though transgenderism has come to the national level recently, as many probably realize it has been building up for many years.  Don Green’s first lecture notes the overall ‘macro level’ historic trends, from the enlightenment era through modernism and post-modernism.  At another point he mentions the people with signs about ‘break the binary’.  Reference also this previous post, from Dr. Peter Jones’ conference lectures (at the 2017 Quakertown Conference on Reformed Theology) on binary thinking versus paganism (and paganism’s connections to homosexuality and transgenderism).

I recall the late S. Lewis Johnson, in the early 1980s, commenting on what was then showing up in society, the early days of homosexuality being openly discussed.  He noted that many people (at that time) were saying that judgment must soon be coming because of this; no, he said, the fact that we’re seeing this—this itself IS the judgment.  Romans 1 describes the progression from bad to worse, and God’s removal of the restraints when people continue down this path.  Almost 40 years later, we are seeing the further downward spiral of the culture.

Related specifically to transgenderism, in the mid-1980s I saw the college Sociology textbooks that praised the then apparently successful “John/Joan” case of gender reassignment, a story that turned out quite differently from what was then being promoted; this link is one of several articles regarding the aftermath of that experiment, and the sad ending to that young man’s life.

The 2011 news story about the couple raising “Baby Storm” as a gender-neutral child (reference this article and this one) mentioned the couple’s inspiration for their parenting method– a book published in 1978 with that very theme of a child named “X” and how the child was raised without anyone knowing its gender (with a very positive ending to the story).  This brought back my elementary-school memories; a short-story version of what would later become that 1978 published book, was read to my 5th grade public school class in the mid-1970s.

I also came across a young cross-dresser, and one adult “transgendered woman” (born a man) in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the Denver area.  So, as noted, the transgender issue has been there for many decades now, gradually building, but now suddenly gaining great prominence in the national news.  It is sad to see the trend continue to the point it has, but it is good to see more resources becoming available, to address the issue from the Christian worldview.

Our Ancient Foe: Essays From Reformed Theologians

December 10, 2019 1 comment

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has recently published essay type books from the content in some of their PCRT conferences.  I previously reviewed Only One Way, with a great selection of chapters dealing with the many ‘only one way’ doctrines and their implications for our lives as Christians.

Another in this series is Our Ancient Foe: The History, Activity, and Demise of the Devil (Best of Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology), with nine essays from selected conferences.  Last year I referenced some of the lectures in the actual “Our Ancient Foe” 2017 Quakertown conference, focusing on the lectures from Dr. Peter Jones.

The book version features some of the 2017 conference content, four chapters from two of the speakers – Kent Hughes and Tom Nettles – along with additional chapters from authors/theologians Joel Beeke, Derek W.H. Thomas, Sinclair Ferguson, Roger Nicole, and Ronald L. Kohl (the editor).

As with Only One Way, the chapters are very readable and interesting for the layperson audience, and include a lot of interesting teaching and great quotes.  Derek Thomas references the motivation for Christian living, that we need to see other motives besides basic gratitude, to the motivations understood in confessional Reformed theology (imperatives, indicatives, and the wrath of God).  Joel Beeke talks about our weakness and besetting sins:

“The frightening truth about Satan is that he knows us.  He observes our character, moment by moment, and he knows our weakest points.  Isn’t that true in your life?  Haven’t you noticed that the things that you easily stumble over surface repeatedly?  Satan keeps presenting them to you, and you often fall so easily that it’s embarrassing. … in our weakness, we stumble over measly little worms.  My friend, may I warn you in the words of Jesus today, ‘Simon, Simon, behold.’  Don’t eat the little worms of this world in the place of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Tom Nettles references the devil having the power of death, and the deeper mystery from eternity past, in a Narnia-esque passage (a similar point made in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” in reference to the White Witch and Aslan):

It’s not that Satan controls who lives and who dies.  It’s that he thinks that, because God is always true to His promises, he can hold the Word of God before God himself and say, ‘This is what you declared would happen and must happen.’  But God has a wisdom that Satan cannot foresee—that the redemptive purpose of God comes out in these interesting and sometimes baffling providential arrangements.  And now this deeper mystery, from before the beginning of time, has come to pass:  the death of the Son of God, who took our nature and was made like his brethren in everything.  In doing that, Jesus has fulfilled the particular verse that Satan has clung to as his ace in the hole—the verse he’s been holding before God: they sinned, they must die.

Sinclair Ferguson, on Satan’s final demise, provides an interesting simple perspective of Revelation as God’s “picture book”:
There is a sense in which the book of Revelation is the easiest, not the most difficult, book in the New Testament. It’s easiest because it is the book in which, more than in any other, God comes down to the simplest of us.  Instead of explaining the gospel to us in the great doctrinal expositions that we find, for example, in some of Paul’s letters, and instead of showing us the glory of God and the glory of the gospel … simply by means of words, God sits down beside us in the book of Revelation as though we were his little children and says to us, ‘Look at the picture book that I’ve made for you.’
 Our Ancient Foe is another great Reformed Conference series publication, a great reference with helpful and edifying content in an easy to read format, on an important doctrinal topic.

The Active (versus Passive) Christian Life

November 15, 2019 Leave a comment

Lately I have very little time for extra study, and what study that has occurred involves glimpses of several different topics.  Among my scripture meditations and book reading, the theme of persecution, and what Christians in other countries have faced (and still endure) has been prominent: Randy Alcorn’s Safely Home (a novel about persecuted Chinese Christians), material from Barnabas Fund regarding current persecution in several countries, and Fire Road: The Napalm Girl’s Journey Through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace (a previous ChristianAudio free book of the month) are all good reading, ways to remember and pray for the persecuted church.

Another topic (though at least somewhat related), from various reading in the Bible, Christian articles, sermons, song lyrics and podcasts, is the Christian life and experience — in terms of how the Bible describes it, versus the idea taught in some hymns and bad theology.  Again I think of song lyrics, which are great for teaching Christian doctrine—whether the biblically correct kind or false views.  Yet many hymns and praise songs direct us to the passive experience of life, such as the Keswick “Let Go and Let God” hymn “Take My Life and Let it Be.”

I appreciate Andy Naselli’s writings on this topic, found in his book as well as several articles online, regarding the problems with “higher life theology,” such as this article from The Gospel Coaltion.  Simply put, the “quick fix” approach doesn’t work with Christianity, and doesn’t provide an answer for the real trials and disappointments of life; the Keswick idea sounds great and “spiritual,” but as well explained in this above-linked article:

What’s really frustrating is when you think there’s a quick fix that will catapult you into a higher region where this cycle is no longer necessary, and you think you’ve entered this region already, only to find yourself sinning again. Come to find out you only thought you had consecrated yourself! Better try again . . . actually, don’t try . . . but you get the point.

That’s the good news Naselli gives us. The gospel actually does transform us into holy people, even if gradually. There actually is a higher region where the sin-cycle no longer burdens us—it’s called heaven, and Jesus is going to bring it down with him. And there actually is a quick fix coming one day, and it’ll be really quick: “We shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51–52).

Until then, in the words of Packer, let us not “let go and let God,” but rather “trust God and get going.” Or in the words of Hebrews 12:1–2, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.”

Hymns from an earlier era, back to the 18th century, reflect the more accurate experience.  “Take my life and let it be” will disappoint time and time again.  Instead, “through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come…”  As Alistair Begg, teaching on Habakkuk 3, observed:

Our (unbelieving) friends are not drawn by the idea… ‘I have a dreadful problem, I went to God, I don’t have any more problems; therefore, we’re having a picnic, I will rejoice; we will rejoice, and we would like you to come over and see what it is like to rejoice.  Well you’re flat out not telling the truth.  Eventually the picnic is in heaven, no doubt about that, that will be untrammeled joy, that will be unmitigated praise and wonder.  But right now, all hell lets loose against us:  fightings outside of us, fears within us, doubts, disappointments, cancers, broken relationships, children that drive us crazy, and I’m only running through the first little section.  And everybody goes, ‘that’s right, that’s right’.  …. So, how do you get to ‘I will rejoice’?  .. he says ‘I will rejoice in the Lord’.  I will be joyful in God my Savior. … ‘Sovereign Lord, I have cancer; Sovereign Lord, my uncle is in a wheelchair, Sovereign Lord, my kids are killing me.  Sovereign Lord!’  This is the Christian experience.  Through many dangers, toils, snares, I have already come.  Tell your friends that, that’s believable.  Tell your work colleagues that, they’ll identify with that.  Tell them, when it all hits the fan, and you feel like running for it, the answer is not in the transformation of circumstance, but the answer is in the revelation of God in and of Himself, in His word the Bible.  I have nothing else to hold on to.

Charles Spurgeon is another great source for inspiration, regarding the importance of Christian work and effort (not a passive experience), as with a few excerpts from sermon #914:

When the Holy Spirit descended, there were two signs of His Presence. The one was a rushing mighty wind, the other was the tongue of fire. Now if the Holy Spirit intended to do all the work Himself—without using us as earnest instruments— the first emblem would have been stagnant air. And the next might have been a mass of ice, or what you will, but certainly not a tongue of fire. The first emblem was not only wind, but it was a mighty wind, and not only that, but a rushing mighty wind, as if to show us that He intended to set every spiritual sail in the most rapid motion.  . . .

there is no illustration used in Scripture to set forth the heavenly life which allows the supposition that in any case Heaven is won by sloth. I do not remember ever finding in Scripture the life of the Christian described as a slumber. To the sluggard I find a warning always—thorns and thistles in his garden—and rags and disease in his person.

I read J.C. Ryle’s Holiness several years ago, when I first began serious study of theology.  I understood the basic message then, as his very strong response to the Keswick passive sanctification teaching idea then introduced.  It is probably time to read it again, for the greater appreciation that comes with greater maturity and understanding of God’s word.

Thoughts on Contentment, and Zeal for Truth and Righteousness

October 15, 2019 2 comments

As I look back now on the last several years and God’s amazing work of Providence, I consider two issues that need balance:  godly contentment on the one hand, and the desire for what is right and true on the other; or, experiencing true contentment and gratitude to God for what He has done, while recognizing the evil in the world, including the major problems that occur at local churches among professed believers; rejoicing in the Lord in spite of the evil, recognizing what part each of us is responsible for– and leaving the rest, including the hearts and repentance of others, in God’s hands.  It is also the call to keep the long-term perspective, that we and everything around us are completely in God’s care and control, while still living in a very broken world.

I’ve seen God answer and resolve a situation that had continued for many years, something that appeared to be an unchanging, insurmountable circumstance (that I was just going to have to live with).  The original (major) issue has indeed been answered (along with many other unexpected blessings, side benefits);  as typically happens, one set of problems has been replaced with another, different set—albeit the new situation is more tolerable, a lesser degree of suffering and affliction.

A thousand years is as one day to God, and yet we get impatient when we don’t see change and results immediately.  Through this, though, I’ve come to realize that God is more interested in the process of our sanctification, our spiritual growth and maturity, our becoming more Christ-like, than in providing the immediate “fix” to our problems:  even when those problems involve truth and righteousness.  Yes, God is also very concerned about truth and righteousness as well – and yet there is His forbearance, that He puts up with so much evil and wickedness in the world, and He does not always change hardened hearts, even those of professed believers in a local church.  Reference 1 Corinthians 11, that there must be differences to show who has God’s approval.

Again I’m reminded of the reality that throughout church history, a lot of what happens within the professing visible church is a great disappointment.  Yet God allows it to occur, allowing wicked and unjust rulers within the church as well as in the secular government.  The churches in the 1st century were far from perfect; Christ had charges to bring against several of them (Revelation 2-3).  Many Christians today do not live near any decent church, and with others God has so ordered the circumstances to include attending less-than-ideal churches.  God’s word even addresses that point: the exhortation in Rev. 2:24-25

But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come.

and Malachi 3:16-18

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

It also comes back to the handling of desires that are normal and good in themselves, such as the desire to attend a biblically solid, strong Reformed church.  Yet when God decrees otherwise, to then accept the negative answer and be content in God’s will, and to “hold fast what you have until I come.”  (Along the way comes the discovery, too, one that Spurgeon noted as well:  when God does not answer a prayer in one way, He provides the blessing in a different, unexpected way.)  Where possible, to push for change (so much as it lies within our own power to do so), yet still being thankful and praising God in the trial, as Habakkuk prayed and praised God, even though God’s answer wasn’t what he wanted.  Any desire that is proper in itself, becomes sinful (an inordinate desire) when placed above God and His will.  Here I also think about Daniel and his friends living in Babylon.  No doubt they would have preferred to be back in their homeland, to worship God at the temple.  Perhaps while in exile they experienced early-synagogue-type worship with other deported Jews, but maybe not.  All we are told about are the persecution experiences and Daniel’s private worship, how he worshiped in his own home.

I have also found my recent studies, such as Richard Baxter’s The Godly Home  very instructive, with a lot of great practical advice for dealing with less-than-ideal situations.  For instance, Baxter wrote at length about cases where spouses are not equally yoked, along with application to recognize what things we as individuals are responsible for versus what things are beyond our control, even describing some extreme (real or hypothetical) situations of his day.

A few selections:

if the husband is ignorant or is unable to instruct his wife, she is not bound to ask him in vain to teach her what he does not understand.  Those husbands who despise the Word  of God and live in willful ignorance do not only despise their own souls but their families also… for God has said in his message to Eli, “Those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed”

. . .

and the woman if she follows him must leave all those helps and go among ignorant, profane, heretical persons or infidels.

Answer: If she is one who is likely to do good to the infidels, heretics, or bad persons with whom they must converse.. or if she is a confirmed, well-settled Christian and not very likely, either by infection or by want of helps, to be unsettled and miscarry, it seems to me the safest way to follow her husband.  She will lose God’s public ordinances by following him, but it is not imputable to her, as being outside her choice.  She must lose the benefits and neglect the duties of the married ordinance if she does not follow him….

… What if a woman has a husband who will not suffer her to read the Scriptures or go to God’s worship, public or private, or who beats and abuses her….

The woman must at necessary seasons, though not when she would, both read the Scriptures and worship God and suffer patiently what is inflicted on her.  Martyrdom may be as comfortably suffered from a husband as from a prince.  But yet if neither her own love, duty, and patience, nor friends’ persuasion, nor the magistrate’s justice can free her from such inhumane cruelty as quite disables her for her duty to God and man, I do not see why she may not depart from such a tyrant.

Regarding things in our power to change, versus what is not in our power, he lists several limitations, when something is not in our power to change:

First, it is not lawful either in family, commonwealth, church, or anywhere to allow sin or to tolerate it or to leave it uncured when it is truly in our power to cure it.  … It is not in our power to do that which we are naturally unable to do.  No law of God binds us to impossibilities.  …

When the principal causes do not cooperate with us, and we are but subservient moral causes.  We can but [attempt to] persuade men to repent, believe, and love God and goodness.  We cannot save men without and against themselves.  Their hearts are out of our reach; therefore, in all these cases we are naturally unable to hinder sin.

Those actions are out of our power that are acts of higher authority than we have.  A subject cannot reform by such actions as are proper to the sovereign or a layman by actions proper to the pastor, for want (lack) of authority.

This section lists many other scenarios, as pertaining to authority, or what a superior forbids us to do, and even cases where “great and heinous sins may be endured in families sometimes to avoid a greater hurt and because there is no other means to cure them.”

Experience through the difficulties, along with wisdom gleaned from books such as the Puritans (including the above writings from Richard Baxter), are the things that God uses in our lives as we prayerfully look to Him for guidance every day, as we learn to keep the proper balance and to praise and thank God while desiring a change in the circumstances.  Above all, we pray the Lord’s Prayer and for His will to be done in and through the situations.