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Prayer According to God’s Will: 1689 Confession Study (Chapter 22)

September 15, 2016 1 comment

The 1689 Baptist Confession exposition series is currently in chapter 22 – the chapter on worship and its elements.  Two paragraphs here address the specifics of prayer – both corporate and private – and thus the 1689 study includes a mini-series on the elements of prayer.  (Now I am caught up to the latest available message in the series; this will continue with future lessons as they become available on Sermon Audio.)  A few thoughts here, regarding the issue of ‘praying according to God’s will,’ from this lesson (March 13, 2016) — three common errors, or points of misunderstanding, regarding interpretation of 1 John 5:14:

  • The “Room Service” view interprets 1 John 5:14 with over-emphasis on the ‘ask.’ Asking is what matters, and therefore to ask about anything is in itself according to God’s will.

A well-known scripture example that refutes this error, is the apostle Paul’s request (three times) for God to remove the thorn in his flesh; the answer was no.  Another incident I recall here, brought up in Tom Chantry’s recent Deuteronomy series: Moses’ pleading with God to be allowed to go into the promised land—that too was not allowed, and was not according to God’s will.

  • The “name it and claim it” view, one we’re familiar with from all the false teaching on Christian television, takes the scriptural reference that “if two or more people agree” and concludes that therefore, if at least two people agree to pray about something, God will do it.

R. C. Sproul has referred to this idea as, God as our “celestial bellhop,” at our beck-and-call for anything we want. As Sproul observed (quote available at this blog link):

We are reminded of statements like “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7); “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19); and “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22). Shorthand summaries like these have provoked bizarre theories of prayer where people have violently isolated these passages from everything else Jesus and the Bible say about prayer. Distortions also abound when we approach these aphorisms simplistically. Consider the earlier statement about any two people agreeing. It would not be difficult to find two Christians who agree that ridding the world of cancer or wars would be a good idea. Their prayer in this matter would not automatically accomplish their desire. The Word of God indicates that wars, poverty, and disease will be present at the time of Christ’s return. To expect their absolute elimination before the appointed time is to grasp prematurely the future promises of God.

The third idea is not so much error, but partly true combined with a misunderstanding regarding God’s decretive versus perceptive wills.  The “Submissive but unsure” doubtful view, submits to God’s will, but remains uncertain as to whether the request being made is according to God’s will.  Here we consider God’s two wills: 1) His decretive will regarding everything that happens, everything that will occur; and 2) His perceptive will, that which is revealed throughout scripture as God’s precepts, God’s moral law, how we should live as Christians.  When we pray for things regarding our future – things not specifically revealed in God’s word – we submit the request to God and His will, with that uncertainty as to what the answer will be.  But when we pray for things that pertain to God’s perceptive will, we know that He will answer. Prayers for greater patience and endurance, for more peace, and other Christian “fruits of the spirit” ARE according to God’s will, prayers that we can have confidence that God will answer.  Indeed it is so, as Hodgins related, that often we can look back at a particular situation and realize, that yes, in this situation, this time I was more patient, this time my temper didn’t flare up – continuing answers to prayers that are according to God’s will.

Martyn Lloyd Jones’ “Spiritual Depression” Book and Series

August 16, 2016 2 comments

I have often heard Martyn Lloyd Jones recommended, though in my studies so far had not yet read anything from him.  Recently I revisited a link to the MP3 collection of his “Spiritual Depression” series.  As noted at the beginning of the first message, the audio quality is not that great, restored as best as possible from old recordings – and so I’m reading the Kindle book version instead.

Dan Phillips provided a helpful review of this work a few years ago, and the ‘chronological qualifier’ comment is spot on, in reference to Lloyd Jones for the 20th century and Spurgeon from the 19th century.  I too have found Spurgeon helpful in this area, one he was so well acquainted with.  The foreward included in the edition that Phillips reviewed, can also be read here (Banner of Truth article).

The introductory chapter, General Consideration, is quite helpful.  As MLJ pointed out (and no real surprise here), some of us have the personality-temperament (of introverts) that is naturally more pre-disposed to depression.  He observed that sometimes depression has a physical cause—and attributed the well-known case of Spurgeon’s frequent depression to his physical problem of gout.  A closer look at Spurgeon’s life, though (see this article), tells us that Spurgeon’s experiences with depression began several years before the gout.  It is generally recognized today that Spurgeon’s depression came from a combination of factors, not just the  gout.  Another cause of depression is the “reaction” that comes after an especially intense moment: the familiar story of Elijah victorious over the priests of Baal, and then downcast and running away to hide is a classic example of this.  (I can also relate to this situation at various times in my life.)

From the biblical material, as well as Lloyd Jones’ experience as a pastor, the problem of spiritual depression is fairly common.  Psalm 42 is a guide to the experience, and provides the key to the cure.  When feeling down, I often sing the familiar scripture words to a well-known praise song, “Why so downcast, oh my soul?  / Put your hope in God.”    Going beyond just a simple song tune, though, the real point here is that “we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us.”

This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?  Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning.  You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc.  Somebody is talking.  Who is talking to you?  Your self is talking to you.  Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks.  His soul had been depressing him, crushing him.  So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a  moment.  I will speak to you.’

The following chapters (different sermons) consider many different types of people that experience spiritual depression, relating each to a passage of scripture.  For some, the problem is due to an incomplete knowledge of the doctrines of God, or imbalance in the doctrines, and along the way Lloyd Jones makes strong statements regarding the sufficiency of scripture and the Christian faith, such as the following samples:

The gospel is not something partial or piecemeal: it takes in the whole life, the whole of history, the whole world.  It tells us about the creation and the final judgment and everything in between.

and

It is doctrine first, it is the standard of teaching first, it is the message of the gospel first.  We are not concerned simply to attract people emotionally or in the realm of the will, we are concerned to ‘preach the Word’. …. Truth comes to the mind and to the understanding enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  Then having seen the truth, the Christian loves it.  It moves his heart.  He sees what he was, he sees the life he was living, and he hates it.  If you see the truth about yourself as a slave of sin you will hate yourself.  Then as you see the glorious truth about the love of Christ you will want it, you will desire it.  So the heart is engaged.  Truly to see the truth means that you are moved by it and that you love it.  You cannot help it.

This work is well worth reading, for all Christians, as a great book about Christian living and appreciating the truth and greatness of the Christian life.

The 8th Commandment, Property, and the Early Church

June 3, 2016 1 comment

In Tom Chantry’s “Ten Commandments” series, the section on the 8th commandment looks at the overall issue, the precept behind the wording “do not steal,” of ownership and property.  A study of this topic in both the Old and New Testaments affirms God’s purpose that people own individual property.  The fact that we are commanded to not steal, means that some items must belong to another person and that those items do not belong to you.

As pointed out in this lesson, Genesis 1:26 gives the dominion mandate to the human race

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Implied in this command is the reality that this could not be done by Adam alone:  Adam is a finite individual with limited resources.  Genesis 2 follows up with the specific situation for Adam: he as an individual, along with Eve, would have responsibility for one specific location, the garden – a particular location.  He was made the proprietor of a particular piece of land with defined boundaries.  The overall mandate of Genesis 1 could only be fulfilled through the mechanism of property ownership, of giving particular pieces of land to specific individuals.

Then, with the only country that truly could be called “God’s Country” – the Old Testament nation of Israel – we again see God’s concern and interest in individual property.  Leviticus 25 in particular tells us that the land belongs to God (“the land is mine,” verse 23) – and God’s ownership of the land was the basis on which the Israelites would own the land, and very specific laws were setup concerning the buying and selling of their property, within the context of the year of Jubilee.  The people of Israel were to live as the people of God, living out the commands, the moral precepts, of God.  Their living out these commands required that they have dominion over something, in order to use it for God and to bring glory to God.  As also brought out in scripture, the Israelites had to be free men – freeholders; they were not to be slaves, as slaves cannot fulfill this purpose of possessing something in order to use it for God.

To own something is not to grasp at something.  There is no practicality, and no virtue, in giving away all right and title to what is ours.  This brings the study to the issue of what was going on in the early church in Acts – a case which some have cited to claim support for communism and communal living.  After all, so the claim goes, the text says that the believers “had all things in common.”

But a close look at the texts – Acts 2:44, then Acts 4:32-33, and the first part of Acts 5 – clears away two common errors:  1) an assumption that the Acts texts are providing a legal definition of property, and 2) the idea that this situation was normative.  The first idea – a legal definition of property – ignores the use of language.  For instance, when someone visits us in our home, and we say “my house is your house” or “make yourself at home,” such expressions do not mean that we are relinquishing ownership – but rather a show of hospitality.  Peter’s words to Ananias in Acts 5 make it clear that Ananias’ sin was of lying, and not anything pertaining to the property itself.  The land, while unsold, belonged to Ananias, to do with as he pleased – it was his own, at his disposal; and when Ananias sold it, he then owned some money, which also was at his own disposal.  Thus, scripture itself proves that the early church was not a commune and was not some type of cult in which everyone gave up ownership to the “common pool.”

The early church in Acts was also a unique and unusual situation – and an opportunity for those who were wealthy to be generous and give of what they owned in order to help others.  At this point the church consisted of Jewish converts: people who had been part of the Jewish system and belonged to synagogues, yet now experienced persecution– which included excommunication from Judaism and possibly having their means of livelihood taken from them.  Thus the need to care for many poor people, including many only recently impoverished.  The situation opened a ministry need, which Barnabas (in Acts 4) and likely others as well, stepped into with their generosity.

Chantry also observes another aspect I had not considered, that perhaps is true; the early church had received the prophecy, the words from Jesus, that Jerusalem would be judged and destroyed at some point in the relatively near future.  Thus, the people who sold land had knowledge that the place would be destroyed, and that now was a good time to sell their property while it was still worth something.  Certainly if the land they sold was in or around Jerusalem, this well may have been the case.  Study through commentaries and historical research would better answer this question, of whether the people in Jerusalem were actually selling land that existed in that area or if they were engaging in sales of property that existed outside of that area.

Even aside from the question of the impending judgment upon Jerusalem, though, this lesson is a good study on the biblical issue of individual ownership and support for this point throughout the Bible: from earliest creation for all mankind, in Israel’s own government and civil laws, and the same teaching for us in the New Testament era.

Study: The Christian and the Moral Law

April 12, 2016 25 comments

The topic of the Law of God and its relationship to the Christian has come up frequently in my recent studies and daily life. Currently in the 1689 Confession Exposition series I’m in chapter 19, the Law of God, and now in the sixth commandment section of the “Ten Commandments” study from Tom Chantry.

Since last week, the blogosphere has been reacting to Stephen Furtick’s recent claim that “God broke the law for love.”  For reference here, I find Tom Chantry’s post the most helpful in response to the overall evangelical celebrity scandal issue.  His post includes links to several other responses, including the most helpful for the issue as this one from the “Mortification of Spin” blog, as well as Tim Challies’ response.

As I continue through the lessons in both the 1689 Confession and Ten Commandments series, studying various aspects in some detail, I am especially struck by the shallow and superficial (and just plain wrong) arguments and rhetoric of the New Calvinist / New Covenant Theology group, with its anti-Reformed view of the law.  As just a few examples, from a recent local-church NCT conference and some anti-Tim Challies / anti-covenant theology comments at a blog post:  1) rejection of any type of covenant made with Adam in Genesis 2, because “I don’t see the word covenant there” (really? is the word “Trinity” ever found in the Bible?), 2) dislike of Covenant Theology as “those baby baptizers” (will you ever consider that CT includes a credobaptist version, and decide to meaningfully interact with THAT form of CT?  No, it’s easier to resort to name-calling and broad-brushing about how CT is wrong because they’re baby baptizers…), and 3) the stated claim that the moral law was something that started (and ended) with Moses, and thus the only moral law for Christians is what is stated in the New Testament.

As just an aside on point #3:  I find this hermeneutic, that something can only be true for us in the NT era if it’s explicitly stated or “confirmed” in the New Testament, quite frankly, bizarre.  On the question of premillennialism and Israel’s future, dispensationalists (as well as classic/historic premillennialists) recognize the problem with this NT-priority hermeneutic and its implications: a God who changed His plan and changed His promises and His revelation, such that Old Testament believers did not have the same understanding of scripture as we do.  My problem with the NCT group is doubly-compounded in that they get both parts wrong: they apply the NT-only hermeneutic to the moral law (in agreement with dispensationalism) AND apply the NT-only hermeneutic to the question of Israel, rejecting anything of God’s future plans for Israel.  At least dispensationalists get half of it right; and confessional/CT amillennialists get the other half, about the moral law, correct.

Anyway… here are some interesting points from my studies on this topic:  scriptural considerations for why the Ten Commandments are different from the rest of the Mosaic law.

  1. The Ten Commandments were introduced before the rest of the law. They were given directly from God, literally inscribed by God onto the tablets.  These two tablets alone were placed into the Ark of the Covenant.  The civil and ceremonial laws were not put in the Ark.
  1. The summary content of the Ten Commandments is found in existence prior to Moses, going all the way back to creation.  The creation ordinances contain, at least implied, the basics of God’s moral law.  Marriage as a creation ordinance relates to the 7th commandment (adultery and other sexual sins), as well as the 8th commandment (not to steal another man’s wife) and the 10th commandment to not covet your neighbor’s wife.  Dominion over the earth pertains to the 5th commandment: God’s authority and our authority structure, in families and all of life’s social structures.  The seven day week pattern establishes the matter of a time for worship, which is the essence of the 4th commandment; and implied in the 4th commandment, of the schedule/time for worship, are the first three commandments about Who we are to worship, how to worship Him, and with what attitude.  The other part of the 4th commandment, the six days of labor, was also in place in the garden.  Adam was there to work the garden.  The part about working “by the sweat of the brow” was added after the fall, but work itself began before that.  Related to the labor part of the 4th commandment, comes the 8th commandment again:  work to provide your daily needs, and do not steal.  The 6th commandment is specifically referenced in Genesis 9, in God’s covenant with Noah after the flood, with the institution of capital punishment for murder.
  1. God’s moral law, as codified/summarized in the Decalogue, was always concerned about the heart. It was never just about the mere letter of the law.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was not adding anything to that law, but was expositing and restoring the understanding of the law back to what it had always been–away from the Pharisees’ mistaken notion of an external compliance only.

Note here:  when the Israelites had so apostasized that God ejected them from the land, as described in the later prophets including Jeremiah and Ezekiel, it was their violation of the moral law (what is summarized/codified in the Ten Commandments) that angered God.  In fact, the Israelites in the time of Jeremiah (and even earlier, Isaiah’s day also)  were fully complying with the ceremonial law—in outward form.  It was their outward performance of the ceremonial law, without having the right heart attitude, that was the problem.

This point can also be seen in the Pentateuch, in God’s application of the moral law to the Israelites and their civil law.   Immediately after the giving of the Decalogue in Exodus 20, comes Exodus 21 with an interesting, detailed section of laws for Israel’s government.  Exodus 21:12-36 contains specific laws regarding cases where one person  is killed by another – application of the sixth commandment —  and distinction is made between killings done where the one person meant harm to the other, versus truly accidental deaths, including the provision of the cities of refuge which a person who had killed another could flee to—before the avenger of blood killed the man, and for the priest to judge the situation.  Understood throughout this section is that Israel would need a system of courts and judges, and that they would need to be able to investigate a crime and its circumstances.  This investigation would need to involve considering motives:  the motives and thoughts of the person who had killed another, as this is necessary information for determining if a death was accidental, or a case of what we would call 1st or 2nd degree murder.

The above is but a sampling, of scriptural issues to consider regarding the question of the moral law: what it was in the Old Testament era, and why it is God’s unchanging moral law from creation–and not something “only for Israel and the Mosaic administration” and thus no longer relevant to Christians in the New Testament age.

More next time:  the different usages/meanings of the term “law” in the New Testament.

 

The 4th (and all the other) Commandments, and the Conscience

February 19, 2016 1 comment

Continuing in Tom Chantry’s Ten Commandments series, comes the issue of how morality is defined (reference this lesson).  One of the arguments put forth by some who deny that the 4th commandment is moral, comes from the reasoning that our idea of what’s right and wrong must be innate, the things that we knew even in our pre-Christian life. After all, someone will say, “even as a lost man I knew that murder was wrong, that stealing and adultery are wrong; but I didn’t innately know the 4th commandment (of setting aside one day out of seven unto the Lord) – therefore, this commandment must not really be part of the moral law.” But is this really so?

In any society, children do not innately know that stealing or lying is wrong, or that it’s a good thing to share with others—these things must be taught. Furthermore: many adults today (in our society as well as elsewhere in the world) do not “innately” understand the 1st or 2nd commandments either – the fact that there is one God, and that we should not bow down to an idol. The tenth commandment (do not covet) is also often not innately understood. The conscience is a wonderful gift from God–that which can convict us of sin. But it alone, apart from revelation, cannot inform us of what is right or wrong. In unsaved people, the conscience becomes hardened as the truth is suppressed. As Hodgins noted in the 1689 Confession series regarding the conscience, we need to “gospelize” our conscience, to educate and correctly inform it regarding right and wrong; reference here also such passages as 1 Corinthians 8: someone can think that they are sinning when they eat meat that was sacrificed to idols.

As Chantry pointed out in this post from last year, Americans of a few generations ago DID have a sense of doing wrong and violating the 4th commandment. The children’s historical fiction story “Johnny Tremaine,” written in the mid-20th century, even includes this conscience regarding the 4th commandment, in the actual plot of a Revolutionary War story.

If your awareness of Christian practice goes back more than one generation, you’ll have to admit that the Sabbath once pricked the conscience of men. We are all familiar with the now-despised “blue laws” which prohibited certain activities on Sunday. Yes, America was once a place in which work on Sunday was not only uncommon, but illegal. Did such a practice have any relationship to the conscience?

If you haven’t read Johnny Tremain you really should; only rarely does children’s literature reach such heights. What is fascinating, though, is that Esther Forbes, an unbeliever writing in mid-20th century Boston, so clearly recognized that even the impious in her own city just two centuries before had known the pangs of conscience when they broke the Sabbath. She actually turned that guilt into a major plot device!

We also know well the myth of the noble savage, versus what primitive civilizations – without the influence of Christianity – are actually like. This further makes the point that our ideas of morality, what our conscience thinks of as right and wrong, actually come from our society and what we are taught. It is actually societal standards, and not our own general ideas, that provide the basic understanding of morality to unbelievers.

As Christians, then, we are not to look to our own conscience, what we “innately” realize about right and wrong, but to study the word of God.  Biblical morality is the morality set forth by revelation from God, what is contained in the word of God.

1689 Confession Study: The Crisis-Conversion in Riper Years

February 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Continuing in the 1689 Baptist Confession study, chapter 15 on repentance includes a look at the meaning of the first paragraph:

Those of the elect who are converted in riper years, having lived some time in the state of nature, and in this state served various lusts and pleasures, God gives repentance which leads to life, through an effectual call.

From this study I learned some new terminology: the sudden experience of adult conversions, of those who know the date when they were saved (as with my own experience), is referred to as a “crisis conversion,” as contrasted with the gradual conversion experience of children brought up in Christian homes, who cannot pinpoint a sudden, specific time of their conversion.

The audio lesson spends a great deal of time in emphasizing the point–to listeners who are of the second (gradual conversion) type–that all people who are converted experience repentance.  By mentioning the first type, the confession’s authors here were not saying that only the first type of conversion experience is a true experience. The important point is that we have continuing faith and repentance in our lives, now–and to recognize that everyone’s conversion experience is unique and so we should not expect everyone else’s experience to be like ours—or for our own experience to be like that of others. For the latter, Hodgins gave the example of reading David Brainerd’s diary– one who was extremely aware of his wretchedness – and comparing his own conversion experience to that and thinking “I must be lost, since I didn’t have such awareness of my sinful condition.” Each type of conversion has its advantages and disadvantages; the adult with “crisis conversion” lived more years in an unsaved condition, more sins (and perhaps more “baggage” of problems, less common grace than those who were saved at a younger age, a point similarly made during the chapter 13 Sanctification study). The point is well-made, for both groups. I recall from early Christian experience, that at first I assumed that all other Christians likewise had a sudden conversion experience—and only later learned that at least some Christians do not have this.

As quoted from Sam Waldron  (at this person’s 1689 Confession Commentary on chapter 15):

The Confession makes this out of a desire to distinguish repentance as a crisis experience from repentance as an ordinary grace.  All believers are marked by ordinary grace, but not all believers will know, or need to know, repentance as a crisis experience. …The practical applications of this are various and important.  Do not doubt your salvation merely because you lack a crisis experience like that of some respected brother or sister in the Lord.  Do not demand of others a certain type of conversion experience as a necessary mark of true grace.  An emotional earthquake, radical, external changes in one’s life-style, knowing the exact time of one’s rebirth, an extended work of conviction by the law, immediate sudden joy–all of these may accompany conversion, but none are necessary marks of true repentance.”

From further online reading, (courtesy of Google books) I came across a few pages of “Saved by Grace” by Anthony Hoekema, which provides further information on this topic — Variations in the Pattern of Conversion – along with Hoekema’s quotes from Herman Bavinck. The Reformers’ own conversions can be further classified in terms of contrasts: from deep feelings of guilt to the joyful awareness of forgiveness in Christ (Luther), being set free from the bondage of the law, to happiness of being a child of God (Zwingli), or “deliverance from error into truth, from doubt into certainty” in John Calvin’s conversion. The pattern of conversion thus may be predominantly intellectual, or volitional, or emotional, and Hoekema noted examples from Church History of all three: C.S. Lewis the intellectual conversion, Augustine as volitional, and John Bunyan’s as emotional.

The type of conversion experience, for Hoekema, raises the question–from the paedo-baptist covenantal perspective—of whether “covenant children” need to be converted. What he says makes sense, regardless of one’s view of covenant theology and baptism (of the paedobaptist or believer’s Baptist), in the general observation that many who are raised in Christian homes have a gradual conversion experience—yet they still need their own personal conversion, to realize their own sin, their own commitment to Christ, to personally appropriate the blessings of salvation. What Hoekema describes, I can certainly relate to:

Much variation is possible in the way in which those born of Christian parents later come to conversion. Some are led gently, with no earthshaking upheavals, growing steadily from childhood to young manhood, and from young manhood to full maturity… Others, however, who for a time lived openly sinful lives, or became alienated from their Christian upbringing, are suddenly brought to conversion, through some gripping word of arresting circumstance, often by means of a violent emotional struggle.

 

1689 Confession Study: Motives for Holiness (Progressive Sanctification)

December 7, 2015 4 comments

Continuing in the 1689 Confession series, the messages on chapter 13 (Sanctification) include a look at the source of sanctification (this message).  Yes, in an objective and general sense, we can all say that our sanctification comes from the Lord, it is He who works in us and continues the work of grace in our hearts and lives, and preserves and keeps us. The subjective side, though, includes our own personal experience and specific biblical motives for our continuing to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, in the synergistic aspect of sanctification.

Here are ten motives for holiness – as noted in the lecture, this list is not exhaustive (not in this list, for example: desire to keep one’s good name, seen in Joseph’s experience with Potiphar’s wife, one of several motives that Joseph had) , but ten major motives for the subjective aspect of sanctification.

The desire …

  1. To express love and thanksgiving to God. (1 John 5:3)
  2. To proclaim the excellencies of God. (1 Peter 2:9; our holy lives)
  3. To maintain a clear conscience before God and man. (Reference Acts 24:16, Romans 13, 1 Peter 3:16)
  4. To be more useful to God. (2 Tim. 2:20-21)
  5. To see unbelievers come to faith in Christ. (1 Peter 3:1-2, 3:15)
  6. To avoid God’s displeasure and discipline in our lives. We’re not always “up there” and so in love with God. (1 Cor. 11:29-32; the case of Ananias and Saphira, struck down for their lie)
  7. To seek greater, heavenly reward. (1 Cor. 3, 2 Cor. 5:9-10)
  8. To have a closer walk with God.
  9. To do what God commands simply because His commands are right, we delight in doing what’s right (as the psalmist delighted in God’s laws).
  10. To have peace and joy in our lives.

Some of these motives may be “higher” and more “spiritual” than others, but we should never discard the “lower” motives. In answer to those who would disdain the motive of being “more useful to God” by saying that we should always be thinking great thoughts and always be “up there” just wanting God’s glory—the reality of our Christian experience (reference Romans 7) is that we’re not always feeling such high thoughts of just wanting to praise and proclaim the greatness of God. The one who says that “I just want to glory in Christ and God can use me or not use me, it’s all about Him,” is really not being more spiritual—but rather being a hyper-Calvinist. Sometimes in our lives, only the “lower” motives will work, those times when God puts us in such conditions. As the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged”; so motive #6 above certainly is biblical and has its place, that we strive for holiness so as to avoid God’s chastening, such as some of the Corinthians had experienced.

A similar point is made regarding motive #7, to seek greater reward. Our salvation is not by works, yet God’s word plainly teaches that believers will have rewards for their level of faithfulness and their works done as believers. In Matthew 5:19 Jesus contrasts those who will be called “least in the kingdom of heaven” versus those who will be called “great in the kingdom of heaven.” Christ also told us to lay up treasure in heaven, not on earth, and Paul contrasts those who build on the foundation with gold, silver or precious stones, versus those who build with straw. Some will enter into glory “as by fire,” with their lives–yet all their works burned up.  We don’t know what those rewards will be in the specifics, but again, this is a motive for holiness.  Our understanding here is a “both/and” regarding salvation and rewards.

[As a sidenote here, I note an inconsistency regarding understanding and applying the ‘both/and’ concept to various doctrines. The amillennialist rejects the teaching of premillennialism on the basis that “spiritual is more important than literal, therefore only the spiritual part is true,” not seeing the “both/and” aspect of premillennialism. Yet the same person who rejects this doctrine at least understands and gets some teaching right (better than those who are more consistent yet consistently come to the wrong conclusion on most doctrines), though not seeing their inconsistent handling of various biblical doctrines.]

In our continued walk with God, we should certainly aim for greater holiness and sanctification, including through the greater motives. Yet any motive to refrain from sin and to improve in our walk with God, anything that keeps us from sin, is something good.

Puritan Preaching: the Application (Counseling)

October 28, 2015 1 comment

From J.I. Packer’s concluding lectures on the English Puritans come the following insights on Puritan preaching. The Puritan preacher, a physician of the soul, had three areas of focus: preaching, catechizing the children (education), and counseling. The Puritans did not use the word ‘counseling’ or think of it as we do, yet that is what they did, and effectively so, through the “applicatory” part of their sermons, which was often a large part of the overall sermon. Packer observes the importance of this, something that has been largely forgotten and lost; much of what is now done in “Christian counseling” in the pastor’s office, could and should instead be done through the pulpit.

What Packer describes is exactly what I have observed in Spurgeon’s sermons, that very helpful, “practical” aspect which I first observed 5-6 years ago, when I began reading through Spurgeon sermons (along with J.C. Ryle), noting in agreement with another blog commenter (note this blog comment and later references to it, at this Pyromaniacs post from 2010) this feature of Spurgeon’s sermons; though Spurgeon is often known for his strong doctrinal stance quotes, in actual sermon reading this is what comes through. Not surprisingly, later on in this section of lectures, Packer himself noted Spurgeon as one who understood and exemplified this Puritan approach – that Spurgeon was experiential and applicatory from the word go.

As Packer further explained, in answer to a question: this approach was lost by the end of the 17th century, especially after the ejection of Puritan preachers in 1662, a time when the mood in England turned against serious preaching. The Anglicans were the only ones left as preachers, and the people generally went along with their method of stringing together three points, a light-weight approach to preaching. The Great Awakening preachers returned to the Puritan style – George Whitfield, John Wesley, and John Newton, as did Spurgeon in the 19th century and Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the 20th. But as Packer notes: most have not thought it through; they haven’t seen how vital it is, and they think that “other forms (of sermon preaching) can make up for the fact that the preaching is weak.”

This application includes addressing the different types of people in the audience, with a word for each group. Each particular sermon may not address all the different people, but over a period of several weeks the various sermons will have something to say to each of the following groups:

  1. The “spiritually complacent” or hypocrites, who come to church as part of going through the motions; those who “need a bomb put under their seat,” to be awakened, to seek the Lord
  2. Those who are seeking in a general way, coming to find out general Christian teaching
  3. Those who “are not far from the kingdom,” who need specific guidance to come to Christ, to be taught the way of faith.
  4. Young Christians – often young in age, overall recent converts, the “little children” of John’s first epistle, who may be quite zealous for the faith though lacking maturity and greater understanding of doctrine.
  5. Mature believers. Often these are middle-aged or elderly, who need encouragement to continue, to keep on, to not flag spiritually as their bodies decline.
  6. Those in trouble, who have slipped badly in some moral issue, or are struggling with some temptation; though they may have kept it from others, yet they know of their failures. Perhaps they have almost yielded to a temptation, just generally struggling, or have experienced some personal trauma or disaster.

Puritan writing often expresses the application in terms of “use,” often with the words “use 1… use 2” etc., a feature I have seen in reading Puritan authors such as John Bunyan and Thomas Watson. Each of these areas of “use” follows from the text; given what this text says, what we are to consider, to apply in our lives positively, or to (negatively) depart from certain ideas we have that are contrary to scripture. Six of these “uses” are:

  1. Use of instruction or information
  2. Use of confutation
  3. Use of exhortation
  4. Use of admonition
  5. Use of comfort
  6. Use of trial   (self-examination)

The 5th one, use of comfort, again relates to the “counseling from the pulpit,” in which the preacher deals with actual questions from church members, including depressed people – who are very skilled at reasoning that excludes themselves from what the word of God says to everyone. And again I see this so descriptive of Spurgeon’s preaching, his constant emphasis on promises from God’s word, and reasons to reject such notions of why I am not fit to come to Christ.

Packer well summed up this overall issue:

We devote our pulpit ministry to teaching evangelical doctrine against liberalism or secularism, and when we’ve done that we think we’ve finished. We don’t do any serious applying, and we certainly don’t do this sort of applying. We don’t get within half a mile of doing any of our counseling from the pulpit. I think the Puritans have got something to say to us about this. I speak as to wise men and women, you judge what I say.

Charles Spurgeon: Salvation Experiences

September 10, 2015 2 comments

Charles Spurgeon often preached about the experience of salvation — as in answering possible objections of unbelievers, urging them to move past those objections or obstacles to come to Christ; or overall consideration of how people come to Christ.  From my recent reading come two sermons (#559 and #570) from 1864 (volume 10) on this topic. The first one (sermon #559) describes various unbelievers and their different responses – how they are kept lame, as with this excerpt:

Some are still lame, though they have faith, through ignorance. They do not know what being saved is. They entertain wrong expectations. They are trusting in Christ, but they do not feel any surprising emotions; they have not had any remarkable dreams, or visions, or striking emotions of excited joy, and therefore, though they have “faith to be saved,” they have not the faith of a present salvation. They are waiting for something, they hardly know what, to embellish their faith, or to fortify it with signs and wonders; now, poor soul, why do you wait? These things are not necessary for salvation. In fact, the fewer you have of them, I think, the better—especially of things which are visionary. I rather tremble for those who talk much about sensible evidences; they are too often the frivolities of unstable hearts. Beloved, though you may have never had any ecstatic joys, or suffered any deep depression of your spirits, if you are resting on Christ, it does not matter one whit what your feelings have been or have not been! Do you expect to have an electric shock, or to go through some mysterious operation? The operation is mysterious, too mysterious for you to discern it; but all that you have to do with is this—“Do I believe in Jesus? Am I simply depending upon Him for everything?” If you do, you are saved, and I pray you to believe this!

One observation from this sermon: all the people he describes at least have a basic worldview of belief in God – and then various “religious” reasons for fearing to come to God. Very likely this reflected the actual worldview backgrounds of the people of Spurgeon’s day, Victorian England. In all his sermons to this point, indeed, he never considered the case of people who professed atheism, those who had so suppressed the knowledge of God as to really think in naturalist, anti-supernatural and anti-theist terms. Even today the majority of unbelievers are not of the atheist type (and even less likely to be reading such a sermon in the first place), but after so many years of modernism and even post-modernism I suspect it is more common than in Spurgeon’s day.

Also from reading this sermon, the thought: how amazing it is that God saves each of us in different ways, dealing with us and our own personality and background. We don’t all have the same experiences in the process of conversion (from the time leading up to it through the time of regeneration / saving faith), and thus we observe great variety of people and their conversion/salvation experiences. Some cannot point to a specific moment when they came to saving faith, but instead a gradual process and general period of time (as for instance, those in Christian homes with childhood conversions), while others (as with my own case, and also the testimony of Spurgeon himself) recall a specific point in time. While, as in the Spurgeon quote above, people should not be “looking” to “feel any surprising emotions; they have not had any remarkable dreams, or visions, or striking emotions of excited joy,” yet in my own case God graciously did provide the sudden understanding and sudden, excited joy.

Where sermon #559 prompted these thoughts, Spurgeon comes through – as though in answer – a few sermons later, with #570 to specifically consider the variety of means used in conversion. A very helpful sermon, with a longer text than is usual for Spurgeon’s textual style preaching  – John 1:37-51 – Spurgeon here provides many insights into the experiences of “The First Five Disciples,” and their four different types/methods of conversion. Were you, however, to examine any five persons, I suppose you would find similar disparity. Pick out five Christians indiscriminately and begin to question them how they were brought to know the Lord, you will find methods other than those you have here; and probably quite as many as four out of the five would be distinct from the rest.

  1. Andrew and John – the fruits of preaching
  2. Simon Peter – Private instrumentality, not by the preaching of the Word
  3. Phillip – without either the public Word or private instruction, but directly by Jesus, and
  4. Nathanael – partly through private instrument, but also the preparation and Christ’s divine word to convince him.

An excerpt, describing the third case:

in some cases no apparent instrumentality is used. We have known some who on a sudden have felt impressions, from where they came or where they tended they did not know. In the midst of business we have known the workman suddenly check his plane—a great thought has entered into his brain—where it came from he could not tell. We have known a man wake up at midnight—he could not tell why, but a holy calm was upon him, and as the moon was shining through the window, there seemed to be a holy light shining into his soul, and he began to think. … We cannot tell, brethren, when God may regenerate His elect, for though we are to use means, and cry to God to send forth laborers into the vineyard, yet the sovereign Lord of all will frequently work without them. The Word which has been heard in years gone by, the Scripture which was known in childhood, may by the direct power of the Holy Spirit, without any immediate apparent means, turn the man from darkness to light. …What preparation of heart there had been before, I cannot tell. What still small voice had been speaking before this in Philip’s ear, we do not know. Certainly the only outward means was this voice of Christ, “Follow Me.” And there may be in this House some who will be converted this morning. You do not know why you are here, you cannot tell why you strayed in; but yet it may be—God knows—Christ would have you come here because He would come here Himself.

The Puritan Papers: Five Volumes About the Puritans and Their Theology

July 6, 2015 2 comments

From my recent reading: volume one of a collection called “Puritan Papers,” which I first learned about through a special offer from Westminster (WTS) publications, then available for reduced price in Kindle format; at the time I did not have a Kindle, but found a good price on a used copy of volume 1. These volumes come from a series of conferences, which took place from 1956 through 1969, with many essays that highlighted the Puritans and their theology. Edited by J.I. Packer, this volume includes many informative essays from the years 1956 through 1959 – a few authored by J.I. Packer, also Iain Murray, though most of the names are less known. (Each of the five volumes is available in used-print and Kindle format.)

The topics include important Puritan doctrines: sovereign election, assurance and the witness of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life, law and the covenants, as well as essays explaining the Puritan view of the Sabbath and Puritan worship and “daily life.” Several essays feature particular Puritan writers, names I had not heard of, including “Mrs. Hutchinson and her teaching” (not the notorious Anne Hutchinson of American Colonial history, but English Lucy Hutchinson, author of “On the Principles of the Christian Religion” and “Of Theology”), plus an overview look at the writings of Thomas Goodwin, Stephen Charnock, Richard Baxter and others. The 20th century writers also note areas where particular Puritans erred, such as Welsh Puritan Morgan Llwyd (who believed in free will, the possibility of Christian perfectionism, and ideas that were favorable to the Quaker position).  Especially helpful in this area (where certain Puritans erred) is J.I. Packer’s analysis of observations made by Charles Spurgeon in an 1863 sermon (one I have read), “The Warrant of Faith.”  Packer acknowledges some areas of valid criticism, concerning the three men Spurgeon named — John Rogers, Thomas Hooker, and Thomas Shepard — who over-emphasized and went beyond scripture in the matter of “qualifications for coming to Christ.”

The reading content assumes at least basic understanding of the Puritans, from a Calvinist/Reformed background, and from that starting point, these are quite helpful, a good overview and introduction to the subject. The various 1950s authors were interested in returning evangelical Christianity to what it now lacks and has forgotten, the depth of theology and experience from the Puritan age, thus teaching the current generation about this great Christian era, for what we can learn from them. Considering the state of American Christianity over the last 50 years since then, the Puritan understanding of the Christian life is even more needed today.

J.I. Packer’s introductions (which were written some time after the conference, date uncertain) include some great quotes about the contrast between our generation and the Puritan era, as with these excerpts:

Whereas the Puritans demanded order, discipline, depth, and thoroughness in every department of the Christian life, the modern evangelical temper is rather one of casual haphazardness and restless impatience. We crave for stunts, novelties, and entertainments; we have lost our taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in our callings and in our prayers. … Whereas the Puritan outlook had God and His glory as its unifying center, and was in consequence a broad, balance, biblically proportioned whole, its modern evangelical counterpart has a different center. It revolves around the individual man, as if he were the real hub of the universe. . . .

and

In teaching the Christian life, our habit is to depict it as a life of thrilling feelings rather than of working faith. We stress supernatural experiences at the expense of rational righteousness. And even in dealing with Christian experience we are one-sided, for we dwell continually on the themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction, and rest of soul with no balancing reference to the divine discontentment of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or any of the burdens and strains which the responsibility of living as a child of God brings with it. Thus the spontaneous jollity of the carefree extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, so that jolly extroverts in our churches are encouraged to become complacent hypocrites, while saintly souls of less sanguine temperament are driven almost to distraction because they find themselves unable to bubble over in the prescribed manner. From “Puritan Papers Volume 1” (introduction to the 1958 articles).

I also appreciated the sampling of quotes from Puritan authors, such as the following from Stephen Charnock:

To dispossess man of his self-esteem and self-excellency, to make room for God in the heart where there was none but for sin, as dear to him as himself, to hurl down the pride of nature, to make stout imaginations stoop to the cross, to make desires of self-advancement sink under a zeal for the glorifying of God and an over-ruling design for His honor, is not to be ascribed to any but an outstretched arm wielding the sword of the Spirit.

The “Puritan Papers” are good reading (at least the first volume, what I’ve read so far), informative and instructive, for anyone interested in learning more about the Puritans.