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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.

Steadfast Love and Truth/Faithfulness – Meditation from Spurgeon

October 23, 2020 Leave a comment

I often find that my weekly reads of Charles Spurgeon sermons are a great treat, for the richness of thought, and a great benefit to the Lord’s Day experience.  Some of his sermons have more meaning and impact than others, and often some of his examples and historical references are dated, and require additional online search regarding some terms and historical references.  One sermon I read this summer, for instance, included several descriptions of a then-current events that reminded me of a piece of “encyclopedia” trivia I’d come across in the past, that Charles Dickens had died in 1870 — and a google search indeed confirmed what I’d suspected; Spurgeon’s sermon had been delivered on the very day that a prominent speaker had especially honored the late Charles Dickens, June 19, 1870.   A recent sermon I’ve read, sermon 956, from October 1870 mentioned a Saxon king who refused baptism to go the way of his pagan ancestors, and “impudent as to foretell the future with all the brass of a Sidrophel, a Lilly, or a Dr. Dec.,” all references and terms that were presumbly understood by his audience, but not commonly known to us today except by online search of the terms Sidrophel and Lilly.

Yet the main points, aside from these dated references, are timeless truths of Scripture and the reality of God, His works and attributes and person.  Sermon #956, “Think Well and Do Well,” is an exposition of Psalm 26:3 — “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness” — and a great example of Christian meditation, to consider God’s steadfast love and faithfulness/ truth.  As usual, Spurgeon brings out many different aspects of the text, in the two parts, a simple outline:  the mind occupied with a fruitful subject; secondly, the life ordered by a right rule; and thirdly, the link which connects the two.  Interestingly, this also ties in with a current local church teaching on the Christian mindset, which has also referenced these two points, as the root of the Christian life:  hesed (Hebrew for Steadfast Love) and emet (Hebrew for faithfulness/truth).  As pointed out in that series, the terms are found together in the Old Testament quite frequently, and so Psalm 26:3 is one of many such examples.   

Spurgeon starts with the mind, which should be occupied with spiritual nutriment — otherwise, like the body, the mind will feed upon itself:

Observe that when the mind does not receive holy matters to feed upon, as a rule it preys upon itself. Like certain of our bodily organs which if not supplied with nutritive matter, will soon begin to devour their own tissues, and then all sorts of aches, pains, and ultimately diseases will set in — the mind, when it eats into itself, forms doubts, fears, suspicions, complaints; and nine out of 10 of the doubts and fears of God’s people come from two things—walking at a distance from God, and lack of spiritual nutriment for the soul. … 

If you, believer, do not meditate upon some scriptural subject, your minds will probably turn to vanity or to some evil within yourselves, and you will not long think of the corruption within without becoming the subjects of a despondency which will turn you into Mistress Despondencies or Mr. Feebleminds; whereas by musing on the promises of the Holy Spirit you would grow into good soldiers and happy pilgrims. 

Continuing in this meditation, Spurgeon also considered duty, in connection with thinking upon God’s loving-kindness, the past and future blessings of God’s loving-kindness (back to eternity past and eternity future), and the “wondrous library” we can combine — from the book of revelation (God’s word in scripture), the ‘book of providence,’ and ‘the book of your inward experience.’  God’s loving-kindness is indeed the root and core of our life, both in the inward meditation and outward walking in truth.  Another great quote here links God’s love to doctrinal knowledge and what motivates us (in truth) to further doctrinal study:

Everlasting love, love without beginning towards unworthy worms! Well now, what comes of it? Why, naturally, the moment the heart gets into the enjoyment of it, it cries, “I will walk in God’s truth! This great doctrine leads me to receive other great doctrines. I am not afraid, now, of doctrinal knowledge; if it is so that God has loved me before the world began, and has blessed me with all spiritual blessings accordingly as He chose me in Christ Jesus, then I am not afraid to consider the doctrine of the covenant of grace, the doctrine of His foreknowledge, and of His predestination, and all the other doctrines that spring therefrom! The brightness of this one gem has attracted me to enter into the mines of divine thought, and I will seek from now on to be conversant with the deep things of God.” Many would be much sounder in doctrine if they meditated more upon the eternity of divine loving-kindness.

After considering these and so many other aspects of God’s loving-kindness and faithfulness, Spurgeon brings it back to the daily experience — the remedy for times when we feel dull and weary.  Yes, the Holy Spirit is the quickener, who first gives life and continues that life, but Spurgeon well summarizes the means for us to use:

Brothers and sisters, depend upon it that you shall find each of you when you get dull and flagging in the practical part of your religion, that the proper way to revive it is to think more than you have done upon the loving-kindness of God.  …

What is the best way to quicken one’s self when you have got to be just a mere inanimate mass, and cannot awaken yourself into life? Of course, the Holy Spirit is the quickener, but what means shall we use? “Why,” says one, “turn over your sins and begin to think of them.” Well, I have known some become more dead than they were before through that, and the little life they had seemed to go out of them as they saw their transgressions! I believe there is no reflection that has as much, under God the Holy Spirit, of quickening power in it as a remembrance of the loving-kindness of the Lord!

and this final quote:

I have said unto my soul, “You are dull and heavy today, my soul, but Jesus did not love you because of your brightness and liveliness; you have, at any rate, a desire not to be so dull. Who gave you that? Was not it His grace that made you hate yourself for being so dull and stupid? And He loves you just the same.”

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.

Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (Review)

January 6, 2020 2 comments

From free books provided (for this one, free copies provided at the local church), I recently read Mark Jones’ Antinomianism:  Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (from 2013).  Online articles at the time, including these two from Kevin DeYoung (this one and also this one), recommended it as one of a few books responding to the modern-day antinomianism error.

My study on this topic over the last few years has included some online sermon series including a 1689 confession series, Reformed articles and a few books such as Barcellos’ Gettting the Garden Right and R.C. Sproul’s Crucial questions booklet How Does God’s Law Apply to Me?.  Jones’ book covers a lot of similar Reformed understanding, with reference to the moral law and the third use of the Law and other doctrines that are taught in the Reformed confessions (and included in SermonAudio confession-study series).  Jones’ book is at a more academic level, with many quotations and footnotes, and especially looks at the historical situation in England in the 17th century.

Among the highlights:  discussion of Christ’s intercessory work and the importance of strong Christology, as well as the Reformed understanding of rewards (good works, chapter 16 in the 1689 LBC and the Westminster Confession of Faith), assurance, gospel threatenings (as different from Law threatening, the type to bring unbelievers to see their need of Christ, as the first use of the Law).  This book also covers the differences between Lutheran and Reformed views; though the Lutheran view includes the third use of the law, it emphasizes the first use, in contrast to the Reformed (Calvinist) emphasis on the third use.

Many good Puritan quotes are sprinkled throughout, such as this one from John Flavel:

I will further grant, that the eye of a Christian may be too intently fixed upon his own gracious qualifications; and being wholly taken up in the reflex acts of faith, may too much neglect the direct acts of faith upon Christ, to the great detriment of his soul.

But all this notwithstanding, the examination of our justification by our sanctification, is not only a lawful, and possible, but a very excellent and necessary work and duty.  It is the course that Christians have taken in all ages, and that which God has abundantly blessed to the joy and encouragement of their souls.

The discussion about law obedience versus gospel obedience reminded me of the first time I read this, and the encouragement in this explanation, well described by J.C. Ryle (excerpts from Holiness) — that the believer’s works (though imperfect) are yet acceptable and pleasing to God the Father:

Sanctification is a thing which cannot justify a man, and yet it pleases God. The holiest actions of the holiest saint that ever lived are all more or less full of defects and imperfections. They are either wrong in their motive or defective in their performance and in themselves are nothing better than “splendid sins,” deserving God’s wrath and condemnation. To suppose that such actions can stand the severity of God’s judgment, atone for sin and merit heaven is simply absurd. …

For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). “Obey your parents . . . for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). “We . . . do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22). Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comforting doctrine.
Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy, or walking across a room — so is our Father in Heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle and intention of their actions — and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye — He is well pleased.

This book includes a quote from Thomas Shepherd that well summarizes the difference between gospel obedience and law obedience:

the law calling and urging of it that so hereby we may be made just, it therefore accepts of nothing but perfection; but the gospel requiring it because we are perfectly just already in Christ, hence, though it commands us as much as the law, yet it accepts of less, even the least measure of sincerity and perfection mixed with the greatest measure of imperfection.”

The book is applicable to us in our day, in which antinomian teaching is quite common.  Jones interacts with current-day teaching, with quotes from and responses to Tullian Tchividjian (reference also old articles such as this one):

According to Tchividjian, ‘We’ve got work to do—but what exactly is it?  Get better? Try harder? Pray more?  Get more involved in church?  Read the Bible longer? …. God works his work in you, which is the work already accomplished by Christ.  Our hard work, therefore, means coming to a greater understanding of his work.’  How does this fit with Paul’s exhortation to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?  Paul surely did not reduce Christian living to contemplating Christ—after all, in 1 Thessalonians 5, toward the end of the chapter, Paul lists over fifteen imperatives.  But Tchividjian’s type of antinomian-sounding exegesis impacts churches all over North America.

The book covers many other interesting topics as well, even some quotes from Puritan writers about the ‘boring’ limited-selection preaching of the Antinomians.  The whole counsel of God includes so much more, the many doctrines set forth in the Reformed Confessions, beyond this limited issue that the antinomians wanted to continually ‘harp on’.  Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? is another great and very informative book in the Reformed tradition, well researched and addressing this issue and how the Puritans responded to it.

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.

Baptism as a Means of Grace

August 14, 2019 2 comments

From one of the earlier Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ PCRT conferences (1981) on “How to Grow your Faith” comes an interesting lecture from Robert Godfrey, on Baptism as a means of grace.  It’s a subject I’ve been considering lately, the scripture and reasoning for paedo (versus believer) baptism, and this lecture fits in along with other online articles I’ve come across.

In this post I want to look at this sacrament, baptism, as a means of grace (regardless of whether paedo or believers’ baptism); and a lot of the material comes from John Calvin’s writing in the Institutes, and referenced in this lecture.

Church history has shown two extremes to be avoided – first, the superstitious “magical” view of the Roman Catholicism, that the Reformers responded to in their day.  The current day evangelicalism – and just as true if not more so than in 1981 – has tended to the other extreme, of viewing the sacraments (sometimes called ordinances due to over-reaction again the Roman Catholic view of sacraments) as of no value, something to be neglected, as an “appendix” and an after thought.  There are the churches that only observe the Lord’s Supper once a quarter (every 3 months), or even once a year.  Then, too, are the cases of unusual practice, that remove the significance of the sacraments, where people don’t think about the symbolism and the purpose of the sacraments:  a church observance of the Lord’s Supper in which the bread is put into the bottom of the plastic drink cup and people “drink” the bread from the cup into their mouth; or, a church that wants to be culturally relevant and so refers to baptism as “coming out”–complete with online postings of testimonials from young believers who talk about their life and past problems and then they came to Jesus (more focused on the person’s experience than about the triune God and what He has done for us).

Yet as pointed out in Godfrey’s lecture (back to Calvin), the main point regarding baptism is not about us—but it is something that God has done.   Baptism should first be viewed as God’s pledge and promise to us as individuals, as a part of the “visible word” to us as individuals.  After all, sermons are given generally, to everyone in the audience, but each person has their own baptism experience to look back to.  Baptism is not to be seen as just a one-time event at the start of the Christian life, and then we go forward and forget about it; properly viewed, it is something we look back to, in relation to God’s purpose for me, something that brings assurance (as do the other means of grace).

Martin Luther referred to baptism in this way, that his baptism was something that told him he was a Christian:  not thinking of baptism in a legalistic way as though the baptism itself is what saves someone, the error of baptismal regeneration – but in this “means of grace” view, thinking about what God in Christ has done for us, of baptism as God’s sign of the covenant relationship with Luther as an individual.  Godfrey agrees that baptism also serves as a testimony of our faith, of each of us being one of God’s people.  Yet this is a secondary purpose, and we must never forget the primary purpose and meaning of baptism.

Martin Luther quote:

No one should be terrified if he feels evil lust or love, nor should he despair even if he falls. Rather he should remember his Baptism and comfort himself joyfully with the fact that God has there pledged Himself to slay his sin for him, and not to count it a cause for condemnation, if only he does not say yes to sin and remain in it.

Godfrey’s lecture used the “P” letter for the sermon outline – including the Prominence of the term baptism in scripture, then the Pledge and Promise of God, and the People (recipients) of baptism.  One section does address the Presbyterian-view scripture reasons for the paedo view, an informational part done with respect—observing that people rarely heard actual discussion about the paedo Baptist view in Presbyterian sermons, referencing even the Presbyterian scholar Charles  Hodge as one who said he had never heard a sermon on paedobaptism.

Godfrey’s lecture is very informative and helpful, a Reformed look at the sacrament of baptism and how baptism can be thought of in terms of our sanctification and assurance.  It is part of a set from the 1981 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, and soon I’ll be listening to the other lectures from this conference.

Psalm 13, Depression, and Feeling Abandoned

July 10, 2019 1 comment

I’ve been reading through volume 1 of James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on the Psalms (Psalms 1-41, book one of the Psalter), a past free monthly book offer from Logos software, usually two psalms per week.  (The commentary comes from Boice’s exposition of the psalms; for psalms after the 41st, I may return to listening to the original sermons.) This psalms commentary is a great combination of technical information and excellent application.

The commentary on Psalm 13 also ties in with another recently read book—from Christian counselor Ed Welch, another Kindle sale deal: Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness.  (See previous posts of Welch’s books here and also here.)

Some highlights from Welch’s book:  our greatest need is forgiveness; having a purpose statement for our life; and recognizing that perseverance is one of the attributes of God.  Thus, our suffering and the consequent perseverance, is another way in which we are conformed more and more to God’s image.  The sovereignty of God, especially in suffering that comes from, at least in part, our own past choices, also has greater value and importance than the mere “academic” idea of it:

Although life before a sovereign God assures us that God is in control, accomplishing His good plans even through our poor choices, it is easy to lose sight of this reality.  When we do, we can feel as if an unwise decision has forever doomed us to a path that is second best.

Returning to Boice, it is interesting to see how much helpful material can be found within the context of a few pages of commentary on a particular text.  Here Boice addresses several considerations, examining the psalmist David’s feelings and the three parts of the psalm.  One interesting point is the feeling of abandonment described, and Boice (writing in the late 20th century) observed that among Christian authors dealing with the topic of depression, even Martyn Lloyd Jones, they don’t address the issue of feeling abandoned—perhaps because of the deeply ingrained idea that, of course, Christians are never abandoned and should never have such experience.  As Boice observes:

Although this is a common problem, I have not been able to find much helpful literature about it, particularly by Christians. Even D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure does not specifically deal with feelings of abandonment.

Why do you suppose this is? I think it is because we have been taught that Christians are not to experience such things, that we are only to have “life more abundantly” or to “live victoriously.” In the last chapter I quoted the dying French atheist Voltaire, who said, “I am abandoned by God and man.” We are not surprised to hear an unbeliever say that. But if any of us should admit to such feelings, many of our friends would look askance at us, shake their heads, and wonder whether we are Christians. Isn’t that true? Isn’t that the chief reason why you do not talk to other Christians about this or about many other problems?  How good then to find that David does talk about it! David is a giant in Scripture, a person “after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). Yet described here is a time when David felt that God had left him entirely. And he doesn’t cover up his feelings.

Following the outline of Psalm 13, the commentary describes several reasons why people feel abandoned:

Prolonged Struggle

We still believe God is there. It is different when the short-term experience becomes a long-term pattern, and we begin to wonder whether God’s silence may endure “forever.”  … Andrew Fuller, another of the earlier commentators, said, “It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials, that we are most in danger of fainting.”

Lack of Apparent Blessing

A second cause of depression, leading to feelings of abandonment, is an extension of the first: a prolonged period in which the blessings of God given in an earlier time seem to have been removed.

Boice lists several areas of such impact in our lives:  family relationships (“the happiness of the early days of a marriage has been replaced by the stress of trying to work out personality conflicts or other difficulties”), as well as in our work, our church life, and in our spiritual life and progress.

Dark Thoughts and Uncontrollable Emotions

The third time David asks, “How long?” he refers to a combination of what we would call dark thoughts and uncontrollable emotions. When we no longer sense that God is blessing us, we tend to ruminate on our failures and get into an emotional funk. And when our emotions take over it is always hard to get back onto a level course. This is because the best means of doing this—calm reflection and a review of past blessings—are being swept away.

You know that God deals with us by grace. But the lack of blessing has continued for so long that you have become morbidly introspective. You have been dredging up past sins and have been wondering, “Is God punishing me for what I did then? I confessed the sin and believed he forgave me. But maybe he is bringing it up again and putting me on hold because of it.”

Often what we learn comes from meditating upon God’s word and its application, from considering new information from multiple sources (such as Christian articles, books, and selections from Bible commentaries), and connecting it all together.  Both of the above resources – James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on the Psalms, and the Ed Welch book, Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, are helpful for study.  The Psalms study includes the lament type Psalms, and Welch teaches through many scripture examples and real-life examples of people applying scripture to their real-life problems.

Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’, and Our Love To God

August 27, 2018 3 comments

Christian Audio’s free download this month (for a few more days) is an audio recording of a classic work I had planned to read this year, so the audio book special was providential, good timing; I’m reading this one in audio format:  Jonathan Edwards’ “Religious Affections.”  It’s a more serious and careful read for audio format, sometimes requiring to rewind and re-listen to the last few sentences, but overall it reads well.  As noted elsewhere, Edwards wrote this after the time of great revival in New England, the Great Awakening.

Religious Affections first presents 12 signs that do not prove (or disprove) that affections are gracious, followed by 12 signs of truly gracious and holy affections, as summarized in this article.  Edwards’ writing at times can come across as hard and difficult, to a self-examination that wonders ‘am I then truly spiritual/saved?’, since the unbeliever’s versus believer’s affections are described in the full form without consideration of the partial, imperfect experience of the believer with still remaining sin; as noted in the above-linked review:  some of Edwards’ words may seem blunt and appear not to take into account that even the best Christians are very far from perfect.  We need to keep the full picture in mind, and as Edwards continues – especially in the second list of 12 signs, items 3, 4 and 5 (which I have just read) — additional descriptions of the true believer’s experience come through clearly.  As Arden Hodgins explained it in a 1689 Baptist Confession series, we don’t look within for sin or perfection in our heart, but we look for grace, realizing that yes, I now have a love for God and God’s word, that I once did not have.

I’m still reading it, but so far I do find one point of disagreement and a topic to further consider.  Edwards described gratitude as something that is not a Christian virtue but something that is present in natural (unregenerate) man.  He argues this conclusion at least partly from his own idea (presented as fact) that Nebuchadnezzar (after Daniel 4) was not a saved man but was only expressing thankfulness for deliverance from his physical circumstances.  Yet this assertion itself is not a proven fact, and many believers, past and present, have viewed the account as showing that Nebuchadnezzar did come to saving faith.  Consider the words of Nebuchadnezzar’s confession in the account in Daniel 4, as well as Daniel’s own attitude toward Nebuchadnezzar – and as contrasted with Daniel’s later words in Daniel 5 to Nebuchadnezzar’s successor Belshazzar; the point is especially made in Daniel 5:22-23, “And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 23 but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven.”  Thus, Edwards reasoned that an unregenerate man is actually capable of the type of understanding, praise, and humbling, that Nebuchadnezzar expressed, and yet still ‘miss the mark’ and not really be a spiritual person.

The section on gratitude comes across (at least in this first reading) as somewhat unclear.  On the one hand, unbelievers can have a natural type of gratitude to God.  Edwards grants that some unbelievers are without thankfulness and gratitude — and some people’s own experience of their before/after conversion makes it clear that in their pre-Christian life they really did not feel true gratitude to others or to God, that such feelings were really due to self-love — yet he maintains that “just because” some unsaved people were that unthankful, yet that does not mean that others in their natural state could not attain to true gratitude and thankfulness.  He also references Jesus’ words in Luke 6:32-34 — If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? —which is indeed scriptural truth regarding the feelings that unbelievers can have toward others.   However, as Edwards soon goes on to say, these unbelievers are actually thinking about God according to their own ideas, and worshiping and believing in a god of their own making, and not the true God.

Thus, the conclusion of these conflicting ideas is that unbelievers’ “gratitude” is actually directed not to the true God, but either in reference to their own self-interest or to some other notion, some other concept of god.  As is often mentioned in Christian teaching, a false concept of God, one that is not in keeping with the scripture-revealed true God, is a form of idolatry.

Edwards does writes in detail about self-love as contrasted with true love for God, and another interesting section explains the difference between natural and moral perfections.  Yet in presenting the highest perfection of the Christian, Edwards emphasizes that Christians should only have love for God in its highest motive:  without regard to self, or to any reward, but to love God for who He is in Himself, apart from our own interest in Him.  Yet we all know our own hearts, how often we fall short of this; though we do love God for who He is, our motives are often mixed, with lower motives as well as the highest motive present at various times in our Christian walk.  Here too, I am reminded of Arden Hodgins’ observations (from his 1689 Confession study) regarding our motives for sanctification;  each of us individually cannot compare ourselves to any other great saint and then conclude that “I must be lost” in comparison with another believer’s expressed higher level of devotion and love to God.  A specific example that Hodgins mentioned was the reading of David Brainerd’s biography – and here I find that reference interesting, due to the personal connection between Brainerd and Edwards.

It can also be argued that loving God only for who He is in Himself without regard to our own interest, is really not the highest type of love.  Horatius Bonar, writing in the next century in response to this “over-spiritualized” idea, well expressed it in God’s Way of Peace (page 171, shown at this link):

It is not wrong to love God for what He has done for us. Not to do so, would be the very baseness of ingratitude. To love God purely for what He is, is by some spoken of as the highest kind of love, into which enters no element of self. It is not so. For in that case, you are actuated by the pleasure of loving; and this pleasure of loving an infinitely lovable and glorious Being, of necessity introduces self. Besides, to say that we are to love God solely for what He is, and not for what he Has done, is to make ingratitude an essential element of pure love. David’s love showed itself in not forgetting God’s benefits. But this ‘pure love’ soars beyond David’s and finds it a duty to be unthankful, lest perchance some selfish element mingle itself with its superhuman, super-angelic purity.  Let not Satan then ensnare you with such foolish thoughts, the tendency of which is to quench every serious desire, under the pretext of its not being disinterested and perfect.

In spite of these areas of disagreement, Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections is still a great theological work, a classic work on a timeless issue, discerning between true spiritual and carnally minded people.  It is not the easiest writing style, but worth reading (or listening to) at least once.  The MP3 audio book is still available for free for a few more days, the rest of this week.