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Thoughts on Chesterton’s Orthodoxy: Patriotism and Paganism

July 15, 2020 Leave a comment

Some observations from recent reading and the Christian/Evangelical response to the pandemic situation.

In reading G.K. Chesterton’s classic work (published in 1908), Orthodoxy (online text and audio files available online here) I’ve noticed a similar thought style to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who were greatly influenced by Chesterton.  Additionally, Chesterton’s description of the right kind of patriotism, to me, brought forth the word-picture illustration of Tolkien’s The Shire (as for instance how Frodo described his love for the shire, without a particular reason, simply caring about it and its people):

The man who is most likely to ruin the place he loves is exactly the man who loves it with a reason. The man who will improve the place is the man who loves it without a reason. If a man loves some feature of Pimlico (which seems unlikely), he may find himself defending that feature against Pimlico itself. But if he simply loves Pimlico itself, he may lay it waste and turn it into the New Jerusalem. I do not deny that reform may be excessive; I only say that it is the mystic patriot who reforms. …If we love England for being an empire, we may overrate the success with which we rule the Hindoos. But if we love it only for being a nation, we can face all events: for it would be a nation even if the Hindoos ruled us. Thus also only those will permit their patriotism to falsify history whose patriotism depends on history. A man who loves England for being English will not mind how she arose. But a man who loves England for being Anglo-Saxon may go against all facts for his fancy. He may end (like Carlyle and Freeman) by maintaining that the Norman Conquest was a Saxon Conquest. He may end in utter unreason—because he has a reason. …Nowhere else is patriotism more purely abstract and arbitrary; and nowhere else is reform more drastic and sweeping. The more transcendental is your patriotism, the more practical are your politics.

Orthodoxy also brings out the lament concept, how we ought to respond in sadness, not rejoicing, at coming destruction and judgment.  Another interesting section is the contrast between paganism and its ‘non-binary’ sameness, versus the Christian expression of life with great diversity:

If any one wants a modern proof of all this, let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity, Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations. Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the Pagan empire would have said, “You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift.” But the instinct of Christian Europe says, “Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France.”

Chesterton’s observations echo today, more than a century later, with the significance of the ‘break the binary’ movement that has now ushered in rampant homosexuality and transgenderism.  I first learned of this connection between paganism one-ness and these cultural expressions of perversion, from two of Dr. Peter Jones’ lectures (reference this previous post).

Yet as Chesterton pointed out, world history itself stands as a great testament to this fundamental difference in worldviews, in which we see the geographically large and monolithic Eastern empires, as contrasted with the great variety of life, even in the fact of the much smaller European nations that developed from the ancient Roman Empire.

Orthodoxy is an interesting read–some of it dated with references to the political ideas of the day, yet also expressing timeless truths about the Christian worldview, especially in terms of basic social ideas such as patriotism (and optimism/pessimism) and one-ness versus diversity.

The Three Appearings of Christ (Hebrews 9)

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

A great summary thought from S. Lewis Johnson’s Hebrews series, the three aspects of our Lord’s work:

Has
Appeared
Does Appear Shall Appear
Has Appeared in the Past Does Appear in the Present,
at the right hand of the throne of God for us.
Shall Appear in the Future
Has Appeared at Calvary Does Appear in Heaven Shall Appear in the Air
Has Appeared for propitiation
at the Cross
Does Appear to carry out His
intercession at the right hand of the throne of God
Shall Appear in Final
Deliverance at His Second Coming
Has Appeared for redemption Does Appear for
representation
Shall Appear for Reward, at
His Second Coming
Has appeared in humiliation Does Appear in exaltation Shall Appear in Worldwide
Manifestation
Has appeared for atonement Does Appear at the right hand
of the Father in priesthood
Shall appear for Salvation
Has appeared for
justification
Does Appear for
sanctification, which He carries on now
Shall appear for our
glorification

Two appearings my friends, have taken place. He has been manifested at Calvary. At the present moment, he appears openly by the right hand of God as our great High Priest. One of the manifestations remains. And the question, of course, is, are we really looking for him? Are we eagerly looking for him? Is it really part of our Christian life to do what our author calls “eagerly wait for him”?

The Different Judgments In Scripture

June 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Just as our legal system has many courts, so in God’s word we see many different courts, or judgments.  We have our federal courts, state courts, and even local county or city courts.  Not all cases and not all people face justice in each court.  So when it comes to understanding the Bible, we are not to jump to conclusions and assume that all the mentions of judgment are referring to one single future judgment.

In looking at Matthew 25:31-46, S. Lewis Johnson points this out, and briefly lists the different judgments set forth in scripture:

1.  The Judgment that Christ bore, paying for our sins at Calvary
2.  The Believer’s Self-Judgment, spoken of by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11  (see also 1 John 5:16-17)
3.  The “Bema Seat” judgment of all believers, for our rewards — reference 1 Cor. 3:12-15
Good resources concerning this topic:  John MacArthur’s Believer’s Rewards and S. Lewis Johnson’s The Believer’s Judgment

4.  Judgment of Living Israelites, for going into the Messianic Kingdom (Isaiah 65:8-16, Zephaniah 1, Zechariah 13)
5.  Judgment of Living Gentiles, for going into the Kingdom (Matt. 25:31-46)
6.  Judgment of the Fallen Angels  (Rev. 20)
7.  Judgment of the Unbelieving Dead — The “Great White Throne” of Revelation 20:11-15

I was aware of some of these, but had never heard them listed out.  From some googling, though, I found additional information including a Walvoord book, “Major Bible Prophecies: 37 Crucial Prophecies That Affect You Today” which also describes the many different judgments found in the Bible.

Many believers (especially amillennialists and postmillennialists) have concluded that the Sheep and Goats judgment is the same event as the Great White Throne, a single general judgment of all believers.  A recent blog from Michael Vlach especially compares these two judgments, noting nine important differences between these accounts.

S. Lewis Johnson likewise noted that the historical church position was to view the account in Matthew 25 as describing a single general judgment, a parallel to the Great White Throne judgment in Revelation 20.  But as with many things in this overall category of doctrine, more thorough study shows the differences.  Just as the resurrection will take place in phases, first the resurrection of the just followed by a time gap of 1000 years before the resurrection of the wicked, so too God’s word reveals many phases in God’s judgments upon His creation: the great judgment put upon His son, and the many judgments to the living and the dead, of both the just and the wicked.

The Questions That God Asks Us

May 17, 2011 1 comment

In our Christian life we all know the experience of people asking God questions, or asking questions about God and why things are the way they are.  But what about the times when God asks questions to people, such as individuals in the Bible?  I consider that here we see a few different categories of such questions.  In Job 38-41, for instance, God asks Job countless questions — rhetorical questions to show God’s sovereignty and to “put Job in his place” but not actually expecting specific answers.

Another category is that of probing questions, and we see examples of these in several places, including the dialogue in Genesis 3, God’s conversation with Elijah in 1 Kings 19, and in Jonah 4.  These are situations where God asks the person a question in an attempt to get the person to think and reason, to snap out of a sinful way of thinking.  Throughout these incidents we also see God’s loving patience with stubborn and sinful men, the manner of a parent trying to reason with a rebellious and wayward small child.

I remember reading through John MacArthur’s Genesis series a few years ago and how impressed I was with the depth that I’d never seen before, especially when I got to Genesis 3 and God’s approach to Adam.  MacArthur pointed out the loving approach God took; He knew that Adam had sinned and disobeyed, and could have instantly destroyed Adam — but He brought up the subject with questions, to get Adam to confess and return to fellowship:  “where are you, Adam?” and then “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  It was an opportunity for Adam to admit and talk about it, but of course we all know how Adam responded.

The prophets give us two situations rather similar to each other, of prophets who are out of the will of God.  Elijah was so fearful for his life that he ran away from Jezebel, but then told God he wanted to die.  In 1 Kings 19, verses 9 and 13, God confronts Elijah with the same simple question:  “what are you doing here, Elijah?”  When Elijah doesn’t “get it” the first time, God has to show himself to the prophet in His true power — not in the great events of wind, earthquake and fire, but in a still small voice.  The second time the question is asked, Elijah just repeats the same answer, and so God must also point out that Elijah is not the only one left.

Then God dealt with Jonah, a similarly stubborn prophet, with probing questions and another object lesson: the growth and subsequent demise of a plant that pleased Jonah.  As with Elijah, God asks him the question twice:  “Do you do well to be angry?” and later, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”  Like Elijah, Jonah persists in his stubbornness and fails to “get it” until God brings home the final lesson.  Jonah was even willing to die, he said, over the loss of the gourd:  something inanimate, uncreated by Jonah, unnourished by Jonah, and temporary.  How much more did God have concern over His animate, created, nourished and eternal souls (120,000 Ninevites).

The Bible gives us many other great examples of questions asked by God, as well as interesting conversations between Christ and people He interacted with.  Here I think of the interesting conversations with Nicodemus and the woman of Samaria in John 3 and 4, as well as His words to the Syro-Phoenician woman.  Another question in Matthew 19:17, to the rich young ruler (“Why do you call me good?”) was also designed to get the man thinking about why he was calling Jesus a “Good Master” but not thinking of Jesus as actually being God — though in this case the man did not respond and went away unsatisfied.  All of these incidents from the Bible, of course, are instructive to us as well.  Whenever we get into the same thoughts and attitudes as the prophets or the people Jesus encountered, we can remember these incidents and relate to the characters as people just like us — and take the same instruction from the words God directly told them.

The Believer’s Rewards: Matthew 5

January 20, 2011 1 comment

I have interacted with professing believers who are uncomfortable with the idea of Christians getting rewards.  It seems to them that such an idea implies works, or that some believers are higher ranked before God than others — and of course that can’t be true because we are all sinners and equal in the sight of God.  I’ve noticed too, that those who most emphasize our equality before God (and hence no rewards) also have a problem with several other biblical teachings — including the future of ethnic Israel and our Lord’s future kingdom of God upon the Earth.  I think of, for example, the pastor who denies any teaching concerning rewards, who even thinks that believers will be judged according to their works at the Great White Throne judgment (supposedly, to show that we’re just as unworthy as unbelievers, except for Christ’s imputation of us in the book of Life)– and the same one who denies the believer’s rewards also denies biblical creation, the future salvation and kingdom for Israel, as well as less obvious teachings such as the Angel of the Lord and the (election) salvation of infants who die.  Others I know that deny the teaching on biblical rewards are consistent in also rejecting at least some of the above doctrines, with special emphasis on how we’re all equal before God.  Reference also my recent blog, concerning those who profess belief in the basic doctrines yet emphasize their salvation and that “it’s not necessary to believe such-and-such doctrine.”

I’ve been listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Matthew series, and chapter 5 (starting the Sermon on the Mount) has a lot of good material including the matter of rewards.  Consider Matthew 5:12, or  Jesus’ strong words upholding the importance of scripture in Matthew 5:17-18.

I like how S. Lewis Johnson explained the nature of the Christian’s rewards:

Now, a reward in the Christian faith is not a prize.  Rewards in the Christian faith are quite different.  There is a reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it, and it’s quite foreign to the desires which ought to accompany these things.  Money is not the natural reward of love.  And so if a man marries a woman because she’s a wealthy woman, then what do we call that man?  Well, we call him mercenary, to use a nice word.  Now, marriage is the proper reward of a real love, and so when marriage takes place between two individuals who love one another, then we do not say those individuals are mercenary for desiring to be married.  There are rewards, and then there are rewards.

… Now a general who fights and fights well in order to become a lord is mercenary.  But a general who fights for victory is not mercenary.  In other words, when we talk about rewards, true rewards are the activity itself in its consummation – in its natural consummation.  So, in the Bible, when we talk about being given a reward, it’s not like a man who tries to marry a woman for her money, and he gets something entirely different from that which he’s been doing.  But it’s the natural consummation of everything that he has been doing.  So just as marriage is the natural consummation of true love, and is the reward of true love for both of those who are involved, so Christian rewards are not something tacked on like a prize because we’ve learned all of Beethoven’s sonatas, or because we have done this or that, but because it is the natural consummation of the Christian life.  And so rewards are those things that are the natural end of faithfulness in Christian life and ministry.

Just a few messages later, Johnson again mentions the difference between salvation and rewards.  It does play a part in the issue of how we respond to and accept the various teachings of the Bible:

But there are individuals who say, I can accept the Bible, but I can’t accept that.  I don’t know if you really believe the Bible.  That is so plain and so clear.  And when we read in the very next verse about the inviolability of Scripture, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments,”—I grant that that’s not as important as the atonement.  I grant that’s not nearly so important as the doctrine of unconditional election.  But nevertheless, it is one of the least commandments of the word of God at least, and he said, (Matthew 5:19) “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.”  Salvation may not be at stake, but your place in the kingdom of heaven, the rewards that Christians have, is at stake.

The Means of Grace

October 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I just recently learned the phrase “means of grace,” as a Christian expression that goes back at least several hundred years in Christian history.  A recent BibChr post highlighted both terms in its reference to another blogger who considered whether private devotions were more of a “spiritual discipline” instead of “means of grace.”  As Dan Phillips and others observed, it’s really a “both / and” rather than one aspect (public worship) being more important or “higher level” than the other.

I had recently come across the words in a few places, such as J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, but through the above blog and related conversation I became aware of the “definition” status of the phrase.  From reading on the subject since, I tend to agree that the older term, “means of grace,” is to be preferred over the modern, more limited idea of “spiritual disciplines.”  As with other new “key terms” I come across, I also googled the phrase in the transcripts of several Christian preachers, and found it used by J.C. Ryle, C.H. Spurgeon, S. Lewis Johnson, and John MacArthur.

Here is a good definition from J.C. Ryle (Holiness, chapter 2: Sanctification):

Sanctification depends greatly on a diligent use of scriptural means. The “means of grace” are such as Bible reading, private prayer, and regularly worshiping God in Church, wherein one hears the Word taught and participates in the Lord’s Supper. . .  They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul and strengthens the work which He has begun in the inward man.

Other general definitions on the web agree, that the “means of grace” are the “means” by which God gives us grace in our daily lives:  Bible reading, prayers, devotions, listening to sermons, and public worship including participation in the Lord’s Supper.

As for the “private versus public” issue, I would agree that both are needed.  In my own experience, the private Bible reading, study, blog writing-extension, and reading and listening to good sermons has been more helpful than “mere” corporate worship.  Certainly, though, in the years when my personal time with God was more limited, to a cursory, once-a-year reading through the Bible, the twice a week church service had little effect on my overall life.  I certainly did not grow in the knowledge and grace of God during those years, but more easily lapsed into the daily cares of the world during the week.  I cannot do anything about my current corporate worship situation — obviously God has His purposes in keeping me here — but continue to greatly benefit from the wisdom (and very practical advice) of great saints such as Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle.  Even this week, I learned from Spurgeon  (#147, The Sound in the Mulberry Trees) the importance of not doing anything to impede a weaker brother:  do not verbally criticize a sermon, as the person who hears the criticism may well have been moved by something he found good in that sermon.  Say, rather, that “Well, it was not the sermon for me.”

Another great Internet resource on the topic of “Means of Grace” is  Bob DeWaay’s  article, “Means of Grace: God’s Provision for Our Salvation and Sanctification.”  Along with a discussion of the public and private means of grace is the following gem of insight concerning communion:

what should be true whenever we receive communion. 1) We receive it in faith, trusting not in the act of taking communion, but in the finished work of Christ. 2) We do so in remembrance of the Lord, thus being linked with all of the redeemed who have done likewise since the Last Supper, sharing a common hope. 3) We receive communion as a proclamation of the gospel hope, publicly declaring the reason for our hope. 4) When we receive communion we are longing for the Lord’s return to physically share that fourth cup with us. 5) When we receive communion we are expressing our hope in the future kingdom of God in which all true people of faith are reunited with their Lord and recline in table fellowship together.

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