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The Tender Conscience and Assurance: J.C. Ryle and S. Lewis Johnson

March 25, 2014 5 comments

In going through S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 John series, here is a section I can especially relate to: study of one aspect of Christian living can lead the “tender conscience” to discouragement and doubting one’s salvation, if the teaching is not properly balanced. Indeed, the superficial teaching at a local church several years ago (including its approach to 1 John), with emphasis on external, outward religion and our good works as evidence of salvation, affected me in just this way. In-depth teaching is always the remedy for proper balance on this (and any) issue, and I still remember the impact to my understanding, when I first read similarly encouraging words a few years ago, in this excerpt from J.C. Ryle’s Holiness:

The only righteousness in which we can appear before God is the righteousness of another — even the perfect righteousness of our Substitute and Representative, Jesus Christ the Lord. His work, and not our work — is our only title to Heaven. … 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.

From Dr. Johnson’s 1 John series, a good analysis of the believer’s conscience, exposition of 1 John 2:12-14:

one can see that a person with a tender conscience might be tending to discouragement at this point because, if you feel as I do, and I don’t say that I have a tender conscience, but sometimes I have something like that, and when I read some of the statements of Scripture that say we know that we know him if we keep his commandments — I recognize that in my life there are many of those commandments that I have questions about whether I’m really keeping them.

And I’m not always sure that I’m always walking in the light. In fact, at times, I know I’m not walking in the light. We talked about that and how the Christian life is a sin-judged life, and that characteristic of the Christian life is the necessity of continual confession of sin. So I can understand that a person with a tender conscious might have problems, and then when this apostle says that, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now,” that really comes home because I must confess that I have had problems with some of my brethren, that is my professing brethren in Christ. And I have often had to get down upon my knees, and ask God to give me the strength to love, and the mind to love this brother or sister, as the case may be. So I can see that someone with a tenderer conscience than mine might have questions about his salvation.

He might really say, “I don’t think I’m keeping the commandments. I know I fail in loving my brothers and my sisters. Perhaps I’m not a Christian at all.” And so, I think that what John writes now is a kind of interlude in which he wants to encourage people like me, and maybe even more so, those whose consciences are even more tender than mine. I think, therefore, it’s very fitting that in this brief paragraph, this apostle of love, the elderly apostle, the last of the apostles still living — the apostolic age is drawing to its conclusion — assures the ones to whom he writes these very strong words of test, that he is confident of their faith and life.

Orthopraxy and Orthodoxy: Practical Christian Living AND Doctrinal Worldview Instruction

April 24, 2013 6 comments

For today, a follow-up to the Jerry Bridges conference post, concerning what is taught in the local church:  the balance between sanctification / practical Christian living, and discipleship & instruction in the Christian worldview.  As noted in the previous post, Bridges emphasizes holiness and sanctification — which is fine so far as it goes, provided we keep a balance that includes strong doctrinal teaching.

As an example:  in the Saturday night message Jerry Bridges favorably presented the story of a pastor who had been asked when he was going to do a sermon about homosexuality.  The preacher’s response was that he had no plans to do so, since he didn’t have any homosexuals in his audience, at his local church, and so homosexuality wasn’t a relevant topic for that congregation.

Yet as I’ve learned in the last few years — from listening to the preaching of John MacArthur, S. Lewis Johnson, Dan Phillips and others — a local church should also be instructing the people regarding biblical and real-life issues and a proper Christian worldview. A disciple is simply a student, so true disciples are learning not just orthopraxy, how to walk and grow in their personal sanctification, but orthodoxy.   After all, none of the individuals attending that local church may be homosexual, but in our increasingly anti-Christian society it is increasingly likely that the people in the local church may have at least some contact with others who are either homosexual or who advocate homosexuality.  Ironically, the morning brunch Q&A at that same conference included several questions from people about this very topic, including how to respond to others who favorably discuss homosexuality.

The discipleship part of a local church involves equipping the saints to understand the issues, to really understand the biblical response to said issue and not be led astray by the clever arguments put forth in the secular media.  This is also why John MacArthur occasionally delivers very good messages regarding the Christian and voting in political elections, and why preachers do, at least some of the time, teach concerning the issues of the day.

Even in S. Lewis Johnson’s day 20+ years ago, when the homosexual agenda in society was not nearly so advanced as today, he addressed the topic in this message, noting the purpose of such a message:

The reason I want to do this is because many of us, I’m sure, are not acquainted with some of the sophisticated arguments that have been advanced, by some thinking people even, to support the idea that homosexuality is a legitimate style of life.  We’ll talk more about the details of it, but it is possible to defend this in way that would be confusing for the general evangelical, and difficult to counter so far as many of us are concerned, because we haven’t even bothered to discover the reasons why homosexuality is presented as something like a third sex by the homosexual populous.

As I am now listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 Corinthians series (1994), I especially see how a preacher can directly teach about current social issues and our worldview, in an actual expository verse-by-verse Bible book series.  Now in 1 Corinthians 6, it is interesting to hear SLJ address social issues still with us: our litigious society of lawsuit-happy people; homosexuality; and the 1990s ecumenism of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement – and all in one message expositing 1 Corinthians 6:1-11.

Jerry Bridges Conference (April 2013): Sanctification and ‘True Heavenly Mindedness’

April 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Author Jerry Bridges was the guest speaker at a church in the Memphis, TN area, for a conference this last weekend (April 12-14, 2013).  I haven’t read that much from Bridges, usually preferring the style and depth of Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, and of course my favorite preacher SLJ, but have appreciated his conference messages at this church over the last several years. All his conference messages at this church – 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013 – are available at: www . gracemessenger.com/index.php?id=777.  The conference theme this time was “True Heavenly Mindedness,” from Colossians 3, with emphasis on practical Christian living / sanctification.

From a then-free offer on Amazon Kindle, I’ve read some of Jerry Bridges’ recent book, The Transforming Power of the Gospel: an easy reading style similar to his other books and his talks, in which he mentions his early experience with two extreme forms of sanctification: moral rules to follow, followed by the Deeper Life Keswick movement (“Let Go, Let God”). In 1960 he came to understand true sanctification, that which is active, not passive.  We cannot ‘just let Jesus live His life through me.’ No, we are responsible. At the same time, we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to both do His own work and enable us through His power to do the work we must do. Later chapters include  definitions of sin and repentance, and what spiritual transformation is.

A proper understanding of sanctification includes study of Colossians 3, and the conference messages deal with that chapter as well as Ephesians 4.  Another resource on this very topic, Jesse Johnson’s recent Cripplegate post critiquing another variation of the “Let Go, Let God” idea,  likewise notes the importance of Colossians 3, the part that another writer (Tullian Tchividjian) had completely skipped over:  I was asking myself, “ok, so what is he going to do with Col 3:17-4:6? I mean there is more to Colossians than the first half. What’s going to happen when he gets to the places where Paul tells us to be sanctified by actually fighting sin?” And wouldn’t you know it: other than explaining why those passages are powerless to sanctify you, he doesn’t deal with them. You really do need to look at his Scripture index to believe me: he deals with almost every single verse in Colossians, except the ones that have imperatives in them.  Jerry Bridges approaches the imperative passages in Colossians head-on, in several messages about “true heavenly mindedness” and practical Christian living.

I have only one point of difference from Jerry Bridges: his emphasis on sanctification and Christian living tends to neglect the proper balance between practical Christian living, and instruction in doctrinal/worldview issues.  Then again, this is the difference between a theologian or scholar, and a layperson Christian author who excels in what he does: well-written books for the mainstream Christian audience, especially about holiness and sanctification.

The Bible’s Four Types of Sanctification: Getting our Vocabulary Right

September 6, 2012 7 comments

I recently met up with a group of people, and their pastor/teacher, who have a non-standard definition of the overall concept of sanctification – or perhaps a very limited definition.  After hearing for so long, within broader evangelicalism, about the different aspects of sanctification, and particularly about progressive sanctification, the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, I was surprised to read the following (from one in this group):  “If we are in Christ and He is in us, then we have rested – completely ceased from any and all working and striving for justification and for sanctification. There is no more work to be done.”

On the surface, it appeared as what could be advocating perfection, with the use of the term sanctification in the same phrase as justification.  Or at the very least, that the person has the terms and their meanings confused.  In follow-up conversation, that individual cited Hebrews 10:10, which is one of the passages that describe the completed (positional) part of sanctification:  “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  It turned out that what most Reformed evangelicals refer to as “progressive sanctification” means, to this group, “mortification,” with no understanding of the multiple tenses or types of sanctification.  Also, their focus is on whether or not sanctification is “a work” to which we contribute versus something all of God (monergistic: their view): an unusual approach to the topic.  Usually (in my experience) the topic of sanctification comes up, not as a question of “a work” or not, but in the general understanding of spiritual growth and an ongoing process, “progressive sanctification,” within which it is understood that God is the one who continues the  work within us.  (Phil. 1:6)

From further research into what I was really looking for, comes the following helpful summary, from S. Lewis Johnson’s “Basic Bible Doctrine” series, message 27:

  • Preparatory sanctification:  the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to the cross. (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2)
  • Positional sanctification: a process or a procedure takes place by which a believer, the moment that he believes, becomes in the sight of God holy.  That is why believers in the New Testament are called saints. (1 Corinthians 1:2)
  • Progressive sanctification:  something that goes on daily constantly in the Christian life.  It may have degrees; The Bible does speak about two degrees: about infants and about adults. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
  • Prospective sanctification:  the complete agreement of our position and our practice, and that will take place at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thess. 5:23-24; Romans 8:29)

This experience also shows how important it is that like-minded Christians understand and use the same vocabulary.  When the majority of Christians speak of sanctification in one way (understanding the concepts of positional versus progressive sanctification), and one group (that really does believe basically the same about this) uses the same words to mean different ideas – the positional sanctification and emphasis on “sanctification” already accomplished and done by the Lord, and calling the common term “progressive sanctification” by some other name – it does hinder communication, so that the terms have to be clearly defined before meaningful discussion can occur.

Lordship Versus Free Grace: Was King Saul Saved?

August 6, 2012 7 comments

From a recent online discussion that started with a list of the seven suicide accounts in the Bible, the question came up as to whether certain Old Testament individuals, King Saul and Solomon, were saved.  (I briefly considered this very matter a few years ago, concluding that Solomon was saved but not King Saul.)  A few people insisted that — regardless of all the scriptural evidence to the contrary — because of Samuel’s words to Saul, “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me,” that meant Saul was saved and went to heaven.  As I realized during this discussion, even one’s interpretation of the biblical data on a particular person or event comes from that person’s presuppositions about something even more basic:  the understanding of salvation and sanctification, and the type of life (and fruits) manifested in saved and non-saved individuals.

If 1 Samuel 28:19 is the only text in the Bible to show that King Saul was a saved, regenerate man, I first note that Saul did not take any comfort in that message from Samuel.  The rest of that scene makes very clear, how very frightened Saul was: he “fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear” and no strength in him, not even wanting to eat.  This is a far cry from the scene where the thief on the cross was told that he would soon (that day) be with Jesus in paradise. Saul’s behavior is also nothing like David’s declaration in 2 Samuel 12, a peaceful assurance that “I shall go to him,” where his deceased infant son was.  Samson, another suicide case mentioned, met his death very differently from Saul: calling upon the Lord in that moment.  Samson knew he was going to die very shortly, and though his circumstances were quite different at that point, he did not cower in fear in light of his present physical pain and suffering and his certain physical doom, his impending death.  Job too showed that same understanding of death as a place of rest and peace.

The “answer” to Saul’s fearful reaction: that Saul was just upset and troubled by his circumstances, that he was reacting (as any ordinary person would) who wants to win the battle and continue his rule.  Also, that people in the OT didn’t have the same understanding about the afterlife as in the NT (citing the above example of the thief on the cross, while ignoring the OT examples given), and that the thief on the cross didn’t have anything in this life to lose (such as Saul who still had rule over a kingdom).

Really?  Saul’s behavior in that scene shows what had already been demonstrated previously in his life: his desperate attempt to cling to this life and to cling to the throne, even though he knew, as he had acknowledged to David when David spared his life, that David was to have the kingship.  At the point of death, no one who has a right relationship to the Lord is going to act all scared and panicked about the announcement of his death merely because he wants to win the battle, continue his rule and keep his earthly possessions.

The best explanation of Samuel’s message, that “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” is to recognize that the word used there is Sheol:  it does not refer to paradise, or Abraham’s Bosom, or even to hell (the place of the damned), but to the intermediate place of the dead, a place that has two compartments. Thus, saying that Saul and his sons would be where Samuel was, is not a case for salvation, but to the fact that they would be in that temporary holding place before the resurrection, a holding place that we know has two compartments within it.

Going beyond the incident in 1 Samuel 28, though, the abundance of other scriptural evidence portrays Saul as an unsaved man with sins that are categorically different from the fleshly sins that the great OT saints, such as David and Moses, fell into at times in their lives.  Saul directly disobeyed a direct order from God, to slay the Amelekites, and even presumed to offer the sacrifices himself.  Saul persecuted David (the type of Christ), failing to recognize the Davidic covenant promises; he also slew God’s priests (not a light thing to dismiss).  Then he swore an oath of safety to a medium, the very thing not allowed in the word of God, which plainly says to not allow a medium/sorceress to live; and he sought guidance from that medium.

What came about next in the discussion:  that person’s concept of “Free Grace” salvation, apparently of the extreme Zane Hodges variety, that no matter what kind of life a person may lead he or she is still a regenerate, saved individual.  The above analysis was wrong, they said, because that is just focused on the idea of keeping a list of merits and demerits, a type of laundry list, and by that type of legalistic reasoning no one could be saved.  And after all, Moses and David fell into great sin.  So the “Free Grace” reasoning concluded no difference at all between the lives of Moses, David, and King Saul.

But pointing out the many scriptures regarding King Saul is not building a laundry-list or “merits and demerits” type case of “how many sins” any given person committed. Rather, it is a look at the overall character of that individual. Was that person’s life characterized by certain types of sin, or were those sins the momentary lapses of a life that had an overall tenor of godliness? It can also be related to 1 John, what John describes about those who are saved, that they do not continue sinning, that their life is not characterized by sin.  The real issue, behind the discussion of King Saul’s eternal fate, is what God’s word itself says: that people are known by their fruits, and that believers do produce fruit.

Yes, Moses had momentary lapses, as did David in his sin with Bathsheba; they were weaknesses of the flesh, expressed in emotions such as impatience and physical lust. Those sins did not characterize the lives of those men, but were the exception rather than the rule. King Saul’s sins, beginning with the reasons the kingdom was taken away from him, were especially theological in nature, as noted above.

I close with excerpts from S. Lewis Johnson’s message concerning Saul and the 1 Samuel 28 passage, from his “Lessons from the Life of David” series.

 (reading the text) And Saul answered, “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams.”  He doesn’t say by priests because, after all, he’s the one that slew the High Priest, so he seems to want to avoid that.  “Therefore I have called you that you may reveal to me what I should do.”

Isn’t that interesting?  We won’t go directly to the Lord God, who has spoken.  But we’ll go to a witch.  And we’ll go to the witch with the idea that we can put over to people that we are really interested in knowing what God is going to do.  So Saul’s distress is the distress of disobedience.  It’s not that he has a poor self-esteem.  It’s simply he’s disobedient.  And because he’s disobedient, that’s what happens when individuals are disobedient to the word of God.  He’s already been given his answer, over and over.  He wants to know his fate, but he wants to know it without repentance.  If only the dead Samuel would favor the one God has frowned upon.  Can you imagine that?  God has spoken and said, the kingdom has been torn from you, Saul.  You’ve lost your kingdom.  So Saul will say, I think that I would like to talk to Samuel in order that he may do me some favor, delivering me from the judgment of God, when God has already spoken that this is what’s going to happen.  Amazing, amazing, truly amazing.

. . .

Divine mercy is free.  But it’s righteous in its flow.  The notion that God must help everyone in trouble is not scientific and is wrong.  Because there are individuals who do not seek the will of God and therefore, when they seek out of disobedience and clinging to their sin, God just as in the case of Saul, is silent.  It’s too late.  Too late often individuals appeal to the Lord God.  In the case of Saul, it was too late.  He had, it seemed, clearly by his actions, brought on the judgment of divine retribution.  And that is ultimately what comes to him.  Those who have the opportunity, hearing the gospel message, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” as the jailer did, and do not respond and persist down through the years in not responding, the time may come when, how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, may be written over their lives.

The Romans 7 Struggle: Prone to Wander, but also ‘Prone to Worship, Lord, I feel it’

April 18, 2012 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Romans series, a few interesting illustrations regarding the Romans 7 struggle:

Salvation is of the Lord

Take Jonah as an illustration.  There he was in the belly of the great fish.  When did he get delivered?  When he had given up all hope of delivering himself.  If you’ll read the 2nd chapter of Jonah, he was in great misery.  He prayed.  He was still in the belly of the great fish.  He cried.  He was still in the belly of the great fish.  He promises, “I will look again toward Thy holy temple.”  He’s still in the belly of the great fish.  He moralizes.  He sacrifices.  He vows, but he’s in the belly of the great fish still.  At length he finally says, “Salvation is of the Lord.”

Mr. Spurgeon said, “He learned that line of good theology in a strange college.”  “Salvation is of the Lord.”  And, the very next verse, he’s on dry land.

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

(Speaking about Lewis Sperry Chafer at a Bible conference in Alabama in the 1940s):  in the midst of one of his messages he said, now Campbell Morgan, who has traces of Arminianism in his teaching, changed a verse of a well-known hymn that we often sing. …  Dr. Chafer said, “Campbell Morgan had traces of Arminianism.”

Now I heard that.  I didn’t know exactly what that meant but it sounded bad. [Laughter] And so I paid attention.  He said, “I know that hymn has a verse in it that reads, ‘Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.'”  But he said, “Campbell Morgan who has traces of Arminianism changed it to ‘Prone to worship, Lord I feel it.  Prone to serve the God I love.'”  And then Dr. Chafer turned to the audience and he said, “Now how many of you think that Campbell Morgan was right?”

Well, we heard that clause, “that has traces of Arminianism,” and that sounded bad and so nobody raised their hand.  He said, “How many of you think the hymn writer was correct?  Prone to wander?”  And so we all raised our hands, and that little smile came over Dr. Chafer’s face.  He was a man before his time.   He had a mustache.  Anyway, a smile came over his face and he said, “Both were right.”  And of course, he was right, because it is true there is an aspect of each one of us as believers that is prone to wander.  And there is also an aspect of us as a result of our conversion that is prone to worship.  We are divided persons.

S. Lewis Johnson’s Romans series: Sanctification Expressed in Four New Types of Union

April 10, 2012 Leave a comment

In my study through Romans, I’ve completed the first five chapters, which deal with justification.  These chapters emphasize our salvation from the penalty of sin, from the power of sin, and from the presence of sin.

Included in this is the great doctrine of justification by faith, that act by God by which he declares the believer righteous by virtue of the imputation of the merits of Jesus Christ upon faith.  It is something done for us, and done for us by a substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Chapters 6 through 8 cover sanctification, and 6:1 through 8:17 is considered the biblical normative passage for Christian living.

Here Paul stresses four new things, depicted in different types of union:

  •  Dynamic union: Romans 8:1-17

After the sanctification passage, the latter part of Romans 8, verses 18 – 39, could be called an “Eternal Union”: a subject which Johnson also spoke of in other studies.

The first section, the judicial union, emphasizes Christ’s payment of the (judicial) penalty.  Our Lord has died, has been buried, has been raised again and we are judicially regarded as having been in him.  When he bore the penalty for our sin we are reckoned to have been in him and bearing our penalty in him.  And when he was raised again from the dead we are reckoned to have been raised in him.

The moral union points to the fact that we are no longer slaves to sin, but are now the slaves of Christ and slaves of righteousness.

In the marital union, we were married to the old man.  Now we are married to the new man who has been raised from the dead.  In being married to Christ we are delivered from the old sphere in which the Law of Moses operated.  Johnson further points out some interesting parallels to the marriage idea.  The physical marriage produces fruit (children), and similarly our spiritual marriage, our marriage union to Christ, produces fruit: our Christian lives, what Paul refers to elsewhere (Galatians 5:22) as the fruit of the Spirit.  Also, among the three types of relationships (acquaintances, friends, and marriage), the marriage relationship only allows two; if a third enters it, a serious problem results: adultery.  Likewise, we are married to Christ, and so to have anything else enter into that picture is to commit adultery: idolatry, covetousness (which is idolatry), friendship with the world.  We commit spiritual adultery when something else comes into that marriage union with Christ.

Finally comes the dynamic union, the new power in life.  The true power of the Christian life resides in the Holy Spirit, the wonderful message of Romans 8, which concludes this key passage on sanctification.

The Mature Christian Worldview And Its Fruit

March 1, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve enjoyed reading Dan Phillips’ books (see this post).  From those books and other recent events, the following are just some observations about the Christian life and our worldview.

From The World-Tilting Gospel:  yes, studying God’s word can (and often does) lead to pride and looking down on others who haven’t studied it.  Dan admitted it happened to him; it happened to me as well.  However, NOT studying God’s word will also bring pride.  Pride can feed on anything, and even on absolutely nothing, such as the deliberately-empty “waiting on God” attitude.

From God’s Wisdom in Proverbs: a very good point about how we choose our friends and even (especially) marriage partners: we should choose our friends not only from those who are Christians, but from those who are growing and maturing Christians.  Indeed the difference is so important, and how I wish these books had been available in my early Christian days 20 years ago (and that I had read them then).  It is not enough to be satisfied with friends who are Christian, yet who in their daily lives are focused on this world’s cares instead of growing in their knowledge and understanding.

It really is true, that where our treasure is, there our heart will be as well (Matt. 6:21, Luke 12:34).  I think of specific individuals (preachers) and their attitude toward God’s word – and the fruit of such an attitude.  Take for instance the local preacher who continually shows only a low view of scripture and superficial understanding of God’s word, combined with man’s views of scripture (such as progressive creation, amillennialism, preterism).  Like with so many who refuse to believe, the mind is instead focused on pointing out how the words in the Bible really don’t mean what they say they mean, but instead “it really means this.”  What are the fruits of this type of mindset?  He is also very focused on preserving and hanging on to  this life, with casual comments about how our lives are so uncertain, how short our lives are, we never know when it will end; even remarks about how we all say we want to go to heaven, just not right now.

Certainly such a view has some truth — provided that it is balanced with the Christian worldview.  After making such comments about preserving this life, why not continue the application?  When good preachers who highly treasure God’s word and spend their time studying it rather than “reinterpreting it” point out the uncertainty of life, they don’t stop there —  but direct such comments specifically to the unsaved in the audience, imploring them to come to Christ before it’s too late.

Contrast the above attitude with that of individuals with a high view of scripture, who show great depth of understanding, who believe and love the doctrines in God’s word.  The focus is on God’s word and conforming the mind to what God says, rather than trying to conform scripture to man’s understanding.

Here I observe the following fruit from such preachers:  humor and illustrations that focus on our eternal existence.  S. Lewis Johnson would joke about how he didn’t really understand what a certain person said about the term “heavy” – because he hadn’t received any of George Foreman’s blows, and he didn’t want to do that until he had his resurrection body (when he wouldn’t particularly mind). He often talked about what we’ll do when we get to heaven, about meeting with and having conversations with characters from the Bible.  Then he would relate that to the importance of studying God’s word, and why we should even study the minor characters: so that when you meet up with Obadiah you’ll know who he is and know what to talk about him with.

Instead of speculating and reasoning from man’s view to come up with ideas not in the text (such as a preterist view that the “shaking” mentioned in Hebrews 12:26 actually happened at the cross followed by judgment in 70 A.D.), SLJ would speculate about heavenly things, wondering if the saints in heaven are aware of us and what we’re doing.

The Sabbath Rest: S. Lewis Johnson on Hebrews 4

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

From my study through the book of Hebrews with S. Lewis Johnson, I now look at chapter 4 and the idea of “rest.”

The Bible tells of three types of rest:

  • Salvation Rest
  • Sanctification Rest
  • The Sabbath rest  (Hebrews 4:1-13)

All Christians enter the salvation rest, that rest found in Jesus’ familiar words, “Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  We all come to that point of resting from our own works, our own effforts to earn God’s favor, and “rest” in faith in the finished work of Christ on Calvary.

Then as we continue in our walk, we experience the sanctification rest, the struggles of fighting against indwelling sin (Romans 7) and coming to rest in God’s grace and strength (Romans 8), the strength He gives us to get through our struggles.  A word from S. Lewis Johnson here:

That’s what life “in the holiest” really means, when the experiences of life come from a sovereign God who controls our circumstances, and in the midst of them we turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, you have brought this into my life.  Now, give me the strength to rely upon you in this experience?”  We call that the “present rest” of holiness, sanctification.  Holiness in the sense, not of sanctimoniousness, but holiness in the sense of separation to the Lord God.

Hebrews 4 talks about a third kind of rest:  the Sabbath rest.  It is a future rest, the hope of all that we look forward to:  the kingdom of God.  Here S. Lewis Johnson observes:

This is the rest that man is to enjoy forever.  It is the rest that we anticipate with the coming of the kingdom of God upon the earth.  That rest, that Sabbath rest, as we shall see, the kingdom of God upon the earth, when the promises of God have reached their fruition and God rules and reigns over all of this earth.  It may be called the Millennium, for the first thousand years of it form a millennium, but it is a kingdom that extends, also, into the indefinite future, the eternal future.

The Lordship Controversy: Specials from the S. Lewis Johnson Miscellaneous Files

March 17, 2011 4 comments

In my recent exercise sessions, I’ve been listening to an assortment of topical messages from S. Lewis Johnson.  Interesting topics have included reviews of John MacArthur’s book Charismatic Chaos, another concerning MacArthur and the Lordship controversy, as well as John Stott, George Muller, and Israel and the PLO Peace Treaty.

The “Lordship Controversy” message was recorded in 1989, soon after the publication of MacArthur’s book, “The Gospel According to Jesus” and as an accompaniment to an article that S. Lewis Johnson had published in Christianity Today magazine (September 1989).  Amongst all the rhetoric over the years on both sides (and I have concurred with the MacArthur view, as best as I understand it), SLJ presented the proper perspective:  that we really need to understand the definitions and terminology that the different people are using.  Zane Hodge didn’t clearly define what he meant.  Ryrie apparently stated some things in an unclear way so that he was misunderstood, but elsewhere Ryrie stated his belief as one that is more accurate.  MacArthur for the most part is right, but in his book he showed some inconsistency — in some places saying that the believer first coming to Christ must give Him total 100% commitment/Lordship, but then backing off in other places and saying, well not 100%.

The matter really involves understanding the difference between justification and sanctification, and MacArthur’s book (as he himself has said) came out of his own frustration at seeing the easy-believism methods and techniques used to bring people to the Lord, but then not proving to be true conversions.  Interestingly, S. Lewis Johnson picked up on this as the likely thing that prompted MacArthur to write the book (the general feelings of pastors, teaching a lot and disappointed with the results), even though at that time he was unfamiliar with the details that MacArthur would mention in later interviews.  I recall, for instance, MacArthur telling about the times he met strangers (such as on airplanes), who asked him basic questions about how to be saved — and he would right then and there give a gospel presentation and guide them into making a confession of faith.  But then when he followed up with those people, the conversions proved to be incomplete and false.

The confusion between justification and sanctification, though, is an age-old one — and again I refer back to J.C. Ryle’s classic work, Holiness, as a good source for understanding the difference between these two doctrines.  See also my previous blog on the introduction to his book for more background concerning that book and the “Holiness” Keswick movement of the late 19th century.