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Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge: Scripture’s Attributes and Importance

July 7, 2017 2 comments

In doing the 2017 Challies reading challenge, I’ve been going through my inventory of various free and low-cost books I have acquired over the last few years.  These include a free audio recording of Kevin DeYoung’s “Taking God at His Word,” a past selection from Christian Audio’s monthly free downloads (the Kindle version is currently on sale for $3.99); a recent Christian Audio free offer (The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones, by Steven Lawson); and a Kindle book that was free at the time of its publication a few years ago, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism.  From reading these three books, plus the latter part of Iain Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon, I notice one common theme, expressed in different ways: the importance of Scripture.

Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word:  I had occasionally read blog posts from DeYoung, but not any books from him yet.  The reading style is easy and straight-forward, and the introduction gave me the impression of a too-easy, too-light book.  Yet the chapters of the book – though for a general  layperson audience — provide solid material, a good overview of the Attributes of Scripture.  I especially like his acronym SCAN:  Sufficiency of scripture, Clarity (or perspicuity), Authority, and Necessity.  Four different groups of people show a weakness in one of these attributes:  Sufficiency – the “Rank and file Christian;” Clarity – Post-Moderns; Authority – Liberal Christians; and Necessity – Atheists and Agnostics.  DeYoung’s popular style relates important ideas and responses to criticism of specific scripture accounts  with current-day analogies, including reference to popular fiction such as the characters from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.  A notable example here is the book of Jonah, which Jesus refers to in statements that make it clear that Jonah was not merely a nice, moral literary story, but refers to actual historical events.

Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd Jones:  The latter part of The Forgotten Spurgeon addresses the downgrade controversy and the issue at stake — the authority of the Bible and the attack from increasing liberalism/modernism.  Lawson’s The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones, in dealing with London during Lloyd Jones’ preaching ministry in the mid-20th century, serves as a type of sequel to the condition of churches in London, the result several decades after the downgrade controversy that had begun in the late 1880s.

The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism focuses on a quite recent attack on scripture, this one especially concerned with the sufficiency of scripture.  Specifically, this book is one of several from the last few years that address the error of fallible prophecy, promoted by Wayne Grudem.  A detailed and informative book, it considers several scriptural passages and interacts with and responds to Grudem’s errors regarding Agabus as well as many other problems with Grudem’s handling of scripture.  The New Calvinist continuationist view, with new revelation that is vague and unclear, “fallible prophecies,” considers scripture as insufficient in itself.

 

Hermeneutics and Old-New Testament Revelation

September 22, 2014 Leave a comment

In my recent studies — different aspects of covenant theology, NCT, the law and types of antinomianism — I have noted one interesting aspect of hermeneutics and continuity/discontinuity between the Old and New Testament, a common element in two unrelated teachings that challenge the clarity and sufficiency of the Old Testament for OT saints: 1) full “replacement theology” and amillennialism with the NT revelation changing the meaning of the Old Testament land and literal kingdom promises; and 2) “doctrinal antinomianism” that teaches that Christ gave new law in the Sermon on the Mount, law that was unknown to Old Testament saints and that “expanded” the original meaning beyond a supposed “legalistic and ceremonial-only understanding”.

Premillennialists have rightly pointed out this hermeneutical problem with the spiritualized re-interpretation of what the Old Testament described regarding a future literal kingdom of God upon the earth, in which Israel as a nation would play a role (along with a few other nations specifically mentioned, ref. Isaiah 19:23-25), and a literal future restoration of the people of Israel to the land promised to Abraham in Genesis. As Paul Henebury has observed, “this maxim would mean that Christians without the NT – and there were many of them in the First Century – could not comprehend the scripture they had – the OT.”

Interestingly enough, a similar issue comes up in articles discussing antinomianism as contrasted with the Reformed/covenantal view of the moral law (that Christ came to fulfill the law, and that meant restoring it to its original high level, from the lower level that the Pharisees had reduced it to). Note that here I am specifically addressing the “full” teaching of “New Covenant Theology” in its extreme view that places a sharp division between the Old and New Testaments, rejecting any understanding of true moral law pre-Christ, such that very few people pre-Christ were saved (the prophets and the few godly kings), and whose adherents even declare (as seen recently in an online discussion group for NCT) how unimportant the Old Testament is and that for evangelism they are now only using the New Testament. (Really?! But how did the apostles evangelize, per the book of Acts?  They used the only Bible they had, the Old Testament. They proclaimed Christ from the Old Testament scriptures, proving that the promised Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.)

If the “law of Moses” was really a more primitive type, strictly legalistic, ceremonial and civil, with no true moral intent — and Christ actually gave “new law” that was not known in the OT — then how does one explain the true faith and spirituality of OT saints, such as the psalmists, including their descriptions of delighting in God’s law and desiring to do His law (Psalm 119 and elsewhere)? Further, to suggest that people before Christ did not have the full revelation of God’s law, also contradicts the many Old Testament passages that make it clear that all along, even then, God delighted more in their obedience and their heart attitude, than in sacrifices; sometimes even God declared that He hated their ceremonial feasts and sacrifices, because they were not done from a sincere heart motivation. Reference Hosea 6:6, “For I desire steadfast love (mercy) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” also Samuel’s words to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” But if Christ somehow added to the law, that which was not known before He came, that also means that the Old Testament believers had a different method of salvation and did not have the same basic belief in the same God as we New Testament believers. Also according to this idea, the Old Testament saints were inferior in quality; and we could call them hypocrites for their appearance of showing great love for God and His law and their great devotion to God: since the OT law did not really require that of them and it had not even yet been revealed to them.

Some closing words from J.C. Ryle regarding the Old Testament and its importance (from his commentary on Matthew 5):

Jesus came to fulfill the predictions of the prophets, who had long foretold that a Savior would one day appear. He came to fulfill the ceremonial law, by becoming the great sacrifice for sin, to which all the Old Testament offerings had ever pointed. He came to fulfill the moral law, by yielding to it a perfect obedience, which we could never have yielded – and by paying the penalty for our breaking of it with His atoning blood, which we could never have paid.

Do not despise the Old Testament under any pretense whatsoever. Let us never listen to those who bid us throw it aside as an obsolete, antiquated, useless book. The religion of the Old Testament is the embryo of Christianity. The Old Testament is the gospel in the bud. The New Testament is the gospel in full flower. The saints in the Old Testament saw many things through a glass darkly. But they all looked by faith to the same Savior and were led by the same Spirit as ourselves.

Also, beware of despising the law of the Ten Commandments. Let us not suppose for a moment that it is set aside by the gospel or that Christians have nothing to do with it. The coming of Christ did not alter the position of the Ten Commandments in the least. If anything, it exalted and raised their authority (Romans 3:31). The law of the Ten Commandments is God’s eternal measure of right and wrong. By it, is the knowledge of sin. By it, the Spirit shows men their need of Christ and drives them to Him. To it, Christ refers His people as their rule and guide for holy living. In its right place it is just as important as “the glorious gospel.” It cannot save us. We cannot be justified by it. But never, never let us despise it. It is a symptom of an ignorant and unhealthy state of religion when the law is lightly esteemed. The true Christian “delights in God’s law” (Romans 7:16-20).

Hermeneutics: The Gospel of John… as Allegory?

January 2, 2013 4 comments

In online Christian discussion groups, I’ve recently come across a rather unusual idea: an  allegorical approach to the gospel of John (which came out in discussion of the temple cleansings mentioned in John’s gospel as compared to the synoptic gospels).  Aside from the brief note in my old NIV Study Bible, that some people believe it’s referring to one cleansing, I had not met anyone who actually held such a view.  Apparently though, it is “the standard teaching of the Presbyterian Church of Australia and PCA in America that there was only one cleansing and that John’s gospel isn’t Chronological in linearity.”

Beyond the “who cares?” attitude that some may have, interpretation of this incident gets to the heart of hermeneutics and how we approach the Bible.  Do we treat the Bible as plain language, considering everything in the text? Or do we just pick some general theme and approach that a certain Bible book supposedly has, and thus disregard the actual details in that text?

The following is excerpted from a discussion with someone who spiritualizes the gospel of John (in the same allegorical manner as others do with more obvious books, such as another of the apostle John’s books, Revelation).  The conversation includes a second biblical commenter, referred to as BC:

Allegorizer: The Synoptic gospels…Mark begins at the beginning of his ministry. The VERY beginning. Matthew begins at the same time as Luke at Jesus birth. John just wrote his gospel differently. His message and method was different.

Me:  Mark 1:14 skips ahead some period of time after Mark 1:1-13: Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

This comes AFTER several chapters in the gospel of John, while John the Baptist was still baptizing: note the sequence of days in John 1 and 2, and then John 3 and these details in John 3:22-24: “After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).” The early chapters of John occur in-between Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, and before John is put in prison, which is where Mark 1:14 resumes.

Allegorizer:  but you think that Jesus ransacking the temple wasn’t important enough for John the second time around or the synoptics the first time around? If they all record it once, why not record BOTH of them? Both of them were obviously important.

Me: John’s gospel also tells us that the most important contributing factor, humanly speaking, for the Jewish leaders to put Jesus to death, was the resurrection of Lazarus. Now why is that very important event only mentioned in John’s gospel?

Each gospel tells different events as observed by the different writers, and they don’t all include the same details. It is very reasonable from the chronology of John’s gospel, that an earlier temple incident happened, before John the Baptist was put in prison.

Allegorizer: again, John had a different method of writing. He abused Greek to the point where students to this day *hate* reading him.

BC: I can read John without hating his Greek. I read John in English (and Portuguese too), and I can understand that there were two cleansings. Why you mention Greek, I don’t know.

Allegorizer:  My point was that they all have ONE cleansing. if one cleansing is important enough for 3 but not 1 why not the 1 and if 1 why not the 3? They’ve already recorded one. why not record both? Obviously they’re both important.

No, there was but one cleansing. John had a different method behind his writing and the purpose wasn’t to give a chronological biography. You’ll note that the gospel of John can be divided into 7 parts a few ways. 7 I Ams, 7 Signs.

BC:  You ignored (the) point about Lazarus. According to you, that was not important at all since it is not mentioned elsewhere.

Allegorizer: No I didn’t.  The difference is that none of the synoptics recorded Lazarus. I’m looking for consistency. If one cleansing was important enough for John but not the others, then the second was important for the others and not for John. They’re being inconsistent.

Me: So answer the question: if John is just a different type of writing and so non-sequential as to be so difficult to understand, why did he alone mention Lazarus’ restoration to life? Furthermore, why did he bother to put so many time-reference indicators in the text, such as “the next day” repeatedly in John 1 and 2, and indicating that John the Baptist was still free, not yet in prison, at the end of John 3, which clearly comes in John’s sequence of events AFTER John 2.

John 2:12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.
Next verse: 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Then Jesus is there in Jerusalem for the Passover and subsequent events: Nicodemus’ visit, and then in John 3:22 AFTER THIS —
Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).

Allegorizer: the clarity of the text is still there, but its chronology isn’t linear. John’s presentation of Jesus’ ministry is thematic (water>healing>healing paralysis>feeding 5000>walking on water>healing the man born blind>raising Lazarus>and an arguable 8th sign rising from death) they build to a climax.

Me: Oh, so because John’s gospel happens to include certain themes — and actually the greatest theme is his seven signs — that means we can ignore everything else in the text?

Final observations:

1)      No doubt the same person who thinks John’s gospel isn’t sequential, thinks Revelation isn’t sequential either. The same author used the same time reference indicators such as “and ” and “after this,” so we can know the chronology.  The underlying hermeneutical issue is the same.

2)    Well said by another person in the discussion:  Just from a human nature standpoint, I can see the crooks at the temple having to be run off more than once……..

Such an approach to God’s word reminded me of Medieval Catholicism, when allegory was the standard approach to God’s word.  Surpringly, though, even the Catholics – going back to Augustine – did get this part right, a sequential-enough understanding to accept two different temple cleansings a few years apart:  In any case, the Church Fathers and Scholastic Doctors believed that there were two Temple cleansings. Most notably, we refer to the authority of Chrysostom, Augustine, and Cornelius a’ Lapide.  John Calvin likewise affirmed the two temple cleansings:

for the other three also relate what we here read that Christ did, but the diversity of the time shows that it was a similar event, but not the same. On two occasions, then, did Christ cleanse the temple from base and profane merchandise; once, when he was beginning to discharge his commission, and another time, (Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15; Luke 19:45,) when he was about to leave the world and go to the Father, (John 16:28.)

Presbyterian R.C. Sproul likewise affirms two temple cleansings:

“how long do you think after Jesus did that, that those tables were right side up and the money changers were back in business?  Do you really think that when He goes through and cleans the temple on the first occasion, that that was the end of it? I don’t, for a minute.”

The Divine Unity of Scripture: The Bible in History and in Science

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m still reading The Divine Unity of Scripture, about three-fourths of the way through, and here are some important points to share.  Saphir points out the weaknesses of the Reformation, and the consequences of that which later developed, and still with us, to attack the Bible as a whole:

 In the second place, they did not understand clearly the important position of the Jews in the economy of God, nor did they see clearly the second advent of our Lord. … still they did not see clearly the second advent of our Lord, or the difference between the Church dispensation and the position of Israel, both in the past and in the future kingdom. The error which was made subsequently by those who preached the saving truths of the Gospel was this— that they thought that it was sufficient to preach personal salvation, man’s sinfulness, the atonement, the renewal by the Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit— everything that referred to the individual.

 That is the centre, but all the circumference they left out,— the whole counsel of God as it is revealed in Scripture, the plan of God, the kingdom of God, the creation of the world, the creation of man, the unity of the human race, the judgment of the Tower of Babel, the elective dispensation under Israel, in its contrast to what came afterwards. The consequence was that — while it was all very good for those who spiritually and experimentally knew about sin and salvation — the world in its philosophy and in its science was constantly undermining the circumference, so that on all the other points, on which the Bible touches, false and anti-Biblical ideas became current, and each of these points afforded a position from which to attack and to assail the whole Scripture.

Later chapters develop this in more detail, as Saphir addresses the skepticism of his day with the power of the Word of God, especially in regard to the Bible as history and the Bible and its miraculous nature.  In the chapter, “Our Faith based on Facts – and the Bible a Book of Facts,” Saphir emphasizes two important points:  that Scripture history supplies us with the facts and principles, upon which all true philosophical and universal history is based, and that the history recorded in the Bible contains actual and real history.

 Ideas without facts make up a philosophy. Facts without ideas may make up a history. But that which we need is something which appeals not merely to our intellect, but also to our conscience and to our heart; and that which so appeals must be the revelation of God.  … It must record the initiative, creative, and redemptive acts of the Most High ; and, in recording these acts, it must contain a revelation of His character, and of His purpose, of His commandments concerning us, and of the promises, by which He sustains us. And only in Scripture have we such a combination. All Scripture facts are full of ideas. So to speak they are full of eyes, and light shines to us in them. And all Scripture ideas, the things which we believe and the things which we hope for, are based upon actual facts—manifestations of the Most High. If a Christian is asked, “What is your belief? what is your faith?” he does not answer by enumerating dogmas, in the sense of abstract philosophical truths ; but he answers by saying that he believes in God who created, in God who became incarnate, and died, and rose again, and in God who sent the Holy Ghost to renew his heart. So what is our creed but facts, but such facts as are full of light,—and in which God manifests Himself to us?

The next chapter, “Objections to Miracle have no Basis in Reason,” follows up with the topic of the Bible and science, and the miraculous.  How refreshing it is especially to read this from a man of God who lived in the late 19th century, at a time when so many preachers compromised with so-called science, not understanding what science is and is not.

… there is no collision whatever between science — if science keeps to its own limits — and that revelation of God and a supernatural kingdom which is given to us in the Scripture. They who do not believe in a personal God, but are atheists or pantheists, cannot logically accept the possibility of miracles; but all who believe that there is a living God, full of wisdom and of power and of love, can find no difficulty in accepting a testimony which shows us that God reveals Himself, and that God acts, here upon earth, and within the history of mankind. Therefore all that the Scripture tells us of God and of the unseen world, instead of interfering with the discoveries of science, only lays the basis and firm foundation for the activity of science. To quote a man who speaks of this subject with authority, Professor Dawson, “Any rational or successful pursuit of science implies the feeling of a community between the Author and Contriver and Ruler of nature, and the mind which can understand it. To science nature must be a cosmos, not a fortuitous chaos, and everything in the history and arrangements of the universe must be a manifestation not only of order but of design. The true man of science must believe in a divine creative will, in a God who manifests Himself and is therefore not the hypothetical God of the agnostic; in a God who must be distinct from and above material things, and therefore not the shadowy God of the pantheist who is everywhere and yet nowhere; in a God who causes the unity and uniformity of nature, and therefore not one of the many gods of polytheism; in a God who acts on His rational creatures daily in a thousand ways by His fatherly regard for their welfare, and who reveals Himself to them; a God, in short, who made the world and all things therein, and who made man in His own image and likeness.”

The Divine Unity of Scripture: Adolph Saphir

July 23, 2012 4 comments

I’m almost halfway through Saphir’s “The Divine Unity of Scripture,” one of the free online resources mentioned in this recent post.  The following is just some observations and general  notes concerning this book, which has been great reading.

This work comes from a series of lectures Saphir delivered, around the theme of the unity of scripture, in the late 19th century.  The overall theme is the exalting of scripture, how unique it is in all its ways, unlike any other writings we have, and how unified God’s word is in all its parts, with no conflicts between the Old and New Testament or amongst the many diverse human authors.  In the details, Saphir has a lot to say concerning the canon of scripture, the inspiration of scripture, the history of the writing of scripture, as well as summaries of what each Bible book highlights within the overall revelation from God, and the history of the Jews and the church to the present time (of his writing).

The early chapters remind me of J.C. Ryle’s great quotes about the Bible, affirming the same great truths.  Yet Saphir provides a much longer and more detailed treatment than Ryle provided in his comparatively-brief chapters, in this book about the book.  Like other 19th century authors Ryle and Spurgeon, Saphir frequently mentions the importance of the nation Israel.  Here, Saphir uniquely adds many more observations from his own Hebrew Christian perspective concerning the Jews of biblical as well as modern times.  The Divine Unity of Scripture sometimes reads like an apologetic, too, with Saphir’s responses to the liberal “higher criticism” of the day, refuting their notions of late-date authorship for the Pentateuch.  That particular idea is perhaps dated now, not something discussed that often, though I recall first coming across that idea in the introduction to a Chronicles of Narnia handbook in the early 1990s.  Saphir well responded with great points such as this:

therefore are all those fanciful theories, about the books of Moses having been fabricated after the exile, utterly void of common sense—as will appear still further from the next point. There is no other nation on the face of the earth that could have been induced to preserve books which so pictured their unthankfulness, their constant apostasies, comparing them with the other nations of the world and saying in effect, “You are worse than any other nation—less  loyal to me than the other nations are to their false gods.” If we read the five books of Moses from beginning to end, how they furnish a continuous picture of the wickedness and ingratitude of Israel  — and so with the other historical books …. Had such a record been artificially made, centuries upon centuries after the histories had taken place, it would not have been received. What an extraordinary thing it is that the Jews who killed the prophets and stoned them that were sent unto them, did not dare to touch the written records of their lives and all their testimonies,—nay, they reverenced those records and they looked upon them as the testimony sent to them by the Most High.

One trivial item: Saphir thought all the Bible authors, including Luke, were Jews; this was simply a given assumption without any reasons given for that conclusion.  I’ve come across a few reasons from people today holding to that idea, but mainly they argue from silence, such as what happened in Acts 21:29: if Luke were a Gentile, then why did they (the mob) only mention Trophimus with Paul, and not Luke?  I now concur with S. Lewis Johnson’s view, that Luke was a Gentile, primarily because of SLJ’s observation that Luke’s Greek was a very different style from the Greek used in the rest of the NT, that Luke’s Greek (except for the first two chapters) is the formal style used by the Gentile writers.

I highly recommend this Adolph Saphir work, even after reading only the first half.  Anyone who enjoys reading Christian authors who uplift the Bible and its amazing, timeless truths, will appreciate Saphir’s The Divine Unity of Scripture.

In closing, here is just one of many great quotes from Saphir’s The Divine Unity of Scripture:

The Bible needs no defense. The Bible defends itself; the Bible explains itself. I do not dread the pagans, I do not dread the infidels, I do not dread skeptics. I dread the false, compromising and conciliatory modern teaching in our Churches. That is the only thing that is to be dreaded. Let the Bible only be kept separate. As it is, it needs no defense. The Scripture needs no bulwarks. The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit, and who ever heard of defending a sword? It is the enemy who will advise you to put the sword into the sheath—a beautiful sheath with all kinds of metaphysical and artistic ornamentations. The sword must be unsheathed, for the sword is aggressive.

Oh that we may know the Scripture not merely as the sword of the Spirit; for that sword, although it may inflict pain, is meant for healing. Oh that we may know it as the gentle dew and rain that comes down from heaven and returneth not thither, but prospereth in the things which please God.

Hermeneutical Principles: The Error of Illegitimate Totality Transfer

August 18, 2011 7 comments

Through regular Bible study and sermon listening, come several hermeneutical principles for handling scripture.  These principles can be applied not only in our own study but also in discussions with others.  A few basic principles I’ve learned are called the “checking principle” and the analogy of faith.  The checking principle comes up in cases where one person has a unique interpretation, one that no one else upholds: in humility that person must consider carefully the reasons for his different conclusion.  The “analogy of faith” is more common, and comes from one’s understanding of all scripture:  scripture does not contradict itself.  If one passage has a meaning, that meaning must not disagree with other scriptural teaching.

I learned a third principle recently, the error of “illegitimate totality transfer,” a case of taking the meaning — the sense or concept — from one part of scripture and lifting that idea and wrongly applying it to another scripture that may have some of the same words but totally different usage.  In a recent online discussion, for example, someone brought up the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25.  Because all ten virgins had oil, and because oil elsewhere represents the Holy Spirit, this person concluded that all ten virgins had the Holy Spirit and were saved.

In this case, the person certainly had a unique interpretation (the “checking principle”), and also that idea contradicts other doctrinal teaching  (“analogy of faith”):  the perseverance and preservation of the saints.  People don’t lose their salvation.  Since the five virgins are later turned away, when Christ says He never knew them, they represent unbelievers, those who never had saving faith to begin with.

But going beyond these problems, comes the “illegitimate totality transfer” with that person’s improper concept of “oil,” which in some parts of scripture is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, but does not fit the case of this parable in Matthew 25.  Mike Riccardi well spoke to this particular Bible discussion with some great observations:

Jesus is employing an illustration, and in this case the oil just means oil. The point is right there in the text: be ready for Christ’s coming; don’t be spiritually lazy, because He’s coming any minute.

Not to mention, pressing the details in parables is (1) insensitive to the genre, and treating it more like allegory, and (2) often ridiculous, like here. What would we conclude? That some of us can store up “more” of the Holy Spirit, so that when Christ comes, we don’t have to go get more of the Holy Spirit from somewhere, and, as a result, miss His coming?

Better to let a parable be a parable, oil be oil, and the point of the passage be stated by the passage itself (Mt 25:13).

Psalm 119: The Psalm of the Word

June 13, 2011 Leave a comment

In my genre-based Bible reading plan, I often come back around to Psalm 119 — every 85 days now, and the latest round came this last week.  For many using the Horner Bible Reading plan, this psalm is often cited as a very daunting one:  the plan involves reading a psalm a day, and the day for psalm 119 means a very large amount of reading compared to any other psalm.

Psalm 119 does require more reading that day, either in sequence with the other chapters, or separately during the day.  But this “psalm of the word” is a great treasure I’ve come to appreciate all the more through regular readings — the psalm that extols the importance of God’s word, the importance of actually reading and studying the things in God’s word.

A recent devotional from ICR.org’s “Days of Praise” provided interesting thoughts concerning Psalm 119, noting these key verses that mention “the whole  heart”:

  1. “Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart” (v. 2).
  2. “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments” (v. 10).
  3. “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (v. 34).
  4. “I entreated thy favor with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word” (v. 58).
  5. “The proud have forged a lie against me: but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart” (v. 69).
  6. “I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord: I will keep thy statutes” (v. 145).

From my recent reading of it, a few more important themes:  following God’s precepts, and facing persecution from the godless, yet trusting in God for deliverance.  The verses about the wicked remind me of similar thoughts from the Proverbs: those who mock and are insolent, in contrast to those who patiently wait upon God.

We are to keep God’s testimonies, law, precepts, and statutes — and praise Him who has given us His eternal Word to us!  That means truly reading it — not just superficial glancing through a few parts here and there, but diligent regular study, pondering it and probing the depths of the riches, even unto greater appreciation for this Psalm which discusses that very attitude of heart.

Faith is the Hand of the Heart: How to Increase in Faith

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

As a follow-up to a previous post on this topic, Increase Our Faith, come these great words from S. Lewis Johnson.  (reference: Matthew 9:27-31)  Here is the response to those who would say the words “give us more faith” in a prayer (even a prayer said by a preacher in a church service).

Faith determines the measure and often the manner of the gifts of our Lord.  According to your faith, be it unto you.  Professor Goday used to like to say that “faith is the hand of the heart.”  Now, if faith is the hand of the heart – that by which we receive the blessings of God – then it would seem from this statement that the larger our hands, the bigger our gifts.  According to your faith, be it unto you.

I want to say, O God, give us more faith!  You want to tend to fall down on your knees and say, O God, give us this faith to believe; pray prayers like, help Thou mine unbelief!  But you know, that would be the wrong reaction.  If you want faith, you don’t have to crawl down on your knees and say, “O God, give me faith.”  You know what you do?  You open your Bible and begin to read.  The Bible says faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.  That’s how faith comes.  So if you want faith, you don’t get on your knees and pray, “O God, give me faith.”  If an angel were there, he would say, stand up and open your Bibles and begin to read.  That’s how you get faith.

Faith comes from companionship with the Lord Jesus, and acquaintances with his promises, and that comes from Scripture.  Your faith will grow as you grow in the knowledge with our Lord. You have confidence in men because of your acquaintance with them.  I had confidence in my father, and you had confidence in your parents, and confidence in your friends by virtue of your acquaintance with them.  I had confidence in my father because I knew him.  We were that close; I knew I could count upon him, because I knew him.  Now he would fail because he was a human being, of course, but our Lord never fails, and confidence comes from acquaintance with him.  If I could just urge you so that you would turn to the word of God, we all would be so much better.

Is Evangelism the Primary Purpose of the Christian Church?

October 8, 2010 1 comment

A recent blog discussion at Pyromaniacs considered the words of John Piper at the recent Desiring God conference on the topic of evangelism, also with reference to Rick Warren (one of the speakers there).  I didn’t quite understand the point of the author, though it seemed a type of criticism of John Piper for admitting that evangelism is not his first thought when he’s preaching.  As later comments brought out, the Pyro writer gives great emphasis to creeds, specifically citing numbers in the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Confession, and thinks that a pastor’s work is a both/and with reference to shepherding his flock AND high concern for evangelism.

I have limited knowledge concerning the ministries of Piper and Warren, choosing to spend most of my free time in reading the Bible or other Christian writings, so the blog and its comments delved into unfamiliar specifics.  But it seems clear that an underlying issue in the discussion was, what is the focus and purpose of the Christian church, including the pastors and the members of the congregation?  Many believers emphasize the Church’s purpose as evangelism, including intentional evangelism.  Very few pointed out that we need to go beyond evangelism, to focus on the truth of God’s word, and none brought out a point that I find very interesting:  evangelism is not the great work of the Christian church.

In the Divine Purpose series, S. Lewis Johnson addressed this in a message that looked at Ephesians 2.  Ephesians 2:18 shows a trinitarian focus:  “For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”  Here we see Paul’s perspective, that what our Lord wants is to have access to and communion with Him.  Jesus Christ wants to introduce us to the Father.

Johnson expands further on this point:

You know that is really the great end of the trinity.  We sometimes forget that.  We think the great end of the trinity is that we be saved.  It’s amazing to me after nineteen hundred years people still say the great work of the Christian church is evangelism.  That’s not the great work of the Christian church.  It is a great work.  One would not want to downgrade evangelism, but as we see in Colossians and through the New Testament the whole work of salvation is the great work of the church —  evangelism yes, but evangelism with a view to communion, with a view to maturity, with a view to edification.  Never forget that.  Don’t be carried away because some popular person has made a cliché statement like that.  That’s not true.  Stick to the Bible.  Stick to the words of Scripture.  Follow Scripture and you’ll be wise unto full salvation.  That’s what the Lord would like for all of us to have, a closer more intimate relationship to Him in edifying growth and the knowledge of Him.  So through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.

Considering this understanding, and the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2 — and the whole thrust of the book of Acts — like many others, I see nothing wrong with John Piper’s statement:

but mainly I want to feed the sheep in such a way that the sheep love God, are so thrilled with God, they tell other people about him, and they come and worship and they love God so much, they tell other people about him.

That sounds a lot closer to what S. Lewis Johnson said, in Piper’s own style, concerning the primary work of the Christian church: to bring us into a closer, more intimate relationship to God.  Sure, evangelism is an important part of the Christian life, but I don’t see it as of such primary importance, as being in a “both-and” with reference to the work of the pastor and the Christian church.

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