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Posts Tagged ‘Sovereignty of God’

Challies 2019 Reading: J.I. Packer on Evangelism and God’s Sovereignty

February 18, 2019 2 comments

Going through my stack of paperback books, here is an interesting one: J.I. Packer’s early work (1961) on “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.”  This is an early work (originally published in 1961), preceding his “Knowing God” which made him an evangelical household name.  I find it especially interesting for the historical context of the mid-20th century, the era of “Forgotten Spurgeon” (see this previous post).  Much of what is said here regarding the two seemingly-contradictory truths of divine sovereignty and man’s responsibility, is found in the Charles Spurgeon sermon volumes — ideas brought out in a few sentences at a time over the course of many sermons, and well covered within Packer’s book.

I have not read any other J.I. Packer books, but relate much of what he says here to his comments in a lecture series on the Puritans (and this previous post about the Puritan Papers), in terms of overall ideas about preaching the whole gospel and its full range of application: addressing certain points in one sermon or setting and other doctrinal truths at other times, yet regularly addressing the whole counsel of God, so that people will get the full picture.

In addition to the topic of God’s sovereignty, Packer discusses “wrong” versus more biblical methods of evangelism:  the  Arminian-style special prayer meetings with use of emotion; and, positively, the need to present the full gospel, so that people know what they are committing to. He also describes and advocates what is now known as ‘friendship evangelism’, of the type that presents all of the word of God–as contrasted with the manipulation method of inviting an unsaved friend to a special prayer meeting.

Describing the antinomy between the seemingly conflicting truths, Packer describes the mystery and transcendence of our creator God:

We ought not, in any case, to be surprised when we find mysteries of this sort in God’s Word. For the Creator is incomprehensible to his creatures. A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all. – J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Another great quote from Packer:

For sin is not a social concept; it is a theological concept. Though sin is committed by man, and many sins are against society, sin cannot be defined in terms of either man or society. We never know what sin really is till we have learned to think of it in terms of God, and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of his total demand on our lives. – J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Near the end, Packer addresses the implications of God’s sovereignty in evangelism, as an answer to the discouragement of evangelicals at this point in the mid-20th century, a discouragement brought about by nearly 100 years of “revival” type evangelism campaigns and the dismal results.  Noting the early success of D.L. Moody and others of that era as occurring “not because they were always well planned and run, but because God was working in Britain in those days in a way in which he is evidently not working now,” yet even then the campaigns experienced the law of diminishing returns.

 We had come to take it for granted that good organization and efficient technique, backed by a routine of prayers, was itself sufficient to guarantee results.  We felt that there was an almost magical potency in the special meeting, the special choir and soloist, and the special preacher.  We felt convinced that the thing that would always bring life into a dead church, or a dead town, was an intensive evangelistic mission.  With the top of our minds, many of us still think that, or profess to think that…. But with the bottom of our minds, in our heart of hearts, we have grown discouraged and disillusioned and apprehensive.  … we do not know what to make of a situation in which our planned evangelism fails.

After acknowledging the disappointments (failure of converts) through these methods, Packer brings home the underlying reality:

First, we must admit that we were silly ever to think that any evangelistic technique, however skillful, could of itself guarantee conversions; second, we must recognize that, because man’s heart is impervious to the Word of God, it is no cause for surprise if at any time our evangelism fails to result in conversions; third, we must remember that the terms of our calling are that we should be faithful, not that we should be successful; fourth, we must learn to rest all our hopes of fruit in evangelism on the omnipotent grace of God.

This is a well-written book for layperson reading, a short book yet very informative, with a lot of solid Christian teaching as to how evangelism has been done and what we need to remember about how it should be done.

 

Spurgeon’s Sermons in the Book of Job

May 9, 2013 3 comments

Common teaching through the book of Job, at churches with superficial teaching, may include pointing out the general and obvious teaching in Job: the legalism of Job’s three friends, assuming that Job is suffering because of his wickedness, along with general observations about how Job at the end intercedes for his friends, like how Christ intercedes for us.

But for real depth and meat in the book of Job, I have recently been finding many great treasures there, from a handful of Spurgeon sermons.  As mentioned here previously, Spurgeon was a textual preacher, who preached more in some books than others.  Spurgeongems.org reveals that Spurgeon preached 99 messages from texts in Job, and from 34 of the 42 chapters.  Three of these I have read recently, in Spurgeon’s volume 7 of sermons (#352, #404  and #406).  The book of Job, and sermons from it, provides such variety and material for our lives: the proper times of celebration, suffering, hope, God’s Divine Purpose, and prayer.

See this previous post for Spurgeon’s interesting “Merry Christmas” sermon from Job 1.  Sermon #404, from Job 42 (Job’s prayer for his friends) is a convicting one about intercessory prayer and its importance in our lives as well as in those we pray for:

 You and I may be naturally hard, and harsh, and unlovely of spirit, but much praying for others will remind us we have, indeed, a relationship to the saints, that their interests are ours, that we are jointly concerned with them in all the privileges of Grace. I do not know anything which, through the Grace of God, may be a better means of uniting us, the one to the other, than constant prayer for each other. You cannot harbor enmity in your soul against your Brother after you have learned to pray for him!

Sermon #406 is another excellent one, this time looking at God’s Divine Purpose: Job 23:13 — But He is of one mind, and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does. Here Spurgeon considers God’s great sovereign purposes, from the little details and our individual lives, to the big picture, even including His divine purpose for the nations:

 To enlarge our thoughts a moment, have you ever noticed, in reading history, how nations suddenly decay? When their civilization has advanced so far that we thought it would produce men of the highest mold, suddenly old age begins to wrinkle its brow, its arm grows weak, the scepter falls, and the crown drops from the head, and we have to say, “Is not the world gone back again?” The barbarian has sacked the city, and where once everything was beauty, now there is nothing but ruthless bloodshed and destruction! But, my Brothers and Sisters, all those things were but the carrying out of the Divine Plan! …

And so has it been with the race of men—Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome have crumbled, each and all—when their hour had come, to be succeeded by a better. And if this race of ours should ever be eclipsed, if the Anglo Saxons’ boasted pride should yet be stained, even then it will prove to be a link in the Divine purpose. Still, in the end His one mind shall be carried out; His one great result shall be thereby achieved. Not only the decay of nations, but the apparent degeneration of some races of men—and even the total extinction of others—forms a part of the fixed purpose of God!

God’s Providence Through History And The “What Ifs”

February 11, 2013 5 comments

I’ve always enjoyed time-travel and “what if” stories, especially since the topic so relates to God’s Providence and Sovereignty over history.  For obvious reasons actual time travel is something God has decreed not possible, but it is fun to speculate about such things.  Turning to scripture, though, we have assurance of God’s full control, not only over what is, but even over the alternate possibilities.  I think of the classic examples often cited, as in this Pyro blog discussion with Dan Phillips a few years ago: 1 Samuel 23:11-12 and Matthew 11:21-23.  God knew what the people of Keilah would do in a given situation, and God also knew that the people of Tyre and Sidon and Sodom would have repented if they had seen the mighty miracles in Jesus’ day.

Actual history also reveals the amazing detailed planning all being done in the background by God.  The book of Esther is one very obvious example here.  Another one from Old Testament history:  in 1 Kings 11:14-21 we learn of an adversary raised up for Solomon, as divine judgment for Solomon’s unfaithfulness.  Yet the story with that particular individual began decades earlier, when David was on the throne, in actions taken by David and his army  years before Solomon’s disobedience became apparent.

Considering post-biblical history, a recent Acts & Facts issue looks at Christmas, Vikings, and the Providence of God, noting some rather interesting historical “coincidences” regarding the 11th century ancestors of later great men who influenced history.  While it is true that God would still have accomplished his purposes without those particular men (such as George Washington), raising up others instead, yet the article brings out some interesting details concerning events hundreds of years earlier, all part of how God directed history through certain individuals both in the 11th century and in their descendants many hundreds of years later.

We can all think of many such amazing incidents of God’s providence in history.  What are some other interesting events, either in the Bible or post-biblical history, to share?