June 30, 2009

A Barren Familiarity with Sacred Things: A Solemn Warning

There are few warnings in Scripture more solemn than this. The Lord Jesus Christ says to us, "Remember Lot's wife.

"Lot's wife was a professor of religion: her husband was a "righteous man" (II Peter 2:8). She left Sodom with him on the day when Sodom was destroyed; she looked back towards the city from behind her husband, against God's express command; she was struck dead at once, and turned into a pillar of salt. And the Lord Jesus Christ holds her up as a beacon to His church: He says, "Remember Lot's wife."

It is a solemn warning, when we think of the person Jesus names. He does not bid us remember Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or Sarah, or Hannah, or Ruth. No: He singles out one whose soul was lost for ever. He cries to us, "Remember Lot's wife."

It is a solemn warning, when we consider the subject Jesus is upon. He is speaking of His own second coming to judge the world: He is describing the awful state of unreadiness in which many will be found. The last days are on His mind, when He says, "Remember Lot's wife.

It is a solemn warning, when we think of the Person who gives it. The Lord Jesus is full of love, mercy, and compassion: He is One who will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax He could weep over unbelieving Jerusalem, and pray for the men that crucified Him; yet even He thinks it good to give this solemn warning and remind us of lost souls. Even He says, "Remember Lot's wife."

It is a solemn warning, when we think of the persons to whom it was first given. The Lord Jesus was speaking to His disciples: He was not addressing the Scribes and Pharisees who hated him, but Peter, James, and John, and many others who loved Him: yet even to them He thinks good to address a caution. Even to them He says, "Remember Lot's wife."

It is a solemn warning, when we consider the manner in which it was given. He does not merely say, "Beware of following-take heed of imitating-do not be like Lot's wife." He uses a different word: He says, "Remember" He speaks as if we were all in danger of forgetting the subject; He stirs up our lazy memories; He bids us keep the case before our minds. He cries, "Remember Lot's wife."I will speak of the religious privileges which Lot's wife enjoyed.

In the days of Abraham and Lot, true saving religion was scarce upon earth; there were no Bibles, no ministers, no churches, no tracts, no missionaries. The knowledge of God was confined to a few favoured families; the greater part of the inhabitants of the world were living in darkness, ignorance, superstition, and sin. Not one in a hundred perhaps had such good example, such spiritual society, such clear knowledge, such plain warnings as Lot's wife. Compared with millions of her fellow-creatures in her time, Lot's wife was a favoured woman.She had a godly man for her husband: she had Abraham, the father of the faithful for her uncle by marriage.

The faith, the knowledge, and the prayers of these two righteous men could have been no secret to her. It is impossible that she could have dwelt in tents with them for any length of time, without knowing whose they were and whom they served. Religion with them was no formal business; it was the ruling principle of their lives and the mainspring of their actions. All this Lot's wife must have seen and known. This was no small privilege.

When Abraham first received the promises, it is probable Lot's wife was there. When he built his tent between Hai and Bethel, it is probable she was there...when the angels came to Sodom and warned her husband to flee, she saw them; when they took them by the hand and led them out of the city, she was one of those whom they helped to escape. Once more, I say, these were no small privileges.

Yet what good effect had all these privileges on the heart of Lot's wife? None at all.

Notwithstanding all her opportunities and means of grace-not-withstanding all her special warnings and messages from heaven-she lived and died graceless, godless, impenitent, and unbelieving. The eyes of her understanding were never opened; her conscience was never really aroused and quickened; her will was never really brought into a state of obedience to God; her affections were never really set on things above. The form of religion which she had was kept up for fashion's sake and not from feeling: it was a cloak worn for the sake of pleasing her company, but not from any sense of its value. She did as others around her in Lot's house: she conformed to her husband's ways: she made no opposition to his religion: she allowed herself to be passively towed along in his wake: but all this time her heart was wrong in the sight of God. The world was in her heart, and her heart was in the world. In this state she lived, and in this state she died.

In all this there is much to be learned: I see a lesson here which is of the greatest importance in the present day. You live in times when there are many persons just like Lot's wife: Come and hear the lesson which her case is meant to teach.Learn, then, that the mere possession of religious privileges will save no one's soul. You may have spiritual advantages of every description; you may live in the full sunshine of the richest opportunities and means of grace; you may enjoy the best of preaching and the choicest instruction; you may dwell in the midst of light, knowledge, holiness, and good company. All this may be, and yet you yourself may remain unconverted, and at last be lost for ever.

I dare say this doctrine sounds hard to some readers. I know that many fancy they want nothing but religious privileges in order to become decided Christians. They are not what they ought to be at present, they allow; but their position is so hard, they plead, and their difficulties are so many. Give them a godly husband, or a godly wife-give them godly companions, or a godly master-give them the preaching of the gospel-give them privileges, and then they would walk with God.

It is all a mistake. It is an entire delusion. It requires something more than privileges to save souls.

Joab was David's captain; Gehazi was Elisha's servant; Demas was Paul's companion; Judas Iscariot was Christ's disciple; and Lot had a worldly, unbelieving wife. These all died in their sins. They went down to the pit in spite of knowledge, warnings, and opportunities; and they all teach us that it is not privileges alone that men need. They need the grace of the Holy Ghost.Let us value our religious privileges, but let us not rest entirely upon them. Let us desire to have the benefit of them in all our movements in life, but let us not put them in the place of Christ. Let us use them thankfully, if God gives them to us, but let us take care they produce some fruit in our heart and life. If they do not do good, they often do positive harm; they sear the conscience, they increase responsibility, they aggravate condemnation. The same fire which melts the wax hardens the clay; the same sun which makes the living tree grow, dries up the dead tree, and prepares it for burning.

Nothing so hardens the heart of man as a barren familiarity with sacred things. Once more I say, it is not privileges alone which make people Christians, but the grace of the Holy Ghost Without that no man will ever be saved.

I ask those who attend a sound ministry in the present day to mark well what I am saying. You go to Mr. A's, or Mr. B's church: you think him an excellent preacher; you delight in his sermons; you cannot hear anyone else with the same comfort; you have learned many things since you attended his ministry; you consider it a privilege to be one of his hearers! All this is very good. It is a privilege. I should be thankful if ministers like yours were multiplied a thousandfold. But, after all, what have you got in your heart? Have you yet received the Holy Ghost? if not, you are no better than Lot's wife.

I ask the children of religious parents to mark well what I am saying. It is the highest privilege to be the child of a godly father and mother, and to be brought up in the midst of many prayers. It is a blessed thing indeed to be taught the gospel from our earliest infancy, and to hear of sin, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and holiness, and heaven, from the first moment we can remember anything. But, O, take heed that you do not remain barren and unfruitful in the sunshine of all these privileges: beware lest your hearts remain hard, impenitent, and worldly, not-withstanding the many advantages you enjoy. You cannot enter the kingdom of God on the credit of your parents' religion. You must eat the bread of life for yourself, and have the witness of the Spirit in your own heart. You must have repentance of your own, faith of your own, and sanctification of your own. If not' you are no better than Lot's wife.

I pray God that all professing Christians in these days may lay these things to heart. May we never forget that privileges alone cannot save us. Light and knowledge, and faithful preaching, and abundant means of grace, and the company of holy people are all great blessings and advantages. Happy are they that have them! But after all, there is one thing without which privileges are useless: that one thing is the grace of the Holy Ghost. Lot's wife had many privileges; but Lot's wife had not grace.

J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)

June 28, 2009

Especially for Men...

I was having a conversation with a beloved friend which brought to mind some of the most inspiring quotes I ever recall hearing. They were quotes which appeared at the end of Part 5 of John MacArthur's "Does the Truth Matter Anymore?" series that he did for Cross TV several years ago. I suppose they would and should inspire all believers; but they seem to me to speak to a man's heart in a very powerful way and felt they were well worth posting:

“We must never hide our colors. There are times when we must dash to the front and court the encounter, when we see that our Captain’s honor demands it. Let us never be either ashamed or afraid. Our Lord Jesus deserves that we should yield ourselves as willing sacrifices in defense of his faith. Ease, reputation, life itself, must go for the name and faith of Jesus.

If in the heat of the battle our good name or our life must be risked to win the victory, then let us say: “in this battle some of us must fall; why should not I’. I will take part and lot with my Master; and bear reproach for His sake. Only brave soldiers are worthy of our great Lord. Those who sneak into the rear, that they may be comfortable, are not worthy of the Kingdom…”

“Brethren, we must be willing to bear ridicule for Christ’s sake, even that peculiarly envenomed ridicule which “the cultured: are so apt to pour upon us. We must be willing to be thought great fools for Jesus sake…For my part, I am willing to be ten thousand fools in one for my dear Lord and Master; and count it to be the highest honor, that can be put upon me, to be stripped of every honor and loaded with every censure for the sake of the grand old truth which is written on my very heart. Before I could quit my faith…I should have to be ground to powder, and every separate atom transformed.”

“Everybody admires Luther! Yes, Yes; but you do not want anyone else to do the same as Luther today. When you go to the zoo you all admire the bear; but how would you like a bear at home, or a bear wondering loose about the streets? You tell me that it would be unbearable, and no doubt you are right.

So, we admire a man who was firm in the faith…as long as it was four hundred years ago. The past ages are a sort of bear-pit or iron cage for him; but such a man today is a nuisance, and must be put down. Call him a narrow minded bigot, or give him a worse name if you can think of one. Yet imagine if in those ages past, Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, and their peers has said, ‘The world is out of order, but if we try to set it right we shall only cause a great disturbance, and we will only get ourselves into disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night caps, and sleep through the hard times. Perhaps when we wake up things will have grown better.’ Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error. Age after age would have gone down into the internal deeps of doctrinal error, and (by our day) would have swallowed all. These men loved the faith and the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on.

Make note of what we owe them, and let us pay to our sons the debt we owe our fathers.”

“It is today, as it was in the times of the reformation: decision is needed. Here is a day for the man, where is the man for the day? We who have had the Gospel passed to us by martyr’s hands dare not trifle with it (nor sit by and hear it denied by traitors who pretend to love it, but inwardly abhor every line of it. The faith I hold bears upon it marks of the blood of my ancestors. Shall I deny their faith for which they left their native land to sojourn here? Should we cast away the treasure which was handed to us through the bars of prisons, or came to us charred with the flames of those burned at the stake in Smithfield?

Personally, when my bones have been tortured with rheumatism, I have remembered Job Spurgeon (relative of Charles) doubtless of my own stock, who in Chelmsford jail was allowed a chair; because he could not lie down by reason of rheumatic pain.

That Quaker’s broad brim overshadows my brow. Perhaps I inherited his rheumatism; but that I do not regret, if I have his stubborn faith, which will not let me yield a syllable of the Truth of God. When I think of how others have suffered for the faith, a little scorn or unkindness seems a mere trifle, not worthy of mention. Having so many ancestors who were lovers of the faith before us, ought to be a great plea with us to ourselves to abide by the Lord God of our fathers, and the faith in which they lived.

As for me, I must hold the old Gospel. I can do no other. God helping me, I will endure the consequences of what men think in obstinacy. Look you, sirs, there are ages to come. If the Lord does not speedily appear; there will come another generation, and another, and all these generations will be tainted and injured if we are not faithful to God and to His truth today. We have come to a turning point in the road.

If we turn to the right, perhaps our children and our children’s children will go that way; but if we turn to the left, generation yet unborn will curse our names for having been unfaithful to God and to His Word. I charge you, not only by your ancestry, but by your posterity (on behalf of your children and your children’s children) that you seek to win the commendation of your Master; that though you dwell where Satan’s seat is, you yet hold fast His name, and do not deny His faith. God grant us faithfulness for the sake of the souls around us!”

“…yet, surely, there must be some who will fling aside the cowardly love of peace, and speak out for our Lord, and for His Truth. A craven spirit is upon many and their tongues are paralyzed. Oh, for an outburst of true faith and holy zeal!”

“How is the world to be saved if the church is false to her Lord? How are we to lift the masses if our fulcrum is removed? If our Gospel is uncertain, what remains but increasing misery and despair?”

“Stand fast, my beloved, in the name of God! I, your brother in Christ, entreat you to abide in the Truth. Handle yourselves like men! Be strong! And may the Lord sustain you…for Jesus sake. Amen”

“Dear Friends, this name, this faith, these are our message. Our only business here below is to cry, ‘Behold the Lamb.’. Are any of you sent of God with any other message? It cannot be. The one message which God has given to His people to proclaim is salvation through the Lamb. Salvation by the blood of Jesus…To tell of Jesus is our occupation. We have nothing to say which is not comprised in the revelation made to us by God in Jesus Christ. He who is our comfort is our theme.”

C.H. Spurgeon

The Church and its Authority (Part One)

Christian Judgment

The Bible contains the whole rule of duty for men in their present state of existence. Nothing can legitimately bind the conscience that is not commanded or forbidden by the Word of God. This principle is the safeguard of that liberty wherewith Christ has made his people free. If it be renounced, we are at the mercy of the external Church, of the State, or of public opinion. This is simply the principle that it is right to obey God rather than man.

Our obligation to render obedience to human enactments in any form rests upon our obligation to obey God; and, therefore, whenever human laws are in conflict with the law of God we are bound to disobey them.

When heathen emperors commanded Christians to worship idols, the martyrs refused.

When popes and councils commanded Protestants to worship the Virgin Mary, and to acknowledge the supremacy of the bishop of Rome, the Protestant martyrs refused.

When the Presbyterians of Scotland were required by their rulers in Church and State to submit themselves to the authority of prelatical bishops, they refused.

When the Puritans of England were called upon to recognize the doctrine of "passive obedience," they again refused. And it is to the stand thus taken by those martyrs and confessors that the world is indebted for all of the religious and. civil liberty it now enjoys.

Whether any enactment of the Church or State conflicts with the truth or law of God, is a question which every man must decide for himself. On him individually rests the responsibility, and therefore to him, as an individual, belongs the right of judgment.

Although these principles, when stated in thesi, are universally recognized among Protestants, they are nevertheless very frequently disregarded. This is true not only of the past when the Church and State both openly claimed the right to make laws to bind the conscience. It is true at the present time. Men still insist on the right of making that sin which God does not forbid; and that obligatory which God has not commanded. They prescribe rules of conduct and terms of church fellowship, which have no sanction in the Word of God.

It is just as much a duty for the people of God to resist such usurpation's, as it was for the early Christians to resist the authority of the Roman Emperors in matters of religion, or for the early Protestants to refuse to recognize the right of the Pope to determine for them what they were to believe, and what they were to do.

The essence of infidelity consists in a man's putting his own convictions on matters of truth and duty above the Bible. This may be done by fanatics in the cause of benevolence, as well as by fanatics in any other cause. It is infidelity in either case. And as such it should be denounced and resisted unless we are willing to renounce our allegiance to God, and make ourselves the servants of men.

Christian Liberty

It is perfectly consistent with the principles stated above that a thing may be right or wrong according to circumstances, and, therefore, it may often be wrong for a man to do what the Bible does not condemn. Paul himself circumcised Timothy; yet he told the Galatians that if they allowed. themselves to be circumcised, Christ would profit them nothing. Eating meat offered in sacrifice to idols was a matter of indifference. Yet the Apostle said, "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble" (1 Cor. 8:13).

There are two important principles involved in these Scriptural facts. The first is, that a thing indifferent in itself may become even fatally wrong if done with a wrong intention. Circumcision was nothing, and uncircumcision was nothing. It mattered little whether a man was circumcised or not. But if any one submitted to circumcision as an act of legal obedience, and as the necessary condition of his justification before God, he thereby rejected the Gospel, or, as the Apostle expressed it, he fell from grace. He renounced the gratuitous method of justification, and Christ became of no effect to him.

In like manner, eating meat which had been offered in sacrifice to an idol was a matter of indifference. "food," says Paul, "will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat." (1 Cor. 8:8) Yet if a man ate such meat as an act of reverence to the idol, or under circumstances which implied that it was an act of worship, he was guilty of idolatry. And, therefore, the Apostle taught that participation in feasts held within the precincts of an idol's temple, was idolatry.

The other principle is that, no matter what our intention may be, we sin against Christ when we make such use of our liberty, in matters of indifference, as causes others to offend. In the first of these cases the sin was not in being circumcised, but in making circumcision a condition of our justification. In the second case, the idolatry consisted not in eating meat offered in sacrifice to idols, but in eating it as an act of worship to the idol. And in the third case, the sin was not in asserting our liberty in matters of indifference, but in causing others to offend.

The rules which the Scriptures clearly lay down on this subject are:

(1.) That no man or body of men has the right to pronounce that to be sinful which God does not forbid. There was no sin in being circumcised, or in eating meat, or in keeping the sacred days of the Hebrews.

(2.) That it is a violation of the law of love, and therefore a sin against Christ, to make such use of our liberty as to cause others to sin. "Take care," says the Apostle, "But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." "And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ." (1 Cor. 8:9, 12.) "It is good (i. e., morally obligatory) not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles." "Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense." (Rom. 14:21, 20.)

(3). Nothing in itself indifferent can be made the ground of permanent and universal obligation. Because it was wrong in Galatia to submit to circumcision, it does not follow that it was wrong for Paul to circumcise Timothy. Because it was wrong in Corinth to eat meat, it does not follow that it is wrong always and everywhere. An obligation arising out of circumstances must vary with circumstances.

(4.) When it is obligatory to abstain from the use of things indifferent, is a matter of private judgment. No man has the right to decide that question for other men. No bishop, priest, or church court has the right to decide it. Otherwise it would not be a matter of liberty.

Paul constantly recognized the right of Christians to judge in such cases for themselves. He does this not by implication only, but he also expressly asserts it, and condemns those who would call it in question. "The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind." (Rom. xiv. 3, 4, 5.)

It is a common saying that every man has a pope in his own bosom. That is, the disposition to lord it over God's heritage is almost universal. Men wish to have their opinions on moral questions made into laws to bind the consciences of their brethren. This is just as much a usurpation of a divine prerogative when done by a private Christian or by a church court, as when done by the Bishop of Rome. We are as much bound to resist it in the one case as in the other.

by Charles Hodge [Taken from Hodge's Systematic Theology, vol. III, pp. 262-265. Edited by Michael Bremmer. Bible quotes are from the NAS version]

To gain a better understanding of the "church", one would profit from a study on how the church functioned and was defined during the Patristic period; in the Middle Ages; and during and after the Reformation. I would highly recommend L. Berkhof's "Systematic Theology" with the companion volume on "The History of Church Doctrines", published by Banner of Truth.

June 26, 2009

Their petty differences...

It doesn't seem all that complicated to me. 1) Have agreement on the essentials of the faith as the only membership requirement. 2) When teaching non-essentials; teach all of the positions that the Church has held and allow the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, to bring each man understanding of these things. 3) As a Pastor, explain to your flock your convictions in these areas and why you hold them. However, also explain to your flock that we must all allow liberty in those areas and avoid frivolous discussions, needles debates, and unprofitable controversies that cause discord and veil the beauty of Christ.

The church of Christ is composed of all who are savingly united to Him by genuine faith. They are infallibly known only to Himself. They are scattered far and wide, separated from each other by seas and mountains; they are a people of many nations and languages. But, wherever their lot is cast, they hear His voice, and are under His gracious eye. They do not have equal degrees of spiritual light, or measures of grace--but they are all 'accepted in the Beloved'. They are all spiritual worshipers, and joint partakers of grace--and all will hereafter appear together at their Savior's right hand in glory!

In whatever is essential to their salvation, they are all led by the same Spirit, and mind the same things.But at present they are in an imperfect state. Though they are new creations--they are not freed from the 'principle of indwelling sin'. Their knowledge is clouded by much remaining ignorance; and their zeal, though right in its aim, is often warped and misguided by the corrupt influence of SELF. They still have many corruptions. They live in a world which furnishes frequent occasions of enticing them. And Satan, their subtle and powerful enemy, is always upon his watch to mislead and ensnare them!Besides all this--they are born, educated, and effectually called, under a great variety of circumstances.

Habits of life, local customs, early relationships with families and friends, and even bodily constitution, have more or less influence in forming their characters, and in giving a bias and turn to their manner of thinking; so that, in matters of a secondary nature--their sentiments may, and often do--differ as much as the features of their faces! A uniformity of judgment among them on these secondary matters, is not to be expected, while the wisest are defective in knowledge, the holiest are defiled with sin, and while the weaknesses of human nature, which are common to them all--are so differently affected by a thousand impressions which arise from their various situations.

They might, however, maintain a unity of spirit, and live in the exercise of mutual love, were it not that almost every individual unhappily conceives that they are bound in conscience, to prescribe their own line of conduct--as a standard to which all their brethren ought to conform! They are but few, who consider this "narrow mind-set" to be as unnecessary, unreasonable, and impracticable, as it would be to insist, or expect, that every man's shoes should be exactly of one size! Thus, though all agree in asserting the authority and right of the Lord Jesus, as King and Head of His church--yet the various ideas they frame of the rule or standard to which He requires them to conform, and their pertinacious attachment to their own conceptions of it--separate them almost as much from each other, as if they were not united to Him by a principle of living faith!

Their petty differences form them into so many separate churches; and the fury with which they defend their own ideas, and oppose all who cannot agree with them in every minute point, makes them forget that they are children in the same family, and servants of the same Master! And, while they vex and worry each other with disputations and censures--the world is bewildered by all this, and laughs at them all!

(The world is laughing at us as well. And even worse; because of us, they are laughing at our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ)

The spirit of love is restrained, offences are multiplied, and Satan is gratified by beholding the extensive effects of his pernicious and long-practiced maxim, Divide and conquer!

"Accept one another, therefore, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Romans 15:7

(Letters of John Newton)

June 25, 2009

Not Great Things, but Real Things

"And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not– for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, says the Lord. But your life will I give unto you for a prey in all places where you go." Jeremiah 45:5

Does the Lord say, "Seek not great things?" What then? "Seek real things." Mark the difference. Great things may suit the carnal mind, but real things will alone suit the spiritual mind. " O that Thou wouldst bless me indeed!" cried one whose inmost soul was panting for realities; and with his prayer do I, in my right mind, join heart and soul.

Realities are what my soul, when the Lord is pleased to bedew me with His Spirit, is breathing after; not great things, but real things. By real things I mean those spiritual blessings that are dropped into the soul by the mouth of God-the solemn verities of the kingdom of God made known by the Holy Ghost-such as the smiles of God’s countenance, the testimonies of His mercy, atoning blood sprinkled upon the conscience, Christ’s righteousness imputed and revealed to the soul, visits from Jesus, soft whispers of His love, blessed intimations of His favour, communion with Him, a broken heart, a tender conscience, a contrite spirit, godly fear in exercise.

Now these are real things. They are not what dead professors desire. Such never want power, unction, savour, dew, to be felt in their souls. There is in them no sighing after the smiles of God’s countenance, or the manifestations of His covenant love. The great bulk of what is called "the religious world" despise these things; they are not in their book, their Sunday school does not teach them; the gown and bands of their pulpits does not preach them. They would rather hunt after that will-o’-the-wisp called "decided piety," or self-righteousness new christened "holiness," or missionary zeal, or tract dispersing.

Having no faith to realize unseen things, they want something visible to sense, something intelligible to reason, something tangible, something within the grasp of the natural mind. But to be poor and needy, tempted and tried, with no hope but that which God gives, no faith but that which God communicates, no love but that which God sheds abroad, no peace but what He speaks, no religion but what He breathes into the soul, is as much beyond their understanding as their desire. Nor until a man has come to the end of all the religion of the creature, and been divinely initiated into the spiritual knowledge of the only true God, has he any understanding of, or appetite for, those real things in which the very sum and substance of vital godliness, the very marrow and essence of true religion consists.

There is a desire in many to be religious, but they utterly mistake what true religion is. To live a good life, to abstain from sin, "to cultivate," as it is called, grace, to be holy, to do good to their fellow-creatures, to exert themselves for the conversion of others-in these and similar things do most consider religion to consist. But a man may do, and be all this in the flesh, "which profiteth nothing" Joh 6:63 and thus come short of eternal life.

I solemnly assure you that these things will never speak peace to your souls-I mean "the peace of God which passeth all understanding"-in a dying hour. These things have been possessed by hundreds who have perished in their sins. They were, perhaps, highly esteemed professors in their day; were pointed out as examples to others, died in a false peace, and in funeral sermons were sent triumphantly to heaven; when, could their souls’ miserable flight have been followed, they would have been seen to sink into the lowest hell.

These things, if God has touched your conscience with His finger, you know from experience are delusive and vain; and, therefore, what your soul is panting after in those secret moments when God’s eye is looking into your heart, is to feel the savour, the power, the unction of heavenly things, and to have the blessed visitations of God’s love, and the manifestations of His grace and mercy.

Preached on Lord’s Day Evening, August 22nd, 1841, at Salem Chapel, Landport, Portsmouth
J.C. Philpot

Faith, Works, Love

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Camp on this passage for a long time. Meditate on this text. Do we really understand the significance of what Paul is saying?

You have heard it said, "Love is not a feeling; it's a choice" Oh really? What a pathetic way to try to explain love. One can choose to respect someone; to honor someone; to serve someone; to be loyal to someone; to even die for someone--but, that does not mean they have love.

If faith without works is dead; then, it must logically follow, if one believes what Paul is saying to be true (and of course it is), that faith, even with works, without love is nothing.

Perhaps while we are spending hours debating what kind of faith saves and what kind of works will come out of true saving faith, we might consider that even after we come to the conclusion (in our own minds) of that matter; or, even reach an agreement with everyone we know that true saving faith results in a manifestation of outward works of righteousness, and, even if we believe that we possess such saving faith and that our lives reflect that faith and yet have not love; according to God's Word--it will profit us nothing.

"Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." 1 Timothy 1:13

June 23, 2009

Two Perspectives on "How one is Saved"

There is an outward darkness on men and an inward darkness in men.

Outward darkness is when men do not have that light by which they are enabled to see. So outward spiritual darkness is upon men when there is nothing to enlighten them about God and spiritual things (Matt 4:16; Psa 119:105; Psa. 19:1-4,8; 2 Pet 1:19; Rom 10:15, 18). It is the work of the Holy Spirit to remove this darkness by sending the light of the gospel (Acts 13:2, 4; 16:6-10; Psa. 147:19,20).

Inward darkness, on the other hand, arises from the natural depravity and corruption of the minds of men concerning spiritual things. Man’s mind is depraved and corrupted in things which are natural, civil, political, and moral, as well as in things which are spiritual, heavenly and evangelical. This depravity is often held back from having its full effects by the common grace of the Holy Spirit. So, man’s mind being darkened, he is unable to see, receive, understand or believe to the saving of his soul. Spiritual things, or the mysteries of the gospel, without the Holy Spirit first creating within the soul a new light by which they can see and receive those things, cannot bring salvation.

However brilliant the mind may be, and however brilliant the preaching and presentation of the gospel might be, yet without the Holy Spirit first creating this light in them, they cannot receive, understand and agree with the truths preached, and so will not be led to salvation (Eph 4:17, 18).

John Owen

"You've been born again through the living and abiding Word of God." It is the power of the Word that produces salvation. It is the Word of God which converts the soul, Psalm 19:7 says.

When you understand that the Word is the power that converts the soul, you preach the Word. If you don't preach the Word you don't believe that no matter what you say. It is not only the source of salvation, it is the source of sanctification. Look at verses 16 and 17. "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, training in righteousness that the man of God and everyone who follows His pattern may be perfect or complete, equipped for every good work." It is the power of the Word that saves. It is the power of the Word that sanctifies. It provides doctrine. It reproves error and sin. It sets upright and then trains in the path of righteousness.

That's the sequence. You lay a foundation of doctrine, it reproves error and sin, then you correct that. It literally means in the Greek to make someone upright who has fallen down, you pick him back up, correct their error and their iniquity and then put them in the path of righteousness, train them to live an obedient life. The Word does that. The Word makes the man of God and everybody who follows His pattern complete. It prepares them spiritually. This is what we call the sufficiency of the Scripture. It completely saves, completely sanctifies. It sanctifies and saves those at the highest level of calling, that is the preacher, the man of God, and makes it possible for him to be an example of godliness that everybody else can follow. It is sufficient to save and sanctify all."

John MacArthur

June 21, 2009

The Local Church

Disclaimer: I don't see any realistic solution to this problem and I don't claim to have any of the answers. I am simply sharing the following to inform those who may be unaware of the problems that some lay people face when desiring to join a local church.

For the average lay person, membership in a local body is usually not a huge and perplexing decision. They attend a local church, they feel the teaching is biblically sound and the worship is to their liking. They fill out an application, the church leaders interview them, and their application is usually accepted and they are introduced as new members of the church (of course each church has their own set of steps). They do not know that the statement of faith that they agreed to, as part of the membership requirements, includes doctrines that they may have never even heard of let alone know whether they agree with those doctrinal positions or not.

To take it even further, most lay persons who are members of Baptist churches do not even know that their church does not hold to the doctrines of grace. To them Baptist is Baptist. They know nothing about Particular vs General or Calvinistic vs. Arminian. They hold no personal convictions on anything accept they know they don't want to be a member of a church that uses contemporary music during worship and where the pastor doesn't wear a suit and tie--that much they are quite sure about.

Case in point: My grandfather attended a baptist church for 25 years, loves the Lord, went to mid week bible studies faithfully, was appointed as a Deacon and never knew the difference between calvinistic baptists and arminian baptist. By conversations, it was clear he was calvinistic, even though the only tulip he was familiar with was the one that grows in the garden. And yet he was a member of, and a Deacon at, an arminian baptist church. On a rather humorous side: I will never forget his response to me when I used the term "hermeneutics". He said, "Now honey, I know your young and a relatively new Christian, but I must warn you to watch out for that new finagled stuff". At first I thought he was being funny and I almost laughed, but I quickly realized that he truly did not know what that word meant. My natural reaction would have been to take that opportunity to educate my Grandpa; but there were others present and so I decided the wise and kind thing would be to let it go. I did tell him the next time I visited, and we had some private time alone, what the term "hermeneutics" means.

So, why am I saying all this? I suppose because I find myself in a rather difficult situation. For the average lay person who doesn't spend their free time studying church history, denominational differences, and theology, church membership presents no real problem for them and they present no real problem for the local church. They don't ask questions, they just sign the dotted line. On the other hand, finding a church where I can (in good conscience) sign a membership agreement is next to impossible because most have added secondary doctrines to their church membership requirements, i.e., dispensational vs. covenantal theology, and pre-trib vs post-trib eschatology just to name a few.

In addition to that, many would exclude men like Martyn LLoyd-Jones; and most of the Reformers and the Puritans from membership (if they were alive today) because they are paedobaptistic. Oh, they would allow them to preach from their pulpit when in town, and they would read their treatises and sermons and commentaries and even quote them often, but they would not allow them to be members of the church and some would not even let them share in the Lord's Supper.

That presents a problem for me. I cannot in good conscience become a member of a church who holds to those convictions about membership. I am not alone in my concern and confusion regarding this. Some of the most learned and godly men of our times are struggling with this very issue. Here is an excerpt from "Together for The Gospel" written by Ligon Duncan:

"The long and the short of it is that honored friends and colleagues have asked "How can you be ‘together for the Gospel,’ but not together at the Lord’s Table or in church membership?’" Their point being that Mark Dever, in holding to a classic baptist position on communion and church membership, would not allow someone who had not received believer’s baptism to be a member at his church or to share in the Lord’s Supper, and thus, subsequently, they wonder how he can think of being ‘Together for the Gospel’ with a paedobaptist like me who couldn’t me a church member at CHBC.

First, let me say, that I fully appreciate the force of this question, and the deep, biblical passion behind it. When John Piper says: "when a person looks a true and precious brother in the eye and says, ‘You may not join this church,’ he is doing one of two things: Seriously diminishing our spiritual union in Christ, or seriously minimizing the importance of church membership." John has my full attention! When Sam Storms says: "the claim to be ‘Together for the Gospel’ rings a bit hollow to me when some would decline to fellowship with others around the Lord’s Table because of their disagreement on the proper recipients of baptism." I take the concern expressed seriously."

So do I and it grieves me deeply. I do not take membership lightly. I do not willy-nilly or even in ignorance, sign a document committing myself to a local body that I do not fully understand and/or agree with. In addition, I would never feel right in becoming a member of a church that would forbid membership to some of the greatest men of the faith that God has given His church!

Perhaps, when it comes to the local church and membership, "ignorance is bliss". The only problem is that I don't want "bliss!" I want the local body to accurately represent and reflect Christ - I haven't found one yet that does not add nonessential doctrines and beliefs to their church membership requirements and I feel that shows a like of trust in God Himself to oversee the Church.

"Genuine Christian community arises from the power of God. Through the Holy Spirit we are united to Christ and participate in "every spiritual blessing" in the heavenly realms in Christ (Eph 1:3). Our union with Christ also unites us to Christian brothers and sisters, and makes us part of one family under God (1 Cor 12). Hence, at the heart of the church stands our union with Christ.

Jesus Christ is Lord over the church (Eph 5:24). The church is not a private club, with rules determined in whatever way the members wish, but a community ruled by Christ. Hence, membership in a visible Christian community ought to be determined not by an arbitrary set of rules and regulations, nor by the autonomous decision of Christian leaders, but by the authority of Christ. We are obliged to receive all whom Christ instructs us to receive. And conversely, we are obliged to exclude those whom Christ instructs us to exclude. We receive repentant sinners, even though they are imperfect, while we exclude upstanding, moral, self-sufficient "righteous" people who refuse to acknowledge Christ’s saving work.

Because union with Christ is at the heart of our salvation, some people have inferred that the church consists only of those who are regenerate, that is, only those savingly united to Christ. But only God knows perfectly who these people are. "The Lord knows those who are his" (2 Tim 2:19)—but we do not. In fact, the visible church includes wolves and hypocrites as well as the genuine sheep (that is, those who are regenerate). 1 John 2:19 indicates that some people "‘went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." These people were not regenerate: "none of them belonged to us." But they were for a time members of the visible church: "they would have remained with us." Similarly, in Acts 20:29-30 Paul warns that "savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them."

Vern Sheridan Poythress

In Closing: In their desire to protect the flock - many local independent churches and many of the denominationally affiliated churches have (in many ways) become little Vatican's. This is something to pray about and to ponder.

"Here as elsewhere, we must avoid the twin errors of indifferentism and rigorism. First, there is indifferentism. If we do not require profession or credible evidence of repentance, we show indifference. We do not take seriously the fact that Christ rebukes sin.

Second, there is rigorism. We may try to admit only those who are regenerate. But we do not know infallibly who is regenerate. Do we then try to raise our standards to exclude as many hypocrites as possible? We may make the standards higher and higher, in order to exclude cases with the least possible doubt. But the result is that we require at the beginning maturity that Christ brings only along the way.

Rigorism simply misunderstands Christian growth and perseverance. It has a false conception of the purity of the church. It has too much confidence in the ability of leaders to discern people's hearts, and simultaneously too little confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit within the community to bring about growth and to bring about excommunication in cases of lack of repentance.

Rigorism is bad, but it is nevertheless fairly common in evangelical churches. Many, many evangelicals may sincerely want to avoid rigorism in their hearts and in their personal attitudes. But they nevertheless practice rigorism at those times when they formally admit people to church membership. People who become members must agree to a large number of doctrinal standards that the church holds. These standards constitute a rigoristic barrier."

Added on 06/23/2009 to prevent any misunderstanding: I am committed to and have been worshipping at the same church for almost 4 years and have rarely missed a day. I love my Pastor and I love the people who are part of this local body and I would submit to church discipline if it ever came to that. In addition, I have shared with my Pastor my reasons for being unable to apply for official membership. (I would actually have to lie in order to sign the membership agreement as it stands now). I respect my Pastor's convictions in regard to including the non-essential doctrines as part of the church's statement of faith and he respects my convictions for not being able to sign a membership agreement as long as those doctrines are part of the church's statement of faith. He also trusts that I would do nothing to cause discord or dissension by propagating by own personal convictions about eschatology (for example).

June 19, 2009

With all due respect....

and on a personal note.

I am frankly tired of defending my desire to learn from the great men of faith. Yes, it has (in a sense) spoiled me. Yes, it has (in sense) made me somewhat grieved by what I hear coming from the modern pulpits. If these men were still alive and preaching every night of the week, I would go to worship the Lord with them as they proclaimed His majesty through the preaching of His Word every single day--but they are not and so I am left to read.

They are my brothers-in-Christ and men called by God to be pastors and teachers. Is there some reason that I should not benefit from this rich and wonderful gift that He has seen fit to give His church? Is there some reason that you should not also take advantage of what the Lord has given His Church? Am I being somehow disloyal to my local Pastor, because I read sermon transcripts that were preached by these men?

When I express a concern regarding a particular man or his ministry, it is out of love for the Church, for Christ, for the saints, and for the lost. It is not motivated by some desire to win an argument or sound knowledgeable. And why do I sometimes see things in what is being said that concern me?--Because I have sat under the teaching and preaching of some of the most gifted men of God. God has used these men of faith to expose me to some of the most God glorifying, Christ exalting, and soul sanctifying, preaching and teaching that I would have otherwise been deprived of, if my exposure was limited to the modern pulpit. My mind, heart and soul longs for this. Am I comparing you to them? Is there some reason that I should not? Is there any reason that a lay person should lack because of the deficiency of the preaching in these modern times?

If the modern pulpit cannot compare, then perhaps it is the pastors that need to look at themselves instead attempting to silence me and accuse me of being unkind or too critical.

Read the following. There are other "moderns" who know what I feel and can articulate it so much more clearly then I can.

In my own sampling of Puritan writings, my heart has been greatly helped and my soul stimulated. Following are several reasons I believe pastors should give renewed attention to the Puritans’ writings.

1. They lift our gaze to the greatness and gladness of GOD.

We are innately man-centered in our thinking about God. As someone once said, "God made man in his own image, and man returned the compliment."

The Puritans, unlike many others, lift our gaze to see God’s soul-satisfying transcendence. I’ll never forget my awe of God after spending significant time reading Stephen Charnock’s The Existence and Attributes of God, or the depth of joy in God that I discovered in the writings of Thomas Brooks and Jonathan Edwards. For example, Edwards wrote:

The enjoyment of [God] is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, to fully enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the fountain. These are but drops; but God is the ocean.

2. They open our eyes to the beauty and loveliness of CHRIST.

The Puritans were as Christ-centered as they were God-centered. They loved Christ passionately and sought His glory tirelessly. Thomas Goodwin said, "If I were to go to heaven, and find that Christ was not there, I would leave immediately; for heaven without Christ would be hell to me."

The Puritans saw Christ on virtually every page of Scripture. Thomas Adams wrote: "Christ is the sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line, the Scriptures being but as it were the swaddling bands of the child Jesus."[4] We might occasionally question the accuracy of Puritan exegesis, but surely we can find no fault with their passion for Christ-centeredness.

They especially gloried in the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work. Jonathan Edwards, in a sermon on Isaiah 32:2, said:

Christ by his obedience, by that obedience which he undertook for our sakes, has honored God abundantly more than the sins of any of us have dishonored him, how many soever, how great soever.... God hates our sins, but not more than he delights in Christ's obedience which he performed on our account. This is a sweet savor to him, a savor of rest. God is abundantly compensated, he desires no more; Christ's righteousness is of infinite worthiness and merit.

3. They prick our consciences with the subtlety and sinfulness of SIN.

There are not many Christian book titles today that include the word sin, but the Puritans were serious about sin and wrote about it often, as just a few of their titles reveal (Ralph Venning’s The Sinfulness of Sin, Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Evil of Evils, Thomas Watson’s The Mischief of Sin).

Perhaps the most helpful books to me have been John Owen’s classics on the mortification and temptation of sin. To read Owen is to allow a doctor of the soul to do surgery. Owen said, "Be killing sin or it will be killing you." His counsel on how to kill sin and avoid temptation is the best I’ve ever read.

4. They ravish and relish the soul with the power and glory of GRACE.

Sometimes Puritans get a bad rap for being legalistic, and perhaps the accusation would occasionally stick—there was, after all, imperfect theology in the 16th century, too! But the Puritans understood grace’s transforming power and glory in dimensions often foreign to us.
Many contemporary books dealing with sin simply give us lists to live by—things to do and not do. Even a focus on the spiritual disciplines can sometimes be bereft of any real dependence on grace. Contrast that with Owen’s words,

There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.... Set faith at work on Christ--for the killing of your sin.... By faith fill your soul with a due consideration of that provision which is laid up in Jesus Christ for this end and purpose, that all your lusts, this very lust wherewith you are entangled, may be mortified.

Owen does not fail to point the sin-fighting believer to Christ. He clearly shows us that we can only overcome sin by depending on Christ and His cross.

5. They plumb the depths of the soul with profound biblical, PRACTICAL and psychological insight.

The Puritans were not just theologians; they were pastors, physicians of the soul, and exceptionally good counselors. My wife, who has occasionally read Puritan writing, has commented that the Puritans understood people and how they think.

One of the most practical Puritan writings is Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory, called by Tim Keller "the greatest manual on biblical counseling ever produced." This 900-page tome is divided into four sections: Christian Ethics, Christian Economics, Christian Ecclesiastics, and Christian Politics. In layman’s terms, these deal with the Christian’s personal/spiritual life, home life, church life, and social life.

Here are some of the practical matters Baxter addresses and the pastoral advice he gives.

Under Christian Ethics:

20 directions "to weak Christians for their establishment and growth"
5 directions for "redeeming as well as improving time" (including "thieves or time wasters to be watched against," of which Baxter lists 12)
10 "directions for the government of the passions"
Under Christian Economics are similar directions for husbands, wives, parents, and children in their specific duties toward one another. I surveyed 10 directions for helping husbands and wives "live in quietness and peace, and avoid all occasions of wrath and discord," and have never seen anything more practical in a contemporary book on marriage.

6. They sustain and strengthen the soul through suffering with the SOVEREIGNTY of God.

Because the Puritans were descendants of the English martyrs and were persecuted themselves (thousands of Puritan pastors were ejected from their pulpits in 1662), they were well acquainted with suffering; yet they trusted God’s good providence in and over suffering. For the Puritans, suffering was purposeful.

Thomas Watson said, "God’s rod is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more lively on us,"[9] while John Flavel wrote, "Let a Christian ... be but two or three years without an affliction, and he is almost good for nothing."

In another volume, Flavel said, "Oh, what owe I to the file, and to the hammer, and to the furnace of my Lord Jesus! who has now let me see how good the wheat of Christ is, that goes through his mill, and his oven, to be made bread for his own table. Grace tried is better than grace, and more than grace. It is glory in its infancy."

Few books could be more helpful for all Christians than John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence, Thomas Watson’s All Things for Good, Thomas Brooks’ A Mute Christian Under the Rod, or Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot.

7. They set our sights and focus our affections on ETERNAL REALITIES.

The Puritans lived with heaven and hell in view, and the aroma of the world to come pervades their writings. Richard Baxter, in The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, shows that the reason so many Christians are cold in their love for Christ is that they live with heaven out of sight and mind. Baxter wrote,

If you would have light and heat, why are you not more in the sunshine? For lack of this recourse to heaven, your soul is as a lamp not lighted, and your duties as a sacrifice without fire. Fetch one coal daily from this altar, and see if your offering will not burn. Light your lamp at this flame, and feed it daily with oil from hence, and see if it will not gloriously shine. Keep close to this reviving fire, and see if your affections will not be warm.

Most of us are familiar with Jonathan Edwards’ frightening descriptions of hell from "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," but his vision of heaven’s glory is as attractive as his description of hell is repulsive. In his Miscellanies, Edwards wrote of glorified saints,

Their knowledge will increase to eternity; and if their knowledge, their holiness; for as they increase in the knowledge of God, and of the works of God, the more they will see of his excellency, and the more they see of his excellency ... the more will they love him, and the more they love God, the more delight and happiness will they have in him.

The Puritans remind us that heaven is not living in disembodied bliss and plucking harps in a cloud-filled, ethereal environment, but rather an ever-expanding knowledge of God and an ever-increasing joy in God.


The Puritans saw God, loved Christ, and feared sin; they were transformed by grace, practical in counsel, enduring in suffering, and living for eternity. When I read them, I almost always find my soul’s palate cleansed and my ability enhanced to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8).

Brothers, read the Puritans! Your heart will be helped and your soul stimulated"

Brian G. Hedges
A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God

Shown to be Both Scriptural and Rational Doctrine
by Jonathan Edwards

Click HERE

Did you know?

In 1657, John Owen produced one of his finest devotional treatises, probably the substance of a series of sermons. He examines the Christian’s communion with God as it relates to all three members of the Holy Trinity. He leads us by green pastures and still waters, and lays open the exhaustless springs of the Christian’s hidden life with God. Twenty years after its publication, Of Communion with God provoked the scoffing remarks of a Rational ecclesiastic. In his reply, Owen vindicates himself from the various mystical sentiments that were ascribed to him.

And it is still going on today.

If you would like to know what John Owen taught Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost Click the link.

T4G (1653)

A little more History: (I would highly recommend reading all of the works referenced below. You will find them tremendously profitable to both mind and heart.)

In 1653 Owen was once more engaged in preaching before Parliament. In the midst of these engagements, Cromwell invited him, together with a number of other ministers -- Presbyterian, Independent, and Baptist -- to hold a conference on Christian unity. Apparently too much was attempted and no practical measures resulted. But at least it showed the willingness and earnest desire of the leaders to confer together and recognize each other as brethren in the same family.

Baxter, Howe and Owen were all champions of unity and of the advance of Christian love. Baxter wrote: “While we wrangle here in the dark, we are dying, and passing to the world that will decide all our controversies; and the safest passage thither is by a peaceable holiness.” Howe was of kindred spirit, and in this vein wrote his essay On Union among Protestants and On the Carnality of Religious Contentions. Owen shared the same ideals and laboured with tongue and pen to motivate towards a greater expression of unity.

He was wise enough to picture denominational differences in their right proportion, neither disregarding them nor blowing them up. Two of his early works, The Duty of Pastors and People Distinguished and Eshcol: or, Rule for Church Fellowship deal with this important theme.

Owen’s major contribution, together with the efforts of other Puritans, was in expounding in their writings the major principles on which true and lasting unity can be accomplished. In their mind unity, love and sound doctrine do not repel each other; they are complementary and must be found together at all times.

Owen fought on two fronts: on one hand he had to maintain a ministry of warning to his brethren against the inroads of Popery, and on the other hand heroically holding to the ideal of unity among brethren. He longed to see the ranks of the true church of Christ marching on to victory, with all alienations and divisions healed or at least placed in their proper perspective and reduced to their true magnitude. He wanted the Protestant denominations to cultivate a spirit of mutual confiding so as to be prepared in their resistance to their common enemy.

Nevertheless he was still convinced of the necessity and duty of separation from the Episcopal Church. Engaged in controversy with Stillingfleet he produced one of his best apologies of Nonconformity, entitled, A Brief Vindication of Nonconformists from the Charge of Schism, as it was managed against them in a Sermon by Dr Stillingfleet. Still, he was convinced that evangelicals, whose faith is embedded in Scripture alone, have a solemn duty to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In this respect he produced such studies as Union among Protestant, a work expressing this generous intent and desire.

History should humble us...

Nothing new under the sun. Although it grieves me to see the controversies raging in the church today, it comforts me to know that it has always been this way. We are not so learned and clever as we think. If one studies Church History, one will soon discover that what the church is debating today has already been discussed and debated in length by the men who have gone before us. If nothing else, studying the controversies within the church (ancient to modern) should, at the very least humble us, but preferably--make us realize that it might benefit all to read what has already been debated before we think we have something great and wonderful to offer. Let us look at a little modern history:

In his earliest writings Perkins frequently defined faith with reference to a direct relationship to Christ. Later he came to lay more emphasis upon the relationship of faith to the words of God in Holy Scripture. He defined faith as “a gift of God whereby we give assent or credence to God’s Word. (Does this not sound familiar?)

He held that “it is all one to say the saving promise and Christ promised” is the object of faith. The earlier reformers, Luther and Calvin, had believed that the conjunction of Word and Spirit made the Scriptures normative through the way in which they created and nourished faith.

As the Bible came to be regarded as a book of metaphysical knowledge concentration upon what it directly said assumed a greater role. The efficacy of Scripture rested no more on the work of the Spirit, but upon the identification of the text and the Spirit, through a conception of the Bible as verbally inspired and inerrant. The Bible was thus seen as a book of delivered truth; theology was the orderly statement of truth and truth became identical with propositional statement. This identification is seen very clearly in the five “points” of the Remonstrants and in the five “counter-points” of the High Calvinists at the Synod of Dort in 1619. Whilst Luther and Calvin had moved from the authority of the Bible to the inerrancy of the text, later Reformed teachers moved in the reverse direction. The battle with Roman Catholicism over the authority of the Bible also caused the Protestants to defend the Bible as the recorded document of the very words of God Himself. Perkins’ position was, as it were, a half-way point between Calvin and the High Calvinists who attended the Synod of Dort.

One of the chief characteristics of Puritanism was its great interest in the doctrine of the assurance of eternal salvation and in the related problems of conscience. The reason for this absorbing interest may perhaps be traced to two sources. First, many ordinary people had been thrown into spiritual chaos by the sweeping changes made in the parish church in regard to the services of worship and the religious observances; these people needed counsel and help. (Sound familiar?)

The complete Federal Theology of the early seventeenth century combined various strands of Reformation thought and made these into a systematic whole through the use of Ramist logic and method. Though it did stimulate much that was good in the religious life of the English Puritans, the Scottish Covenanters and the New England settlers, it did gradually harden into an arid theological system, just as the theology of Calvin hardened into scholastic Calvinism. (Sound familiar?)

The majority of High Calvinists believed that when God converted a sinner He acted directly upon both the intellect and will of the person concerned. He convinced the mind of His truth and constrained the will to accept His offered grace. Cameron taught that God acted solely on the mind, but because of the inter-relation of mind and will, the will is eventually affected even as the effect follows the cause. This way of describing conversion was meant to soften the harsh idea that the term “irresistible grace” suggests. It made conversion more of an intellectual response to God’s truth.

To read the entire article click here.

June 18, 2009

A More Excellent Way

“As for my part, this I say, and I say it with much integrity, I never yet took up party religion in the lump. For I have found by a long trial of such matters that there is some truth on all sides. I have found Gospel holiness where you would little think it to be, and so likewise truth. And I have learned this principle, which I hope I shall never lay down till I am swallowed up of immortality, and that is, to acknowledge every truth and every goodness wherever I find it.”

Thomas Goodwin

Worth reading many times, as we can so easily forget this wise counsel...

Dear Sir,

As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armor, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul's, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God. I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For method's sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord's teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: "Deal gently with him for my sake."

The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! "He knows not what he does." But you know who has made you to differ.

If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose. "If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth."

If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.

By printing, you will appeal to the public; where your readers may be ranged under three divisions: First, such as differ from you in principle. Concerning these I may refer you to what I have already said. Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million. There will be likewise many who pay too little regard to religion, to have any settled system of their own, and yet are preengaged in favor of those sentiments which are at least repugnant to the good opinion men naturally have of themselves.

These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer's spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper; and though they affect to treat the doctrines of grace as mere notions and speculations, which, supposing they adopted them, would have no salutary influence upon their conduct; yet from us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments. The scriptural maxim, that "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God," is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit.

The weapons of our warfare, and which alone are powerful to break down the strongholds of error, are not carnal, but spiritual; arguments fairly drawn from Scripture and experience, and enforced by such a mild address, as may persuade our readers, that, whether we can convince them or not, we wish well to their souls, and contend only for the truth's sake; if we can satisfy them that we act upon these motives, our point is half gained; they will be more disposed to consider calmly what we offer; and if they should still dissent from our opinions, they will be constrained to approve our intentions.

You will have a third class of readers, who, being of your own sentiments, will readily approve of what you advance, and may be further established and confirmed in their views of the Scripture doctrines, by a clear and masterly elucidation of your subject. You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind. I think I have known some Arminians, that is, persons who for want of a clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace, who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility, that they are willing in words to debase the creature and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.

Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments.

Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defenses were seasonable and expedient they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented. And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it.

Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value.

This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?

Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who "when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not." This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, "not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called." The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savor and efficacy of our labors.If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves.

If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.

Reprinted from The Works of John Newton, Letter XIX "On Controversy."