December 31, 2009

Christopher Love - Beheaded at the age of 33

Love was arrested on May 14, 1652, by Oliver Cromwell’s forces for alleged involvement with the Presbyterians of Scotland who were raising money for the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. Love denied the charge, but he was tried and convicted of treason for what has become known as “Love’s plot.” Love’s wife and numerous friends, including several prominent ministers in London, interceded on his behalf, but to no avail. Ardent republican Independents were determined to destroy him. Love was beheaded on Tower Hill, London, on August 22, 1651, at the age of thirtythree.

In a moving address from the scaffold, Love answered the charges made against him and urged citizens of London to heed and love their godly ministers. Sheriff Tichburn granted him permission to pray. He prayed:

Most Glorious and eternal Majesty, Thou art righteous and holy in all Thou dost to the sons of men, though Thou hast suffered men to condemn Thy servant, Thy servant will not condemn Thee. He justifies Thee though Thou cuttest him off in the midst of his days and in the midst of his ministry, blessing Thy glorious name, that though he be taken away from the land of the living, yet he is not blotted out of the Book of the Living.... O Thou blessed God, whom Thy creature hath served, who hath made Thee his hope and his confidence from his youth, forsake him not now while he is drawing near to Thee. Now he is in the valley of the shadow of death; Lord, be Thou life to him. Smile Thou upon him while men frown upon him. Lord, Thou hast settled this persuasion in his heart that as soon as ever the blow is given to divide his head from his body he shall be united to his Head in heaven. Blessed be God that Thy servant dies in these hopes.

We entreat Thee, O Lord, think upon Thy poor churches. O that England might live in Thy sight! And O that London might be a faithful city to Thee! That righteousness might be among them, that peace and plenty might be within her walls and prosperity within their habitations. Lord, heal the breaches of these nations; make England and Scotland as one staff in the Lord’s hand, that Ephraim may not envy Judah, nor Judah vex Ephraim, but that both may fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines. O that men of the Protestant religion, engaged in the same cause and covenant, might not delight to spill each other’s blood, but might engage against the common adversaries of our religion and liberty! God, show mercy to all that fear Thee. The Lord think upon our covenant-keeping brethren of the Kingdom of Scotland; keep them faithful to Thee, and let not them that have invaded them overspread their whole land. Prevent the shedding of more Christian blood if it seems good in Thine eyes.

After the public prayer, Love thanked the sheriff, and said, “I go from a block to the bosom of my Savior.” Love called for the executioner and tipped him to encourage a beheading with one blow. He fell on his knees and said, “I lie down with a world of comfort as if I were to lie down in my bed. My bed is but a short sleep, and this death is a long sleep where I shall rest in Abraham’s bosom and in the embraces of the Lord Jesus.” His last words, just before he put his head on theblock, were, “Blessed be God for Jesus Christ.”

A Farewell Letter to his wife:

My most gracious Beloved,

I am now going from a prison to a palace: I have finished my work, and am now going to receive my wages. I am going to heaven, where are two of my children, and leaving you on earth, where there are three of my babes. These two above, need not my care; but the three below need thine. It comforts me to think, two of my children are in the bosom of Abraham, and three of them will be in the arms and care of such a tender and godly mother. I know you are a woman of sorrowful spirit, yet be comforted, though you sorrows be great for you husband going out of the world, yet your pains shall be the less in bringing your child into the world; you shall be a joyful mother, though you be a sad widow; God hath many mercies in store for you; the prayer of a dying husband for you, will not be lost. To my shame I speak it, I never prayed for you at liberty, as I have done in prison. I can write much, but I have few practical counsels to leave with you, viz.,

1. Keep under a sound, orthodox, soul searching ministry. Oh! There are many deceivers gone out into the world, but Christ’s sheep know His voice, and a stranger they will not follow. Attend any minister that teacheth the way of God in truth; and follow Solomon’s advice, Proverbs 19:27.

2. Bring up your children in the knowledge and admonition of the Lord. The mother ought to be a teacher in the father’s absence, Proverbs 31:1, “The words that his mother taught him…” And Timothy was instructed by his grandmother, 1 Timothy 1:5.

3. Pray in your family daily, that yours may be in the number of the families who call upon God.

4. Labor for a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God, is of great price, 1 Peter 3:4.

5. Pour not on the comforts you want, but upon the mercies you have. Look rather at God’s ending in afflicting, than to the measure and degree of your affliction.

6. Labor to clear up your evidence for heaven when God takes from you the comfort of earth, so that as your sufferings do abound, your consolation in Christ may abound much more, 2 Corinthians 1:5. Though it be good to maintain a holy jealously of heart, yet it is still ill of you to cherish fears and doubts touching the truth of your graces. If ever I had confidence touching the grace of another, I have confidence of grace in you; as Peter said of Silvanus, I am persuaded that this is the grace of God wherein ye stand, 1 Peter 5:12.

7. O, my dear soul wherefore dost thou doubt, who heart has been laid upright, whose walking has been holy, &c. I could venture my soul this day in they soul’s stead, such a confidence I have in you.

8. When you find your heart secure, presumptuous and proud, then pour upon corruption more than grace: then look upon your grace without infirmities.

9. Study the covenant of grace, and merits of Christ, and be troubled if you can; you are interested in such a covenant that accepts purposes for performances, desires for deeds, sincerity for perfection, the righteousness of another, viz., that of Jesus Christ, as it were your own alone. Oh! My love! Rest thou in the love of God, the bosom of Christ.

10. Swallow up your will in the will of God. It is a bitter cup we are to drink, but it is the cup of our Father which has been put into our hands. When Paul was to suffer at Jerusalem, the Christians said, “The will of the Lord be done!” Oh! Say ye so, when I go to the Tower-Hill, “The will of the Lord be done!”

11. Rejoice in my joy. To mourn for me inordinately argues, that you either envy or suspect my happiness. The joy of the Lord is my strength; Oh! Let it be yours also! Dear wife, farewell: I will call thee wife no more: I shall see thy face no more: yet I am not much troubled, for now I am going to meet the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus, to whom I shall be eternally married.
12. Refuse not to marry, when God offers you a fair opportunity; but be sure you marry in the Lord; and one of a good disposition, that he may not grieve you, but give you a comfortable livelihood in the world.

Farewell dear love, and again I say farewell. The Lord Jesus be with your spirit, the Maker of heaven and earth be a husband to you; and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ be a father to your children – so prays your dying,

Your most affectionate friend till death,
Christopher Love
The day of my glorification.
From the Tower of London, August 22, 1651

December 30, 2009

John Piper?

As I continue in my reading of a treatise on "self-denial", I can't help thinking, "This sounds like John Piper" and yet it was written almost 400 years ago by a "stuffy old Puritan". The truth is the truth and will always sound the same. As Piper himself states, "I am not an innovator. In fact, I am very content with the simple role of blowing the boredom out of people's brains with long-forgotten, old-fashioned, faithful blasts of biblical truth."

"In internal actions, in desires of grace and salvation, our end must not be self. Our motions are then regular, when they are conformed to God, when we have the same end and aim as God hath. Now whatsoever God doth, both within and without, in creation and grace, it is for himself: Prov. 16.4, 'The Lord hath made all things for himself.'

Well then, we should seek grace and glory with the same aim that God gives it: Eph. 1.6, 'He hath accepted us in the Beloved, to the praise of the glory of his grace;' that is God's aim, that grace may be glorified in thy salvation, and in thy acceptance of Jesus Christ. I desire my salvation, but I should not rest there; but this should be my utmost aim, that God may be glorified in my salvation. Some make a question whether or no we may look to the reward; but those that make it, seem to mistake heaven, and they have a carnal notion of the reward of the gospel, and dream of the heaven of the alcaron, and not the heaven of the gospel.

What is the heaven of the gospel, but to enjoy God for ever, in the way of a blessed and daily communion? Now can any man be so irrational to conceive I should not aim at the inheritance of the saints in light, as well as at the vision and fruition of God? This must needs be a high act of grace, to seek my own happiness in the highest way of communion with God. They mistake the nature of the covenant, or the way with which God would deal with men, for God hath invested his precept with a promise, and men would seem wiser than God. We may use the Spirit's motives without sin, as the saints have done.

It was a foolish modesty in Ahaz, when God 'bade him ask,' and 'he would not ask a sign,' Isa. 7.10-12; so it is a foolish modesty, when men will not act their faith upon the reward and the blessed recompenses. Christ used this way: Heb. 12.2, It is said, 'for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, and despised the shame,' etc. And truly all creatures, as they are now made, must needs take this course, look to the glory, that they may discharge the duty and endure the cross.

No created agent can rest merely in the beauty and goodness of his own action. It is it folly to say that virtue is a reward to itself, if you speak of eternal reward; it is God's covenant way. We are not only to regard duty, but the encouragement of duty. But then the reward must not be the chief cause, but the encouragement; the ultimate reason must be the glory of God. When we make the reward the ultimate end of all we desire, this is to respect self above God; the glory of God must be the mainspring of all our desires and hopes.

To look after happiness is an innocent aim of nature, but to glorify God is the aim of grace. Now only to aim at happiness is the mere motion of nature, and of our own will; but it is our duty to have a further aim at the glory of God. By the law of our creation we were bound to aim at the glory of God, though our happiness were not subordinate to it, for 'God made all things for himself.'"

Thomas Manton

December 29, 2009

On Self-Seeking

Our great aim should be to enjoy God; that is the happiness to which we are poised and inclined by the bent of nature. An immortal soul was made for an eternal good; nothing beneath God will satisfy it; and the heaven that we expect is nothing else but the filling up the soul with God.

There is a great controversy in the world between God and self while we are here; but now in heaven the quarrel is taken up, and we and God are united in the nearest and closest way of union and communion, that we may enjoy him forever. Now when we rest in any low enjoyment, and are satisfied with it without God, that is self-seeking; in effect it is self-destroying, self-losing. But the scripture speaks according to our aim and intention; we intend to seek ourselves, though in effect, we do but lose ourselves.

Of this the scripture speaks - 'All seek their own, and not that which is Jesus Christ's.' In effect, neither their own, nor Christ's, but the carnal and corrupt heart of a man counts nothing our own things, but the concernments of the flesh. Of this kind of self-seeking they are guilty that do God's work, but not with God's end; not to enjoy him, but to enjoy the world; they make a mere merchandise of obedience; if they have worldly gain, they are satisfied; for other things they will give God a bill of discharge: Mat. 6.12, 'They have their reward.' They will acquit and release God of all the grant and promise that he hath made of heaven to them in the covenant of grace, if God will give them a patent to enjoy as much of the world as they can, which argues a sordid and base spirit: Rom. 16.18, 'They are such as serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.'

The apostle speaks of false teachers, that did not make God their end, but were wholly bent upon their secular profit; that reprove not for, but soothe men up in, their sin. In their preaching there is no salt, and in their private visits there is a great deal of worldly compliance, and all because they have set up another God, such a base thing as the belly, instead of Christ.

Thomas Manton 1620-1677

"While he was minister at Covent Garden, he was invited to preach before the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, and the Companies of the city, upon some public occasion, at St Paul's. The doctor chose some difficult subject, in which he had opportunity of displaying his judgment and learning, and appearing to the best advantage. He was heard with the admiration and applause of the more intelligent part of the audience; and was invited to dine with my Lord Mayor, and received public thanks for his performance.

But upon his return in the evening to Covent Garden, a poor man following him, gently plucked him by the sleeve of his gown, and asked him if he were the gentleman who had preached that day before my Lord Mayor. He replied, he was. 'Sir,' says he, 'I came with earnest desires after the word of God, and hopes of getting some good to my soul, but I was greatly disappointed; for I could not understand a great deal of what you said; you were quite above me.' The doctor replied, with tears in his eyes, 'Friend, if I did not give you a sermon, you have given me one; and, by the grace of God, I will never play the fool to preach before my Lord Mayor in such a manner again.'

December 28, 2009

I Think.....

I think that we (the church) should give the world back their holiday.

After studying early church history and the history of "Christmas" in both the church and the world, I have to ask myself, "how can an honest Christian want to be part of any of this man-made and man-centered holiday?".

There is nothing wrong with celebrating the incarnation; but, to mix that celebration with this holiday is more than just compromising, it is hypocrisy. I think we kid ourselves when we think that we can avoid mixing our affections for Christ with our affections for all the other things that this holiday offers; and, that would include family. I think, if we are honest with ourselves, we like the things about Christmas that feed the flesh and we really do not want to give those things up, so we justify it. We love the "feeling" we get; we love the gifts under the tree; we love the idea of family being all together; we love the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Nothing at all wrong with that; but, we are dividing our affections between those things and Christ--probably with Christ taking second or third place on the list, whether we admit it or not.

You want to test my theory? Ask any professing Christian, "How was your Christmas?" and see what they talk about.

NOTE: Please do not comment unless you have done your homework. I don't mean reading websites and other men's points of view. I mean, legitimate, somewhat reliable, historical truths. Unless and until you are familiar with the earliest "church calendars" (prior to 300 a.d.) and have read the historians accounts (who actually lived during each phase of history) and are familiar with how Santa Claus got pushed to the front, etc., I am not interested in how you "feel" about it.

If we want to celebrate the incarnation of our Lord and Savior, can we please pick a different day. I am under no delusions that this will happen during my lifetime, if ever; but, I did feel this was worth expressing outloud.

December 27, 2009

The Lesson of the Imperishable Life!

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." 2 Corinthians 4:16

"For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die!" 1 Corinthians 15:53

The lesson of the imperishable life, has a special application to those who suffer from sickness or from any bodily affliction. It will help us to endure physical sufferings quietly and unmurmuringly, if we will remember that it is only the outward man that can be touched and affected by these experiences, and that the inward man may not only be kept unharmed, but may be growing all the while in beauty and strength, being spiritually renewed through pain and suffering.

A poor shoemaker in his dreary little shop in a great city, one day noticed that there was one little place in his dark room, from which he could get a view of green fields, blue skies and faraway hills. He wisely set up his bench at that point, so that at any moment he could lift his eyes from his dull work--and have a glimpse of the great, beautiful world outside. Just so, from the darkest sick-room, and from the midst of the keenest sufferings, there is always a point from which we can see the face of Christ and have a glimpse of the glory of heaven.

If only we will find this place and get this vision--it will make it easy to endure even the greatest suffering."For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down--when we die and leave these bodies--we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God Himself and not by human hands.

We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long for the day when we will put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing." 2 Corinthians 5:1-2

Sickness is discouraging and is hard to bear. But we should remember that the doing of the will of God is always the noblest, holiest thing we can do any hour--however hard it may be for us. If we are called to suffer--let us suffer patiently and sweetly. Under all our sharp trials--let us keep the peace of God in our hearts. The outward man may indeed decay--but the inward man will be renewed day by day.

J.R. Miller 1908

December 26, 2009

"Rather Pleased with Our Theory"

We are all somewhat guilty of this, are we not? What a danger it is to 1) not be aware of it; and, 2) not heed this warning when we approach the Word of God:

There can be no doubt at all that the commonest cause [of misinterpreting the Bible] is our tendency to approach the Bible with a theory. We go to our Bibles with this theory, and everything we read is controlled by it ... There is a sense in which it is true to say that you can prove anything you like from the Bible. That is how heresies have arisen. The heretics were never dishonest men; they were mistaken men ... they have been some of the most sincere men that the Church has ever known. What was the matter with them? Their trouble was this; they evolved a theory and they were rather pleased with it; then they went back with this theory to the Bible, and they seemed to find it everywhere ... There is nothing so dangerous as to come to the Bible with a theory, with preconceived ideas, with some pet idea of our own ...

Now this particular danger tends chiefly to manifest itself in the matter of the relationship between law and grace ... Some so emphasize the law as to turn the gospel of Jesus Christ with its glorious liberty into nothing but a collection of moral maxims. It is all law to them and there is no grace left. They so talk of the Christian life as something that we have to do in order to make ourselves Christian, that it becomes pure legalism and there is really no grace in it. But let us remember also that it is equally possible so to over-emphasize grace at the expense of law as, again, to have something which is not the gospel of the New Testament.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

December 23, 2009

"Let's Be Sure to Get The Christmas Story Right."

So, where does the Christmas story begin? In the Gospel of John we read: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." [John 1:1-3]

The prologue to John's Gospel points to creation and to Christ, the divine Logos, as the agent of creation. Yet, with language drawn directly from Genesis, John begins his gospel "in the beginning."

In other words, the Christmas story begins before the creation of the world. As we celebrate Christmas and contemplate the Christmas story, we must be very careful not to begin the story in Bethlehem, or even in Nazareth, where Mary was confronted by Gabriel with the message that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

We must not even begin with Moses and the prophets, and with the expectation of the coming Son of Man, the promised Suffering Servant, and the heralded Davidic Messiah. We must begin before the world was created and before humanity was formed, much less fallen.

Why is this so important? Put simply, if we get the Christmas story wrong, we get the Gospel wrong. Told carelessly, the Christmas story sounds like God's "Plan B." In other words, we can make the Christmas story sound like God turning to a new plan, rather than fulfilling all that he had promised. We must be very careful to tell the Christmas story in such a way that we make the gospel clear.

Christmas is not God's second plan. Before he created the world, God determined to save sinners through the blood of his own Son. The grand narrative of the Bible points to this essential truth -- God determined to bring glory to himself through the salvation of a people redeemed and purchased by his own Son, the Christ. Bethlehem and Calvary were essential parts of God's plan from the beginning, before the cosmos was brought into being as the Son obeyed the will of the Father in creation.

The Christmas story does not begin in Bethlehem, but we appropriately look to Bethlehem as the scene of the most decisive event in human history -- the incarnation of the Son of God. Even as we turn our attention to Bethlehem, we must remember that the story of our salvation does not begin there. That story begins in the eternal purpose of God.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." That is where the Christmas story begins, and John takes us right to the essence of what happened in Bethlehem: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." [John 1:14]

Let's be sure to get the Christmas story right, start to finish.

Excerpt from Al Mohler's Blog

December 19, 2009

True Fellowship

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends--if you do what I command. . . . I have called you friends." John 15:13-15

The central fact in every true Christian life, is a personal friendship with Jesus. Men were called to follow Him, to leave all and cleave to Him, to believe on Him, to trust Him, to love Him, to obey Him; and the result was the transformation of their lives into His own beauty!

That which alone makes one a Christian, is being a friend of Jesus. Friendship transforms--we become like those with whom we live in close, intimate relations. Life flows into life, heart and heart are knit together, spirits blend, and the two friends become one. We have but little to give to Christ; yet it is a comfort to know that our friendship really is precious to Him, and gives Him joy--poor and meager though its best may be. But He has infinite blessings to give to us.

The friendship of Jesus includes all other blessings for time and for eternity! If Christ is our friend, all of life is made rich and beautiful to us. "I have called you friends." When King Cyrus gave Artabazus, one of his courtiers, a 'gold cup'; he gave Chrysanthus, his favorite, only a 'kiss'. And Artabazus said to Cyrus, "The gold cup you gave me, was not so precious as the kiss you gave Chrysanthus." No good man's money is ever worth as much as his love.

Certainly the greatest honor of this earth, greater than rank or station or wealth--is the friendship of Jesus Christ. The stories of the friendships of Jesus when He was on the earth, need cause no one to sigh, "I wish that I had lived in those days, when Jesus lived among men--that I might have been His friend too--feeling the warmth of His love, my life enriched by contact with His, and my spirit quickened by His love and grace!" The friendships of Jesus, whose stories we read in the New Testament, are only patterns of friendships into which we may now enter--if we are ready to consecrate our life to Him in faithfulness and love.

(J. R. Miller, "The Friendships of Jesus" 1897)

December 18, 2009

Does a person get fat because they eat chocolate cake?

I am so tired of reading articles written by learned Christian men who constantly and consistently communicate a message of avoidance as the key to biblical Christian living. To communicate a message that teaches Christians that we are to wrap ourselves and everyone else in cotton and put blinders on, in order to live a victorious Christian life, will produce soft, vulnerable, immature, weak Christians. We are to be transformed into the mind of Christ. We are to be made able to stand in the midst of the world, wearing His armor; not hiding or avoiding the battle.

The problem is in our "wanter", not in the things that are all around us and will always be around us as long as we are living in this world. Do you understand the difference?

A person does not get fat because they eat chocolate cake. A person gets fat because they want to eat chocolate cake as often as they can. It is the appetite for it, not the cake itself that makes one fat. The answer in not found in avoiding chocolate cake. Certainly, that may work for awhile; but, as soon as you enter a room full of chocolate cake you will stuff your little face.

However, a person whose appetite has been changed will find that they can be in a room surrounded by chocolate cake and have no appetite for it.

That is victory! Let us be so full of the Word of God; the knowledge God; the love of and for God; His truths; His Spirit; His Wisdom; His beauty; that through these things He changes our inner appetite and we can stand in the midst of things that entice the world and find that God has transformed us so that we have no appetite for them and they have no power over us.

That is the power and reality of true Christianity!

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. "

December 17, 2009

Not everything is "Neat and Tidy"

Interesting post by D.A. Carson on marriage and wedding ceremonies. I am certain many local pastors would disagree with some of Carson's counsel. As I was reading this post, I reflected upon the woman at the well and wondered: If she was genuinely converted because of her encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, what happened after her conversion in terms of the man she was "with"? I wondered what our Lord would have counseled her to do regarding her current relationship. Let us recall that she had had five previous husbands, and the man she now had was not her husband. Some pastors (including John Piper) would tell her to leave the man she was with and would also tell her that she could never marry again without it being a sin. He certainly would not conduct the marriage ceremony.

Here is Carson's Counsel to a Young Church Planter regarding a difficult situation:

The following post was first an email to a young church planter seeking counsel. He is planting a church in a rough area. Not a few of those who are getting converted have been living together, sometimes with children, sometimes for years, without getting married. His question, then, is what should be said to these couples where one of the pair gets converted, and the other, so far, does not. Should the advice be to get married? Or is that encouraging people to be unequally yoked?
The question you’re facing is really about what marriage is, according to the Bible. At various times, I’ve faced the same questions you are now facing. The following are some guidelines. Some of these depend directly on what the Bible says, and some belong in the domain of prudential wisdom that is itself shaped by the Bible.

(1) In the Bible, marriage is more than sexual union between a man and a woman, but it is not less. It also includes public commitment to each other in some public, legal, and culturally acknowledged way that sets this pair apart as husband and wife. In the nomadic culture of Abraham’s day, a part of the ceremony was for the groom to take his bride “into his mother’s tent” (so Isaac) — that was the equivalent of the wedding night. Under the law of Moses, if A and B sleep together, and if it is clearly not rape, the law does not say, “Oh, well, I guess that makes them married.” No, the dowry must still be paid (that was part of the public declaration of marriage under that culture), the two families are involved, etc. So today, if A & B have been living together in sexual intimacy for some time, but without benefit of public attestation (whether in a church or before, say, a justice of the peace), they are not really “married” in the full sense of that term (the sexual union is there, but not the public mutual commitment according to the laws of our day); but equally, if A & B take vows of marriage and then don’t sleep together, this is not fully “marriage” either.

(2) The right thing to do, in both cases, is usually (I can think of one or two difficult exceptions!) to finalize the other part. It is not to try to undo what has already been done! One cannot “undo” this sustained sexual, common-law, union. Thus to demand that a couple tear themselves apart after they’ve been living together for, say, five years, with perhaps a child or two, simply won’t do. What needs to be urged upon them is that they get “married” legally — i.e., publicly, according to the cultural standards of the state.

(3) But, someone asks, suppose that B has become a Christian, and A is still an unbeliever: isn’t going ahead with (the legal part of) marriage in danger of making them unequally yoked together?

In response:

(a) If A and B were fully married (i.e., legally, and in sexual consummation) when they were both unbelievers, and then one of them became a Christian, we would not say that this means they should break up. In fact, in 1 Cor. 7 Paul explicitly tells the Christian partner in such cases not to leave. Indeed, the Christian spouse is to be exemplary in conduct and grace, in the hope of winning over his or her family. The prohibition of being unequally yoked together, when applied to marriage, envisages two people who are not married in any sense. But if one person in a marriage of two pagans becomes a Christian, Paul never applies the “don’t be unequally yoked” command to break up a marriage that is already in place. In fact, as we see in 1 Cor. 7, quite the reverse.

(b) So what’s the difference if A & B are simply living together, but not legally married? The difference, of course, is that they are not fully married as the Bible sees marriage; but they have well and truly started the process! They cannot undo what has been done. To pretend otherwise is foolish. The way ahead is to encourage the completion of the process, not the undoing of what cannot be undone.

(4) In most cases, the unbelieving partner will go along with this plan, if the matter is approached graciously, wisely, humbly. If not, then a new set of questions arises that is not addressed in your email.

(5) You may remember that in my first point, above, I included the options “whether in a church or before, say, a justice of the peace.” When A and B are both Christians, it is normal, in this country, for them to get married in a church, and then we speak of a Christian wedding. But it is important to see that, strictly speaking, marriage (despite the Roman Catholic Church), is not a sacrament to be reserved for Christians. It is a creation ordinance — that is, it is part of the plan of creation itself, something that God has ordained for man/woman pairs everywhere, not something that flows out of the life of the church and that belongs only to Christians.

In France, for example, all marriages must be performed before a civil authority. I see no objection to that; in fact, I think it is a good thing (even if it arose in France for bad reasons), for it clarifies issues. In France, where A and B are Christians, they will get married before the local civil authority, and then have a separate ceremony within the congregation — a ceremony that has no culturally-defined legal standing, but becomes an opportunity to remember how the gift of God that we call marriage is elevated and transformed when put within the framework of the gospel. We learn, for instance, of its typological connection with Christ and the church; we learn that apostasy and adultery have similar roots and condemnations; we learn that God himself dares to speak of the marriage supper of the Lamb; we are reminded of God’s wise provision of marriage, of the place and importance of children reared in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and so on.

In America (and most Anglo-Saxon countries), when a marriage takes place within a congregation (and usually in a church building), the minister officiating is acting partly as a minister of the gospel and partly as a licensed official of the state. That is why it is not legal for anyone who chooses to do so to officiate: there must be some sort of legal standing. Fair enough; I can live with that. But my point in the case you are talking about must not be hung up on whether the legal marriage ceremony takes place in a church building under the jurisdiction of a minister, or under the jurisdiction of a justice of the peace. It will be clear by now that I do not think the minister is sinning if he legally joins A and B together, where they have been living together for some time and where one of the two has now become a Christian. But equally, if the unbeliever in this case is willing to get married, but not within the context of the church, fine — encourage them to get married, and be sure you attend the ceremony and applaud them. There does not have to be a minister in order to be “done” properly. We have no interest in preserving the vestiges of medieval Catholic theology of marriage.

(6) Earlier I mentioned a couple of exceptions. Let me take up only one. Suppose A and B are 19 and 18 years of age respectively. Suppose they have both been sleeping around for some time. Suppose B now becomes a Christian. Is she (or he) now morally obligated to marry the last person she (or he) has been with? I doubt it. What is required is the kind of deep repentance that turns from such sin and pledges celibate living until genuine marriage. Obviously you could then conjure up hard cases where you are uncertain if what you are facing is one of these exceptions or not. If the principles are clear, a great deal of prudential wisdom may nevertheless be required in the application of the principles.

I hope these reflections help. If you need to follow up with me, please do not hesitate to do so.


December 12, 2009

When did you last marvel at the wind?

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” –Isaiah 29:13-14

Years ago a pastor convinced me that one of the most tragic consequences of the fall of mankind into sin is that we cease to wonder. Things that at one time would amaze and astound us can become ordinary.

When, for example, is the last time you were amazed at telephone technology? To think that you can simply press several buttons on a little hand-held device and talk live to a person across the country is actually quite amazing. Or consider e-mail. Like you, I fire out countless e-mails in a week rarely being astounded that my words can reach a person anywhere in the world at the speed of click. This should amaze me. And think about air travel. Isn’t it a wonder that we can board a massive metal container in Los Angeles in the morning and arrive in New York City in time for lunch? But millions of passengers each year ascend and descend with no sense of wonder at all. The technological advances over the last hundred years or so boggle the mind. We should wonder at computers, smart phones, iPods, home theaters and video games. But, sadly, we tend to take these things for granted.

And it’s not just technology we perceive as ordinary. When did you last marvel at the wind? Or the way trees change color in autumn? Or how clouds carry and dump water? Or how grass grows and flowers bloom? Or childbirth? Or old age? Amazing.

This tendency to no longer wonder — to cease to marvel at these incredible aspects of life — reaches its most grotesque form when we cease to wonder at the Gospel.

At Christmas time this is a particular danger. We may become rote or mechanical in our celebration of the season: baby in a manger, three wise men, joy to the world, etc. We go through the motions of our traditions and may in the process actually miss the wonder of it all.
Paradoxically, the church’s tradition of Advent can actually be an antidote to this sinful slip into monotony. For Advent reminds us that we were made for God — to marvel at Him, to be astounded by Him, to wonder at the glory of a God that would condescend to reconcile sinners to Himself. But O how sin has a way of choking the life out of our capacity for wonder! We ought to hate sin for the way it binds us to the mundane.

The lighting of the Advent candles the four Sundays leading up to Christmas reminds us of the Incarnation of Christ, the arrival of the Light of life into this sin-darkened world. Advent recounts for us the astounding promises of God to redeem His people and the fact that all the promises of God are “Yes” in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20). Advent holds together the marvel of the nativity and the shocking truth of the Atonement. Charles Wesley captured the wonder of this when in 1739 he wrote,

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me?
who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

There is wonder upon wonder in the Christmas story. It is during this season that we proclaim with the church of ages past this most marvelous truth: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). When this reality becomes merely ordinary we miss the heart of Christmas.

In the busyness of the season we must force ourselves to slow down and consider the wonder of the Incarnation, including: our Lord’s miraculous birth, his humble beginnings and earthly ministry culminating in the Cross. We do this to the end that we marvel again at the God who comes to us in the Gospel.

Gospel Coalition Blog - Author Unknown

December 11, 2009

Paul's Definition of a Christian

"No Confidence in the Flesh” a Biblical Reflection by John Hendryx

In chapter 3 of The Epistle to the Philippians Paul gives us one of the best definitions of a Christian available in the Bible. He also contrasts this with the marks of false teachers. Paul begins the chapter by contrasting the wondrous gift of grace against the hopeless pit of sin. He warns the Philippians against false teachers; those, he says, who have confidence in themselves. That is, anyone who adds conditions for salvation, in addition to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul likens to Gentile dogs, those who fail to recognize that salvation is wholly of Jesus. But then in stark contrast to false teaching, Paul defines what a Christian looks like:

"For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh"

He calls true Christians “the real circumcision”, i.e. the true covenant people of God. Then he gives three characteristics of Christians in verse 3. He says true Christians are those who:

1) Worship in the Spirit of God

2) Glory in Christ
3) And put no confidence in the flesh

(1) The first mark of a Christian is that they are those who worship in the Spirit. They are the true circumcision, Paul says. They do not worship in the flesh. The “flesh” here is not referring to our physical bodies, for there is nothing inherently wrong with physicality. God created all matter and our bodies and declared them "good". What Paul is contrasting is human effort or trust in ancestry – trusting in it for our redemption. Worship in the Spirit of God also means that the source of our life and walk in Christ is the Holy Spirit who unites us to Jesus Christ. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” (John 6:63) Gal 5:25 likewise says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Thus both our conversion and our sanctification can be attributed to the work of Christ, applied by the Spirit.

(2) Christians are also defined as those who “glory in Christ” --- those who have no hope save in Christ Jesus alone. The mark of a Christian here, Paul says, is that they glory in Christ, that is, our weight rests on Him, not anything else. To glory in someone means one will have affection, desire and be driven by that someone. Christ is the one they will cherish above all. No doubt this is a constant struggle even for a regnerate Christian. In fact the more mature we become the more we recognize this.There is a constant heavy pull in the world and our flesh to glory in ourselves or in something else, but the Spirit who lives in us preserves by working in us to will according to His good purpose. We think we can find or justify ourselves in something that is less worthy than the real thing and so we disbelieve God’s promises. But the Holy Spirit uses such instances to discipline us as children to draw us nearer to Himself.

(3) Lastly a true Christian is one who has “no confidence in the flesh”. This means they have utterly dispaired of themselves ... are spiritual bankrupt. When the Holy Spirit does a work of grace in someone, He convicts them of their sin. Not just sins, but convicts of the fact that they are sinners by nature and can do nothing to save themselves. There is no pride in physical decent or in natural abilities. This means one who is brought to faith, repents of both their good works and their evil works. Both are equally worthless to God. False teaching glories in something other than in Christ alone, always pointing to something that we can do; a resumé we can bring before God to curry His favor, not realizing that He has already adopted us as sons.

Not unlike the older brother in the Prodigal son who glories that he has worked for his father all his life, not realizing that God does not first ask us to meet conditions to obtain his love. Those who have confidence in the flesh also tend to believe in Christ PLUS this or that. That Christ saved them, but they must maintain their justification before God.

Glorying in Christ is the antithesis of glorying in the flesh. Pharisees boast before God of what they have done for him. The Christian is one who has empty hands every day and can only thank God for His mercy. He thus relies solely on the righteousness of Christ. It is the new Covenant in Christ’s blood which “reminds God” not to treat us as our sins justly deserve.

True Christians flee to Christ as their only hope. A mark of maturity is that we no longer are constantly worrying about our own spirituality but rather our focus is on Christ and His accomplishments. Those who are glorying the flesh will exhaust themselves because they are contstantly looking to their own resources. The cross is where we find sanctification. Christians flee to Christ as their only hope casting aside all self-confidence and autonomy.

Paul calls everything other than Christ “rubbish”.

Are we trusting in rubbish or in Christ?

A.W. Pink, I believe captures the point in a sentence: “Just as the sinner's despair of any hope from himself is the first prerequisite of a sound conversion, so the loss of all confidence in himself is the first essential in the believer's growth in grace.”