20 March 2020

The All-sufficiency of Christ Everywhere We Look

I am relishing the works of the Puritan William Bridge. I had never really known anything about him, other than the sole Banner publication of his sermon series on Psalm 42 in the Puritan Paperbacks line, A Lifting Up for the Downcast, which is an amazing book.

I'm working through volume 1 of his collected works now, and am in the midst of six sermons on John 1:16 and specifically the phrase "grace upon grace." The burden of the whole series of messages is to commend the all-sufficiency of the grace of Jesus Christ for all our needs and desires.

Here's a quote from the fourth sermon.
Beloved, if Jesus Christ were not the great Lord-Keeper of his Father's wardrobe, why should those names and titles be given to him, which you find so frequently in Scripture? Cast your eyes where you will, you shall hardly look upon any thing, but Jesus Christ has taken the name of that upon himself.

If you cast your eyes up to heaven in the day, and behold the sun, he is called "the Sun of Righteousness," Mal 4:2.

If you cast your eyes in the night upon the stars, or in the morning upon the morning star, he is called "the bright Morning Star," Rev. 22:16.

If you behold your own body, he is called the head, and the church the body, Col. 1:18.

If you look upon your own clothes, he is called your raiment; "Put ye on the Lord Jesus," Rom. 13:14.

If you behold your food, he is called bread, "the Bread of Life," John 6:35.

If you look upon your houses, he is called a door, John 10:9.

If you look abroad into the fields, and behold the cattle of the fields, he is called the Good Shepherd, John 10:11; he is called the Lamb, John 1:29; he is called the fatted calf, Luke 15:23.

If you look upon the waters, he is called a fountain; the blood of Christ a fountain, Zech. 13:1.

If you look upon the stones, he is called "a Corner Stone," Isa. 28:16.

If you look upon the trees, he is called "a Tree of Life," Prov. 3:18.

What is the reason of this? Surely, not only to way-lay your thoughts, that wheresoever you look, still you should think of Christ; but to show, that in a spiritual way and sense, he is all this unto the soul.
 --William Bridge, Works, 1:261–62

11 March 2020

8 Reminders in These Days of Panic

These are strange days, days of fear, days of hysteria—in other words, days that simply bring all our latent anxieties up to the surface, anxieties that were there all along and are now made visible to others. 

What do we need to remember in these days of alarm?
1.     The World of the Bible. Now we know how the people of God felt throughout the Bible, especially the Old Testament. The prophets and many of the psalms speak to people who are caught up in mass hysteria or subject to pandemics. Maybe the current cultural moment is precisely the hermeneutic we need to read the OT deeply for the first time, which can otherwise feel so foreign.
2.     Our True Trust. Times of public panic force us to align our professed belief with our actual belief. We all say we believe God is sovereign and he is taking care of us. But we reveal our true trust when the world goes into meltdown. What's really our heart's deepest loyalty? The answer is forced to the surface in times of public alarm such as we're wading into now.
3.     Neighbor Love. When the economy is tanking, opportunities to surprise our neighbors with our confidence and joy surge forward. Now, now is the time to be outside more, to be loving more, to be showing more hospitality. Love stands out strongest when it is needed most, rarest, expected least.
4.     Family Discipleship. Our kids’ teachers are telling them to wash their hands longer. Why? Their teachers won’t tell them but it’s because they may die otherwise. Heaven and hell are staring every fourth grader in the face. That’s why they’re being told to wash their hands for 20 seconds. We have an opportunity to instill in our kids a deeper awareness of eternity than they have ever known. There is a salutary effect to all this because heaven or hell awaits every fourth grader, either taken out by a virus next month or taken out by old age decades away--10,000 years from now, the difference between dying at age 10 or age 80 will seem trivial. This is an opportunity to disciple our families into the bracing reality of eternity.
5.     Eschatological Hope. Maybe this is the end. I doubt it. But maybe. Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour. Maybe the sight of Jesus descending from heaven, robed in glory, surrounded by angels, is right around the corner. If so, hallelujah. If not, hallelujah—we’re being reminded that he will indeed return one day. Either way, let us rejoice our way through the chaos, certain of the final outcome.
6.   Invincible Providence. No infected molecule can enter your lungs, or your three-year-old's lungs, unless sent by the hand of a heavenly Father. The Heidelberg Catechism defines God's providence as "The almighty and ever present power of God by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand." That truth is like an asthmatic's inhaler to our soul--calms us down, lets us breathe again.
7.     Christ's Heart. In times of turmoil, in seasons of distress, Jesus is more feelingly with his people than ever. Hebrews tells us that Jesus experienced all the horror of this world that we do, minus sin—so apparently he knows, he himself knows, way down deep, what it feels like for life to close in on you and for your world to go into meltdown. We can go to him. We can sit with him. His arm is around us, stronger than ever, right now. His tears are larger than ours.
8.     Heaven. From heaven’s shore we will see how eternally safe we were all along, even amid the global upheaval and anxieties that loom so large as we walk through them. The dangers out there are real. The cautions are wise. Our bodies are mortal, vulnerable. But our souls, for those united to a resurrected Christ, are beyond the reach of all eternal danger. How un-harm-able we are, we who are in Christ. Be at peace. All is assured.

06 February 2020

The Covenant of Redemption

John Flavel (1627–1691), with biblically infused imagination, supposes what transpired between Father and Son to accomplish our rescue.
Father: My Son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them. What shall be done for these souls?

Son: O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety: bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it. I will rather choose to suffer thy wrath than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.

Father: But, my Son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.

Son: Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, yet I am content to undertake it.
Flavel concludes:
Blush, ungrateful believers, O let shame cover your faces; judge in yourselves now, hath Christ deserved that you should stand with him for trifles, that you should shrink at a few petty difficulties, and complain, this is hard, and that is harsh?

O if you knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in this his wonderful condescension for you, you could not do it.
--John Flavel, "The Fountain of Life," in Works, 1:61

I reflect on this heart of the Father and the Son in this book, releasing in two months. 

19 December 2019

03 September 2019

A Few Passing Thoughts on "God and the Faithfulness of Paul"

I ordered the 2017 volume God and the Faithfulness of Paul--the title of which is a little too cute as a response to N. T. Wright's 2013 magnum opus Paul and the Faithfulness of God--only so that I could read one essay, the one by Seyoon Kim critiquing Wright yet again on Wright's alleged anti-imperial polemic in Paul, which is relevant to a research project I'm working on. But I got sucked in as I began skimming a few of the other chapters. And reading Wright's response at the end of the book made me want to go see what the contributors had actually said. So I began reading the essays one by one.

What a fascinating book. The editors have done a good job bringing together a diverse collection of authors to engage with Wright. They deserve our thanks.

A few reflections, amid broad appreciation for this volume.

The Key Critique of Wright

It was striking to see a consistent refrain coming through from this very diverse group of contributors. The common thread of critique throughout the essays, amid much deep appreciation, was as follows:

Wright's brilliant and creative connecting of the dots, his shaping of the master-story of which Paul believed himself and his readers to be participants, refreshingly resists the staid categories within which the New Testament has been read for the past several generations (law/gospel, the objectivity of justification vs the subjectivity of the Spirit, covenant vs dispensational theology, etc) and rethinks Paul from the ground up; and yet the very creativity of Wright's schema of monotheism/election/eschatology, all reworked around Jesus as Messiah and the spirit (he doesn't like capitalizing the third Person of the Trinity), is itself at times imposed onto the text to fit neatly with Wright's broader reading of Paul.

In other words, his gift for seeing the forest makes one wonder if he is misreading some of the trees.

I find this critique accurate, time-tested, and confirming of my own reading of Wright over the years.

Why No Historical Theology?

One of the temptations and weaknesses of the New Testament guild is to neglect church history and historical theology. This is understandable; as Wright laments in his closing essay, one cannot possibly master even the contemporary literature on Paul, let alone what others over the centuries have said. Even to master the literature on a single Pauline letter is itself a full-time job--and of course, as soon as you feel on top of the secondary literature, a fresh wave of journal articles and monographs appears and the mastery instantly vanishes!

But it does not follow that just because one cannot cover all the contemporary perspective therefore one should say nothing about historical perspectives. In his 2009 justification book, Wright repeated aligned himself with Calvin as over against Luther. But the way he cast the two key reformers bent both of them out of shape, especially Luther. Why not have a chapter in the 2017 volume on Wright's reading of the reformers, or just of Calvin? Someone like Mike Allen or Mike Horton or Gerald Bray or Tony Lane could have provided a fascinating essay. The essay on a postmodern reading of Wright could easily have been dropped to make room for such a chapter.

Befitting the current academic climate, there's a chapter putting Wright in dialogue with Barth--but Wright doesn't engage with Barth in his books. He does engage with Calvin and others. And Barth's own historical hero was Calvin. Go to Calvin and see what he and the reformers would say of Wright's vision of Pauline theology. (This volume did just this.)

One way we can learn from Wright without letting him set all the terms in such discussions (putting us in danger of missing key questions that Paul probes but Wright doesn't) is to ask what thinkers 200 and 500 and 900 years ago were saying about Paul's letters.

As C. S. Lewis put it, there are two ways to get out of your own time and thus expose your generation's blind spots: (1) Get in a time machine and travel into the future and see what writers are saying about Paul; (2) Get in a time machine and travel into the past and do so. We can't do #1, but we can do #2, and we miss a great opportunity for fresh insight if we don't.

The Cappadocians and the Puritans and the Princeton School didn't have the Dead Sea Scrolls or SBL. But their insight into what Paul was saying often outstrips our own, sometimes in surprising, refreshing ways.

Why Ignore the Evangelicals?

Several of the contributors are pretty obscure, with some not even working in New Testament. In his closing response essay, Wright points this out more than once. While he appreciated the response from Gregory Sterling on the need to bolster Wright's reading of Paul through engagement with philosophy, Wright was rightly mystified by the essays of a few others who simply were not tracking with his argument (see Andrew McGowan's comments about Wright's use of "symbol" language as an example).

More broadly, I was surprised at how little evangelical scholarship was engaged, by which I mean the work of those who teach at confessional Protestant institutions and who take all 13 letters attributed to Paul as authentically Pauline. Some of the best Paul work is being done by evangelicals--Doug Moo, Greg Beale, Frank Thielman, Don Carson, Clint Arnold, Bob Yarbrough, and others. Tom Schreiner's contribution to Paul study was discussed in the opening essay, but that was about it.

Perhaps if Doug Moo's Pauline theology (in the big Zondervan series that Andreas Kostenberger is editing) had been available, Doug's work would have been more involved in the discussion--it would have been a fascinating exercise to put Moo and Wright in dialogue. But aside from the few pages putting Wright in interaction with Tom Schreiner, there is almost no interaction with evangelical scholarship. One reason that's striking to me is that Wright himself in more than one place has identified Doug Moo as among the most incisive of his critics--"a truly great Paul scholar" were Wright's words. So why not make him a major dialogue partner?

A Few of the More Interesting Chapters

Some of the essays were less useful, connected only glancingly with Wright's project. But a few are worth pointing out as particularly worth reading.

Benjamin Schliesser opened with an essay of impressive breadth as he placed Wright's Paul work among others. The discussion of Dunn vis-a-vis Wright was fascinating. As just mentioned, too bad there wasn't more engagement with evangelicals.

Seyoon Kim's essay built on John Barclay's strong critique of Wright's reading of Paul in which Rome looms large as a foil to Paul's gospel and the proclamation of Jesus (not Caesar) as Lord. Kim incisively shows why Wright's claim is overdone. It is not Rome and Caesar in themselves that are the threat to the church--it is Sin and Death and the Flesh that are the problems, problems which manifest themselves through Rome and in many other earthly constructs, but the problem is deeper than a particular imperial construct in itself.

Dunn's essay was a real chuckler. He's in the "scholars-who-have-nothing-left-to-prove-and-simply-say-what-they-think" bucket. Wright lamented in his closing essay Dunn's "schoolmasterish" tone, but I found Dunn's comments right on, with the exception of Dunn's continued skepticism toward the recent consensus building around an early high christology championed by Bauckham and Hurtado.

Sigurd Grindheim was masterful in treating Wright on election and showing that Israel's basic failure was not so much that they were not a light to the nations but, more deeply, that they did not trust and love the Lord above all.

The elderly Peter Stuhlmacher is always a joy to read, representing (with Martin Hengel) the best of German NT scholarship in my view, appreciating the New Perspective but retaining the deep and right anthropology that understands the perversity of fallen humanity and Paul's solution to it in the gospel as lying deeper than ethnic exclusivism and corporate inclusion, respectively.

Eckhard Schnabel's engagement with Wright's understanding of "mission" helps fill out and at points correct Wright's explications of conversion, evangelism, and the saving nature of the gospel. It is a firm, clear, and needed essay--though the objection to Wright calling Paul's travels "endless" and "restless," asserting that Paul's travels did come to an end and that surely Paul rested from time to time, was bizarre.

And then there's Wright's lengthy closing essay, filled with the usual elegant prose and gentlemanly appreciation of most of the essays, combined with annoyance at others caricaturing him (despite his own caricaturing of others) and, at times, magically melting away substantive disagreements with a wave of his monotheism-election-eschatology wand and Voila, all objections go poof!

In Closing . . .

Fascinating book. Interesting to see how others are understanding Wright, and good to keep benefiting from Wright himself, who is a gift to the church when read duly critically. But I hope collections of essays like this one don't reinforce the impression that NT scholarship doesn't need the insights of pre-Enlightenment readers of Paul.

And Doug, please get that Pauline theology in our hands quick as you can!

04 April 2019

Reflections on TGC19

What a rich time.

A few thoughts, offered of course with the inescapably partial view of reality that we are all operating out of, and therefore needing to be filled out and supplemented with the thoughts of others...

1. The Gospel Coalition has to be one of the most striking examples of the Lord's care for his church in our generation. When leaders are asked about the state of the church today, the immediate reaction is often hand-wringing and lament. But TGC represents a wave of blessing and health and vitality and spiritual hunger and theological fidelity and evangelism fostering that is a big reason for celebration.

2. It's a particular pleasure, for me, to be there with my Crossway colleagues. I am just so proud of them. They are both humble and professional, instead of one or the other. They are not only colleagues but friends. How awful to do ministry alone. And we operate out of a deep well of shared theology and vision and commitments that makes our work together not only meaningful but fun.

3. Books. Books, books, books. I love books, and apparently so do other Christians. The swelling book lines in between sessions is itself a sign of spiritual health. Apparently people want to read, to grow, to learn. The day people come to conferences to hear sizzling preaching but don't care to take home books will be a sad day, if it ever comes. It isn't here yet.

4. Really appreciated Matt Boswell's leadership of the singing. That was one of my favorite things about the event. Don Carson on John 11 was rich indeed. Tim Keller on the new birth: typically insightful. Paul Tripp on suffering: deep wisdom. The best thing I heard all week was my dad's talk 'Pastor, Your Church Can Become Healthy Again.' I wish everyone at the conference could have heard it. Searching, deepening, eye-opening, emboldening.

5. One of the blessings of these conferences is to see friend-ministries we wouldn't otherwise--for me, talking to those representing Covenant Seminary, Rafiki Foundation, WTS, WTS Books, Christian Focus, Bethlehem Seminary, Third Mil, Indianapolis Theological Seminary--not to mention the many individual friends from seminary, grad school, etc one runs into. All these are impromptu conversations that have a way of bearing fruit as time passes; they're just as important, I find, as the planned meetings.

6. I'm grateful for denominations, including my own, and I'm glad to belong to one. But something isn't right if we evangelical denominations never come together. TGC provides that beautifully (as does T4G). I know something like TGC can't exercise church discipline, and that the leadership structure doesn't fit neatly onto what the New Testament prescribes for the local church, and so on--so what? It isn't trying to. It was conceived to provide an opportunity to come together around a theologically clear gospel of grace in a day of increasing fracturing. It's healthy to rally around the vital gospel doctrines we all revere deep in our hearts, even if that reverence clothes itself in denominationally distinct ways back home.

7. One final thought. I wonder what all of us who support TGC can do to consciously work against this great enterprise being quietly taken down by the flesh. Human nature being what it is, it seems to me virtually inevitable that an event such as this, with well-known speakers, and a big crowd, and a green room, and preachers quickly and quietly escorted around, provides a unique venue for venting the flesh, for schmoozing, for preening and parading--unless we deliberately fight against it. Left in neutral, we will slide toward worldliness; church history, the Bible, and honest self-knowledge all confirm this, unpleasant as the thought is.

What might God do if TGC and all of us went into an event like this with Francis Schaeffer's essay 'No Little People, No Little Places' emblazoned across our mental horizon? Schaeffer wrote:
The Scripture emphasizes that much can come from little if the little is truly consecrated to God. There are no little people and no big people in the true spiritual sense, but only consecrated and unconsecrated people.
Later in the same book but in a different essay ('The Lord's Work in the Lord's Way'), Schaeffer reflected:
If we have the world's mentality of wanting the foremost place, we are not qualified for Christian leadership. This mentality can . . . fit us for being a big name among men, but it unfits us for real spiritual leadership. To the extent that we want power we are in the flesh, and the Holy Spirit has no part in us. Christ put a towel around Himself and washed His disciples' feet. We should ask ourselves from time to time, 'Whose feet am I washing?'
Schaeffer himself had learned this secret of walking in the Spirit rather than in the flesh, and he knew how imperceptibly and naturally we can slip from doing the Lord's work animated by the Spirit to doing the Lord's work animated by the flesh. His close associate Udo Middleman wrote of Schaeffer:
He was not slick. He revolted against false appearances of leadership, growth statistics, and any show, in which he saw the dangers of pretense, performance, and praise of men. He had been there and found it dishonest, dangerous, and finally condemning.
What a joy, an honor, to participate in and support TGC. Now, as we return home, may we celebrate a thousand blessings flowing from that great event and all that it represents, doing so with sober-minded realism about how quickly we can all slip into fleshly motivations, and with ongoing prayer, and with an insistence on spotlighting Christ himself in all we do and say and desire. If we don't, what began as gospel rallying 12 years ago will, in another 12, become one more venue for Christian fracturing, thus denying the very gospel that TGC came into existence to hold high.

24 October 2017

All I Had to Offer Was My Worst

Fate holds nothing on the providence I know
No longer bound to things of wood and stone
When all I had to offer was my worst
You saw my heavy heart and loved me first

Your beauty staring down my brokenness
You chose to throw Your heart into the mess
Compassion crashing down upon my debt 
You were there

All this time
Like a river running through my failure
You carried me all this time
Like the splinters buried in Your shoulders
You carry me now
Hallelujah

If ever now my heart cries hallelujah
If ever now in the wonder of Your grace
A thousand times a thousand years my soul will say 
Grace

You saw the crushing weight my flesh deserved
You kneeled and wrote forgiveness in the dirt
And one by one the stones fell where they lay
As one by one my accusers walked away
With nothing left to throw they made a cross
And knowing only love could count the cost
You were there

All this time
Like a river running through my failure
You carried me all this time
Like the splinters buried in Your shoulders
Your love carried all my shame
Jesus how my soul will praise You 
You carried me all this way
Like a diamond in the scars upon Your crown
You carry me now
Hallelujah

If ever now my heart cries hallelujah
If ever now in the wonder of Your grace
A thousand times a thousand years
My soul will say
Hallelujah

Forever now in the greatness of my Saviour
Forever now in the brightness of
Your Name Jesus on this rock I’ll sing Your praise
Hallelujah

07 September 2017

Depth with God

. . . all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.  Psalm 42:7

Every seasoned saint who walks deeply with God, I am coming to believe, has been through a very distinct experience.

I could call the experience 'adversity' or 'suffering' and that would be true but unhelpful. I have in mind something more specific, more comprehensive. 

I have in mind the experience of God's children when they walk through the deep valley of a single instance of adversity or suffering so great that it cannot be handled in the same way as the various disappointments and frustrations of life. This particular adversity passes a threshold that the garden variety trials do not reach. 

An Over-the-Head Wave

I think of swimming in the ocean of Laguna Beach in southern California on family vacations years ago. Wading out into the water I would immediately feel the waves beginning to come against me. First my ankles, then my knees, and so on. As I continued, though, inevitably a wave would come that could not be outjumped. It washed over me. I'd get completely submerged and there was nothing I could do to avoid it. The wave would send me tumbling head over heel underwater. Total disorientation.

That total-submersion wave is what I have in mind. I'm not thinking of bad grades, failed dating relationships, rejected applications for school or jobs, a dear friend moving away, a fender bender, the flu. These are forms of adversity. But they are waves that hit us in the knees. We lose our balance, but quickly get it back. We keep walking, weathering the trial but essentially unchanged. We aren't forced to change. Such trials wash into all of our lives with some regularity.

But those who live into their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and are quietly walking with the Lord from a posture of fundamental trust have weathered something deeper. At some point in their lives a wave has washed over them that could not be outjumped. And somehow they survived emotionally. They softened rather than hardened.

Finally Believing What We Say We Believe

Someone who has become a Christian and truly believes what he or she confesses to believe comes to a point in life where they must suddenly, for the first time, bank all that they are on that professed belief. Their true trust must be proven.

It is not as though they didn’t believe before. They did, sincerely. But their belief had only to that point been tested by the gently lapping waist-high waves of adversity.

At that moment of life meltdown we are forced into one of two positions: either cynicism and coldness of heart, or true depth with God. A spouse betrays. A habitual sin, left unchecked, blows up in our face. We are publicly shamed in some way that will haunt us as long as we live. Identity theft empties all our accounts. Our good name is stolen. We hear words from the lips of a son or daughter that had only been the stuff of nightmares. A malignant, inoperable tumor. Abuse of a loved one, the kind of abuse that makes us physically nauseous to think about. Sustained, inexplicable depression. Profound disillusionment in some way. Life goes into meltdown.

A Universal Experience

When I consider the saints I know who exhale that depth of trust that makes them almost otherworldly, it seems like there has always been a time of weathering a wave of adversity that went over their head.

In light of what we find in Scripture, what else would we expect?

Abraham is told to slit the throat of his only son. Jacob wrestles with God and is crippled the rest of his life at just the moment when he needed God most, about to meet Esau. Moses kills a man and loses everything the world holds dear. David ruins his life through an afternoon's indulgence. Job reaps the nightmare of all nightmares. Jeremiah, Hosea, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul--more of the same.

When that moment comes looking for us, sent by the hand of a gentle Father, we will either believe that what we said we believe has just been disproven, or we will believe that what we said we believe will sustain us. The two lines of professed-belief and heart-belief, to this point parallel, are suddenly forced either to overlap completely. We must bank on our creed, or let our hearts cool and harden. We cannot go on as before.

It's the difference between saying you believe a parachute will float you safely to the ground and actually jumping out of the plane.

Let us not be simplistic or formulaic. Many such over-the-head waves may wash over us in life. Or we may experience a crushing trial in our 20s--then another in our 40s that makes the trial 20 years before seem only waist-high--and so on. God leads each of us in his own way. No two journeys are identical. But I remain struck at how often it seems to have been one defining, devastating blow when a senior saint reflects back on life.

The Tragedy of Shallowness

I know Christians in the latter half of life who are not deep people. They are dear people. But they are shallow.

If they will take off the mask and be truly honest, they will acknowledge that what they are after in life is a solid 401k, health, and being liked. Nothing wrong with any of these things. But these have seized their heart’s deepest loyalty. As a result they are not compelling men and women. Not magnetic. They are wispy, not solid. They are nice but frothy.

Could it be that at some point a wave came crashing over their head and they believed that their creed had just been disproven? That they concluded, "Well, I guess after all God was not as good as I thought he was." Could it be that the very moment which they now look back on and view as the moment when God failed them was the Father inviting them into his deepest inner heart?

Might it be that the Lord stands as ready as ever to welcome them into depth, into a communion with him more sublime than they knew was possible, and that it is just on the other side of giving in and banking everything on him?

He Went through the Wave

Recognition of the strange ways of the Father should not drive us into a fearful, darting-eyes day-to-day existence. Recognition of his ways should simply sober us, encouraging us not to throw in the towel when the nightmare becomes reality.

He is in it. He loves us too much to let us remain the shallow, twaddling people we all are and will remain as long as the waves only reach our waist. Sometimes I hug my kids so hard they yell "Ouch!" The loving squeeze of the Father's arms are painful, but it is the pain of a Father's love. It is when pain sweeps us off our feet in total disorientation that God is loving us most.

How do we know? How do we really know?

Because he proved it. In flesh and blood, before our very eyes. His own dear Son joined us in the haunted misery of this broken world. The dark bottom of the valley is where Jesus lives. He dwells in the waves.

But more than that. He not only experienced what we experience, with us. He walked through the greatest nightmare himself, for us. The tidal wave of true separation from the Father washed over Another so that it need never wash over us.

And so we are assured, when life implodes, that we have never been safer. We are being invited further up and further in.

20 July 2017

Shrouded Under That Goodly Robe

Faith wraps the soul up in the bundle of life with God; it encloses it in the righteousness of Jesus, and presents it so perfect in that, that whatever Satan can do, with all his cunning, cannot render the soul spotted or wrinkled before the justice of the law. Yea, though the man, as to his own person and acts, be full of sin from top to toe, Jesus Christ covers all.
Faith sees it, and holds the soul in the godly sense and comfort of it. The man, therefore, standing here, stands shrouded under that goodly robe that makes him glisten in the eye of justice.
--John Bunyan, Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, in Works, 1:331

27 April 2017

This Great and Strange Expression

John Bunyan, in his book Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, on John 6:37--'Whoever comes to me I will never cast out' (ESV), or as Bunyan's KJV put it, 'Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out':
They that are coming to Jesus Christ, are ofttimes heartily afraid that Jesus Christ will not receive them.

This observation is implied in the text. I gather it from the largeness and openness of the promise: 'I will in no wise cast out.' For had there not been a proneness in us to 'fear casting out,' Christ needed not to have, as it were, waylaid our fear, as he doth by this great and strange expression, 'In no wise.' 'And in him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.'

There needed not, as I may say, such a promise to be invented by the wisdom of heaven, and worded at such a rate, as it were on purpose to dash in pieces at one blow all the objections of coming sinners, if they were not prone to admit of such objections, to the discouraging of their own souls.

For this word, 'in no wise,' cutteth the throat of all objections; and it was dropped by the Lord Jesus for that very end; and to help the faith that is mixed with unbelief. And it is, as it were, the sum of all promises; neither can any objection be made upon the unworthiness that thou findest in thee, that this promise will not assoil.

But I am a great sinner, sayest thou.

     'I will in no wise cast out,' says Christ.

But I am an old sinner, sayest thou.

     'I will in no wise cast out,' says Christ.

But I am a hard-hearted sinner, sayest thou.

     'I will in no wise cast out,' says Christ. 

But I am a backsliding sinner, sayest thou.

     'I will in no wise cast out,' says Christ.

But I have served Satan all my days, sayest thou.

     'I will in no wise cast out,' says Christ. 

But I have sinned against light, sayest thou.

     'I will in no wise cast out,' says Christ.

But I have sinned against mercy, sayest thou.

     'I will in no wise cast out,' says Christ. 

But I have no good thing to bring with me, sayest thou.

     'I will in no wise cast out,' says Christ.

This promise was provided to answer all objections, and doth answer them. 
--John Bunyan, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, in Works, 1:279-80