02 August 2016

Complete and Ecstatic Happiness

C. S. Lewis, in a 1933 letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, with a compelling re-orientation to overcoming sin. 
God not only understands but shares the desire which is at the root of all my evil—the desire for complete and ecstatic happiness. He made me for no other purpose than to enjoy it. But He knows, and I do not, how such happiness can be really and permanently attained. He knows that most of my personal attempts to reach it are actually putting it further and further out of my reach.

I may always feel looking back on any past sin that in the very heart of my evil passion there was something that God approves and wants me to feel not less but more. Take the sin of lust. The overwhelming thirst for rapture was good and even divine: that part of lust need not be rejected. But it will never be quenched as I tried to quench it. If I refrain—if I submit to the collar and come round the right side of the lamp-post—God will be guiding me as quickly as He can to where I will get what I really wanted all the time.

When we are tempted, we must remember that just because God wants for us what we really want and knows the only way to get it, therefore He must, in a sense, be quite ruthless towards sin. He is not like a human authority who can be begged off or caught in an indulgent mood. The more He loves you the more determined He must be to pull you back from your way which leads nowhere into His way which leads where you want to go.

I think we may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion (it raises its head in every temptation) that there is something else than God—some other country into which He forbids us to trespass—some kind of delight which He “doesn’t appreciate” or just chooses to forbid, but which would be real delight if only we were allowed to get it. The thing just isn’t there. Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as He can, or else a false picture of what He is trying to give us—a false picture which would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing.

18 June 2016

Apprehending Divine Love

Read a book on the love of God recently. It was fine. True, faithful, careful. It has its place on our bookshelves.

But the ceiling on my wonder at God's love was not raised. It was analytical. Something about it was detached. Removed. The author tried to switch at times into explicit "devotional" mode, which just made the whole thing feel artificial. Why isn't the book devotional in its very nature, in every sentence?

At the same time I was reading Bunyan's The Saints' Knowledge of the Love of Christ, on the last few verses of Ephesians. Just the opposite. Heart-expansive reflection on Scripture. Vision-lifting. Why are books like this so rare today? Why are the Puritans so consistent on this point? I find the same thing in Sibbes and Goodwin. Soul-solidifying. No anecdotes, no jokes, just deep probing of the depths of the human heart's darkness, and bringing that darkness into the full light of divine mercy. I don't need a clever autobiographical hook to get me reading a book. I need immediate, to-the-point unfolding of the truth at hand.

It is common for equals to love, and for superiors to be beloved; but for the King of princes, for the Son of God, for Jesus Christ to love man thus: this is amazing, and that so much the more, for that man the object of his love, is so low, so mean, so vile, so undeserving, and so inconsiderable, as by the scriptures, everywhere he is described to be.

He is called God, the King of glory. But the persons of him beloved, are called transgressors, sinners, enemies, dust and ashes, fleas, worms, shadows, vapors, vile, filthy, sinful, unclean, ungodly fools, madmen. And now is it not to be wondered at, and are we not to be affected herewith, saying, And wilt thou set thine eye upon such a one? But how much more when He will set his heart upon us?

Love in him is essential to his being. God is love; Christ is God; therefore Christ is love, love naturally. He may as well cease to be, as cease to love. . . .

Love from Christ requireth no taking beauteousness in the object to be beloved. It can act of and from itself, without all such kind of dependencies. The Lord Jesus sets his heart to love them. . . .

Love in Christ decays not, nor can be tempted so to do by anything that happens, or that shall happen hereafter, in the object so beloved. 
--John Bunyan, The Saints' Knowledge of the Love of Christ, in Works, 2:16-17; emphasis original

26 May 2016


A place I love. A place that is home. Deeply so. 

16 May 2016

All Sorts of Sins

Thomas Goodwin:
God hath ordered his elect, take the whole body and bulk of them, to fall into all sorts of sins, one or other of them; so as there is no sort, kind or degree of sin, no way of sinning, manner of sinning, or aggravation of sin, but in some or other it shall be pardoned, and he doth it to magnify his grace in Christ, in whom he gathers them. 
--The Works of Thomas Goodwin, 1:156, commenting on Ephesians 1:10

01 March 2016

This Isn't About Trump

One Washington Post essay after another these days is blasting away at Trump. Maybe at this point it's the wrong target.

Imagine the following scenario. Trump wins a majority of Super Tuesday states and steps up to the podium for a victory speech in Texas or Georgia or Alabama. He takes off his obnoxious red Make America Great Again hat. He pauses, looking down, somber. Here's what we hear.
I have something to say.

I've made a horrible mistake.

This election process has finally caught up with me and has revealed to me what my whole life is about.

I went into this election really believing that I wanted to make America great. I realize now all I have really wanted--the campaign underneath the campaign--is to make Trump great. I thought I wanted America to win. I see now that all I really want is for Trump to win. I'm grateful for your kind support. But I see now I don't deserve it.
I know my supporters may not like this. But I can't take it anymore. Enough is enough. I am thoroughly ashamed of myself. So what I want to say is: I would like to ask for the American people's forgiveness. If they withhold it I can't blame them. But I have to ask you all to forgive the folly, the bombast, the self-exaltation, the fierce resistance to correction, the pride. I've been wrong.

I have considered quitting the campaign, but I do for now plan to continue. And I have resolved: no more yelling, no more lying, no more name-calling, no more hate-mongering, no more elitism-nurturing, no more boasting, no more question-evading. Yes, this nation is in a downward spiral, but now I see that I and people like me have been leading the way...
And so on.

So implausible as to be laughable, I know. But my question is: How would the millions who back Trump respond?

We know how they would respond. We know because as the outrageously immoral and self-inflating statements from Trump have piled up since last June, his support has not waned. It has increased. We therefore know that those supporting Trump are not doing so because they see him as morally exemplary. In the meantime he remains opaque on his actual positions and how he would accomplish his big promises. We therefore also know that they are not supporting him on account of superior tactics in his policies.

One can only conclude that they like him--including these so-called evangelicals--because of who he is. Because of the bombast, not in spite of it.

They want a man like Trump in charge. They want the big talk, the egotistical claims, the elitist mindset. His supporters aren't overlooking these things for the sake of other virtues in him or his policies. These anti-virtues are themselves what attract Americans.

We therefore know how Trump supporters would respond to such a speech. While true evangelicals would celebrate his recovered moral sanity, his present supporters, including the so-called evangelicals, would howl.

Such penitence would not be a step forward, in their minds. It would be a step backward. It would be the loss of what they crave in a president.

As Trump has gotten haughtier and haughtier the past 8 months, his support has, inexplicably, grown. Do we really not see that if he were to become humbler and humbler, his support would decrease?

If so, then the problem is not Trump. It's Americans. The bombastic, haughty candidate in this election just happens to be Donald Trump. It could be any self-aggrandizing billionaire and the results would look the same. The problem isn't Trump. It's us. Trump is simply a big golden mirror showing Americans, showing Republicans, showing alleged evangelicals, what they really love.

Many are questioning whether Trump is mature enough for our vote. I would question whether we are mature enough to cast it.

12 January 2016

When Discouraged

Richard Sibbes, in a book published in 1630, five years before his death:
Suffering brings discouragements, because of our impatience. 'Alas!' we lament, 'I shall never get through such a trial.'

But if God brings us into the trial he will be with us in the trial, and at length bring us out, more refined. We shall lose nothing but dross (Zech 13:9).

From our own strength we cannot bear the least trouble, but by the Spirit's assistance we can bear the greatest. The Spirit will add his shoulders to help us to bear our infirmities. The Lord will give us his hand to heave us up (Ps 37:24).
'Ye have heard of the patience of Job' says James (James 5:11). We have heard of his impatience too, but it pleased God mercifully to overlook that.

It yields us comfort in desolate conditions, that then Christ has a throne of mercy at our bedside and numbers our tears and our groans. 
--Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Banner of Truth, 1998), 54-55

A three-minute introduction to Sibbes from Mike Reeves:

The Magnificent Seven 7: The Sweet Dropper from Union on Vimeo.

08 January 2016

Moses and Jesus

"The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." --John 1:17

"If you believed Moses, you would believe me." --John 5:46

Evidently there is strong discontinuity between the Mosaic Law and the Christian gospel (John 1) and strong continuity between the Mosaic Law and the Christian gospel (John 5).

03 January 2016

What Political Disagreement and Interaction Can Look Like

Thoroughly enjoyed this interaction between a settled Democrat and a settled Republican (one of whom led the other to Christ). Reminds me of the kinds of interactions we've seen between Robert George and Cornel West.

21 October 2015

Labour Not to Labour

Let me remind you, beloved, that this rest is perfectly consistent with labour. In Hebrews 4:11 the apostle says, “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest.” It is an extraordinary injunction, but I think he means, let us labour not to labour.

Our tendency is to try to do something in order to save ourselves; but we must beat that tendency down, and look away from self to Christ. Labour to get away from your own labours; labour to be clean rid of all self-reliance; labour in your prayers never to depend upon your prayers; labour in your repentance never to rest upon you repentance; and labour in your faith not to trust your faith, but to trust alone to Jesus.

When you begin to rest upon your repentance, and forget the Saviour, away with your repentance; and when you begin to pray, and you depend upon your prayers, and forget the Lord Jesus, away with your prayers. When you think you are beginning to grow in grace, and you feel, “Now I am somebody,” away with such spurious growth as that, for you are only being puffed up with pride, and not really growing at all. Labour not to labour; labour to keep down your natural self-righteousness and self-reliance; labour to continue where the publican was, and cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
--Charles Spurgeon,“The Believer’s Present Rest,” June 6, 1873, in Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia, 13:176

HT: Matt Tully

15 September 2015

Have You No Sins?

Truly, you must go to him that can make the eyes that are blind to see, even to our Lord Jesus, by prayer, saying, as the poor blind man did, 'Lord, that I might receive my sight'; and so continue begging with him, till you receive sight, even a sight of Jesus Christ, his death, blood, resurrection, ascension, intercession, and that for thee, even for thee.

Objection: But, alas, I have nothing to carry with me; how then should I go?

Answer: Have you no sins? If you have, carry them, and exchange them for his righteousness. If you do but come to him, he will give you rest. 
--John Bunyan, The Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:572