31 March 2010

A Surpassing Love

Bryan Chapell on the grace of the gospel, at last June's Advance.

C. S. Lewis: Masturbation

A 1956 letter responding to Keith Masson, a young American.

Magdalene College

Dear Mr Masson -

. . . . I agree that the stuff about 'wastage of vital fluids' is rubbish. For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: send the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity.

In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. Do
read Charles Williams' Descent into Hell and study the character of Mr. Wentworth. And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination.

The true exercise of imagination, in my view, is (a) To help us to understand other people (b) To respond to, and, some of us, to produce, art. But it has also a bad use: to provide for us, in shadowy form, a substitute for virtues, successes, distinctions etc. which ought to be sought outside in the real world--e.g. picturing all I'd do if I were rich instead of earning and saving. Masturbation involves this abuse of imagination in erotic matters . . . and thereby encourages a similar abuse of it in all spheres. After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.

C. S. Lewis

--Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Vol 3 (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 758-59; emphasis original

30 March 2010

The Book of James and the Gospel

It's often thought that Paul addressed the problem of legalism, James the problem of license. Paul corrected those who made too much of rules, James those who made too little of rules. Paul said works don't save you; James said works must be part of Christian living, or it's only dead faith.

Fair enough, and helpful. Most deeply, though, both Paul and James were confronting people into whose hearts the gospel had not yet sunk deeply enough. Both were writing to those who were doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Here's how our friend Adolf puts it.

James directs the word of repentance toward the righteous: not toward obvious sinners who were condemned already by the Law, but toward that kind of godlessness that portrayed itself as piety. He addresses himself not to those who were not able to hear the word but to those who heard it eagerly without doing it; not to those who failed to believe but rather to those who had high praise for faith, but a corpse-like faith lacking obedience; not to those who lacked wisdom but to the wise; not to those who never prayed but to those whose prayer was despicable in the sight of God. . . . Jesus' struggle [was] against transforming religion into rebellion against God. (Adolf Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles, p. 96)

'Transforming religion into rebellion.'


29 March 2010

How to Pray before You Pray

For a soul to know its wants, its infirmities, is a heavenly discovery. He that has this assistance, his prayer is more than half made before he begins to pray. He . . . unloads himself on the Lord Christ. . . . Without this, prayer is not prayer.

--John Owen, Communion with God, 198

25 March 2010

More Good Blogging

Darrin Patrick, pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, is blogging. Good stuff today on meditating on Scripture to get happy in the Lord.

Owen: His All-Conquering Desirableness

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. --Prov 3:13-15

. . . your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made for us wisdom . . . --1 Cor 1:30

John Owen writes:

Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God, the eternal Wisdom of the Father. . . . He and his ways are better than silver and gold, rubies, and all desirable things; as in the gospel he likens himself to the 'pearl in the field,' which when the merchant finds, he sells all that he has, to purchase. All goes for Christ; all righteousness without him, all ways of religion, all goes for that one pearl. The glory of his Deity, the excellency of his person, his all-conquering desirableness, ineffable love, wonderful undertaking, unspeakable condescensions, effectual mediation, complete righteousness, lie in their eyes, ravish their hearts, fill their affections, and possess their souls.

--Communion with God, 221

23 March 2010

Schlatter: Transferring the Aim

Adolf Schlatter (1852-1938), The History of the Christ, p. 298:

Jesus demanded from the disciples the renunciation of exhibition of their strength and assertion of their significance, not only in their dealings with God but also in their dealings with one another. . . . The self-admiration that considered one's own religious conduct to be superior and that enjoyed and exhibited it was considered by him to be sin in the case of his own followers just as in Judaism. . . . This rule had greatest significance for the disciples' common life, since a religious community acts differently depending on whether it exhibits its worship and admires its ethical achievements or whether it transfers the aim of its longing from itself to God and thus protects against self-admiration.

A lesson to be re-learned, over and over.

Help in Learning Wisdom

I'm in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes these days. Learning tons--make that, learning little that's new, relearning tons I'd forgotten--about wise living. For two extremely illuminating sermon series that have just begun on these books, check out Ray Ortlund in Nashville, who's just begun Proverbs, and Zack Eswine in St. Louis, who's just begun Ecclesiastes.

Loads of help here.

Circumstances: A Means, not an End

A good word from John Ortberg.

HT: Buzzard

21 March 2010

John Owen and the Affective Love of God

In a word, there is not the meanest, the weakest, the poorest believer on the earth, but Christ prizes him more than all the world besides. (John Owen, Communion with God, 218)

The main way God is growing me in Spring 2010 is by teaching me of the affective, intensely personal nature of Christ's love for me. John Owen has been the crucial helper.

I come from a (Reformed) theological tradition, one I love and wouldn't trade for anything, in which we often portray God as being 'satisfied,' his justice vindicated, his wrath turned away, in Christ's atoning work.

That is unspeakably precious. God helping me, I would die for it.

But God's affection for his people is sometimes less clearly articulated. The motivation of love is often included, but it's still easy for us to emphasize the satisfaction-of-justice to the neglect of the sheer love of Christ, the endearing tender-heartedness, the flowing mercy, the 'when Jesus looked on her he had compassion,' the 'Jesus wept,' the undiluted affection of Christ. Zephaniah 3 captures it best: God rejoices over us with singing--consider it--with loud exultation (see this book). The nature of the transaction in all its glorious exactness must not dampen our sense of the sheer explosiveness of his hesed, his lovingkindness. Indeed, the two are mutually reinforcing.

My sense is that many believers today cherish and champion the transaction wrought in the atonement while harboring secret doubts that God is truly happy over them. They do not doubt that God is now obliged to love them; to fail to do so would be unfair, in light of the cross. But they continue to doubt whether God enjoys loving them. Does God, in Christ, begrudgingly love or eagerly love? Sure, we're no longer condemned; but, at the least, God's lips are pursed, right?

The picture of the father in the prodigal son answers such doubts. Picking up his robe, running, putting his ring on him, embracing, kissing, throwing a party. The sheer exultation of the father--of the Father--over his miserable, foolish son makes us blush. Feel uncomfortable. Awkward. Our lips speak Luke 15; our hearts smirk.

That resistance to God's indomitable affection is sin that should be repented of. If you're going to be an atheist, fine. At least you won't be two-minded. If you're going to be a Christian, be a Christian all the way. No more inner cowering. No more suspicions of his love. Be liberated. His love doesn't slouch; it sprints. 'And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran . . .' (Lk 15:20)

John Owen was, according to Roger Nicole, the greatest theologian ever to write in the English language. Including Jonathan Edwards. And what I did not know till recent weeks is that the greatest Protestant, English-writing thinker had a greater sense of God's fatherly affection than anyone I've read--including, I think, Edwards.

To hell with the doubts. That's where they belong. He loves us. Each one. And he enjoys loving us.

19 March 2010

C.J. Mahaney: Idolatry

From May 27, 2007, Louisville, Kentucky, New Attitude

Fine, Fine, Fine

Now on Facebook.

If you feel bad because you don't have many 'friends,' your self-esteem issues are over. I have six.

18 March 2010

Stuhlmacher: Paul: Sin

Peter Stuhlmacher's description of Paul's new understanding, after the Damascus Road, of sin as more than rule-breaking:

Sin is more than mere violation of commandments. . . . Sin according to the letters of Paul is knowingly embraced from the time of Adam, and since his trespass all mankind has willingly taken on the impulse to disregard the will of God and to lead one's own might life in distance from God; sin is guilt and at the same time destiny and, in fact, has unmistakable and disastrous consequences. (Stuhlmacher, Biblische Theologie des Neuen Testaments [2005], 1:278)

But where sin abounded, grace hyper-abounded . . . (Rom 5:20)

He Satisfies

Edinburgh Bavinck Conference

Would love to be there!

HT: Ref21

17 March 2010


A glimpse of why I love my dad.

16 March 2010

Edwards' Last Sermon

Jonathan Edwards died on March 22, 1758. This is his grave to the right. On April 3, his 18-year-old daughter Susannah wrote to her older sister Esther (Burr), describing Jonathan's final sermon three months earlier there in Stockbridge before leaving to take up the presidency at Princeton (then College of New Jersey), leaving his family behind. Susannah remembers:

My father took leave of all his people and family as affectionately as if he knew he should not come again. On the Sabbath afternoon he preached from these words, 'We have no continuing city, therefore let us seek on to come.' The chapter that he read was Acts the 20th. O, how proper. What could he have done more? When he had got out of doors he turned about, 'I commit you to God,' said he.

--M. Haykin, ed., A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards, 161

Edwards spent his whole life preparing to die.

--George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press 2003), 490

Crowder: How He Loves

'To him who loves us . . .' --Revelation 1:5

15 March 2010

Charlie Hall: Hookers and Robbers

'I tell you, this man went down to his house justified . . .' --Luke 18:14

Pray for Wheaton

Join me and others in praying for awakening at Wheaton College this Spring. Maybe you could pray each Monday the rest of the Spring or something. Several of us here on campus are asking the Lord to do a new work that would trickle out to the nations.

David Choi, a local pastor with a heart for Wheaton, spoke in chapel this morning on prayer from Luke 11. The Lord was unusually present. Video/audio are here.

You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem . . . --Isaiah 62:7

'. . . because of his impudence . . .' --Luke 11:8

14 March 2010

A Holy Greediness of Delight

In the middle third of Communion with God (which deals with communing with the second person of the Trinity), John Owen explains that true believers long to be in Christ's company, to converse with him, to speak with and enjoy him. He writes--

When once the soul of a believer has obtained sweet and real communion with Christ, it looks about him, watches all temptations, all ways whereby sin might approach, to disturb him in his enjoyment of his dear Lord and Saviour, his rest and desire. . . . Riches make men watchful; and the actual sensible possession of him, in whom are all the riches and treasure of God, will make men look about them for the keeping of him.

Owen goes on to describe what the believing soul says of its longings for Christ.

'I know I deserve not to be beloved. These thoughts are hard as hell; they give no rest to my soul: if I find not myself on your heart and arm, I am as one that lies down in a bed of coals.' This . . . argues a holy greediness of delight.

--John Owen, Communion with God (Christian Focus 2007), 203, 205

13 March 2010

Edwards: The Deceits of Pride

In June 1741 Jonathan Edwards wrote a letter to a recent convert, Deborah Hatheway. She had written Edwards seeking wisdom for how to live the Christian life. Edwards responded with 19 pieces of counsel. The letter became something of a classic--within 150 years, well over 300,000 copies had been printed.

The eighth piece of counsel is:

Remember that pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul's peace and of sweet communion with Christ. It was the first sin committed and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan's whole building, and is with the greatest difficulty rooted out, and is the most hidden, secret, and deceitful of all lusts, and often creeps insensibly into the midst of religion, even, sometimes, under the disguise of humility itself.

--Michael Haykin, ed., A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Heritage 2007), 44-45

An ever-timely reminder for all of us.

One of the central contributions Edwards makes to those of us who long for a fresh work of God's Spirit is his repeated insistence that when renewal comes, it does not mainly generate outward passion and zeal; this is just as likely the devil as the Holy Spirit (Rom 10:2!). What is unmistakably from God, however, is gentleness, broken-heartedness; humility that is not showy. True godly affections, he says in Religious Affections, are tender, broken-hearted affections.

12 March 2010

Christ-Centered Preaching

Could not agree more with Sean Lucas's brotherly response to Carl Trueman on preaching over at Ref21. Love both these guys. But Sean is right on here.

The Best Rule for Life

Trust in God, and ye need not fear.

--Jonathan Edwards, eyes closed, as he lay in bed at College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1758, knowing he was dying of complications from a smallpox inoculation, having emerged one last time into consciousness, as his friends lamented the loss to the church and the college upon his death. They were his last words.

Join me in trusting God, and fearing not.

11 March 2010

Every Day Is His Wedding-Day

Delight is the flowing of love and joy--the rest and complacence of the mind in a suitable, desirable good enjoyed. Now, Christ delights exceedingly in his saints: 'As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you' (Isa 62:5). . . . His heart is glad in us, without sorrow. And every day whilst we live is his wedding-day.

--John Owen, Communion with God (Mentor 2007), 192

08 March 2010

The Right Fear, the Right Desire

Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergy or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell, and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.

--John Wesley, quoted in Iain Murray, Wesley and the Men Who Followed (Banner of Truth 2003), 87

Why 153 Fish?

It's strange that John mentions that the fish caught by Jesus' disciples in John 21 numbered 153. So what? And who counted them? And why remember it? And even if you remember, why put it in your Gospel account?

Richard Bauckham, who has noticed that the prologue to John contains 496 syllables and the epilogue 496 words (496 is both a perfect and a triangular number), and that the two mini-conclusions to John (20:30-31 and 21:24-25) both contain 43 words, suggests an explanation; here's his conclusion.

We have still not exhausted the significance of the figure 153. It seems also to be linked to the first part of the Gospel's conclusion (20:30-31) in the following way. That passage states that the signs done by Jesus have been recorded in the Gospel so that readers may believe that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing have life. That, of course, also describes what the catch of 153 fish in the narrative of chapter 21 parabolically illustrates: people coming to faith in Jesus and to new life as children of God. The keywords of 20:30-31 are: sign, believe, Christ, life. Each of these four words occurs for the last time in the Gospel in those verses. If we count the number of occurrences of these words in the whole Gospel up to and including this passage, the results are: sign 17, believe 98, Christ 19, and life 36. The sum of the last three of these numbers is 153. So the number 17 and its 'triangle' 153 are written into the whole Gospel in the form of these word statistics and are implicit in 20:30-31. (R. Bauckham, Testimony of the Beloved Disciple, 280-81)

Point Well Taken

Act like men; be strong. --1 Cor 16:13

07 March 2010

Owen: The Love of Christ

Our brother John Owen reminds us of Christ's magnificent love for us sinners--even we Christian, ongoing sinners.

How many millions of sins, in every one of the elect, every one of which were enough to condemn them all, has this love overcome! What mountains of unbelief does it remove! Look upon the conversation of any one saint, consider the frame of his heart, see the many stains and spots, the defilements and infirmities, wherewith his life is contaminated, and tell me whether the love that bears with all this be not to be admired. And is it not the same towards thousands every day? What streams of grace, purging, pardoning, quickening, assisting, do flow from it every day!

--John Owen, Communion with God (Christian Focus 2007), 113

It is not sins I committed before being born again that discourage me; it is sins as a believer, as someone who knows Christ and has been flipped inside out and made a new creation. If that's really happened, why do I still ______?

What then shall I say? Where sin abounds--whenever it was committed--grace hyper-abounds. The more sin, the more grace.

05 March 2010

Ascol: Responding as Calvinists

Tom Ascol, with wise counsel in responding to anti-Cavinistic propaganda:

What shall we do? Protest and return fire with fire? Point out the practical (and sometimes, doctrinal) Pelagianism of our less Calvinistic brothers? Become defensive and try to answer each accusation point-by-point? I don't think that response is called for. Saying nothing of Proverbs 26:4 for the present, I instead recommend that we take the opportunity to examine ourselves and our ministries and see if there are any kernels of truth whatsoever in the accusations on which the caricatures are built. Enemies can help us even when they are trying to destroy us. Learning from them does not mean that we agree with the charges or judge them fair.

Caricatures die in the presence of long, consistent evidence to the contrary. Our agenda is not to be set by accusations (or even affirmations). We have the Word of God for that. Let's examine ourselves in the light of that Word and determine to live wholeheartedly for our crucified and risen Savior. Critics will come and critics will go. What ultimately matters faithfulness to our Lord expressed through obedience to His Word.

HT: Carl Trueman

'The Doctrine of the Godliness which Is Caused by the Justification of the Heart'

--Martin Luther defining progressive sanctification, in What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian (St. Louis: Concordia, 1959), 720

Self-Denial Is Not Self-Destruction

One more from our friend Hendrikus:

Self-denial through the Spirit is the opposite of self-destruction--it is a crossing of the boundaries which we, in our egotism and addiction to the world, have imposed upon ourselves. Self-denial is thus in reality self-enlargement--we become ourselves again as God wanted us to be in the first place.

--Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith, 469

04 March 2010


[A] person's security in God frees him from constantly having to prove himself, so freeing his time and energy to use the divinely received love for the benefit of the neighbor--in word and deed, in witness and service, in availability and aid. So in his renewal man is freed from himself and becomes ex-centric.

--Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith, 461

03 March 2010

The Relaxation Inspires the Effort

The man who is relaxed because of what God has done for him will through that relaxation lose his preoccupation with self and forget himself, and be prompted into fruitfulness. . . . It is precisely the relaxation that inspires to effort. . . . Only he who no longer needs to serve himself with his works is able, since he is now free from himself, to do really 'good works,' works that mean something for the Other and the others.

--Hendrikus Berkhof, Dutch theologian who died in 1995, in Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Study of the Faith (trans. Sierd Woudstra; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 453; cf. 473