28 February 2011

Open to Reason

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. --James 3:17-18 (ESV)

The word translated here with the phrase 'open to reason' is eupeithes, which denotes an instinct to yield, a gentle willingness to defer, an inclination to receive the opinion of another (woodenly translating the prefix-plus-root you might say 'well-persuadable'). 'Open to reason' is a good translation.

At age 32 I don't think I've ever stopped and pondered that phrase till reading James this week.

I want to be wise with wisdom from above. The Bible says: part of that is being what James calls eupeithes.

Let’s be clear—open to reason is not equivalent to spineless. Conviction can happily coexist with reasonableness. James himself was obviously a man of deep convictions.

But there are two ways to have conviction—closed-to-reason conviction and open-to-reason conviction. The first filters all discourse through the assumption of virtual inability to err. It parades itself as conviction but is actually stubbornness. It projects security to cover up insecurity. Way down deep, it is actually less sure of its convictions, because they have never been made vulnerable to scrutiny.

The second operates with a healthy self-suspicion. Not perpetual self-doubt, but appropriate self-suspicion. It sees itself as prone to the same mistakes others make. Its internal security allows for genuine, give-and-take dialogue that sincerely entertains the possibility of personal error. Way down deep, it is more sure of its convictions, because these beliefs have been genuinely tried and tested.

I want to learn more of this in weeks ahead. Will you join me? Open to reason. Ready to jump at the chance to yield. Getting the impulse to defer to other brothers so built into us that it actually gets down to reflex level. It is the path of humility, and ultimately will yield more confident convictions than otherwise. It is the path of the Savior, who humbled himself with the ultimate yielding.

Which brings us to the fundamental resource by which we can learn, in fresh ways in 2011, to be 'open to reason': the gospel.

For in the gospel of grace God comes to us and says: You've been wrong. In the most important way, the most radically rebellious way, you have been wrong. And God did not respond to us with stubbornness simply because he was 'right,' though he was. Rather, he opened himself up to us in mercy. He 'reasoned' with us (Isa 1:18).

How? By becoming one of us. There's one person who walked this earth who was not wrong. Never. He had no reason to be well-persuadable, because he was always right. And he was put on a cross as if he had been horribly wrong.

God was open to reason with us. Won't we be open to reason with others?

Not the Mark of a Christian Mind

The vagueness and slipperiness and elusiveness of some today in their theological discourse is not new, even if you slap a new-sounding label on it (postmodernism, post-postmodernism, etc). Warfield and then Machen were dealing with it a century ago (replace 'assertions' below with 'facts' and you'll think you're reading Christianity and Liberalism), and I'm just now discovering, as I begin Luther's Bondage of the Will for the first time in my life, that this was what drove Luther so crazy about Erasmus.

Early on the irascible German writes:
It is not the mark of a Christian mind to take no delight in assertions; on the contrary, a man must delight in assertions or he will be no Christian. And by assertion--in order that we may not be misled by words--I mean a constant adhering, affirming, confessing, maintaining, and an invincible persevering.
--Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, in LW 33:19-20

It is one thing to be duly cautious in the name of appropriate intellectual humility. It is another to be cowardly under the guise of intellectual humility.

One day God will bring all things out into the open (1 Cor 4:5).

Be Perfect, as Your Heavenly Father Is Perfect (Matthew 5:48)

In the very last of the 430 works Schlatter wrote, a devotional book aimed at undermining rising Nazi nationalism, he comments on Matthew 5:48:
'In this case I am bound, and in this case I am loosed. Now I must obey God, and now I can do whatever I want,' the Jew said. Jesus tells him, 'No!' The heavenly Father is perfect. He does nothing piecemeal, and he does not tolerate anything done halfway. But you dissect God's commandment into many small fragments. It does not seize all of you, does not control your thoughts and volition in their entirety, and does not subject your life in its entirety. This results in your doing things halfway. With your 'half' life you are your own master. One moment you fear God; the next you are godless.

Jesus set his disciples free from this kind of 'religion.'
--Adolf Schlatter, Do We Know Jesus? (trans. R. Yarbrough and A. Kostenberger; Kregel, 2005), 159

Gentleness goes all the way to the top

An excellent brief reflection on the book of Jude.

26 February 2011

Adam and Satan

The first Adam came, was defeated by Satan in a testing, was thereby bound by Satan, and was kicked out of the Garden.

The second Adam came, himself defeated Satan in a testing (Matt 3:13-4:11), thereby binding Satan (Matt 12:28-29), and kicked Satan's hosts out of bound people's lives time and again throughout the Gospels.

When Jesus exorcised demons, he was doing what Adam should have done to the serpent in Eden.

HT: Greg Beale

It Is a Power

What is the gospel? Well, you remember the answer of the Apostle Paul, 'It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth' (Rom. 1.16).

How easy it is to forget that. How easy to preach it as a system, to preach it as a collection of ideas, or just to preach it as a truth. Ah, but you can do that without power. There are people, say the Apostle Paul, who 'have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof' (2 Tim. 3.5).

Christianity is primarily a life. It is a power. It is a manifestation of energy.
--Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Crossway, 1987), 123

25 February 2011

Proverbs 14:9

Fools mock at the guilt offering,
but the upright enjoy acceptance.

Fascinating and instructive.

Translation: The fool--in Proverbs, the one who obeys his own instincts and resists any word outside his own little internal world of self-generated impulses--rejects and ridicules the notion of substitution. The upright--literally 'the straight,' those whose self-perception is not skewed through stubborn autonomy--enjoy the release of atoned guilt, which breathes new life into them.

Wisdom: opening yourself up to an offering made on your behalf.

Interesting, too, that the guilt offering was the offering that dealt with unintentional guilt (see Lev 5-7). It was the offering sought out by those who knew that their waywardness went well beyond their own immediate moral awareness. It was the offering appreciated by the wise.

. . . how much more will the blood of Christ . . . --Hebrews 9:14

24 February 2011

I Believe This

Here's a bit of the Westminster Confession, from the chapter on the decrees of God.

This. Is. Magnificent. (As are the Three Forms of Unity.)
V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace. . . .

VII. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleases, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.

VIII. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel.

23 February 2011

Novenson: Sanctification

Four outstanding messages on sanctification by Joe Novenson, from a conference last month at the Twin Lakes Conference Center (a ministry of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi, where Lig Duncan is pastor).

Just outstanding. I will be returning to listen to these again.

22 February 2011

Profitable Wickedness

'But I say to you, Love your enemies.' --Matthew 5:44

St. Augustine:
Well, you have enemies. Indeed, who could live on this earth without them?

See to it that you love them.

In no way can a raging enemy injure you as much as you injure yourself when you do not love your enemy. He can damage your farm or your flock; he can injure your household--your manservant or maidservant, your son or your wife, or, at most, he can injure your body if he has been given the power. But--unlike you--can he injure the soul?

Dearly beloved, strive toward this perfection, I exhort you.

Is it I that gave you this? It has been given to you by Him to whom you say: 'Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.' And do not think it impossible, for I know that there are Christians who love their enemies. I know this, for I have discovered it and proved it. You will not even try to love your enemy if you think it impossible for you to love him. Therefore, begin by believing it possible, and then pray the will of God be done in you. If your enemy had no wickedness, he would not be an enemy. But, how profitable his wickedness can be for you!

. . . You are still saying: 'Who can do it, and who has ever done it?' May God do it in your hearts. Very few do it, I know. Those who do it are noble and spiritual.
--St. Augustine, Commentary on the Lord's Sermon on the Mount: With Seventeen Related Sermons (Catholic University of America Press, 2001), 252-53

21 February 2011

Performance-Based Devotions Suck

An ever-timely reminder from our brother Bill Martin.

Why We Earnestly Emphasize That We Are Telling the Truth

"Let what you say be simply 'yes' or 'no.'" --Matthew 5:37

German pastor and writer Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) comments:
Whenever I utter the formula “I swear by God,” I am really saying, “Now I’m going to mark off an area of absolute truth and put walls around it to cut it off from the muddy floods of untruthfulness and irresponsibility that ordinarily overruns my speech.” In fact, I am saying even more than this. I am saying that people are expecting me to lie from the start. And just because they are counting on my lying I have to bring up these big guns of oaths and words of honor in order to drive a breach into these abysmally pessimistic prejudices of my fellow men, this closed phalanx of distrust (and quite justified distrust too!).
--Helmut Thielicke, Life Can Begin Again: Sermons on the Sermon on the Mount (trans. J. Doberstein; Fortress, 1966), 55

19 February 2011

A Little Heaven Upon Earth

The love of Christ has a tendency to fill the soul with an inexpressible sweetness. It sweetens every thought and makes every meditation pleasant. It brings a divine color upon the mind, and spreads a heavenly fragrancy like a precious box of ointment. It bathes the soul with the dew of heaven, begets a bright sunshine and diffuses the beginning of glory and happiness in embryo. All the world smiles upon such a soul as loves Christ. The sun, moon and stars, fields and trees do seem to solace him. Such a mind is like a little heaven upon earth.
--Jonathan Edwards, The Glory and Honor of God: Volume 2 of the Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, p. 254

Is not this, in essence, what Paul was praying for the Ephesians in chapter one of his letter to them?


What is doctrine after all but the throne whereon Christ sitteth, and when the throne is vacant what is the throne to us? Doctrines are the shovel and tongs of the altar, while Christ is the sacrifice smoking thereon. Doctrines are Christ's garments; verily they smell of myrrh, and cassia, and aloes out of the ivory palaces, whereby they make us glad, but it is not the garments we care for as much as the person.
--quoted in Iain Murray, Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 1995), 122

18 February 2011

The Key to Understanding Everything

John Wenham, British New Testament scholar of a generation ago:
If Christ is the source, sustenance, and goal of history, then the real meaning of everything in the experience of Israel and in the experience of mankind is found in him. It is because Jesus is the representative of Israel that words originally spoken of the nation can rightly be applied to him, and it is because Jesus is the representative of mankind that words originally spoken by a psalmist can be 'fulfilled' by him. Christ is the key to the understanding of everything and everything points to Christ. For this reason the significance of the Old Testament is not exhausted even by the fulfillment of its predictions and prefigurations.
--John Wenham, Christ and the Bible (IVP 1972), 107

This has become one of the classic books making the rather obvious yet powerful point that one argument for a high view of Scripture is the high view Jesus himself had of Scripture--a high view of Christ, therefore, entails a high view of Scripture.

Along the way Wenham paints a helpful portrait of how Jesus himself fulfills that Scripture. A similar book, equally eye-opening, is R. T. France's Jesus and the Old Testament. Simply fascinating. I do find Wenham somewhat more satisfying, however, because unlike France, Wenham sees Christ as historically climactic not only because he sums up Israel but also because he sums up all humanity (a la Rom 5:12ff). That is right. He is the true Israelite; he is also, more broadly, the true Human.

Abiding in him (John 15), we are restored to true Life. We become human again. We are home once more. As Lewis said, the toy soldiers are coming to life. All for free.

Comforts from the Cross

The outstanding book by our sister Elyse Fitzpatrick, Comforts from the Cross: Celebrating the Gospel One Day at a Time, has been reprinted with a new cover (originally published 2009). It's a collection of 30 brief reflections on the grace of God in Jesus Christ (140 pages total). Very rich.

Here's a snippet from the intro--
I'm assuming that right about now you might be wondering why you would need to celebrate the gospel every day. You might think you already know it; in fact, I'm pretty sure most of you do. Most of you would be able to clearly articulate the facts of Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection. But this book isn't about mere facts, although these facts are true and significant. This book is about how those facts are to inform, free, gladden, and enliven your soul every day--when you're struggling to balance the checkbook, stuck in traffic or in a hospital bed, or just bored with the same-old-same-old. . . . [N]othing, and I mean nothing, is more important than Jesus Christ and the gospel, and this gospel is meant to be remembered and celebrated every day. (pp. 13-14)

A Miracle of Grace

Kent Hughes describes an event in the life of a distinguished judge of the High Court in England.
The church he attended had three mission churches under its care. On the first Sunday of the new year all the members of the missions came to the big city church for a combined Communion service. In those mission churches, which were located in the slums of the city, were some outstanding cases of conversions — thieves, burglars, and so on — but all knelt side by side at the Communion rail.

On one such occasion the pastor saw a former thief kneeling beside the judge. . . . After his release the thief had been converted and became a Christian worker. Yet, as the judge and the former thief knelt together, neither seemed to be aware of the other.

After the service, the judge happened to walk out with the pastor and said, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?”

The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t think that you did.”

The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, when the judge declared, “What a miracle of grace.”

The pastor nodded in agreement. “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace.”

Then the judge asked, “But to whom do you refer?”

The pastor responded, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.”

“But I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself,” explained the judge.

Surprised, the pastor replied, “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.”

“Yes,” the judge went on. “It was natural for the burglar to respond to God’s grace when he came out of jail. His life was nothing but a desperate history of crime, and when he saw the Savior he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. He understood how much he needed that help.

“But I . . . I was taught from earliest infancy to be a gentleman — that my word was my bond, that I was to say my prayers, go to church, receive Communion. I went up to Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar, and eventually ascended to judge. My friend, it was God’s grace that drew me; it was God’s grace that opened my heart to receive Christ. I’m a greater miracle of his grace.”
--Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount (Crossway, 2001), 23-24

17 February 2011

Crossway Catalogs

Now viewable here. Incredibly well done.

HT: Rochelle Manock

The Same Savior

J. C. Ryle:
Let us beware of despising the Old Testament, for whatever reason. . . . The religion of the Old Testament is the germ of Christianity. The Old Testament is the Gospel in the bud; the New Testament is the Gospel in full flower. The Old Testament is the Gospel in the blade; the New Testament is the Gospel in full ear. The saints in the Old Testament saw many things through a glass darkly; but they all looked by faith to the same Savior.
--Matthew (Classic Crossway Commentary Series; ed. Alister McGrath and J. I. Packer; Crossway, 1993), 29


And God said, 'Let there be light, and there was light.' (Gen 1:3)

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her. (Gen 3:6)

So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. (Exod 10:22)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. (Isa 9:2)

'I am the light of the world.' (John 8:12)

'You are the light of the world.' (Matt 5:14)

'The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.' (Matt 13:43)

God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.' (2 Cor 4:6)

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Rev 21:23; cf. 22:3)

16 February 2011

Not in Tension

John Owen:
If we slack or give over as to our duty, the work of sanctification will not be carried on in a way of grace.
--quoted in Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life (Banner of Truth, 1987), 61; italics original

Would you like to reign in blazing glory over this earth, forever, with a special commission from Christ, in increasingly radiant resplendence?

'The meek shall inherit the earth.' --Matthew 5:5

What is 'Poor in Spirit' (Matthew 5:3)?

John Wesley:
He has a deep sense of the loathsome leprosy of sin which he brought with him from his mother's womb, which overspreads his whole soul, and totally corrupts every power and faculty thereof.
Kent Hughes wisely adds:
Just as no one can come to Christ without poverty of spirit, no one can continue to grow apart from an ongoing poverty of spirit.

Poverty of spirit is foundational because a continual sense of spiritual need is the basis for ongoing spiritual blessing. A perpetual awareness of our spiritual insufficiency opens us to continually receiving spiritual riches. Poverty of spirit is something we never outgrow. In fact, the more spiritually mature we become, the more profound will be our sense of poverty. (The Sermon on the Mount [Crossway, 2001], 22)

God's Calling Outweighs Your Condition

2010 PCA Global Missions Conference - Saturday AM - Joe Novenson

Why Do Our Intestines Wind and Twist?

Jonathan Edwards surmises--
Man's inwards are full of dung and filthiness, which is to denote what the inner man, which is often represented by various parts of his inwards--sometimes the heart, sometimes the bowels, sometimes the belly, sometimes the veins--is full of: spiritual corruption and abomination. So as there are many foldings and turnings in the bowels, it denotes the great and manifold intricacies, secret windings and turnings, shifts, wiles and deceits that are in their hearts.
--Typological Writings, in vol. 11 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Yale University Press), 94

Say what you will, Edwards saw divine truth everywhere.

Think I'll pass on an image for this post.

15 February 2011

The Only Thing That Satisfies

C. S. Lewis:
He claims all, because He is love and must bless. He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our won, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There's no bargaining with Him.

That is, I take it, the meaning of all those sayings that alarm me most. . . . [William] Law, in his cool, terrible voice, said . . . 'If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.' Those are hard words to take. Will it really make no difference whether it was women or patriotism, cocaine or art, whisky or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science? Well, surely no difference that matters. We shall have missed the end for which we are formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies.

Does it matter to a man dying in a desert by which choice of route he missed the only well?
--'A Slip of the Tongue,' in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Touchstone, 1975), 141-42

The Christomorphic Life

[Christ's] death becomes metaphorically paradigmatic for the obedience of the community . . . the fundamental norm of Pauline ethics is the christomorphic life.
--Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (HarperOne, 1996), 46

'. . . always carrying in the body the death of Jesus . . .' --2 Cor 4:10

Five Elements of a Real Apology

1. Expressing regret ('I am sorry')

2. Accepting responsibility ('I was wrong')

3. Making restitution ('What can I do to make it right?')

4. Genuinely repenting ('I'll strive not to do that again')

5. Requesting forgiveness ('Will you please forgive me?')
--Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, The Five Languages of Apology (Mo0dy, 2008)

Godlier, Manlier

Anyone who knows anything at all about Puritan Christianity knows that at its best it had a vigor, a manliness, and a depth which modern evangelical piety largely lacks. This is because Puritanism was essentially an experimental faith, a religion of 'heart-work', a sustained practice of seeking the face of God, in a way that our own Christianity too often is not. The Puritans were manlier Christians just because they were godlier Christians.
--J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, 215

14 February 2011

Nine Lloyd-Jones Sermons

Here, from his final trip to America in 1969. Powerful.

Exhaling our Sins, Inhaling the Gospel

A common objection to the gospel today is that Christians are hypocrites. Skeptics don't mind when they see Christians sinning. They do mind when they see Christians concealing their sins. We'll see more repentance among skeptics when the skeptics see more repentance among us. Let's have a spirit of confession, because Jesus is the Friend of sinners. He did not come to call the righteous but only sinners.

When we converted to Christ, what were we saying? We were saying, 'I’ve been completely wrong about everything all my life.' But then? Too often, Christians are never wrong again!

But the Bible says, 'The sacrifices pleasing to God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise' (Ps 51:17). Jesus said, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven' (Matt 5:3). Jesus taught us to pray, 'Forgive us our debts” (Matt 6:12). He said to the church in Laodicea, 'You say, I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked' (Rev 3:17). Those Christians looked at themselves and all they could see was their strengths. But the Lord said to them, 'Those whom I love, I correct and discipline, so be zealous and repent' (Rev 3:19). Repent of what? Repent of saying, 'I need nothing.'

We live by spiritual breathing--exhaling the CO2 of our sins and inhaling the oxygen of the gospel. A spirit of confession--it’s how we walk with God.

Calling into Pastoral Ministry

'God is not calling you full-time until he needs full-time what you're doing part-time.'

I am greatly instructed.

Fear Not the Face of Man

In the summer of 1739 George Whitefield left for a second voyage to America. Restless on board, he occupied himself by writing many letters to young rising preachers he knew back in England. One was a Rev. Henry Piers, who, writes Arnold Dallimore, 'had proved timid about declaring the Gospel.'

Whitefield wrote to Piers--
Let me exhort you, by the mercies of God, to continue unwearied in well-doing. You have seen the afflictions of God's spiritual Israel. 'Do and Live' is the most they hear, and what is this but requiring them to make bricks without straw?

Arise, arise then, my dear Mr Piers and proclaim the Lord to be their righteousness. . . . Fear not the face of man. . . . I hope my dear friend ere now hath prevented my exhortations. Methinks I see him, with all boldness, declaring the whole counsel of God and the attentive people joyfully receiving the gracious works which proceed out of his mouth.
--quoted in Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the 18th Century Revival (2 vols; Banner of Truth, 1970, 1980), 1:397-98

13 February 2011

Break Them and Smash Them and Humble Them

Lloyd-Jones, preaching on Mark 9:29 ('And he said to them, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer"').
We must become utterly and absolutely convinced of our need.

We must cease to have so much confidence in ourselves, and in all our methods and organizations, and in all our slickness.

We have got to realize that we must be filled with God's Spirit. And we must be equally certain that God can fill us with his Spirit.

We have got to realise that however great 'this kind' is, the power of God is infinitely greater, that what we need is not more knowledge, more understanding, more apologetics . . . no, we need a power that can enter into the souls of men and break them and smash them and humble them and then make them anew.

And that is the power of the living God. And we must be confident that God has this power as much today as he had one hundred years ago, and two hundred years ago, and so we must begin to seek the power and to pray for it. We must begin to plead and yearn for it. 'This kind' needs prayer.
--Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Crossway, 1987), 19

What the world needs. What Wheaton, Illinois needs. What I need.

11 February 2011

I Cannot Get it Into My Head

The irascible German:
[E]ven though we are now in faith . . . the heart is always ready to boast of itself before God and say: 'After all, I have preached so long and lived so well and done so much, surely he will take this into account.' We even want to haggle with God to make him regard our life. . . .

But it cannot be done. With men you may boast: I have done the best I could toward everyone, and if anything is lacking I will still try to make recompense. But when you come before God, leave all that boasting at home and remember to appeal from justice to grace. Let anybody try this and he will see and experience how exceedingly hard and bitter a thing it is for a man, who all his life has been mired in his work righteousness, to pull himself out of it and with all his heart rise up through faith in the one Mediator.

I myself have now been preaching and cultivating it through reading and writing for almost twenty years and still I feel the old clinging dirt of wanting to deal so with God that I may contribute something, so that he will have to give me his grace in exchange for my holiness. Still I cannot get it into my head that I should surrender myself completely to sheer grace; yet this is what I should and must do.
--LW 51:284 (HT: Jean Larroux)

See Steven Ozment's outstanding comments on this passage from Luther in The Age of Reform (1250-1550): An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (Yale University Press, 1980), 375-77

The Only Answer

We cannot treat the Bible as a collection of therapeutic insights. To do so distorts its message and will not lead to lasting change. If a system could give us what we need, Jesus would never have come. But he came because what was wrong with us could not be fixed any other way. He is the only answer, so we must never offer a message that is less than the good news. We don't offer people a system; we point them to a Redeemer.
--Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (P&R, 2002), 9

10 February 2011

Just the Example That We Need

Jesus is not mainly an example. But that is not to say he is not an example. Let us not neglect the example Christ gives us (which we do follow) in our appropriate concern to centralize his atoning work for our sin (which we do not, dare not, follow).

Who can find in all His life a single lack, a single failure to set us a perfect example? In what difficulty of life, in what trial, in what danger or uncertainty, when we turn our eyes to Him, do we fail to find just the example that we need?

And if perchance we are, by the grace of God, enabled to walk with Him but a step in the way, how our hearts burn within us with longing to be always with Him—to be strengthened by the almighty power of God in the inner man, to make every footprint which He has left in the world a stepping-stone to climb upward over His divine path. Do we not rightly say that next to our longing to be in Christ is our corresponding longing to be like Christ; that only second in our hearts to His great act of obedience unto death by which He became our Savior, stands His holy life in our world of sin, by which He becomes our example?
--B. B. Warfield, 'Imitating the Incarnation'

Does Gospel-Centeredness Neglect the Spirit?

That's a criticism I hear from time to time. (By 'gospel-centered' I have in mind an approach to the Christian life that views the gospel of grace--perhaps crystallized best in 1 Cor 15:3-5--as not only the gateway into the Christian life but also the pathway of the Christian life.)

Isn't this whole way of thinking, the objection goes, focusing on the second Person of the Trinity to the neglect of the third? The objective to the neglect of the subjective? While taking nothing away from the gospel--what magnificent grace it is!--shouldn't we describe the 'center' of Christian growth, progressive sanctification, as the Holy Spirit?

Good questions!

Three responses--a tiny one, a small one, and a big one.

1. Tiny response

Yes, it is possible to neglect the Spirit.

2. Small Response

There is an appropriate multiperspectivalism to contemplating the 'center' of growth in godliness.

From one perspective the Spirit is indeed the center. From another perspective the gospel is the center. To use categories from historical theology, the Spirit is the center effectually. Yet the gospel is the center instrumentally.

To those who snort in response to such flabby/everybody-wins/postmodern 'multiperspectivalism,' may I ask a question--what is the center of the human body?

Answer: it depends on the perspective. From the perspective of geometry, somewhere around the belly button. From the perspective of neuroscience, the brain. From the perspective of biblical psychology, the heart. All are right. Complex realities such as the human body--or spiritual growth--will be greatly impoverished if only one 'center' is allowed, from only one perspective (along these lines see Vern Poythress' Symphonic Theology or John Frame's Doctrine of the Knowledge of God). This is not only a defense that gospel-centeredness is compatible with Spirit-sensitivity, but also a rebuke to some of us who have ourselves viewed growth monoperspectivally—only from the perspective of gospel instrumentality. I think I have fallen into this in the past.

In brief: the answer to the objection, 'The Spirit, not the gospel, is the center of sanctification!' is: 'Yes--if we're talking about effectual empowering.'

2. Big response

The main way I would respond to someone who thinks that self-consciously centering on the gospel in sanctification neglects the Spirit is to ask: What does the Spirit do?

'Well,' you say, 'the Spirit animates us, impels us, transforms us.'

Yes and amen. And how does the Spirit do that?

The New Testament's answer is: By giving us eyes to see the beauty of Christ. By opening our eyes to the wonder of the gospel. The work of the third Person is to rivet our eyes, in increasingly joyful astonishment, on the second Person.

Several passages teach this. I'll briefly cite three and reference a few more.

1. Throughout John 14-16, Jesus comforts the disciples by teaching them, among other things, that it is good for them that he go away, so that the Spirit can come. And how does Jesus describe the work of the Spirit? The Spirit 'will bear witness about' Jesus (John 15:26). The Spirit 'will glorify' Jesus (16:13-14). The third Person spotlights the Second Person. The Spirit’s animating impulse is not a raw, faceless power. The subjective work of the Spirit works in tandem with the objective work of Christ.

2. The most startling passage to me is 1 Cor 2:12. 'We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.' Why do we receive the Spirit? In order that (hina) we might grasp what we have freely received--the phrase 'freely given' is one Greek word, the verb form of the noun 'grace.' The Spirit opens our eyes to see what we have been ‘graced’ with. And note further the strongly Christocentric context of 1 Cor 2, both before and after v. 12--the Spirit opens our eyes to see what we have been graced with in Christ.

3. The seeing-metaphor I'm using in this post is explicitly used by Paul in 2 Cor 3, where he speaks of 'beholding the glory of the Lord' (Lord = the exalted Lord Jesus--note also 4:3-6) as what transforms believers. And all this 'comes from the Lord who is the Spirit' (not a conflation of Christ and the Spirit, but simply a most intimate association--cf. Rom 8:9-11). In brief: the Spirit effectually causes us to behold Christ in such a way that transforms us.

I'll leave the textual evidence at that, though there are other texts that reinforce the notion that one major role of the Spirit is to rivet our eyes on the gospel of what Christ has done in our place. Note, for example, Gal 5:4-5; Eph 5:18-20; Phil 3:3; 1 John 4:2-3; 1 John 5:6; maybe also Rom 8:2-4.

It would be horrid to reduce the total work of the Spirit solely to opening our eyes more and more to the gospel. Even within the specific realm of sanctification, another major strand of NT teaching is the new impulses toward godliness that the indwelling Spirit gives believers. But as the Spirit relates to the role of the gospel in progressive sanctification, I believe the criticism that gospel-centeredness neglects the Spirit is wrongheaded and unbiblical.


In a single sentence, here’s what I am trying to communicate: Yes, the Spirit is the effectual cause of transformation, and a (the?) major way the Spirit transforms us is by opening our eyes more and more to the wonder of the gospel of grace. The Spirit applies what the Son accomplished. Yet in thinking of the Spirit 'applying' salvation we should think not only of how the Spirit joins us to Christ but also how he makes subjectively real to us what is objectively true of us by virtue of that participation in Christ’s death and resurrection. (You don’t focus on your brain when you look at your wife and ponder how beautiful she is. You focus on her, and enjoy her. Your brain is what effectually causes that enjoyment. But what would you say to someone who told you you’re neglecting your brain by being so wife-centered? You’d say—if it weren’t for my brain, I would not be able to enjoy my wife at all. Praise God for a brain. But I don’t look at my brain; I look with my brain. Yes, yes, in lots of ways the analogy breaks down, but I think you get the point.)

O to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. In working slowly through Lloyd-Jones on revival, just last night I read a sermon on what it means to live in a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. I want that. Take my degrees, I'd rather have 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

But Christian growth in holiness is not a see-saw, one side representing the Spirit and the other side the gospel, such that if we put weight on one side then the other must necessarily go down in neglect. No, the two sides of the see-saw rise and fall together. Both or neither. To the degree that we are Spirit-filled, to that degree we will be gospel-centered. And to the degree that we are gospel-centered, to that degree we will walk in the power of the Spirit.

Feel free to leave a comment if you think I need correction here at any point.

09 February 2011

Better to Begin than to Refuse

'There are some things that are better to begin than to refuse, though the end may be dark.'
--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, p. 430

Yes. Not all things. But some things.

The Theology of Jonathan Edwards

That's the title and theme of this Oxford University Press book by Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott, to be released this Spring.

More info, with a viewable table of contents, here.

Not sure what I think of the Daniel Day-Lewis-esque artwork (though it's certainly better than this dainty chap).

Thanks for this book brothers. Looking forward to it.

08 February 2011

A Better Friend

In April 1753 Jonathan Edwards wrote a letter to his oldest son, Timothy. It was beginning to look as if Timothy had contracted smallpox on a trip from New York to Newark.

The letter begins begins follows.
It's the third and fourth paragraphs that I find especially moving.
My dear child,

Before you will receive this letter, the matter will doubtless be determined, as to your having the smallpox. You will either be sick with that distemper, or will be past danger of having it. . . . But whether you are sick or well, like to die or like to live, I hope you are earnestly seeking your salvation. . . .

That which you met with, in your passage from New York to Newark, which was the occasion of your fever, was indeed a remarkable mine, a dispensation full of instruction, and a very loud call of God to you, to make haste and not to delay in the great business of religion. If you now have that distemper, which you have been threatened with, you are separated from your earthly friends; none of them must come to see you; and if you should die of it, you have already taken a final and everlasting leave of them while you are yet alive, not to have the comfort of their presence and immediate care, and never to see them again in the land of the living. And if you have escaped that distemper, it is by a remarkable providence that you are preserved.

And your having been so exposed to it, must certainly be a loud call of God, not to trust in earthly friends, or anything here below. . . . [T]his providence remarkably teaches you the need of a better friend, and a better parent, than earthly parents are; one who is everywhere present, and all-sufficient; that can't be kept off by infectious distempers; who is able to save from death or to make happy in death; to save from eternal misery and to bestow eternal life.

It is indeed comfortable, when one is in great pain, languishing under sore sickness, to have the presence and kind care of near and dear earthly friends; but this is a very small thing, in comparison of what it is, to have the presence of a heavenly Father and a compassionate and almighty Redeemer. In God's favor is life, and his lovingkindness is better than life.

Whether you are in sickness or health, you infinitely need this.
--The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 16: Letters and Personal Writings (Yale University Press), 578-79

How to Diagnose Your Theology

Jim Johnston:
The way we pray tells us what we genuinely believe. Our prayer life is a more accurate picture of what we genuinely believe about God than our doctrinal statement.
Five-point Calvinists who don't pray are actually Pelagians. Claim what we will, if we say airplanes are safe but never fly, it's clear what we actually believe.

Or: If we say it was all of grace but are haughty in tone, it's clear what we actually believe.


ESPN writer Rick Reilly points out Aaron Rodgers' unusual character.

Note also this piece from Athletes in Action last fall. Encouraging.

I'll rejoice even more, Aaron, when your faith in Christ propels you to stop that obnoxious belt-donning gesture when you get to the end zone! And I'll seek to lay down my own (more subtle) belt-donning impulses, too.

Especially in the Calvinist Life

Timothy George:
There is no place for arrogance or one-upmanship in the Christian life and especially in the Calvinist life. Of all people, Calvinists should know that whatever understanding we have obtained into the mystery of divine grace, we have received it the same way we have received salvation itself--as a sheer gift (1 Cor 4:7). This means that we should be patient and gentle with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are where we once were in our journey toward a fuller understanding.

I once participated in a theological seminar at Cambridge University. One of the speakers had given a paper that was simply terrible, and there had been several brutal exchanges in the discussion that followed. When we retired for tea, several of us were quite upset by what we had heard from this speaker and his unyieldedness in defending what seemed to us a very misguided point of view. One of us turned to Dr. Ronald Wallace, a great Scottish theologian, and asked with some exasperation, 'What shall we say now? What are we going to do?' With great wisdom, Professor Wallace replied, 'Young men, you must pray, "O Lord, open his eyes, that he may see."' At the end of the day, it is not our brilliant arguments, nor our great learnings or quick wit that can bring anyone to believe in the doctrines of grace. It is the Lord who must open all of our eyes.
--Timothy George, Amazing Grace: God's Pursuit, Our Response (Crossway, 2011; 2d ed.), 13-14

God Alone

Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day--aye, by the hour. Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the needs of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a failing world. Never count upon immutability in man: inconstancy you may reckon upon without fear of disappointment.
--Lectures to My Students, 164

07 February 2011

Three Worthy Links

1. The $1.00 (if bought in bulk) ESV Bible that Crossway has just produced. Yes, you read that correctly. One dollar.

2. A wise reflection on the ever-relevant good news of the gospel. 'Aim at grace, and you'll get obedience as well; aim solely at obedience, and you may get neither.' Thanks Eric.

3. Stirring words from our brother Michael Oh on his life and ministry in Japan, and the way the gospel of grace is fueling both. Thanks Michael, and Josh Harris.

Subtlety within Subtlety

C. S. Lewis:
No sooner do we believe that God loves us than there is an impulse to believe that He does so, not because He is Love, but because we are intrinsically loveable. The Pagans obeyed this impulse unabashed; a good man was 'dear to the gods' because he was good.

We, being better taught, resort to subterfuge. Far be it from us to think we have virtues for which God could love us. But then, how magnificently we have repented! . . . We next offer our own humility to God's admiration. Surely He'll like that! Or if not that, our clear-sighted and humble recognition that we still lack humility.

Thus, depth beneath depth and subtlety within subtlety, there remains some lingering idea of our own, our very own, attractiveness. It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realise for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us. Surely we must have a little--however little--native luminosity?
--The Four Loves, 180; emphasis original

06 February 2011

Christ's Cross

Samuel Rutherford:
His cross is the sweet burden that ever I bare: it is such a burden as wings are to a bird, and sails are to a ship, to carry me forward to my harbour.
HT: Gavin Ortlund

04 February 2011


'. . . a strangely relaxed kind of strenuousness . . .'

That's how C. F. D. Moule (N. T. Wright's old doctoral supervisor) describes progressive sanctification. It's exactly right (Phil 2:12-13; 1 Cor 15:10; Col 1:29; 2 Tim 2:4 in the light of vv. 1, 8; 2 Pet 3:5-7 in the light of v. 9b).

--C. F. D. Moule, '"The New Life" in Colossians 3:1-17,' Review and Expositor 70 (1973): 482

No Trace of Liberty

Cicero, Roman statesman (106-43 B.C.):
How grievous a thing it is to be disgraced by a public court; how grievous to suffer a fine, how grievous to suffer banishment; and yet in the midst of any such disaster some trace of our liberty is left to us. Even if we are threatened with death, we may die free men.

But the executioner, the veiling of the head, and the very word 'cross' should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears. For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things or the endurance of them, but the liability to them, the expectation, nay the mere mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man. (For Rabirio 5.16, trans. Hodge 1927)
'. . . despising the shame . . .' (Hebrews 12:2)

03 February 2011

How to Deal with Guilt

It all depends on this great and grand miracle, that I believe that God gave His Son for us. If I do not doubt this, then I am able to say in the midst of my trials: 'I concede, devil, that I am a sinner burdened with the old Adam and subject to the wrath of God. But what do you, devil, say about this: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that all who believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life? These words I believe!'
--Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapters 1-4, in Luther's Works, 22:359

Galatians 5:24

'Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh and its passions.'

Not: lessened. Wrestled with. Wounded.


The Real Battle

It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it.

He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.
--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, p. 193

Justification and Ethics

A nice little article on the relation between justification and ethics by John McLean of Presbyterian Theological Centre in Sydney, printed on page 6 of the school's denominational newsletter from this month.


Westminster: God

God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He has made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and has most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleases. In His sight all things are open and manifest, His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them.
--Westminster Confession of Faith 2.2

That Blessed Doctrine

J. Gresham Machen:
The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God—the grace of God which depends not one whit upon anything that is in man, but is absolutely undeserved, resistless and sovereign. The theologians of the Church can be placed in an ascending scale according as they have grasped with less or greater clearness that one great central doctrine, that doctrine that gives consistency to all the rest; and Christian experience also depends for its depth and for its power upon the way in which that blessed doctrine is cherished in the depths of the heart. The centre of the Bible, and the centre of Christianity, is found in the grace of God; and the necessary corollary of the grace of God is salvation through faith alone.
--What is Faith?, pp. 173-74

01 February 2011

Jesus Christ's Invitation

My heart burned when I read this for the first time two years ago. It burns when I read it now. I want to know Christ, and the fellowship of his sufferings. Take my degrees, my friends, my reputation. I count it all a loss. All I want is Christ. Period.
The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, 'This is the truth about the Universe. This is the way you ought to go,' but He says, 'I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.'

He says, 'No man can reach absolute reality, except through Me. Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved.'

He says, 'If you are ashamed of Me, if, when you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise. If anything whatever is keeping you from God and from Me, whatever it is, throw it away. If it is your eye, pull it out. If it is your hand, cut it off. If you put yourself first you will be last. Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right. Your sins, all of them, are wiped out, I can do that. I am Re-birth, I am life. Eat Me, drink Me, I am your Food. And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole universe.'
--C. S. Lewis, 'What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?' in God in the Dock (Eerdmans 1970), 160

Aquinas: Two Ways to Do the Law

Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) asks, 'Whether a man can fulfill the commandments of the law by his natural powers, without grace.'
I answer: there are two ways of fulfilling the commandments of the law.

In the first place, one may actually do what the law commands, by performing acts of justice or fortitude, for example, or other acts of virtue. Man could fulfill all the commandments of the law in this way when he was in the state of pure nature, since he would not otherwise have been able to avoid sin, which is nothing other than transgression of the divine commandments. But a man in the state of corrupt nature cannot fulfill all the divine commandments without healing grace.

In the second place, the law may be fulfilled not only in respect of what it commands, but also in respect of the manner of action. It is fulfilled when actions are inspired by charity [love]. A man cannot fulfill the law in this way without grace, whether in the state of pure nature or in the state of corrupt nature.
--Summa Theologica, Q. 109, Art. 4

Forever Bowed but Never Cowed

Floyd Doud Shafer, in a brief 1961 essay on the calling of those who preach--
Mold him relentlessly into a man forever bowed but never cowed before the unconcealed truth which he has labored to reveal, and let him hang flung against the destiny of almighty God; let his soul be stripped bare before the onrushing purposes of God, and let him be lost, doomed, and done that his God alone be all in all.

Let him, in himself, be sign and symbol that everything human is lost, that Grace comes through loss; and make him the illustration that Grace alone is amazing, sufficient, and redemptive.

Let him be transparent to God's grace, God himself.

And when he is burned out by the flaming Word that coursed through him, when he is consumed at last by the fiery Grace blazing through him, and when he who was privileged to translate the truth of God to man is finally translated from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently, blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly, place a two-edged sword on his coffin and raise a tune triumphant, for he was a brave soldier of the Word and e'er he died he had become spokesman of his God.
--Floyd Doud Shafer, 'And Preach As You Go,' Christianity Today (March 27, 1961), 10

HT: Kent Hughes