28 June 2012

Gospel Reflections

Thinking tonight about the atonement. The sufferings and success of Another, transferred to me as I am united to Him.

I'm learning that the more I see of the gospel, the more I see how little I see it. For every inch gained in gospel understanding, I gain a foot in seeing how little I grasp it. I peer over the ledge of grace and see a new hundred foot drop, which enables me to see also that the cliff extends another mile beyond that.

Also thinking this summer that there is an entire psychological substructure that, due to the Fall, is a near-constant emission of relational leveraging, fear-stuffing, nervousness, score-keeping, neurotic controlling, anxiety-festering silliness that is not something I say or even think so much as something I breathe. You can smell this on people, though some of us are good at hiding it. And I'm seeing more and more, bit by bit, that if you trace this fountain of scurrying haste, in all its various manifestations, down to the root, you don't find childhood difficulties or a Myers-Briggs diagnosis or Freudian impulses. You find gospel deficit. All the worry and dysfunction and resentment is the natural fruit of living in a mental universe of Law. The gospel really is what brings rest, wholeness, flourishing, shalom--that existential calm which for brief, gospel-sane moments settles over you and lets you see for a moment that in Christ you truly are invincible. The verdict really is in; nothing can touch you.

From another angle: Living by law, which we all believe we're not really doing (those silly Galatians!), is deep and subtle and pervasive. More pervasive than the occasional moments of self-conscious works-righteousness would indicate. Those moments of self-knowledge are indeed gifts of grace and not to be ignored. But they are only the visible tip of an invisible iceberg. They are surface symptoms. Law-ish-ness (in Gal 3:10 Paul uses the phrase, literally, "those who are of works of law") is by its very nature undetectable because it's natural, not unnatural, to us. Feels normal.

I am believing tonight the unbelievable: The radiant sun of divine favor is shining down on me and while the clouds of my sin and failure may darken my feelings of that favor, the favor cannot be lessened any more than a tiny, wispy cloud can threaten the existence of the sun. The sun is shining. It cannot stop. Clouds, no clouds--sin, no sin--the sun is shining on me. Because of Another.

The Lord looks on his children with utterly unflappable affection. At one level, I believe, there is a dimension of affection in the fatherly heart of God that kicks into gear precisely when his children fail. I am not saying the more we sin, the more he loves us. But on analogy with human fatherhood, which I now know from the inside as a father of three, I can say that there is a latent part of my heart that is engaged when I see my son sin. Perhaps it is also true of the Lord. We read the most amazing things in the OT prophets, the doom and gloom guys of the Bible, as they struggle to find language to portray Yahweh's hesed, his covenant love. His compassion "grows warm and tender"--remember, it was on the heels of recounting Israel's spiritual fornication (not faithfulness) that we read that in Hosea.

How strange the gospel is. In one sense I am not restored. How painfully obvious. Sin clings, weaknesses and failings abound. Anxiety, anger, idolatry. But in another sense, a deeper sense, I am restored. Perfectly, already. Simul justus et peccator. Deeper Magic from before the dawn of time. It really is true.

And the sweep of New Testament teaching is that it is the latter that now defines me. That is the fundamental reality defining my existence. New birth, new life. Eternal life, as John says--the life of the Age to Come, of the New Realm--has already begun for me. The eschaton longed for in the prophets is here. And by faith, not by sight, I have been swept up into it. Justified: my end-time judgment has already happened and the verdict is acquittal, because I am in Christ, in whose cross the end-time judgment of condemnation was borne. In the middle of history rather than the end. The restored Dane Ortlund therefore trumps, outstrips, swallows up, the unrestored Dane Ortlund. Not the other way around.

And I suppose the whole Christian life is simply the process of bringing my sense of self, my Identity with a capital 'I', the ego, my swirling internal world of fretful panicky-ness arising out of that gospel deficit, into alignment with the more fundamental truth. Richard Hays argues in The Moral Vision of the New Testament that the essence of the New Testament ethic is 'Be who you now are.' There it is. You are this new being, fundamentally, as one united to Christ. So wake up tomorrow and do whatever you have to--with a Bible, singing, prayer, meditation, a friend, listening to a sermon, a walk around the block--do whatever you must to start your day in gospel alignment. William Hulme, the Lutheran professor and counselor, says in Pastoral Care and Counseling (Augsburg, 1981) that the gospel allows us to bring our subjective guilt feelings in line with our objective guilt eradication.

I am a sinner. I sin. Not just in the past but in the present. But in Christ I'm not a sinner but cleansed, whole. And as I step out into my day in soul-calm because of that free gift of cleansing, I find that actually, strangely, startlingly--I begin to live out practically what I already am positionally. I delight to love others. It takes effort and requires the sobering of suffering. But love cannot help but be kindled by gospel rest.

How can you possibly stiff-arm this? Repent of your small thoughts of God's love, your resistance to swallowing Christ's atoning work whole. Repent and let him love you.

Contend for the Faith

In his TGC breakout talk last year C.J. Mahaney pointed out something in Jude 3, which reads:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

I grew up in a corner of evangelicalism that loved and preached and wrote books about the second part of this verse--'contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.' And that's what Jude does throughout the rest of his short letter as he calls out the false teachers. So, we today, too, contend for the faith. Preserve sound doctrine. Guard our theology. To this day I hold that charge precious and want to do all I can to obey it.

C.J. pointed out, though, that this was not the letter Jude wanted to write. The letter he wanted to write was one that exulted in what he had in common with his readers. 'I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation.' But, alas, I had to write a letter that was less enjoyable but more important for the sake of your souls at this point in your lives.

A question for those of us who love sound doctrine: are we more eager to police other Christians' theology, quietly gleeful when we diagnose error, or are we more eager to rejoice in what we have in common with other Christians? Both are crucial. Neither is negotiable. But which is our deepest joy and instinct?

26 June 2012

Why Must We Keep Saying the Gospel is for Christians?

One answer I don't hear articulated often:

Because of the faulty premise widespread in the evangelical consciousness that believing the gospel at conversion sets a permanent, invariably sustained trajectory of gospel-believing for the whole of one's life. 

Following conversion, do we believe the gospel, looking to Christ alone for our righteousness and joy, the rest of our lives?

Yes and no. We need to discern a distinction.

At conversion, we trust in Christ, believe the gospel, at two levels: the doctrinal level of mind-assent, and the existential/psychological level of heart-trust (what the old saints called fiducia). The snare is that we naively collapse the sustainability of the latter into that of the former. We think that because we believe the gospel doctrinally the rest of our lives, we believe the gospel psychologically the rest of our lives. But au contraire! One belief-level is static, the other dynamic.

I'm a soteriological Calvinist. At the most fundamental level, I am an irreversible 'believer' the rest of my life, by the grace of God. But at another level I move from believer to unbeliever (from faith-in-Christ-exercising to faith-in-Christ-forsaking) dozens of times, hundreds even, each day. At the doctrinal level we look to Christ with sustained, consistent permanence. But at the existiential level we keep faltering, keep swiveling away from Christ and looking to other saviors--even Christian saviors like theological erudition or Bible memory or service in the church or spiritual reputation.We can forsake heart-level gospel-trust in the very moment of defending it theologically. (Haven't you ever heard an evangelical theologian defend atonement or some related subject with self-justifying defensiveness? What's going on there?)

If we discern this distinction--if we perceive that while on one level we see the gospel in a once-and-for-all way (doctrinally) but that on another level we keep lapsing time and again into gospel blindness (existentially/psychologically)--we find one more reason the gospel is for Christians.

Trusting God in the Dark

'Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love . . .'
--Genesis 22:2
The command to offer up the son of the promise, with whom the whole future lies, seems the complete contradiction of the Purpose of God on which Abraham has set his faith.

Abraham in the story is called by God to make a supreme sacrifice, an act of complete and entire worship, trusting God in the dark, committing everything to him: 'not my will but thine be done.' While God did not in the end demand this sacrifice to be made, that which he did demand was the entire willingness to make the offering.

Such is the meaning of the story as the writer tells it; and because this and nothing less is the true and original meaning therefore we, in interpreting it, may and must look onward to the self-giving of our LORD, in whose case no offering of a substitute was possible. Hence we may and must find the final answer to Isaac's question 'Where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?' and Abraham's reply 'God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son' (22:7-8) in the words of John 1:29, 'Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.'
--Gabriel Hebert, The Old Testament From Within (Oxford University Press, 1962), 34

25 June 2012

The Secret to Imitating Christ: Know You Can't

Oscar Cullmann (1902-1999), German New Testament scholar who helped a generation read the whole Bible as telling an objective history of what God has done in our real time and space (as opposed to the de-historicized existentialism of Bultmann)--
An imitation of Christ is possible only when we are first of all aware of the fact that we are not able to imitate him.
He is sinless; we are not. He offers the sacrifice of atoning death; we cannot. It is precisely the decisive act of obedience which effects our perfection which we cannot imitate. In Hebrews and in Paul the connection between our perfection and the perfection of the High Priest can be understood only as happening in faith in the ephapax [Gk: the 'once-for-all'-ness] of the high priestly act. 
 --Oscar Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament (rev. ed.; 1963), 100-101

23 June 2012

Light and High Beauty

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
 --J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

HT: Wade Urig

22 June 2012

The Drama of Ephesians

I recently reviewed for Themelios the book by our brother Tim Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians:  Participating in the Triumph of God. It was a longer review than normal, substantively engaging with the main thrusts of the book, because I believe the book exhibits weaknesses that are representative of larger movements in New Testament scholarship. Below is the concluding part of the review, which identifies strengths and weaknesses. I post this on my blog because I think what I say here applies to large swaths of NT work being done.
The book has many strengths.
First, Gombis writes both clearly and engagingly. He does not write with the tortuous need to sound sophisticated that plagues so much biblical scholarship.
Second, he transparently has a heart for the welfare of the church. Interpretation of the text and practice within the community are never divorced but remain wedded at every point.
It is also refreshing, third, to continue to see the gap filled between commentaries and monographs on one side and popular-level works on the other. Gombis writes out of deep reflection on the biblical text, and he would clearly be competent to write an advanced commentary on Ephesians. Yet this book is accessible to those who lack the degrees and language proficiencies required to engage higher-level NT scholarship. One hopes for many more biblical and theological books in this genre.
Fourth, much of the content is insightful, meaningful, and elegantly expressed—for example, the repeated reminders that Jesus Christ rules the cosmos even now in spite of what our spiritually unadjusted eyes may see (e.g., p. 23), or the penetrating exposure of how consumerism works spiritually (pp. 63-66), or the discussion of the biblical-theological theme of temple (pp. 86, 88, 104-5), or the treatment of the upside-down framework of gospel triumph in which strength is located in weakness (esp. pp. 110-13, 120-24), or the cosmic significance of the spiritual warfare that takes place not in casting out demons but in quiet acts of selfless love and service (pp. 183-84).

There is much here to be embraced and passed on.
I question, however, whether Gombis ultimately succeeds in providing a convincing and well-rounded portrait of Ephesians. The reasons for this can be clumped into three categories: false dichotomies, theological imbalance, and gospel ambiguity.

First, Gombis erects false dichotomies. He begins, for example, by suggesting that previous studies of Ephesians encourage us to read the letter as "a collection of facts or theological truths" (p. 15). Such an approach, says Gombis, is misguided. We are rather to read Ephesians as "a compelling and exciting drama that communities seek to inhabit and perform. . . . God does not merely aim to inform or to provide Christians with material for an abstracted theological system that I am supposed to prune and maintain in good order" (p. 17). Leaving aside the question of whether a straw man is being erected here (how many previous studies really present Ephesians as "a collection of facts"?), Gombis establishes a dichotomy that resounds throughout the opening chapters: Ephesians is not to be mined for "abstract" (again on p. 30) doctrine but rather presents a drama in which believers are to participate. Thus, "Ephesians is not merely there to give us information. It is designed to transform us as we seek to become gospel characters" (p. 181). While Gombis includes the word "merely," implying that Ephesians does give us information, he consistently sets up his dramatic reading of Ephesians in competition with allegedly "abstract" doctrine. This feels forced and, simply, unnecessary. Can we not read Ephesians as providing transcendent doctrinal truth and as doing so through a dramatic narrative of divine conquest in Christ? Must we choose between the two? Was not Dorothy Sayers on to something when she said that the drama is the doctrine?

Second, the book is theologically imbalanced, and that on three fronts.

1. The "powers" are highlighted to the neglect of human complicity in explaining the fallenness of the world. To be sure, Gombis unearths a dimension to Ephesians that is both there and often overlooked: the role of the suprahuman powers. These powers crop up not only in Eph 6 but also, as Gombis effectively shows, throughout the letter. This insight we should gratefully receive. Yet the focus on the powers moves beyond focus to hyper-focus by consistently failing to acknowledge the role that human sin plays in the world's corruption (e.g., pp. 58, 72-73, 76, 86, 90, 134-35; though see 94). While Gombis is surely right to highlight a neglected theme, his cure seems to leave us worse off than the disease as he effectively ignores the role of "the passions of our flesh" (2:3) in corrupting this world. One would not know from this book that Ephesians shows not only that in Christ we triumph over the powers but also that in Christ "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses" (1:7; cf. 1:13; 2:1, 3-5, 7-9; 3:18-19; 4:32; 5:1-2, 25-27). The scope of the fall, and the corresponding scope of Christ's work, lies not only outside us (the powers) but also inside us (the flesh).

2. The corporate is highlighted to the neglect of the individual. Thus "predestination" in Eph 1 has to do with corporate identity formation (pp. 76-77), gifts in Eph 4 are distributed not to individuals but to the corporate church (p. 136), and the command in Eph 5 not to get drunk but to be filled with the Spirit "is not directed at individuals" but rather " is contrasting two sorts of community performances" (p. 174). Gombis' emphasis on the corporate dimensions to Christianity is, once more, surely right and needful. Yet it is so over-pressed that at times one wonders if Ephesians has anything left to say to the individual. Such reversing of Western Christianity's pervasive individualism certainly goes along with the scholarly ethos today, and is something with which biblically minded believers can quickly empathize. But one begins to wonder if in denigrating individualism we come close to losing the individual altogether (helpful here is Gary Burnett's Paul and the Salvation of the Individual [BibInt; Leiden: Brill, 2001]).

3. The horizontal aspects to Christianity are highlighted to the neglect of the vertical (pp. 142-47). That is, the fallenness of humanity and the purpose of Christ's work are cast as disunity and corporate reconciliation, respectively, while the need for vertical reconciliation is quietly overlooked. Gombis's emphasis here is again at home in the world of current NT scholarship. One thinks of the horizontalizing impulse of the New Perspective, with its centralizing of Jew-Gentile unity among Paul's concerns. Yet while it is gloriously true that "God sent Jesus to die and raised him from the dead to create a unified church" (p. 144), when this truth is not couched explicitly in the reason Christ's work generates unity—namely, because salvation by sheer grace empties all human boasting, including that of race or class—the call to unity is rendered impotent. Horizontal reconciliation can take place no further than the degree to which vertical reconciliation is held high and cherished.

Third, and most important, is gospel ambiguity: a consistent fuzzying of what the gospel is. To be sure, the NT authors speak of the gospel in different ways, depending on contextual needs, etc. Yet one cannot help but think the NT authors themselves would feel uncomfortable with the insistent call by Gombis for Christians to perform the gospel (pp. 19, 22, 34, 57, 67, 108, 134, 153, 156, 181), to be "gospel actors" (pp. 129, 144). In pursuing "the communal action of gospel performance" (p. 143), our churches are to give "faithful performances of the gospel" (p. 168). Is this how Paul speaks of the gospel? To be sure, we are to live "in step with the truth of the gospel" (Gal 2:14). Yet one feels that Gombis is so focused on what is a major (and, indeed, necessary) result of the gospel—faithful imitation of Jesus before the world—that the gospel itself, what God has done for us in Jesus, is effectively muted. One could happily receive Gombis's work and commend it to others if this recurring call to perform the gospel were consistently connected to what has been performed for us in the gospel. But there is scant mention of the discontinuity between what Jesus has done and what we as his followers do, with virtually all focus given to the continuity between what Jesus has done and what we as his followers do (see Peter Bolt's helpful distinction between "inclusive" and "exclusive" dimensions of Christ's work in The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark's Gospel [Downers Grove: IVP, 2004], pp. 70, 132, 141). Thus when Gombis speaks repeatedly of "cruciformity" as a way of life for believers, this is surely faithful to Paul and salutary for the contemporary church. But can this call land with vibrancy and health on ears that are not being equally tuned to hear of Jesus' cruciformity, in his death and resurrection, on our behalf?

Other quibbles might be mentioned. For example, Gombis gives no indication of the complexity of the question of how Christians are to engage (and change?) the culture, but simply assumes that the church is called to transform the culture (pp. 169-71). But such oversights are minor and infrequent, and are overshadowed both by the book's strengths and broader weaknesses just outlined.

Transcending all that has been said in this review is the most important truth of all, that Tim Gombis and I are on the same team working together toward the same ultimate goal: Jesus Christ glorified in his church. It is remarkably easy to forget this in intra-evangelical discussions such as this one. And Gombis' work has many commendable elements, already listed. Yet the book is so imbalanced in such fundamental ways that the losses outweigh the gains. For all that is thought-provoking and insightful, Gombis replaces the long-established with the neglected rather than supplementing the long-established with the neglected. This is unfortunate because the emphases Gombis highlights are truly there in Ephesians, they have indeed been overlooked, and they hold powerful potential to transform believers.
As a side note. When I review a book and disagree with the skeleton of the book (not the fingernails) I send a draft of the review to the author before it goes public. Makes us write differently. Especially younger ones like me, who more easily, I think, slip into attack mode and disrespect. In doing this you are not asking if they agree with the review--you are asking if you have represented them fairly, a different question. Doing this honors the reviewer, helps eliminate any snideness in tone or "gotcha's" in content, and ensures you present the author fairly. And when you write a book, you will want your reviewers to treat you in this way.

21 June 2012

Requiem

Turn it up, close your eyes, and consider the inevitability of Revelation 21. 

True Soul's Rest

Evangelista, the wise, gospel-sane Christian in the great Puritan work The Marrow of Modern Divinity:
'Come unto me,' says Christ, 'all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest' (Matt. 11:28). 

Truly, my neighbors and friends, believe it, we shall never find a heart's happiness, and true soul's rest, until we find it here.

For howsoever a man may think, if he had this man's wit, and that man's wealth, this man's honor and that man's pleasure, this wife, or that husband, such children, his heart would be satisfied, and his soul would be contented; yet which of us hath not, by our own experience, found the contrary?

For, not long after that we have obtained the thing we did so much desire, and wherein we promised ourselves so much happiness, rest, and content, we have found nothing but vanity and emptiness in it. Let a man deal plainly with his own heart, and he shall find that, notwithstanding he hath many things, yet there is ever one thing wanting: for indeed man's soul cannot be satgisfied with any creature, no, not with a world of creatures.
And the reason is, because the desires of a man's soul are infinite, according to that infinite goodness which it once lost in losing God. 
The healing alternative:
But when a man once comes to believe, that all his sins both past, present, and to come, are freely and fully pardoned, and God in Christ graciously reconciled unto him, the Lord doth thereupon so reveal his fatherly face unto him in Christ, and so make known that incredible union betwixt him and the believing soul, that his heart becomes quietly contented in God.
 --Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Christian Focus, 2009), 261

20 June 2012

Mourning for Sins Begins at Home

Jonathan Edwards:
It will be but mere mockery to pretend to humiliation for the sins of the land and nation if we all the while hold our own sin as a sweet morsel under our tongues and hug it as a dear friend in our bosom. Mourning for sins begins at home. 
 --p. 200 of this volume of sermons

19 June 2012

Gifts of the Spirit, Fruit of the Spirit, and Shipwrecking Your Ministry

Tim Keller, via Resurgence:
You may mistake the operation of spiritual gifts for the operation of spiritual grace in your life. . . .

Here’s how this danger can begin. Your prayer life may be nonexistent, or you may have an unforgiving spirit toward someone, or sexual desires may be out of control. But you get involved in some ministry activity, which draws out your spiritual gifts. You begin to serve and help others, and soon you are affirmed by others and told what great things you are doing. You see the effects of your ministry and conclude that God is with you. But actually God was helping someone through your gifts even though your heart was far from him.

Eventually, if you don’t do something about your lack of spiritual fruit and instead build your identity on your spiritual gifts and ministry activity, there will be some kind of collapse. You will blow up at someone or lapse into some sin that destroys your credibility. And everyone, including you, will be surprised. But you should not be. Spiritual gifts without spiritual fruit is like a tire slowly losing air.
 I can imagine this little article, and the larger one from which it is adapted, saving a Christian leader's ministry. 

18 June 2012

Edwards: Christ's Second Coming

Jonathan Edwards, preaching on Sept. 19, 1746, at the ordination service of Samuel Buell, the dear friend of David Brainerd--
In that resurrection morning, when the Sun of Righteousness shall appear in the heavens, shining in all his brightness and glory, he will come forth as a bridegroom; he shall come in the glory of his Father, with all his holy angels.

And at that glorious appearing of the great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ, shall the whole elect church, complete as to every individual member and each member with the whole man, both body and soul, and both in perfect glory, ascend up to meet the Lord in the air, to be thenceforth forever with the Lord. That will be a joyful meeting of this glorious bridegroom and bride indeed. Then the bridegroom will appear in all his glory without any veil: and then the saints shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, and at the right hand of their Redeemer. . . .

Then will come the time, when Christ will sweetly invite his spouse to enter in with him into the palace of his glory, which he had been preparing for her from the foundation of the world, and shall as it were take her by the hand, and lead her in with him: and this glorious bridegroom and bride shall with all their shining ornaments, ascend up together into the heaven of heaven; the whole multitude of glorious angels waiting upon them: and this Son and daughter of God shall, in their united glory and joy, present themselves together before the Father; when Christ shall say, 'Here am I, and the children which thou hast given me': and they both shall in that relation and union, together receive the Father's blessing; and shall thenceforward rejoice together, in consummate, uninterrupted, immutable, and everlasting glory, in the love and embraces of each other, and joint enjoyment of the love of the Father.
--Jonathan Edwards, 'The Church's Marriage to Her Sons, and to Her God,' in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 25: Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758 (Yale University Press, 2006), 183-84

15 June 2012

14 June 2012

The Battle, the Prophecies

My favorite two passages in one of my favorite books, The Hobbit.

The first is as Bilbo Baggins goes down the tunnel in the Lonely Mountain, approaching the dragon Smaug.
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. (p. 193) 
The second is at the end of the story, when Balin and Gandalf come and visit Bilbo. Bilbo remarks that the prophecies appear to be coming true.
“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should they not prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” (last page of book) 
I am reminded that there is a real battle, a real journey, a real Smaug, a real demise of Smaug, a real Home, a real prophecy, a real fulfillment of prophecy, a real role in that fulfillment. Real providence; real hope.

13 June 2012

To Break Thy Schemes of Earthly Joy

John Newton, 'I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow', 1779:
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

'Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow'r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow'rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
"'Tis in this way," the Lord replied,
"I answer prayer for grace and faith."

"These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may'st find thy all in Me."

12 June 2012

The Battle

We must fight the Lord’s battles with the Lord’s weapons in faith – sitting in the chair of belief. Only then can we have any part in the real battle.
If we fight the Lord’s battles merely by duplicating the way the world does its work, we are like little boys playing with wooden swords pretending they are in the battle while their big brothers are away at war in some distant and bloody land.
--Francis Schaeffer, 'The Universe and Two Chairs'

09 June 2012

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure

This is rich. Sanity-restoring. Lets me breathe again.

08 June 2012

Luther on Adoption

In John 1:12, the apostle writes that 'to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.' On August 25, 1537, Martin Luther entered a pulpit in Denmark to fill in for a friend and preached on this text. He said:
No man, no matter who he may be, can ponder the magnificence sufficiently or express it adequately in words. We poor mortals, who are condemned and miserable sinners through our first birth from Adam, are singled out for such great honor and nobility that the eternal and almighty God is our Father and we are His children. Christ is our Brother, and we are His fellow heirs (Rom 8:17). . . .

This is a grand and overpowering thought! Whoever really reflects on it--the children of the world will not, but Christians will, although not all of them either--will be so startled and frightened by the thought that he will be prompted to ask: 'My dear, can this really be possible and true?' . . .

The world rates it a much higher honor and privilege to be the son and heir of a prince, a king, or a count than to be the possessor of God's spiritual goods, although by comparison all these are nothing but poor bags of worms and their glory sheer stench. Just compare all this with the ineffable dignity and nobility of which the evangelist speaks. . . . If we really believed with all our heart, firmly and unflinchingly, that the eternal God, Creator and Ruler of the world, is our Father, with whom we have an everlasting abode as children and heirs, not of this transitory wicked world but of all God's imperishable, heavenly, and inexpressible treasures, then we would, indeed, concern ourselves but little with all that the world prizes so highly; much less would we covet it and strive after it.

 Indeed, we would regard the world's riches, treasures, glories, splendor, and might--compared with the dignity and honor due us as the children and heirs, not of a mortal emperor but of the eternal and almighty God--as trifling, paltry, vile, leprous, yes, as stinking filth and poison. 
 --Luther's Works, 22:87-89

07 June 2012

Living Supernaturally

Francis Schaeffer:
Once I was flying at night over the North Atlantic. It was in 1947, and I was coming back from my first visit to Europe. Our plane, one of those old DC4’s with two engines on each wing, was within two or three minutes of the middle of the Atlantic. Suddenly two engines on one wing stopped. I had already flown a lot, and so I could feel the engines going wrong. I remember thinking, if I’m going to go down into the ocean, I’d better get my coat. When I did, I said to the hostess, "There’s something wrong with the engines." She was a bit snappy and said, "You people always think there’s something wrong with the engines." So I shrugged my shoulders, but I took my coat. I had no sooner sat down, than the lights came on and a very agitated co-pilot came out. "We’re in trouble," he said. "Hurry and put on your life jackets."

So down we went, and we fell and fell, until in the middle of the night with no moon we could actually see the water breaking under us in the darkness. And as we were coming down, I prayed. Interestingly enough, a radio message had gone out, an SOS that was picked up and broadcast immediately all over the United States in a flash news announcement: "There is a plane falling in the middle of the Atlantic." My wife heard about this and at once she gathered our three little girls together and they knelt down and began to pray. They were praying in St Louis, Missouri, and I was praying on the plane. And we were going down and down.

Then, while we could see the waves breaking beneath us and everybody was ready for the crash, suddenly the two motors started, and we went on into Gander. When we got down I found the pilot and asked what happened. "Well," he said, "it’s a strange thing, something we can’t explain. Only rarely do two motors stop on one wing, but you can make an absolute rule that when they do, they don’t start again. We don’t understand it." So I turned to him and I said, "I can explain it." He looked at me: "How?" And I said, "My Father in heaven started it because I was praying." That man had the strangest look on his face and he turned away. 
Schaeffer then makes his point: 
. . . What one must realize is that seeing the world as a Christian does not mean just saying, "I am a Christian. I believe in the supernatural world," and then stopping. It is possible to be saved through faith in Christ and then spend much of our lives in [unbelief]. We can say we believe in a supernatural world, and yet live as though there were no supernatural in the universe at all. It is not enough merely to say, "I believe in a supernatural world."

Christianity is not just a mental assent that certain doctrines are true. This is only the beginning. This would be rather like a starving man sitting in front of great heaps of food and saying, "I believe the food exists; I believe it is real," and yet never eating it. It is not enough merely to say, "I am a Christian", and then in practice to live as if present contact with the supernatural were something far off and strange. Many Christians I know seem to act as though they come in contact with the supernatural just twice – once when they are justified and become a Christian and once when they die. The rest of the time they act [in unbelief]. 
 --Francis Schaeffer, 'The Universe and Two Chairs'

HT: Lane Dennis

No Works

To those who believe in Christ there are no works so bad as to accuse and condemn us, but again, there are no works so good that they could save and defend us.
--Martin Luther, 'Judgment on Monastic Vows,' in Luther's Works, 44:301

06 June 2012

Pastoral Apologetics

From Tim Lane at CCEF. This is wise.



"You're trying to convince the Christian that the amazing grace of the gospel really is exactly what they need for growth in grace."

If Christ Is our Treasure, What Do We Make of Food, Sex, and Seeing the Heat Lose in the NBA Playoffs (i.e. the good things of life)?

Nomista: But, sir, I pray you, would you not have our senses to be any longer exercised about any of their objects? would you have us no longer to take comfort in the good things of this life?

Evangelista: I pray you, do not mistake me; I do not speak as though I would have you stoically to refuse the lawful use of any of the Lord's good creatures, which he shall be pleased to afford you, neither do I prohibit you from all comfort therein.

But this is it which I do desire, namely, that you would endeavour to attain to such a peace, rest, and content in God, as he is in Christ, that the violent cry of your heart may be restrained, and that your appetites may not be so forcible, nor so unruly as they are naturally, but that the unruliness thereof may be brought into a very comely decorum and order: so that your sensual appetites may, with much more easiness and contentedness, be denied the objects of their desires, yea, and contented (if need be) with that which is most repugnant to them, as with hunger, cold, nakedness, yea, and with death itself.

For such is the wonderful working of the heart's quiet and rest in God, that although a man's senses be still exercised in and upon their proper objects, yet may it be truly said, that such a man's life is not sensual. For indeed his heart taketh little contentment in any such exercises, it being for the most part exercised in a more transcendent communion with God, as he is in Christ.

So that indeed the man who has this peace and rest in God may be truly said to 'use this world as though he used it not,' in that he receives no cordial contentment from any sensual exercise whatsoever, because his heart is withdrawn from them. Such a man is sleeping, looking, hearing, tasting, smelling, eating, drinking, feasting, and so on, but his heart is withdrawn from the creature, and rejoicing in God his Saviour, and his soul is magnifying the Lord: so that in the midst of all sensual delights, his heart secretly says, Aye, but my happiness is not here.
--Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Christian Focus, 2009), 258

04 June 2012

Power

Lloyd-Jones:
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, says 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

Psalm 42

01 June 2012

What Must God Be Like?

'Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars,
and spreads his wings toward the south?'
--Job 39:26

Click to enlarge.

Source.