30 August 2013

Gotta Go With Clive on This One

Jonathan Edwards, December 1722 diary entry:
The reason why I, in the least, question my interest in God’s love and favor, is, 1. Because I cannot speak so fully to my experience of that preparatory work, of which divines speak; 2. I do not remember that I experienced regeneration, exactly in those steps, in which divines say it is generally wrought; 3. I do not feel the Christian graces sensibly enough, particularly faith. I fear they are only such hypocritical outside affections, which wicked men may feel, as well as others. They do not seem to be sufficiently inward, full, sincere, entire and hearty.
C. S. Lewis, 1949 letter:
I should, myself, be wary of describing such operations of the Holy Ghost as “experiences” if by experiences we mean things necessarily discoverable by introspection. And I should be still more wary of mapping out a series of such experiences as an indispensable norm (or syllabus!) for all Christians. I think the ways in which God saves us are probably infinitely various and admit varying degrees of consciousness in the patient. Anything which sets him saying “Now . . . Stage 2 ought to be coming along . . . is this it?” I think bad and likely to lead some to presumption and others to despair. We must leave God to dress the wound and not keep on taking peeps under the bandage for ourselves.

28 August 2013

The Most Daring Feat in All the World

The prince of preachers, bringing us back to the audacity of the gospel.
To come to Christ as a saint is very easy work. To trust to a doctor to cure you when you believe you are getting better is very easy. But to trust to your physician when you feel as if the sentence of death were in your body, to bear up when the disease is rising in your skin and when the ulcer is gathering its venom, to believe even then in the efficacy of the medicine--that is faith.

And so, when sin gets the master of you, when you feel that the law condemns you--then, even then, especially then--as a sinner, to trust Christ is the most daring feat in all the world. The faith that shook down the walls of Jericho, the faith that raised the dead, the faith that stopped the mouths of lions, was not greater than that of a poor sinner who dares to trust the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ when he is in the jaws of all his sins.
--Charles Spurgeon, Faith (Whitaker House 1995), 20-21

26 August 2013

The Joy of Battle

At that sound the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect. Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before,

Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden! Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter! spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
With that he seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner-bearer and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. And straightway all horns in the host were lifted up in music, and the blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plain and a thunder in the mountains.

Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them. Eomer rode there, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first eored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Theoden could not be outpaced. Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and the sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.
--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, p. 820

23 August 2013


In the fourth sermon in Charity and its Fruits, a series of 15 sermons on love from 1 Corinthians 13, Jonathan Edwards preaches on the first quality ascribed to love in 1 Cor. 13:4--'long-suffering' (ESV 'patient'), makrothumia.

The definitive Greek lexicon describes makrothumia as a 'state of remaining tranquil while awaiting an outcome' or 'state of being able to bear up under provocation' (BDAG 612). The word is comprised of a prefix meaning 'far, from afar' attached to a root meaning 'wrath.'

After an extended beautiful exposition of why we should be long-suffering as believers and what it looks like, Edwards lists four motivations to makrothumia. Indented paragraphs quote Edwards.

1. The example of long-suffering in Christ.
He was a meek spirit and of a meek, long-suffering behavior. . . . He meekly bore innumerable and very great injuries from men. (197)
2. The unavoidable need to be long-suffering.
If we are not disposed meekly to bear injuries, we are not fitted to live in such a world as this, for we can expect no other than to meet with many injuries in this world. We do not live in heaven. . . . We live in a fallen, corrupt, miserable, wicked world. . . . The world has even been full of unreasonable men, men who will not be governed by rules of justice, but are carried on in that way in which their headstrong lusts drive them. . . . And therefore those who have not a spirit of meekness and calmness, and composedness of spirit to bear injuries in such a world are miserable indeed. (198)
3. The untouchability of someone who is long-suffering.
He who has such a disposition and frame of mind established that the injuries he receives from men do not exasperate his spirit, or disturb the calm of his mind, lives as it were above injuries, and out of their reach. He conquers them and rides over them. (199)
4. The glory of being long-suffering.
This spirit of Christian long-suffering and meekly to bear injuries is a true greatness of soul. It shows a fine and noble valor for persons thus to maintain the calm of their minds; it shows an excellent inward fortitude and strength. . . . It is from a littleness of mind that the soul is easily disturbed. . . . He that possesses his mind after such a manner that when others reproach him and injure him . . . can notwithstanding maintain in calmness a hearty good will to his injurer . . . he herein as it were manifests a godlike greatness of soul. (200-201)
--Jonathan Edwards, 'Long-Suffering and Kindness,' in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Yale ed., 8:197-204

22 August 2013

Guard the Good Deposit

On a Friday night in September 1884, Lutheran theologian C. F. W. Walther gathered some of his seminary students together in St. Louis, Missouri. This was one of a series of Friday night talks he gave for the purpose of 'making you really practical theologians. I wish to talk the Christian doctrine into your very hearts.' On this night he said:
You can gather how foolish it is, yea, what an awful derision has taken hold upon so many men's minds who ridicule pure doctrine and say to us: 'Ah, do cease clamoring, Pure doctrine! Pure doctrine! That can only land you in dead orthodoxism. Pay more attention to pure life, and you will raise a growth of genuine Christianity.' That is exactly like saying to a farmer: 'Do not worry forever about good seed; worry about good fruits.'
--C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel: Thirty-Nine Evening Lectures (St. Louis: Concordia, 1928), 20-21

20 August 2013

Why Bainton's Here I Stand Is a Classic

Luther's principles in religion and ethics alike must constantly be borne in mind if he is not at times to appear unintelligible and even petty.

The primary consideration with him was always the pre-eminence of religion. Into a society where the lesser breed were given to gaming, roistering, and wenching--the Diet of Worms was called a veritable Venusberg--at a time when the choicer sort were glorying in the accomplishments of man, strode this Luther, entranced by the song of angels, stunned by the wrath of God, speechless before the wonder of creation, lyrical over the divine mercy, a man aflame with God.

For such a person there was no question which mattered much save this: How do I stand before God?
--Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (1950), 213-14

15 August 2013

If You Have Trouble Finding Me in the New Earth...

This is what I'll be doing.

The reason God created smallmouth bass is so that human beings made in his image can stand in a crystal clear stream and have one at the end of a medium-light spinning rod with six-pound-test line and the drag set loose.

14 August 2013

How Is David to Be Remembered?

Think of the kings of Israel and contemplate their deeds: whoever among them feared Torah was delivered from troubles; and these were the seekers of Torah whose transgressions were forgiven. Think of David who was a man of righteous deeds and who was therefore delivered from many troubles and forgiven.
--4Q398 lines 24-25, a letter written within the Jewish community at Qumran, and part of the Dead Sea Scrolls
For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."
--The Apostle Paul, Romans 4:3-8

Intriguingly, in line 31 of this same fragment the writer of this Qumranite letter reflects on his readers' devotion to Torah (the Jewish Law) and writes that "it will be counted to you for righteousness." He uses the very same three-word string that is found in the Hebrew of Gen 15:6, speaking of Abraham's being counted righteous apart from his deeds, which Paul quotes in Romans 4:3 above.

13 August 2013

God's Sovereignty Encompasses Everything

How can we really say God is sovereign over all when there is so much chaos and pain in the world?
Nothing shall hinder his great design. God's great ends will be obtained: all his ends will be obtained, and by his own means.

After all this seeming confusion and vast succession of strange and wonderful revolutions, everything shall come out right at last. There is no confusion in God's scheme; he understands his own works and every wheel moves right in its place.

Not one mote of dust errs from the path that God has appointed it; he will bring order at last out of confusion. God don't lose himself in the intricate endless moves of events that come to pass. Though men can't see the whole scheme, God sees. The course and series of events in divine providence is like the course of a great and long river with many branches and innumerable windings and turnings which often seems to go backwards. 
--Jonathan Edwards, 1744 sermon entitled "Approaching the End of God's Grand Design," in Works, 25:121

09 August 2013

Wesley: Why the Bible Must Be a Divine Book

John Wesley's argument for the divine origin of the Bible:
The Bible must be the invention of either good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God.
1. It could not be the invention of good men or angels, for they neither would nor could make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, "Thus saith the Lord," when it was their own invention.
2. It could not be the invention of bad men or devils, for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity.
3. Therefore I draw this conclusion that the Bible must be given by divine inspiration.
--quoted in A. Skevington Wood, The Inextinguishable Blaze: Spiritual Renewal and Advance in the 18th Century, 228

07 August 2013

The Immanuel Mantra

And the mantra at work in the life of one dear church member:


06 August 2013

Are Faith and Repentance Themselves 'Works' by Which We Are Justified?

Edwards, jotting down private ruminations in a personal notebook--
Faith is the condition of salvation because it trusts in Christ and ascribes salvation to him. Repentance is the condition because it renounces confidence in self and disclaims the glory of salvation. So neither of them justifies as a work, for the nature of the one is to renounce works, and the nature of the other is to depend on the works of another.
--Jonathan Edwards, Miscellany #620, in Works, Yale ed., 18:152

Redemptive History and Edmund

In his delightful new book Echoes of Eden, Jerram Barrs identifies the themes of creation, fall, and redemption in Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In reflecting on the theme of fall in this book, he zeroes in on Edmund.
The account of Edmund being brought under the witch’s sway is masterful, for this is indeed how evil works in our hearts and minds, appealing to our worst instincts, shrewdly summing up our character flaws and then exploiting them. She presents Edmund her treats as if they were generous gifts rather than instruments of deceit and control. The gifts of evil always have a cost (the Turkish delight and the hot chocolate drink) and do not satisfy, but rather enslave the one who receives them. Edmund begins to lie more and more and to deceive himself about the true nature of the Witch, about himself and about everyone else.

As he comes more under the Witch’s control the impact on Edmund is to make him ever angrier with his brother and sisters, meaner, more spiteful, more self-centered. All evil is like this for it destroys our humanity, making us less than who we are. We should notice too, that his deceit and betrayal do not make him happy, but rather more and more miserable. This is the true face of evil: it always reaps a harvest of destruction in our own lives and the lives of others. Choosing evil is a curse with many sorrows.

Indulging in evil has the effect of alienating, or separating, Edmund from others: from his brother and sisters, from the beavers and from all decent creatures. Choosing evil has the effect of alienating, or separating, Edmund from himself. His foolish choices make him very uncomfortable when Aslan is mentioned. In just this way all evil alienates, or separates, us from God. Edmund’s selected path has the effect of alienating, or separating, him from nature and from his proper place in this world, distorting his natural and right desire for dominion, and turning it into something mean and ugly. Like all of us Edmund was intended to rule in this world as God’s steward. Edmund becomes entranced by dreams of power. He imagines himself as king of Narnia, indulging his every whim and keeping others, especially his elder brother, Peter, in lower positions than himself. Evil has the effect of undermining his enjoyment of the beauty of creation. Just so, sin brings alienation into every area of our lives.

Yet, there is a note of hope, for Edmund is aware of what is happening in his own heart and he is not given up fully to evil. Instead we see the struggle that takes place in him, the memories of goodness in his heart, and above all his pity for the creatures enjoying their Christmas party – the squirrels, foxes and satyrs whom the witch turns to stone, even though Edmund intercedes on their behalf. It is this pity in him that gives us a glimmer of hope for his deliverance and restoration, for pity is at the heart of redemption.
--Jerram Barrs, Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts (Crossway, 2013), 100-101

05 August 2013

Jesus Redefines the Ceiling of What Is Possible (John 3)

Nicodemus: 'We know that you are a teacher having come from God. For no one is able [dunatai] to do these signs that you do unless God is with him.'

Jesus: 'I tell you, unless someone is born again, he is not able [dunatai] to see the kingdom of God.'

Nicodemus: 'How is a man able [dunatai] to be born, being old? He is not able [dunatai] to enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, is he?'

Jesus: 'I tell you, unless someone is born not only of water but also of the Spirit, he is not able [dunatai] to enter into the kingdom of God. . . . The Spirit blows where it wills. . . .'

Nicodemus: 'How is it possible [dunatai] that these things are so?'

In Jesus, all intuitive and reasonable limits and prerequisites to what is humanly possible (dunatai) are swept away as we are ushered into a new universe of possibilities in which God and his happy omnipotence of grace--not we and our puzzled 'But . . .'--defines how Life washes over us.

02 August 2013

Shrub Justification vs. Oak Justification

Thus says the LORD: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.

'Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.'
--Jeremiah 17:5-8