Monday, July 12, 2021

J.I. Packer on the Old Gospel versus the New...

"...[The most serious problems in Christianity today all arise from] our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realising it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty....

The 'new gospel' conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this isn’t primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God. 

The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel, the center of reference is man. 

This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church.

 From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.” Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for his sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not “helpful”; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered; it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.) 

However this may be...the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of his redeeming work as if he had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe.

But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need...."

-- J.I. Packer, from his Introductory Essay to John Owen's "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ"

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Lord Is the Avenger of Those Who Are Mistreated

One of the things that people today (including professing Christians) seem to greatly underestimate is how seriously God regards it when someone deliberately mistreats another person.

In fact, God says in Scripture that he himself will act as Judge and Avenger for the person who is mistreated and abused (and that includes emotional abuse as well as physical, and other ways of harming someone else too).

Here are just a few Scripture passages that point to this reality:

The apostle Paul wrote, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord WILL REPAY HIM for what he has done.” – 2 Tim. 4:14 (NIV)

And addressing another kind of wrongdoing Paul says, “Never harm or cheat a fellow believer by violating his wife, for THE LORD AVENGES all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before.” – 1 Thess. 4:6 (NLT)

In the Book of Exodus we read, “Whoever treats his father or his mother disgracefully must surely be put to death.” – Ex. 21:17 (NET)  

Even though that Old Testament command of the death penalty isn’t to be carried out in the New Covenant situation, this verse still shows how seriously sinful God considers it to be when a person violates the Fifth Commandment to HONOR one’s father and mother.

And Paul writes to the Romans,  ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’  But what if some people make it impossible to be at peace with them, what then?   Paul continues,  “Do not take revenge, my dear friends,” but that is NOT the end of the matter, as if the abusive person is going to ultimately get away with it, for what Paul writes next is extremely sobering:   “…but LEAVE ROOM FOR GOD’S WRATH, for it is written: ‘IT IS MINE TO AVENGE, I WILL REPAY’ says the Lord.” – Romans 12:18-19 (NIV)

We’re not able to really say whether the Lord’s judgment and punishments in a given situation will happen in this life or in the final judgment with its eternal consequences.  Sometimes it will be both. 

But if, in God’s providence, you are reading this post, with these divine warnings, I urge you to take them very seriously, and if they apply to you today to repent and seek forgiveness and to make things right (right with God, but also with the person you have been mistreating and sinning against), realizing that God will not be mocked, but will ensure that we reap what we sow.  

It may well be that for some reading this, the hardships and troubles you are experiencing in your life even now are part of God’s judgment already – but in this life there is still opportunity to repent, to act to make things right, and to find a gracious forgiveness.

But at some point it all becomes too late (sometimes because a person hardens their heart for so long there’s no turning back)– that’s why now is the time, and today is the day, to put things right, remembering too the Scripture that says, ‘We know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ (Heb. 10:30-31)

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Augustine's Comment on His Own Culture, Applicable to Today

 This is a passage from "City of God", where Augustine summarizes the debauchery of Rome’s ruling class.   But it is extraordinary how applicable it is to our own time.....

"This is our concern, that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own purposes. 

Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy a sluggish tranquillity; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependants, to minister to their pride. 

Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden. 

Let kings estimate their prosperity, not by the righteousness, but by the servility of their subjects. Let the provinces stand loyal to the kings, not as moral guides, but as lords of their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with a hearty reverence, but a crooked and servile fear. 

Let the laws take cognizance rather of the injury done to another man’s property, than of that done to one’s own person. If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him. 

Let there be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but specially for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use. 

Let there be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description: in these let there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may, by day or night, play, drink, vomit, dissipate. 

Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement. 

If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it let him be silenced, banished, put an end to. 

Let these be reckoned the true gods, who procure for the people this condition of things, and preserve it when once possessed.

"It was the best criticism of our modern age I’d ever read. A society oriented entirely towards consumption and pleasure, spurning duty and virtue..."  

--  J.D. Vance (author of "Hillbilly Elegy") citing St. Augustine

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Holy Spirit as Controlling Agent

 "The Holy Spirit is the controlling and directing agent in every regenerate person." -- John Murray (comm. on Romans 8:13-14)

"All does not yet gleam in glory, but...."

 "This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified." -- Martin Luther

Spurgeon on God's Good and Wise Providence

 "He shall choose our inheritance for us."

Psalm 47:4

Charles Spurgeon:   

Believer, if your inheritance be a lowly one, you should be satisfied with your earthly portion for you may rest assured that it is the fittest for you. Unerring wisdom ordained your lot, and selected for you the safest and best condition. A ship of large tonnage is to be brought up the river; now in one part of the stream there is a sandbank; should someone ask, "why does the captain steer through the deep part of the channel and deviate so much from a straight line?" His answer would be, "because I should not get my vessel in the harbor at all if I did not keep to the deep channel."

So, it may be, you would run aground and suffer shipwreck if your Divine Captain did not steer you into the depths of affliction where waves of trouble follow each other in quick succession. Some plants die if they have too much sunshine. It may be that you are planted where you get but little, you are put there by the loving Husbandman, because only in that situation will you bring forth fruit unto perfection. 

Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, Divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, "Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by myself will I am pierced through with many sorrows." 

Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. 

Down busy self, and proud and impatience, it is not for you to choose, but for the Lord of love.

Trials must and will befall -- 

But with humble faith to see 

Love inscribed upon them all; 

This is happiness to me

Friday, October 2, 2020

Western Man Abolishes Himself

 “So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. 

"Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over--a weary, battered old brontosaurus--and became extinct.”

- Malcolm Muggeridge, from "Vintage Muggeridge, Religion and Society"

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Resisting the Devil

 When the Devil brings up your past, remind him of his future. (Rev. 20:10)

Christ Is For You, Against Your Sin

 "There is comfort concerning such infirmities, in that your very sins move him to pity more than to anger. . . . For he suffers with us under our infirmities, and by infirmities are meant sins, as well as other miseries. . . . 

"Christ takes part with you [=takes your side], and is so far from being provoked against you, as all his anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it; yes, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that has some loathsome disease, or as one is to a member of his body that has leprosy, he hates not the member, for it is his flesh, but the disease, and that provokes him to pity the part affected the more. 

"What shall not make for us [=be turned for our advantage and welfare] when our sins, that are both against Christ and us, shall be turned as motives to him to pity us the more?"

-- Dane C. Ortlund, "Gentle and Lowly"

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Jesus' Miracles Are Natural in a World That Is Unnatural

"...Theologian Jurgen Moltmann points out that miracles are not an interruption of the natural order but the restoration of the natural order.  We are so used to a fallen world that sickness, disease, pain, and death seem natural.  In fact, THEY are the interruption.
"'When Jesus expels demons and heals the sick, he is driving out of creation the powers of destruction, and is healing and restoring created beings who are hurt and sick.  The lordship of God to which the healings [bear] witness, restores creation to health.
"'Jesus' healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world.  They are the only truly "natural" thing in a world that is unnatural, demonized and wounded.'"
-- Dane Ortlund, quoting Moltmann's "The Way of Jesus Christ" in "Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers"

Sunday, March 15, 2020

C.S. Lewis on Living in Perilous Times

"How are we to live in an atomic age [or a coronavirus pandemic]?" I am tempted to reply: 'Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.'

"In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

"This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds."

-- C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns

Friday, March 13, 2020

"Under His Wings You Will Find Refuge...."

"Can God Be Trusted?"
By Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

"He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge." (Ps. 91:4, NRSV)

Many adults can recall a certain childhood feeling that has now pretty much faded away. Unhappily, one of the things that fades away is a childlike feeling of security in the nest. It's a sense that you are loved, protected, and perfectly safe. It's a sense, above all, that somebody else is in charge. In properly functioning homes, children often have this feeling. Adults do not, and they miss it.

Years ago, on the old Candid Camera television program, a very large and dangerous-looking truck driver--a man of about 50--was asked in an interview what age he would be if he could be any age he wanted. There was a silence for a while as the trucker contemplated the question. What was he thinking? Was he hankering for age 65 and retirement so he could trade his Kenworth four-and-a-quarter semi down to a John Deere riding lawn mower? Or was he yearning for age 18 and the chance to go back and take some turn he had missed?

Finally he turned to the interviewer and said that if it was up to him he'd like to be three. Three? Why three? the interviewer wanted to know. "Well," said the trucker, "when you're three you don't have any responsibilities."

When I first heard the interview I thought this man was trying to be cute. I now think he said something wistful. What he knew was that when you are a child, and if your family is running the right way, your burdens are usually small. You can go to bed without worrying about ice backup under your shingles. You don't wonder if the tingling in your leg might be a symptom of some exotic nerve disease. You don't wrestle half the night with a tax deduction you claimed, wondering whether a federal investigator might find it a little too creative. No, you squirm deliciously in your bed, drowsily aware of the murmur of adult conversations elsewhere in the house. You hover wonderfully at the edge of slumber. Then you let go and fall away.

You dare to do this not only because you fully expect that in the morning you shall be resurrected. You also dare to do it because you are sleeping under your parents' wings. If parents take proper care of you, you can give yourself up to sleep, secure in the knowledge that somebody else is in charge; somebody big and strong and experienced. As far as children know, parents stay up all night, checking doors and windows, adjusting temperature controls, fearlessly driving away marauders. They never go off duty. If a shadow falls over the house, or demons begin to stir, or a storm rises, parents will handle it. That's one reason children sleep so well. Their nest is sheltered and feathered.

I think children might be alarmed to discover how much adults crave this same sense of security. Adults need to be sheltered, warmed, embraced. Some of us have been betrayed. Some of us have grown old and are not happy about it.

People get betrayed, or they get old or sick. Some are deeply disappointed that their lives have not turned out as they had hoped. Others have been staggered by a report that has just come back from a pathology lab. Still others are unspeakably ignored by people they treasure. Some are simply high-tension human beings, strung tight as piano wire.

To all such folk, the psalmist speaks a word of comfort. It is one of the great themes of the Scriptures: God is our shelter. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge.

The image here is that of an eagle, or maybe a hen; in any case, it's a picture of a bird that senses danger and then protectively spreads its wings over its young. An expert on birds once told me that this move is very common. A bird senses the approach of a predator, or the threat of something falling from above, and instinctively spreads out its wings like a canopy. Then the fledglings scuttle underneath for shelter. The move is so deeply instinctive that an adult bird will spread those wings even when no fledglings are around!

And the psalmist--who has almost surely seen this lovely thing happen--the psalmist thinks of God. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge. The point is that God is our shelter when the winds begin to howl; under God's providence we are defended, protected, perfectly safe--someone else is in charge--someone big, strong, and experienced, who never goes off duty.

In one of his books, John Timmer, my former pastor, tells of his experience as a boy in the Netherlands at the start of World War II. German troops had invaded Holland a few days before, but nobody knew just what to expect. Then, on the second Sunday of May 1940, as the Timmer family was sitting around the dinner table in their home in Harlem, suddenly they heard the eerie whining of an air-raid siren and then the droning of German bombers.

Of course, all of them were scared out of their minds. "Let's go stand in the hallway," John's father said. "They say it's the safest place in the house." In the hall, John's father said, "Why don't we pray? There's nothing else we can do."

John says he has long ago forgotten the exact wording of his father's prayer--all except for one phrase. Somewhere in that prayer to God to protect his family from Hitler's Luftwaffe, Mr. Timmer said, "O God, in the shadow of your wings we take refuge."

God spreads his wings over us. Here is a picture that all the Jewish and Christian generations have cherished, in part because it invites us to recover our childhood feeling of security in the nest. Or, to discover it for the first time if we have had a terrorized childhood. It's a picture that offers sublime comfort, and only a pretty numb Christian would fail to be touched by it.

Still, a disturbing question pricks us. How true is the picture of a sheltering God? How secure are we in the nest? I wonder whether in 1940, on the second Sunday of May, some other Dutch family begged God to spread his wings over their house. I wonder if the bombs of the German air force pierced those wings and blew that house and its people to rubble.

You read Psalm 91 and you begin to wonder. It offers such comprehensive coverage. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge. . . . You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Really? I need not fear any of these things? I can sleep in a dangerous neighborhood with my windows open? I shall not fear the terror of the night? My child's temperature soars and his white blood count plummets: I shall not fear the pestilence that stalks in darkness? I can plunge into my work at an AIDS clinic: I shall not fear the destruction that wastes at midday? Really? Is there a level of faith that can honestly say such things even after all allowance has been made for poetic exaggeration?

In his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas L. Friedman writes of his years in the Middle East. One of the terrors of life in Beirut during the civil war there was the prospect of dying a random death. Long-distance sniping and shelling made it hard to tell where bullets or shells might land, and the people who launched them often didn't care. You never knew whether the car you walked past might explode into a fireball, stripping trees of their leaves so that in the terrible silence that followed, scores of leaves would come fluttering down in a soft shower on top of the dead and the maimed.

No one kept score. Police would even lose track of the names of the dead. "Death in Beirut had no echo," says Friedman.

I shall not fear the grenade that flies by day. Could a believer say this in Beirut?

Let us face the truth. Faith in the sheltering wings of God does not remove physical danger or the need for precaution against it. We cannot ignore Beirut tourist advisories, or feed wild animals on our camping trips, or jump a hot motorcycle over a row of parked cars and trust God to keep us safe. We cannot smoke cigarettes like the Marlboro man and then claim the promises of Psalm 91 as our protection against lung cancer. A person who did these things would be a foolish believer and a foolish reader of Psalm 91.

You may recall that in Matthew's gospel Satan quotes this psalm to Jesus in the temptation at the pinnacle of the temple. "Throw yourself down," says Satan. After all, it says right in Psalm 91 that "God will give his angels charge over you." And Jesus replies that it is not right to put God to the test. God's protection is good only for certain events, and restrictions may apply. Jesus was teaching us that we cannot act like a fool and then count on God to bail us out. God may do it--and some of us can recall times when we acted like fools and God bailed us out. But we may not count on it.

But, of course, some believers get hurt, terribly hurt, by no folly of their own. Suppose a drunk driver smashes into your family car. Suppose an I-beam falls on you in a storm. What if you make the mistake of visiting a great city during tourist-hunting season?

Or suppose you are a devout middle-aged Christian woman who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One June you start to feel sick. So you visit your primary-care physician, who sends you for tests, and then a visit to a specialist, and then more tests. Finally you go back to your own physician, and she says, "Ma'am, I'm sorry to say that you had better get your affairs in order." She says more, far more, about treatments and research and making you as comfortable as possible--on and on with all kinds of stuff that is well-meant. But you have grown deaf. All you can think is that you are 46 years old and you are going to die before your parents do and before your children get married.

Whatever happened to the wings of God? Can you get brain cancer under those wings? Get molested by a family member? Get knifed by some emotionless teenager in a subway in New York? Can you find, suddenly one summer, that your own 17-year-old has become a stranger and that everything in your family seems to be cascading out of control?

Where are those wings?

What troubles us is not so much the sheer fact that believers suffer along with everybody else. C. S. Lewis once pondered this. If the children of God were always saved from floods like believing Noah and his family; if every time somebody pointed a gun at a Christian, the gun just turned to salami; if we really had a money-back guarantee against hatred, disease, and the acts of terrorists, then of course we wouldn't have to worry about church growth. Our churches would fill with people attracted to the faith for secondary reasons. These are people who want an insurance agent, not a church. For security they want Colin Powell, not God. We already have people becoming Christians because they want to get rich or get happy. What would happen to people's integrity if becoming a believer really did give you blanket protection against poverty, accident, and the wages of sin?

No, it's not the fact that we have to take our share of the world's suffering that surprises us. After all, our experience and the rest of Scripture have taught us to expect hardship. What worries us is that Psalm 91 tells us not to worry. It says "a thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you." This is advertising that sounds too good to be true. In fact, the psalmist says, "Because you have made the Lord your refuge . . . no evil shall befall you." And the statement troubles us. What about Paul? What about Stephen? What about our Lord himself? He wanted to gather the citizens of Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chicks. What some of those citizens did was to take him outside of town one day and nail his wings to some two-by-fours.

So what is going on in Psalm 91? How are its extravagant promises God's Word to us?

What Psalm 91 does is express one--one of the loveliest, one of the most treasured--but just one of the moods of faith. It's a mood of exuberant confidence in the sheltering providence of God. Probably the psalmist has been protected by God in some dangerous incident, and he is celebrating.

On other days, and in other moods--in other and darker seasons of his life--this same psalmist might have called to God out of despair and a sense of abandonment. Remember that when our Lord was crucified, when our Lord shouted at our God, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"--when Jesus shouted this in astonishment, and with maybe even a note of accusation, remember that he was quoting another psalm (22). Despair or astonishment at what can happen to us under God's providence--that too is natural and biblical.

Psalm 91 gives us only part of the picture and only one of the moods of faith. With a kind of quiet amazement, the psalmist bears witness that under the wings of God good things happen to bad people. You need another psalm or two to fill in the picture, to cry out that under those same wings bad things sometimes happen to good people.

Psalm 91 says no evil shall befall us. When we have cashed out some of the poetry and then added in the witness of the rest of Scripture, what we get, I believe, is the conclusion that no final evil shall befall us. We know that we can believe God with all our heart and yet have our heart broken by the loss of a child or the treachery of a spouse or the menace of a fatal disease. We know this is true--everyone in the church knows it. And yet, generation after generation of bruised saints have known something else and spoken of it. In the mystery of faith, we find a hand on us in the darkness, a voice that calls our name, and the sheer certainty that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God--not for this life and not for the life to come. We may be scarred and shaken, but, as Lewis Smedes says in one of his luminous sermons, we come to know that it's all right, even when everything is all wrong.

We are like fledglings who scuttle under the wings of their parent. The forces of evil beat on those wings with everything they have. The pitchforks of the Evil One, falling tree limbs in the storm, merciless rain and hail--everything beats on those wings. When it is finished, when evil has done its worst, those wings are all bloodied and busted and hanging at wrong angles. And, to tell you the truth, in all the commotion we too get roughed up quite a lot.

But we are all right, because those wings have never folded. They are spread out to be wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. And when the feathers quit flying, we peep out and discover that we have been in the only place that was not leveled. Yes, we have been bumped and bruised and hurt. Sometimes badly hurt. But the other choice was to be dead--the other choice was to break out of the embrace of God. If we had not stayed under those wings we could never have felt the body shudders and heard the groans of the one who loved us so much that those wings stayed out there no matter what came whistling in. This is the one who protects us from final evil, now and in the life to come--the life in which, at last, it is safe for God to fold his wings.

He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge. It's not a simple truth, but it is the truth. And we ought to believe it with everything that is in us.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Luther: The True Christ Gives Sanctification

“For there is no such Christ that died for sinners who do not, after the forgiveness of sins, desist from sins and lead a new life. Thus [the antinomians] preach Christ nicely with Nestorian and Eutychian logic that Christ is and yet is not Christ.

 “They may be fine Easter preachers, but they are very poor Pentecost preachers, for they do not preach de sanctificatione et vivificatione Spiritus Sancti, “about the sanctification by the Holy Spirit,” but solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ, although Christ (whom they extoll so highly, and rightly so) is Christ, that is, he has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men— we die unto sin and live unto righteousness, beginning and growing here on earth and perfecting it beyond, as St. Paul teaches.

 “Christ did not earn only gratia, ‘grace,’ for us, but also donum, ‘the gift of the Holy Spirit,’ so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin. Now he who does not abstain from sin, but persists in his evil life, must have a different Christ, that of the Antinomians; the real Christ is not there, even if all the angels would cry, ‘Christi! Christi!’ He must be damned with this, his new Christ…

“Our Antinomians fail to see that they are preaching Christ without and against the Holy Spirit because they propose to let the people continue in their old ways and still pronounce them saved. And yet logic, too, implies that a Christian should either have the Holy Spirit and lead a new life, or know that he has no Christ.”

-- Martin Luther, On the Councils and the Church, LW 41:113-114

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Hot-Tub Religion

"Worship -- in the sense of telling God his worth by speech and song and celebrating his worth in his presence by proclamation and meditation -- has been largely a form of entertainment calculated to give worshipers the equivalent of a sauna or Jacuzzi experience and send them away felling relaxed and tuned up at the same time.

"Certainly true worship invigorates, but to plan invigoration is not necessarily to order worship.  As all that glitters is not gold, so all that makes us feel happy and strong is not worship.  The question is [not a matter of the 'style' of the service] but whether a God-centered as distinct from a man-centered perspective is maintained -- whether, in other words, the sense that man exists for God rather than God for man is cherished or lost."

-- J. I. Packer, in the Introduction to "God the Evangelist" by David Wells

Denying and Defying the Authority of the Bible

There is more than one way to defy the authority of Bible (which amounts to defying the authority of the Lord whose Word the Bible is).  I was reminded of this after reading an article about trends today in the United Methodist Church.

The most obvious way is to deny that the Bible really is the 'Word of God', and to say that it’s essentially just the words of men.  This is the perspective and practice of the theological “liberal”.

But there are at least two other ways of defying the Bible’s authority, in actual practice.  One is to affirm the authority of the Bible in general terms but then, in specific matters, to insist that it can be interpreted in different ways on a given matter, so that the best thing to do is make room for all those interpretations.  This is the perspective of a growing number of evangelicals on some of the key ethical issues of the day.

But there’s at least one more way of defying the Bible as 'sufficient rule in all matters of faith/belief and practice' – and that is to, again, officially affirm the authority of the Bible, but then, in actual practice, to let other factors (e.g., pragmatism, personal agenda, people-pleasing 'politics') override the commitment to Biblical principle.  This is what you find the Pharisees doing in their interpretation and application of the 5th Commandment – which the Lord Jesus exposes and rebukes in Matthew 15:1-9.

The crucial point to recognize is that in ALL the above scenarios the Word of God has been effectively (to use Jesus’s word) “nullified.”   It is bad enough when liberals do it, but it’s surely worse when self-described “Bible-believing evangelicals” thus defy the Scriptures, and the Spirit of God who inspired them.  And are we even aware of (or honest enough to admit) the ways that this last category are being played out in the Church today?