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