Posts Tagged ‘Christian’
John Angell James’ wrote The Christian Professor to describe the true profession of faith with its peculiar qualities and particular challenges. In a chapter on “The Dangers of Self-Deception,” he is speaking not only of how easy it is to be self-deceived, but of how dangerous it is to the one who is so deceived, and the difficulty of the one so deceived realising his self-deception. Therefore he speaks, almost as an aside, of the pastor’s role in this regard, of helping men to know their own hearts and their state before God:
. . . some ministers feel it to be the greatest perplexity of all their pastoral avocations, to give answers to people, who come to advise with them on the subject of making a profession. If from suspicion that their hearts are not yet right with God they dissuade them, they may be discouraging those whom they ought to receive and encourage — sending away a babe that ought to be laid in the bosom of the church — breaking the bruised reed and quenching the smoking flax. While on the other hand, if they encourage the inquirer to come forward, they may be strengthening the delusion of a self-deceived soul, and become accessory to the ruin of an immortal spirit. Some conscientious men have found and felt this to be the very burden of their lives, and from which there is no way of gaining relief or ease—but by laying down the marks of true conversion, begging the questioner to bring forward his heart to this test, stating what is implied in a Christian profession, and making him, as has been already said, responsible for the judgment of his own case, and all its consequences too.
There is little that so burdens a pastor as the need to be a right and true counsellor at this point.
So, here we are again:
Yes, this morning the whole country seems to be under the snow. We have three or four inches here.
This is an opportunity to show what Christians are made of.
Do you have neighbours – especially the vulnerable, like widows, single mums, young families, wheelchair-bound, or the like – whose paths and drives might need clearing? Who might appreciate a few provisions? Who would be grateful for a check-up to make sure that they are OK, and perhaps a friendly token of food or some other expression of care?
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)
Once the widders and others are covered, what about the rest? Why not help the able-bodied and the fit, the hale and the hearty? Show that you follow the one who “went about doing good” and called us to follow him:
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9-10)
So, let us get out of our beds, off our backsides, into the streets, and show gospel love to our fellow men, and so demonstrate that our Saviour changes a man’s heart, and in doing so let us win a hearing for the good news.
Yesterday evening I was at St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, to hear Wayne Grudem speak for the Christian Institute on whether political engagement distracts from the gospel. This was the first date in a planned tour (coming soon to a town or city somewhere within striking distance of you, maybe).
Colin Hart of the Institute gave Wayne a monster build-up, which – while it may be a reflection of genuine respect and affection – does rather tend to give the audience an over-inflated idea of what to expect. There were no staggering insights here, but there was a clear and winsome presentation of Grudem’s perspective.
Beginning with a gracious review of the place of the UK in the ongoing combat for liberty of conscience and public Christian testimony, Grudem then presented five wrong views concerning Christian involvement in the political sphere, which have been more or less publicly articulated, or are to some extent popular attitudes:
- Government should compel religion.
- Religion should be excluded from government.
- All government is evil and demonic.
- Do evangelism, not politics.
- Do politics, not evangelism.
Each was presented with Grudem’s characteristic fairness, and he responded to each with a clear and fundamentally Scriptural rebuttal.
Then, calling on examples from Daniel, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Esther, and John the Baptist, and drawing on apostolic teaching from Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, he called for “significant Christian influence on government” as the right and righteous approach, making application to Christians in general and to pastors in particular.
Positively, it was an excellent example of clarity and fairness of communication. He employed Scripture wisely and widely, both in exposing error and in promoting truth. I think that I had a great deal of sympathy with his fundamental conclusion. I enjoyed it, even though it was – quite rightly – not so much ground-breaking as a heartfelt engagement with the times in the light of God’s Word.
Outstanding issues remain: in terms of his positive conclusion, what is “significant . . . influence”? I hope I understand the principle, but I think that this needs to be developed, not least in terms of the difference between the engagement of the Christian who is a citizen/member/subject in a state or nation, and the responsibility of the church as a body. I would like to have seen the right relationship between evangelism in a fallen world and engagement with that world in the political and societal spheres more fully developed. I think we need to make sure that – while there are helpful principles and illustrations to draw from our Old Testaments (God forbid that we should abandon them here) – we take great care to distinguish between the time when God revealed himself to and through a nation-state in which he was the supreme ruler, and the very different mode of his dealing in the New Testament period and following. We must take care not to assume that we can simply read across from the days when God tied his name to a national people in a particular land into the days when God has tied his name to his church in every place. I also think that we must take pains not to pressure the Biblical data into a 21st century Western mould. Not least, we should not assume that ‘government’ – and, more specifically, ‘good government’ – looks like a modern Western liberal democracy. I do not think that Prof. Grudem had the time in the context of this meeting to develop these questions, and so I look forward to his forthcoming massive tome on the topic, Politics According to the Bible (from Zondervan later this year, probably September).
On the way home I read Grudem’s new book, Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business. I got the sense that it is a nuggety version of particular aspects of the larger volume on Politics. If Business is anything to go by, Politics will be stimulating to the point of provocative. I hope to give a brief review of Business for the Glory of God in due course.
In the meantime, I would advocate going to hear Professor Grudem with a genuinely Berean spirit. The very clarity of his address will help to identify the issues with which believers need to wrestle in order to honour God in this regard. (Plus, excellent discounts on his books, old and new, are given.)
Calvin teaches us what it means to be not so much a Calvinist as a Christian in the ebb and flow of life in a fallen world. When we read Calvin himself we find that a Calvinist is not a follower of any man, but a true disciple of Jesus the Christ and a preacher of the gospel of God’s sovereign grace.
Such a man, like Calvin, is committed to the glory of the triune Jehovah. B. B. Warfield put it in this way: Calvinism “lies in a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly by the sinful creature.” This is the starting point of Calvin’s Institutes: Calvin is a man captured and captivated by the triune God, and who therefore sees himself also in proper and humble perspective. Until we perceive God accurately as revealed in Christ, our eyes opened by the Spirit, we can neither be saved nor can we serve. When God opens our eyes, then we begin to begin to know and adore him as he is. That believing view should once and for all bind us with humble joy to the God of our salvation, recognising that what he does, he does for his glory, and that we should live to the same end. This understanding sets our compass for time and for eternity; it will keep us faithful.
Furthermore, such a man, like Calvin, is committed to the truth of God in the Scriptures. Calvin recognised that God was known pre-eminently through his inscripturated revelation. He therefore set himself to know God and to obey him as he has revealed himself and his will. We should be instructed by Calvin’s honesty in handling the Word of God, by his readiness to submit to all its nuances, and not to impose his system on Scripture, but to have Scripture fashion his system. Calvin is always a man under authority: where he reaches the limits of his Spirit-enlightened understanding of God’s revelation, he will not press further and trespass on what God has left unrevealed. Rather, he will pause and worship where he cannot penetrate. There is a wonderful integrity to his teaching on this account. When dying, Calvin could say, “I have taught faithfully, and God has given me grace to write, which I have done faithfully as I could; and I have not corrupted [mutilated] one single passage of Scripture nor twisted it as far as I know; and when in a position to arrive at an artificial meaning through subtlety, I have put all that under my feet, and have always aimed at being simple.” If this was the sincere testimony of more preachers, Christ’s church would be substantially healthier than it is. This disposition is the fountainhead of his public ministry: he sought not only to understand and follow God’s Word for himself, but to communicate its truth with simplicity and clarity to those whom he served, and to apply the Word of God to the hearts of his hearers in all the challenges that they faced in life.
Finally, such a man, like Calvin, will be committed to the service of God. This attitude is really the outworking of the former two. Because God is who he is, and because we know him as revealed in Scripture for our salvation, how can we but consecrate ourselves and our all to his glory? When we learn of Calvin’s life and labours, of his Christlike willingness to serve, and to suffer in serving, we are humbled not so much by our lack of gifts as by our failure to use what we have been given. Calvin, having been purchased entirely by Christ, offered himself entirely to God. Again, hear Warfield: “He who believes in God without reserve, and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling, willing – in the entire compass of his life-activities, intellectual, moral, spiritual, throughout all his individual, social, religious relations – is, by the force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist.”
The great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, situated the heart of Calvinism in the declaration, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jon 2.9):
That is just an epitome of Calvinism; it is the sum and substance of it. If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, “He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord.” I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. “He only is my rock and my salvation.” . . . . I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.
What is Calvinism, then, but a nickname for the biblical gospel and its right outworking in a man’s heart and life? This being so, it should be no surprise that Calvinism is so often presented in an unbalanced caricature: Christ crucified remains a stumbling block to the self-righteous and foolishness to the would-be wise of the world (1Cor 1.21-23). The truth of God’s word is not palatable to the unconverted man, and does not become so until God the Spirit gives him an appetite for it. At that point the gospel is seen and known to be both the wisdom and the power of God to salvation (Rom 1.16; 1Cor 1.24): it captures the whole man, and draws him willingly to serve the God of his salvation. This is the gospel that Calvin preached:
Let us examine ourselves closely, and inasmuch as he has come near to us out of his infinite goodness and given us the teaching about our Lord Jesus Christ his Son, who is our true light, let us make our effort to walk in the way while it is still day (Rom. 13:12-14) for fear that the night will take us by surprise and plunge us into darkness more terrible than the Papacy’s. . . . And because there is no constancy within us and we cannot continue on our own, let us learn to walk in fear and humility in obedience to our God, and let us pray that he will always guide us and strengthen us by his Holy Spirit so that we will not fail.
If we would honour Calvin, then, we will not do so by parading our Calvinist credentials, parroting his name, or promoting a mere caricature of his system in our thinking and feeling and doing. The man who insisted on being buried in an unmarked grave would not be impressed by the weak-minded adulation of a man-centred fan-base.
If we would respectfully remember Calvin, we shall do it best by praying for and seeking that same all-consuming conception of the living God of heaven and earth which always issues in the pursuit of his glory. We shall do it by embracing the Scriptures as the infallible and inerrant rule of faith and life and living and worshipping and teaching accordingly. We shall do it by loving the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind, and offering ourselves as living sacrifices, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service. We shall do it not by honouring a man and simply being swallowed up in his memory, but – profiting from his teaching and example – we shall do it by honouring his God and ours, and by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in all its full-orbed and biblical splendour.
 Benjamin B. Warfield, “Calvinism” in Works (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991), 5:354.
 Quoted by Robert Reymond, John Calvin: His Life and Influence (Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2004), 129.
 Benjamin B. Warfield, “Calvinism” in Works (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991), 5:354-5.
 Charles H. Spurgeon, “A Defence of Calvinism” in Autobiography (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1992), 1:172.
 John Calvin, “38: The Penalty for Idolatry” in Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles (Chapters1-7), trans. Rob Roy McGregor (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008), 541, 549.
[I have recently been addressing the subject, "What is a true Christian?" as part of a series on becoming and being a Christian, intended to help those who are asking the question, "Am I a new creation in Christ?" answer it from a Biblical perspective.]
The apostle John wrote his gospel so that we might know that Jesus is the Christ, believe, and be saved (Jn 20.31). He wrote his first letter so that believers might “know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1Jn 5.13).
There are many things which the world – and many religious people in the world – assumes are certain marks of true Christianity. These fool many into imagining that they are true believers when they are not. Even many Christians build their assurance on these things, and find that they fail them when they need them, because they form no sure foundation. These are inconclusive indications.
Gardiner Spring’s excellent The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character or here [or, for Logos users, here] suggests seven things that are not, in themselves, conclusive marks that a professed work of grace is true or false.
Visible morality. Upright character is no sure indication of love to God. A fair appearance does not necessarily indicate true heart righteousness (1Sam 16.7).
Head knowledge (mere speculative knowledge or intellectual perception) as opposed to spiritual understanding of the truth (Rom 1.21; 2.17-20; Jas 2.19; 1Cor 2.14).
A form of religion. Many have the appearance of religion without the reality, the form without the power (2Tim 3.5; Mt 25.1-12; Is 58.2-3). The Pharisees are the prime example of such people: a great reputation for religion, but a heart far from God.
Eminent gifts. Some have great natural abilities (and, perhaps, verbal dexterity – the gift of the gab – is something that is often taken to indicate a heart for God), which they employ even in religious contexts (again, the gift of ready speech is one that people often mistake as a sign of true godliness). Balaam and Saul both enjoyed eloquent prophetic experiences without entering the kingdom (Mt 7.22-23). Bunyan became “a great talker in religion” before he became a true believer, and several of his characters in Pilgrim’s Progress demonstrate the same problem.
Conviction for sin. We must be careful here. Conviction for sin is necessary for salvation but not necessarily joined with salvation (note also that many Christians feel conviction for sin far more acutely after they are saved than before, and that some who are brought up in godly homes and converted young may have relatively little clear and distinct sense of sin). Awareness of and a sense of guilt concerning sin do not mean that a man is saved or will be saved (Jude 14-15). Ask King Saul, King Ahab, or Judas.
Strong assurance. There is a difference between believing you are saved and believing in Christ and therefore being saved. It is possible for someone entirely persuaded that they are right with God to be wrongly persuaded (Mt 3.7-9).
Notable time or manner of one’s professed conversion. Even unusual and distinctive experiences do not demonstrate that one’s profession of faith is genuine. There are some who live and die trusting in the memory of a moment – perhaps some warm and fuzzy feeling, or raising a hand or walking an aisle or responding to a call – without ever having known true spiritual life.
There is almost nothing more dangerous than to imagine oneself saved and yet to remain unsaved. There is nothing more blessed than to know oneself a Christian grounded on a solid foundation, as the Spirit witnesses in the heart and to the work he is accomplishing in those whom he indwells. To recognise these inconclusive indications for what they are liberates the true believer from the tyranny of mere subjectivism, and strips away the flawed and rotten supports on which we – and others – too often build our hopes.
What, then, are the Scriptural indicators that a genuine work of grace has taken place in the heart of a sinner? When John writes his letter, he does so in carefully-planned circles. Like an aircraft circling the same territory, John notes the same heart-terrain repeatedly. At least four indispensable indications of true Christianity become plain as we circle through John’s letter.
The first is a humble and wholehearted embrace of the divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin (1Jn 1.7 – 2.2; 2.12-14; 3.5, 6, 23; 4.2, 9-10, 13-16; 5.1, 5, 10-13, 20). A Christian man has an accurate view of himself as a sinning sinner. He acknowledges the just judgments of a holy God (Ps 51.4; Lk 15.18; 18.13). This Spirit-wrought conviction of sin leads to genuine repentance as his heart breaks over godlessness, he becomes revolted by his sin and turns from it and forsakes it because it offends the Lord God (Jl 2.12-13). With repentance is joined faith in Jesus as presented in the gospel in his might and majesty, his meekness and mercy. Faith receives Jesus, looks to Jesus, comes to Jesus, flees to Jesus, leans upon Jesus, trusts in Jesus, holds to Jesus, and rests upon Jesus. Let us remember that this is the essential point and gives birth to all that follows: the dying thief never had an opportunity to manifest the other three marks of saving faith (though he would have done had he lived), but still the Lord assured him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23.43). Whoever trusts in Jesus, though he believes one moment and dies the next, has his life hid with Christ in God.
The second is a humble reverence for and joyful devotion to God and his glory (1Jn 1.3-5; 2.12-15; 3.1-2; 4.12-13, 19; 5.1-2). A radical reversal of priority has occurred: the idol Self is toppled and God reigns in the heart. A change has occurred: a heart that by nature is enmity with God (Rom 8.7) has been replaced by one that loves God entirely (Lk 10.37). The man who lived for self now lives for God, offering himself as a living sacrifice (Rom 12.1-2). Gratitude for grace received and delight in God himself issues in joyful service of the Lord of glory. This is a man convinced of God’s excellent glory, for its own sake: he would, if called upon, serve without reward for he recognises God’s worthiness to be served: Romans 11.36 seems entirely pleasing and proper to him, for God in Christ is now at the pinnacle of his thinking and feeling and doing. The testimony of such a man’s heart is “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73.25-26). He believes it, knows it, pursues it, and repents afresh because he does not know and feel and prove it more. He is concerned for God’s name and God’s people and therefore his time, energies, graces, gifts, faculties and efforts are consecrated to God, whether in the apparently spectacular or the genuinely mundane (1Cor 10.31). His chief end and great delight is to glorify God and to enjoy him now and forever. God in Christ is all in all to him, and he longs to know and feel and prove it more.
The third is a principled pursuit of godliness with an increasing attainment in holiness (1Jn 2.3-8, 15-16, 19, 29; 3.3, 6, 10, 24; 4.13; 5.2-5, 21). The hypocrite likes the reputation of holiness, but the true child of God is satisfied only with the substance. He considers his ways, and turns his feet back to God’s testimonies (Ps 119.59). The world no longer sparkles as it did – or, at least, his attraction to it and affection for it have been fundamentally altered – and now he lives for God, called to be holy as God himself is holy (1Pt 1.16). The bonds to sin have been broken, and the persistent habit of unmortified sinning has been shattered because of his union with Christ. The new root brings forth new fruit (Mt 7.20; 12.33-35). His obedience – though not yet perfect – is universal (throughout the whole man), habitual, voluntary and persevering. He has taken up his cross, and continues to do so daily, as a disciple of a crucified Christ (Mt 16.24-25). He pursues Christlikeness – it is the burden of his private and public prayers. He increasingly manifests the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22-23); he has no love for the world (Jas 4.4); the previous pattern of conformity to, company with and compromise for the sake of the world is over (2Tim 3.4; 1Cor 16.33). This is not sinless perfection, but laborious progress. It does not mean that a Christian faces no battles but rather than he fights great battles, opposed as he now is to a raging and committed enemy of malice and power (Rom 7.13-25). Sometimes he wanders; sometimes he is on the back foot; sometimes, grievously, he backslides. However, the tone and tenor of his life is one of advance. The trajectory of his life over time is upward. The points plotted on his spiritual graph are not a seamless upward curve, and there are painful plateaus, but the line of best fit indicates persevering progress over time as sin dies and godliness is cultivated.
A fourth mark that John identifies is affection for and attachment to God’s redeemed people (1Jn 2.9-11; 3.10-18, 23; 4.7-11; 4.20 – 5.2). This is more than natural affection (just liking them), mercenary attachment (what you can get out if it), party spirit (a gang mentality), or mere presence (just turning up at the right place at the right time). The true Christian loves God’s people because they are God’s people, even though they are unlovely in themselves. In that sense, he needs no other reason, and yet he has several. He loves them because of what they are to God, loved by him and saved by Jesus, and it is therefore Godlike to love them. He loves them because of what they are in themselves, marked out increasingly by the image of God, by likeness to the Jesus whom he loves. He loves them because of what they are to him, members together with him of the one body of which Jesus is the saving and sovereign head (1Cor 12.12-14, 26-27). He loves not in word only: it is manifest in his thoughts and deeds (Eph 4.1-6, 12-16, 25-32). He is a true churchman: he does not simply “do church” but views and responds to the saints individually and gathered together with affection, commitment, service and investment. He is not a spectator but a servant, concerned not just to get out but to put in.
These four marks will invariably be present in a true child of God. They will not be perfect until glory, but they will be present now.
We cannot afford to be fooled, imagining ourselves saved when we are not. This is a most desperately dangerous condition to be in, and a devastating conclusion to daw.
We do not need to be confused, either always doubting or building on a wrong foundation. We can know whether or not we are saved.
John writes so that we can be sure, knowing ourselves saved and enjoying eternal life.
If these marks are not in your heart and life, then you are not a Christian, whatever you claim or imagine, and you should not fool yourself nor dishonour Christ by claiming his name without walking in his ways. You blaspheme Jesus and expose him to scorn by taking the label of a true believer but living apart from his gracious power and saving wisdom. The hypocrite gives men a reason to scorn and deride true religion by pretending to what he does not have. We see this written on a large scale when those professing to be a true church depart from the truth, teach their own concoctions, live without godliness, and give occasion for men to blaspheme. “Call that Christianity!” No! No, it is not Christianity – it is an empty masquerade that gives opportunity for sinners to deride or despair of Jesus, which leaves your hands with the blood of men upon them, and which will ultimately damn you if you are not saved from it. It is better to know yourself outside than falsely to imagine yourself inside: you must therefore flee to Jesus, and acknowledge your need, repent of your sin, and trust in the Saviour.
But if these things are present in you and true of you then you are a Christian, and you should not dishonour Christ by denying the source of grace in you. Some doubting and fearful saints are terrified that they will lay claim to God’s grace in Christ without having it, and so walk in shadow if not in darkness, robbed of joy and neither being blessed nor blessing others as they might. But consider: these things simply do not grow in the soil of the unregenerate heart, and to possess them without a Christian testimony is to know the privileges of the kingdom without wearing its livery. It might give the impression to some that the fruits of grace can grow in natural soil, and imply that unconverted men can attain to true godliness and genuinely Christian morality, and so prompt a despising of the work of God’s Spirit. Others might be profoundly discouraged, imagining that a man can show marks of true holiness but not really be saved, and so wonder if they can ever truly testify, “I am his, and he is mine.” Friend, if you have these things in you, then honour the God who put them there by owning yourself saved of God, and live accordingly.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139.23-24). If you need Jesus, go to him now and you will be saved. If you have Jesus – if he has you – then hold fast, love him, serve him, and rejoice in him, for you are a child of God, and he will keep you to the end, perfecting that which he has begun in you.
A bit of catching up . . .
I have begun a series on Becoming and being a Christian. I started it a couple of weeks ago with a sermon on Isaiah 45.22 on Looking to Jesus.
Afterwards we looked at 2 Corinthians 5.17, on being A new creation in Christ. In dealing with that we looked at what Paul says about our position: “If anyone is in Christ.” Many are without Christ, which makes every other good and privilege to be ultimately dust and ashes in our mouths. There are those who are with Christ, and they are enjoying the blessings of being in the very presence of the risen Jesus. But no one will be with Christ without being first in Christ – united to him by a saving connection, enjoying new life in him.
Then there is the matter of our condition: “new creation.” This speaks of a radical, thorough, divinely-worked reality, in which the Almighty works not with nothing but against everything in us to change our antagonism and give us a new heart. Men try to rehabilitate, but only God can regenerate. We must be a new creation before we can live as one: we cannot earn new creation by trying to live like Christians. Salvation comes first.
Finally, Paul offers an explanation: “the old has gone and is gone for good; look! the new has come and keeps on coming.” The old nature has been dethroned and Christ reigns. A transformation has taken place – the Christian has new light, understanding, will, desire, purpose and destiny. There is a note of wonder as the persecutor-turned-preacher marvels at God’s grace in Jesus Christ in saving sinners from the darkness and bringing them into his marvellous light.
Last Sunday, we came on to the subject of A true Christian. How can I know if I am a new creation in Christ? Am I a true child of God? The apostle John wrote his gospel so that we might know that Jesus is the Christ, believe, and be saved (Jn 20.31). He wrote his first letter so that believers might “know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1Jn 5.13). I had intended to show the things that the world and many religious people assume are certain marks of true Christianity, but which fool many and which will fail those who rely on them when trials come, things which are no sure mark of a genuine conversion, before moving on to the positive indications of genuine saving faith.
However, the sermon took off in the first moments, and I spent the hour dealing with seven things (developed from headings in Gardiner Spring’s excellent The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character or here [or, for Logos users, here] – sorry, not too many hard copies around!). Visible morality, head knowledge, the form of religion, eminent gifts, conviction for sin, strong assurance, and a memorable or notable experience of alleged conversion, individually or in combination, do not indicate the genuine nature of a professed work of grace. Unbelievers who assume they are saved on this basis are being fooled; believers who build their assurance on this flawed foundation will find it fails when they need it. I got no further, closing by urging sinners to acknowledge their need and flee to Jesus, and calling upon the people of God to hold fast to the finished work of Christ, the promises of God, and the reality of the Spirit’s renovating work. I hope to go on to the four positive indications of genuine saving grace, as spelled out by the apostle John, next Lord’s day.
Over the last few lessons of our adult Sunday School we have been working from Luke 2.52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” We have used this as a framework to consider the parents’ responsibility to train their children with regard to intellectual, physical, spiritual and social or cultural development. We hope to finish off this section next week before the Easter break, picking up afterwards with the training and admonition (required primarily of fathers as heads of households) commanded in Ephesians 6.4.
From A Good Start by C. H. Spurgeon, Chapter 1 (“A Young Man in Christ”).
A man in Christ is a man, and, being a man, he is, therefore, imperfect. I have heard a great deal of talk of perfect men, but I believe that a little examination with the microscope, or even without it, would have discovered a great many flaws in them, and probably more in those who thought themselves perfect than in others who have honestly confessed their imperfections. There is not a Christian man who entire life might be read instead of the Bible. His life would need notes, additions, and corrections ere it would exactly correspond with the perfect law of the Lord. Ask him, “May I learn Christian principles entirely from your conduct?” and he would say, “I wish I could answer, ‘Yes.’ I am striving to make my conduct so, but I am afraid that, though I try to copy my Master, stroke by stroke, yet I have failed in some respects to reproduce the full spirit of the grand original. I wish you could read me, and see the spirit of the New Testament in every little as well as in every great transaction of my life. But,” he will add, “I make mistakes, and, what is more, I am sometimes off my guard, and allow the old nature that remaineth in me to come to the front. I am not what I ought to be, nor what I want to be, nor, blessed be God, what I shall be. You may, I trust, see something of Christ in me,” he will say, “but yet I am a man; and, being in this body, I am compassed with infirmities.” Ought not you who may not happen to be Christians to recollect this when you are judging Christian men? Be fair! Be honest! If a man receives not the gospel himself, at least let him treat those who do receive it with the candour which he would desire to be exercised towards himself. A man in Christ is a man; do not expect him to be an angel.
Since the search statistics indicate that several of the visitors who come to this blog have an interest in the Anglo-Saxon poem, The Wanderer, I have posted a short essay on that piece of literature from my days as an undergraduate at Leicester University, which you can read here, or access via the sidebar, in the “About . . .” section. The topic is the theme of isolation in the poem, which I seek to develop not least with regard to the Christian element that is present.
To finish off this week, as I do not have time to complete what I had begun, here is a typically profound and penetrating excerpt from the esteemed Jeremiah Burroughs, taken from The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I had intended to post just a little of what follows, and then kept expanding the tasty chunk until I got to the point at which it was simplest and most coherent to post the whole section. May our Lord Jesus so teach us these things as to grant us true contentment in him.
[Self-denial] is a hard lesson. You know that when a child is first taught, he complains: This is hard; it is just like that. I remember Bradford the martyr said, ‘Whoever has not learned the lesson of the cross, has not learned his ABC in Christianity.’ This is where Christ begins with his scholars, and those in the lowest form must begin with this; if you mean to be Christians at all, you must buckle to this or you can never be Christian. Just as no-one can be a scholar unless he learns his ABC, so you must learn the lesson of self-denial or you can never become a scholar in Christ’s school, and be learned in this mystery of contentment. That is the first lesson that Christ teaches any soul, self-denial, which brings contentment, which brings down and softens a man’s heart. You know how when you strike something soft it makes no noise, but if you strike a hard thing it makes a noise; so with the hearts of men who are full of themselves, and hardened with self-love, if they receive a stroke they make a noise, but a self-denying Christian yields to God’s hand, and makes no noise. When you strike a woolsack it makes no noise because it yields to the stroke; so a self-denying heart yields to the stroke and thereby comes to this contentment. Now there are several things in this lesson of self-denial. I will not enter into the doctrine of self-denial, but only show you how Christ teaches self-denial and how that brings contentment.
1. Such a person learns to know that he is nothing. He comes to this, to be able to say, ‘Well, I see I am nothing in myself.’ That man or woman who indeed knows that he or she is nothing, and has learned it thoroughly will be able to bear anything. The way to be able to bear anything is to know that we are nothing in ourselves. God says to us, ‘Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not’ (Proverbs 23:5) speaking of riches. Why, blessed God, do not you do so? you have set your heart upon us and yet we are nothing. God would not have set our hearts upon riches, because they are nothing, and yet God is pleased to set his heart upon us, and we are nothing: that is God’s grace, free grace, and therefore it does not much matter what I suffer, for I am as nothing.
2. I deserve nothing. I am nothing, and I deserve nothing. Suppose I lack this and that thing which others have? I am sure that I deserve nothing except it be Hell. You will answer any of your servants, who is not content: I wonder what you think you deserve? or your children: do you deserve it that you are so eager to have it? You would stop their mouths thus, and so we may easily stop our own mouths: we deserve nothing and therefore why should we be impatient if we do not get what we desire. If we had deserved anything we might be troubled, as in the case of a man who has deserved well of the state or of his friends, yet does not receive a suitable reward, it troubles him greatly, whereas if he is conscious that he has deserved nothing, he is content with a rebuff.
3. I can do nothing. Christ says, ‘Without me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). Why should I make much of it, to be troubled and discontented if I have not got this and that, when the truth is that I can do nothing? If you were to come to one who is angry because he has not got such food as he desires, and is discontented with it, you would answer him, ‘I marvel what you do or what use you are!’ Should one who will sit still and be of no use, yet for all that have all the supply that he could possible desire? Do but consider of what use you are in the world, and if you consider what little need God has of you, and what little use you are, you will not be much discontented. if you have learned this lesson of self-denial, though God cuts you short of certain comforts, yet you will say, ‘Since I do but little, why should I have much': this thought will bring down a man’s spirit as much as anything.
4. I am so vile that I cannot of myself receive any good. I am not only an empty vessel, but a corrupt and unclean vessel: that would spoil anything that comes into it. So are all our hearts: every one of them is not only empty of good but is like a musty bottle that spoils even good liquor that is poured into it.
5. If God cleanses us in some measure, and puts into us some good liquor, some grace of his Spirit, yet we can make use of nothing when we have it, if God but withdraws himself. If God leaves us one moment after he has bestowed upon us the greatest gifts, and whatever abilities we can desire, if God should say, ‘I will give you them, now go and trade’, we cannot progress one foot further if God leaves us. Does God give us gifts and abilities? Then let us fear and tremble lest God should leave us to ourselves, for then how foully should we abuse those gifts and abilities. You think other men and women have memory and gifts and abilities and you would fain have them – but suppose God should give you these, and then leave you, you would utterly spoil them.
6. We are worse than nothing. By sin we become a great deal worse than nothing. Sin makes us more vile than nothing, and contrary to all good. It is a great deal worse to have a contrariety to all that is good, than merely to have an emptiness of all that is good. We are not empty pitchers in respect of good, but we are like pitchers filled with poison, and is it much for such as we are to be cut short of outward comforts? 7. If we perish we will be no loss. If God should annihilate me, what loss would it be to anyone? God can raise up someone else in my place to serve him in a different way.
Now put just these seven things together and then Christ has taught you self-denial. I may call these the several words in our lesson of self-denial.
Christ teaches the soul this, so that, as in the presence of God on a real sight of itself, it can say: ‘Lord, I am nothing, Lord, I deserve nothing, Lord, I can do nothing, I can receive nothing, and can make use of nothing, I am worse than nothing, and if I come to nothing and perish I will be no loss at all and therefore is it such a great thing for me to be cut short here?’ A man who is little in his own eyes will account every affliction as little, and every mercy as great. Consider Saul: There was a time, the Scripture says, when he was little in his own eyes, and then his afflictions were but little to him: when some would not have had him to be King but spoke contemptuously of him, he held his peace; but when Saul began to be big in his own eyes, then the affliction began to be great to him.
There was never any man or woman so contented as a self-denying man or woman. No-one ever denied himself as much as Jesus Christ did: he gave his cheeks to the smiters, he opened not his mouth, he was as a lamb when he was led to the slaughter, he made no noise in the street. He denied himself above all, and was willing to empty himself, and so he was the most contented that ever any was in the world; and the nearer we come to learning to deny ourselves as Christ did, the more contented shall we be, and by knowing much of our own vileness we shall learn to justify God.
Whatever the Lord shall lay upon us, yet he is righteous for he has to deal with a most wretched creature. A discontented heart is troubled because he has no more comfort, but a self-denying man rather wonders that he has as much as he has. Oh, says the one, I have but a little; Aye, says the man who has learned this lesson of self-denial, but I rather wonder that God bestows upon me the liberty of breathing in the air, knowing how vile I am, and knowing how much sin the Lord sees in me. And that is the way of contentment, by learning self-denial.
8. But there is a further thing in self-denial which brings contentment. Thereby the soul comes to rejoice and take satisfaction in all God’s ways; I beseech you to notice this. If a man is selfish and self-love prevails in his heart, he will be glad of those things that suit with his own ends, but a godly man who has denied himself will suit with and be glad of all things that shall suit with God’s ends. A gracious heart says, God’s ends are my ends and I have denied my own ends; so he comes to find contentment in all God’s ends and ways, and his comforts are multiplied, whereas the comforts of other men are single. It is very rare that God’s way shall suit with a man’s particular end, but always God’s ways suit with his own ends. If you will only have contentment when God’s ways suit with your own ends, you can have it only now and then, but a self-denying man denies his own ends, and only looks at the ends of God and therein he is contented. When a man is selfish he cannot but have a great deal of trouble and vexation, for if I regard myself, my ends are so narrow that a hundred things will come and jostle me, and I cannot have room in those narrows ends of my own. You know in the City what a great deal of stir there is in narrow streets: since Thames street is so narrow they jostle and wrangle and fight one with another because the place is so narrow, but in the broad streets they can go quietly. Similarly men who are selfish meet and so jostle with one another, one man is for self in one thing, and another man is for self in another thing, and so they make a great deal of stir. But those whose hearts are enlarged and make public things their ends, and can deny themselves, have room to walk and never jostle with one another as others do. The lesson of self-denial is the first lesson that Jesus Christ teaches men who are seeking contentment.
Phil Johnson has a good post on true manliness here. I have in the front of my Bible a summary of the first message preached by George McDearmon on courage as the comprehensive virtue of a true man (a series of sermons I strongly recommend). The ‘note to self’ reads as follows: The courage of a Christian man consists in an assurance of God’s presence with him, his certainty of a righteous cause, and his confidence in God’s providence with regard to outcomes.
I returned from Italy with my family last Monday evening, having been away for almost a couple of weeks. It was a busman’s holiday of sorts, trading off hospitality from friends for preaching engagements.
We arrived at Milan’s Malpensa airport on Wed 28 May, and were collected by Pastor Andrea Ferrari of Chiesa Battista Riformata Filadelfia. We went to his home overnight, before being sent away to Venice for a two day break. The Eurostar train took us from Milan (Milano) to Venice (Venezia) in good time, and we spent two wonderful days wandering through the city (although pushchairs and canal bridges are not the best of combinations), travelling around and about the island by boat (including a visit to the famed Island of Murano, where much glass is blown).
From Venice, we returned late on Friday night to Milan, and stayed with the Ferrari family (Andrea & Cristina, and their lads Simone and Daniele) until the following Wednesday. On the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, the church had organised a family conference, originally due to be held in Turin (Torino). However, by the time we had returned, persistent heavy rain in the Turin area had caused the cancellation of these plans, and so some swift re-jigging led to our meeting in their church building (they have been meeting there for only a few months). The topic of the conference was “The Christian family.” With such a large topic, I could only deal with some basics, and concentrated on the relationship between the Lord God and a husband and wife, issues that we have recently covered in our adult Sunday School. I did this under five headings, drawing heavily on material by Albert N. Martin from old Banner of Truth magazines, and also bringing in material from Alan Dunn‘s Headship in Marriage in the Light of Creation and the Fall.
We considered the Scriptural approach – how do we serve God in our families? Where do we begin? Concentrating on the foundation and the framework, we assessed four flawed foundations and one firm foundation. The four flawed foundations are: rationalism (making human reason the ultimate authority); traditionalism (doing what has always been done, either unconsciously or deliberately); pragmatism (doing what seems to work, usually a series of short-term fixes with no long term goals); and, fatalism (can we really know what can be done, and is there any point anyway). Opposed to this is Biblicism – taking the Scriptures as our rule of faith and life. Here we went back to the gospel dynamic that governs our entrance into and progress in true Christian living. We can do nothing apart from Christ, and it is in the tension between Biblical idealism and Biblical realism, resolved by the grace of God in the forgiveness of sins and grace for cheerful obedience, that we make progress in this struggle.
We moved on to look at the essential equality that exists between men and women. Many texts in Scripture say that men and women are different to each other, none say that one is better than the other. Men and women are equal in their created dignity (both are made in the image of God), their native depravity (both are equally fallen, both are equally lost), and in redemptive reality (both are equally saved by the same Christ, and receive the same redemptive privileges). There are four consequences of this equality: a joint commission together to be fruitful, to multiply, to have dominion; a genuine correspondence (men and women were made to complete and complement each other); a profound cleaving (the intimacy of the one-flesh union of marriage, true togetherness); and, a total commitment to one another within the bonds of marriage.
From there we went on to consider the distinctive roles, looking first at women of God. Our four key texts were 1Cor 11.3-16, Eph 5.22-33, Col 3.18-19, and 1Tim 2.8-15, where we observe the created order and the redemptive pattern. On these two pillars the distinctives stand, without denying or negating the essential equality. The keynote for women is submission, a positive and active yielding of her gifts to her husband and employing them for him. The particular nature of this submission is religious – “as to the Lord”: it is an expression of our attitude to God. We saw its broad extent: “in everything” – it is extensive, not occasional or selective. Nevertheless, it is not absolute. She is to submit in everything except when her husband requires what God forbids or forbids what God requires. We also looked at some of the distortions and perversions women must labour to avoid: effacement on the one hand, and domination/manipulation on the other.
From there we moved to the distinctive role of Christian men. We used the same key texts and observed the same order and pattern. The keynote for men is love. We considered the character of this love: it is Christlike – it is intelligent, realistic, sweet and (above all) sacrificial. We looked at the quality of this love: it is purposeful – it seeks a wife’s highest development and greatest blessing. We identified the anchor of this love: union – it is grounded in a husband’s being one flesh with his wife. We then looked at the activity of this love: “nourishing and cherishing” – a profound tenderness and principled care. There are also distortions and perversions here for men to avoid: abdication on the one hand (a failure to lead lovingly) and tyranny on the other (a failure to love in leading).
In the final address we considered the Christian family as the living sermon - does my home, my relationship, preach Christ and his church to those around me? What does my relationship to my wife say to others about how Christ acts toward his church? What does my relationship to my husband say about how the church acts toward Christ? A Christ-exalting marriage is full of gospel blessing. We find blessing for ourselves when true happiness and harmony are established in the home. We bring blessing to our families by our testimony to gospel realities, and in providing a model for Christian homes. We bring blessing to our churches, for a healthy Christian home is a vital building block in a healthy congregation, and an example of grace and a centre of ministry to others. We also bring a blessing to our societies – both common blessings (good citizens having an influence) and saving blessings (true Christians testifying of Jesus and enjoying God’s favour). But we must pursue gospel transparency rather than entertain gross hypocrisy. The kind of Pharisaic hypocrisy we see in Matthew 23 will destroy all blessing. Reality matters more than appearance and performance. We must face the facts of sin, embrace the Christ of grace, and go in the strength of gospel grace along the way of gospel obedience in the exercise of the gospel dynamic.
With this, the conference closed. Andrea translated throughout, and we were both weary. The church then watched the film The Pursuit of Happyness, and there followed a discussion about the particular roles and values demonstrated in the film in the light of the material delivered from the Scripture. We looked at what we might learn positively and negatively from the examples we saw.
With that, we went home and slept. On the Tuesday we had our next rest day, wandering round an open market before a relaxed afternoon, then packing our bags for the next leg of the trip – south to Sicily.