Posts Tagged ‘holiness’
Many who profess faith leave things to the last minute. What will I do when I am tempted? Will I do what I already know to be my duty? Will I leave it to how I feel at the last moment? Will I attend church? Will I go to prayer meeting? Will I read the scriptures? Will I seek to bear witness? Will I watch this kind of thing on television? Will I turn it off or will I indulge? In a very real sense, we say that we decided when we began to follow Jesus. We vowed to take Him as our Lord and Master. We said to all the future questions of obedience, “I already decided.” Now we need to live like it.
Read it all at Main Things.
“No one is more holy than anyone else.” That was the statement I heard in a recent sermon. At first, I thought I must have misheard it. But, I had not. The point being made to the congregation was clear: abandon your ‘self-righteousness’ and recognize that you are no holier than the person in the pew next to you.
For why this is nonsense, read the rest.
David Murray has some very helpful interaction with Tullian Tchividjian on the substance of his book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything. In three parts, he considers the confusion of justification with sanctification; the confusion from making our own experience the norm for others; and, the confusion of our standing with God and our experience and enjoyment of God.
I think David is making some important points that point us away from error and toward truth in our understanding of holiness and its pursuit.
Cruciform Press, 2010, 108pp., paperback/download, $5-10 (depending on format)
Beginning life as a series of blog posts, this book is a very brief and direct treatment of an issue that, like it or not, almost every man must face, with sexual imagery either aggressively invading our hearts or a mere moment away, should our hearts desire it. The closest we get here to a definition of pornography is “a representation of sexuality that promotes either isolating acts of masturbation or abhorrently selfish acts of sexual abuse.” With that broad starting point, the author delivers a short, sharp shock to the spiritual system. Challies succeeds where several authors on a similar topic fails: he manages to be transparent without titillating, being frank but not crude, blunt without becoming vulgar. He urges upon his readers the profound dangers and far-reaching damage of pornography, speaking plainly of sin and grace, with some hard-hitting questions at the end of each short chapter. The whole is well-balanced, as he addresses not only the putting to death of sexual sin, but also the cultivation of genuine holiness in this area of life. In short, he earnestly demands that the porn-sick man get on his knees and – in dependence upon God’s grace in Christ – recalibrate his mind, heart and soul with regard to pornography. Those who are fed up hiding from this issue in their own lives or the lives of others will find this an excellent resource, being less about the spark of sin and more about the tinder of the heart. It drives at the right target, speaks with compassionate yet clear language, and offers a genuine and grace-soaked solution.
A holy life is both the best platform for and the best proof of the gospel proclaimed by God’s people.
Excellent stuff from Kevin DeYoung:
I find it telling that you can find plenty of young Christians today who are really excited about justice and serving in their communities. You can find Christians fired up about evangelism. You can find lots of Generation XYZ believers passionate about precise theology. Yes and amen to all that. But where are the Christians known for their zeal for holiness? Where is the corresponding passion for honoring Christ with Christlike obedience? We need more Christian leaders on our campuses, in our cities, in our seminaries who will say with Paul, “Look carefully then how you walk”? (Eph. 5:15).
When is the last time we took a verse like Ephesians 5:4–“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving”–when is the last time we took a verse like this and even began to try to apply this to our conversation, our joking, our movies, our you tube clips, our t.v. and commercial intake? The fact of the matter is if you read through the New Testament epistles you will find very few explicit commands that tell us to evangelize and very few explicit commands that tell us to take care of the poor in our communities, but there are dozens and dozens of verses in the New Testament that enjoin us, in one way or another, to be holy as God is holy (e.g., 1 Peter 1:13-16).
I do not wish to denigrate any of the other biblical emphases capturing the attention of younger evangelicals. But I believe God would have us be much more careful with our eyes, our ears, and our mouth. It’s not pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously. It’s the way of all those who have been called to a holy calling by a holy God.
“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him! He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Job 1:8
We ought not to set up our rest in low degrees of grace; or content ourselves to be like others in grace. We should labour (if it be possible) to go beyond all others in grace. It did not satisfy Job that he had gotten to such a degree, to such a frame and temper of heart, to such a course of holiness, as his neighbors or brethren had attained unto; but he laboured to go beyond them all, “Not such a man upon the earth as Job.” It is an holy ambition to labour to exceed all other in grace and goodness. We have a great many in the world that desire to be so rich, as none should be like them; to be so gay in their apparel, as none should be like them; so beautiful, as none should be like them; but where are that desire and endeavour to have such a portion or stock of grace, that none should be like them, to be above others in holiness, as Job was? True grace never rests in any degrees or measures of grace, but labours to increase: he that hath any grace would have more; do not think it enough when you are like others, you ought to labour to be beyond others.
Practical Observations on Job, Joseph Caryl (1:103)
HT: Johnny Farese.
Searching words from the great Spurgeon via Phil Johnson, offered as a principle for our exposure to television and other media:
Those who can look with delight or any degree of pleasure upon the sins of others are not holy. We know of some, who will not themselves perpetrate an unseemly jest, yet, if another does so, and there is a laugh excited upon some not over-decent remark, they laugh, and thus give sanction to the impropriety. If there is a low song sung in their hearing, which others applaud, though they cannot quite go the length of joining in the plaudits, still they secretly enjoy it; they betray a sort of gratification that they cannot disguise; they confess to a gusto that admires the wit while it cannot endorse the sentiment.
They are glad the minister was not there; they are glad to think the deacon did not happen to see them just at that moment; yet still, if there could be a law established to make the thing pretty respectable, they would not mind.
Some of you know people who fall into this snare. There are professing Christians who go where you at one time could not go; but, seeing that they do it, you go too, and there you see others engaged in sin, and it becomes respectable because you give it countenance. There are many things, in this world, that would be execrated if it were not that Christian men go to them, and the ungodly men say, “Well, if it is not righteous, there is not much harm in it, after all; it is innocent enough if we keep within bounds.”
Mind! mind! mind, professor, if thine heart begins to suck in the sweets of another man’s sin, it is unsound in the sight of God; if thou canst even wink at another man’s lust, depend upon it that thou wilt soon shut thine eye on thine own, for we are always more severe with other men than we are’ with ourselves. There must be an absence of the vital principle of godliness when we can become partakers of other men’s sins by applauding or joining with them in the approval of them.
Let us examine ourselves scrupulously, then, whether we be among those who have no evidences of that holiness without which no man can see God. But, beloved, we hope better things of you, and things which accompany salvation. If you and I, as in the sight of God, feel that we would be holy if we could, that there is not a sin we wish to spare, that we would be like Jesus,O that we could!that we would sooner suffer affliction than ever run into sin, and displease our God; if our heart be really right in God’s statutes, then, despite all the imperfections we bemoan, we have holiness, wherein we may rejoice.
What difference does the holiness of God make?
Without the holiness of God, sin has no meaning and grace has no point. God’s holiness gives to the one its definition and to the other its greatness. Without the holiness of God, sin is merely human failure, but not failure before God. It is failure without the standard by which we know it to have failed. It is failure without guilt, failure without retribution, failure without any serious moral meaning.
Without the holiness of God, grace is no longer grace because it does not arise from the dark clouds of his judgment that covered the cross. Without God’s holiness, grace would be nothing more than sentimental benevolence. It is this holiness that shows the graciousness of grace, its character as unmerited, because it also shows us the offensiveness of sin.
Without the holiness of God, faith is but a confidence in good fortune, optimism about our prospects, hope in some future happiness. It is not what takes hold of the one in whom God has wrought his propitiation. It is not that trusting in the utter reliability of the good character of God that makes his promises “Yes and Amen” in Christ.
 David F. Wells, The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Nottingham: IVP, 2008), 241.
Hurrah and huzzah! As hoped, on Friday night we managed to track down a group of the young people with whom we have had contact before. My friend A was spot on. One of the fellows in the church phoned to offer his services and we headed out at just after 9pm. We arrived at the designated spot just in time to see the gang we were after being ushered away from the local off-licence with some vigour on the part of the police and much stupidity on the part of at least one member of the group. We pulled up quickly, and with a prayer for safety for them and us, leapt out in pursuit. We were temporarily waylaid by a homeless fellow who asked for some money. It was an apostolic moment: I was utterly without wonga. Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: a brief explanation of Christ’s goodness, a promise to come back and speak to him (and to find some way of giving him some food), and a tract with an earnest invitation to come to church on Sunday where he would be fed as much as he wished, and to hear the good news proclaimed. His name was John.
We then headed off after the lads. By the time we had finished speaking with John, both the police and they had disappeared. We wandered down a couple of blind alleys (almost literally) before we tracked a few of them down. It was like being back at university: the marijuana smoke hung heavy in the air, even outside. One young man was clearly out of it, probably drunk as well, and was immediately abusive and threatening. It was the first time I thought that I might get lumped in the course of the night. We persevered, and soon others were arriving, including A and D from last Wednesday. The mouthy one eventually backed down, and we had an opportunity to speak of Jesus for a good hour or so with various ones. There were two main chunks of chat: in the first, one appreciative young man spoke of the emptiness and pointlessness of his life, accepting that what we offered was attractive, compelling and coherent, but it was a big thing and he wasn’t sure he was going to bite. Another couple of lads were listening intently, and chipping in now and again. Then, later on, several young women joined us. Unusually, on this occasion they were more hostile than the men, and assailed us quite aggressively with questions and arguments, not being entirely willing to hear the answers. The chat broke up when the most earnest of the lads from earlier began having would-be-comedy fake sex in a nearby bush with one of the girls. They were clearly losing interest. In speaking with them, whether interested, appreciative, or aggressive, it is no longer possible to compartmentalise them mentally: they become people, men and women with immortal souls on their way to hell unless they are turned into the path to heaven. We distributed several tracts and CDs with sermons, and handed out about eight or ten gospels (including to the young drunkard who wandered back towards the end to apologise for his crudity and anger earlier: would that not be a trophy to grace if he were brought in?). We look for fruit from out labours.
I spent Saturday in preparation for the Lord’s day. My fellow-pastor was away preaching in Milan over the weekend. It is the anniversary of the church’s constitution, and they are going through a rough patch. He therefore preached to them on suffering, and the reports are that it was timely and profitable, and that – despite his sickness from last week – the Lord upheld him through all the preaching, and assisted both him and Pastor Andrea Ferrari in the translating.
In the Sunday School hour, with the year drawing to a close, rather than take up for one Lord’s day the material on godly family life, I headed in a similar direction to my father in recent weeks (he has been working on Reformation history). I was not quite as focused, going down a more biographical-historical-literary-introductory route. My topic was John Bunyan and The Pilgrim’s Progress. After giving a very brief overview of Bunyan’s life, I looked at the key qualities and themes of The Pilgrim’s Progress before giving some suggestions and hints with regard to profitable reading. The material – less the asides and tangents – is here, here and here on this blog.
In the morning worship, I preached from Nahum 1.2-3. Man in his wisdom does not know God: he twists and misrepresents him in various ways and for various reasons. Christians, too, can be tempted to water God down, smooth off his rough edges, and seek to explain and defend what God has simply chosen to reveal. Not so Nahum: he has A right view of God. He puts his oracle against Nineveh in the context of God’s character, weaving together threads of colours that fallen reason would declare clashing, but which – in his inspired hands – become a dazzling and harmonious tapestry.
He speaks of the holiness of God. God is jealous for the glory of his name and the good of his people. He cannot bear for either one to be assaulted. His fiery zeal for his own glory works itself out in a righteous indignation against all sin and transgression, a pure and perfect anger directed against wickedness.
He speaks of the mercy of God: he is “slow to anger.” God is slow to frown, to threaten, to punish, and to execute punishment, but quick to smile, promise, forgive and reprieve. If he were not, the world, every nation, every community, and every person would be consumed, destroyed and desolate, or sunk into hell.
He speaks of the power of God: he is “great in power.” His power is demonstrated in the government of his anger: there is no sin in it, but it is “wrath reserved” – controlled and contained. But we must not forget might when we remember mercy, for if we abuse the latter we will feel the former. The Lord can accomplish all his purposes with regard both to his friends and his enemies, his promises and threatenings, blessing and curse.
Finally, he speaks of the justice of God: “he will not at all acquit.” God’s justice is inflexible, and he never treats sin as innocence. He responds to all unrighteousness with perfect justice. Down through history, this reality is demonstrated, but nowhere more fearfully than in hell, nor so awesomely as at Calvary. The atonement at Calvary tells us that the God who will not at all acquit nevertheless puts forth power in mercy to save sinners.
In part, this sermon arose from the grief and frustrations of engaging unconverted men and women, and their ignorance about the Lord God. As Christians, we must let God be God, and declare him in all the fulness of his character, not being ashamed of all he is, nor willing to water down the perfections of any of his attributes. Let saints rejoice, then, if the holy, merciful, powerful, and just God is our God: if God is for us, who can be against us? Let sinners tremble, and flee at once to Jesus in order to be delivered from wrath: if God is against us, who can be for us?
In the evening service, I preached from Mark 6.34 on The good Shepherd’s compassion. How do we respond to the multitudes milling around us as we make our way through the world? Apathy bordering on disregard? Alarm breeding fear? Distaste mutating into disgust? Horror leading to despair? Bewilderment producing abandonment? Dislike growing into loathing? Pity sneering into contempt? A sense of duty that twists into guilty action?
All such reactions are unlike that of Jesus.
We considered Jesus Christ’s reaction to the multitude. He was “moved with compassion” – the sight of these men and women gripped his soul with a heartfelt sympathy. His heart went out to them in sincere and genuine pity. This is the sinless reaction of the God-man. If we are to have the same reaction, we must build on the same foundation. Therefore we must observe Jesus Christ’s perspective on the multitude. He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd.” There was, to his eye, a physical resemblance, and to his heart, a spiritual reality. They were lost and needy: wandering, exposed, hungry, and vulnerable. This is God’s heart toward sinners. How do we know? Because it was Jesus’ heart toward sinners, and we have known ourselves the compassion of the Saviour if we are believers.
Finally, we must note Jesus Christ’s response to the multitude. Mark focuses on instruction: he began to teach them many things. Mark 6.12 and Luke 9.11 suggest that his message was what it was from the beginning: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1.15). He shepherded them with gospel truth, dealing faithfully and tenderly with their souls, shepherding them as God had promised he would (Ex 34.11-16). But there is also provision: he both healed their sicknesses (Lk 9.11) and fed their bodies (Mk 6.35 ff.). The open heart that is good produces both an open mouth to speak good and an open hand to do good.
Is this our heart toward the milling multitude? Do we have an increasingly Christlike sacrificial love for the lost and needy? We must pray for and cultivate such a spirit as we come into contact with the wandering sheep of our day, pointing them always to the great and good Shepherd himself, Jesus the compassionate Christ.
We were thin on the ground during the day. There were a number of people away, and a good number who were sick. Our regular fellowship meal suffered an imbalance: the generous sick sent in their contributions, and the happy healthy were overwhelmed with a feast of good things. After the evening service the normal refreshments became an exercise in consuming leftovers, and we were able to send away a good bit of food with young families and some of the more needy members of the congregation.
Joel Beeke provides us with some valuable insights into Calvin’s approach to the Psalms here. Said Calvin: “There is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this exercise of piety.”
Soli Deo Gloria, 2002 (353pp, hbk)
Henry Scougal’s flame burned brightly but briefly – he died at the age of 28, after a life of service to the Lord God. He is probably best known as the author of The Life of God in the Soul of Man, which is included here, together with Scougal’s surviving sermons, as well as ‘Reflections’ and ‘Essays’, and a funeral sermon preached on the occasion of his death. Scougal demonstrates keen insight, acute reasoning, and a capacity for piercing application. The author’s piety and devotion are the hallmarks of almost every page. Sermons such as those on loving our enemies, and the importance and difficulty of the ministry, powerfully press home both the privileges and duties of Christian life and service.
Some may find Scougal’s wordiness an occasional obstacle to progress (despite an assurance in the sermon preached at his funeral that ‘his words and expressions [were always] so plain, proper, and well chosen’). His philosophical training (he was a Professor of Philosophy at the age of nineteen) is evident both in style and content. While none would deny the acuteness of his mind, some of the reasoning he employs, and the fine distinctions he makes, might confuse those unused to such an approach.
The Life of God in the Soul of Man shows Scougal at his best. He approaches the heart of true religion so as to prompt an earnest concern to make our calling and election sure. It is easy to see why Whitefield was so deeply moved on reading it. However, it is worth noting that while Whitefield was stirred up to seek God by reading Scougal, he does not appear to have found salvation until some months had passed, and that only after a dangerous pursuit of asceticism (Dallimore’s George Whitefield, I.73-77). Reading Scougal’s treatise, it is possible to understand Whitefield’s response (although we cannot say whether Scougal prompted Whitefield’s asceticism, or merely stirred up his tendency to it). Scougal is in no doubt that without the divine life in a man’s soul he is unregenerate, and he makes it abundantly clear that ‘religion in the souls of men is the immediate work of God; and all our natural endeavours can neither produce it alone, nor merit those supernatural aids by which it must be wrought’. Having asserted this, he then goes on to prompt us – rather than simply to ‘lie loitering in the ditch, waiting until Omnipotence pulls us up from there’ – to undertake our own ‘concurring endeavours’ as a means of banishing ‘perplexing fears and desponding thoughts’ (p.44). While it is often by such strenuous exertions after holiness, dependent on God, that the reality of ‘the divine life’ in the soul is made manifest (1Jn 2.3; 3.3), it seems possible – as may have been the case with Whitefield – that an unconverted man or woman, awakened to concern for their soul, might initially attempt to ‘work up’ or pursue thoughts, feelings, desires, and actions that are more usual fruits of faith, not its necessary forerunners (shunning sin, resisting temptation, denial of self, enmity to the world, outward and inward acts of devotion). There is, then, some scope for confusion: holiness is not the way to Christ, but rather Christ the way to holiness. To begin at the wrong point (as some might after reading Scougal) risks causing despair that goes beyond the hopelessness a convicted sinner often (and rightly) feels with regard to his or her own attempts at salvation. In similar fashion, Scougal’s admirable self-denial and heavenly-mindedness sometimes seem to lie on the border of asceticism, and may push some readers in that direction.
The Life of God in the Soul of Man, and Scougal’s other writings, will undoubtedly continue to benefit many who are seeking Christ, and those who desire to follow him ever more closely; in this respect, there is much here to rebuke and exhort, particularly those who are too much at ease in their pursuit of holiness. However, there may be a danger that some will misinterpret what Scougal has to say to their own discouragement or detriment, as the line he draws is a fine one. Care should be taken, especially in offering Scougal to those concerned for their souls, to ensure that a Biblical balance is maintained at all points.
These observations are presented in the sure knowledge that we are in the presence of a man whose pursuit of and attainments in holiness far exceed most of our own; he constantly challenges us to a purer and more earnest pursuit of godliness. Scougal suggested that some ‘may overact some part of religion, and be too much in some particular exercises of it, neglecting others as necessary duties’, not through ‘an excess of piety, but rather a defect of discretion’ (p.96). The closeness of Scougal’s walk with God is not to be doubted; we still do well to exercise discretion on our own accounts.