The Wanderer

"As I walked through the wilderness of this world . . ."

Posts Tagged ‘sin

Bearing fruit

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From J. C. Ryle:

The Christianity which I call fruit-bearing, that which shows its Divine origin by its blessed effects on mankind – the Christianity which you may safely defy unbelievers to explain away – that Christianity is a very different thing. Let me show you some of its leading marks and features.

(1) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always taught the inspiration, sufficiency, and supremacy of Holy Scripture. It has told people that God’s Word written is the only trustworthy rule of faith and practice in religion, that God requires nothing to be believed that is not in this Word, and that nothing is right which contradicts it. It has never allowed reason, a person’s mind, or the voice of the Church, to be placed above, or on a level with Scripture. It has steadily maintained that, however imperfectly we may understand it, the Old Book is meant to be the only standard of life and doctrine.

(2) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always taught fully the sinfulness, guilt and corruption of human nature. It has told people that they are born in sin, deserve God’s wrath and condemnation, and are naturally inclined to do evil. It has never allowed that men and women are only weak and pitiable creatures, who can become good when they please, and make their own peace with God. On the contrary, it has steadily declared a person’s danger and vileness, and their pressing need of a Divine forgiveness and satisfaction for their sins, a new birth or conversion, and an entire change of heart.

(3) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always set before people the Lord Jesus Christ as the chief object of faith and hope in religion, as the Divine Mediator between God and humanity, the only source of peace of conscience, and the root of all spiritual life. It has never been content to teach that He is merely our Prophet, our Example, and our Judge. The main things it has ever insisted on about Christ are the atonement for sin He made by His death, His sacrifice on the cross, the complete redemption from guilt and condemnation by His blood, His victory over the grave by His resurrection, His active life of intercession at God’s right hand, and the absolute necessity of simple faith in Him. In short, it has made Christ the Alpha and the Omega in Christian theology.

(4) Fruit-bearing Christianity has always honored the Person of God the Holy Spirit, and magnified His work. It has never taught that all professing Christians have the grace of the Spirit in their hearts, as a matter of course, because they are baptized, or because they belong to the Church, or because they partake of Holy communion. It has steadily maintained that the fruits of the Spirit are the only evidence of having the Spirit, and that those fruits must be seen, – that we must be born of the Spirit, led by the Spirit, sanctified by the Spirit, and feel the operations of the Spirit, – and that a close walk with God in the path of His commandments, a life of holiness, charity, self-denial, purity, and zeal to do good, are the only satisfactory marks of the Holy Spirit.

Summary ► Such is true fruit-bearing Christianity. Well would it have been for the world if there had been more of it during the last nineteen centuries! Too often, and in too many parts of Christendom, there has been so little of it, that Christ’s religion has seemed extinct, and has fallen into utter contempt. But just in proportion as such Christianity as I have described has prevailed, the world has benefited, the unbeliever has been silenced, and the truth of Divine revelation been acknowledged. The tree has been known by its fruit.

via J.C. Ryle Quotes.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 23 May 2012 at 17:04

When I am God

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Sin is inherently anti-God, inherently pro-self. Each time I sin I make a statement about myself and a statement about (and against) God. Each time I sin, I declare my own independence, my own desire to be rid of God; I declare that I can do better than God, that I can be a better god than God.

Tim Challies does an outstanding job of unpacking this declaration. Please check it out.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 March 2012 at 12:11

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The noetic effects of sin

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According to Al Mohler (as summarised here), there are at least fourteen noetic effects of sin (i.e. the effects of sin on the intellect):

  1. Ignorance
  2. Distractedness
  3. Forgetfulness
  4. Prejudice
  5. Faulty perspective
  6. Intellectual fatigue
  7. Inconsistency
  8. Failure to draw right conclusions
  9. Intellectual apathy
  10. Dogmatism and closed-mindedness
  11. Intellectual pride
  12. Vain imagination
  13. Miscommunication
  14. Partial knowledge

Check . . . check . . . check . . .

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 17 March 2012 at 19:33

Posted in While wandering . . .

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Hidden in the heart

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. . . one of the consequences of the internet-trained brain seems to be an inability to hide very much – not much of the Word of God, to be sure – in our hearts. That results in a crippling weakness in the battle for godliness.

Yours truly offers some thoughts on hiding God’s word in our hearts at Reformation21.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 5 March 2012 at 23:10

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As fallen and frail as anyone else

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Conrad Mbewe tells us the sad story of a pastor who fell into sin and – overwhelmed by shame – took his own life. He draws out a single, primary lesson:

I have only one appeal: Pray for your pastors. The devil is real and there is only one that is stronger than him—not your pastor but God. Satan knows that if he can strike the shepherd, the sheep will scatter. Hence, he targets pastors with his most potent missiles. Many Christians are oblivious to this fact. They tend to simply admire their pastors as if they were super humans. They project their childhood invincible comic heroes (Spider Man, Mr America, etc.) upon their pastors and simply watch them as they fight sin with heroic energy in the community and in the church. They forget that pastors are also fallen creatures.

I will be the first one to confess that there are times when my struggle with my own fallen nature is so vicious that I wish I were still a private unknown Christian plying out my trade as a mining engineer in the Zambian copper mines. I would be less overwhelmed by my failures and would not carry so many people down with me. So, I end this blog post with an impassioned plea that all those who know me (and especially the Christians in my own church) should pray for me to run my race well to the very end. As Paul pleaded with the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:25), I say, “Brethren, pray for us!”

Pastors are not super creatures but fallen creatures, not uber-Christians but frail and dependent saints. I heard of the story told by a man not given to fancy and exaggeration of how he knew of Satan-worshippers pleading with their dark lord for the downfall of pastors, to the destruction of their families and the devastation of their churches. It was for this reason that I wrote in A Portrait of Paul that if

you find faithful men full of the Spirit of Christ, diligent in the discharge of their stewardship from God, then esteem them, love them, help them, encourage them, be open to them, and never stop praying for them. There is a real sense in which the shepherds of Christ’s flock wear an insignia that marks them out as overseers. In the same way that snipers in combat identify officers by their badges and pick them off first to create disorder and confusion in the ranks, so Satan’s snipers will seek to pick off those who wear the insignia of the shepherd, knowing that it is still a functioning principle that if you can strike the shepherd, the sheep will be scattered. Bless God that the Great Shepherd is beyond their reach, but be warned that the undershepherds are exposed still and daily expose themselves by the very nature of the work that they do on the front lines in Christ’s great battle with sin in the flesh, in the world, and from the devil.

The devil passionately hates Christ’s pastors. If he can make them stumble, he knows that more often than not others will stumble with them. Your faithful pastors are marked men. For their sake and for Christ’s, daily stand in the gap for them; pray that their faith may not fail them.

Every tale told of a man, a brother in arms, fallen in this way, ought to bring to the hearts of God’s under-shepherds the cry, “Lord, keep me!” and an answering prayer in the hearts of all those who are led by those men.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 21 November 2011 at 20:34

Review: “Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys Who Are Sick of Porn”

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Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys Who Are Sick of Porn

Tim Challies

Cruciform Press, 2010, 108pp., paperback/download, $5-10 (depending on format)

ISBN 978-1453807286

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 21 March 2011 at 08:10

“I would not put my Christ to shame”

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Hampstead L.M.

I would not put my Christ to shame,
By living with an empty name;
Not lightly with the righteous sit
But prove at last a hypocrite.

[ It’s not the battle that I fear
But secret ties to sins too dear;
Some lust that will not bow the knee
But takes the throne where Christ should be. ]

A rebel heart for sin a womb:
A polished bowl, a whitewashed tomb,
That wears its righteousness outside –
Within the horrors still abide:

A sinful habit not confessed;
A cherished passion much caressed;
A wanton glance of gross desire
That gathers fuel for the fire.

A mind in filthiness immersed;
The path of folly much traversed;
Sin’s passing pleasures not released;
Deep-hid iniquities increased.

[ Here in the secret place you look,
Each human heart an open book,
Each thought and intent of the mind
Is plain to you, though men are blind. ]

So search me, Lord, my actions try,
If sin will not then I must die –
The whole of life a battlefield,
And everything to Jesus yield.

So as I go – within, without –
Let all things show there is no doubt:
No lie, no show, no veil, no sham,
What I profess be what I am:

The true wheat from the holy seed,
And not a damned but gilded weed,
Christ’s striving servant through and through,
And prove at last a Christian true.

©JRW

See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 28 August 2010 at 21:13

Ceaseless warfare

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The imperative necessity for this work of mortification arises from the continued presence of the evil nature in the Christian. Upon his believing in Christ unto salvation, he was at once delivered from the condemnation of the Divine law, and freed from the reigning power of sin; but “the flesh” was not eradicated from his being, nor were its vile propensities purged or even modified. That fount of filthiness remains unchanged unto the end of his earthly career. Not only so, but is ever active in its hostility to God and holiness: “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17). Thus, there is a ceaseless conflict in the saint between indwelling sin and inherent grace. Consequently there is a perpetual need for him to mortify or put to death not only the actings of indwelling corruption but also the principle itself. He is called upon to engage in ceaseless warfare and not suffer temptation to bring him into captivity to his lusts. The Divine prohibition is “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness [enter into no truce, form no alliance with] but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). Say with Ephraim of old, “What have I to do with idols?” (Hosea 14:8).

No real communion with God is possible while sinful lusts remain unmortified. Allowed evil draws the heart away from God, and tangles the affections, discomposes the soul, and provokes the Holy One to close His ears against our prayers: “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?” (Ezek. 14:3). God cannot in any wise delight in an unmortified soul: for Him to do so would be denying Himself or acting contrary to His own nature. He has no pleasure in wickedness and cannot look with the slightest approval on evil. Sin is a mire, and the more miry we are the less fit for His eyes (Psalm 40:2). Sin is leprosy (Isaiah 1:6), and the more it spreads the less converse will the Lord have with us. Deliberately to keep sin alive is to defend it against the will of God and to challenge combat with the Most High. Unmortified sin is against the whole design of the Gospel – as though Christ’s sacrifice was intended to indulge us in sin, rather than redeem us from it. The very end of Christ’s dying was the death of sin: rather than sin should not die, He laid down His life.

Arthur W. Pink, Practical Christianity (Baker, 141)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 6 August 2010 at 16:20

Rebuking sin

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I am not sure for whom this advice from J. C. Ryle is more terrifying – the gospel minister himself, or those whom he serves:

We see, in the third place, how boldly a faithful minister of God ought to rebuke sin. John the Baptist spoke plainly to Herod about the wickedness of his life. He did not excuse himself under the plea that it was imprudent, or impolitic, or untimely, or useless to speak out. He did not say smooth things, and palliate the king’s ungodliness by using soft words to describe his offence. He told his royal hearer the plain truth, regardless of all consequences, – “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Here is a pattern that all ministers ought to follow. Publicly and privately, from the pulpit and in private visits, they ought to rebuke all open sin, and deliver a faithful warning to all who are living in it. It may give offence. It may entail immense unpopularity. With all this they have nothing to do. Duties are theirs. Results are God’s.

No doubt it requires great grace and courage to do this. No doubt a reprover, like John the Baptist, must go to work wisely and lovingly in carrying out his master’s commission, and rebuking the wicked. But it is a matter in which his character for faithfulness and charity are manifestly at stake. If he believes a man is injuring his soul, he ought surely to tell him so. If he loves him truly and tenderly, he ought not to let him ruin himself unwarned. Great as the present offence may be, in the long run the faithful reprover will generally be respected. “He that rebukes a man, afterwards shall find more favor than he that flatters him with his tongue.” (Prov. 28:23.)

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark, 119-120

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 1 July 2010 at 15:00

Newton to Ryland: a humble confession

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Here is a further snippet from Wise Counsel (Banner of Truth, 2010, p380-381: do buy it).  This is one of Newton’s last letters to his long-time friend.  His eyes failing but his faith growing, Newton writes with humble honesty about his failings and his faith in Jesus Christ. We may not be able to speak of crowded and attentive congregations, but who can deny the continued blackness of a heart struggling against sin, and the comfort of a Christ who will by no means cast out those who come to him?

I am still favoured with a crowded, attentive, affectionate and peaceful auditory and we are not without tokens of the Lord’s gracious presence in the midst of us. And though I am a poor creature still, though my best is defective and defiled, and my imagination, which I call my thorn in the flesh, is sadly wild and ungovernable, though I live upon daily and hourly forgiveness, yet perhaps it was never better with me upon the whole, than at present. My trials are few. My temporal mercies are many; I hope my sense of them is heightened by contrast, when I look around me, or when I look back to my state of wickedness and misery in Africa, which has seldom been two hours together out of my waking thoughts, since I last left that dreary coast in the year 54. Indeed, I need not look so far back as Africa, for alas! the proofs I have had of the depravity and deceitfulness of my heart, have been much stronger since I knew the Lord, than before! How often have I sinned against light and love, and a sense of multiplied obligations! I have been remarkably a child of Providence, but my experiences have not been so much diversified. I have not suffered much from the fiery darts, and black temptations of Satan. On the other hand, I have no raptures or high consolations to speak of. I never was for an hour like the apostle at a loss to know whether I was in or out of the body. The sin of my nature cleaves close to me as my skin, and infects all I say or do. But it is given to me to believe that the blood of Jesus cleanseth from all sin, and that when He said, ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out’, he meant as He spoke, and will make his word good. Upon this rock I build. Other refuge have I none. If He was strict to mark what is amiss, He might justly cast me off now in my old age, and forsake me, when my strength faileth; be He has said, ‘In no wise.’ Thus Noah when in the ark had the comfort of knowing that he was safe, but I suppose he did not derive much comfort from the circumstances of his voyage.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 25 June 2010 at 10:52

Preaching against sin

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According to the thought police, we are no longer able to say that certain things are sin in a voice that can be heard.  The Telegraph reports.  Al Mohler comments.

While I appreciate our civil freedoms, and hope that we will retain and enjoy them for many years to come, I do sometimes suspect that this is simply another indication of our increasingly-speedy return to the norm of Christian persecution that we see in the Scriptures and throughout church history.  It will do Christians – and perhaps especially preachers and pastors – to count the cost, and then seek, in dependence on the crucified Christ, to take up the cross and get on with the task of following him.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 4 May 2010 at 10:44

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Jerome’s struggle, Christ’s victory

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A little more from Marcus Loane’s The Hope of Glory: An Exposition of the Eighth Chapter in the Epistle to the Romans (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1968):

The great Latin Father, Jerome, has left a clear record of the way in which he tried to obey the law and to subdue the flesh in his own strength.  He lived as a hermit alone in the desert and gave himself up to weeks of fasting; but he had to confess at last that he could not banish the dark passions which were always ready to haunt his mind.  “How often,” so he wrote to Eustochium, “when I was living in the desert, parched by a burning sun, did I fancy myself among the pleasures of Rome!  Sackcloth disfigured my unshapely limbs, and my skin from long neglect had become as black as an Ethiopian’s . . . And although in my fear of hell I had consigned myself to this prison, where I had no companions but scorpions and wild beasts, I often thought myself amid bevies of girls.  My face was pale, and my frame chilled with fasting; yet my mind was burning with desire, and the fires of lust kept bubbling up before me when my flesh was as good as dead.  Helpless, I cast myself at the feet of Jesus.”  Jerome found that only one thing could meet his need; nothing could take its place.  God was willing to do for him what he could not do for himself: he had to cast himself, helpless, at the feet of Jesus. (28-29)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 15 April 2010 at 07:26

Stopping or starting?

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Where do you start the process of filtering out the filth that is so prevalent in the media of our age (not that it was lacking in the media of any age, although the methods of delivery are certainly growing in sophistication and accessibility)?

Perhaps you extol the virtue of ‘the stop button.’  This is more of a mental promise or function than a physical reality.  You read the description on the back of the DVD, and you undertake to fast forward through the nudity or vulgarity or violence.  The warning flashes up on the screen, “Some viewers may find the following scenes disturbing.”  The guidance informs you that a film or programme “Contains strong language and sexual content.”  The blurb on the back of a book hints at passages that will contain descriptions of physical brutality or sexual activity, or the author has a certain reputation.  The magazine will have a section dedicated to celebrities in various stages of recreational undress.  The link from that image suggests more of the same.  The video still offers so much more than that single image.  But you will stop or skip those bits.  If it is music, you won’t listen to ‘that track/those tracks’ off the album you downloaded, or you will fast forward through the most offensive verse of the song, or will just switch off from those particular lyrics.

Whatever the medium in question, you undertake to resort to the stop button when the content crosses the line.

Is that really the best approach?

At your best (and what a sad reality that is), you might draw the line in a healthy place.  At your best, you might just follow through with your determination, and press the stop button, or fast forward through the offensive section.  But we are rarely at our best, and our best is often not good enough.  Especially once the imagination is engaged, you get set up.  Words and images are employed to draw you in.  The hook is baited, tantalising and titivating, raising your expectations and lowering your resistance.  By the time ‘that scene’ comes in, your appetite is whetted, your passions are aroused, your sensitivity has diminished, your conscience is seared, and your determination not to sin is fatally compromised.

That fact is that you may well have compromised your determination not to sin when you first laid hands on the stuff.  The process may have begun when you read the warning, which acted more as a promise, and lured out remaining sin.  As James said, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (1.14-15).

Even if you stop short of the worst excesses, the imagination can carry you places where the media itself would not have taken you.  Your sinful heart will fill in the gaps for you.  Even if you think you can handle it, there will be times and places when those words, images, and stirred-up reactions and desires will flood back in with a vividness and intensity that – apart from the power of God in Christ – will leave you utterly helpless.  Temptation will come calling, and you will have armed him with a bazooka to blow away all your good intentions.  You will find that you were not merely observing, you were learning, you were being trained to sin.

If we are believers, should be sailing so close to the wind?  We might claim that we have liberty in these areas, but surely that is the freedom to pursue godliness and not the freedom to flirt with unrighteousness?  Are you free to get as close to the edge as possible or free to keep away from it?  Those who consistently play on the edge of the cliff are the ones who tend to fall off.  The promises of God’s sustaining grace are not given to those who test him by dancing on cliff edges, but to those who – in the way of duty or providence – find themselves walking a dangerous path that they could not avoid.  You might say that we must not cut ourselves off from our society and culture, that we need to understand and appreciate the way that people live and think.  Fine, but does the need to recognise poison require that you drink it?

Consider, then, that the best thing may be not to rely on the stop button, but not to touch the start button.  Do not take the first step on the road, and you will be in no danger of reaching its end, and remember that the path of wickedness is increasingly slippery and steep.  You start treading slowly and carefully, and soon find yourself careering and careening without any hope of stopping.  Let us learn to flee from sin, and not even to pass the time of day with it.  Sin presents itself as a smiling friend; an arm around your shoulder is the best facade for the moment when the assassin plunges the stiletto between your ribs.

Learn the signs, and take them as warnings to your soul and not as promises to your sinful appetites and desires.  When the danger is real, forget the stop button.  Don’t press start.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 13 January 2010 at 11:11

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Simeon’s wisdom

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Sean Lucas has been reading about Charles Simeon.  Here are some pearls of wisdom on evil speaking:

The longer I live, the more I feel the importance of adhering to the rules which I have laid down for myself in relation to such matters.

1st To hear as little as possible what is to the prejudice of others.

2nd To believe nothing of the kind till I am absolutely forced to it.

3rd Never to drink into the spirit of one who circulates an ill report.

4th Always to moderate, as far as I can, the unkindness which is expressed toward others.

5th Always to believe, that if the other side were heard, a very different account would be given of the matter….

The more prominent any person’s character is, the more likely he is to suffer in this way; there being in the heart of every man, unless greatly subdued by grace, a pleasure in hearing anything which may sink others to his level, or lower them in the estimation of the world. We seem to ourselves elevated in proportion as others are depressed.

. . .  and on struggles with the heart:

You see yourself guilty of sins which preclude a hope of forgiveness. Your friends have endeavored to shew you that you judge yourself too hardly. In this they have erred for, if they have succeeded, they have given you a peace founded on your own worthiness, a peace that would last no longer than till the next temptation arose in your mind….if they have not succeeded, they have only confirmed you in your views.

I say to you the reverse. Your views of yourself (your own sinfulness) though they may be erroneous, are not one atom too strong. Your sinfulness far exceeds all that you have stated, or have any conception of. ‘Your heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?’

But I have an effectual remedy for them all–‘the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.’ I grant that you are lost and utterly undone. So are all mankind–some for gross sins–some for impenitence–some for other sins. You are lost for the very sins you mention, hardness of heart, indifference, etc…

Do this then, take a book as large as any that is in the Bank of England. Put down all the sins of which either conscience or a morbid imagination can accuse you. Fear not to add to their number all that Satan himself can suggest.

And this I will do. I will put on the creditor side ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’ and will leave you to draw the balance.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 13 October 2009 at 13:51

Trained to laugh

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This is an interesting post from Greg Gilbert highlighting an address by John Piper in which, because they had been primed to laugh over the course of the previous hours of speaking, his opening confession of sin (quirky, but not inappropriate in the context) produced gales of laughter from the audience (I think it is an audience, and not a congregation per se).  Indeed, the more Piper protests his seriousness, the funnier the audience seems to find him.

Gilbert does not so much draw conclusions as ask questions, and they are good ones.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 7 October 2009 at 15:00

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“Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds”

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Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds by Chris Brauns

Crossway, 2008 (235pp, pbk)

“I am sorry.”

Sorrow is not repentance, and it does not readily promote forgiveness.  Have you sinned against God?  Then I am also sorry.  Did you sin against me?  If so, I am sorry again.  But what are you going to do about it?  Too often we address sin with vagueness and uncertainty: “I am so sorry if I have offended you in any way.”  It is not ungracious to say, in effect, “Yes, brother, you have offended me, and you have done so by sinning in the following specific way.”  That opens the door for more than mere regret; it opens the door for repentance and ultimately resolution by means of genuine forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a vital cog in the machine of a Christian’s world.  It is a fundamental aspect of his relationship to God, a critical element of his other relationships (perhaps most significantly to his brothers and sisters in Christ), and a clearly-stated facet of his life of godliness: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you” (Eph 4.32).

The implication of this title is that forgiveness too often remains packed – tucked away, neither opened nor explored nor enjoyed, either in our own relationship with God, nor in our relationships with others.  Unforgiven sins become baggage with which we are loaded down.  Perhaps we fear engagement in the acts of seeking, extending, and receiving forgiveness, seeking to avoid the cost and weight of entertaining such a disposition or entering into such a transaction.

Unpacking Forgiveness (Brauns)And – make no mistake – forgiveness is both costly and weighty.  We have become accustomed to hearing many sincere people – often professing Christians – declare in the face of all manner of atrocities that they forgive the perpetrators any degree and number of crimes.  There is no transaction, merely declaration.  Others indulge in a therapeutic forgiveness that has to do more with how we feel about reality rather than with reality itself.  It cheapens grace and does not restore broken relationships.  So what does it mean to forgive and be forgiven?

In this book, Chris Brauns unpacks a definition of forgiveness that makes God’s dealings with us the model for our dealings with others.  The author begins with the gospel, and then sets out the divine pattern before applying both to the Christian reader.  Divine forgiveness is “a commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to him, although this commitment does not eliminate all consequences” and so the Christian’s forgiveness is “a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.”  As is immediately evident, he makes forgiveness an act by the offended party (who is disposed to forgive) conditional upon the repentance of the offending party.  If your instinct is to worry at some of these words and phrases, you should read the book to consider some of the nuances of meaning and context that Braun introduces to the discussion.

Common misconceptions are addressed and common questions (e.g. concerning the prayers of our Lord on the cross and Stephen at his stoning) are answered.  The need to forgive and to be forgiven is urged, and practical counsel given as to how we might go about extending forgiveness to others.  An unforgiving spirit and a bitter attitude are both addressed, as are the matters of dealing with the unrepentant and the difficulty of long memories and painful recollections.

Speaking of pain, Brauns is not afraid to bring in examples that are harrowing to read.  The nature of the illustrations serves the points that are being made, not least by driving home the gulf that a forgiving spirit is ready and willing to cross.  At the same time, certain examples are unpleasant, and some might feel that their use constitutes overkill.  The same point could be made with less extreme examples, and perhaps with a little less detail.  There is a danger of inviting readers to indulge in “forgiveness voyeurism” where the grossness of the sins forgiven becomes more interesting than the matter of forgiveness itself.

In addition, one wonders what perspective lies behind one or two phrases that grate on the ear; perhaps further explanation or more careful wording would help.  There are also weaker sections of the book where the writing comes across as a little light.  Again, there may be foundations to the assertions made, but they are too well hidden to support the tone.

However, it is the conditionality of forgiveness that will offend many: the assertion that God’s forgiveness (and ours after it) is gracious but not free, being dependent on repentance in the offender.  I think that Brauns makes a Scripturally-solid case for his conviction, and to some extent this book shifts the onus on to those who assert an unconditional forgiveness to demonstrate flaws in Brauns’ case and defend their own.

That said, this is a fairly brief, practical and popular treatment of the issue.  There are depths that could be explored which are bypassed; there are questions raised (for example, in the mapping of human forgiveness over the divine pattern) that do not get addressed in the course of the book.  If faith figures in the conditionality of divine forgiveness, why not (or how) in human forgiveness?  Where or how does the sovereign granting of faith and repentance in divine forgiveness figure (or not) in the human model?  What more could be said about the consequences of sin even where forgiveness of sin is absolute?

The fundamental premise of this book is sound; its aim is right and profitable; its honesty is necessary and its straightforwardness helpful.  The lessons of this book would be well heard by many.  I can think immediately of several people whose spiritual health might be immediately improved by reading and responding in righteousness to this book.  I am one of them.

Though the reader might wish for a little more here and there, this is a book that most saints wishing to deal with their own sins and the sins of others, desiring to emulate God in Christ more closely, and looking or needing to ditch the baggage of unforgiven sin, will find exceedingly useful.  It calls us to plant the cross firmly in the centre of our dealings with others, and so to honour the God who has done precisely the same with us.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 20 August 2009 at 13:41

Posted in Reviews

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“Lord, on your mercy I depend”

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Deep Harmony L.M.

Lord, on your mercy I depend,
On the sweet cleansing of Christ’s blood,
And on your mercy without end
I gladly rest my hopes of good.

Though this weak soul is sore oppressed,
Mercy prevents my being moved;
Mercy bestows each gracious test,
That every grace be truly proved.

Grant me the strength to do your will,
To love and bless your holy name;
Lord, I require your mercy still,
Which is from age to age the same.

Though my corruptions rise again,
And evil mars each duty done,
God’s mercy covers every sin,
Through the blest merits of the Son.

Lord, on your mercy I depend
For every good that here I know,
And on your mercy without end
I all my hopes of heaven bestow.

©JRW

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See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 15 July 2009 at 09:16

Grieving the Holy Spirit

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charles-haddon-spurgeon-12-preachingThere are few more important questions for a Christian to answer than this: “How may we grieve the Spirit?”  Charles Spurgeon answers the question with his usual penetrating insight into the mind of God and his regular piercing application to the heart of man.

I come now to the third part of my discourse, namely, THE GRIEVING OF THE SPIRIT, How may we grieve him, – what will be the sad result of grieving him – if we have grieved him, how may we bring him back again? How may we grieve the Spirit? I am now, mark you, speaking of those who love the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God is in your heart, and it is very, very easy indeed to grieve him. Sin is as easy as it is wicked. You may grieve him by impure thoughts. He cannot bear sin. If you indulge in lascivious expressions, or if even you allow imagination to doat upon any lascivious act, or if your heart goes after covetousness, if you set your heart upon anything that is evil, the Spirit of God will be grieved, for thus I hear him speaking of himself. “I love this man, I want to have his heart, and yet he is entertaining these filthy lusts. His thoughts, instead of running after me, and after Christ, and after the Father, are running after the temptations that are in the world through lust.” And then his Spirit is grieved. He sorrows in his soul because he knows what sorrow these things must bring to our souls. We grieve him yet more if we indulge in outward acts of sin. Then is he sometimes so grieved that he takes his flight for a season, for the dove will not dwell in our hearts if we take loathsome carrion in there. A cleanly being is the dove, and we must not strew the place which the dove frequents with filth and mire, if we do he will fly elsewhere. If we commit sin, if we openly bring disgrace upon our religion, if we tempt others to go into iniquity by our evil example, it is not long before the Holy Spirit will begin to grieve. Again, if we neglect prayer, if our closet door is cob-webbed, if we forget to read the Scriptures, if the leaves of our Bible are almost stuck together by neglect, if we never seek to do any good in the world, if we live merely for ourselves and not to Christ, then the Holy Spirit will be grieved, for thus he saith, “They have forsaken me, they have left the fountain of waters, they have hewn unto themselves broken cisterns.” I think I now see the Spirit of God grieving, when you are sitting down to read a novel and there is your Bible unread. Perhaps you take down some book of travels, and you forget that you have got a more precious book of travels in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the story of your blessed Lord and Master. You have no time for prayer, but the Spirit sees you very active about worldly things, and having many hours to spare for relaxation and amusement. And then he is grieved because he sees that you love worldly things better than you love him. His spirit is grieved within him; take care that he does not go away from you, for it will be a pitiful thing for you if he leaves you to yourself. Again, ingratitude tends to grieve him. Nothing cuts a man to the heart more, than after having done his utmost for another, he turns round and repays him with ingratitude or insult. If we do not want to be thanked, at least we do love to know that there is thankfulness in the heart upon which we have conferred a boon, and when the Holy Spirit looks into our soul and sees little love to Christ, no gratitude to him for all he has done for us, then is he grieved.

Again, the Holy Spirit is exceedingly grieved by our unbelief. When we distrust the promise he bath given and applied, when we doubt the power or the affection of our blessed Lord. then the Spirit saith within himself – “They doubt my fidelity, they distrust my power, they say Jesus is not able to save unto the uttermost;” thus again is the Spirit grieved. Oh, I wish the Spirit had an advocate here this morning, that could speak in better terms than I can. I have a theme that overmasters me, I seem to grieve for him; but I cannot make you grieve, nor tell out the grief I feel. In my own soul I keep saying, “Oh, this is just what you have done – you have grieved him.” Let me make a full and frank confession even before you all. I know that too often, I as well as you have grieved the Holy Spirit. Much within us has made that sacred dove to mourn, and my marvel is, that he has not taken his flight from us and left us utterly to ourselves.

Now suppose the Holy Spirit is grieved, what is the effect produced upon us? When the Spirit is grieved first, he bears with us. He is grieved again and again, and again and again, and still he bears with it all. But at last, his grief becomes so excessive, that he says, “I will suspend my operations; I will begone; I will leave life behind me, but my own actual presence I will take away.” And when the Spirit of God goes away from the soul and suspends all his operations what a miserable state we are in. He suspends his instructions; we read the word, we cannot understand it; we go to our commentaries, they cannot tell us the meaning; we fall on our knees and ask to be taught, but we get no answer, we learn nothing. He suspends his comfort; we used to dance, like David before the ark, and now we sit like Job in the ash-pit, and scrape our ulcers with a potsherd. There was a time when his candle shone round about us, but now he is gone; he has left us in the blackness of darkness. Now, he takes from us all spiritual power. Once we could do all things; now we can do nothing. We could slay the Philistines, and lay them heaps upon heaps, but now Delilah can deceive us, and our eyes are put out and we are made to grind in the mill. We go preaching, and there is no pleasure in preaching, and no good follows it. We go to our tract distributing, and our Sunday-school, we might almost as well be at home. There is the machinery there, but there is no love. There is the intention to do good, or perhaps not even that, but alas! there is no power to accomplish the intention. The Lord has withdrawn himself, his light, his joy, his comfort, his spiritual power, all are gone. And then all our graces flag. Our graces are much like the flower called the Hydrangia, when it has plenty of water it blooms, but as soon as moisture fails, the leaves drop down at once. And so when the Spirit goes away, faith shuts up its flowers; no perfume is exhaled. Then the fruit of our love begins to rot and drops from the tree; then the sweet buds of our hope become frostbitten, and they die. Oh, what a sad thing it is to lose the Spirit. Have you never, my brethren, been on your knees and have been conscious that the Spirit of God was not with you, and what awful work it has been to groan, and cry, and sigh, and yet go away again, and no light to shine upon the promises, not so much as a ray of light through the chink of the dungeon. All forsaken, forgotten, and forlorn, you are almost driven to despair. You sing with Cowper:-

“What peaceful hours I once enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill.

Return, thou sacred dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest,
I hate the sins that made thee mourn,
And drove thee from my breast.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from its throne,
And worship only thee.”

Ah! sad enough it is to have the Spirit drawn from us. But, my brethren, I am about to say something with the utmost charity, which, perhaps, may look severe, but, nevertheless, I must say it. The churches of the present day are very much in the position of those who have grieved the Spirit of God; for the Spirit deals with churches just as it does with individuals. Of these late years how little has God wrought in the midst of his churches. Throughout England, at least some four or five years ago, an almost universal torpor had fallen upon the visible body of Christ. There was a little action, but it was spasmodic; there was no real vitality. Oh! how few sinners were brought to Christ, how empty had our places of worship become; our prayer-meetings were dwindling away to nothing, and our church meetings were mere matters of farce. You know right well that this is the case with many London churches to this day; and there be some that do not mourn about it. They go up to their accustomed place, and the minister prays, and the people either sleep with their eyes or else with their hearts, and they go out, and there is never a soul saved. The pool of baptism is seldom stirred; but the saddest part of all is this, the churches are willing to have it so. They are not earnest to get a revival of religion. We have been doing something, the church at large has been doing something. I will not just now put my finger upon what the sin is, but there has been something done which has driven the Spirit of God from us. He is grieved, and he is gone. He is present with us here, I thank his name, he is still visible in our midst. He has not left us. Though we have been as unworthy as others, yet has he given us a long outpouring of his presence. These five years or more, we have had a revival which is not to be exceeded by any revival upon the face of the earth. Without cries or shoutings, without fallings down or swooning, steadily God adds to this church numbers upon numbers, so that your minister’s heart is ready to break with very joy when he thinks how manifestly the Spirit of God is with us. But brethren, we must not be content with this, we want to see the Spirit poured out on all churches. Look at the great gatherings that there were in St. Paul’s, and Westminster Abbey, and Exeter Hall, and other places, how was it that no good was done, or so very little? I have watched with anxious eye, and I have never from that day forth heard but of one conversion, and that in St. James’ Hall, from all these cervices. Strange it seems. The blessing may have come in larger measure than we know, but not in so large a measure as we might have expected, if the Spirit of God had been present with all the ministers. Oh would that we may live to see greater things than we have ever seen yet. Go home to your houses, humble yourselves before God, ye members of Christ’s church, and cry aloud that he will visit his church, and that he would open the windows of heaven and pour out his grace upon his thirsty hill of Zion, that nations may be born in a day, that sinners may be saved by thousands – that Zion may travail and may bring forth children. Oh! there are signs and tokens of a coming revival. We have heard but lately of a good work among the Ragged School boys of St. Giles’s, and our soul has been glad on account of that; and the news from Ireland comes to us like good tidings, not from a far country, but from a sister province of the kingdom. Let us cry aloud to the Holy Spirit, who is certainly grieved with his church, and let us purge our churches of everything that is contrary to his Word and to sound doctrine, and then the Spirit will return, and his power shall be manifest.

And now, in conclusion, there may be some of you here who have lost the visible presence of Christ with you; who have in fact so grieved the Spirit that he has gone. It is a mercy for you to know that the Spirit of God never leaves his people finally; he leaves them for chastisement, but not for damnation. He sometimes leaves them that they may get good by knowing their own weakness, but he will not leave them finally to perish. Are you in a state of backsliding, declension, and coldness? Hearken to me for a moment, and God bless the words. Brother, stay not a moment in a condition so perilous; be not easy for a single second in the absence of the Holy Ghost. I beseech you use every means by which that Spirit may be brought back to you. Once more, let me tell you distinctly what the means are. Search out for the sin that has grieved the Spirit, give it up, slay that sin upon the spot; repent with tears and sighs; continue in prayer, and never rest satisfied until the Holy Ghost comes back to you. Frequent an earnest ministry, get much with earnest saints, but above all, be much in prayer to God, and let your daily cry be, “Return, return, O Holy Spirit return, and dwell in my soul.” Oh, I beseech you be not content till that prayer is heard, for you have become weak as water, and faint and empty while the Spirit has been away from you. Oh! it may be there are same here this morning with whom the Spirit has been striving during the past week. Oh yield to him, resist him not; grieve him not, but yield to him. Is he saying to you now “Turn to Christ?” Listen to him, obey him, he moves you. Oh I beseech you do not despise him. Have you resisted him many a time, then take care you do not again, for there may come a last time when the Spirit may say, “I will go unto my rest, I will not return unto him, the ground is accursed, it shall be given up to barrenness.” Oh! hear the word of the gospel, ere ye separate, for the Spirit speaketh effectually to you now in this short sentence – “Repent and be converted everyone of you, that your sins may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord,’’ and hear this solemn sentence, “He that believeth in the Lord Jesus and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” May the Lord grant that we may not grieve the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 29 June 2009 at 20:11

Colchester: scene of Spurgeon’s conversion

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KelvedonStambourneColchesterLavenhamDedham ∙ Maldon

charles-haddon-spurgeon-10

By the time Spurgeon was fifteen years old, the family were living in Colchester, and Spurgeon was a student at Newmarket Academy, not too far away.  His father was the honorary pastor of the church in Tollesbury, about eleven miles from Colchester.  On the morning of Sunday 6th January, 1850, the weather was extremely bad.  Charles’ mother suggested that rather than risk the ride over to Tollesbury with his father, the boy should find a church in Colchester to attend.

By this time in his life, Charles Spurgeon was profoundly affected by a deep and accurate sense of his own sinfulness, and could find no rest.  He said of this period:

When I was for many a month in this state, I used to read the Bible through, and the threatenings were all printed in capitals, but the promises were in such small type I could not for a long time make them out; and when I did read them, I did not believe they were mine; but the threatenings were all my own. “There,” said I, “when it says, ‘He that believeth not shall be damned,’ that means me!” But when it said, “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him,” then I thought I was shut out. When I read, “He found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears;” I thought, “Ah! that is myself again.” And when I read, “That which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing ; whose end is to be burned;” “Ah!” I said, “that describes me to the very letter.” And when I heard the Master say, “Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?” “Ah!” thought I, “that is my text; He will have me down before long, and not let me cumber the ground any more.” But when I read, “Ho! everyone that thirsteth ; come ye to the waters;” I said, “That does not belong to me, I am sure.” And when 1 read, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;” I said, “That belongs to my brother, to my sister,” or those I knew round about me; for they were all “heavy laden,” I thought, but I was not; and though, God knoweth, I would weep, and cry, and lament till my heart was breaking within me, it any man had asked me whether I sorrowed for sin, I should have told him, “No, I never had any true sorrow for sin.” “Well, do you not feel the burden of sin?” “No!” “But you really are a convinced sinner?” “No,” I should have said, “I am not.” Is it not strange that poor sinners, when they are coming to Christ, are so much in the dark that they cannot see their own hands? They are so blind that they cannot see themselves; and though the Holy Spirit has been pleased to work in them, and give them godly fear and a tender conscience, they will stand up, and declare that they have not those blessings, and that in them there is not any good thing, and that God has not looked on them nor loved them.  (Autobiography, 1:85-86)

And again:

When I was in the hand of the Holy Spirit, under conviction of sin, I had a clear and sharp sense of the justice of God. Sin, whatever it might be to other people, became to me an intolerable burden. It was not so much that I feared hell, as that I feared sin; and all the while, I had upon my mind a deep concern for the honour of God’s name, and the integrity of His moral government. I felt that it would not satisfy my conscience if I could be forgiven unjustly. But then there came the question,—”How could God be just, and yet justify me who had been so guilty?” I was worried and wearied with this question; neither could I see any answer to it. Certainly, I could never have invented an answer which would have satisfied my conscience.  (Autobiography, 1:98)

Artillery StreetThe young man with his tortured soul set out into the snow, but the weather became rapidly worse.  Here it is good to recall that even the weather is in the hands of the sovereign God (Jb 37.6; 38.22), and a means of bringing his elect where he will, when he will.  Prevented from going much further, Charles turned into a side street, and came to the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Artillery Street.

We will let him give us the narrative, from his Autobiography (1:105-111).

Personally, I have to bless God for many good books; I thank Him for Dr. Doddridge’s Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul; for Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted; for Alleine’s Alarm to Sinners; and for James’s Anxious Enquirer; but my gratitude most of all is due to God, not for books, but for the preached Word,—and that too addressed to me by a poor, uneducated man, a man who had never received any training for the ministry, and probably will never be heard of in this life, a man engaged in business, no doubt of a humble kind, during the week, but who had just enough of grace to say on the Sabbath, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” The books were good, but the man was better. The revealed Word awakened me; but it was the preached Word that saved me; and I must ever attach peculiar value to the hearing of the truth, for by it I received the joy and peace in which my soul delights. While under concern of soul, I resolved that I would attend all the places of worship in the town where I lived, in order that I might find out the way of salvation. I was willing to do anything, and be anything, if God would only forgive my sin. I set off, determined to go round to all the chapels, and I did go to every place of worship; but for a long time I went in vain. I do not, however, blame the ministers. One man preached Divine Sovereignty; I could hear him with pleasure, but what was that sublime truth to a poor sinner who wished to know what he must do to be saved? There was another admirable man who always preached about the law; but what was the use of ploughing up ground that needed to be sown? Another was a practical preacher. I heard him, but it was very much like a commanding officer teaching the manoeuvres of war to a set of men without feet. What could I do? All his exhortations were lost on me. I knew it, was said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved;” but I did not know what it was to believe on Christ. These good men all preached truths suited to many in their congregations who were spiritually-minded people; but what I wanted to know was,—”How can I get my sins forgiven?”—and they never told me that. I desired to hear how a poor sinner, under a sense of sin, might find peace with God; and when I went, I heard a sermon on “Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” which cut me up still worse; but did not bring me into rest. I went again, another day, and the text was something about the glories of the righteous; nothing for poor me! I was like a dog under the table, not allowed to eat of the children’s food. I went time after time, and I can honestly say that I do not know that I ever went without prayer to God, and I am sure there was not a more attentive hearer than myself in all the place, for I panted and longed to understand how I might be saved.

Artillery Street Chapel

I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache. The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was,—

“LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”

Artillery Street Chapel (interior)

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus—”My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” said he, in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some on ye say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin’.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.'”

Then the good man followed up his text in this way:—”Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!”

Artillery Street Chapel (interior - plaque)

When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death,—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said,—I did not take much notice of it,—I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.” Yet it was, no doubt, all wisely ordered, and now I can say,—

Ever since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

I do from my soul confess that I never was satisfied till I came to Christ; when was yet a child, I had far more wretchedness than ever I have now; I will even add, more weariness, more care, more heart-ache than I know at this day. I may be singular in this confession, but I make it, and know it to be the truth. Since that dear hour when my soul cast itself on Jesus, I have found solid joy and peace; but before that, all those supposed gaieties of early youth, all the imagined ease and joy of boyhood, were but vanity and vexation of spirit to me. . That happy day, when I found the Saviour, and learned to cling to His dear feet, was a day never to be forgotten by me. An obscure child, unknown, unheard of, I listened to the Word of God; and that precious text led me to the cross of Christ. I can testify that the joy of that day was utterly indescribable. I could have leaped, I could have danced; there was no expression, however fanatical, which would have been out of keeping with the joy of my spirit at that hour. Many days of Christian experience have passed since then, but there has never been one which has had the full exhilaration, the sparkling delight which that first day had. I thought I could have sprung from the seat on which I sat, and have called out with the wildest of those Methodist brethren who were present, “I am forgiven! I am forgiven! A monument of grace! A sinner saved by blood! “My spirit saw its chains broken to pieces, I felt that I was an emancipated soul, an heir of Heaven, a forgiven one, accepted in Christ Jesus, plucked out of the miry clay and out of the horrible pit, with my feet set upon a rock, and my goings established. I thought I could dance all the way home. I could understand what John Bunyan meant, when he declared he wanted to tell the crows on the ploughed land all about his conversion. He was too full to hold, he felt he must tell somebody.

Artillery Street Chapel (big plaque)

It is not everyone who can remember the very day and hour of his, deliverance; but, as Richard Knill said, “At such a time of the day, clang went every harp in Heaven, for Richard Knill was born again,” it was e’en so with me. The clock of mercy struck in Heaven the hour and moment of my emancipation, for the time had come. Between half-past ten o’clock, when I entered that chapel, and half-past twelve o’clock, when I was back again at home, what a change had taken place in me! I had passed from darkness into marvellous light, from death to life. Simply by looking to Jesus, I had been delivered from despair, and I was brought into such a joyous state of mind that, when they saw me at home, they said to me, “Something wonderful has happened to you;” and I was eager to tell them all about it. Oh! there was joy in the household that day, when all heard that the eldest son had found the Saviour, and knew himself to be forgiven,—bliss compared with which all earth’s joys are less than nothing and vanity. Yes, I had looked to Jesus as I was, and found in Him my Saviour. Thus had the eternal purpose of Jehovah decreed it; and as, the moment before, there was none more wretched than I was, so, within that second, there was none more joyous. It took no longer time than does the lightning-flash; it was done, and never has it been undone. I looked, and lived, and leaped in joyful liberty as I beheld my sin punished upon the great Substitute, and put away for ever. I looked unto Him, as He bled upon that tree; His eyes darted a glance of love unutterable into my spirit, and in a moment, I was saved. Looking unto Him, the bruises that my soul had suffered were healed, the gaping wounds were cured, the broken bones rejoiced, the rags that had covered me were all removed, my spirit was white as the spotless snows of the far-off North; I had melody within my spirit, for I was saved, washed, cleansed, forgiven, through Him that did hang upon the tree. My Master, I cannot understand how Thou couldst stoop Thine awful head to such a death as the death of the cross,—how Thou couldst take from Thy brow the coronet of stars which from old eternity had shone resplendent there; but how Thou shouldst permit the thorn-crown to gird Thy temples, astonishes me far more. That Thou shouldst cast away the mantle of Thy glory, the azure of Thine everlasting empire, I cannot comprehend: but how Thou shouldst have become veiled in the ignominious purple for a while, and then be mocked by impious men, who bowed to Thee as a pretended king; and how Thou shouldst be stripped naked to Thy shame, without a single covering, and die a felon’s death;—this is still more incomprehensible. But the marvel is that Thou shouldst have suffered all this for me! Truly, Thy love to me is wonderful, passing the love of women! Was ever grief like Thine? Was ever love like Thine, that could open the flood-gates of such grief? Was ever love so mighty as to become the fount from which such an ocean of grief could come rolling down?

There was never anything so true to me as those bleeding hands, and that thorn-crowned head. Home, friends, health, wealth, comforts—all lost their lustre that day when He appeared, just as stars are hidden by the light of the sun. He was the only Lord and Giver of life’s best bliss, the one well of living water springing up unto everlasting life. As I saw Jesus on His cross before me, and as I mused upon His sufferings and death, methought I saw Him cast a look of love upon me; and then I looked at Him, and cried,—

Jesu, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly.

He said, “Come,” and I flew to Him, and clasped Him; and when He let me go again, I wondered where my burden was. It was gone! There, in the sepulchre, it lay, and I felt light as air; like a winged sylph, I could fly over mountains of trouble and despair; and oh! what liberty and joy I had! I could leap with ecstasy, for I had much forgiven, and I was freed from sin. With the spouse in the Canticles, I could say, “I found Him;” I, a lad, found the Lord of glory; I, a slave to sin, found the great Deliverer; I, the child of darkness, found the Light of life; I, the uttermost of the lost, found my Saviour and my God; I, widowed and desolate, found my Friend, my Beloved, my Husband. Oh, how I wondered that I should be pardoned! It was not the pardon that I wondered at so much; the wonder was that it should come to me. I marvelled that He should be able to pardon such sins as mine, such crimes, so numerous and so black; and that, after such an accusing conscience, He should have power to still every wave within my spirit, and make my soul like the surface of a river, undisturbed, quiet, and at ease. It mattered not to me whether the day itself was gloomy or bright, I had found Christ; that was enough for me. He was my Saviour, He was my all; and I can heartily say, that one day of pardoned sin was a sufficient recompense for the whole five years of conviction. I have to bless God for every terror that ever scared me by night, and for every foreboding that alarmed me by day. It has made me happier ever since; for now, if there be a trouble weighing upon my soul, I thank God it is not such a burden as that which bowed me to the very earth, and made me creep upon the ground, like a beast, by reason of heavy distress and affliction. I know I never can again suffer what I have suffered; I never can, except I be sent to hell, know more of agony than I have known; and now, that ease, that joy and peace in believing, that “no condemnation” which belongs to me as a child of God, is made doubly sweet and inexpressibly precious, by the recollection of my past days of sorrow and grief. Blessed be Thou, O God, for ever, who by those black days, like a dreary winter, bast made these summer days all the fairer and the sweeter! I need not walk through the earth fearful of every shadow, and afraid of every man I meet, for sin is washed away; my spirit is no more guilty; it is pure, it is holy. The frown of God no longer resteth upon me; but my Father smiles, I see His eyes,—they are glancing love; I hear His voice,—it is full of sweetness. I am forgiven, I am forgiven, I am forgiven!

When I look back upon it, I can see one reason why the Word was blessed to me as I heard it preached in that Primitive Methodist Chapel at Colchester; I had been up betimes crying to God for the blessing. As a lad, when I was seeking the Saviour, I used to rise with the sun, that I might get time to read gracious books, and to seek the Lord. I can recall the kind of pleas I used when I took my arguments, and came before the throne of grace: “Lord, save me; it will glorify Thy grace to save such a sinner as I am! Lord, save me, else I am lost to all eternity; do not let me perish, Lord! Save me, O Lord, for Jesus died! By His agony and bloody sweat, by His cross and passion, save me!” I often proved that the early morning was the best part of the day; I liked those prayers of which the psalmist said, “In the morning shall my prayer prevent Thee.”

Artillery Street Chapel (exterior)The church building at Colchester remains the home of an evangelical congregation.  It is still in a back street, tucked away where it is difficult to see.  Its best-known convert is commemorated without and within.  As I understand it, it is still the case that only a few of God’s faithful people meet within in order to hear the Word of God being preached.  But who is to say that in this, or some other congregation like it in one of the world’s back alleys, a young man will not turn in tomorrow with his soul burdened under a profound sense of sin, and the unknown preacher will stumblingly make known to him the gospel, and the Spirit of God will take that word and bless it to his sin-sick heart, and make him whole.  Who knows but that there are young men being captured by Christ, who – enraptured with his saving love – will make it their life’s work to proclaim Jesus to a needy world.  And it will ever be the work of the Spirit to bless that word, and to make it effectual in the hearts of all God’s elect.

Artillery Street Chapel (blue badge)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 6 June 2009 at 09:40

“A sensible reformation of attitudes”

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That is what Tony Blair, erstwhile Prime Minister and now roaming head and chief cheerleader of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, is calling for with regard to homosexuality in a Times article today.  The piece reports on Mr Blair’s interview with Johann Hari of the gay magazine, Attitude, in which

the former Prime Minister, himself now a Roman Catholic, said that he wanted to urge religious figures everywhere to reinterpret their religious texts to see them as metaphorical, not literal, and suggested that in time this would make all religious groups accept gay people as equals.

Asked about the Pope’s stance, Mr Blair blamed generational differences and said: “We need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith.”

Later on in the piece, we are offered the following profound insight:

He continued: “What people often forget about, for example, Jesus or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad, is that their whole raison d’être was to change the way that people thought traditionally.”

Worryingly, Mr Blair also has confidence that things are ‘improving’ elsewhere:

He also claimed that the mood was changing in evangelical circles, which have been long been anti-gay – the source of the dispute that has taken the worldwide Anglican Communion to the brink of schism.

Referring to his contacts with evangelical groups in the US and elsewhere through the foundation, he said: “I think there is a generational shift that is happening. If you talk to the older generation, yes, you will still get a lot of pushback, and parts of the Bible quoted, and so on. But if you look at the younger generation of evangelicals, this is increasingly for them something that they wish to be out of – at least in terms of having their position confined to being anti-gay.”

So, Mr Blair’s alleged Christianity is based entirely on temporally shifting metaphor, rather than eternally solid truth.  This allows him to interpret Jesus – “or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad,” because we great religious thinkers are capable of seeing, apparently, that their diametrically opposed notions are perfectly reconcilable – as merely a rebel and progressive, concerned only to change the way people think traditionally.  In keeping with his pointless and nebulous view of faith, the architect of faith, Jesus, is simply trying to keep us on the move, bring us change, which is good for its own sake, being merely whatever is not traditional.  “Yes, we can.”

We also see the all-too-familiar vacuous idea of an ‘evangelical’ trotted out, probably more to do with a style of worship, dress and hair than anything substantial (for example, rooted in the gospel).  Here is a generational shift: old people will still give you those old chestnuts, “parts of the Bible quoted, and so on.”  But the young people, the radicals, the emergents, they are being nicely liberalised, and there is hope for them.  They do not want to be defined by their stance on homosexuality, as if any genuine Christian defines himself or herself by such a stance.

The Bible is not “anti-gay” in the sense that it tells us to hate homosexuals.  It is “anti-gay” in the sense that it is anti-sin, exposing homosexuality – along with a multitude of other sins – as what it really is: an offence against the God that made us.  Sexual sins, including homosexuality, get unusually short shrift because they are a high-handed demonstration of worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Rom 1.25).  The idea that true religion is defined simply by its stance on homosexuality is utterly vacuous.  Christians have always accepted “gay people as equals”:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.  As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.”  “Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3.9-20)

See: absolute equality.  Oops, there’s me, only in my thirties, and quoting parts of the Bible, and so on . . .

But the point is that the Bible levels every man before God: we are all, by nature and deed, guilty.  And it is to guilty sinners that God makes known his righteousness in Christ Jesus, his incarnate Son:

For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:22-26)

True religion is men and women saved from their sins by the overwhelming and glorious grace of God in his Son Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the good news, preached to sinners of all kinds, outwardly virtuous or evidently vicious, religious or irreligious or pagan, and each with a rotten heart.  It is the declaration of salvation, of a true and lasting change of heart, accomplished by the power of God in the hearts of men and women whose ingrained pattern of life was once to think and speak and act contrary to the Lord God of heaven.  The apostle Paul describes such sinners:

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.  (Romans 1.26-32).

Yes, homosexuality is in there (note, Mr Blair, in the New Testament, and not just in those tricky Levitical bits that you are so quick to dismiss).  In fairness, though, it is a fairly comprehensive catalogue, and not one that leaves any of us with a leg to stand on.

To such men and women the Scriptures of God offer an uncompromising warning and a glorious hope:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.  (1 Corinthians 6.9-11)

That is how true Christians define themselves: as new creatures washed in the blood of Jesus, set apart to serve God in the pursuit of holiness, indwelt by the Spirit of God and so continuing to pursue likeness to Jesus Christ.

Quite apart from these flaws in his thinking, the principle on which Mr Blair builds his argument is also inherently unstable.  What happens if accepting and promoting homosexuality becomes the norm?  Would Tony Blair have us then overthrow the new tradition?  If Tony Blair and those who think like him establish the agenda for the world, is that the time for everyone to rise up and change the way things are for something new?  This would be a recipe for chaos, a rolling maul of pointless, directionless change.

Given such thinking, would it not be about time we rethought slavery?  Being against slavery has become quite a traditional idea in the West.  Is it time to ring the changes once again?  It seems that the right to choose to end the life of a child in the womb is substantially accepted by the majority of people today.  Is that traditional enough for Mr Blair to call for a change?

Of course, the very premise on which he is arguing is patently a nonsense, and it is actually not what Mr Blair wants at all.  He wants to fix a tradition, to establish a norm, in his own image, and in the image of those who think like him.  Like every sinful man, in his heart he wants to dethrone God and be God himself.

What a heap of confusion!  We end up with a faith which has no foundation, a Jesus who is no God, and a gospel defined only by what it is not.  What a miserable and empty vision for religion.  What on earth – seriously, what on earth – does such a perspective have to offer?

How much more credible, coherent, consistent, hopeful, real and glorious, is the gospel of the true and living God, eternal and unchangeable:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  (2 Corinthians 5.17-21)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 8 April 2009 at 09:21

How to avoid dealing with sin

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Pyro Dan Phillips gives guidance on the excuses we can use when trying to avoid addressing sin with which we have legitimately been charged.

Here are the four cards for fudgers of the issue to play (the last is my favourite on account of hearing it so regularly in a certain situation):

1.      The “grace” card. This is antinomianism, whether nascent or in full-bloom. What? How dare I? Don’t I believe in grace? Brother, hear me: I not only believe in grace, I have staked my eternal destiny on the grace of God in Christ. But Biblical grace is how God freely saves me FROM sin’s guilt and power (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 2:11-14). The moment you adduce grace as if it were how God makes it “okay” for me to live under sin’s power without feeling guilt, you’re no evangelical, you’re at best dangerously close to being an antinomian, and you’re having crumpets and tea with a virulent heresy (cf. Jude 1:4).

2.      The “judge not” card. This may be the laziest and silliest. Jesus says “Judge not” (Matthew 7:1), then immediately tells us how to bring others’ sins to their attention (i.e. not hypocritically, vv. 3-5); then tells us not to give holy things to pigs and dogs (v. 6). So we have to judge enough to identify sin, pigs, and dogs. What mustn’t we do? We mustn’t judge others’ hearts, which we can’t see (Proverbs 14:10; 20:27; Jeremiah 17:9; 1 Corinthians 2:11). In a very similar vein, there is the…

3.      “Yeah… but you did it with the wrong attitude.” As a response to a truthful confrontation, this is barely more contentful than “Oh yeah?” and “So’s your old man.” It’s more along the lines of, “Oh, well, er… hey, look! A comet!” – except phrased as an accusation. Oddly, the “wrong attitude” set is very judgmental when it comes to mind-reading and heart-examining anyone who dares to try to obey Jesus’ command to discern (Matthew 7:3-6) and rebuke (Luke 17:3). At its worst, it evolves into…

4.      Three magic words: “You’re not loving.” Ahh yes, consider the incandescent splendor of The Love CardTM. Do you tell me (truthfully!) that I’m breaking the first, second, third, fifth, and whatever-else commandments? Oh yeah? Well, it doesn’t matter, because… you’re not loving! So there! Now I don’t have to deal with my sin! I’m a victim, you’re Torquemada! The beauties of this pathetic, craven dodge are literally countless. Behold, and marvel:

  • Hey, presto! The subject is changed! Mission Accomplished! We’re not talking about my (actual) sin anymore, we’re all about your (alleged) lovelessness in pointing it out! It’s… er… Martinelli time!
  • It’s like calling someone a “racist”: you are in sin, but your brother is now The Accused, he’s assumed guilty, and the more he tries to defend himself, the worse he looks.
  • The bar remains unreachable, and can be raised world without end. “I think you missed this… what about that?… I still think you’re….”
  • Unlike your sin, this standard is so vast and borderless that you can use it and re-use until everyone loses interest or dies. Who ever loves enough – purely enough, selflessly enough, heartily enough? Suppose the poor chap works diligently on his attitude of love three or four times; then you get to say, “Why do you keep harping on this? I think you have issues!” It’s sheer genius, of a dark sort.
  • Here’s the kicker: you (or the person whose sin you’re enabling) are the ones in sin, but now you look holy and pious, and the other guy looks bad!
  • You can simply run out the clock until everyone wearies of the subject, and the person who brought it up (to honor Christ with believing obedience, guard the holy name of God, and do you good) just looks bad.
  • And, hey! You get to keep your sin! Because evanjellybeans just don’t care about God-shaming, sinner-hardening, testimony-ruining, soul-destroying, kill-Christ sin anymore!

Too true.  Read it all.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 30 March 2009 at 14:51

“A Young Man in Christ” #2: Truly human

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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.

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 14 February 2009 at 09:00

Kept back

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I am a great sinner, and I am a gross sinner.

However, I am neither as great nor as gross as I might have been and might be still.

I have thought today of the many times – many particular times – at certain periods of my life especially, when the only thing that kept me from greater and grosser sins was God’s restraining mercy.

dangerous-path-3Think of it in your own life: think of all the times when you had the opportunity but God restrained the inclination, or the inclination but God removed the opportunity.  Before you were saved, however far you went, you were not entirely unrestrained.  That restraint is God’s merciful kindness.  After you were saved, during periods of immaturity, ignorance, wilfulness, or backsliding, can you not look back and say, “Lord, though I sinned in countless ways, yet you preserved me from worse still that – but for your everlasting love – surely I would have committed.”

My heart is a petrol-soaked rag, and temptation a lit match.  How often has God spared me from sins that I did not even know were lurking, turning thoughts, eyes, hands, feet or ears from a certain direction at a vital moment?  Think of how many snares lie about us, and how many you avoid without ever knowing that they are there.

We are great and gross sinners.  And yet, even in that, we are monuments of mercy, because were it not for the restraining power of a gracious God, we would be fouler still by far.  Praise God that he keeps us from sinning, and praise him for the provision of one who – when we sin – is able to cleanse us from all transgression.

Who can understand his errors?  Cleanse me from secret faults.  Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me.  Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression.  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.  (Ps 19.12-14)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 11 February 2009 at 10:40

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“Death By Love: Letters from the Cross”

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Death By Love: Letters from the Cross by Mark Driscoll

Crossway, 2008 (257pp, hbk)

Death By Love (see the website) puts the reality of substitutionary atonement front and centre.  Its opening salvo is aimed at some of the false and foolish notions of Christ’s death that have gained currency in recent years.  Christ is shown, from the Scriptures of God, to have died in accordance with his Father’s will and design, voluntarily offering himself up as a sacrifice in the place of sinners.  God’s justice and mercy are repeatedly shown to kiss in this book, and both are exalted in the process.

death-by-love

Having laid this solid foundation, Mark Driscoll – the primary author of the bulk of each chapter – then goes on to apply Christ’s crosswork to a variety of pastoral case-studies.  In twelve separate chapters, the author writes what is in effect a pastoral letter to each of twelve people.  Each chapter follows the same pattern: in a page or two, the situation itself is briefly outlined and explained.  The twelve recipients of the letters are extremely varied, and tend toward more extreme circumstances: one wonders whether such portraits tend toward the sensational, which might serve on the one hand to highlight the nature of the issues or, on the other, to cloud the principles being applied in the often uncomfortable detail of the problem.

Katie is a haunted Christian struggling to escape memories of sexual sins in her past and needing to face up to the realities of spiritual warfare and the victory of Christ over Satan and his minions; the theme here is Christus victor.  Thomas is a slave to lust, and occasionally confesses his sin to pastors as a release of pressure on his conscience – he needs to see the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  Luke is humiliated and out for blood after he found out from his profoundly-repentant wife that – just before they were both converted – she had slept with his best friend; he needs to see Jesus as his new covenant sacrifice.  David is a control freak whose Christianity seems to consist in his obedience to a multitude of self-imposed rules – whether or not he is truly converted is difficult to discern, but he needs to grasp that Jesus is his gift righteousness.  John molested a child and is being crushed under the weight of his awful guilt: unless he sees Jesus as his justification he will die without hope.  Bill’s father beat him but has recently been converted, while Bill finds his father’s anger in his own heart even if he does not use his father’s outward violence, and is struggling to resolve all these tensions, which resolution he will find in Jesus his propitiation.  Before she was converted Mary was raped repeatedly by an abusive boyfriend and it has marred all her subsequent relationships, including her present marriage to a Christian man: feeling herself to be damaged goods, she needs to grasp that Christ is her expiation.  Gideon is Mark Driscoll’s son, and his daddy wants him to understand – as he grows up surrounded by Christians and God’s truth – that Jesus is his “unlimited limited atonement.”  Hank is a foul old man with a history of gross sin and no understanding of grace who is slowly brought to understand that he deserves God’s condemnation in hell, and will drink every drop of the cup of God’s wrath unless he embraces Jesus as his ransom.  Caleb was casually ungodly until he fell for a Christian woman – pursuing her, he found God pursuing him, and was converted and eventually married her, knowing that she was suffering from a brain tumour that may keep her from having children and living long: Caleb, a vibrant saint, needs Christus exemplar in order to go on loving and serving his wife through these challenges.  Kurt is a vocal non-Christian whose life is a mess and who hates his converted brother: Kurt cannot be reconciled to his brother until Jesus is his reconciliation with God.  Susan is a philosophically-minded young woman who wants to know God and what he is like, and will not do so until she comes to see Christ crucified as the revelation of God.

As is plain from the overview above, some of those to whom Driscoll writes are Christians struggling with some painful experience or difficult prospects.  Others are unbelievers who must come face to face with painful reality in order that they might know Christ accurately.  All need a deeper, more accurate, Spirit-wrought perspective on who he is and what he has done.  Turning the multi-faceted gem of the atoning Christ before us, different aspects of the work of Christ as crucified are brought to bear in each instance.  At the end of each chapter, Gerry Breshears – Mark’s theological fullback – answers some more technical questions about the doctrine expressed in the body of the chapter.

mark-driscoll-1

There is little doubt that this is the most pastoral of Mark Driscoll’s books to date and the least humorous.  That does not mean that it is mushy or dry (although those who read Driscoll because he is funny might find this book a little fusty).  He is at once tender with those agonizing under a genuine sense of guilt and shame or facing a challenge that will overwhelm them apart from Christ, and honest – to the point of painful directness – with regard to sin and sins that are being evaded or ignored.  One individual is called to recognize that “You are a despicable human being.”  Another is informed, “Throughout your life you have sinned against God, and you owe him as well.  As it stands right now, you are on your way to hell, which is the eternal prison for spiritual debtors like you who have ripped God off by living sinful lives.  There is not any way that a good, holy and just God could possibly endorse or even overlook your pathetic life” (110, 187).  Some may resent this language, or the idea of treating someone in this way, but surely unless sinners come to see themselves as despicable men they will not turn to a holy Savior?  There is, perhaps, a constitutional inclination to such robustness in Driscoll, but it is an inclination that many preachers today would do well to embrace in degree: it could be that one reason why there is so little true conviction of sin among those to whom we preach is because we do not preach sin in all its fearful realities, and – in dependence on the Spirit of God – set out to bring men to the point where they break in the face of their awful condition.  Others might phrase it differently, but we need to communicate the same basic message.

Certain themes and topics recur throughout the book.  If read in one sitting, this might feel a little repetitive, but the structure and genre demand that certain notes be sounded again and again, albeit to different people.  However, imagining that many reading this book might turn first (only?) to the chapter that most mirrors their own experience, this becomes a literary and pastoral necessity.  Not everyone is going to take time to dig out the distinction between expiation and propitiation from the introduction, for example, and so it needs to be repeated and particularly applied to individual cases.

There are also some high points of powerful, persuasive and engaging writing in the book: the author paints different word portraits of Jesus and they are often beautiful, being accurately sketched and deeply felt and earnestly presented.  There is more than a little sanctified imagination at points, though it does not often cause any problems, but rather serves the function of the book.

In principle, then, this is a good model of Christ-centred, cross-shaped pastoring, as Driscoll presses the cross into each situation.  As the apostle Paul does in writing his letters to various churches, so Driscoll attempts to do in writing to various individuals.  How does Christ and him crucified resolve the crisis?  Pastors would do well to acknowledge the legitimacy and priority of such an approach, even if they would not dispense the Driscoll pill in the same way.

One element that can become a little grating is how often Mark tries to show his reader how his life mirrored theirs at a certain point.  While he often points to his heart rather than his experience, this is still a dangerous game: it can sometimes give the impression of trying to be an Everyman, which a pastor does not need to be.  Though it may be an effort to show a Christlike sympathy, it does not always work.  Furthermore, some will resent anything that appears to suggest that “I have suffered as you have suffered” (although Christ can truly say that he has suffered beyond what any man has suffered).

Another difficulty lies in some of the theological formulations.  In a book of this sort it is not possible to defend every nuance and phrase of one’s theology, and Driscoll’s confident directness does not always lend itself to this anyway.  I do not, therefore, intend to nitpick about certain phrases and ideas, except to recognise that I would not necessarily embrace every element of every diagnosis, nor every nuance of prescription.  It may be that Mark’s emergent roots have left him as something of a theological jackdaw, nicking bits and pieces of shiny theology from various traditions.  That might not be fair, but there is one major issue that ought to be identified.  Writing to his own son, Mark sets out Jesus “unlimited limited atonement.”  He explicitly denies the heresies of “Christian universalism” and “contemporary Pelagianism” before discussing the following three options: unlimited atonement, limited atonement, and unlimited limited atonement.  The latter is posited as the balancing resolution of the two former, and Driscoll emerges as a hypothetical universalist, or Amyraldian.  As one who is often identified (by others?) as SoRe (i.e. soteriologically reformed) this causes problems.  Although Amyrald[ian]ism may be – wittingly or not – the soteriology de jour among many of the young, restless, and allegedly reformed, it is not itself a genuinely reformed stance.  It is disappointing that – in putting this forward – Mark Driscoll actually undermines the fullness of Christ’s saving work in the very book in which he is trying to exalt him.

There is much to learn from this book, both in principle and in practice, and I think it shows Mark at his best in many respects.  In appreciating and profiting from this book, then, let us read it with wisdom and discernment, and guided by Scripture in the ongoing application of the crucified Lord of Glory to the spiritual needs of men and women of every stripe and in every circumstance.

“I wander often from the way”

with 2 comments

Tresalem 8 8 6. D

I wander often from the way,
And sin afflicts me every day:
Oh, when shall I be pure?
Christ leads me to the path again,
And washes me from every stain,
A cleansing full and sure.

I hear the world’s enticing voice,
That tempts me to a godless choice:
How shall I stand the test?
Christ draws my mind to things above,
To that which I should truly love,
And there I see what’s best.

Weary and weak and full of pain,
I wonder shall I ever gain
Relief when I’m oppressed?
Christ takes me gently by the hand,
He strengthens me, and makes me stand,
And then I am at rest.

Too often full of bitterness,
Anger, frustration, and distress:
When shall I be at peace?
Christ bids me view his life again,
Where tender love and patience reign,
And there my turmoils cease.

All imperfection, falling short
Of every precept I am taught:
Is there no hope for me?
Christ is my hope: he bears my sins,
My heart makes new, my heaven wins,
And there is certainty.

©JRW

straight-and-narrow-way

See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 3 January 2009 at 16:26

Posted in Hymns & psalms

Tagged with , , ,

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