Posts Tagged ‘truth’
For too long we’ve limited the demand of faithfulness to “telling the truth.” To this we must also add “showing His beauty.”
Read all of David Murray’s reasoning.
What can I do for him now? What can I still give?
Flowers? No, the hospital will not permit them in his room, and he would not be able to appreciate them.
Books? No, for he lacks the strength to hold them and the sight to read them.
Food? No, for he can no longer eat, and only drips of water have gone into his body over the last ten days.
Clothes? No, for his emaciated frame will not need them for much longer.
What can I give? The only things I have left to give are truth and love. I can speak of the love of God in Christ and show love by being there and caring as I can. Not to deny the other things, of course, but this actually helps to set priorities for those who are not on their deathbeds. What do men need more than truth and love? We should not wait until death looms before we give these gifts. The only time to prepare for death is life. Not only must I prepare others, God helping me, but I myself must so live as to be ready to die.
Oh touch my heart with grace divine,
The Father, Spirit, Son combine;
Save me through merit not my own:
Great Saviour, touch a heart of stone.
Touch me with mercy sweet, divine,
A sinner by my sins entwined,
My weakness great, my heart untrue,
Only the blood can make me new.
Oh touch me now with truth sublime,
The truth that conquers space and time,
And do what you alone can do:
Make me to know salvation true.
Touch now my heart with peace divine,
Safe knowing that the Lord is mine,
Each day show me undying love:
Show me anew, O heavenly Dove.
Oh touch my heart with love divine,
And let it through my being shine;
Sing out, my soul, to tell his praise,
To bless my God through endless days.
See all hymns and psalms.
Michael Haykin has been going Fuller & Pearce nuts over at the not-too-surprisingly-named Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies blog. Dr Haykin has been editing Andrew Fuller’s Memoir of his friend, “the seraphic Pearce.” He tells us of Fuller’s tearful reaction to the news of his friend’s death, and then informs us that he has discovered a work of Pearce he has previously overlooked: let us hope that this gets an airing, if it has not done so already.
Then we are provided with a series of snippets from both men, giving a window into their hearts and a sketch of their piety:
In many persons the pleasures imparted by religion are counteracted by a gloomy constitution: but it was not so in him. In his disposition they met with a friendly soul. Cheerfulness was as natural to him as breathing; and this spirit, sanctified by the grace of God, gave a tincture to all his thoughts, conversation, and preaching. He was seldom heard without tears; but they were frequently tears of pleasure. No levity, no attempts at wit, no aiming to excite the risibility of an audience, ever disgraced his sermons. Religion in him was habitual seriousness, mingled with sacred pleasure, frequently rising into sublime delight, and occasionally overflowing with transporting joy.
I consider man as a depraved creature, so depraved, that his judgment is as dark as his appetites are sensual; wholly dependent on God, therefore, for religious light as well as true devotion: yet such a dupe to pride as to reject every thing which the narrow limits of his comprehension cannot embrace; and such a slave to his passions as to admit no law but self- interest for his government. With these views of human nature, I am persuaded we ought to suspect our own decisions, whenever they oppose truths too sublime for our understandings, or too pure for our lusts.
If the gospel of Christ be true, it should be heartily embraced. We should yield ourselves to its influence without reserve. We must come to a point, and resolve to be either infidels or Christians. To know the power of the sun we should expose ourselves to his rays: to know the sweetness of honey we must bring it to our palates. Speculations will not do in either of these cases, much less will it in matters of religion. ‘My son,’ saith God, ‘give me thine heart!’
The various kinds of religion that still prevail, the pagan, Mahometan, Jewish, papal, or Protestant, may form the exteriors of man according to their respective models; but where is the man amongst them, save the true believer in Jesus, that overcometh the world? Men may cease from particular evils, and assume a very different character; may lay aside their drunkenness, blasphemies, or debaucheries, and take up with a kind of monkish austerity, and yet all may amount to nothing more than an exchange of vices. The lusts of the flesh will on many occasions give place to those of the mind; but to overcome the world is another thing. By embracing the doctrine of the cross, to feel not merely a dread of the consequences of sin, but a holy abhorrence of its nature—and, by conversing with invisible realities, to become regardless of the best, and fearless of the worst, that this world has to dispense—this is the effect of genuine Christianity, and this is a standing proof of its Divine original. . . . this is true religion.
A little religion, it has been justly said, will make us miserable; but a great deal will make us happy. The one will do little more than keep the conscience alive, while our numerous defects and inconsistencies are perpetually furnishing it with materials to scourge us: the other keeps the heart alive, and leads us to drink deep at the fountain of joy. Hence it is, in a great degree, that so much of the spirit of bondage, and so little of the Spirit of adoption, prevails among Christians. Religious enjoyments with us are rather occasional, than habitual; or if in some instances it be otherwise, we are ready to suspect that it is supported in part by the strange fire of enthusiasm, and not by the pure flame of Scriptural devotion. But in Mr. Pearce, we saw a devotion ardent, steady, pure, and persevering: kindled, as we may say, at the altar of God, like the fire of the temple, it went not out by night nor by day. He seemed to have learnt that heavenly art, so conspicuous among the primitive Christians, of converting everything he met with into materials for love, and joy, and praise.
And, Fuller on true greatness:
. . . the way to true excellence is not to affect eccentricity, nor to aspire after the performance of a few splendid actions; but to fill up our lives with a sober, modest, sincere, affectionate, assiduous, and uniform conduct.
Thank you, Dr Haykin. Ready for more when you are!
The PyroManiacs have posted this great little nugget from C. H. Spurgeon. It comes from “The Weaned Child,” an undated sermon delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle and published in 1875.
“Oh, but really one ought to be acquainted with all the phases of modern doubt.”
Yes, and how many hours in a day ought a man to give to that kind of thing? Twenty-five out of the twenty-four would hardly be sufficient, for the phases of modern thought are innumerable, and every fool who sets up for a philosopher sets up a new scheme; and I am to spend my time in going about to knock his cardhouses over?
Not I! I have something else to do; and so has every Christian minister. He has real doubts to deal with, which vex true hearts; he has anxieties to relieve in converted souls, and in minds that are pining after the truth and the right; he has these to meet, without everlastingly tilting at windmills, and running all over the country to put down every scarecrow which learned simpletons may set up.
We shall soon defile ourselves if we work day after day in the common sewers of scepticism. Brethren, there is a certain highway of truth in which you and I, like wayfaring men, feel ourselves safe, let us travel thereon.
Great God, our eyes are slow to see
The truth your Word contains,
And you alone have power to break
Our understanding’s chains.
Our ears are stopped, our minds are weak,
Our hearts are dull and cold.
How can this be when in your Word
The truth is clear and bold?
So slow our feet to walk your paths;
So slow our hands to learn;
So slow our minds to grasp the truth;
So slow our hearts to burn.
We search the Scriptures and we catch
A fleeting glimpse of Christ.
Remove the scales, arrest our minds,
And grant increasing light.
Have pity, Lord, and help our cause:
How much we long to be
Men of the Word, whose great delight
Is more of Christ to see!
See all hymns and psalms.
This is both poignant and painful. I remember Pastor Ted Donnelly:
Unconverted people may call us glomy. They may consider our meetings old-fashioned and dull, without the sparkle of the polished ecclesiastical comedians. That cannot be helped. But when they are in trouble, in a real crisis, will they turn to the clowns? Will they look for someone to tell them little stories and make them laugh? Time and again we find that people in need are drawn instinctively to those who are serious, in earnest, in touch with real life. They sense a sterling character, an ability to help on a profound level. In the long run, the jester has less impact than the man or woman with tears of compassion. Those who once mocked us may come to discover that ‘it is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools’ (Eccles. 7:5).
HT: Extreme Theology.
PS There are several videos like this that have been proved clever but not genuine. I have no reason to doubt this one, but – should you know otherwise – please let me know and I will remove it immediately.
 Ted Donnelly, Heaven and Hell (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001), 54-55.
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)
Defence of the Truth: Contending for the Faith Yesterday and Today by Michael Haykin
Evangelical Press, 2004 (160 pp, pbk)
The life of the ancient church (circa AD 100-600) is the mine from which Dr Haykin draws the gems which constitute this brief training course in Scriptural apologetics. Shortly after the ministry of the apostles in person had ceased, God raised up a variety of men to lay hold of the apostolic ministry committed to writing and to defend the truth which was then under assault. The author’s six short essays concentrate on six characteristic stands for the truth.
These studies cover a balanced range of topics. They deal with the rebuttal of pagan error concerning the Christian church in the Letter to Diognetus, and Irenaeus of Lyons’ assault on Gnosticism; there is an interesting chapter on millennial views in the early church; we see Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers defending the doctrine of the Trinity, and Augustine setting forth a Christian view of history in The City of God; we learn, too, of Patrick of Ireland’s evangelistic zeal. Some of these names and episodes are far from being common knowledge in the present-day church, and this ought not to be so. Defence of the Truth brings these occasions and individuals to our attention as facts to be remembered, brethren to be esteemed, and examples to be followed.
Each of these vibrant and informative sketches ends with a brief applicatory passage (together with recommendations for further reading), in which the author seeks to press home some of the more obvious lessons from the episode just considered. If there is any particular disappointment with the book, it is that these exhortatory sections could not be more fully developed.
The men held up for our instruction in these pages were fallen and sinful, and we are not asked to pretend otherwise. At points we see good men differing, and the author points out where some of these men were perhaps mistaken, or where a particular emphasis in their writing (even one profitable in their own time) sadly became the seedbed of error in the church many years afterward.
Nevertheless, we should be stirred up as we see men, valiant for truth, standing firm for Christ and his kingdom in an age when – much like our own – the things they loved were under assault. It would be worth our while to take up this training course and to seek to learn from it how better to serve the cause of Christ in our own generation.
Dissidens points us to the seeming disintegration of the emerging church, and suggests a closer look at the relationship between knowledge and piety.
In two posts, linked in theme but not by design, Jeff Smith and Michael Haykin both engage with issues of Baptistic attitudes to church polity, purity, and the progress of the gospel, taking in issues of tradition and catholicity.
Jeff Smith, continuing his series of lessons from 18th century Particular Baptist history, points to Baptist negativity toward the 18th century revival because of their suspicions about those at its forefront: Whitefield and the Wesleys, and the Calvinistic Methodists, for example. Many of those concerns had to do with church polity:
They had a hard time accepting that anything good could come out of a denomination they refused to consider as a true church. This was partly related to what was a commendable and faithful commitment of the Baptists to the importance of biblical church order. In some instances, however, this commitment went wrong by swinging over to the extreme of failing to have a proper spirit of catholicity toward all true Christians.
He draws out some important and challenging questions:
What is the lesson for us as Reformed Baptists as we enter into the 21st century? Well here we are reminded of how important it is to have a catholic spirit toward all true Christians, though they may not be part of our circle of churches. Though some may have difficulty accepting this, God in his sovereignty sometimes greatly blesses and uses men who are not Reformed Baptists; men who don’t have everything right in their ecclesiology, or even men who are wrong in other areas of their theology. They have the gospel and they preach the gospel, but they are lacking in some areas. May I dare to say it, they may even be confused Arminians. Yet God uses them, and He may even use them in ways He’s not using any of us. We need to be able to rejoice in that. We need to ask ourselves, if God raised up some men in our day full of the Holy Spirit; men who are preaching the gospel and whose preaching God is mightily blessing with every biblical evidence of true conversions (not merely decisions, but real conversions), and those men are Methodists or Episcopalians, or Assembly of God or some other denomination, or some other kind of Baptist, other than Reformed Baptist, could we rejoice in that and be thankful for it? Could we even consider those men as our friends and brothers and even work together with them insofar far as we can? Or is our almost immediate knee jerk reaction to be critical and to pick at any and every fault we can find to try to discredit any one God is using who is not one of us?
Related to this, there’s a common mistake we need to be aware of. It’s the error of thinking that there can be no revival without thorough reformation first. It’s true that reformation sometimes precedes revival. Likewise it’s true that we must always be pursuing more and more thorough reformation. If we are not seeking to reform our lives and our churches by the scriptures, it is presumption to expect revival. But in God’s sovereignty it is simply a fact of history that sometimes revival precedes reformation. Some of the Particular Baptists thought there could be no church renewal if there was a neglect of believer’s baptism and the principles of Baptist church government. They were wrong, and because they felt that way, they renounced the revival when it came.
Michael Haykin has been making some similar points:
Take the revival among English and Welsh Calvinistic Baptists at the close of the “long” eighteenth century. In the wake of this dramatic renewal came a fresh evaluation of what constituted the parameters of the Calvinistic Baptist community. During the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries these parameters had been oriented around the concept of the church as a congregation of baptized believers and any missional component largely lost. Revival came to be linked to Baptist polity. This focus among Calvinistic Baptists on ecclesiological issues and their linking of spiritual vitality to church order, however, received a direct challenge from the Evangelical Revival. The participants of this revival, who knew themselves to be part of a genuine movement of the Spirit of God, were mainly interested in issues relating to salvation. Ecclesial matters often engendered unnecessary strife and, in the eyes of key individuals like George Whitefield, robbed those who disputed about them of God’s blessing.
By the end of the century many Calvinistic Baptists agreed. While they were not at all prepared to deny their commitment to Baptist polity, they were not willing to remain fettered by traditional patterns of Baptist thought about their identity. Retaining the basic structure of Baptist thinking about the church they added one critical ingredient drawn from the experience of the Evangelical Revival: the vital need for local Baptist churches to be centres of vigorous evangelism. There is no doubt that this amounted to a re-thinking of Baptist identity. From the perspective of these Baptists, Baptist congregations and their pastors were first of all Christians who needed to be concerned about the spread of the Gospel at home and abroad.
Haykin also draws some positive and challenging conclusions:
May we, the spiritual descendants of those brethren-oh what a joy to have men and women like Andrew Fuller and John Sutcliff, Samuel Pearce and Anne Steele, Benjamin Beddome and Benjamin Francis as our forebears!-not fail to learn the lessons they learned so well!
Oh to treasure the traditions these brothers and sisters have handed on to us, but a pox on traditionalism! This is not a contradiction: to love our traditions, but to want nothing to do with traditionalism. The latter loves the past because it is simply the past and thinks that things were always done better then. The former loves the traditions of the past for they are bearers of truth and we dare not lose that treasure.
Oh to be found faithful to the end of our days to the faith once for all delivered to the saints and which these brethren have handed on to us. But oh to avoid like the plague the aridity of traditionalism in second- and third-order theological truth, not daring to think new thoughts in these areas. Fuller and his friends were not so fearful.
These are important points, and need to be borne in mind. But let us also look forward a little distance from the time my brothers are writing about.
In 1813 the Baptist Union was established, on the back of such endeavours as the Baptist Missionary Society. At the time, it was a distinctively Calvinistic body. It was then restructured in the early 1830s to include General Baptists. That re-establishment was on the broad and undefined basis of “the sentiments generally denominated evangelical.” Those involved seemed to think that they knew what those sentiments were, and they were substantially convinced that such a foundation was sufficient to bear the weight of what would be built upon it.
Fast forward just a few years, and into the heritage of truth that the Particular Baptists of the 18th century passed down steps C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892). He – if you study his life and read his writings carefully – was as much a reformer as he was anything else. God used him mightily in the middle of the 19th century to bring the gospel to countless thousands and to establish a multitude of churches. True catholicity reigned in Spurgeon’s heart alongside a blood-earnest attachment to Jesus and the truth as it is in him. There was no contradiction.
Toward the end of his life, Spurgeon knew that he had expended his energies in the cause of Christ. In March 1891, a preacher from the College called E. H. Ellis left for Australia. Spurgeon bade him farewell: “Good bye, Ellis; you will never see me again, this fight is killing me.”
What was the fight? It was that which church history calls the Downgrade Controversy. Those sentiments usually denominated evangelical – being largely assumed and undefined – had not held back the tide of error sweeping in “the New Theology.” Spurgeon averred that the Baptist Union as he knew it had been founded “without form and void” and remained so.
I am not drawing direct parallels between the Higher Criticism against which Spurgeon contended and some of the men implicitly referenced in the work of Jeff Smith and Michael Haykin, but I do think that the period after the 18th century provides us with salutary warnings and necessary exhortations.
The best men are always genuinely catholic in spirit. They love all those who love Jesus in truth, even when they disagree with them over matters that they mutually confess to be of genuine and significant importance (e.g. church polity). Men like John Owen, Jeremiah Burroughs, George Whitefield, and Charles Spurgeon were able to see across and attempt to reach across certain divides. It does us well to cultivate the same spiritual wisdom.
However, in so doing, let us not lose sight of gospel distinctives (even more than ecclesiological ones, though not ignoring that the former feeds and defines the latter). The truth is too high a price to pay for peace and unity (even in the short term). We must not breed a suspicious and judgemental spirit, but we must maintain a discerning and distinguishing one. We would be fools if we allowed catholicity of spirit to blind us to issues of truth and error. I accuse neither of the men referenced of this, but I know that wise men make judicious and righteous statements, and the foolish apply them in muddle-headed and dangerous ways, and that there are more of the latter men than there are of the former, with obvious consequences.
What a tragedy it would be if, on the one hand, we failed to recognise a genuine work of the Spirit of God, even if “God in his sovereignty sometimes greatly blesses and uses men who are not Reformed Baptists.” We should rejoice wherever Christ’s kingdom advances, and yearn to be useful and fruitful in that work, alongside all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity. But, on the other hand, what a tragedy it would be if the inheritance we bequeathed to a generation to come was one of theological fuzziness, of pie-eyed and ungrounded optimism and well-meaning indistinctness that sold them into decades of unanchored drifting or bloody contention for the truth, or both. In this regard, we have to say that – in surveying the broad theological landscape, not least among the “young, restless and reformed” and those to whom they look up – there are issues of which we must be aware, matters of pith and moment that are all too easily dismissed or overlooked. Too little catholicity, and we may miss the boat. Too much, and we sink it for future generations.
Some truth matters more, some truth matters less, but all truth matters. We need wisdom to judge where the lines are drawn, and to recognise where they exist, even while we accept that some are scored more deeply than others. Some are barely visible to the naked eye, although they exist and are worth knowing and appreciating. Some we can reach across at certain times and in certain places even while we will never erase them. Some we must maintain, even with sorrow. Some are inviolable boundaries: our only efforts in those regards are to defend them with all we have and are, reaching out only to pull people across them from error and danger into truth and safety.
Let us be content, then, to be thought broad or narrow (as the spirit of the age dictates and the tenor of our own time and place in it require), so long as we are walking closely with Jesus, in spirit and in truth. Conflict is miserable, and we must not allow times of conflict to determine all our conduct in times of peace. At the same time, let us remember that our conduct in peace will determine our conduct in war. The crisis will not form our character, it will only reveal it. Taking this into account, consider that Spurgeon was fighting because he would not see Christ dishonoured, and that became a fight to the death. In the midst of the battle, speaking to College students on the preacher’s power, he remarked
trimming [the gospel] now, and debasing doctrine now, will affect children yet unborn, generation after generation. Posterity must be considered. I do not look so much at what is to happen to-day, for these things relate to eternity. For my part, I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years; but the more distant future shall vindicate me. I have dealt honestly before the living God. My brother, do the same.
There are lots of dogs, and they will eat us: let the dogs of liberalism eat us for our convictions, and the dogs of the blinkered hyper-orthodox for our catholicity, and the dogs of broad evangelicalism for our narrowness, and the dogs of the world for our exclusivity. There are lots of dogs. But let us content to be sheep of Christ’s flock, in company with other true sheep. Let us pray for and pursue both revival and reformation, personally and corporately: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
If I may be permitted to reach across, while holding firm (the point will be clear if you look up the original!), let me end with a hymn from Charles Wesley:
A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!
Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!
Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
And let me ne’er my trust betray,
But press to realms on high.
 Ernest A. Payne, The Baptist Union: A Short History (London: Baptist Union, 1959), 61.
 Autobiography, 3:152.
 C. H. Spurgeon, “The Preacher’s Power, and the Conditions of Obtaining it,” in An All-round Ministry, pp.361-2.
IVP, 2008 (248pp, pbk)
The Courage to be Protestant is the distillation and development of a sequence of four previous volumes: No Place for Truth: or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology (the volume that birthed the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals); God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams; Losing our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover its Moral Vision; and, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World. These were a kind of culturally-aware and diagnostic systematic theology, following the sequence prologomena, God, human nature, and the person and work of Christ. This summation and recasting sounds the same key notes: Wells assesses the lay of the evangelical land and what he calls ‘Christianity for sale’, before turning to the issues of truth, God, self, Christ, and church in the postmodern environment.
The focus lies particularly on American evangelicalism. The contrast generally lies in comparison with what is often thought of as the third world, and the more robust tone and steady progress of Christ’s kingdom there. Although there are occasional references to Europe and the UK, there are mainly and deservedly more negative: we are, it seems, often the exception that proves the rule. Though there is much that is broadly valid, one ought to be carefully aware of these perspectives in the reading.
Wells’ work is dense. Page follows page of almost relentless analysis and assessment, without always much pause for application. Thought, argument and language are all intense, so much so that the book can at times read like a series of pithy declarations advancing in tight ranks, almost Latinate in their aphoristic density.
The sub-title of the book identifies the three threads that run through its seven sections: the truth-lovers (classical evangelicals who are endangered by shrinking doctrine and a vanishing church), the marketers (the seeker-sensitive crowd) and the emergents (a broad church indeed). All this demands an assessment of what true evangelicalism really is, and the absence of reality felt even by many professing evangelicals.
Wells calls us back to truth, Biblically-grounded.
He calls us back to the holy and transcendent God who is nevertheless close to us, with all that means for law, sin, redemption, progress and obedience.
He assaults the gross self-centredness of the modern West, putting self firmly in its place, and calling Christians to a life of integrity and authenticity grounded in knowing our place before God.
He exalts Christ as the alone Saviour, contrasting Christian and pagan paths to God, assessing spirituality true and false, and centring our knowledge of God and our present and future hope in the risen Lord.
He examines the church of Christ, calling us back to the Reformation marks of a true church (the ministry of the Word, the sacraments, and church discipline), all the while hammering home that it is God’s church, not ours. In some senses, this is the most practical and prescriptive part of the book.
Whether or not you are willing and able to march through the first four volumes, this summary is well worth the time of any thoughtful Christian. It requires some sense of the wider world and the currents sweeping through evangelicalism. It needs careful attention and demands reflective engagement. There may be more on the problem than there is on the solution, but that is – in part – because the problem is complex and confused, while the essence of the solution is gloriously simple. Those who love the truth will still find some sharp challenges and some painful conundrums to face, not least in letting God be God, and in being more aware of who we are than of what we do. We are called to be truly Protestant – to live and die not with a casual label attached but embracing genuine, historically-grounded Christianity with all we are and have.
Why should you believe the Bible?
What possible reason can there be for you to accept what is written in God’s Word, and to live and die by it?
Because God is your Creator, and you are his creature.
Because mankind lost its original purity and innocence, and now we live in sin and misery.
Because God has given us his Word to direct us how we should live.
Because you disobey God’s Word, and your heart is full of sin and wickedness.
Because, no matter how hard you try, you cannot make yourself worthy of heaven.
Because, despite all that you do, you cannot escape the just condemnation of God.
Because God in his mercy has made a way of salvation for His creatures.
Because God sent his Son, the perfect Lamb of God, into the world.
Because God’s sinless Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, suffered and died upon a cross in the place of utterly undeserving sinners.
Because only Jesus Christ can save you from your sins, and make you right with God.
Because if you do repent and believe, you shall have everlasting life.
Because there is a heaven for those who have been redeemed, but a hell for the unrepentant.
Because it is the truth.
Because these things are true, it is not only entirely reasonable but absolutely essential that you act now
upon the truth that God has revealed in his Word.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. He who believes in him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
“Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55.3).
A Foundation for Life: A Study of Key Christian Doctrines and their Application edited by Michael A. G. Haykin
Joshua Press, 140pp, pbk, $16.99 (Canadian).
This little volume is aimed at new believers with the desire of instructing them in basic truth, and then encouraging them to study Scripture for themselves. In order to accomplish this, sixteen authors present eighteen brief treatments of several foundational Christian truths.
The format of the book is helpful (key Scripture references are given in full in the side margins, for example) and the layout is clear. Each treatment is a positive assertion of truth, and all are admirably short and clear. Brevity has not betrayed the contributors into shallowness or triteness, although at a couple of points the attempt to present profound truth in brief compass runs this risk. The general standard of these treatments is high, although some in particular stand out as dealing comprehensively yet incisively with particular matters of Christian doctrine.
A Foundation for Life is not setting out to provide all the answers to every question, and neither is it afraid to leave the reader with work to do. These brief essays demand intelligent reading and active engagement, and prompt further inquiry and study.
Not every reader – especially, perhaps, if he or she is looking for something to give to others, or for use within the church – will agree with the balance, emphasis, or even the detail of every contribution. Some will wish that more had been said more fully and distinctively at certain points; others, perhaps, will wish that the contributors had left certain things unsaid. There is, of course, much that (of necessity) has to remain unsaid in a book with this scope and aim: many truths of historic, Biblical Christianity are not treated directly here, but rather assumed, and some might have desired that certain of these would have received more explicit coverage – the sovereignty of God, the nature of saving faith, or the fall of man and sin, for example. Different individuals will doubtless have different opinions at this point, but those seeking to use this book for pastoral or teaching purposes should be able to supplement this volume with other appropriate material, and flesh out, explain or clarify particular or specific issues along the way.
Importantly, this book not only engages the mind, but also penetrates to and warms the heart, and works upon the will. It is a stimulus to faith, and most of the essays give the reader something to do as a result of its reading. The contributors’ own faith is clearly in evidence, and they point consistently and repeatedly to Christ. Their evident and explicit dependence on Scripture is welcome, regardless of minor differences of opinion. That in itself will be a valuable lesson to the young Christian.
Wisely employed, this book could be a useful resource for churches, a handy tool for pastors, and a great help not only to new believers, but also to all who wish to advance in their understanding of some of the basic truths of Scripture.
Andrew Fuller wrote the following on divine truth and human instruction:
Many religious people appear to be contented with seeing truth in the light in which some great and good man has placed it; but if ever we enter into the gospel to purpose, it must be by reading the word of God for ourselves, and by praying and meditating upon its sacred contents. It is “in God’s light that we must see light” [cf. Psalm 36:9]… The writings of great and good men are not to be despised, any more than their preaching: only let them not be treated as oracular. The best of men, in this imperfect state, view things partially, and therefore are in danger of laying an improper stress upon some parts of Scripture, to the neglect of other parts of equal, and sometimes of superior importance…. If we adopt the principles of fallible men, without searching the Scriptures for ourselves, and inquiring whether or not these things be so, they will not, even allowing them to be on the side of truth, avail us, as if we had learned them from a higher authority. Our faith, in this case, will stand in the wisdom of man, and not in the power of God…. Truth learned only at second-hand will be to us what Saul’s armour was to David; we shall be at a loss how to use it in the day of trial.
 Nature and Importance of an Intimate Knowledge of Divine Truth in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, revised Joseph Belcher (1845 ed.; repr. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 1:164.
Martin Downes has a good post here about the positive establishment of apostolic truth proving a pre-emptive corrective to all forms of error. Get a man spiritually healthy, and he is less likely to be overcome by spiritual sickness. Martin quotes James Buchanan:
It has long been my firm conviction, that the only effective refutation of error is the establishment of truth. Truth is one, error is multiform; and truth, once firmly established, overthrows all the errors that either have been, or may yet be, opposed to it. He who exposes and expels an error, does well; but it will only return in another form, unless the truth has been so lodged in the heart as to shut it out for ever.
We need to deal graciously but tenaciously with errors and with errorists, with the untruths that men teach and with the consequences of those untruths in the lives of those who hold them. Truth always ought to have an effect upon life; right doctrine always ought to effect right practice. But error also – false doctrine – has an effect on life, leading to wrong practice. One of the uphill battles of the Christian way is that wrong living always seems and often is easier than righteous living. That means, firstly, that false doctrine is generally more attractive than true, and, secondly, that its effects tend to be more rapidly far-reaching than those of truth.
As ever, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mt 7.13-14).
Al Mohler has summarised and reacted to recent reports projecting the death throes of Christianity in the UK. Christianity, according to the statistics, is very rapidly becoming a minority religion.
It is always a desperately sad thing to see true religion in decline. However, this report – while it contains matters of deep concern even for smaller and faithful denominations, and may reflect the widespread erosion of common grace in our society – is not necessarily a record of the decline of true religion. What it may be exposing is the formalism and nominalism which often passes for Christianity in this country.
One of the reasons why Christianity gets such a bad press is that all manner of carelessness and carnality masquerades under its name. There are times when one only wishes that we were at least assaulted for the right things, for genuine Biblicism and committed godliness, rather than the faux-Christianity, the Christianity-lite, that most see when they think of the followers of Christ.
The subtle, social persecutions to which we have been subject in the UK for so many decades are taking their toll. There may be worse to follow – William Gurnall somewhere makes plain that where men strike with words, they will soon after strike with swords. The effects of this are now being seen. But, will it be such a bad thing for formalism and nominalism to be sloughed off, for the dead wood to be pruned? No one wishes for persecution, but is the persecuted church not in many instances a purer church? It is often composed primarily of genuine disciples, in whom the Lord Christ is truly dwelling. It knows its own identity, and of necessity walks closely with its Saviour. We do not need a hair-shirt mentality. There is nothing inherently holy about apparent failure and smallness, any more than there is in apparent triumph and growth. What is holy is likeness to Christ, and the principled obedience of his disciples to all his words.
Furthermore, the rise and fall of true religion in any place, measured in merely human terms, does not and cannot take account of the work of the Spirit of God. Reports such as these identify and then extrapolate a trend. What they cannot predict is the activity of God Almighty. Whitefield’s England hardly called the statisticians to project the rise of vital truth. The Wales of Howell Harris begged for the condemnation of the social scientist. Gross sin and national abandonment to ungodliness are fearful evils and much to be mourned over. Yet they also plead for divine intervention, for what greater platform for the display of divine grace could there be? Would the Lord our God not be honoured in the overturning of all statistical predictions, in a movement of true religion that flew in the face of all human expectations, in a mercy that reaches to those who can be reached by nothing and no one else? That is grace, is it not?
Let these statistics warn us, but not overwhelm us. The Lord our God is in heaven, and he does whatever he pleases (Ps 115.3). Let them also stir us – let them act as a call to arms. The Lord, through Ezekiel, laments the absence of an intercessor: “So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ex 22.30). Should we let that be true of us? The field for endeavour is vast. Are we praying the Lord of the harvest to thrust out labourers into the harvest field? Do we cry with Isaiah, “Here am I; send me?” We can respond in fear or in faith; with despondency over men or in dependence upon God; we can rise to the challenge or we can react with dismay. The great Baptist theologian, Andrew Fuller, in writing to his fellow saints, exhorted them in this way:
We may think the efforts of an individual to be trifling; but, dear brethren, let not this atheistical spirit prevail over us. It is the same spawn with that cast forth in the days of Job, when they asked concerning the Almighty, “What profit shall we have if we pray unto him?” At this rate Abraham might have forborne interceding for Sodom, and Daniel for his brethren of the captivity. James also must be mistaken in saying that the prayer of a single, individual righteous man availeth much. Ah, brethren, this spirit is not from above, but cometh of an evil heart of unbelief departing from the living God! Have done with all that bastard humility, that teaches you such a sort of thinking low of your own prayers and exertions for God as to make you decline them, or at least to be slack and indifferent in them! Great things frequently rise from small beginnings. Some of the greatest good that has ever been done in the world has been set a going by the efforts of an individual. Witness the Christianizing of a great part of the heathen world by the labours of a Paul, and the glorious Reformation from popery began by the struggles of a Luther.
It is impossible to tell what good may result from one earnest wrestling with God, from one hearty exertion in his cause or from one instance of a meek and lowly spirit, overcoming evil with good. Though there is nothing in our doings from which we could look for such great things, yet God is pleased frequently to crown our poor services with infinite reward. Such conduct may be, and often has been, the means of the conversion and eternal salvation of souls; and who that has any Christianity in him would not reckon this reward enough? A realizing sense of these things would stir us all up: ministers to preach the gospel to every creature, private Christians, situated in this or that dark town or village, to use all means to have it preached, and both to recommend it to all around by a meek and unblemished conversation.
We need to hear these same warnings and stirrings. Institutionalised religion may come and go, but vital Christianity can and will remain. Let us undertake that, while God grants us breath, he shall have a faithful witness in the land.