Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Great Hypocrisy of (the majority of) Dawkins-Haters

I must confess, that in the evil of my own heart, I have looked upon the world’s recent vomiting-out of Richard Dawkins with a bit of pleasure. Whether this is an unloving attitude towards the man or a justified sense of justice at his downfall I am not sure. Perhaps, it’s a bit of both.

Dawkins’ comments about “mild pedophilia” were the first to really shock the world: “I don’t think [it causes] lasting harm. I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

More recently his advice to a mother expecting a baby with Downs Syndrome got him in more hot water: “Obviously the choice would be yours. For what it’s worth, my own choice would be to abort the Down fetus and, assuming you want a baby at all, try again. Given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, I think the moral and sensible choice would be to abort. And, indeed, that is what the great majority of women, in America and especially in Europe, actually do.  I personally would go further and say that, if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare. I agree that that personal opinion is contentious and needs to be argued further, possibly to be withdrawn. In any case, you would probably be condemning yourself as a mother (or yourselves as a couple) to a lifetime of caring for an adult with the needs of a child. Your child would probably have a short life expectancy but, if she did outlive you, you would have the worry of who would care for her after you are gone. No wonder most people choose abortion when offered the choice. Having said that, the choice would be entirely yours and I would never dream of trying to impose my views on you or anyone else.”

Truly, I would fear to live in the Brave New World” of Richard Dawkins. But here’s the thing: he is merely being consistent with his worldview! This is the same worldview that is undoubtedly held by most of his critics!

For example, people are so furious that Dawkins would say that ending the life of a Downs baby is more humane and compassionate, but this is the very same thing that they say about babies who will be born into a poor household, born with other defects, or who are unwanted. You hypocrites! When you condemn Dawkins, you condemn yourself!

Now, my advice is not that they be consistent with their own worldview because that is to say merely tell them to dull their consciences even further, but rather they ought to be consistent with their anger. Just as you are angry about Dawkins’ advocacy aborting Downs babies, be angry at the advocacy of aborting any baby. If Downs kids deserve a shot (which they most certainly do), why not every other human being.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of Dawkins. In a way he is like the Socrates of materialistic Atheism; the world’s condemnation of him being merely his martyrdom. Had de been born fifty years down the road, his message and brutal comments would have been cheered by more than his inner circle of disciples. The world should take care, lest its children erect statues of him one day and pay homage to him by realizing what are only now his theories.

O Lord Jesus, come quickly!

Puritan Conversions and What They Can Teach Us about Evangelism and Church Membership

Early on in my Christian walk (Christ saved me in 2005), I was quite disturbed by what we might call “puritan conversions,” by which I mean conversions which were long drawn-out processes of conviction of sin and growing awareness of one’s utter inability to be saved or believe by their own efforts. I think that these stories were hard for me to swallow for two reasons: 1. my theology was then very man-centered; it seemed cruel that God would seem to hold at arms length anyone who truly sought salvation, and 2. having grown up in the American Christianity of altar calls and “crusades,” I didn’t understand what the men in these stories didn’t get. Why were they so held by guilt and condemnation? Didn’t the fact that they were even having such an experience prove rather that they had truly been born again? Perhaps they just didn’t understand grace, or so I thought at that time.

Having come to see and love the doctrines of grace about 4 years after my conversion, I now love to read conversion stories like these. I have selected three men’s conversion stories which were most definitely “Puritan conversions,” even though only one of them could be called a Puritan proper. Read them and after I will comment on what I think we can learn from them and apply in the local church.

Jesse Mercer: Calvinistic Baptist in Early 1800s Georgia who rallied many to the call of missions. For an excellent biography on Mercer, see Dr. Anthony Chute’s work A Piety above the Common Standard: Jesse Mercer and the Defense of Evangelistic Calvinism.

“I now felt a deeper and more abiding concern, but what to do I knew not, for it was now suggested that there was no hope for me, but that the time once was when I first sought the Lord, when my conscience was tender, when I was young and had committed but little sin, that the Saviour would have taken me in the arms of love and blessed me; but, inasmuch as I had cast off those early impressions, and desired that God would connive at my love of sin, and still take me to heaven when I died, and thus rejected the Lord in my childhood, the promise “suffer the little children come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” was to me lost, forever lost. I now thought I was given over to unbelief and hardness of heart, to spend the rest of my days in hopeless despair. Whatever my end might be, it was, however, my heart’s desire that I might sin no more.”

Later he wrote:

“I now thought I had a clear view of the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, and saw plainly how sinners might be saved who would come to him aright, confessing their sins and believing in his name. Seeing it thus, I tried with all the faculties of my soul to believe, but could not; and so I concluded I had not come aright, and was rejected. I was glad, and in my greatest distress rejoiced that others could believe in Christ, and by believing, flee the wrath to come. My heart’s desire was to be holy, and I loved God because he was holy. I trembled at the thoughts of the great God who made me, and whom I adored. My secret desire then was that others might be saved, for I wanted none to accompany me in my banishment from Heaven to the regions of misery and despair to which I believed I was doomed. I had been some three years earnestly seeking the forgiveness of my sins, and had seen the time when I could weep over them, but now my heart was hardened, and my tears all dried up, save only to weep because I could not weep. While on the verge of despair, I was walking alone on a narrow, solitary path in the woods, poring over my helpless case, and saying to myself wo is me! Wo, wo is me! For I am undone forever! I would I were a beast in the field! – At length I found myself standing with my eyes steadfastly fixed on a small oak that grew by the pathside, and earnestly wishing that I could be like the little oak when it died and crumbled to dust. At that moment light broke into my soul, and I believed in Christ for myself and not another, and went on my way rejoicing.”

Humphrey Mills, who was brought to grace through the preaching of Richard Sibbes

“I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing; looking for Heaven that way.  And then I was so precise for outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above their ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies.  But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint . . . Doctor Sibbs, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit.  His sweet soul-melting Gospel-sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had much of God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world . . . . my heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward.”

Charles Spurgeon

“I was years and years upon the brink of hell—I mean in my own feeling. I was unhappy, I was desponding, I was despairing. I dreamed of hell. My life was full of sorrow and wretchedness, believing that I was lost.”

“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. I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Church. 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….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 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” (Isa. 45:22) He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimmer of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus: “This is a very simple text indeed. It says ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It aint 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 look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. “But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” he said 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 say 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 sitting at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!” When he had . . . . managed to spin out about 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 will always 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 nothing to do but 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 . . . . 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.”

So what can we learn from these stories:

First, because conversions can often take years, we must be very careful to not “confer” salvation prematurely on someone. I remember that at such an evangelistic event, when I had come forward to altar call to “pray the prayer,” that there was a gentleman (his motives were no doubt very good) told me and others around us that now that we had accepted Christ, Satan would try to get us to doubt our salvation, but that we must never doubt it. Yikes! With that sort of theology, a person who is still very much a child of the wrath will look with a fatal sense of security at the conviction of the Holy Spirit as those it were the condemnation of the Devil. We must be prepared to pray for and preach the gospel for years to people who come to church without rushing to cover up the awkwardness of the fact that the person is still not converted.

Second, we must be willing in our examination of prospective church members to tell those who do not show the fruit of a regenerate life that, judging by what they’ve told us, we have no reason to think that they are truly converted. And then we will explain the gospel again to them, plead with them to repent and believe, and tell them that we will pray and walk with them until God does (if it is his will) in fact bring about that new life. This must be done with great care; we ought to be generous lest we condemn some weak saints with poor theology. Still we must be willing to at least draw a hard line.

Selected Quotes from Augustine

So, I’ll soon be finishing a great biography on Augustine by Peter Brown. Augustine is just one of those individuals who bleeds one-liners. His insights into the inner goings-on of the human mind and heart are profound. Perhaps even more profound is his ability to convey the emotions of the heart in his writings. I’ve selected a few quotes from the biography and some from his Confessions, which are not necessarily related to one another. Enjoy!

“Let them deal harshly with you, who do not know with what effort truth is found and with what difficulty errors are avoided; let them deal harshly with you, who do not know how rare and how exacting it is to overcome imaginations from the flesh in the serenity of a pious intellect, let them deal harshly with you , who do not know with what pain the inner eye of a man in healed, that he may glimpse his Sun.” – C. Ep. Fund. 2.

“The choice of God is certainly hidden from us…Even if it should be perceptible to some men, I must admit that, in this matter, I am incapable of knowing. I just cannot find what criterion to apply in deciding which men should be chosen to be saved by grace. If I were to reflect on how to weigh up this choice, I myself would instinctively choose those with better intelligence and less sins, or both; I should add, I suppose, a sound and proper education…And as soon as I decide on that, [God] will laugh me to scorn.” Ad. Simpl. de div. quaest. I, qu. ii, 22.

“I carried about me a cut and bleeding soul, that could not bear to be carried by me, and where I could put it, I could not discover. Not in pleasant groves, not in games and singing, nor in the fragrant corners of a garden. Not in the company of a dinner-table, not in the delights of the bed: not even in my books and poetry. It floundered in a void, and fell back upon me. I remained a haunted spot, which gave me no rest, from which I could not escape. For where could my heart flee from my heart? Where could I escape from myself? Where would I not dog my own footsteps? Still – I left my hometown.” Confessions IV. vii, 12.

“One and one is two, two and two is four: this was a hateful jingle to me, and the greatest treat of all, that sweet illusion – the wooden horse full of armed men, Troy burning and the very ghost of Creusa.” Conf. I. xiv. 22.

“I had not yet been in love and I was in love with loving…I set about finding an occasion to fall in love, so much in love was I with the idea of loving.” Conf. III. i. 1.

Upon becoming a bishop: “I found it far, far more than I had thought… I just had not known my powers: I still thought they counted for something. But the Lord laughed me to scorn, and by real experience, wished to show me to myself.” Ep. 21, 2.

“‘Surely I can do what I like in my own house?’ I tell you No: you cannot. People who do this go straight to Hell.”  Serm. 224, 3.

I do not care whether you expect some well-turned phrases today. It is my duty to give you due warning in citing the scriptures. Do not be slow to turn to the Lord, nor delay from day to day, for His wrath shall come why you know not. God knows how I tremble on my bishop’s throne when I hear that warning. I cannot be silent; I am forced to preach on it. Filled with fear myself, I fill you with fear.” Frang. 2, 8.

“Everything could well have been done by an angel, but the standing of the human race would have been devalued if God had seemed unwilling to let me act as the agents of His Word to men… on top of that, charity itself which binds men together in the tight knot of unity, would have no means of expressing itself, by pouring out, and as it were mixing together the souls of men, if human beings could learn nothing from their fellows.” de doct. christ., Prooem., 6.

“I must confess that, personally, I have learned many things I never knew before … just by writing.” de Trin. III., Prooem.

“First and foremost [I love to write about grace], because no subject gives me greater pleasure. For what ought to be more attractive to us sick men, than grace, grace by which we are healed; for us lazy men, than grace, grace by which we are stirred up; for us men longing to act, than grace, by which we are helped?” Ep. 186, vii., 39.

“Some men try hard to discover in our will what good is particularly due to ourselves, that owes nothing to God: how they can find this out, I just do not know.” de pecc. mer. II, xviii, 28.

“To solve the question, [‘Why did God say “Esau I have hated”‘], I had previously tried hard to uphold the freedom of choice of the human will; but the grace of God had the upper hand. There was no way out but to conclude that the Apostle (Paul) must be understood to have said the most obvious, when he said: ‘Who has made you different? What have you got that you did not first receive? If you have received all this, why glory in it as if you had not been given?'” Retractationes II.

And my favorite:

“Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that Thou mayest enter in. It is ruinous; repair Thou it. It has that within which must offend Thine eyes; I confess and know it. But who shall cleanse it? or to whom should I cry, save Thee? Lord, cleanse me from my secret faults, and spare Thy servant from the power of the enemy. I believe, and therefore do I speak. Lord, Thou knowest. Have I not confessed against myself my transgressions unto Thee, and Thou, my God, hast forgiven the iniquity of my heart? I contend not in judgment with Thee, who art the truth; I fear to deceive myself; lest mine iniquity lie unto itself. Therefore I contend not in judgment with Thee; for if Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall abide it?” Conf.

 

Fear: The Key to Joy

This post has been a long time coming for me. I’ve been reading on and trying to understand this topic that is found all over the Bible, namely, the fear of the LORD. I confess that as a new believer (and even a bit after that), I was quite confused, and even a little embarrassed, that God would want people to fear him. After all “God is love”(1 John 4:8), right? And, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts outfear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love”(1 John 4:18). Atheists go to town on the fear of the LORD as just propaganda meant to guilt and manipulate the masses into submission (although, in all fairness, the fear of the LORD has been abused in some cases of history). Even Christians themselves seem content to do away with it. Perhaps they lump it in with the Law of Moses (of which common misconceptions are rife); and therefore, relegate to that part of redemptive history that is no longer necessary. But this doesn’t do justice to what the scripture says about it. Or if they don’t do away with it all together, they take the edge off of it; instead of fear, they mean showing respect. But this won’t do either because the same word used for ‘fear’ is also used in Deut. 2:25 and can clearly not mean simply being respectful. Before entering the promised land, the inhabitants of which were to be put to total destruction, the LORD tells the children of Israel, “‘This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you.'” The Canaanites were in fear of being destroyed, a truly terrifying experience.

I was reading through Isaiah a few years ago and was blown away by what I read. In Isaiah 11, we read about the “shoot from the stump of Jesse”(v. 1), who is the Messiah, Jesus Christ. 11:3, “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” What!?! He will delight in the fear of the LORD? How does that even make sense?

But it gets even better. Psalm 2:11 says, “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” That’s crazy! Far from quenching it, the fear of the LORD actually can coexist quite harmoniously, and, as I’ll argue further down, it enhances it! 

As any good Christian Hedonist (if you’re not familiar with the John Piper’s book, Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, the term Christian Hedonist means to seek and pursue the highest pleasure, joy, beauty of all, God himself). As I was saying, as any good Christian Hedonist, I want to pursue the joy that is found in God. And so I’ve come to the conclusion that my level of joy in Christ, will never surpass the level of my fear of God; therefore, if I would have more joy, I must increase my fear of the LORD. The reason why we fear him is because to stand before God is to stand in the blast radius of thermonuclear bomb of glory, beauty, holiness, love, grace, mercy, compassion etc., yet not be destroyed. I’ve heard the oft used analogy of standing next to the Grand Canyon (you’re amazed at its beauty and size but also afraid of standing too close to the edge), but I think that we should put it on the shelf for a while because I don’t think it captures the heights of joy (unless you’re a geologist or something). So I thought, “What are some the most joyful events that human beings experience?” I’ll mention two, but I’m sure there are more. The birth of a child and a marriage ceremony. These things are so beautiful that those who experience them are often brought to tears of joy and happiness as they either meet their son or daughter for the first time, or as they pledge their lives to the love of theirs lives.

But!!! What’s interesting about these events is that there is also a considerable amount of fear in them as well! I’ve heard parents speak of how happy and terrified they were that they now were in charge of another human being. And as vows are exchanged, the bride and groom often “tremble with rejoicing” over their overflowing love that they have for one another.

So it is with our worship of the LORD. You rejoice with joy that, in his holiness, he did not utterly destroy you; you glory that he is infinite and you are not, yet he deigns to lavish his love on you; you weep at his overwhelming beauty and that you’re somehow not dissolved by it. The fear of the LORD is the key to joy.

Great! So now what? Well, continue in the means of grace: prayer, the scriptures, fellowship, communion, fasting. As we abide in these things, our fear of the LORD will gradually (though it could happen quickly I suppose) almost imperceptibly grow and increase, and therefore our joy will as well.

In my prayer time in the morning, I’ve lately been praying that God would increase my fear of Him, that he would wash the crust off of my eyes that keeps me from seeing Him as He truly is. I’ve prayed this prayer from Augustine’s Confessions (Book I): “Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that Thou mayest enter in. It is ruinous; repair Thou it. It has that within which must offend Thine eyes; I confess and know it. But who shall cleanse it? or to whom should I cry, save Thee? Lord, cleanse me from my secret faults, and spare Thy servant from the power of the enemy. I believe, and therefore do I speak. Lord, Thou knowest. Have I not confessed against myself my transgressions unto Thee, and Thou, my God, hast forgiven the iniquity of my heart? I contend not in judgment with Thee, who art the truth; I fear to deceive myself; lest mine iniquity lie unto itself. Therefore I contend not in judgment with Thee; for if Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall abide it?”

May God indeed enlarge the tiny mansions of our hearts that we may “delight in the fear of the LORD,” and “tremble with rejoicing”!

 

Sin as Nakedness

So recently while preparing a sermon, I played with the idea of using Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes as an illustration for the way that the world views sin, i.e. mankind, like the emperor, parades around in its “beautiful” new clothes of sin but is really naked. So as I thought about this more (and honestly, started walking the illustration on all fours), I realized (though I’m sure I’m not the first one to realize this) that sin is often portrayed in Scripture as nakedness. Though before the Fall, nakedness was the good and natural way of things, afterwards it becomes associated with shame.

How curious that the first effect of the Fall that Adam and Eve notice is their nakedness. “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” And perhaps even more curious is that Christ’s saving atonement is foreshadowed by the clothing of Adam and Even with animal skins, the covering of their nakedness.

There are a ton of verses, but here are a few snapshots:

-Exodus 20:26, “And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.”

-Isaiah 47:3, “Your nakedness shall be uncovered, and your disgrace shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will spare no one.”

-MIcah 1:11, “Pass on your way, inhabitants of Shaphir, in nakedness and shame.”

-Revelation 3:15-18, “ “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.'”

And just as God graciously (truly this is gospel) covered our first parents with the skins of another, so we have been covered by the blood of Christ, and he has removed our shame. The Hebrew word for atone even means ‘to cover.’ Romans 4:7, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” Indeed, the gospel could be expressed as the nakedness of our sin and shame being covered with Christ’s righteousness.

I wonder if it would be a stretch to said that he was made naked so that our nakedness might be covered: “And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take”(Mark 15:24). Perhaps it was fitting that as the Righteous one was made sin, that he should be nakedness so as fully identify with the beneficiaries of his priestly sacrifice.

Praise Jesus that now those who are his are clothed in robes of holy purity, no longer naked and ashamed.