Friday, December 09, 2011

Cherishing God’s Every Word, Jot, and Tittle

In the appendix of Altar to an Unknown Love, I address MacDonald’s and Lewis’ generational influences regarding the use of language. Neither man was well disciplined in the use of scriptural language, and those who reproduce their teachings tend to repeat this problem. Though this may not seem like a strong complaint, it is, especially since both men proffered themselves as teachers of the Word (if even casually, as in the case of Lewis). After illustrating this point in the appendix of Altar to an Unknown Love, I went on to point out the dangers of any form of teaching which draws the believer away from the very language of Holy Writ. Let me reproduce that portion here:

When Scriptural language converges to a fairly monolithic meaning, we dull the blade of Holy Writ through a misuse of such important terms. And while such tactics may garner the attention of others, we must ask the question: who is ultimately getting that attention? In the introduction of this book, we consulted J.C. Ryle for his wisdom on the dangers of seeking theological novelty. Here, we should look at what he says about the dangers of using novel words and expressions:

"Finally, I must deprecate, and I do it in love, the use of uncouth and new-fangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification. I plead that a movement in favor of holiness cannot be advanced by new-coined phraseology, or by disproportioned and one-sided statements--or by overstraining and isolating particular texts--or by exalting one truth at the expense of another--or by allegorizing and accommodating texts, and squeezing out of them meanings which the Holy Spirit never put in them--or by speaking contemptuously and bitterly of those who do not entirely see things with our eyes, and do not work exactly in our ways. These things do not make for peace: they rather repel many and keep them at a distance. The cause of true sanctification is not helped, but hindered, by such weapons as these. A movement in aid of holiness which produces strife and dispute among God's children is somewhat suspicious. For Christ's sake, and in the name of truth and charity, let us endeavor to follow after peace as well as holiness. 'What God has joined together let not man put asunder.' It is my heart's desire, and prayer to God daily, that personal holiness may increase greatly among professing Christians in England. But I trust that all who endeavor to promote it will adhere closely to the proportion of Scripture, will carefully distinguish things that differ, and will separate 'the precious from the vile.' ( Jeremiah 15:19.)"[1]

Ryle's wisdom is timeless, helpful, and should not be easily dismissed in the present day - because it is biblical. Clearly, Ryle's battle of yesteryear is the battle of the modern day, because nothing is new under the sun. His warning for his generation is for us as well. We all misspeak at times,[2] and our vocabulary will continue to be refined and transformed[3] as the Lord sanctifies us. But the direction that we must seek is one which presses back to the ancient anchor of Holy Writ, rather than forward to this ever-changing and dying world.  [Altar to an Unknown Love]

We live in a world that seems to be more interested in being cool, hip, or even titillatingly shocking; therefore, we often hear “uncouth and new-fangled terms” being used to describe the precious truths of Scripture. Ryle is right to express concern over this tactic. The theological shock-jocks of the modern day may be able to identify themselves with the legacy of men like Lewis and MacDonald – but why not seek out the greater legacy of God as found in His perfect word?

As someone has rightly said: “what you win them with is what you win them to.” I agree, and this also applies to this issue of words: the powerful Word of God vs. the words of men. 

P.S. Though I never explicitly address the language and philosophy of “Christian Hedonism,” per se, Gary Gilley is correct in his review to point out several inferences to the root idea of “Christian Hedonism” in Altar to an Unknown Love. Ultimately, the notion of “Christian Hedonism” is a derivative of Lewis’ own theology and use of language.


[1] Ryle, Holiness, p. XXIX.
[2] James 3:2-3.
[3] Romans 12:1-2.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Power of the Prelates

jeromeofpragueburned

In the previous post, I highlighted the faithfulness of Jerome of Prague whose endurance in the Gospel brought him through many trials and tribulations, leading to his eventual martyrdom at the hands of the religious majority. As a follow-up to this lesser known piece of history, I want to remind the reader of two significant facts: 1. Those who condemned Jerome had no interest in hearing his full defense – in the blindness of their power, they cared little about any legislative justice; 2. When they pressed their charges, they revealed their own nakedness and shame, for the thing that was last on their list of complaints should have been first:

1. That he was a derider of the papal dignity.

2. An opposer of the pope.

3. An enemy to the cardinals.

4. A persecutor of the prelates.

5. A hater of the Christian religion.[1]

The vehemence of Jerome's opponents had a corrupt centerpiece. Rather than being the defenders of the majesty of God and His glorious Gospel, Jerome’s persecutors were revealed to be the protectors of their own power over the people. Meditate on that list of complaints and you will find that these men had no concern for the substance of Jerome's life and ministry; instead, they were incensed with an individual who would dare to question the religious majority. The Pope, his cardinals, and attending prelates, are all listed first as a kind of bizarre admission to a vacuously man-centered system of religion. Oddly, in a world that is ruled by the Prince of the power of the air, such complaints actually have a place in the annals of human "justice." However, in the world of God's genuine justice, the above fifth point - when true - supplies enough of a “list” to establish a genuine heresy.

If Jerome were truly a hater of the Christian religion, then not much else would need to be said.

Finally, the insanity of Jerome's conviction and murder was adorned with grotesque pride and spiritual indifference. Jerome’s accusers had no interest in hearing his defense. His humanity meant nothing to those who crushed his life. From the height of their power, Jerome's personal significance as a creation of God had faded from their sight, and by this mutilated perception of theirs, Jerome's personal testimony, life, and doctrine disappeared amidst their prelate-zeal to preserve their influence over the people. Before murdering him with their hands, they murdered him with their tongues (Matthew 5:22), with their:

Slander (Proverbs 16:28)

False accusations (Proverbs 12:22)

Malicious gossip (Proverbs 20:19)

The bearing of false witness (Deuteronomy 19:18)

All of this, along with their sinful acceptance of false witnesses, constituted the prerequisites to their ultimate goal – the godless destruction of a man who dared to question their presumed authority.

The modern church would be remiss to ignore such lessons that have been scripted with martyr’s blood. Overall, the Christian must remember that biblical authority always trumps the presumed power and authority of any prelate, religious body, or denomination.

God’s power and authority is simply that awesome.


[1] John Fox. Fox's Book of Martyrs.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankfulness, Even to the End…

jeromeofpragueportOn occasion, for our family devotions, I will read portions of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to my children and discuss the beauty and power of God’s grace in His people. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a rich and historic work. It stands as a stark reminder, to every generation, that the gem of genuine Christianity has oftentimes resided amidst the afflicted and forsaken of this world. What we simply refer to as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a history of the persecuted church, written by John Foxe, and originally entitled: Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching Matters of the Church.

The original title of the book should remind us all that those who wish to stand for truth will indeed face perilous days.

Jerome of Prague, a lesser known saint in church history, is no less an example of Christian gratitude. Even to the end, his love for Christ was evinced through his joy and satisfaction in the Savior. I offer the following account of the life, and death, of Jerome of Prague for this thanksgiving holiday –

Persecution of Jerome of Prague

This reformer, who was the companion of Dr. Huss, and may be said to be a co-martyr with him, was born at Prague, and educated in that university, where he particularly distinguished himself for his great abilities and learning. He likewise visited several other learned seminaries in Europe, particularly the universities of Paris, Heidelburg, Cologne and Oxford. At the latter place he became acquainted with the works of Wickliffe, and being a person of uncommon application, he translated many of them into his native language, having, with great pains, made himself master of the English tongue.

On his return to Prague, he professed himself an open favorer of Wickliffe, and finding that his doctrines had made considerable progress in Bohemia, and that Huss was the principal promoter of them, he became an assistant to him in the great work of reformation.

On the fourth of April, 1415, Jerome arrived at Constance, about three months before the death of Huss. He entered the town privately, and consulting with some of the leaders of his party, whom he found there, was easily convinced he could not be of any service to his friends.

Finding that his arrival in Constance was publicly known, and that the Council intended to seize him, he thought it most prudent to retire. Accordingly, the next day he went to Iberling, an imperial town, about a mile from Constance. From this place he wrote to the emperor, and proposed his readiness to appear before the Council, if he would give him a safe-conduct; but this was refused. He then applied to the Council, but met with an answer no less unfavorable than that from the emperor.

After this, he set out on his return to Bohemia. He had the precaution to take with him a certificate, signed by several of the Bohemian nobility, then at Constance, testifying that he had used all prudent means in his power to procure a hearing.

Jerome, however, did not thus escape. He was seized at Hirsaw by an officer belonging to the duke of Sultsbach, who, though unauthorized so to act, made little doubt of obtaining thanks from the Council for so acceptable a service.

The duke of Sultsbach, having Jerome now in his power, wrote to the Council for directions how to proceed. The Council, after expressing their obligations to the duke, desired him to send the prisoner immediately to Constance. The elector palatine met him on the way, and conducted him into the city, himself riding on horseback, with a numerous retinue, who led Jerome in fetters by a long chain; and immediately on his arrival he was committed to a loathsome dungeon.

Jerome was treated nearly in the same manner as Huss had been, only that he was much longer confined, and shifted from one prison to another. At length, being brought before the Council, he desired that he might plead his own cause, and exculpate himself: which being refused him, he broke out into the following exclamation:

"What barbarity is this! For three hundred and forty days have I been confined in a variety of prisons. There is not a misery, there is not a want, that I have not experienced. To my enemies you have allowed the fullest scope of accusation: to me you deny the least opportunity of defence. Not an hour will you now indulge me in preparing for my trial. You have swallowed the blackest calumnies against me. You have represented me as a heretic, without knowing my doctrine; as an enemy of the faith, before you knew what faith I professed: as a persecutor of priests before you could have an opportunity of understanding my sentiments on that head. You are a General Council: in you center all this world can communicate of gravity, wisdom, and sanctity: but still you are men, and men are seducible by appearances. The higher your character is for wisdom, the greater ought your care to be not to deviate into folly. The cause I now plead is not my own cause: it is the cause of men, it is the cause of Christians; it is a cause which is to affect the rights of posterity, however the experiment is to be made in my person."

This speech had not the least effect; Jerome was obliged to hear the charge read, which was reduced under the following heads:

1. That he was a derider of the papal dignity.

2. An opposer of the pope.

3. An enemy to the cardinals.

4. A persecutor of the prelates.

5. A hater of the Christian religion.

The trial of Jerome was brought on the third day after his accusation and witnesses were examined in support of the charge. The prisoner was prepared for his defence, which appears almost incredible, when we consider he had been three hundred and forty days shut up in loathsome prisons, deprived of daylight, and almost starved for want of common necessaries. But his spirit soared above these disadvantages, under which a man less animated would have sunk; nor was he more at a loss of quotations from the fathers and ancient authors than if he had been furnished with the finest library.

The most bigoted of the assembly were unwilling he should be heard, knowing what effect eloquence is apt to have on the minds of the most prejudiced. At length, however, it was carried by the majority that he should have liberty to proceed in his defence, which he began in such an exalted strain of moving elocution that the heart of obdurate zeal was seen to melt, and the mind of superstition seemed to admit a ray of conviction. He made an admirable distinction between evidence as resting upon facts, and as supported by malice and calumny. He laid before the assembly the whole tenor of his life and conduct. He observed that the greatest and most holy men had been known to differ in points of speculation, with a view to distinguish truth, not to keep it concealed. He expressed a noble contempt of all his enemies, who would have induced him to retract the cause of virtue and truth. He entered upon a high encomium of Huss; and declared he was ready to follow him in the glorious task of martyrdom. He then touched upon the most defensible doctrines of Wickliffe; and concluded with observing that it was far from his intention to advance anything against the state of the Church of God; that it was only against the abuse of the clergy he complained; and that he could not help saying, it was certainly impious that the patrimony of the Church, which was originally intended for the purpose of charity and universal benevolence, should be prostituted to the pride of the eye, in feasts, foppish vestments, and other reproaches to the name and profession of Christianity.

The trial being over, Jerome received the same sentence that had been passed upon his martyred countryman. In consequence of this, he was, in the usual style of popish affectation, delivered over to the civil power: but as he was a layman, he had not to undergo the ceremony of degradation. They had prepared a cap of paper painted with red devils, which being put upon his head, he said, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, when He suffered death for me a most miserable sinner, did wear a crown of thorns upon His head, and for His sake will I wear this cap."

Two days were allowed him in hopes that he would recant; in which time the cardinal of Florence used his utmost endeavors to bring him over. But they all proved ineffectual. Jerome was resolved to seal the doctrine with his blood; and he suffered death with the most distinguished magnanimity.

In going to the place of execution he sang several hymns, and when he came to the spot, which was the same where Huss had been burnt, he knelt down, and prayed fervently. He embraced the stake with great cheerfulness, and when they went behind him to set fire to the fagots, he said, "Come here, and kindle it before my eyes; for if I had been afraid of it, I had not come to this place." The fire being kindled, he sang a hymn, but was soon interrupted by the flames; and the last words he was heard to say these, "This soul in flames I offer Christ, to Thee."  [John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs]

I thank God for this “persecutor of prelates.” His opposition to false religion was merely the means to the greater end of heralding the majesty and glory of Christ. For this life and calling of his, he was indeed thankful:

1 Thessalonians 5:18: …in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Altar to an Unknown Love: Review by Iain Murray

ATAULCOVERWEBAt various times in my life and ministry, the rich writings of Iain Murray have been a great help to my soul – as well as to my dear wife and children. It is therefore difficult to express the depth of gratitude that we feel to have the support and encouragement of this dear saint. His familiarity with the historic troubles brought about by the teachings of C.S. Lewis far outweighs my own, after all, as one who served alongside men like Martyn Lloyd Jones, he has seen the longstanding effects of Lewis’ theology over many years.

In view of all this, we were very pleased to learn of his kind review of Altar to an Unknown Love – a review which he completed in July of this year. This same review has recently appeared in this month’s issue of Banner of Truth Magazine.

Below is Reverend Murray’s full review, reproduced with permission:


Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C. S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man Michael John Beasley (www.thearmouryminstries.org): Lightning Source, Milton Keynes, 2011, 146pp, £6.50/$10.49

The last year has seen major controversy in the United States over Rob Bell’s Love Wins, A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived. Interest in that book is now passing, but before it does so, Michael Beasley believes there is a wider issue that ought to be addressed. Bell’s thinking, he notes, has been condemned by evangelicals who are, at the same time, professed admirers of authors from whom Bell has drawn, namely, George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis. Beasley challenges the consistency of this procedure, and if his book is taken seriously—as it deserves to be—it must promote more controversy, for MacDonald and Lewis are widely respected figures. Lewis is virtually an icon of American evangelicalism; on one occasion the readers of Christianity Today rated him as the most influential writer in their lives. But the only dependable foundation for Christian belief is missing in Lewis. He does not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, with the result that his conclusions are a conglomerate of Bible, imagination, and philosophy. Does the absence of that foundation matter when it comes to understanding the love of God—the subject with which Beasley’s book is primarily concerned? From Acts 17, the Athenians’ worship ‘To An Unknown God’, Beasley shows that the saving knowledge of God is only known by divine revelation. Lost man is as ignorant of that knowledge as were the Athenians. Yet, instead of starting with Scripture, Lewis believed that a consideration of love in man can help us to understand love in God. A major part of Altar to an Unknown Love is a refutation of this error. The love to be found in unregenerate man is self-love— love centering around the pursuit of pleasure, and identified by the Greeks (and by Lewis) as eros. But the love of God (never called eros in the NT) is altogether different, and is unknown until a person is born of God (1 John 4:7-10). ‘Those who do not know God cannot know his love’ (p. 52). ‘Without understanding the nature of his love . . . we are left with nothing but our own shifting sands of human affection’ (p. 39).

A reconstructed presentation of the love of God—to be found in all the authors Beasley is critiquing— produces teaching which carries no offence to the natural man. What is more offensive to the natural man than truth concerning the justice of God and his wrath against sin? But that offence is eliminated by the subjective, man-centered teaching here reviewed. The love of God is such, it is said, that it requires him to respect human freedom, and that freedom should control how we think of heaven and hell. ‘The damned’, wrote Lewis’ publisher of The Great Divorce (Macmillan Publishing, 1976), ‘are under no obligation to return to hell. They can stay on in heaven if they wish—if they are willing to forgo their most precious sins’ (p. 86). Or as Lewis said, ‘The doors of hell are locked on the inside’ (p. 89n). ‘We get what we want’, says Bell. ‘God is that loving. If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option . . . God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins’ (pp. 85, 122). So it is not justice but love that takes anyone to hell. The divine love, which is claimed to be subordinate to human freedom, leads to men being given what they want. Heaven and hell revolve around man, not God (p. 81).

This thinking does not simply take away the offence of biblical truth; ultimately it takes away the gospel itself. For if God’s determination to judge and punish sin is no part of his character, then a substitutionary atonement ceases to be a part of the Christian message. It is not accidental that none of the authors Beasley is examining believed that in the shedding of his blood Christ was bearing the penalty of sin. The author points out correctly that C. S. Lewis did not belong to evangelical circles in Britain in his lifetime. To our mind he proves the case that Lewis is now so widely acceptable in American evangelicalism because non-biblical ideas are not being recognized for what they are. Artistry in writing, effective story-telling, with a mixture of ‘disconnected scriptural references and thoughts’, are able to achieve wide success in a day when discrimination has given way to popular appeal. These are all characteristics of the writings of Bell, Lewis, and MacDonald. This is not to say that all they wrote is equally deserving of condemnation. Beasley’s strictures on Bell’s Love Wins are rightly the most severe (pp. 114-15). Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, now produced on film by Disney for the millions, is not in the same category, but when ‘more and more preachers are eager to cite Lewis in support of their theological positions’ the warning contained in this book is not unfounded. It raises issues of fundamental importance.

Michael Beasley, a science graduate of California State University, and of the Master’s Seminary, has served in pastoral ministry since 1994. We are impressed and thankful for the character of his writings. His valuable book, Indeed, has Paul Really Said? A Critique of N.T.Wright’s Teaching on Justification, has already been reviewed in these columns.

Iain H. Murray


For more information, go to: ataul.thearmoury.org.

Altar to an Unknown Love: Review by Gary Gilley

ataullargeWe are thankful for Gary Gilley’s review of Altar to an Unknown Love and have posted it, with permission, below. Pastor Gilley serves as pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield Illinois.

I have come to appreciate his careful defense of the 5 Solas. When he is polemical, he reveals the rare quality of being direct, measured, and humble in his critiques of doctrinal error. He is the author of This Little Church went to Market (July 2005); “I Just Wanted More Land” – Jabez – (May 2002); This Little Church Stayed Home (June 2006); Is That You Lord? Hearing the Voice of the Lord, a Biblical Perspective (April 2007); This Little Church Had None: A Church in Search of the Truth (November 2009); The Christian and Psychology.


Review of Altar to an Unknown Love
Written by Gary Gilley

In this volume Beasley concurs with the criticism heaped on Rob Bell and his heretical book Love Wins.  But he is justly confused as to why others, particularly C.S. Lewis who taught essentially many of Bell’s errors, receives accolades from the critics of Bell.  This is a valid point.  Lewis, who never claimed to be an evangelical (pp. 11-12), is quoted and followed by evangelicals almost without question. For example, Beasley points out that John Piper builds upon Lewis for his concept of hedonistic Christianity and Timothy Keller draws much of his apologetics from Lewis as well (see my review of Keller’s Reason for God). 

Lewis gets a bye from many evangelicals because he is creative, eminently quotable and seldom directly enters the realm of theology.  Yet a careful reading of his works, both polemical and fictional, reveals serious false views: He rejects penal substitution, minimizes justification by faith, accepts baptismal regeneration, has a noninerrantent view of inspiration, believes in purgatory and salvation after death and promotes inclusivism—the view that people from other religions will be saved (pp. 11-17, 46, 116).  Lewis admittedly developed his theology from the writings of his “master” George MacDonald (pp. 25-26).  Why is it, Beasley wonders, that Bell receives harsh criticism for his heresies, while C.S. Lewis’s same teachings are ignored? 

A more fundamental and widespread problem is exposed in an Altar to an Unknown Love: “The frailty and tendency of all men to herald their own thoughts above God’s divine revelation” (p. 27).  This is in truth one of the most serious issues facing the evangelical community today.  Experience, musings, secular philosophies, and pop-psychology are all elevated to a status equal to, and often above, the Word of God.   “Bible studies” turn into book studies of human authors; mass appeal can be found for good communicators who feign preaching the Word but in truth are relating their own stories.  Bell, Lewis, MacDonald and a host of modern evangelical writers fall into this disturbing category.

One key area which is often abused by evangelicals is the issue of love.  Taking their cue from Lewis rather than Scripture, they muddy the meaning of love by confusing agape love with eros love.  Beasley not only demonstrates this problem but also offers an exceptional section on the distinction between the agape and eros in the understanding of first century Greeks and Romans (pp. 37-84).  For me this was the most insightful and valuable portion of the book.

Beasley is sounding an important warning.  Bell and his theology did not occur in a vacuum.  He is the product of not only the false teachings of others, but also of the acceptance by evangelicals of those false teachers.  Even more—Beasley calls on his readers to sharpen their focus and look to the Scriptures for truth rather than to the ideas of man (see p. 15).


For more information, go to: www.legacyoflewis.com.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Greatest Fight in the World

Excerpt from Spurgeon’s sermon
~ The Greatest Fight in the World ~

spurgeon3…the Word is like its Author, infinite, immeasurable, without end. If you were ordained to be a preacher throughout eternity, you would have before you a theme equal to everlasting demands. Brothers, shall we each have a pulpit somewhere amidst the spheres? Shall we have a parish of millions of leagues? Shall we have voices so strengthened as to reach attentive constellations? Shall we be witnesses for the Lord of grace to myriads of worlds which will be wonder-struck when they hear of the incarnate God? Shall we be surrounded by pure intelligences enquiring and searching into the mystery of God manifest in the flesh? Will the unfallen worlds desire to be instructed in the glorious gospel of the blessed God? And will each one of us have his own tale to tell of our experience of infinite love? I think so, since the Lord has saved us "to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church of the manifold wisdom of God." If such be the case, our Bibles will suffice for ages to come for new themes every morning, and for fresh songs and discourses world without end.

We are resolved, then, since we have this arsenal supplied for us of the Lord, and since we want no other, to use the Word of God only, and to use it with greater energy. We are resolved—and I hope there is no dissentient among us—to know our Bibles better. Do we know the sacred volume half so well as we should know it? Have we laboured after as complete a knowledge of the Word of God as many a critic has obtained of his favourite classic? Is it not possible that we still meet with passages of Scripture which are new to us? Should it be so? Is there any part of what the Lord has written which you have never read? I was struck with my brother Archibald Brown's observation, that he bethought himself that unless he read the Scriptures through from end to end there might be inspired teachings which had never been known to him, and so he resolved to read the books in their order; and having done so once, he continued the habit. Have we, any of us, omitted to do this? Let us begin at once. I love to see how readily certain of our brethren turn up an appropriate passage, and then quote its fellow, and crown all with a third. They seem to know exactly the passage which strikes the nail on the head. They have their Bibles, not only in their hearts, but at their fingers' ends. This is a most valuable attainment for a minister. A good textuary is a good theologian. Certain others, whom I esteem for other things, are yet weak on this point, and seldom quote a text of Scripture correctly: indeed, their alterations jar on the ear of the Bible reader. It is sadly common among ministers to add a word or subtract a word from the passage, or in some way to debase the language of sacred writ. How often have I heard brethren speak about making "your calling and salvation" sure! Possibly they hardly enjoyed so much as we do the Calvinistic word "election", and therefore they allowed the meaning; nay, in some cases contradict it. Our reverence for the great Author of Scripture should forbid all mauling of his words. No alteration of Scripture can by any possibility be an improvement. Believers in verbal inspiration should be studiously careful to be verbally correct. The gentlemen who see errors in Scripture may think themselves competent to amend the language of the Lord of hosts; but we who believe God, and accept the very words he uses, may not make so presumptuous an attempt. Let us quote the words as they stand in the best possible translation, and it will be better still if we know the original, and can tell if our version fails to give the sense. How much mischief may arise out of an accidental alteration of the Word! Blessed are they who are in accord with the divine teaching, and receive its true meaning, as the Holy Ghost teaches them! Oh, that we might know the Spirit of Holy Scripture thoroughly, drinking it in, til we are saturated with it! This is the blessing which we resolve to obtain.

By God's grace we purpose to believe the Word of God more intensely. There is believing, and believing. You believe in all your brethren here assembled, but in some of them you have a conscious practical confidence, since in your hour of trouble they have come to your rescue and proved themselves brothers born for adversity. You confide in these, with absolute certitude, because you have personally tried them. Your faith was faith before; but now it is a higher, firmer, and more assured confidence. Believe in the inspired volume up to the hilt. Believe it right through; believe it thoroughly; believe it with the whole strength of your being. Let the truths of Scripture become the chief factors in your life, the chief operative forces of your action. Let the great transactions of the gospel story be to you as really and practically facts, as any fact which meets you in the domestic circle, or in the outside world: let them be as vividly true to you as your own ever present body, with its aches and pains, its appetites and joys. If we can get out of the realm of fiction and fancy, into the world of fact, we shall have struck a vein of power which will yield us countless treasure of strength. Thus, to become "mighty in the Scriptures" will be to become "mighty through God."

We should resolve also that we will quote more of Holy Scripture. Sermons should be full of Bible; sweetened, strengthened, sanctified with Bible essence. The kind of sermons that people need to hear are outgrowths of Scripture. If they do not love to hear them, there is all the more reason why they should be preached to them. The gospel has the singular faculty of creating a taste for itself. Bible hearers, when they hear indeed, come to be Bible lovers. The mere stringing of texts together is a poor way of making sermons; though some have tried it, and I doubt not God has blessed them, since they did their best. It is far better to string texts together, than to pour out one's own poor thoughts in a washy flood. There will at least be something to be thought of and remembered if the Holy Word be quoted; and in the other case there may be nothing whatever. Texts of Scripture need not, however, be strung together, they may be fitly brought in to give edge and point to a discourse. They will be the force of the sermon. Our own words are mere paper pellets compared with the rifle shot of the Word. The Scripture is the conclusion of the whole matter. There is no arguing after we find that "It is written." To a large extent in the hearts and consciences of our hearers debate is over when the Lord has spoken. "Thus saith the Lord" is the end of discussion to Christian minds; and even the ungodly cannot resist Scripture without resisting the Spirit who wrote it. That we may speak convincingly we will speak Scripturally.

We are further resolved that we will preach nothing but the Word of God. The alienation of the masses from hearing the gospel is largely to be accounted for by the sad fact that it is not always the gospel that they hear if they go to places of worship; and all else falls short of what their souls need. Have you never heard of a king who made a series of great feasts, and bade many, week after week? He had a number of servants who were appointed to wait at his table; and these went forth on the appointed days, and spake with the people. But, somehow, after a while the bulk of the people did not come to the feasts. They came in decreasing number; but the great mass of citizens turned their backs on the banquets. The king made enquiry, and he found that the food provided did not seem to satisfy the men who came to look upon the banquets; and so they came no more. He determined himself to examine the tables and the meats placed thereon. He saw much finery and many pieces of display which never came out of his storehouses. He looked at the food and he said, "But how is this? These dishes, how came they here? These are not of my providing. My oxen and fatlings were killed, yet we have not here the flesh of fed beasts, but hard meat from cattle lean and starved. Bones are here, but where is the fat and the marrow? The bread also is coarse; whereas mine was made of the finest wheat? The wine is mixed with water, and the water is not from a pure well." One of those who stood by answered and said, "O king, we thought that the people would be surfeited with marrow and fatness, and so we gave them bone and gristle to try their teeth upon. We thought also that they would be weary of the best white bread, and so we baked a little at our own homes, in which the bran and husks were allowed to remain. It is the opinion of the learned that our provision is more suitable for these times than that which your majesty prescribed so long ago. As for the wines on the lees, the taste of men runs not that way in this age; and so transparent a liquid as pure water is too light a draught for men who are wont to drink of the river of Egypt, which has a taste in it of mud from the Mountains of the Moon." Then the king knew why the people came not to the feast. Does the reason why going to the house of God has become so distasteful to a great many of the population, lie in this direction? I believe it does. Have our Lord's servants been chopping up their own odds and ends and tainted bits, to make therewith a potted meat for the millions; and do the millions therefore turn away? Listen to the rest of my parable. "Clear the tables!" cried the king in indignation: "Cast that rubbish to the dogs. Bring in the barons of beef: set forth my royal provender. Remove those gewgaws from the hall, and that adulterated bread from the table, and cast out the water of the muddy river." They did so; and if my parable is right, very soon there was a rumour throughout the streets that truly royal dainties were to be had, and the people thronged the palace, and the king's name became exceeding great throughout the land. Let us try the plan. May be, we shall soon rejoice to see our Master's banquet furnished with guests.

We are resolved, then, to use more fully than ever what God has provided for us in this Book, for we are sure of its inspiration. Let me say that over again. WE ARE SURE OF ITS INSPIRATION. You will notice that attacks are frequently made as against verbal inspiration. The form chosen is a mere pretext. Verbal inspiration is the verbal form of the assault, but the attack is really aimed at inspiration itself. You will not read far in the essay before you will find that the gentleman who started with contesting a theory of inspiration which none of us ever held, winds up by showing his hand, and that hand wages war with inspiration itself. There is the true point. We care little for any theory of inspiration: in fact, we have none. To us the plenary verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture is fact, and not hypothesis. It is a pity to theorize upon a subject which is deeply mysterious, and makes a demand upon faith rather than fancy. Believe in the inspiration of Scripture, and believe it in the most intense sense. You will not believe in a truer and fuller inspiration than really exists. No one is likely to err in that direction, even if error be possible. If you adopt theories which pare off a portion here, and deny authority to a passage there, you will at last have no inspiration left, worthy of the name.

If this book be not infallible, where shall we find infallibility? We have given up the Pope, for he has blundered often and terribly; but we shall not set up instead of him a horde of little popelings fresh from college. Are these correctors of Scripture infallible? Is it certain that our Bibles are not right, but that the critics must be so? The old silver is to be depreciated; but the German silver, which is put in its place, is to be taken at the value of gold. Striplings fresh from reading the last new novel correct the notions of their fathers, who were men of weight and character. Doctrines which produced the godliest generation that ever lived on the face of the earth are scouted as sheer folly. Nothing is so obnoxious to these creatures as that which has the smell of Puritanism upon it. Every little man's nose goes up celestially at the very sound of the word "Puritan"; though if the Puritans were here again, they would not dare to treat them thus cavalierly; for if Puritans did fight, they were soon known as Ironsides, and their leader could hardly be called a fool, even by those who stigmatized him as a "tyrant." Cromwell, and they that were with him, were not all weak-minded persons—surely? Strange that these are lauded to the skies by the very men who deride their true successors, believers in the same faith. But where shall infallibility be found? "The depth saith, it is not in me"; yet those who have no depth at all would have us imagine that it is in them; or else by perpetual change they hope to hit upon it. Are we now to believe that infallibility is with learned men? Now, Farmer Smith, when you have read your Bible, and have enjoyed its precious promises, you will have, to-morrow morning, to go down the street to ask the scholarly man at the parsonage whether this portion of the Scripture belongs to the inspired part of the Word, or whether it is of dubious authority. It will be well for you to know whether it was written by the Isaiah, or whether it was by the second of the "two Obadiahs." All possibility of certainty is transferred from the spiritual man to a class of persons whose scholarship is pretentious, but who do not even pretend to spirituality. We shall gradually be so bedoubted and becriticized, that only a few of the most profound will know what is Bible, and what is not, and they will dictate to all the rest of us. I have no more faith in their mercy than in their accuracy: they will rob us of all that we hold most dear, and glory in the cruel deed. This same reign of terror we shall not endure, for we still believe that God revealeth himself rather to babes than to the wise and prudent, and we are fully assured that our own old English version of the Scriptures is sufficient for plain men for all purposes of life, salvation, and godliness. We do not despise learning, but we will never say of culture or criticism. "These be thy gods, O Israel!"

Do you see why men would lower the degree of inspiration in Holy Writ, and would fain reduce it to an infinitesimal quantity? It is because the truth of God is to be supplanted. If you ever go into a shop in the evening to buy certain goods which depend so much upon colour and texture as to be best judged of by daylight; if, after you have got into the shop, the tradesman proceeds to lower the gas, or to remove the lamp, and then commences to show you his goods, your suspicion is aroused, and you conclude that he will try to palm off an inferior article. I more than suspect this to be the little game of the inspiration-depreciators. Whenever a man begins to lower your view of inspiration, it is because he has a trick to play, which is not easily performed in the light. He would hold a séance of evil spirits, and therefore he cries, "Let the lights be lowered." We, brethren, are willing to ascribe to the Word of God all the inspiration that can possibly be ascribed to it; and we say boldly that if our preaching is not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in it. We are willing to be tried and tested by it in every way, and we count those to be the noblest of our hearers who search the Scriptures daily to see whether these things be so; but to those who belittle inspiration we will give place by subjection, no, not for an hour.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

No Mr. Scarborough…

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An Open Letter to Joe Scarborough in view of his recent article: Jeffress throws Jesus under the bus.

Dear Mr. Scarborough:

I know precious little about Robert Jeffress, his background, personal life, or theology – but I would encourage you to reconsider his comments about the Mormon religion. For you to accuse Mr. Jeffress of reckless judgmentalism raises serious questions concerning your own understanding of the issue, and I would suggest that your culpability here is enhanced in view of your own background and training (which you describe in your article). In view of your exposure to the Scriptures over the years, you should know something about historic biblical theology, which has always asserted the supremacy and uniqueness of Jesus Christ. It is no rumor when I inform you that Mormons do believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers – a teaching which places it squarely outside the pale historic Christianity. If you are in doubt of this, then I encourage you to research this matter for yourself. As a journalist, it is your ethical duty to have adequate knowledge concerning your subjects of analysis – especially if you are going to judge another man for his assessment of these issues, like Jeffress. In the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints publication entitled, Gospel Principles, it is clearly asserted that Satan and Jesus Christ are “our brothers” – both of whom vied for the position of Savior:

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Now we should contrast this with historic Christian teaching. Nowhere in the Bible will you find Satan and Christ being referred to as brothers. Such a claim as this is disastrous and undermines the very person, nature, and work of the second person of the Trinity: the Son of God. In fact, Satan (Lucifer) is a fallen angel who fell in sin (Luke 10:18) and awaits his eternal doom, along will all the other angels who fell with him (Rev. 12:9). To liken Satan with Jesus is no small matter. For that matter, it is no small issue to liken the eternal Son of God to the angels in any capacity. It is this very error to which the author of Hebrews directs his polemic in Hebrews chapter 2. It is in that chapter that the supremacy, condescension, and exaltation of Christ is revealed; however, the author of Hebrews never calls the devil a brother – not of Christ, nor of the children of God. Despite the LDS's attempts to redact their teachings, their own book - Gospel Principles – well summarizes their actual beliefs. Their Christology alone places them in a class of thought that is well outside of Christianity. But should you pursue their teachings even further, you will find other matters of concern:

Their Repeated Reversals of other Teachings of Christ: Central to Mormon doctrine is the exaltation of earthly marriage. This emphasis on marriage is that which by far exceeds what the Bible teaches. Many Mormons place their hope in the idea that, if they are good enough (Gospel Principles, p. 231), they will continue as families (with marital covenants fully intact), ad infinitum. But Jesus clearly taught that earthly marriage will not continue into eternity (see Matt 22:25-31). Yet despite this clear teaching, the Mormon “scriptures” refute what the Savior taught: “When we are married in the temple by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, we are married for time and eternity. Death cannot separate us. If we obey the commandments of the Lord, our families will be together forever as husband, wife, and children.” (Gospel Principles, p. 232). A careful reading of the Mormon “scriptures” reveals that they frequently throw the teachings of Christ “under the bus,” and that with much impudence.

Their Repeated Subjugation of Biblical Authority: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts four books as scripture: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.” (Gospel Principles, p. 49). Though the Bible is included in their list of authoritative books, it is frequently derided by the latter works. In the end, their books of true importance are - Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In fact, for Mormons, the supremacy of the book of Mormon represents one of their core distinctives: “Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon into English through the gift of the power of God. He said that it is ‘the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4:461, in Gospel Principles, p. 50). With such a view of the book of Mormon in place, the supremacy of biblical authority is completely eliminated.

Their Dishonesty over Racism in the Book of Mormon:  The Bible clearly rejects racism, but the book of Mormon clearly promotes it: 2 Nephi 5: 21- 'And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.' and - Alma 3: 6- 'And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.' These horrific doctrines were conveniently whisked away by their “prophet” in 1978 – not because the doctrines were so horrific, but because of mounting pressure from without. Mormonism has allotted itself the convenience of having ongoing prophets who have the right and authority to change and refute their very own “scriptures” – “We have a prophet living on the earth today. This prophet is the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has the right to revelation for the entire Church. He holds the ‘keys of the kingdom’” (Gospel Principles, p. 44). This has revealed their true opinion about their own “scriptures” – The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Their constant need to redact their own scriptures is quite telling. Thus, their proclivity to play fast and loose with the book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith called “the most correct of any book on earth,” should give anyone pause.

Mormon Christology is, by itself, dangerous enough, but I have supplied these additional concerns in order to illustrate the breadth of error found within the very religion that you have chosen to defend. Mr. Scarborough – I must suggest to you that your charge of judgmentalism is deeply premature. While I know not Mr. Jefress’ heart, nor yours, I fear that you yourself have made a premature judgment with precious little facts on your side. Your choice to side with Mormonism in this manner raises questions about who is actually “throwing Jesus under the bus,” as you repeatedly say in your Politico article.  I challenge you to search this matter out and give it careful consideration. My ultimate prayer for the Mormon community is that they would abandon the false and shifting doctrines of their leaders, and flee to Christ and His teachings alone. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Great Peace Amidst a Great War

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A Sermon Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary, on Sunday morning, March 10, 1929.
By Rev. Professor J. Gresham Machen, D.D., Litt.D.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7)
Fight the good fight of faith. (1 Tim. 6:12 [part])
[Origin: Banner of Truth.]

The Apostle Paul was a great fighter. His fighting was partly against external enemies — against hardships of all kinds. Five times he was scourged by the Jews, three times by the Romans; he suffered shipwreck four times; and was in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by his own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. And finally he came to the logical end of such a life, by the headsman’s axe. It was hardly a peaceful life, but was rather a life of wild adventure. Lindbergh, I suppose, got a thrill when he hopped off to Paris,[1] and people are in search of thrills today; but if you wanted a really unbroken succession of thrills, I think you could hardly do better than try knocking around the Roman Empire of the first century with the Apostle Paul, engaged in the unpopular business of turning the world upside down.

But these physical hardships were not the chief battle in which Paul was engaged. Far more trying was the battle that he fought against the enemies in his own camp. Everywhere his rear was threatened by an all-engulfing paganism or by a perverted Judaism that has missed the real purpose of the Old Testament law. Read the Epistles with care, and you see Paul always in conflict. At one time he fights paganism in life, the notion that all kinds of conduct are lawful to the Christian man, a philosophy that makes Christian liberty a mere aid to pagan licence. At another time, he fights paganism in thought, the sublimation of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body into the pagan doctrine of the immortality of the soul. At still another time, he fights the effort of human pride to substitute man’s merit as the means of salvation for divine grace; he fights the subtle propaganda of the Judaizers with its misleading appeal to the Word of God. Everywhere we see the great apostle in conflict for the preservation of the church. It is as though a mighty flood were seeking to engulf the church’s life; dam the break at one point in the levée, and another break appears somewhere else. Everywhere paganism was seeping through; not for one moment did Paul have peace; always he was called upon to fight.

Fortunately, he was a true fighter; and by God’s grace he not only fought, but he won. At first sight indeed he might have seemed to have lost. The lofty doctrine of divine grace, the centre and core of the gospel that Paul preached, did not always dominate the mind and heart of the subsequent church. The Christianity of the Apostolic Fathers, of the Apologists, of Irenæus, is very different from the Christianity of Paul. The church meant to be faithful to the apostle; but the pure doctrine of the Cross runs counter to the natural man, and not always, even in the church, was it fully understood. Read the Epistle to the Romans first, and then read Irenæus, and you are conscious of a mighty decline. No longer does the gospel stand out sharp and clear; there is a large admixture of human error; and it might seem as though Christian freedom, after all, were to be entangled in the meshes of a new law.

But even Irenæus is very different from the Judaizers; something had been gained even in his day: and God had greater things than Irenæus in store for the church. The Epistles which Paul struck forth in conflict with the opponents in his own day remained in the New Testament as a personal source of life for the people of God. Augustine on the basis of the Epistles, set forth the Pauline doctrine of sin and grace; and then, after centuries of compromise with the natural man, the Reformation rediscovered the great liberating Pauline doctrine of justification by faith. So it has always been with Paul. Just when he seems to be defeated, his greatest triumphs, by God’s grace, are in store.

The human instruments, however, which God uses in great triumphs of faith are no pacifists, but great fighters like Paul himself. Little affinity for the great apostle has the whole tribe of considerers of consequences, the whole tribe of the compromisers ancient and modern. The real companions of Paul are the great heroes of the faith. But who are those heroes? Are they not true fighters, one and all? Tertullian fought a mighty battle against Marcion; Athanasius fought against the Arians; Augustine fought against Pelagius; and as for Luther, he fought a brave battle against kings and princes and popes for the liberty of the people of God. Luther was a great fighter; and we love him for it. So was Calvin; so were John Knox and all the rest. It is impossible to be a true soldier of Jesus Christ and not fight.
God grant that you — students in the seminary — may be fighters, too! Probably you have your battles even now; you have to contend against sins gross or sins refined; you have to contend against the sin of slothfulness and inertia; you have, many of you, I know very well, a mighty battle on your hands against doubt and despair. Do not think it strange if you fall thus into divers temptations. The Christian life is a warfare after all. John Bunyan rightly set it forth under the allegory of a Holy War; and when he set it forth, in his greater book, under the figure of a pilgrimage,[2] the pilgrimage, too, was full of battles. There are indeed, places of refreshment on the Christian way; the House Beautiful was provided by the King at the top of the Hill Difficulty, for the entertainment of pilgrims, and from the Delectable Mountains could sometimes be discerned the shining towers of the City of God. But just after the descent from the House Beautiful, there was the battle with Apollyon and the Valley of Humiliation, and later came the Valley of the Shadow of Death. No, the Christian faces a mighty conflict in this world. Pray God that in that conflict you may be true men; good soldiers of Jesus Christ, not willing to compromise with your great enemy, not easily cast down, and seeking ever the renewing of your strength in the Word and sacraments and prayer!

You will have a battle, too, when you go forth as ministers into the church. The church is now in a period of deadly conflict. The redemptive religion known as Christianity is contending, in our own Presbyterian Church[3] and in all the larger churches in the world, against a totally alien type of religion. As always, the enemy conceals his most dangerous assaults under pious phrases and half truths. The shibboleths of the adversary have sometimes a very deceptive sound. 'Let us propagate Christianity,' the adversary says, 'but let us not always be engaged in arguing in defence of it; let us make our preaching positive, and not negative; let us avoid controversy; let us hold to a Person and not to dogma; let us sink small doctrinal differences and seek the unity of the church of Christ; let us drop doctrinal accretions and interpret Christ for ourselves; let us look for our knowledge of Christ in our hearts; let us not impose Western creeds on the Eastern mind; let us be tolerant of opposing views.' Such are some of the shibboleths of that agnostic Modernism which is the deadliest enemy of the Christian religion today. They deceive some of God’s people some of the time; they are heard sometimes from the lips of good Christian people, who have not the slightest inkling of what they mean. But their true meaning, to thinking men, is becoming increasingly clear. Increasingly it is becoming necessary for a man to decide whether he is going to stand or not to stand for the Lord Jesus Christ as he is presented to us in the Word of God.

If you decide to stand for Christ, you will not have an easy life in the ministry. Of course, you may try to evade the conflict. All men will speak well of you if, after preaching no matter how unpopular a gospel on Sunday, you will only vote against that gospel in the councils of the church the next day; you will graciously be permitted to believe in supernatural Christianity all you please if you will only act as though you did not believe in it, if you will only make common cause with its opponents. Such is the programme that will win the favour of the church. A man may believe what he pleases, provided he does not believe anything strongly enough to risk his life on it and fight for it. 'Tolerance' is the great word. Men even ask for tolerance when they look to God in prayer. But how can any Christian possibly pray such a prayer as that? What a terrible prayer it is, how full of disloyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ! There is a sense, of course, in which tolerance is a virtue. If by it you mean tolerance on the part of the state, the forbearance of majorities toward minorities, the resolute rejection of any measures of physical compulsion in propagating either what is true or what is false, then of course, the Christian ought to favour tolerance with all his might and main, and ought to lament the widespread growth of intolerance in America today. Or if you mean by tolerance forbearance toward personal attacks upon yourself, or courtesy and patience and fairness in dealing with all errors of whatever kind, then again tolerance is a virtue. But to pray for tolerance apart from such qualifications, in particular to pray for tolerance without careful definition of that of which you are to be tolerant, is just to pray for the breakdown of the Christian religion; for the Christian religion is intolerant to the core. There lies the whole offence of the Cross —a nd also the whole power of it. Always the gospel would have been received with favour by the world if it had been presented merely as one way of salvation; the offence came because it was presented as the only way, and because it made relentless war upon all other ways. God save us, then, from this 'tolerance' of which we hear so much: God deliver us from the sin of making common cause with those who deny or ignore the blessed gospel of Jesus Christ! God save us from the deadly guilt of consenting to the presence as our representatives in the church of those who lead Christ’s little ones astray; God make us, whatever else we are, just faithful messengers, who present, without fear or favour, not our word, but the Word of God.

But if you are such messengers, you will have the opposition, not only of the world, but increasingly, I fear, of the church. I cannot tell you that your sacrifice will be light. No doubt it would be noble to care nothing whatever about the judgment of our fellow men. But to such nobility I confess that I for my part have not quite attained, and I cannot expect you to have attained to it. I confess that academic preferments, easy access to great libraries, the society of cultured people, and in general the thousand advantages that come from being regarded as respectable people in a respectable world — I confess that these things seem to me to be in themselves good and desirable things. Yet the servant of Jesus Christ, to an increasing extent, is being obliged to give them up. Certainly, in making that sacrifice we do not complain; for we have something with which all that we have lost is not worthy to be compared. Still, it can hardly be said that any unworthy motives of self-interest can lead us to adopt a course which brings us nothing but reproach. Where, then, shall we find a sufficient motive for such a course as that; where shall we find courage to stand against the whole current of the age; where shall we find courage for this fight of faith?
I do not think that we shall obtain courage by any mere lust of conflict. In some battles that means may perhaps suffice. Soldiers in bayonet practice were sometimes, and for all I know still are, taught to give a shout when they thrust their bayonets at imaginary enemies; I heard them doing it even long after the armistice in France. That serves, I suppose, to overcome the natural inhibition of civilized man against sticking a knife into human bodies. It is thought to develop the proper spirit of conflict. Perhaps it may be necessary in some kinds of war. But it will hardly serve in this Christian conflict. In this conflict I do not think we can be good fighters simply by being resolved to fight. For this battle is a battle of love; and nothing ruins a man’s service in it so much as a spirit of hate.

No, if we want to learn the secret of this warfare, we shall have to look deeper; and we can hardly do better than turn again to that great fighter, the Apostle Paul. What was the secret of his power in the mighty conflict; how did he learn to fight?

The answer is paradoxical; but it is very simple. Paul was a great fighter because he was at peace. He who said, 'Fight the good fight of faith,' spoke also of 'the peace of God which passeth all understanding'; and in that peace the sinews of his war were found. He fought against the enemies that were without because he was at peace within; there was an inner sanctuary in his life that no enemy could disturb. There, my friends, is the great central truth. You cannot fight successfully with beasts, as Paul did at Ephesus; you cannot fight successfully against evil men, or against the devil and his spiritual powers of wickedness in high places, unless when you fight against those enemies there is One with whom you are at peace.
But if you are at peace with that One, then you can care little what men may do. You can say with the apostles, 'We must obey God rather than men'; you can say with Luther, 'Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen'; you can say with Elisha, 'They that be with us are more than they that be with them'; you can say with Paul, 'It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?' Without that peace of God in your hearts, you will strike little terror into the enemies of the gospel of Christ. You may amass mighty resources for the conflict; you may be great masters of ecclesiastical strategy; you may be very clever, and very zealous too; but I fear that it will be of little avail. There may be a tremendous din; but when the din is over, the Lord’s enemies will be in possession of the field. No, there is no other way to be a really good fighter. You cannot fight God’s battle against God’s enemies unless you are at peace with him.
But how shall you be at peace with him? Many ways have been tried. How pathetic is the age-long effort of sinful man to become right with God; sacrifice, lacerations, almsgiving, morality, penance, confession! But alas, it is all of no avail. Still there is that same awful gulf. It may be temporarily concealed; spiritual exercises may conceal it for a time; penance or the confession of sin unto men may give a temporary and apparent relief. But the real trouble remains; the burden is still on the back; Mount Sinai is still ready to shoot forth flames; the soul is still not at peace with God. How then shall peace be obtained?

My friends, it cannot be attained by anything in us. Oh, that that truth could be written in the hearts of every one of you! If it could be written in the hearts of every one of you, the main purpose of this seminary would be attained. Oh, that it could be written in letters of flame for all the world to read! Peace with God cannot be attained by any act or any mere experience of man; it cannot be attained by good works, neither can it be attained by confession of sin, neither can it be attained by any psychological results of an act of faith. We can never be at peace with God unless God first be at peace with us. But how can God be at peace with us? Can he be at peace with us by ignoring the guilt of sin? by descending from his throne? by throwing the universe into chaos? by making wrong to be the same as right? by making a dead letter of his holy law? 'The soul that sinneth it shall die,' by treating his eternal laws as though they were the changeable laws of man? Oh, what an abyss were the universe if that were done, what a mad anarchy, what a wild demon-riot! Where could there be peace if God were thus at war with himself; where could there be a foundation if God’s laws were not sure? Oh, no, my friends, peace cannot be attained for man by the great modern method of dragging God down to man’s level; peace cannot be attained by denying that right is right and wrong is wrong; peace can nowhere be attained if the awful justice of God stand not forever sure.

How then can we sinners stand before that throne? How can there be peace for us in the presence of the justice of God? How can he be just and yet justify the ungodly? There is one answer to these questions. It is not our answer. Our wisdom could never have discovered it. It is God’s answer. It is found in the story of the Cross. We deserved eternal death because of sin; the eternal Son of God, because he loved us, and because he was sent by the Father who loved us too, died in our stead, for our sins, upon the Cross. That message is despised today; upon it the visible church as well as the world pours out the vials of its scorn, or else does it even less honour by paying it lip-service and then passing it by. Men dismiss it as a 'theory of the atonement,' and fall back upon the customary commonplaces about a principle of self-sacrifice, or the culmination of a universal law, or a revelation of the love of God, or the hallowing of suffering, or the similarity between Christ’s death and the death of soldiers who perished in the great war.[4] In the presence of such blindness, our words often seem vain. We may tell men something of what we think about the Cross of Christ, but it is harder to tell them what we feel. We pour forth our tears of gratitude and love; we open to the multitude the depths of our souls; we celebrate a mystery so tender, so holy, that we might think it would soften even a heart of stone. But all to no purpose. The Cross remains foolishness to the world, men turn coldly away, and our preaching seems but vain. And then comes the wonder of wonders! The hour comes for some poor soul, even through the simplest and poorest preaching; the message is honoured, not the messenger; there comes a flash of light into the soul, and all is as clear as day. 'He loved me and gave himself for me,' says the sinner at last, as he contemplates the Saviour upon the Cross. The burden of sin falls from the back, and a soul enters into the peace of God.

Have you yourselves that peace, my friends? If you have, you will not be deceived by the propaganda of any disloyal church. If you have the peace of God in your hearts, you will never shrink from controversy; you will never be afraid to contend earnestly for the faith. Talk of peace in the present deadly peril of the church, and you show, unless you be strangely ignorant of the conditions that exist, that you have little inkling of the true peace of God. Those who have been at the foot of the Cross will not be afraid to go forth under the banner of the Cross to a holy war of love.

I know that it is hard to live on the heights of Christian experience. We have had flashes of the true meaning of the Cross of Christ; but then come long, dull days. What shall we do in those dull times? Shall we cease to witness for Christ; shall we make common cause, in those dull days, with those who would destroy the corporate witness of the church? Perhaps we may be tempted to do so. When there are such enemies in our own souls, we may be tempted to say, what time have we for the opponents without? Such reasoning is plausible. But all the same it is false. We are not saved by keeping ourselves constantly in the proper frame of mind, but we were saved by Christ once for all when we were born again by God’s Spirit and were enabled by him to put our trust in the Saviour. And the gospel message does not cease to be true because we for the moment have lost sight of the full glory of it. Sad will it be for those to whom we minister if we let our changing moods be determinative of the message that at any moment we proclaim, or if we let our changing moods determine the question whether we shall or shall not stand against the rampant forces of unbelief in the church. We ought to look, not within, but without, for the content of our witness-bearing; not to our changing feelings and experiences, but to the Bible as the Word of God. Then, and then only, shall we preach, not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.

Where are you going to stand in the great battle which now rages in the church? Are you going to curry favour with the world by standing aloof; are you going to be 'conservative liberals' or 'liberal conservatives' or 'Christians who do not believe in controversy,' or anything else so self-contradictory and absurd? Are you going to be Christians, but not Christians overmuch? Are you going to stand coldly aloof when God’s people fight against ecclesiastical tyranny at home and abroad? Are you going to excuse yourselves by pointing out personal defects in those who contend for the faith today? Are you going to be disloyal to Christ in external testimony until you can make all well within your own soul? Be assured, you will never accomplish your purpose if you adopt such a programme as that. Witness bravely to the truth that you already understand, and more will be given you; but make common cause with those who deny or ignore the gospel of Christ, and the enemy will forever run riot in your life.

There are many hopes that I cherish for you men, with whom I am united by such ties of affection. I hope that you may be gifted preachers; I hope that you may have happy lives; I hope that you may have adequate support for yourselves and for your families; I hope that you may have good churches. But I hope something for you far more than all that. I hope above all that, wherever you are and however your preaching may be received, you may be true witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ; I hope that there may never be any doubt where you stand, but that always you may stand squarely for Jesus Christ, as he is offered to us, not in the experiences of men, but in the blessed written Word of God.

I do not mean that the great issue of the day must be polemically presented in every sermon that you preach. No doubt that would be exceedingly unwise. You should always endeavour to build the people up by simple and positive instruction in the Word. But never will such simple and positive instruction in the Word have the full blessing of God, if, when the occasion does arise to take a stand, you shrink back. God hardly honours the ministry of those who in the hour of decision are ashamed of the gospel of Christ.

But we are persuaded better things of you, my brethren. You have, indeed, your struggles here in the seminary: faith contends against doubt and doubt contends against faith for the possession of your souls. Many of you are called upon to pass through deep waters and to face fiery trials. Never is it an easy process to substitute for the unthinking faith of childhood the fire-tested convictions of full-grown men. But may God bring you through! May God bring you out from the mists of doubt and hesitation into the clear shining of the light of faith. You may not indeed at once attain full clearness; gloomy doubts may arise like angels of Satan to buffet you. But God grant that you may have sufficient clearness to stand at least for Jesus Christ. It will not be easy. Many have been swept from their moorings by the current of the age; a church grown worldly often tyrannizes over those who look for guidance to God’s Word alone. But this is not the first discouraging time in the history of the church; other times were just as dark, and yet always God has watched over his people, and the darkest hour has sometimes preceded the dawn. So even now God has not left himself without a witness. In many lands there are those who have faced the great issue of the day and have decided it aright, who have preserved true independence of mind in the presence of the world; in many lands there are groups of Christian people who in the face of ecclesiastical tyranny have not been afraid to stand for Jesus Christ. God grant that you may give comfort to them as you go forth from this seminary; God grant that you may rejoice their hearts by giving them your hand and your voice. To do so you will need courage. Far easier is it to curry favour with the world by abusing those whom the world abuses, by speaking against controversy, by taking a balcony view of the struggle in which God’s servants are engaged.

But God save you from such a neutrality as that! It has a certain worldly appearance of urbanity and charity. But how cruel it is to burdened souls; how heartless it is to those little ones who are looking to the church for some clear message from God! God save you from being so heartless and so unloving and so cold! God grant, instead, that in all humility but also in all boldness, in reliance upon God, you may fight the good fight of faith. Peace is indeed yours, the peace of God which passeth all understanding. But that peace is given you, not that you may be onlookers or neutrals in love’s battle, but that you may be good soldiers of Jesus Christ.


Origin: Banner of Truth. The above sermon was first published in The Presbyterian 99.13 (28 March 1929): 6-10. Notes added.


[1] The reference is to Charles Lindbergh, who completed the first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic on May 21, 1927, less than two years prior to Machen's sermon.

[2] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977).

[3] The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). This sermon was preached just three months before Machen, with Allis, Van Til and Wilson, resigned from Princeton following the 1929 Assembly's decision to reorganise the Seminary. A few years later, Machen was to lead the group which broke away from the PCUSA to form what became the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

[4] World War I (1914-18).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

www.wheredoyoustand.com

webuytruth copy

Domain names are interesting things. With the large number of domain extensions out there in the world of the internet-ethersphere, it is not uncommon to have two websites, with the same domain prefix but different extensions, sporting some radically different content. This truth was refreshed in my thinking very recently. In the providence of God we discovered a spike in web-traffic at our video-apologetics site, www.wheredoyoustand.us, from people who were looking for the same domain prefix, but with the .com extension. Out of curiosity I looked to see what others were seeking and finding. It turns out that this alternate-universe-wheredoyoustand site is a kind of video storefront for fashion designer Kenneth Cole, husband of Maria Cuomo (daughter of former New York governor Mario Cuomo). At wheredoyoustand.com, viewers are exposed to a small montage of videos featuring Kenneth-Cole-fashion-clothing adorned models, whose sole purpose is (it would appear) to raise doubt on a number of controversial social and moral issues. The lesser of these “issues” deals with gun ownership rights. The more striking issue raised deals with homosexuality, where the obviously implied message is: homosexuality is good and acceptable.

Well, I thank God that several of these web-searchers initially failed to find Cole’s Vanity Fair[1] storefront, but instead stumbled upon a selection of very different videos that were crafted from a remarkably antithetical set of values:

1. Atheism & Religionism versus The Gospel: What good can religion, agnosticism, or even atheism bring to a person? This video presents an important query about all three belief systems.

2. All Men are Created Equal?: Can it really be said that “all men are created equal?” Were men “created” and in what sense does the notion of “race” factor into this question? As well, is “racialism” a valid concept of the human race?

3. The Reality of “Atheism”: Atheism is one of the fastest growing movements in America. What is Atheism, and how is it that atheists can come to such a conviction that there is no God? As well, why are the advocates of atheism becoming more active in advancing their viewpoints?

4. The Marks of True Patriotism: Do you consider yourself to be a good American patriot? What does it mean to be a patriot, and how might one live out such patriotism? As well, does your sense of patriotism change at all based upon who is serving in leadership at the time?

5. Religion, Politics & True Hope: Perhaps you have seen examples where religious faith has been used for the sake of political advantage. Is there anything wrong with using spiritual terms to describe our American politics & patriotism?

6. Do We Live in a Pointless Universe?: As scientists continue to research the vastness of space, we are discovering that the universe is much larger than we have ever imagined. Because of these ongoing findings within cosmology, many have surmised that mankind is utterly insignificant. As well, if it is true that the Universe will continue to expand forever into a cold and lifeless void, can it be said that “We live in a Pointless Universe?”

7. Philosophy vs. True Science: Can it be argued that the Universe “created itself out of nothing” as posited by Mr. Stephen Hawking? Is such a supposition the product of philosophy or empirical science - and does it matter? Will C.E.R.N.’s Large Hadron Particle Accelerator be able to unlock the universe’s deepest secrets?

Page 2 - Reviews:

8. Film Review - “Religulous” - by Bill Maher: Bill Maher’s movie “Religulous” argues that religion is harmful to humanity, and that all forms of theism amount to a single genre of foolishness called “religion.” In this review we examine the best and worst of what Maher has to say.

9. Book Review - God is not Great?: Christopher Hitchens’ book - “god is not Great” has become very popular throughout the world. He, like Bill Maher, argues that theism is “child abuse” and is a “poisonous branch that should have been snapped off long ago...” p. 275. Is religion a dangerous and poisonous branch within mankind?

10. Hymn Review - My Country ‘Tis of Thee: The hymn “America” supplies some very important lessons about the nature of our nation’s independence, dependence, and liberty. What is that message, and why is it still so important for our own day and age?

May the Father draw men to seek and find the possessor of all truth, blessings, and riches: Jesus Christ.


[1] Here, "Vanity Fair" is referenced from John Bunyan's classic work, Pilgrim's Progress. In Bunyan's Vanity Fair, Christian and Faithful face the shallowness of the world's love for money, possessions, fame, and power. When one merchant asked the two pilgrims what they were interested in buying amidst all the worldly wares available to them, they cried out: "we buy truth!" (Proverbs 23:23).

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Great Gain of Godliness

Thomas-Watson

Taking no pleasure in this admission, let me say that I have far more pastors that I admire from yesteryear than I have in the modern day. Don’t get me wrong – I do have some men whom I respect and admire in the present, but they consist of an ever-shrinking minority. I fear that if men like Thomas Boston, Thomas Watson, John Calvin, or Thomas Manton were here today, they would be befuddled by most churches who identify themselves as conservative adherents to the five solas of the Reformation. The Berean spirit of past ages seems to have been replaced with a kind of truth-by-popular-appeal which says: “If it’s cool, trendy, and praised by many, ‘it’ must be good and true.”  I say all this, not to complain, but to offer the context of my appreciation for men like Thomas Watson. His words of comfort are penetrating because he heralds, not himself, but the truth of God’s word. My recent discovery of his work on Malachi 3:16-18 underscores this:

“Why should we be holiest in evil times?

1. Because of the divine injunction. God charges us to be singular, to be circumspect (Eph. 5:15), to be separate from idolaters (2 Cor. 6:17), to shine as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15). He forbids us to join together with sinners, or do as they do. The way to hell is a well-trodden road, and the Lord calls to us to turn out of the road: Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil (Exod. 23:2). This is sufficient reason to keep ourselves pure in a time of common infection. As God’s Word is our rule, so his will is our warrant.

2. To be holiest in evil times is an indication of the truth of grace. To profess religion when the times favor it is no great matter. Almost all will court the Gospel Queen when she is hung with jewels. But to own the ways of God when they are decried and maligned, to love a persecuted truth, this evidences a vital principle of goodness. Dead fish swim down the stream, living fish swim against it. To swim against the common stream of evil shows grace to be alive. The prophet Elijah continuing zealous for the Lord of Hosts when they had dug down God’s altars (1 Kings 19:10, Rom. 11:3) showed his heart and lips had been touched with a coal from the altar.” [Thomas Watson, The Great Gain of Godliness: Practical Notes on Malachi 3:16-18, (Banner of Truth, pp. 5-6)]

I am sorry to say that too much of American Christianity has become a “Gospel Queen…hung with jewels,” where veracity is established by popularity rather than truth. Watson’s encouragement is helpful and timely for our generation. We must never be persuaded by the fads of the famous. Many of God’s greatest spokesmen and prophets were the most infamous of their generation. Ultimately, God’s greatest Prophet was crucified by the leaders of the religious establishment. Truth is neither augmented or diminished by the praise or persecution of men, because God’s truth is immutably and infallibly true. The gems found within Watson’s work are many, which is why Spurgeon expressed great disappointment for not having this book within his vast library:

“C.H. Spurgeon had a well-stocked library of around 12,000 volumes. However, one rare book was not to be found amongst that valuable collection: Thomas Watson on Malachi 3:16-18. With a note of sadness in his voice he said to his College students: ‘This [volume] would be a great find if we could come at it, for Watson is one of the clearest and liveliest of Puritan authors. We fear we shall never see this commentary, for we have tried to obtain it, and tried in vain.’” [Banner of Truth Publisher’s note, The Great Gain of Godliness, Back Cover]

What Spurgeon failed to find in his lifetime has been rediscovered and republished for our encouragement and edification. I heartily commend this work to you.