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 ( 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

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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).

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