“Maybe they have a way, and I’ve just not seen it…”

From the 1994 Desiring God Pastor’s Conference: Sanctification by Faith Alone.  In the panel discussion, featuring John Piper and Daniel Fuller, the following question was asked, and Piper relates his position on imputation and the covenant of works.  Note that by 2006, he published this, in which he said, “Many of his theological heroes have been covenant theologians (for example, many of the Puritans), and he does see some merit in the concept of a pre-fall covenant of works…”  “Some merit” is quite different than a “profound rejection.”  Anyway, here’s where he was at in 1994:

Question: Contrast your understanding of sanctification with Packer, Ryle, Bridges, especially in the practical of teaching, dealing with people differently, encouraging them in their christian growth.  What is the essence of the difference in theory and in practice?

Answer: Number 1, a profound rejection of the covenant of works. I’m persuaded that there is no such thing.  Dr, Fuller really didn’t persuade me of that, I just never could find it, I never could find it in the Bible.  And when I went out to Gordon,  and who’s the Old Testament guy out there that gets so upset about this?  Meredith Kline just turned red in the face when he was talking to me, like the whole universe was going to collapse if what I said was true, namely the cross would collapse.  That the fundamental issue on the covenant of works for Meredith Kline and most covenant theologians is you’re wrecking the atonement.  If you say that Adam was not asked to earn eternal life, which then the second Adam purchases by earning it through obedience passively and actively, then you have destroyed the fabric of the Bible, the atonement and ethics.  So one profound difference for all those three people you named is that Fuller and I reject their structure.  So that’s a theoretical difference.  The structure of the covenant of works is gone.

Now practically, I’m not sure how this works out, because I benefit so from reading these guys who have this profound difference. I mean, Owen, I was reading him the other night, and he said more clearly than any theologian I have ever read, he said, “Jesus earned our salvation by fulfilling the  covenant of works.”  He just said it very very clearly.  and I think the practical implication is that running through my system now is not a meritorious effort on the part of Jesus to fulfill the covenant that Adam blew, by not earning, but rather Jesus becomes a Christian hedonist, in that he knows that God is most glorified in him when he is most satisfied in God, and if you buy my definition of faith, as being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus that simply  means Jesus glorified his Father through trusting him all the way through the cross for the joy that was set before him. Never did he relate to his father as an employer, job description, by which he would earn wages called eternal life.  God never taught Adam or his second Adam to do the Galatian heresy.  I learned saying it that way from Dr. Fuller.  And I think that’s exactly right.  He never commanded the Galatian heresy as a wise way to live.  Rather he commanded faith, and faith is seeking to be so satisfied in God that if you have to die in order to get the fullest benefit of God, you’ll die.  If you have to die to bring the redeemed into heaven, if I have to die to carry this church to obedience, I’ll die.  But I will not sacrifice the joy of the fullest experience of God in that ministry and in that destiny.

And that’s my sanctification, that’s the essence of practical sanctification.  If we are holy to the degree that we are cheerfulgivers rather than begrudging givers, you cannot make people holy without making them happy.  And therefore my goal every Sunday is the advancement and joy of faith, Philippians 1:25.  Now I read parts of Owen that are almost exactly like that.  Read pages 82-85 of “Mortification” in volume 6, he talks almost just like that.

So I’m wound up saying the Puritans are inconsistent.  They don’t carry through the covenant of works thing, maybe they have a way of making it consistent and I’ve just not seen it,.  but i don’t find the structure, the theoretical thing right, so there’s a difference between me and those guys, and practically I don’t hear them, MacArthur’s just another good example, I don’t hear him doing what I said needs to be done, namely, calling people to be satisfied in God.  I think most pastors are really happy, are not really as upset as I am, when people are satisfied with their money, and satisfied with their second and third houses, and satisfied with their nice clothes, and satisfied with moving to the right neighborhood.  They don’t think that’s a real big issue.  I think it’s the issue.  You can’tbe a holy person without getting your satisfaction from God.

“Edwards for me is totally unhelpful…”

I’ve been processing John Piper, Daniel Fuller, and Jonathan Edwards for awhile.  This past week I listened through the messages of Desiring God’s 1994 Pastor’s Conference, where Fuller was the featured speaker.  His three messages are loaded with everything he teaches in his book Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum?, (which I reviewed).  Of particular interest to me is the influence of Jonathan Edwards on Fuller, of Fuller on Piper, of Edwards on Piper, and how those influences have changed over the years, especially regarding the doctrine of justification.  Here is a quote from Fuller’s talk titled “Sanctification by Faith Alone: the Nuts and Bolts of Living,” almost near the end, during the question and answer time.

I’m not satisfied with Edwards’s understanding of what a person must do to be saved.  I haven’t been helped at all from Edwards’s understanding of soteriology.  Edwards has helped me in God’s purpose in creating the world, and understanding that election is not arbitrary and yet not because of any merit on the part of anybody.  But Edwards is for me totally unhelpful when it comes to soteriology.  I sometimes wonder if Edwards knew what to tell a person to do to be saved.  He was so afraid of telling them to do something by works.  In fact he has that one sermon where he says, “you gotta wait for God to zap you.  and we don’t know how long it’s gonna take.  but if you try your best to keep the law, even though you’re unregenerate and a total rebel against Him, just try.  I think after 20 years or 30 a the most,”  this is Pressing into the Kingdom sermon, “30 years at the most, I’m sure by that time God will have zapped you.”  That’s awful.  Awful. Much as I love Jonathan Edwards, and his picture hangs in the study of the pastor here… (laughter) …and you see what a large debt I owe him in my book The Unity of the Bible, but none of us takes non-canonical writers as infallible.  If we do, we’re in big trouble, my word.

I haven’t read Pressing into the Kingdom, yet, but I plan to soon, and will comment on it when I have.  From briefly glancing at it, I’m not sure Fuller does Edwards justice.  Interestingly, we call that period of time “The Great Awakening,” in which hundreds of people found Edwards to be quite “helpful” when it came to being saved.  In fact Pressing Into the Kingdom” was one of the sermons that was so used in Northhampton.  All that said, I’m pretty sure I’m with Edwards and present-day-Piper, and not with Fuller and then-Piper.

“Sweet Will be the Flower”

In my last post there is a reference to William Cowper’s hymn, “God Works in  Mysterious Ways.”  Unplanned by me, I ended up listening to it again while working yesterday.  I love this song, the lyrics especially, and the music as well.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

“Owen succeeded! After he failed. Or succeeded.”

I love John Piper’s biographical sketches every year.  At the 1994 Pastor’s conference, he did one on John Owen.  The transcript was made into a book, Contending for Our All, but as is usually the case, the actual message that he delivered (on 3.5 hours of sleep!), is so much more dynamic and engaging than the printed manuscript.  I highly recommend listening to the message, even if you’ve had a chance to read it.

Owen, vol. 13 contains "Nonconformity Vindicated." Bunyan, vol. 3 contains "Pilgrim's Progress"
Owen, vol. 13 contains “Nonconformity Vindicated.”
Bunyan, vol. 3 contains “Pilgrim’s Progress”

I had no idea that John Owen’s and John Bunyan’s lives intersected so dramatically.  I knew that Bunyan had written Pilgrim’s Progress while in jail.  I never put the pieces together, that Owen was even a contemporary, much less the role he played as parts of God’s remarkable providence.  Owen spoke highly of Bunyan’s preaching, and had a pivotal role in Bunyan’s getting published.  Here’s how Piper tells it, transcripted directly from the talk, with lots of fun little Piperisms throughout:

This is another glorious illustration of “behind a frowning providence there hides a smiling face,” and we need all the stories we can get, because we are spring-loaded not to believe that.  Owen finds out that Bunyan is in prison.  He works and works and works with all his connections in high places to get him released, and he fails.  Bad, right?  Bad.  The biography I was reading that told this story said, “and after his failure, in 1676, Bunyan walks out of the Bedford jail with a  manuscript the worth and importance of which can scarcely be comprehended.”  Was the failure to get Bunyan out of jail a failure?  Ask yourself.  After the Bible there is no other book in the world, I believe, printed so often or having such a widespread Christian influence as Pilgrim’s Progress.  Had Owen succeeded, we wouldn’t have it, probably.  Brothers, you must not judge quickly your prison experiences. You must not judge them quickly.  I bet Bunyan died, he died 5 years after Owen, without knowing that it would have been worth it.

The story’s not over.  Owen reads the manuscript, and says, “I think this is worth something.”  But here’s a tinker, he knows zero about the publishing industry, he’s got no connections, Owen knows everybody in London, he’s a big wheel, he doesn’t get persecuted because he’s got such connections, he finds Nathaniel Ponder who’s been publishing his books now for a dozen years, and he says “Ponder, publish this book!” and Ponder makes a mint, and sends John Bunyan’s book into orbit.  So Owen succeeded! After he failed. Or succeeded.  He succeeded painfully and he succeeded pleasantly.  And life is just made up like that for Christians.  That’s all we do is succeed.  Either painfully and regretfully or pleasantly.  He died 1683, August 24, he was buried in Bunhill Fields, and 5 years later, Bunyan is buried in the same place, today.

Which I thought was just a tremendous little providence of the Lord to say, here’s a man who lived his whole life for tolerations’ sake, and here’s a Baptist tinker, and they’re lying dead beside each other and both of them today speaking majestically but Bunyan speaking a lot louder than the scholar.

Edwards in Desiring God

John Piper says in Desiring God that “Jonathan Edwards, who deeply savored the sweet sovereignty of God, is one  of the heroes of this book.” (p. 9)  Edwards is the most cited author in the book, from an index of nearly 200 (!)


Here is a list of the works cited in the book.   Everything Edwards wrote can be found at Yale’s page.  If the work can be found in the Banner of Truth Works of Jonathan Edwards, I will reference Volume 1 (B1) or Volume 2 (B2).

Miscellanies 448, 87, 332 – 22

Miscellany 679 – 22

Personal Narrative – 39, 175-6

Concerning the Divine Decrees (B2) – 39-40, 363-4, 366-7

The End for Which God Created the World (B1) – 42, 44

Treatise on Grace – 44

An Essay on the Trinity – 44

“The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners”  (B1) – 60

Freedom of the Will (B1) – 65, 363-5

Religious Affections (B1) – 85, 89, 103, 299, 352

Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England (B1) – 103

“The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister” (B2) – 104

“The Excellency of Christ” (B1) – 107

Charity and Its Fruits – 114

Resolutions (B1) – 159

An Humble Attempt to Promote Prayer for Revival (B2) – 179

“Blessed are the Pure in Heart” (B2) – 208

Life and Diary of David Brainerd (B2) – 242

Memoirs (B1) – 378-9

A “Table of Contents” for the Desiring God Pastor’s Conferences

I often think “I wish there was a _______”  That is usually a signal that I should think about creating one.

Until 2011 the conferences usually revolved around one main speaker (three messages) and a couple other guys who gave a single message.  In 2012 it was broadened beyond one main person.  Every year at the pastor’s conference, Piper gives an biographical message on some figure from church history.  I’ve included the relevant information

Year: Topic: Main Speaker: Biographical Message

1988: By Grace Through Faith, J.I. Packer, Jonathan Edwards

1989: The Achievement of the Cross, Roger Nicole, Charles Simeon

1990: Universalism and the Reality of Eternal Punishment, Sinclair Ferguson, David Brainerd

1991: Spiritual Gifts and the Sovereignty of God, Wayne Grudem, Martyn Lloyd-Jones

1992: God, Congregation and Co-Dependency, Larry Crabb, William Cowper

1993: CEO, Shrink, or Man of God?, Os Guinness, J. Gresham Machen

1994: Sanctification by Faith Alone, Daniel Fuller, John Owen

1995: The Primacy of Expository Preaching, D.A. Carson, Charles Spurgeon

1996: The Pastor and His Study, Iain Murray, Martin Luther

1997: Triumphantly Encouraged: The Privilege of Ministry, John MacArthur, John Calvin

1998: The Gospel in Contemporary Culture, David Wells, St. Augustine

1999: Preaching Today: The (Almost) Forgotten Task, James Montgomery Boice, John Bunyan

2000: Courage in Christian Ministry, Al Mohler, John G. Paton

2001: God, Psychology, and Christian Care of the Soul, David Powlison, John Newton

2002: The Sovereignty of God and the Soul Dynamic, Carl Ellis, William Wilberforce

2003: Good Fences, Bad Fences, and the Glory of Christ, Sinclair Ferguson, Adoniram Judson

2004: Money, Ministry, and the Magnificence of Christ, Randy Alcorn, George Muller

2005: “This is My Beloved Son!” Exulting in the Trinitarian Relationships of Jesus Christ, Bruce Ware, Athanasius

2006: How Must a Pastor Die? The Cost of Caring Like Jesus, Ajith Fernando, William Tyndale

2007: The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul, Andrew Fuller

2008: The Pastor as Father and Son, D.A. Carson, Bill Piper

2009: Commending Christ, Mark Dever, George Whitefield

2010: The Pastor, the People, and the Pursuit of Joy, Sam Storms, C.S. Lewis

2011: The Powerful Life of the Praying Pastor: In His Room, With His Family, Among the People of God, Multiple, Robert Murray McCheyne

2012: God, Manhood, and Ministry: Building Men for the Body of Christ, Multiple, J.C. Ryle

2013: Brothers, We Are Still Not Professionals: Reclaiming the Centrality of the Supernatural in Ministry, Multiple, George Herbert

The Light of Exultation

From The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor by John Piper and D.A. Carson

John Piper describing life in the academy, doing his doctoral work in Germany in the 1970’s.

Exultation over anything glorious was not allowed into their explanations – which meant that the greatest realities were left unexplained, because there are realities that are so great they can only be illumined in the light of exultation.  By and large, there seemed to be little apprehension of the incoherence between the infinite value of the object of the study and the naturalistic nature of their study.  The whole atmosphere seemed unplugged from the majesty of the object. (p. 42)

“The Addicting Power of Talking About Yourself (on the internet)”

From The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor by John Piper and D.A. Carson, also at Desiring God.


There is another possibility—in fact, there are several. One is that I do not have “exceptional qualities” to make my story helpful; I may just be stupid to take this approach. Another possibility is that I may be egotistical and vain. The Internet world we live in today is awash in narcissism and vanity, with some people taking their clothes off literally, because exposure gives them a rush, and others doing it spiritually—because the addicting power of talking about yourself where anyone in the world can read it is overpowering.

I put Philippians 2:3 before me regularly with it’s piercing word kenodoxian(vainglory), “Do nothing from rivalry or vainglory (kenodoxian), but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). The love of human praise—human glory—is universal and deadly.

Jesus said, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44). You can’t. You can’t believe in the crucified Messiah as your supreme treasure and hero, and then love the exact opposite of what took him to the cross.

Oh God, how I love human praise.  Help me to seek and to delight in your glory!

Review: The Nature of True Virtue

The Nature of True Virtue by Jonathan Edwards

This is the second part of two dissertations, the first being The End for Which God Created the World). The first deals with the glory of God; this deals with what constitutes true virtue. It was written to expose the fallacies of other views of virtue which sought to define it without reference to God, but only to the goodness of man.

He starts with a basic definition: “virtue is the beauty of the qualities and exercises of the heart, or those actions which proceed from them…[or] what that is, which renders any habit, disposition, or exercise of the heart truly beautiful.” His answer to what “virtue most essentially consists in,” sounds strange at first: “true virtue most essentially consists in BENEVOLENCE TO BEING IN GENERAL.” He then develops this to show how since God is the source of all being and has infinitely more being than anything else, virtue must consist mostly in love (benevolence) to Him, and love to fellow creatures.

He explains two types of love. Love of benevolence is “that affection or propensity of the heart to any being, which causes it to incline to its well-being, or disposes it to desire and take pleasure in its happiness.” Love of complacence is “delight in beauty, or complacence in the person or being beloved for his beauty.”

As usual, there is so much to stretch the mind into areas never considered before. Have you ever been happy for God because He is so happy? “A benevolent propensity of heart is exercised, not only in seeking to promote the happiness of the being towards whom it is exercised, but also in rejoicing in his happiness.”

His chapter on “natural conscience” was very thought provoking. Edwards explains how it is that man by nature “approves or disapproves the moral treatment which passes between us and others.” A sobering thought was that “The natural conscience, if well-informed, will approve of true virtue, and will disapprove and condemn the want of it, and opposition to it; and yet without seeing the true beauty in it.” Similar to his reasoning in A Divine and Supernatural Light. His description of the final judgment at the close of this chapter is so helpful in describing the sinfulness of man and the total justice of that final judgment, so that “their consciences will approve the dreadful sentence of the judge against them.”

This is one of the most philosophical of Edwards’s writings. It takes intense thought to follow his reasoning, but I found some of the most delightful meditations on love for God to be the result.

Highly recommended.

Edwards’s Influence on Piper: a new book from DG






Captive to Glory (Free eBook)

Captive to Glory

This book is right up my alley.  Like every single resource from DG, including all of John Piper’s books, it’s free.  Each chapter takes a extended excerpt from one of his other books in which Edwards is extensively and explicitly referenced.  God Is the Gospel gets three chapters, Future Grace gets two, and the rest get one a piece: God’s Passion for His GloryThinkDesiring GodThe Supremacy of God in Preaching, and Let the Nations Be Glad!

At the end are two very good appendices.  Piper Encounters Edwards: A Chronology is a somewhat biographical account of when Piper encountered each of the key Edwards books over the course of his life.  It includes a couple of charts in which Piper lists top ten books in order of their significance and impact on him.  The second appendix, Edwards’s Influence on Piper: a Bibliography, is a bibliography, and how I love bibliographies.

The only thing I  could wish for would be for this book to be in print, maybe later this year… ?