Great Allowances Are to be Made

Jonathan Edwards is a model of charity in theological disputes:

How far a wonderful and mysterious agency of God’s Spirit may so influence some men’s hearts, that their practice in this regard may be contrary to their own principles, so that they shall not trust in their own righteousness, though they profess that men are justified by their own righteousness — or how far they may believe the doctrine of justification by men’s own righteousness in general, and yet not believe it in a particular application of it to themselves — or how far that error which they may have been led into by education, or cunning sophistry of others, may yet be indeed contrary to the prevailing disposition of their hearts, and contrary to their practice — or how far some may seem to maintain a doctrine contrary to this gospel doctrine of justification, that really do not, but only express themselves differently from others, or seem to oppose it through their misunderstanding of our expressions, or we of theirs, when indeed our real sentiments are the same in the main — or may seem to differ more than they do, by using terms that are without a precisely fixed and determinate meaning — or to be wide in their sentiments from this doctrine, for want of a distinct understanding of it: whose hearts, at the same time, entirely agree with it, and if once it was clearly explained to their understandings, would immediately close with it, and embrace it. How far these things may be, I will not determine, but am fully persuaded that great allowances are to be made on these and such like accounts, in innumerable instances. Though it is manifest from what has been said, that the teaching and propagating contrary doctrines and schemes, is of a pernicious and fatal tendency.

From “Justification by Faith Alone.”

(by the way)

I love Edwards.  Reading him is like taking a guided tour through the mountains.   He pulls me along through the most rigorous logical theology, I’m huffing and puffing and sweating, and then he stops, and points off in the distance: “By the way…”

In Justification by Faith Alone, he has a section in which he is proving that “we are justified by faith only, without any manner of goodness of our own.”  This is because “the nature of things will not admit of it,” because of “the infinite guilt that the sinner is under till justified.”  Some argue against the infinite evil of sin like this:  if sin is infinitely evil because it is against an infinite God, then in the same way love to God must be infinitely good because it is toward an infinite God.  Edwards responds with a thick and technical line of reasoning.  I think I had to read it four times, and even now re-reading it a fifth time for the sake of this post I think I grasped it even better.  Our sin “is ill deserving in proportion to the distance there is between God and the creature; the greatness of the Object and the meanness of the subject, aggravates it.”  But the reverse is true with regard to our respect toward God: “it is worthless (and not worthy) in proportion to the meanness of the subject [us]… The unworthiness of sin or opposition to God rises and is great in proportion to the dignity of the object and inferiority of the subject; but on the contrary, the value of respect rises in proportion to the value of the subject.”  In other words, because God is so infinitely worthy of respect, the fact that we are so “mean,” or inferior in our ability to give Him the respect He is due, renders our respect of very little value at all.  Our disrespect, or sin, on the other hand, is “evil and heinous in proportion to the degree of what it denies in the Object, and as it were takes from it.”  He sums up: “Respect is valuable in proportion to the value of what is given to the object in that respect, which undoubtedly is great in proportion to the subject’s value, or worthiness of regard; because the subject in giving his respect, can give no more than himself: so far as he gives his respect, he gives himself to the object; and therefore his gift is of greater or lesser value in proportion to the value of himself.”

whew.  pass me a towel, Jon, please?

and then he drops this:

Hence (by the way) the love, honor, and obedience of Christ towards God, has infinite value, from the excellency and dignity of the person in whom these qualifications were inherent. The reason why we needed a person of infinite dignity to obey for us, was because of our infinite comparative meanness, who had disobeyed, whereby our disobedience was infinitely aggravated. We needed one, the worthiness of whose obedience might be answerable to the unworthiness of our disobedience, and therefore needed one who was as great and worthy as we were unworthy.


and then he just passes on to “Another objection…”

I am learning from Edwards to find as many Christ-oriented “by-the-ways” as I can: while I read, while I think, while I live.  Whenever I have worked hard to understand something better, or enjoyed something particularly intensely, or discovered some new thing, to then ask “and how does this relate to Jesus Christ, who He is, what He is like, and what He has done?”

“For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things to Whom be glory forever Amen!”

Not Every Effecting View

I am particularly sensitive to descriptions and analysis of false professions of faith, mainly because it was my own experience for 20 years of my life, and am also alert to its fearful possibility in others.  I am always looking for ways to sift through the true and the false, as nearly as possible.  When eternity is at stake, you must try to distinguish these things as closely as possible.  Edwards, as usual, is so insightful.

From A Divine and Supernatural Light by Jonathan Edwards, found in Banner of Truth vol. 2.

Not Mere Religious Insight or Affection
It is not every affecting view that men have of the things of religion that is this spiritual and divine light. Men by mere principles of nature are capable of being affected with things that have a special relation to religion as well as other things. A person by mere nature, for instance, may be liable to be affected with the story of Jesus Christ, and the sufferings he underwent, as well as by any other tragical story: he may be the more affected with it from the interest he conceives mankind to have in it: yea, he may be affected with it without believing it; as well as a man may be affected with what he reads in a romance, or sees acted in a stage play. He may be affected with a lively and eloquent description of many pleasant things that attend the state of the blessed in heaven, as well as his imagination be entertained by a romantic description of the pleasantness of fairy land, or the like. And that common belief of the truth of the things of religion, that persons may have from education or otherwise, may help forward their affection. We read in Scripture of many that were greatly affected with things of a religious nature, who yet are there represented as wholly graceless, and many of them very ill men. A person therefore may have affecting views of the things of religion, and yet be very destitute of spiritual light. Flesh and blood may be the author of this: one man may give another an affecting view of divine things with but common assistance: but God alone can give a spiritual discovery of them.

The Undertow of the Eschaton

Christmas as the End of History by John Piper (12/20/81).

I just listened to this sermon today, and was struck by the parable of the “already/not yet” or “inaugurated eschatology” theme.  It was the final sermon in a 10 part series on The History of Redemption preached in 1981.  If you can, I recommend downloading the mp3 and listening to it, rather than just reading the transcript.  There is so much more life in a sermon actually heard instead of read.

Anyway, here’s the conclusion:

Christmas and the River of History

Creation out of nothing was an awesome event. Imagine what the angelic spirits must have felt when the universe, material reality of which they had never imagined, was brought forth out of nothing by the command of God. The fall was an awful event, shaking the entire creation. The exodus was an amazing display of God’s power and love. The giving of the law, the wilderness provisions, the conquering of Canaan, the prosperity of the monarchy—all these acts of God in redemptive history were very great and wonderful. Each one was a very significant bend in the river of redemptive history, bringing it ever and ever closer to the ocean of God’s final kingdom. But we trivialize Christmas, the incarnation, if we treat it as just another bend on the way to the end. It is the end of redemptive history.

And I think the analogy of the river helps us see how. Picture the river as redemptive history flowing toward the ocean which is the final kingdom of God, full of glory and righteousness and peace. At the end of the river the ocean presses up into the river with its salt water. Therefore, at the mouth of the river there is a mingling of fresh water and salt water. One might say that the kingdom of God has pressed its way back up into the river of time a short way. It has surprised the travelers and taken them off guard. They can smell the salt water. They can taste the salt water. The sea gulls circle the deck. The end has come upon them. Christmas is not another bend in the river. It is the arrival of the salt water of the kingdom of God which has backed up into the river of history. With the coming of Christmas, the ocean of the age to come has reached backward up the stream of history to welcome us, to wake us up to what is coming, to lure us on into the deep. Christmas is not another bend in the river of history. It is the end of the river. Let down your dipper and taste of Jesus Christ, his birth and life and death and resurrection. Taste and see if the age to come has not arrived, if the kingdom has not come upon us. Does it not make your eyes sparkle?

My prayer for us all this year is that we might see ourselves living between the first and second appearances of Jesus Christ, which together, are the end of redemptive history. That we might see these two appearances united by the overflow of the glorious ocean of the future kingdom of God into the present; and ourselves borne along no longer by the forces of history, but by the power of the age to come. May we feel the undertow of the eschaton and yearn to be there with the Lord forever. Even so come quickly, Lord. Amen.

One Hundred Percentism

Broughton Knox, formerly the principal of Moore Theological college… told his students, “God is not interested in one hundred percentism.”

There is a sense, of course, in which that is the only thing God is interested in.  He wants us to trust and obey him wholly; he wants us to serve him with 100 percent loyalty.  But then the focus is on him.  What Broughton Knox meant is that very often what we call “one hundred percentism” is not unrestrained allegiance to God and his gospel but merely a reflection of a perfectionist personality.  For some people, unless they tackle whatever they are doing with 100 percent of their energy and competence, the task is not worth doing at all.  They cannot live with themselves unless they work that way. Frequently they are the high achievers.  But from a Christian perspective, this attitude may turn out to be nothing more than another form of self-worship – in short, a form of idolatry.

In all our pursuit of excellence, we must never worship excellence. (p. 138-9)

A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers

How Pathetic

As someone who has taught seminary students for more than fifteen years, I worry about the rising number of seminarians who, when asked where and how they think they might best serve, respond with something like this: “Well, I think I would like to teach somewhere.  Every time I have taught, people have told me I have done a pretty good job.  I get a tremendous sense of fulfillment out of teaching the Bible.  I think I could be satisfied teaching Scripture.”

How Pathetic. I know pagans who find satisfaction and fulfillment by teaching nuclear physics.  In any Christian view of life, self-fulfillment must never be permitted to become the controlling issue.  The issue is service, the service of real people.The question is, How can I be most useful?, not, How can I fell most useful? The goal is, How can I best glorify God by by serving his people?, not, How can I feel most comfortable and appreciated while engaging in some acceptable form of Christian ministry? (p. 82-83)

A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers

“The Blessing of God on Our Christian Dreams”

But Paul goes further.  At this point Paul prays that God by his power may “fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”  That is simply marvelous.  Assuming that Christians will develop such wholesome and spiritually minded purposes, Paul now prays that God himself may take these purposes and so work them out as to bring them to fruition, to fulfillment.  We may have all kinds of wonderful ideas about what we as Christians might do, yet somehow never get around to doing any of them.  Alternatively, we may immediately proceed to organization and administration, and ever seek, except in sporadic and accidental ways, the decisive approval and blessing of God on our Christian dreams.  The truth is that unless God works in us and through us, unless God empowers these good purposes of ours, they will not engender any enduring spiritual fruit.  they will not display any life-transforming, people-changing power. “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.  Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Ps. 127:1) And unless the Lord fulfills our good, faith-prompted purposes, they will remain arid, fruitless – either empty dreams or frenetic activity with no life, but in either case spiritually anemic.

From: A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers

Are None of Us Bound to Go?

What? Out of all these saved ones, no willing messengers to the heathen! Where are his ministers? Will none of these cross the seas to heathen lands? Here are thousands of us working at home. Are none of us called to go abroad? Will none of us carry the Gospel to regions beyond? Are none of us bound to go? Does the Divine Voice appeal to our thousands of preachers and find no response so that again it cries, “Whom shall I send?” Here are multitudes of professing Christians making money, getting rich, eating the fat and drinking the sweet—is there not one to go for Christ? Men travel abroad for trade—will they not go for Jesus? They even risk life amid eternal snows—are there no heroes for the Cross?

A stirring call to missions from Charles Spurgeon, found in “The Divine Call for Missionaries,” no. 1351, preached April 22, 1877.