Archive for January, 2011

Source- Orthodox Presbyterian Church

On Controversy
John Newton

Editor’s note: A minister, about to write an article criticizing a fellow minister for his lack of orthodoxy, wrote to John Newton of his intention. Newton replied as follows:

Dear Sir,

As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armor, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul’s, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God. I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For method’s sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.

Consider Your Opponent

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.” But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose. “If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.” If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.

Consider the Public

By printing, you will appeal to the public; where your readers may be ranged under three divisions: First, such as differ from you in principle. Concerning these I may refer you to what I have already said. Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million.

There will be likewise many who pay too little regard to religion, to have any settled system of their own, and yet are preengaged in favor of those sentiments which are at least repugnant to the good opinion men naturally have of themselves. These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper; and though they affect to treat the doctrines of grace as mere notions and speculations, which, supposing they adopted them, would have no salutary influence upon their conduct; yet from us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments. The scriptural maxim, that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God,” is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit. The weapons of our warfare, and which alone are powerful to break down the strongholds of error, are not carnal, but spiritual; arguments fairly drawn from Scripture and experience, and enforced by such a mild address, as may persuade our readers, that, whether we can convince them or not, we wish well to their souls, and contend only for the truth’s sake; if we can satisfy them that we act upon these motives, our point is half gained; they will be more disposed to consider calmly what we offer; and if they should still dissent from our opinions, they will be constrained to approve our intentions.

You will have a third class of readers, who, being of your own sentiments, will readily approve of what you advance, and may be further established and confirmed in their views of the Scripture doctrines, by a clear and masterly elucidation of your subject. You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind. I think I have known some Arminians, that is, persons who for want of a clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace, who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility, that they are willing in words to debase the creature and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.

Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

Consider Yourself

This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defenses were seasonable and expedient they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented.

And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value. This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?

Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, “not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called.” The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savor and efficacy of our labors.

If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.

Reprinted from The Works of John Newton, Letter XIX “On Controversy.” Reprinted from New Horizons, October 2002.

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From The Gospel Coalition

Because the Bible has so much to say about it, healthy Christian people have always maintained a deep concern for the pursuit of holiness and the practice of godliness. Obedience to God matters to God and it should, therefore, matter to God’s people. In fact, one way to gauge our love for God is obedience to his commands (John 14:15, 1 John 5:3). Where there is a profession of Christ without a practice of Christlikeness, concern is warranted.

So the issue is not whether obedience, the pursuit of holiness, and the practice of godliness is important. Of course it is. The issue is how do we keep God’s commands? What stimulates and sustains a long obedience in the same direction? Where does the power come from to do God’s will and to follow God’s lead?

Our answer to these questions is determined by our understanding of the distinctive role of God’s law and gospel in the life of a Christian. Therefore, it is crucial that we get this right, biblically and theologically.

When John (or Jesus) talks about keeping God’s commands as a way to know whether you love Jesus or not, he’s not using the law as a way to motivate. He’s simply stating a fact. Those who love God will keep on keeping his commands. As every parent and teacher knows, behavioral compliance to rules without heart change will be shallow and short-lived. But shallow and short-lived is not what God wants (that’s not what it means to “keep God’s commands.”). God wants a sustained obedience from the heart. How is that possible? Long-term, sustained obedience can only come from the grace which flows from what Jesus has already done, not guilt or fear of what we must do. To paraphrase Ray Ortlund, any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the gospel is unsustainable. Or, as I like to put it: imperatives minus indicatives equal impossibilities.

As a pastor, one of my responsibilities is to disciple people into a deeper understanding of obedience—teaching them to say “no” to the things God hates and “yes” to the things God loves. But all too often I have wrongly concluded that the only way to keep licentious people in line is to give them more rules–lay down the law. The fact is, however, that the only way licentious people start to obey is when they get a taste of God’s radical, unconditional acceptance of sinners. The irony of gospel-based sanctification is that those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience, but Christ’s.

Writing in response to Jason Hood’s recent Christianity Today article where Hood voices concern about the lack of emphasis on personal holiness and radical obedience in this generation of Christians, my friend Dane Ortlund (read Dane’s full, gospel-drenched response here) shows how there are two ways to address this:

One way is to balance gospel grace with exhortations to holiness, as if both need equal air time lest we fall into legalism on one side (neglecting grace) or antinomianism on the other (neglecting holiness).

The other way, which I believe is the right and biblical way, is so to startle this restraint-free culture with the gospel of free justification that the functional justifications of human approval, moral performance, sexual indulgence, or big bank accounts begin to lose their vice-like grip on human hearts and their emptiness is exposed in all its fraudulence. It sounds backward, but the path to holiness is through (not beyond) the grace of the gospel, because only undeserved grace can truly melt and transform the heart. The solution to restraint-free immorality is not morality. The solution to immorality is the free grace of God—grace so free that it will be (mis)heard by some as a license to sin with impunity. The route by which the New Testament exhorts radical obedience is not by tempering grace but by driving it home all the more deeply.

Let’s pursue holiness. (Without it we won’t see God: Matt 5:8; Heb 12:14.) And let’s pursue it centrally through enjoying the gospel, the same gospel that got us in and the same gospel that liberates us afresh each day (1 Cor 15:1–2; Gal 2:14; Col 1:23; 2:6). As G. C. Berkouwer wisely remarked, “The heart of sanctification is the life which feeds on justification.”

Amen!

To some, this will sound like an antinomian (a lawless, obligation free version of Christianity) cop-out. After all, doesn’t the American church need to be shaken out of their comfort zones? Yes—but you don’t do it by giving them law; you do it, as Dane points out, by giving them gospel. The Apostle Paul never uses the law as a way to motivate obedience; he always uses the gospel. Paul always soaks the obligations of the law in the declarations of the gospel because God is not concerned with just any kind of obedience; he’s concerned with a certain kind of obedience (as Cain and Abel’s sacrifice illustrates). What motivates our obedience determines whether or not it is a sacrifice of praise. The obedience that pleases God is obedience that flows from faith and grace; not fear and guilt.

Now, hear me: The law of God has its rightful place in the life of a Christian. It’s a gift from God. It’s good. It graciously shows Christians what God commands and instructs us in the way of holiness. But nowhere does the Bible say that the law possesses the power to enable us to do what it says. You could put it this way: the law guides but it does not give. The law shows us what a sanctified life looks like and plots our course, but it does not have sanctifying power—the law cannot change a human heart. As John Bunyan memorably put it:

“Run, John, run,” the law demands,
but gives me neither feet nor hands.
Better news the Gospel brings,
It bids me fly and gives me wings.

To say, however, that the law has no power to change us in no way reduces its ongoing role in the life of the Christian. We just have to understand the precise role that it plays for us today: the law serves us by making us thankful for Jesus when we break it and serves us by showing how to love God and others. Only the gospel empowers us to keep the law. And when we fail to keep it, the gospel comforts us by reminding us that God’s infinite approval of us does not depend on our keeping of the law, but Christ’s keeping of the law on our behalf. The gospel serves the Christian every day and in every way by reminding us that God’s love for us does not get bigger when we obey or smaller when we disobey. And guess what? This makes me want to obey him more, not less! As Spurgeon wrote, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”

Therefore, it’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.

A friend of mine recently put it to me this way: the law is like a set of railroad tracks. The tracks provide no power for the train but the train must stay on the tracks in order to function. The law never gives any power to do what it commands. Only the gospel has power, as it were, to move the train.

Recognizing the continual need of the gospel for Christian people as much as the initial need of the gospel for non-Christian people, J. Gresham Machen wrote, “What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel; not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me.” The Gospel of amazing grace gets us in, keeps us in, and will eventually get us to the finish line. It’s all of grace!

Now, go and spread this defiant, scandalously liberating, counter-intuitive Word around the world…it’s waiting!

From Desiring God

This actually works sometimes……

We are Christians. Radical, full-blooded, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, God-centered, mission-advancing, soul-winning, church-loving, holiness-pursing, sovereignty-savoring, grace-besotted, broken-hearted, happy followers of the omnipotent, crucified Christ. At least that’s our imperfect commitment.

In other words, we are Calvinists. But that label is not nearly as useful as telling people what you actually believe! So forget the label, if it helps, and tell them clearly, without evasion or ambiguity, what you believe about salvation.

If they say, “Are you a Calvinist?” say, “You decide. Here is what I believe . . .”

I believe I am so spiritually corrupt and prideful and rebellious that I would never have come to faith in Jesus without God’s merciful, sovereign victory over the last vestiges of my rebellion. (1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 3:1–4; Romans 8:7).

I believe that God chose me to be his child before the foundation of the world, on the basis of nothing in me, foreknown or otherwise. (Ephesians 1:4–6; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29–30; 11:5–7)

I believe Christ died as a substitute for sinners to provide a bona fide offer of salvation to all people, and that he had an invincible design in his death to obtain his chosen bride, namely, the assembly of all believers, whose names were eternally written in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. (John 3:16; John 10:15; Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 13:8)

When I was dead in my trespasses, and blind to the beauty of Christ, God made me alive, opened the eyes of my heart, granted me to believe, and united me to Jesus, with all the benefits of forgiveness and justification and eternal life. (Ephesians 2:4–5; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Philippians 2:29; Ephesians 2:8–9; Acts 16:14; Ephesians 1:7; Philippians 3:9)

I am eternally secure not mainly because of anything I did in the past, but decisively because God is faithful to complete the work he began—to sustain my faith, and to keep me from apostasy, and to hold me back from sin that leads to death. (1 Corinthians 1:8–9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 1:5; Jude 1:25; John 10:28–29; 1 John 5:16)

Call it what you will, this is my life. I believe it because I see it in the Bible. And because I have experienced it. Everlasting praise to the greatness of the glory of the grace of God!

From Valley of Vision……..

Holy Lord,

I have sinned times without number,

and been guilty of pride and unbelief,

of failure to find thy mind in thy Word,

of neglect to seek thee in my daily life.

My transgressions and short-comings

present me with a list of accusations,

But I bless thee that they will not stand against me,

for all have been laid on Christ;

Go on to subdue my corruptions,

and grant me grace to live above them.

Let not the passions of the flesh nor lustings

of the mind bring my spirit into subjection,

but do thou rule over me in liberty and power.

I thank thee that many of my prayers

have been refused –

I have asked amiss and do not have,

I have prayed from lusts and been rejected,

I have longed for Egypt and been given a

wilderness.

Go on with thy patient work,

answering ‘no’ to my wrongful prayers,

and fitting me to accept it.

Purge me from every false desire,

every base aspiration,

everything contrary to thy rule.

I thank thee for thy wisdom and thy love,

for all the acts of discipline to which I am subject,

for sometimes putting me into the furnace

to refine my gold and remove my dross.

No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin.

If thou shouldst give me choice to live

in pleasure and keep my sins,

or to have them burnt away with trial,

give me sanctified affliction.

Deliver me from every evil habit,

every accretion of former sins,

everything that dims the brightness

of thy grace in me,

everything that prevents me taking delight

in thee.

Then I shall bless thee, God of Jeshurun,

for helping me to be upright.

Ligonier Ministries

Human language is precious. It sets us off from the animals. It makes our most sophisticated scientific discoveries and our deepest emotions sharable. Above all, God chose to reveal Himself to us through human language in the Bible. In the fullness of time, He spoke to us by His Son (Heb. 1:1–2), and that Son spoke human language. In like manner, He sent His Spirit to lead His apostles into all truth so that they could tell the story of the Son in human language. Without this story in human language, we would not know the Son. Therefore, human language is immeasurably precious.

But it is also imperfect for capturing the fullness of God. In 1 Corinthians 13, there are four comparisons between this present time and the age to come after Christ returns.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (vv. 8–13). Note the comparisons with this age (now) and the age to come (then):

Now: We know in part.
Then: When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away (vv. 9–10).

Now: I spoke and thought and reasoned like a child.
Then: When I became a man, I gave up childish ways (v. 11).

Now: We see in a mirror dimly.
Then: We will see face to face (v. 12).

Now: I know in part.
Then: I will know fully, even as I am fully known (v. 12).

In this context, we can see what Paul means when he writes, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” He is saying that in this age, our human language and thought and reasoning are like baby talk compared to how we will speak, think, and reason in the age to come.

When Paul was caught up into heaven and given glimpses of heavenly realities, he said that he “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor. 12:4). Our language is insufficient to carry the greatness of all that God is.

But what a blunder it would be to infer from this that we may despise language or treat it with contempt or carelessness. What a blunder, if we began to belittle true statements about God as cheap or unhelpful or false. What folly it would be if we scorned propositions, clauses, phrases, and words, as though they were not inexpressibly precious and essential to life.

The main reason this would be folly is that God chose to send His Son into our nursery and speak baby talk with us. Jesus Christ became a child with us. There was a time when Jesus Himself would have said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child and thought like a child and reasoned like a child.” That is what the incarnation means. He accommodated Himself to our baby talk. He stammered with us in the nursery of human life in this age.

Jesus spoke baby talk. The Sermon on the Mount is our baby talk. His High Priestly Prayer in John 17 is baby talk. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) is baby talk — infinitely precious, true, glorious baby talk.

More than that, God inspired an entire Bible of baby talk. True baby talk. Baby talk with absolute authority and power. Baby talk that is sweeter than honey and more to be desired than gold. John Calvin said that “God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.1). How precious is the baby talk of God. It is not like grass that withers or flowers that fade; it abides forever (Isa. 40:8).

There will be another language and thought and reasoning in the age to come. And we will see things that could not have been expressed in our present baby talk. But when God sent His Son into our human nursery, talking baby talk and dying for the toddlers, He shut the mouths of those who ridicule the possibilities of truth and beauty in the mouth of babes.

And when God inspired a book with baby talk as the infallible interpretation of Himself, what shall we say of the children who make light of the gift of human language as the medium of knowing God? Woe to those who despise, belittle, exploit, or manipulate this gift to the children of man. It is not a toy in the nursery. It is the breath of life. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).