Rend Thy Hearts and Not Thy Garments

In the prophetical book of Joel, the grain and drink offerings that accompanied the sacrificial offering had been neglected and withheld from the LORD. Those offerings of wine and grain upon the sacrifice served to fragrance that aroma that was pleasing to God, which in the New Testament would be fulfilled in the reality of faith. “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all,” Philippians 2:17.

The importance of the grain and drink offerings is emphasized in Joel 1:8-9, “Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth. The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the LORD.” And it seems a thing more deep in truth, that due to the sin of the Israelites, God not only commissioned a nation to come up against Israel, but by that nation destroyed the ground from which the grain sprung, and the vine from which the wine was drawn, and so God’s people became a reproach and a byword among the nations. It was a Divine judgment against the people that the source of their offerings were taken away, because they were commonly apt to abuse the fruit for worship.

The mercy of God is seen in the midst of His great anger, which I am inclined to believe, Israel would not have so appreciated His mercy without the appropriation of and the continual truth of His wrath. But in the heart of His storm, He makes room for unmerited safety, and the decree is “repent or likewise perish.” The harshness of its tone is tempered by the contemplation of the fruit of repentance, that within the command to repent is the safety and enjoyment of God’s Sovereign benignity or purest love.

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster,” Joel 2:12-13.

“Rend your hearts and not your garments.” It was a common thing in the Old Testament to find penitent saints ripping their garments as a sign of their turning. Confronted by God’s law, or Truth, they would, if repentant, tear their garments, mourn, weep, and lay in the ashes (put on sackcloth). The tearing of the garments was the sign of an internal reality. The implication in Joel, is that this sign had become hypocritical, a type of lip service unto God which He abhorred. It is one thing if the thing done is the overflow of the internal condition of the soul; another if the thing done is the overflow of human pride and self-righteousness. As with much of the law, the Jews had externalized it as a matter of ritual rather than a matter of the inward parts wherein God desires truth.

Repentance is oft forgotten in the Church, as if it were something done once and never to be returned to again. The world needs to repent from sin and come to Christ, but the Church, who has come to Christ, must daily recognize their need for Christ and a clinging unto Him, or sanctification, of which a continual putting off (repentance) of the old and a putting on of the new (faith) is essential in the life of the Church. We say, “oh, I repented at a point in time?” But what of your life now? What sin do you oft return to from your former life when you did not know Christ? We say, “well, I have felt really bad about some of the things I’ve done!” But have you killed the thing at once so that it is crucified upon its untimely arrivals? Or perhaps, “I prayed for repentance!” And that is well and good, but having prayed for it, have you also sought the thing itself in pursuit of true godliness, or have you been irresponsible with thing you “so desired”. Do we find ourselves falling into the same idolatries, bringing unclean vessels into the house of our God, saying “Yes, Lord” with our mouths, but “No” in our souls? Like the Israelites, have you gotten into the pattern of doing things externally to convince yourself that you are “ok” internally? And so doing, neglected the soul? If so, you are in a great danger!

Listen to the words of John the Baptist to those Jews who had adopted the externalities of religion to the neglect of the internal need for repentance: “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire,” Matthew 3:7-10.

Now what of this? Genuine repentance is the root of godly fruit. If there is no root, then whatever external fruit that is offered as proof of the root, does not come from the God-given root (2 Timothy 2:25) of repentance, but of the sinful root and delusion of self-righteousness. It is bad fruit and the end of that tree is to be cut down and thrown into the fire. But the primary fruit of authentic repentance is a knowledge of the truth – of personal and eternal guilt, of consequence, and of the right Way, Jesus Christ and all that accords with Him. Moreover, repentance is an inward reality of the soul, wrought by God, and not a claim of heritage (Abraham). The one who engages in initial repentance unto faith will continually engage in the practice of the repentance of the faith, and this daily repentance, when truly wrought, will transform the affections away from the thing repented of, while creating the realization of and passion for the object that one has turned unto, namely, God and His command of obedience, so that when the one comes again, it has been done away with not only because of a crucifying of the thing itself, but also because of the greater enjoyment in and love of its counterpart, which is God.

Oh, Church, “Rend your hearts and not your garments!”

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What is Piper-ism?

When I use the term “Piperism” I am not referring to his doctrine necessarily, which is of academic Calvinism, a self-asserted “7-pointer”. I am not making reference to his Puritan-like exposition of Scripture. Though I am a great admirer of his academia, his exposition, and his careful, thought-provoking, insightful and passionate pleas in the area of religious journalism, I am not referring to these things specifically, though these in one sense are both the likely source and overflow of this main personality trait, which God has been gracious and pleased to make use of in my life and many others, namely, passion.

When I use the term “Piperism” I am referring to his God besotted passion that seems to fragrance every word that he utters, every letter than he writes. When he preaches, whether one has heard him live or through an ipod, his passion for God oozes out and gets all over you in such a way that you are transformed by it, and desire to have what God has done and given to him in such abundance. And at times, the cry of my soul is to be able to handle God’s Word in any degree like he does, with freshness, with emboldening and empowering precision, but more than all, a genuine passion for Christ that comes from the overflow of personal Bible study and comes out to the people in such a way that the great chasm that so often exists between the pulpit and the pew is smashed into pieces bringing the people face to face with their God in the Lord Jesus Christ. Piper calls it “expository exultation”. This is a good definition of preaching!

But what separates John Piper characteristically from others? Why has he been so foundational in the lives of so many other pastors, teachers, etc.? What about him serves reformationally and revivalistically in the lives of a younger generation of seminarians and pastors? Of course, I would, first, give glory to God, for Piper is what he is by the grace of God, and even his great labors are found in that gracious Almighty. And as Calvin states, it is a gracious thing that God would call His works in us “your (our) good works” (Matt. 5:16). But Mark Dever hits the mark when he declares Piper’s distinguishing characteristics and labors in this way, “Theological precision meeting up with spiritual, life-consuming passion. A profound hope imparting a serious joy leading to satisfying sacrifice” (blog.9marks.org; Where’d all these Calvinists come from?).

For me, though I have never met the man, and heard him live just once, I would argue that what separates him from many great men is that he really believes God, he really believes the Gospel, and he seems to eat, drink, sleep, and breathe Christ and Him crucified. And I know, and he knows, that there is not a day that goes by that he doesn’t need to cling to Christ for righteousness in a severely practical way, but he seems to do this more often than not, more often than most. And this is what I desire, to know God, to love God, to walk with God, to enjoy God like this man does; in a word or two, to have an authentic, God-besotted, Christ-exalting, Spirit-dependent passion for the glory and honor and praise of God in Christ.

Piper’s passion grounded in Christ oozing out to the Church and to the world is what both the Church and the world need most in this age of spiritual apathy, and shadow-figured Christians who have no real root or fruit, nor do they treasure God in and through Jesus Christ. So, I adhere to Piperism in this sense of it, in the conscious pursuit of a “God-entranced vision of all things”, and a Bible wrought passion for Christ communicated unto the world for His name’s sake. This is the great need of the Church today! This is my great need today! To take all things and convert them into a God-centered perspective, a God-centered life. Let us praise God for such men, and plead with Him for more of them – diligent disciples, earnest with the Word, imploding and exhaling the great worth of our great God in our great Lord Jesus Christ. May God have mercy upon us, and grant us a like passion that consumes us by and for His glory.

God Glorified In Martyrdom: Lament For Ms. Mizzel

We do not have to venture farther than the Cross of Christ to understand that the world rejects and hates in an angry and murderous fashion the Truth as it is in God, revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ by faith. And so, in time, was the fate of the prophets before Christ, though Christ was before them and in them and indicating His time through them. And, each apostle was also martyred with the exception of John, who were it not for the Divine intervention of God would have suffered the same blessed end. And each of these, our Lord and every lover of Christ and His Gospel from the beginning (Abel) have met persecution for His name’s sake; and each for the proclamation of God’s Word, and men have not been able to bear it. The response of the human heart to God’s Word is murderous rage (See John 8:39-47, specifically the connection between vv. 40, 43).

I recently posted for prayer on behalf of one Ms. Mizzel, a missionary to Afghanistan. She and her driver were both kidnapped by Afghani rebels and the latest report on their condition from her organization is that they have been murdered – martyred for the sake of Christ. They still have not found them, nor have they heard from their kidnappers; thus, I would hold out the assurance that God knows what they do not in either case; but, the report is of martyrdom, and so Ms. Mizzel has followed in the blessed foot steps of the prophets and the apostles and those who have perished under the title of Christian martyr, losing her life for the sake of Christ and thus finding her life in Christ.

While this is lamentable, such lamentation grows up into the great missionary passion for Christ and His Gospel, such burden transforms Gospel anxiety into Gospel boldness. As it is certain that her imprisonment was for Christ, and served to advance the Gospel, so it is certain that the seed of her life for Christ has not yet reached its full maturity in progression. The prayer is that God will now give exceeding growth in the souls of those both near and far from this martyrdom in the area of love and passion and care for the souls that she spent her life reaching. That we would been given a double portion of her sacrificial heart, and affection for Jesus Christ.

Jim Elliot once pondered, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Our Lord said it thus, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25) Ms. Mizzel lived for eternal life, that greatest gain, and in so doing, reckoned herself not her own but Christ’s. And for what? Because God is the greatest treasure, and thus the supreme desire is to share Him with the nations within the preaching of Christ and Him crucified! And in so far as we cling and pursue and love Him, so what may cost us our temporal life becomes a blip and less than nothing.

Let us lament, but let us rejoice in hope of the glory of God and the knowledge of it being spread unto all the nations, and by no greater and blessed means than the martyrdom of His adopted children who, I pray, live in earnest pursuit of the knowledge of Christ and the heralding of His Gospel. God be glorified in the seeds of Your saints! Amen.