“The Absolutely Worst Way to Respond to the Challenge of Secularism”

The absolutely worst way to respond to the challenge of secularism is to adapt to secular standards in language, thought, and way of life.  If members of a secularist society turn to religion at all, they do so because they are looking for something other than what that culture already provides. It is counter productive to offer them religion in a secular mode that is carefully trimmed in order not to offend their secular sensibilities.

Christians should not shy away from the fact that our lives are centered on the divine things.  We offer a different way of making sense of reality and a different way of living, which go against the grain of what modern society offers as the norm.  We also should not shy away from referring to the wrath of God against human sin even though most moderns ignore, disbelieve, or sweeten the pill with deceptions about God’s complaisance over sin.

– Wolfhart Pannenberg, quoted by Daniel Akin in his article “The Emerging Church and Ethical Choices: The Corinthian Matrix” in Evangelicals Engaging Emergent, p. 270 (italics mine).

Psalm 42:2 and the Longing of the Soul for God

Psalm 42:2, “When shall I come and appear before God?”

The longing of the soul of a man for eternal communion with God is coordinate with the longing of the soul and communion with God right now.  That is simply to say that if one does not enjoy communion with God right now, heaven would be an eternally intolerable place.  In v. 1, the Psalmist has expressed his great yearning for God both here and now, and it is that yearning which raises his affections to the hope of v. 2, “When shall I come and appear before God?”  He has tasted enough of God in mortal life to know that it is what he wants to be doing for all eternity, as soon as possible, that is, as soon as his appointment from God should come, cf. Heb 9:27.  So he longs for that day, that eternity, that everlasting delight.  And this is the view with which he lives life.  God is the whole matter of the Christian life.  Seeing God forever in glory is the highest reward which Christ has won for us by His death and resurrection and intercession.

But notice this also, it is not a disembodied soul, nor a soul-less body which shall come into the presence of God, but the “I”.  “When shall I come . . .”  This is the Christian hope and nothing less – the finality of our redemption is the glorification of both our body and our soul, the entire person.  To think upon that blessed state for even a moment is enough to cause one to exclaim, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove . . .”  Glory divine!  All of the effects of sin on the soul, all of the degradation that the body experiences in this fallen existence, gone, removed in the perfect peace and presence of our God.

Note this as well, that the psalmist does not question whether or not he will come and appear before God – he absolutely will!  It is “when shall I . . .”  Now every man shall appear before God when he least expects it; that appointed day is not known to us, but it is to God.   One man shall dread that day; the other delight in it.  What makes the difference but whether or not God has caused a man to be born again, to be alive to God from the universal experience of spiritual deadness?  It is only by being born again that a man may enter the kingdom of God as a happy creature, John 3:3, 5-6.  It is evidenced in this life, is it not?  The sinner who loves his sin and lives in his sins, hates God, pretends as if He does not exist, hides from Him, fears Him, dodges the light into that darkness which he prefers and finds most enjoyable.  Psalm 42:2 does not belong to him; it does not belong to any man apart from Christ.  It is the cry of Christ most properly, the only man to fully enjoy to perfect presence and communion of God on earth; and how remarkable a communion and joy it must be, for Christ did not become tired of it, but rather yearned for it all the more as He approached the hour of His crucifixion!  So Psalm 42:2 belongs to any man who is in Christ, that is, the man made new, 2 Cor 5:17.  It is his cry!  It is well that it should be the motto of his life.  Paul made it his – “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).

The man who knows God in the heart through Christ by the Spirit does not fear death . . . he longs for it in due season, while he ministers with all of his soul so long as in the Lord he lives and moves and has his being.  There is no greater need in this day than for the Christian, for the church to recapture the big view of God that the psalmist expresses in Ps 42:2.  The truth is that many Christians are a combination of two unfortunate realities: a big view of man and hence a small view of God (and thus, a small hunger for Him), and an aimless soul (he does not know why he has been saved or to what end; he does not consider the employment or the definitive joy of eternity; he understands not how it applies to his life here and now).  I would urge this passage upon us all as one worthy of daily contemplation: “When shall I come and appear before God?”  May the Lord grant that every day we live in light of it, that seeing and being most fully with Him become our greatest joy and longing; may every day be a day wherein we say, “I never longed so much to be with God than this day.”

Reflections on Genesis 6:5: Depravity and Grace

In the past couple of weeks, the Lord has grabbed my heart for meditation upon four verses in particular: Genesis 6:5, Psalm 42:2, Isaiah 42:3, and Hebrews 12:14.  Over the next couple of days, I hope to post some reflections upon them in that order.

Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

A part of, if not the whole of, wickedness as it is defined by God is “that every intention of the thoughts of [the sinners] heart was [is] only evil continually.”  The doctrine of the verse is the depravity of man, total, universal, and natural.  It is the pervasiveness of wickedness that is prominent in the passage.  It is not some of our intentions, but every intention.  It is not just the intentions of our actions, but our thoughts also.  But it cannot be relegated to our thoughts alone, for it regards the thoughts of the heart, and out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks and the man acts.  It is not that our intentions are sometimes good, sometimes neutral, sometimes evil; but only evil.  And there is no respite from this depravity – it is only evil continually!  This is the condition of every man apart from the saving grace of God which regenerates the sinner, imparts a new heart with new proclivities, new loves, desires, passions, and pulses for God, grants a new spiritual principle, the Holy Spirit and resurrection and eternal life.  Now the sinner can take no comfort from the idea that he is not seen by God, for “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.”  The Lord saw it!  It is the illusion of the wicked, even mine prior to the mercy of Christ in my own life, that God will not find out our sins and hold us accountable for them.  They say to the righteous, “Where is your God?” (Ps 42:10); they say in their hearts, “There is no God” (Ps 53:1).  The Psalmist writes, “[The wicked] says in his heart, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it. . . . Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, ‘You will not call to account’?  But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands . . . break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none” (Ps 10:11, 13-15).  Indeed, such depravity, wickedness, evil, and sin is noted by God, seen by God, and will be called to account before God.  There is no wiggle room for the sinner before God.

Now it is a great mercy that God, Himself, overcomes our wicked nature by sovereign grace, that God regenerates the heart of the wicked and declares Him righteous on the basis of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ; for what we read of in Genesis 6:5 is not at all the case with Christ.  While He put on the likeness of sinful flesh, He Himself was without sin; He was in His humanity what we all were created by God to be.  Therefore, bearing our penalty on account of our sin as He did on His cross, He made substitution for sinners, intercession for transgressors, so that all who repent and believe in Him might be forgiven their sins by God, given Christ’s righteousness, reconciled to God, invested with resurrection and eternal life, indwelled by the Spirit of the living God.  Therefore Jesus is the Way from, “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” to “as a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps 42:1-2).  Grace manifest supremely in the cross, where the depravity of men climaxes in the face of the highest display of mercy, is the only Way of salvation in every possible sense of the biblical concept.  Only Christ and Him crucified can save the sinner from their utter helplessness to save themselves; only Christ and Him crucified can save the sinner from the insurmountable depths of their depravity; only Christ and Him crucified can bring such a wretch as me to eternal glory.  Only Christ has accomplished such a great salvation, and can speak thus: “Remove the filthy garments from him. . . . Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zech 3:4).  May God be praised for His glorious grace!

The Cross of Christ in the Divine Plan of Distributive Justice

If our own hearts condemn it, we shall be ready to admit, without complaint, that God also condemns it.  And what can we say against God in the matter?  What wrong has he done?  His distributive justice does no wrong in treating the unholy according to their character.  If he has done any wrong, it must relate to the department of public justice, which, as formerly explained, seeks the greatest good, and is the same as universal benevolence.  Now, who will say that God’s plan will not produce the greatest good?  Who is wiser and better than God, to teach him a preferable way?  When Satan gained his conquest over our first parents, God could have confined him at once in the pit, and inflicted on him the full torment yet in store for him; and he might have annihilated the whole race of man in the original pair.  This would have terminated the difficulty by an act of power; but who will affirm that it would have been wisest or best?  God would have appeared disappointed and defeated.  Distributive justice would have appeared relieved rather than developed.  Satan triumphed by artifice, and God has chosen to defeat him by the counsel of his wisdom.  Satan exalted himself to dominion over the world; God chose to overcome him, not by power, but by humiliation.  Satan gained his success by means of the first Adam; God, in the second Adam, bruised the serpent’s head.  Satan, by his success, gained the power of death; God, by death, the death of Jesus Christ, has destroyed him and his power.  Who will dare affirm that God’s way is not best?  It becomes us to feel assured, whatever darkness may yet remain on this subject, that God would not have given up his Son to free us from condemnation, if that condemnation had not been just; and that he would not have made so great a gift, so costly a sacrifice, if the scheme had not been worthy of his infinite wisdom; or if some other, by which the sacrifice might have been spared, would have been preferable.

Manual of Theology, pp. 161-62, by John L. Dagg

The passage is framed within the context of the properness of distributive justice, that is, that each man’s depravity, originating in Adam, is nevertheless our own, and thus, “We should feel that our depravity is our own, however we came by it.”  Now God’s just condemnation against poor, depraved sinners finds resolution in the divine wisdom of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Sinner, look to Christ, for He is full of salvation.  Dear Christian, endeavor and enterprise to make our Savior known, for there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Rom 8:1.  God be praised that all men, sinners that we are, may find life in Christ alone, as God has purposed and worked it.

Looking for a Plethora of Book Reviews

Go here.  This link offers some four pages of book reviews by godly men on mostly theological works.  Enjoy!

A Model for Christian Women: Jerusha Edwards

The following are some quotes from Jonathan Edwards, Brainerd’s Life, where he expresses some of his and Brainerd’s thoughts on the Christian spirit and service of Jerusha Edwards (Jonathan’s daughter and Brainerd’s close friend).  She was all of 17 when she passed away, and therefore but 17 when such things as these were written of her by great and pious men:

She was a person of much the same spirit with David Brainerd.  She had contantly taken care of, and tended him in his sickness, for nineteen weeks before his death; devoting herself to it with great delight, because she looked on him as an eminent servant of Jesus Christ.  In this time he had much conversation with her on things of religion; and in his dying state, often expressed to us, her parents, his great satisfaction concerning her true piety, and his confidence that he would meet her in heaven; and his high opinion of her, not only as a true Christian, but a very eminent saint; one whose soul was uncommonly fed and entertained with things that appertain to the most spiritual, experimental, and distinguishing parts of religion; and one who by the temper of her mind was fitted to deny herself for God, and to do good, beyond any young woman whatsoever that he knew of.  She had manifested a heart uncommonly devoted to God, in the course of her life, many years before her death; and said on her deathbed that she had not seen one minute for several years wherein she desired  to live one minute longer for the sake of any other good in life but doing good, living to God, and doing what might be for his glory.

David Brainerd: A Flame for God, pp. 308-09, by Vance Christie (emphasis mine)

On the Moral Life of Benjamin Franklin

Patrick Schreiner has posted an interesting excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Franklin.  The irony at the end is fascinating, and Schreiner points it out, that Franklin would erase his faults, though of course they still stood, all the while neglecting the One who could erase his sins forever.

Assurance From the Doctrines of the Christian Life

The following is an excerpt from David Brainerd’s journal just some short time before his death:

“I could not but feel some measure of gratitude to God at this time (wherein I was much exercised) that He had always disposed me, in my ministry, to insist on the great doctrines of ‘regeneration,’ ‘the new creature,’ ‘faith in Christ,’ ‘progressive sanctification,’ ‘supreme love of God,’ ‘living entirely to the glory of God,’ ‘ being not our own,’ and the like: God has helped me to see, in the surest manner, from time to time, that these, and the like doctrines necessarily connected with them, are the only foundation of safety and salvation for perishing sinners; and that those divine dispositions, which are consonant hereto, are that ‘holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14): The exercise of these Godlike tempers, wherein the soul acts in a kind of concert with God, and would be and do everything that is pleasing to God; this, I saw, would stand by the soul in a dying hour; for God must, I think ‘deny Himself’ (2 Tim. 2:13) if He casts away ‘His own image’ (Gen 1:27), even the soul that is one in desires with Himself.

David Brainerd: A Flame for God, p. 279-80, by Vance Christie

As a note, I think that there is no more essential doctrine to redeem from the shadows cast by a man-centered Christianity, nor one more necessary to propagate in this day than that of regeneration or the new birth, that infusing of divine life within the soul which effects a new creation, and consequently, that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

The Bible Never Says . . .

‘The Bible never says that sinners miss heaven because they are not elect, but because they ‘neglect the great salvation’, and because they will not repent and believe.  The last judgment will abundantly prove that it is not the want of God’s election, so much as laziness, the love of sin, unbelief, and unwillingness to come to Christ, which ruins the souls that are lost.’ God gives men what they choose, not the opposite of what they choose.  Those who choose death, therefore, have only themselves to thank that God does not give them life.  The doctrine of divine sovereignty does not affect the situation in any way.

– J. I. Packer, quoting J. C. Ryle, while adding his own implications, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, p. 105-06.

I think that this is right.  The Bible certainly teaches unconditional election, and it may be taken from that fact that no non-elect person will be saved.  I believe that that is true.  But that is not the way the Bible talks.  A person will not be saved because He is a sinner who will not come to Christ for love of his sin and self.  Divine sovereignty and human responsibility is an antinomy that the Christian must hold tightly together in order to exercise a biblical worldview.

Lecture on Jesus Christ, the Mediator

Posted above under “Other Writings” tab.