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Wednesday
Jun162010

How do I lay up treasures in heaven?

In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus exhorts us not to lay up treasures on earth, but rather in heaven.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his book Studies on the Sermon on the Mount, gives insight as to how this is done.

It all comes back to the question of how I view myself and how I view my life in this world.  Do I tell myself every day I live, that this is but another milestone I am passing, never to go back, never to come again?  I am pitching my moving tent 'a day's march nearer home.'  That is the great principle of which I must constantly remind myself.  I did not choose to come; I have not brought myself here; there is a purpose in it all.  God has given me this great privilege of living in this world, and if He has endued me with any gifts, I have to realize that, although in one sense all these things are mine, ultimately, as Paul shows at the end of 1 Corinthians 3, they are God's.  Therefore, regarding myself as one who has this great privilege of being a caretaker for God, a custodian and a steward, I do not cling to thtese things.  They do not become the centre of my life and existence.  I do not live for them or dwell upon them constantly in my mind; they do not abosrb my life.  On the contrary, I hold them loosely; I am in a state of blessed detatchment from them.  I am not governed by them; rather do I govern them; and as I do this I am steadily securing, and safely laying up for myself 'treasures in heaven.'

Tuesday
Jun152010

If this doesn't make you smile, nothing will

This clip (pointed out by The Thirsty Theologian) will make you smile:

 

Tuesday
Jun152010

Puritan Evangelism

This chapter in Packer's A Quest for Godliness was one of the chapters where I have written with pencil in the margin "Amen!" several times.  This is the second last chapter of the book, and it is among the best, I think.

Packer begins by asking the question, "Did the Puritans practice evangelism?"  In terms of what we in the 21st century understand as "evangelism," we would be tempted to say no, because what was seen as evangelistic in the day of the Puritans is not what we see today.

Packer answers his own question by first examining modern evangelism, which he sees as being rooted in the work of Charles Finney.  He notes that modern evangelism is more like periodic recruiting campaigns, viewed separately from "regular" worship.  It is aimed at securing a decision from individuals.  These, he believes, are part of the legacy of Finney. 

Finney assumed that people could naturally turn to God on their own once once they were sufficiently convinced.  Packer states:

Accordingly, Finney conceived the whole work of the Spirit in terms of conversion of moral persuasion, that is, of making vivid to our minds the reasons for laying down our rebel arms and surrending to God.  Man is always free to reject this persuasion.

It does not seem too much to say that for Finney, evangelistic preaching was a battle of wills between himself and his hearers, in which his task was to bring them to the breaking point.

By contrast, Puritan evangelism was a work of divine grace which man cannot do on his own.  The Spirit gives the power to understand and implants new life into the individual.  The Spirit's power is morally persuasive and physically powerful.  Grace is irresistible not because it drags men kicking and screaming into the Kingdom; rather it causes the individual to come willingly to God.  A dead man is brought back to life.  This effectual calling is a divine work that brings an individual to conversion according to God's timing, not man's.

Packer further states:

The Puritans taught that knowledge and conviction of one's sin, in its guilt, pollution, and ugliness, and of God's displeasure in it, must precede faith, since no one will come to Christ to be saved from sin till he or she knows from what sins salvation is needed.

Rather than using a method that seeks to solicit a "decision" from people, the Puritans focused, through the use of Scripture, on three crucial themes:  the length, breadth, and depth of one's need for conversion; the length, breadth, depth, and might of God's love; and the ups, downs, and pitfalls that we overcome through receiving Christ as Saviour.  Their approach involved pointing out the danger of settling for anything else other than the true gospel, and it emphasized the impossibility of coming to Christ without renewing grace and the necessity of seeking for that grace from Christ's own hand. 

The Puritans did not assume that everyone was able to receive Christ savingly on a given day.  There were no forced decisions.   Rather, there was patient preaching, understanding that any day could be the day when someone was ready to respond to the call of the gospel.  Because Finney believed men had the ability to come to Christ on their own, he looked for immediate decisions, and expected immediate decisions to the point that some who may not have really been spiritually prepared to receive Christ, made a "decision."  That person may or may not have been converted, but may have walked away with a false assurance.  Packer believes that this approach to evangelism has been a major influence on modern evangelism.  I'm sure many can think back to being in services where the evangelist will not cease talking until someone comes forward.  I remember many years ago being in a revial meeting where the speaker went on and on, and when no one would come forward he said to hurry because, "the door is closing."  Looking back on that now, I think that was not a good thing for him to say.

Packer introduces the reader to a great evangelist in the Puritan tradition, Jonathan Edwards.  I would share more details about him with you, but how can Edward simply be "part of" a discussion on such an issue? Packer also talks at length about Richard Baxter as an evangelist as well, but as with Edwards, he could take up an entire post.  Clearly, I have future blog material.

Packer does admit that despite the deficiencies of Finney's evangelistic method, men and women came to Christ.  He sees those who were converted as having been sufficiently prepared to respond to the call.  He sees them as having been prepared before being asked to make a decision.  I can look back now and see how even two or three years before my conversion, I learned things and saw things that paved the way for me to accept the effectual call of the gospel in 1985.  I didn't see it then, but I do now.

As I have mentioned, I liked so much of this chapter.  I think that this chapter alone tells us a lot about what the Puritans believed, because their approach to evangelism was a reflection of how they viewed God.

Sunday
Jun132010

Heart Aflame - June 13, 2010

Psalm 69:22-36

Hasten, O God, to save me.  We are taught here that, when our enemies shall have persecuted us to the uttermost, a recompense is also prepared for them; and that God will turn back, and cause to fall upon their own heads, all the evil which they had devised against us; and this doctrine ought to act as a restraint upon us, that we may behave ourselves compassionately and kindly towards our eighbours.

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you.  David here used another argument - one which he often adduces elsewhere - in order to obtain deliverance; not that it is necessary to allege reasons to persuade God, but because it is profitable to confirm our faith by such supports  As, then, it is the will of God that he should be known in his gracious character, not only by one or two, but generally by all men, whenever he vouchsafes deliverance to any of his children, it is a common benefit which all the faithful ought to apply to themselves when they see in the person of one man in what manner God, who is never inconsistent with himself, will act towards all his people.  David, therefore, shows that he asks nothing for himself individually but what pertains to the whole Church.  He prays that God would gladden the hearts of all the saints, or afford them all common cause of rejoicing:  so that, assured of his readiness to help them, they may have recourse to him with greater alacrity.  Hence, we conclude, that, in the case of every individual, God gives a proof of his goodness towards us.

May those who love your salvation always say, "Let God be exalted!"  We may infer from this, that our faith is only proved to be genuine when we are neither expect nor desire preservation otherwise than from God alone.  Those who devise various ways and eans of preservation for themsleves in this world, despise and reject the salvation which God has taught us to expect from him alone.  What had been said before, those who seek o, is to the same purpose.  If any individual would depend wholly upon God, and desire to be saved by his grace, he must renounce every vain hope, and employ all his thoughts towards the reception of his strength.

Friday
Jun112010

The Worldview of Calvinism

I am on page 5 of The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen.  This means I am not reading anything actually by John Owen yet. The first section is a lengthy introductory essay by J.I. Packer.  In this introduction, he introduces the work and explains the need for it. As he encourages the reader to recover the gospel, something he says is very needed, Packer anticipates objections:

'But wait a minute,' says someone, 'it is all very well to talk like this about the gospel; but surely what Owen is doing is defending limited atonement - one of the five points of Calvinism?  When you speak of recovering the gospel, don't you mean that you just want us all to become Calvinists?'

Packer then goes into an analysis of what defines Calvinism, specifically pointing out that the five points are actually a response to a five point manifesto (the Remonstrance) put out by Belgic semi-Pelagians in the early 17th century.  I like what he says as he opens up the topic:

Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world's Maker and King.  Calvinism is the consistent endeavour to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of His will.

I have met people who think that "Reformed" or "Calvinistic" is code for "anti pre-millennial dispensationalism"  I like the way Packer puts it better.