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Heart Aflame - June 20, 2010

Psalm 74

Why have you rejected us forever, O God?  Whenever we are visited with adversities, these are not the arrows of fortune thrown against us at venture, but the scourges or rods of God which, in his secret and mysterious providence, he prepares and makes use of for for chastising our sins.  When God executes his vengeance upon us, it is our duty seriously to reflect on what we have deserved, and to consider, that although he is not subject to the emotions of anger, yet it is not owing to us, who have grievously offended him by our sins, that his anger is not kindled against us.  Moreover, his people, as a plea for obtaining mercy, flee to the remembrance of the covenant by which they were adopted to be his children.

We are given no miraculous signs; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be.  Temporary punishments are the fatherly chastisements of God, and the consideration that they are temporary alleviates sorrow; but his continual displeasure causes poor and wretched sinners to sink into utter despair.  If, therefore, we also would find matter for patience and consolation, when we are under the chastening hand of God, let us learn to fix our eyes on this moderation on the part of God, assured, that although he is angry, yet he ceases not to be a father.  The correction which brings deliverance does not inflict unmitigated grief:  the sadness which it produces is mingled with joy.

But you, O God, are my king from of old.  We know how difficult it is to rise above all doubts, and boldly to persevere in a free and unrestrained course of prayer.  Here, then, the faithful call to remembrance the proofs of God's mercy and working, by which he certified, through a continued series of ages, that he was the King and Protector of the people whom he had chosen.  By this example we are taught, that as it is not enough to pray with the lips unless we also pray in faith, we ought always to remember the benefits by which God has given a confirmation of his fatherly love toward us, and should regard them as so many testimonies of his electing love.


Saturday morning musings

Another hot day.   Another busy day.  Three kids working; three different schedules, and trying to fit in a well-deserved evening out with our friends to a Chinese dumpling house.

Yesterday afternoon, all three kids were home for a while.  The boys are finished school except for one math exam, which my youngest son writes on Monday morning.  My oldest son was very happy to be home, having finished high school, a place he really wanted to go to (and leave homeschooling behind) but which he is now so very relieved to be out of.    On Monday, he has an audition for a school where he's hoping to take music.  He will play classical pieces on the piano and then sing and play his acoustic guitar, and that will be followed up by a theory test.

Last night, the two older kids were both working over the dinner hour and it was just three of us at the table.  I said to my son, "When September rolls around, this will be the way it is most nights."  He nodded soberly.  I think he's already thought of that.  For better or for worse, and for all of the fighting the two of them have done, my boys really are best friends.  I hope that remains.  My son said at the table, "There will be no one for me to say silly things to, and if I say them to you, you'll tell me to be quiet."

He's right about that one.  During lunch hour, the two boys teased their sister relentlessly as she tried vainiy to enjoy her new book while sitting out on the deck.  The teasing mostly involved heckling through the window at her.  I don't know which is worse:  when they argue or when they get along.

I really do feel for my youngest son, though.  He is losing a companion.  He does have a few friends at school, but my kids have all seemed to follow the example of their parents, and aren't the kind of kids with 100 close friends.  The have a few close ones, and that's it.  My secret hope for my youngest son is that the absence of his brother will encourage him to work a little harder with his music, and spend a little more time reading his bible.  Sometimes, siblings can be the worst distractions, because they live with us. 

It will be a change for both boys, and I am hoping that the change will cause them to draw close to God; they are young men, and I hope to see them become men, as opposed to so many young fellows who seem to want to remain boys.


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.'


If this doesn't make you smile, nothing will

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



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.