Pleased To Print His Gospel on Our Hearts

During a research project on a different topic, I was so encouraged by Calvin’s words here:

…we have not perfect faith, and we have not given ourselves to serve God with such zeal as we are bound to do, but have daily to battle with the lusts of our flesh; yet, since the Lord hath graciously been pleased to print His Gospel upon our hearts, in order that we may withstand all unbelief; and hath given us this earnest desire to renounce our own thoughts and follow His righteousness and His holy commandments: therefore we rest assured, that our remaining sins and imperfections do not prevent us from being received of God and made worthy partakers of this spiritual food. For we come not to the Supper to testify hereby that we are perfect and righteous in ourselves; but on the contrary, seeking our life in Jesus Christ, we acknowledge that we lie in the midst of death.

The Christian life is a long war, a constant struggle, and I need reminders like the above in zealous battle against sin, and encouragement when we stumble. It reminds me of the importance of godliness, and the need for Holy Communion.

Godly Grace
Some Christians seem to get through daily faith in an almost light, easy way. That has never been my experience. But I cannot begin to describe how hopeful and thrilling it is to be reminded that God has a plan for my unbelief; for my failings… for my sins. And His plan is to print His Gospel on my heart. As Philippians 2:12 – 13 reminds us, our Redeemer is even concerned for our desires and wants, to train our wills and ways in His holy obedience. So often, my best efforts to live the Christian life remind me that “I lie in the midst of death.” I see failure and destruction all around me. But when I lift my eyes off my own efforts, but His sovereign grace Christ enables me to see the shocking ways He is continually transforming me from within to conform to His holy law.

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London’s Theology of the Wild

I was reading out loud to my son on Thanksgiving holiday. We were snuggled into sleeping bags and blankets by the fire. Two sentences into his 1915 legend White Fang, Jack London writes:

A vast silence reigned over the land.  The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness.  There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness—a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility.  It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life.  It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild…

On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose toil was over,—a man whom the Wild had conquered and beaten down until he would never move nor struggle again.  It is not the way of the Wild to like movement.  Life is an offence to it, for life is movement; and the Wild aims always to destroy movement.  It freezes the water to prevent it running to the sea; it drives the sap out of the trees till they are frozen to their mighty hearts; and most ferociously and terribly of all does the Wild harry and crush into submission man—man who is the most restless of life, ever in revolt against the dictum that all movement must in the end come to the cessation of movement…

On every side was the silence, pressing upon them with a tangible presence.  It affected their minds as the many atmospheres of deep water affect the body of the diver.  It crushed them with the weight of unending vastness and unalterable decree.  It crushed them into the remotest recesses of their own minds, pressing out of them, like juices from the grape, all the false ardours and exaltations and undue self-values of the human soul, until they perceived themselves finite and small, specks and motes, moving with weak cunning and little wisdom amidst the play and inter-play of the great blind elements and forces.

Striking in its language, London employs the words of a systematic theology to describe the Incomprehensible Other of the frozen Wild: “silence,” “incommunicable wisdom of eternity,” “crushed weight,” and vast stillness. London writes of the Yukon and the Klondike as the scholastics wrote of the mysterium tremendum. The majestic immanence of the Wild reveals a horrifying transcendence.

At the end of chapter three, at a key narrative turn that could spell disaster for the protagonist before even coming into existence, London introduces a holy tautology: “But the Wild is the Wild…” Evoking the tetragrammaton of the Hebrew scriptures (“I Am is that I Am”), White Fang introduces readers to that which was, which is, and which is to come. The Wild is. The Wild is the Wild.

London is laying out his theology. The functional atheism of the Gold Rush cannot restrain the divine attributes of the frozen Wild. London’s characters are sinners in the hands of an angry Wilderness, at the mercy of its harshest elements. Where Captain Ahab faced an omnisciently cunning white whale, or Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley faced the Wholly Other of alien space, in London’s cosmos John Thornton (Call of the Wild), Weedon Scott (White Fang), and the chechaquo (“To Build A Fire”) face the most dangerous and omnipotent antagonist in the Wild. The divine presence is everywhere communicated in nature, and London writes of the eternal stillness of the frozen Wild for this purpose.

Salvation Among the Wolves
Riding the line of this boundary between divine nature and mortal tragedy are the protagonists, Buck (in Call of the Wild) and the eponymous White Fang. Early on, we discover that White Fang is actually a wolfdog, sired by a wolf father and wolfdog mother. This hypostatic union of feral wolf and domesticated dog is the main plot arc for White Fang, as the union of these two natures war for supremacy in the protagonist. Buck, who does not incarnate the two natures, tells the story of when a dog is predestined to remember its instinctual life in a wolf’s world.

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Tempering A Serrated Edge: Piper Responds to Wilson

Back in 2000 (twenty years ago!!), both John Piper and Doug Wilson were panelists at a Ligonier conference. Wilson made some remarks on rhetoric, satire, and taking the fight to the pagans. Strikingly – and from what I can tell, completely out of keeping with the rest of the kid-glove discussion – Piper challenges this at the 24:02 mark, “to balance it.”

Wilson published his book A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking in 2003, just shortly after this. In the subsequent seventeen years, I would argue that this satire has not had the triumphant effect that may have been desired.

A few remarks in light of the video:

Distinctions
Piper notes some important distinctions we must bear in mind. The first difference is between Christ as holy (in his divine nature & unfallen human nature) and my sinful inclinations (post-lapse humanity). Wilson had earlier noted how Jesus could skewer self-righteous Pharisees (many old Credenda readers or current Blog & Mablog subscribers will think of his “righteous horse laugh”). Piper’s point is valid, since Jesus possesses both the foresight and insight to know when such barbed rhetoric will be useful. It is precisely at this point where our sinful nature obscures us, making us liable to hurt more than help.

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“Still will we not fear, The Lord of Hosts is ever near”

Aside

Martin Luther penned the following poem, inspired by Psalm 46. The hymnologist will note that Luther’s celebrated hymn, “Ein’ Feste Burg ist Unser Gott” / “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is also based the sacred text. Originally published in The German Psalmody.

God is our refuge in distress,
Our shield of hope through every care,
Our Shepherd watching us to bless,
And therefore will we not despair;
Although the mountains shake,
And hills their place forsake,
And billows o’er them break
Yet still will we not fear,
For Thou, O God, art ever near.

God is our hope and strength in woe;
Through earth He maketh wars to cease;
His power breaketh spear and bow;
His mercy sendeth endless peace.
Then though the earth remove,
And storms rage high above,
And seas tempestuous prove,
Yet still will we not fear,
The Lord of Hosts is ever near.

Coronavirus Civil Disobedience

civildisobedienceOver at 9Marks, there is a helpful discussion on whether/if a church could ever civilly disobey the various quarantine/shelter-in-place orders.

There are several helpful insights in the conversation. Jamieson gives a rough ‘n’ ready nugget when he points out that Acts 5:29 (“we must obey God rather than man”) is a helpful prooftext and “warranted when Government commands what God forbids, or forbids what God commands.” Listen (even better, subscribe!) to the whole conversation.

Further, host Jonathan Leeman asks in 9Marks Journal, “When Should Churches Reject Governmental Guidelines on Gathering and Engage in Civil Disobedience?” Helpfully, Leeman gives an answer to the “when” aspect. Two criteria are proposed: the “reasonableness” of the government’s rationale, and the target of the government’s actions (“the government cannot single out religious groups”). How well do those criteria hold up? Continue reading

Is Your Good News Good? An Approach to a Reformed response

Gilbert_GospelGreg Gilbert has responded in an article entitled “‘Jesus Is King’ Is Not Good News: A Response to Scot McKnight and Matthew Bates” at 9Marks. This is his rejoinder following the response to his T4G sermon. All the relevant links can be found above.

Rather than trying to suss out whether Gilbert or Bates/McKnight is more correct, I’d like to suggest a alternative, Reformed approach. Back when the Lordship controversy was raging between Zane Hodges and John MacArthur, Michael Horton et al didn’t endorse MacArthur, but instead pointed out inadequacies with both sides, and produced Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Savlation (book). I’ve observed the usefulness of that title elsewhere. I don’t think Hodges=Bates/McKnight, or Gilbert=MacArthur. But it might be useful to consider some Reformed categories, rather than just lumping in with Gilbert, in this debate also.

Distinctio sed non Separatio

Reformed theologians constantly demanded we distinguish concepts without separating them. The persons of the Trinity, Jesus’ divine and human natures, justification and sanctification in union with Christ, and the Church as institution and organism were all concepts that needed to be distinguished as different, but could not ultimately be separated. Like the heads and tails of a coin, they were distinct but indivisible.

The Bates/McKnight camp is fond of emphasizing the Kingship of Jesus, even going so far as to equivocate “Messiah” for “anointed King.” While this is certainly true, and gloriously true!, it leaves out at least two other aspects of Jesus’ anointed work: prophetic and priestly. As Heidelberg Catechism #31 puts it, being the “Christ” or “Messiah” means that Jesus is our Chief Prophet, our High Priest, and our Eternal King. Continue reading

Pastoring In Plagues

Luther_Plague2Or, how historical theology brings hope.

Pestilence and Pastoral Ministry (at Gentle Reformation)

Plague and Providence: What Huldrych Zwingli Taught Me About Trusting God (TGC) Zwingli’s “Plague Song” helps deal with fear, especially amidst physical uncertainty five hundred years later.

Responding to Pandemics: 4 Lessons from Church History (TGC) This has Dionysius and Cyprian, but the other two are Luther and Spurgeon, who are filled out more completely below. Update: For an even deeper look at Dionysius and Cyprian, see this article “Glorifying God In the Midst of A Pandemic” from CTS.

Spurgeon’s Dangerous Mission (Challies) Not specific to plagues, but nevertheless characterizes several instances of ministry in extreme dangers.

Pandemics And Public Worship Throughout History (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship) Twelve instances of plague from the patristic period to the Ebola outbreak to 2015

 Luther: Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague (The Davenant Institute) A fourteen page pamphlet Luther composed when the Black Plague hit Wittenburg. A magisterial treatment from the magisterial Reformation.

5 Lessons from Spurgeon’s Ministry in a Cholera Outbreak (TGC) Spurgeon’s life is simply amazing.

Francis Grimke sermon: “Some Reflections Growing Out Of The Recent Epidemic Of Influenza That Afflicted Our City” (IX Marks) When the Spanish Flu hit America in the early twentieth century, African American pastor Grimke penned this sermon.

Spurgeon: “What Is God Doing?” (Bethlehem College & Seminary) A sermon from the Prince of preachers on God’s aims in a plague. (Bonus: “Lessons from Spurgeon on the Coronavirus” from Christian Concern

“Glorifying God In the Midst of A Pandemic” (CTS)

Do you know of other excellent historical theological perspectives on plague and disease? Share them in the comments below.

Theology as Passion

TheoPassion“Theology carries with it a unique mode of existence. Barth and his followers referred to this as a theologische Existenz (theological mode of existence).

This theological mode of existence involves more than acquiring a substantial amount of knowledge, more than doing theology as creatively as possible. It concerns the cultivation of a certain underlying passion.

This passion is, first, a passion for God and His kingdom. As the word indicates, a true theologian speaks about God. But his or her passion also concerns the people of God and the world of God. This dimension will perhaps not radiate from every page the theologian writes. It is a cultivated passion; that is, it lies in the background and will typically surface in a restrained manner.”

C van der Kooi & G. van den Brink Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction p. 29-30

Holiness In Christ

beeke_livingbygodspromisesA beautiful section from Living By God’s Promises:

That obedience is commanded is clear… On what basis does the apostle give such a command [from Romans 6:12 – 13, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”]?

Surely the apostle does not believe man is able in himself to obey, for he has already given over all men to sin (Rom. 3:9 – 20) and would not contradict that truth here. Neither does he believe that we are able in ourselves to obey, for the very point of Romans 6:1 – 11 is that just as our union with Christ’s death has freed us from sin’s dominion, so our union with Christ’s resurrection has freed us to obey. Therefore, our holiness cannot even be considered outside of Christ, in whom we enjoy it. Holiness, or obedience to God’s imperatives, is not something we enjoy because of Christ, but rather something we enjoy in and from Christ (Rom 6:11 – 12). Our acceptance before God is therefore *in* Him (Eph 1:6) and not *because of* Him. The latter viewpoint suggests that Christ brings us to a place of holiness by which we can stand before God on our own, while the former states that Christ, by redemption, so unites us to Himself as the beloved of God that we stand before God in Him… We obey the imperatives of the gospel because we enjoy the indicatives of the gospel.
p. 130

One small quibble. Why distinguish between in Christ, as if it were opposed to because of Christ? Surely, Beeke et al do not mean to suggest that it is “because of” something else other than Christ. Often, “because of” can suggest the logical or causal ground, and I highly doubt Beeke thinks there can be any other ground than Christ our Lord. Further, I do not think “because of” can mean “[I] can stand before God on [my] own.” I’m perfectly happy with Beeke’s explanation (“The latter viewpoint…”), but I would have never thought to contrast in with because of.

Despite that quibble, there is so much beautiful, life-giving, truth summed up in just a few short verses! What I first learned in Owen, I see with such precise and clear wording here. Far too many Christians today have “found Jesus for forgiveness,” but then labor in their own power & person for obedience. They have not connected Gospel indicatives to the imperatives. I know what joy it has brought to my life, and the transformation He has wrought, to see myself laboring for the Lord in a power that is not my own, but His grace within (I Corinthians 15:10)! And this has come in union – abiding in, dwelling with, meditating on – with the risen Christ.

Athanasius: Christ Drives Out Fear of Death

Sometimes you run out of room or time in your Lord’s Day sermon, and so “Monday Morning Pulpit” is a chance to expand upon or reinforce ideas you didn’t have a chance to finish during the sermon.

On Resurrection Sunday, I preached from Hebrews 2:14 – 15; “that through death Christ might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” The following Athanasius quote is MONEY for the sanctification of the fear of death, but I wasn’t able to read the whole quote in the sermon. Enjoy!

“For that death is destroyed, and that the Cross is become the victory over it, and that it has no more power but is verily dead, this is no small proof, or rather an evident warrant, that it is despised by all Christ’s disciples, and that they all take the aggressive against it and no longer fear it; but by the sign of the Cross and by faith in Christ tread it down as dead. For of old, before the divine sojourn of the Saviour took place, even to the saints death was terrible, and all wept for the dead as though they perished. But now that the Saviour has raised His body, death is no longer terrible; for all who believe in Christ tread him under as no naught, and choose rather to die than to deny their faith in Christ. For they verily know that when they die they are not destroyed, but actually [begin to] live, and become incorruptible through the Resurrection. And that devil that once maliciously exulted in death, now that its pains were loosed, remained the only one truly dead. Continue reading