Monthly Archives: July 2011

Finding Certainty in Precision

But how can God’s will be known?  Can we tell His requirements with certainty and exactness?  Is there any way out of the fogs of pious guesswork on this point into the clear light of certainty?  Yes, said the Puritans, there is; the way out is to harness our consciences to the Holy Scriptures, in which the mind of God is fully revealed to us.  To them, Scripture was more than the fallible and sometimes fallacious human witness to revelation which is all that some moderns allow it to be; it was revelation itself, the living Word of the living God, divine testimony to God’s own redemptive acts and plans, written by the Holy Ghost through human agents in order to give the Church of every age clear direction on all matters of faith and life that could possibly arise.

But, it might be said, such a formula is unrealistic and empty.  The Bible is, after all, a very old book, the product of a now long-vanished culture.  Most of it was written for people in an utterly different situation from our own.  How can it throw clear and direct light on the problems of life today?  It can do so, the Puritans would reply, because the God who wrote it remains the same, and His thoughts about man’s life do not change.  If we can learn to see what principles He was inculcating and applying in His recorded dealings with Israel and the early Church, and to reapply them to our own situation, that will constitute the guidance that we need.  And it is to help us to do this that the Holy Spirit has been given.

Certainly, seeing the relevant principles and applying them correctly in each case is in practice and arduous task; ignorance of Scripture, and misjudgment of situations, constantly lead us astray, and to be patient and humble enough to receive the Spirit’s help is not easy either.  But it remains true nonetheless that in principle Scripture provides clear and exact guidance for every detail and department of life, and if we come to Scripture teachably and expectantly God Himself will seal on our minds and hearts a clear certainty as to how we should behave in each situation that faces us.  “God hath appointed means for the cure of blindness and error,” wrote Baxter. “Come into the light, with due self-suspicion, and impartiality, and diligently use all God’s means, and avoid the causes of deceit and error, and the light of truth will at once show you the truth.”

The Puritans themselves sought clear certainty as to God’s truth in its practical bearing, and believed that they had been given it.  Their quest sharpened both their moral sensibilities and their insight into the Bible.  They would not have been interested in vague moral uplift; what they wanted was to grasp God’s truth with the same preciseness of application with which they held that He had revealed it.  Because of their concern for preciseness in following out God’s revealed will in matters moral and ecclesiastical, the first Puritans were dubbed “precisians.”  Though ill-meant and derisive, this was in fact a good name for them.  Then as now, people explained their attitude as due to peevish cantankerousness and angularity or morbidity of temperament, but that was not how they themselves saw it.

Richard Rogers, the Puritan pastor of Wethersfield, Essex, at the turn of the sixteenth century, was riding one day with the local lord of the manor, who, after twitting him for sometime about his “precisian” ways, asked him what it was that made him so precise.  “O sire,” replied Roger, “I serve a precise God.”

If there were such a thing as a Puritan crest, this would be its proper motto.  A precise God – a God, that is, who has made a precise disclosure of His mind and will in Scripture, and who expects from His servants a corresponding preciseness of belief  and behavior – it was this view of God that created and controlled the historic Puritan outlook.  The Bible itself led them to it.  And we who share the Puritan estimate of Holy Scripture cannot excuse ourselves if we fail to show a diligence and conscientiousness equal to theirs in ordering our going according to God’s written Word.

J. I. Packer, “The Puritan Conscience” in Puritan Papers, Vol. 2, 245-47.

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Filed under Bible, Christian Living, Christian Thinking, Church History, God, Knowledge of God, Puritans, Theology, Will of God

The School of Suffering & the Knowledge of God

The school of suffering must make us increase in the knowledge of God….

As long as we have only started on the way to the cross, we fancy ourselves the main object at stake; it is our happiness, our honor, our future – and God added in. According to our idea we are at the center of things, and God is there to make us happy.  The Father is for the sake of the child.  And God’s confessed Almightiness is solely and alone to serve our interest.  This is an idea of God which is false through and through, which turns  the order around and, taken in its real sense, makes self God, and God our servant.

For this false knowledge of God the cross (i.e. suffering) removes all foundation.  Cast down by your sorrow and grief, you become suddenly aware that this great God does not measure nor direct the course of things according to your desire; that in his plan there are other motives that operate entirely outside of your preferences.  Then you must submit, you must bend.  You stand before it in utter impotence, and from this selfsame heaven, in which thus far you saw nothing but the play of light and clouds, darkness now enters into your soul, the clap of thunder reverberates in your heart, and the flaming bolt of lightning fills you with dismay.

This is the discovery of God’s reality, of his Majesty which utterly overwhelms you, of an Almightiness which absorbs within itself you and everything you call yours.  And for the first time you feel what it is to confront the living God.  Now you know him!

And then begins the new endeavor of the soul, to learn to understand this real God.  Then begins the questioning, the guessing, the pondering, why this Almighty God should be the way he is and do the things he does.  Then the troubled heart seeks this in the after-effects of the past.  It seeks this in the purpose for which the cross was laid upon us, and in the fruit which it shall bear in the unraveling of eternity.  For a long time it still remains the endeavor of finding the explanation of God’s doing solely and alone in ourselves.

Then the soul makes a still further advance.  It abandons the theory of Job’s friends and, like Job, receives the answer from God himself out of the whirlwind.  It now learns to understand how God’s appointment covers all suns and stars, all hours and centuries, and causes all creatures to revolve themselves around him, the Eternal One, as the one and only center; and, therefore, his council and plan are as high as heaven and consequently exceeded our comprehension.  It learns that, not the verification of his council, but entering into the life of it, whether  it be through joy, whether it be through sorrow, is our honor and the self-exaltation of our soul.

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), excerpt from “To Be Near Unto God” in Nancy Guthrie, Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose & Provision in Suffering, 75-79.

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Sovereignty and Reasons for Prayer

But some one will say, Does God not know without a monitor both what our difficulties are, and what is meet for our interest, so that it seems in some measure superfluous to solicit him by our prayers, as if he were winking, or even sleeping, until aroused by the sound of our voice? Those who argue thus attend not to the end for which the Lord taught us to pray. It was not so much for his sake as for ours. He wills indeed, as is just, that due honour be paid him by acknowledging that all which men desire or feel to be useful, and pray to obtain, is derived from him. But even the benefit of the homage which we thus pay him redounds to ourselves. Hence the holy patriarchs, the more confidently they proclaimed the mercies of God to themselves and others felt the stronger incitement to prayer. It will be sufficient to refer to the example of Elijah, who being assured of the purpose of God had good ground for the promise of rain which he gives to Ahab, and yet prays anxiously upon his knees, and sends his servant seven times to inquire (1 Kings 18:42); not that he discredits the oracle, but because he knows it to be his duty to lay his desires before God, lest his faith should become drowsy or torpid.

Wherefore, although it is true that while we are listless or insensible to our wretchedness, he wakes and watches for use and sometimes even assists us unasked; it is very much for our interest to be constantly supplicating him; first, that our heart may always be inflamed with a serious and ardent desire of seeking, loving and serving him, while we accustom ourselves to have recourse to him as a sacred anchor in every necessity; secondly, that no desires, no longing whatever, of which we are ashamed to make him the witness, may enter our minds, while we learn to place all our wishes in his sight, and thus pour out our heart before him; and, thirdly, that we may be prepared to receive all his benefits with true gratitude and thanksgiving, while our prayers remind us that they proceed from his hand. Fourthly, moreover, having obtained what we asked, being persuaded that he has answered our prayers, we are led to long more earnestly for his favour. And fifthly, at the same time have greater pleasure in welcoming the blessings which we perceive to have been obtained by our prayers. Lastly, use and experience confirm the thought of his providence in our minds in a manner adapted to our weakness, when we understand that he not only promises that he will never fail us, and spontaneously gives us access to approach him in every time of need, but has his hand always stretched out to assist his people, not amusing them with words, but proving himself to be a present aid.

For these reasons, though our most merciful Father never slumbers nor sleeps, he very often seems to do so, that thus he may exercise us, when we might otherwise be listless and slothful, in asking, entreating, and earnestly beseeching him to our great good.

It is very absurd, therefore, to dissuade men from prayer, by pretending that Divine Providence, which is always watching over the government of the universes is in vain importuned by our supplications, when, on the contrary, the Lord himself declares, that he is “nigh unto all that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth” (Ps. 145:18). No better is the frivolous allegation of others, that it is superfluous to pray for things which the Lord is ready of his own accord to bestow; since it is his pleasure that those very things which flow from his spontaneous liberality should be acknowledged as conceded to our prayers. This is testified by that memorable sentence in the psalms to which many others corresponds: “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry,” (Ps. 34:15). This passage, while extolling the care which Divine Providence spontaneously exercises over the safety of believers, omits not the exercise of faith by which the mind is aroused from sloth. The eyes of God are awake to assist the blind in their necessity, but he is likewise pleased to listen to our groans, that he may give us the better proof of his love. And thus both things are true, “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep,” (Ps. 121:4); and yet whenever he sees us dumb and torpid, he withdraws as if he had forgotten us.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.20.3

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Filed under Applied Theology, Church History, God, Prayer, Reformers, Sovereignty, Theology, Uncategorized

Salvation Song

Groping, bound in darkness we

Arriving in the world.

A son of death, and cursed is me,

Deep in sin I hurled.

Gone astray, apart from Thee,

Fulfilling each desire.

Known by God, a sinner be,

As a thief, a murderer, and a liar.

Sick with sin, til death are we;

Unable to overcome.

Helpless, hopeless, too blind to see

Our need, our heart, His love.

Justice, wrath, and death the fee

For all that I have done.

Mercy, grace undeserved from Thee,

But in Christ the victory won.

Bursting forth in glorious day,

Mine eyes began to perceive.

The Spirit working through the Word

Brought new life to me.

My heart was changed, by His blood;

Hung on the cross was He.

Christ paid my debt, which sin incurred,

By death He set me free.

In my place, condemned He stood;

Substitution is the key.

Transformed by grace, being sanctified,

Now from sin I flee.

The future holds an inheritance

To wondrous to foresee.

Salvation is of the Lord alone,

Forever will be my plea.

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Filed under Conversion, Poetry, Regeneration, Soteriology, Sovereign Grace, Theology

Fascination with Fireworks and the Wonder of God

Summer heat holds the air.  The bronzing sun falls beneath the horizon.  As the blanket of darkness is pulled across the sky people young and old flee their homes seeking wonder.  Masses gather gazing towards the heavens anticipating the genesis of their amazement.  The hush of the crowd is broken by a cannon-like burst followed by a breach in the night.  The blackness of the evening’s ceiling is in a moment undone by the flash of multicolor pearls of light.  One after the other, the sky is illuminated, leaving children and the aged awestruck alike.  With mouths gaping and eyes fixed, everyone’s mind is filled with wonder and their hearts are carried away for a brief time.  As the sky darkens once again the multitude hastens back to their dwellings, singing the praises of the glorious display of power and artistry they have just witnessed.

Two thousand years ago this would sound like an appearance of angels, possibly to shepherds on a hillside, but today this is a yearly occasion for Americans – any one of the Fourth of July events centered upon a fireworks display.  The question that arises from such an occasion is why do we find such wonder and amazement in fireworks?  Why do they, year after year, from our youngest days to the day of our death, cause us to stand in awe? I do no think it is not simply because they are loud to the ears or spectacular to the eyes, though they are.  It is not simply because fireworks awaken the inner child within us all, who finds amazement in the simple pleasures of life, though they do.  I believe it is something deeper.  Something deep within us as well as something greatly outside of us.

The reason, I believe, we find such wonder in fireworks is their shadowy reflection of our Creator and mankind’s universal knowledge of Him.  Just think about it for a minute.  We were created by God, bearers of His image, to know Him and to enjoy fellowship with Him.  Mankind was appointed as vice-regents of creation, to be under-creators, being made in His image.  But something terrible happened.  Mankind was not satisfied with his position and sought to become more like God through his own efforts.  Rebelling against his Creator, the human race fell from its exalted position, marring the image of God though not destroying it.  While, before the fall, all human creativity and work was to be a reflection of God Himself, bringing Him glory, now, after the fall, mankind creates and works for his own glory, though a tension or better yet an unfulfilled desire exists.  Since all of creation was meant to point to and be a testimony to God’s glory and might, when we enjoy, find amazement in, or set our affections on something/one created our hearts cry out for something greater.  Something greater than ourselves.  Something greater that the world around us.  Our hearts cry out for God.

So how do fireworks fit into this picture.  Who is praised after the fireworks are over?  The manufacturers, the firework technicians, or the proprietors of the place putting on the show are all the usual recipients, but rarely ever is God praised.  Fireworks are a creation of man for the praise and enjoyment of man.  Still bearing the image of our Creator, we create and continue to do so unknowingly as a reflection of Him.  Fireworks are mere glimmers of creativity and power in comparison to God and His creation.  Just look past the fireworks and you will see the wonder, the beauty, the power of  God in the expanse of the heavens and the heavenly bodies that fill it.  The Psalmist proclaimed, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).  While fireworks come and go in an instant, God’s creation continues on.  Stars continue to shine, planets perpetually revolve, and we, here on this earth, minuscule in comparison to all things, still live.  It is He who in the beginning “created the heavens and the earth”, who spoke and said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light”, and who at the very moment “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Amazing!  This, I believe gets at the root of our awe of fireworks.  In those moments we catch a glimpse of the most spectacular fireworks display ever, God creating.  To ignore this is to deprive ourselves of seeing and enjoying God’s glory in creation reflected through His image bearers.  It is to deny the very reason we were created.

This God is still at work today, not only upholding all things but is at work undoing the effects of our sin in us as well as in the world.  Not only do we need to stand in awe of the Creator of all things, we need that same God to illuminate our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit, for our hearts are a dark void just as the world was before God spoke light into existence.  We all need what Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  Without this light given by the grace of God the only wonder and joy we will ever find in this world and for eternity will be in fleeting flashes, shadows of beauty, and quiet echoes of something more.

Enjoy the show, stand in awe and wonder, but remember that behind all that you see is the hand, the reflection, the presence of God.

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