Friday, January 23, 2015

The Devotional Life of George Muller

Outstanding advice from one who knew the blessing of devotions by experience.

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"It has pleased the Lord to teach me a truth, the benefit of which I have not lost, for more than fourteen years. The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit. Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, as an habitual thing, to give myself to prayer, after having dressed myself in the morning. Now, I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the Word of God, while meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experiential communion with the Lord.

I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning, early in the morning. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon his precious Word, was, to begin to meditate on the Word of God, searching as it were into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul. The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the Word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation. The result of this is, that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and then my inner man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened, and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart. Thus also the Lord is pleased to communicate unto me that which, either very soon after or at a later time, I have found to become food for other believers, though it was not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word that I gave myself to meditation, but for the profit of my own inner man.

The difference, then, between my former practice and my present one is this: Formerly, when I rose, I began to pray as soon as possible, and generally spent all my time till breakfast in prayer, or almost all the time. At all events I almost invariably began with prayer, except when I felt my soul to be more than usually barren, in which case I read the Word of God for food, or for refreshment, or for a revival and renewal of my inner man, before I gave myself to prayer. But what was the result? I often spent a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, or even an hour, on my knees, before being conscious to myself of having derived comfort, encouragement, humbling of soul, etc., and often, after having suffered much from wandering of mind for the first ten minutes, or a quarter of an hour, or even half an hour, I only then began really to pray. I scarcely ever suffer now in this way. For my heart, first being nourished by the truth, being brought into experiential fellowship with God, I then speak to my Father and to my Friend (vile though I am, and unworthy of it) about the things that He has brought before me in His precious Word. It often now astonishes me that I did not sooner see this point. In no book did I ever read about it. No public ministry ever brought the matter before me. No private intercourse with a brother stirred me up to this matter. And yet, now, since God has taught me this point, it is as plain to me as anything, that the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is, to obtain food for his inner man. As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time except we take food, and as this is one of the first things we do in the morning, so it should be with the inner man. We should take food for that, as every one must allow. Now, what is the food for the inner man? Not prayer, but the Word of God; and here again, not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts. When we pray, we speak to God. Now, prayer, in order to be continued for any length of time in any other than a formal manner, requires, generally speaking, a measure of strength or godly desire, and the season, therefore, when this exercise of the soul can be most effectually performed is after the inner man has been nourished by meditation on the Word of God, where we find our Father speaking to us, to encourage us, to comfort us, to instruct us, to humble us, to reprove us. We may therefore profitably meditate, with God’s blessing, though we are ever so weak spiritually; nay, the weaker we are, the more we need meditation for the strengthening of our inner man. Thus there is far less to be feared from wandering of mind than if we give ourselves to prayer without having had time previously for meditation. I dwell so particularly on this point because of the immense spiritual profit and refreshment I am conscious of having derived from it myself, and I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my fellow believers to ponder this matter. By the blessing of God, I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had from God to pass in peace through deeper trials, in various ways, than I had ever had before; and after having now above fourteen years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, commend it. In addition to this I generally read, after family prayer, larger portions of the Word of God, when I still pursue my practice of reading regularly onward in the Holy Scriptures, sometimes in the New Testament, and sometimes in the Old, and for more than twenty-six years I have proved the blessedness of it. I take, also, either then or at other parts of the day, time more especially for prayer.

How different, when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials, and the temptations of the day come upon one."

--George Muller, May 9 1841.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

D.A. Carson - The Love of God and the Intent of the Atonement

The following is a short section taken from D.A. Carson's excellent book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, and was copied and pasted from here. Carson offers some very acute reflections upon the doctrine of "limited" atonement, which is a subject that perplexes many. To appreciate everything that he says it would be best to read the entire book in context, but I post this confident that a blessing can be gleaned from even this narrow slice.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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Here I wish to see if the approaches we have been following with respect to the love of God may shed some light on another area connected with the sovereignty of God – the purpose of the Atonement.

The label “limited atonement” is singularly unfortunate for two reasons. First, it is a defensive, restrictive expression: here is atonement, and then someone wants to limit it. The notion of limiting something as glorious as the Atonement is intrinsically offensive. Second, even when inspected more coolly, “limited atonement” is objectively misleading. Every view of the Atonement “limits” it in some way, save for the view of the unqualified universalist. For example, the Arminian limits the Atonement by regarding it as merely potential for everyone; the Calvinist regards the Atonement as definite and effective (i.e., those for whom Christ died will certainly be saved), but limits this effectiveness to the elect; the Amyraldian limits the Atonement in much the same way as they Arminian, even though the undergirding structures are different.

It may be less prejudicial, therefore, to distinguish general atonement and definite atonement, rather than unlimited atonement and limited atonement. The Arminian (and the Amyraldian, whom I shall lump together for the sake of this discussion) holds that the Atonement is general, i.e., sufficient for all, available to all, on condition of faith; the Calvinist holds that the Atonement is definite, i.e., intended by God to be effective for the elect.

At least part of the argument in favor of definite atonement runs as follows. Let us grant, for the sake of argument, the truth of election. [Footnote 1: If someone denies unconditional election, as an informed Arminian (but not an Amyraldian) would, most Calvinists would want to start further back.] That is one point where this discussion intersects with what was said in the third chapter about God’s sovereignty and his electing love. In that case the question may be framed in this way: When God sent his Son to the cross, did he think of the effect of the cross with respect to his elect differently from the way he thought of the effect of the cross with respect to all others? If one answers negatively, it is very difficult to see that one is really holding to a doctrine of election at all; if one answers positively, then one has veered toward some notion of definite atonement. The definiteness of the Atonement turns rather more on God’s intent in Christ’s cross work than in the mere extent of its significance.

But the issue is not merely one of logic dependent on election. Those who defend definite atonement cite texts. Jesus will save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21) – not everyone. Christ gave himself “for us,” i.e., for us the people of the new covenant (Tit. 2:14), “to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Moreover, in his death Christ did not merely make adequate provision for the elect, but he actually achieved the desired result (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:15-16). The Son of Man came to give his life a ransom “for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; cf. Isa. 53:10-12). Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

The Arminian, however, responds that there are simply too many texts on the other side of the issue. God so loved the world that he gave his Son (John 3:16). Clever exegetical devices that make “the world” a label for referring to the elect are not very convincing. Christ Jesus is the propitiation “for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). And much more of the same.

So how shall we forge ahead? The arguments marshaled on both sides are of course more numerous and more sophisticated than I have indicated in this thumbnail sketch. But recall for a moment the outline I provided in the first chapter on the various ways the Bible speaks about the love of God: (1) God’s intra-Trinitarian love, (2) God’s love displayed in his providential care, (3) God’s yearning warning and invitation to all human beings as he invites and commands them to repent and believe, (4) God’s special love towards the elect, and (5) God’s conditional love toward his covenant people as he speaks in the language of discipline. I indicated that if you absolutize any one of these ways in which the Bible speaks of the love of God, you will generate a false system that squeezes out other important things the Bible says, thus finally distorting your vision of God.

In this case, if we adopt the fourth of these ways of talking about God’s love (viz. God’s particular and effective love toward the elect), and insist that this is the only way the Bible speaks of the love of God, then definite atonement is exonerated, but at the cost of other texts that do not easily fit into this mold and at the expense of being unable to say that there is any sense in which God displays a loving, yearning, salvific stance toward the whole world. Further, there could then be no sense in which the Atonement is sufficient for all without exception. Alternatively, if you put all your theological eggs into the third basket and think of God’s love exclusively in terms of open invitation to all human beings, one has excluded not only definite atonement as a theological construct, but also a string of passages that, read most naturally, mean that Jesus Christ did die in some special way for his own people and that God with perfect knowledge of the elect saw Christ’s death with respect to the elect in a different way then he saw Christ’s death with respect to everyone else.

Surely it is best not to introduce disjunctions where God himself has not introduced them. Of one holds that the Atonement is sufficient for all and effective for the elect, then both sets of texts and concerns are accommodated. As far as I can see, a text such as 1 John 2:2 states something about the potential breadth of the Atonement. As I understand the historical context, the proto-gnostic opponents John was facing though of themselves as an ontological elite who enjoyed the inside track with God because of the special insight they had received. [Footnote 2: I have defended this as the background, at some length, in my forthcoming commentary on the Johannine Epistles in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC).] But when Jesus Christ died, John rejoins, it was not for the sake of, say, the Jews only or, now, of some group, gnostic or otherwise, that sets itself up as intrinsically superior. Far from it. It was not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world. The context, then, understands this to mean something like “potentially for all without distinction” rather than “effectively for all without exception” – for in the latter case all without exception must surely be saved, and John does not suppose that that will take place. This is in line, then, with passages that speak of God’s love in the third sense listed above. But it is difficult to see why that should rule out the fourth sense in the other passages.

In recent years I have tried to read both primary and secondary sources on the doctrine of the Atonement from Calvin on. [Footnote 3: One of the latest treatments is G. Michael Thomas, The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus (1536-1675), Paternoster Biblical and Theological Monographs (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1997).] One of my most forceful impressions is that the categories of the debate gradually shift with time so as to force disjunction where a slightly different bit of question-framing would allow synthesis. Correcting this, I suggest, is one of the useful things we may accomplish from an adequate study of the love of God in holy Scripture. For God is a person. Surely it is unsurprising if the love that characterizes him as a person is manifest in a variety of ways toward other persons. But it is always love, for all that.

I argue, then, that both Arminians and Calvinists should rightly affirm that Christ died for all, in the sense that Christ’s death was sufficient for all and that Scripture portrays God as inviting, commanding, and desiring the salvation of all, out of love (in the third sense developed in the first chapter). Further, all Christians ought also to confess that, in a slightly different sense, Christ Jesus, in the intent of God, died effectively for the elect alone, in line with the way the Bible speaks of God’s special selecting love for the elect (in the fourth sense developed in the first chapter).

Pastorally, there are many important implications. I mention only two.

(1) This approach, I content, must surely come as a relief to young preachers in the Reformed tradition who hunger to preach the Gospel effectively but who do not know how far they can go in saying things such as “God loves you” to unbelievers. When I have preached or lectured in Reformed circles, I have often been asked the question, “Do you feel free to tell unbelievers that God loves them?” No doubt the question is put to me because I still do a fair bit of evangelism, and people want models. Historically, Reformed theology at its best has never been slow in evangelism. Ask George Whitefield, for instance, or virtually all the main lights in the Southern Baptist Convention until the end of the last century. From what I have already said, it is obvious that I have no hesitation in answering this question from young Reformed preachers affirmatively: Of course I tell the unconverted that God loves them.

Not for a moment am I suggesting that when one preaches evangelistically, one ought to retreat to passages of the third type (above), holding back on the fourth type until after a person is converted. There is something sleazy about that sort of approach. Certainly it is possible to preach evangelistically when dealing with a passage that explicitly teaches election. Spurgeon did this sort of thing regularly. But I am saying that, provided there is an honest commitment to preaching the whole counsel of God, preachers in the Reformed tradition should not hesitate for an instant to declare the love of God for a lost world, for lost individuals. The Bible’s ways of speaking about the love of God are comprehensive enough not only to permit this but to mandate it. [Footnote 4: Cf. somewhat similar reflections by Hywel R. Jones, “Is God Love?” in Banner of Truth Magazine 412 (January 1998), 10-16.]

(2) At the same time, to preserve the notion of particular redemption proves pastorally important for many reasons. If Christ died for all people with exactly the same intent, as measured on any axis, then it is surely impossible to avoid the conclusion that the ultimate distinguishing mark between those who are saved and those who are not is their own will. That is surely ground for boasting. This argument does not charge the Arminian with no understanding of grace. After all, the Arminian believes that the cross is the ground of the Christian’s acceptance before God; the choice to believe is not in any sense the ground. Still, this view of grace surely requires the conclusion that the ultimate distinction between the believer and the unbeliever lies, finally, in the human beings themselves. That entails an understanding of grace quite different, and in my view far more limited, than the view that traces the ultimate distinction back to the purposes of God, including his purposes in the cross. The pastoral implications are many and obvious.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Calvin on the Lives and Faith of the Patriarchs

I'd like to share an excerpt from Calvin's Institutes that I was reading this morning which is so eminently encouraging and fitting for our meditation on New Years Eve. As I was reading it this morning I was greatly struck by the hard and difficult lives the patriarchs lived, despite the fact that they were recipients of God's promises, true believers, chosen and beloved by God. God promised them blessings and was truly with them throughout their whole lives, but by all appearances the presence of God in their lives didn't seem to yield many blessings--in fact, they experienced many of life's hardships. Yet, as the book of Hebrews shows, these men looked toward the future and believed in God's faithfulness toward them... even beyond the grave! Their lives are amazing testaments of faith. And we can say that their faith in the future, and our faith in the future (that is, their hope and our hope) is what made them, and makes us, bravely and resolutely face and triumph over all the trials endured in this life: "for the joy set before" us, and "through Him who loved us". We can know that trials are in no way a sign that God has forsaken us. It is ours, like theirs, to believe in God to the very end, that He is the God who will raise the dead, and then at last "many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 8:11)

Happy New Year, dear friends!
-Eli

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"Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, and the other patriarchs, having been united to God by this illumination of the word, I say there cannot be the least doubt that entrance was given them into the immortal kingdom of God. They had that solid participation in God which cannot exist without the blessing of everlasting life.

If the point still seems somewhat involved, let us pass to the form of the covenant, which will not only satisfy calm thinkers, but sufficiently establish the ignorance of gainsayers. The covenant which God always made with his servants was this, “I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people,” (Lev. 26:12). These words, even as the prophets are wont to expound them, comprehend life and salvation, and the whole sum of blessedness. For David repeatedly declares, and with good reason, “Happy is that people whose God is the Lord.” “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he has chosen for his own inheritance,” (Psalm 144:15; 33:12); and this not merely in respect of earthly happiness, but because he rescues from death, constantly preserves, and, with eternal mercy, visits those whom he has adopted for his people. As is said in other prophets, “Art not thou from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die.” “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us” “Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord?” (Hab. 1:12; Isaiah 33:22; Deut. 33:29). But not to labour superfluously, the prophets are constantly reminding us that no good thing and, consequently, no assurance of salvation, is wanting, provided the Lord is our God. And justly. For if his face, the moment it hath shone upon us, is a perfect pledge of salvation, how can he manifest himself to any one as his God, without opening to him the treasures of salvation? The terms on which God makes himself ours is to dwell in the midst of us, as he declared by Moses (Lev. 26:11). But such presence cannot be enjoyed without life being, at the same time, possessed along with it. And though nothing more had been expressed, they had a sufficiently clear promise of spiritual life in these words, “I am your God,” (Exod. 6:7). For he declared that he would be a God not to their bodies only, but specially to their souls. Souls, however, if not united to God by righteousness, remain estranged from him in death. On the other hand, that union, wherever it exists, will bring perpetual salvation with it.

To this we may add, that he not only declared he was, but also promised that he would be, their God. By this their hope was extended beyond present good, and stretched forward into eternity. Moreover, that this observance of the future had the effect, appears from the many passages in which the faithful console themselves not only in their present evils, but also for the future, by calling to mind that God was never to desert them. Moreover, in regard to the second part of the promise—viz. the blessing of God, its extending beyond the limits of the present life was still more clearly confirmed by the words, I will be the God of your seed after you (Gen. 17:7). If he was to manifest his favour to the dead by doing good to their posterity, much less would he deny his favour to themselves. God is not like men, who transfer their love to the children of their friends, because the opportunity of bestowing kind offices as they wished upon themselves is interrupted by death. But God, whose kindness is not impeded by death, does not deprive the dead of the benefit of his mercy, which, on their account, he continues to a thousand generations. God, therefore, was pleased to give a striking proof of the abundance and greatness of his goodness which they were to enjoy after death, when he described it as overflowing to all their posterity (Exod. 20:6). The truth of this promise was sealed, and in a manner completed, when, long after the death of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he called himself their God (Exod. 20:6). And why? Was not the name absurd if they had perished? It would have been just the same as if he had said, I am the God of men who exist not. Accordingly, the Evangelists relate that, by this very argument, our Saviour refuted the Sadducees (Mt. 22:23; Luke 20:32), who were, therefore, unable to deny that the resurrection of the dead was attested by Moses, inasmuch as he had taught them that all the saints are in his hand (Deut. 33:3). Whence it is easy to infer that death is not the extinction of those who are taken under the tutelage, guardianship, and protection of him who is the disposer of life and death.

Let us now see (and on this the controversy principally turns) whether or not believers themselves were so instructed by the Lord, as to feel that they had elsewhere a better life, and to aspire to it while disregarding the present. First, the mode of life which heaven had imposed upon them made it a constant exercise, by which they were reminded, that if in this world only they had hope, they were of all men the most miserable. Adam, most unhappy even in the mere remembrance of his lost felicity, with difficulty supplies his wants by anxious labours; and that the divine curse might not be restricted to bodily labour, his only remaining solace becomes a source of the deepest grief: Of two sons, the one is torn from him by the parricidal hand of his brother; while the other, who survives, causes detestation and horror by his very look. Abel, cruelly murdered in the very flower of his days, is an example of the calamity which had come upon man. While the whole world are securely living in luxury, Noah, with much fatigue, spends a great part of his life in building an ark. He escapes death, but by greater troubles than a hundred deaths could have given. Besides his ten months’ residence in the ark, as in a kind of sepulchre, nothing could have been more unpleasant than to have remained so long pent up among the filth of beasts. After escaping these difficulties he falls into a new cause of sorrow. He sees himself mocked by his own son, and is forced, with his own mouth, to curse one whom, by the great kindness of God, he had received safe from the deluge.

Abraham alone ought to be to us equal to tens of thousands if we consider his faith, which is set before us as the best model of believing, to whose race also we must be held to belong in order that we may be the children of God.231 What could be more absurd than that Abraham should be the father of all the faithful, and not even occupy the meanest corner among them? He cannot be denied a place in the list; nay, he cannot be denied one of the most honourable places in it, without the destruction of the whole Church. Now, as regards his experience in life, the moment he is called by the command of God, he is torn away from friends, parents, and country, objects in which the chief happiness of life is deemed to consist, as if it had been the fixed purpose of the Lord to deprive him of all the sources of enjoyment. No sooner does he enter the land in which he was ordered to dwell, than he is driven from it by famine. In the country to which he retires to obtain relief, he is obliged, for his personal safety, to expose his wife to prostitution. This must have been more bitter than many deaths. After returning to the land of his habitation, he is again expelled by famine. What is the happiness of inhabiting a land where you must so often suffer from hunger, nay, perish from famine, unless you flee from it? Then, again, with Abimelech, he is reduced to the same necessity of saving his head by the loss of his wife (Gen. 12:12). While he wanders up and down uncertain for many years, he is compelled, by the constant quarrelling of servants to part with his nephew, who was to him as a son. This departure must doubtless have cost him a pang something like the cutting off of a limb. Shortly after, he learns that his nephew is carried off captive by the enemy. Wherever he goes, he meets with savage-hearted neighbours, who will not even allow him to drink of the wells which he has dug with great labour. For he would not have purchased the use from the king of Gerar if he had not been previously prohibited. After he had reached the verge of life, he sees himself childless (the bitterest and most unpleasant feeling to old age), until, beyond expectation, Ishmael is born; and yet he pays dearly for his birth in the reproaches of Sarah, as if he was the cause of domestic disturbance by encouraging the contumacy of a female slave. At length Isaac is born, but in return, the first-born Ishmael is displaced, and almost hostilely driven forth and abandoned. Isaac remains alone, and the good man, now worn out with age, has his heart upon him, when shortly after he is ordered to offer him up in sacrifice. What can the human mind conceive more dreadful than for the father to be the murderer of his son? Had he been carried off by disease, who would not have thought the old man much to be pitied in having a son given to him in mockery, and in having his grief for being childless doubled to him? Had he been slain by some stranger, this would, indeed, have been much worse than natural death. But all these calamities are little compared with the murder of him by his father’s hand. Thus, in fine, during the whole course of his life, he was harassed and tossed in such a way, that any one desirous to give a picture of a calamitous life could not find one more appropriate. Let it not be said that he was not so very distressed, because he at length escaped from all these tempests. He is not said to lead a happy life who, after infinite difficulties during a long period, at last laboriously works out his escape, but he who calmly enjoys present blessings without any alloy of suffering.

Isaac is less afflicted, but he enjoys very few of the sweets of life. He also meets with those vexations which do not permit a man to be happy on the earth. Famine drives him from the land of Canaan; his wife is torn from his bosom; his neighbours are ever and anon annoying and vexing him in all kinds of ways, so that he is even obliged to fight for water. At home, he suffers great annoyance from his daughters-in-law; he is stung by the dissension of his sons, and has no other cure for this great evil than to send the son whom he had blessed into exile (Gen. 26:27); Jacob, again, is nothing but a striking example of the greatest wretchedness. His boyhood is passed most uncomfortably at home amidst the threats and alarms of his elder brother, and to these he is at length forced to give way (Gen. 27:28); A fugitive from his parents and his native soil, in addition to the hardships of exile, the treatment he receives from his uncle Laban is in no respect milder and more humane (Gen. 29). As if it had been little to spend seven years of hard and rigorous servitude, he is cheated in the matter of a wife. For the sake of another wife, he must undergo a new servitude, during which, as he himself complains, the heat of the sun scorches him by day, while in frost and cold he spends the sleepless night (Gen. 31:40, 41). For twenty years he spends this bitter life, and daily suffers new injuries from his father-in-law. Nor is he quiet at home, which he sees disturbed and almost broken up by the hatreds, quarrels, and jealousies of his wives. When he is ordered to return to his native land, he is obliged to take his departure in a manner resembling an ignominious flight. Even then he is unable to escape the injustice of his father-in-law, but in the midst of his journey is assailed by him with contumely and reproach (Gen. 31:20.232 ) By and bye a much greater difficulty befalls him (Gen. 32, 33). For as he approaches his brother, he has as many forms of death in prospect as a cruel foe could invent. Hence, while waiting for his arrival, he is distracted and excruciated by direful terrors; and when he comes into his sight, he falls at his feet like one half dead, until he perceives him to be more placable than he had ventured to hope. Moreover, when he first enters the land, he is bereaved of Rachel his only beloved wife. Afterwards he hears that the son whom she had borne him, and whom he loved more than all his other children, is devoured by a wild beast (Gen. 37:33). How deep the sorrow caused by his death he himself evinces, when, after long tears, he obstinately refuses to be comforted, declaring that he will go down to the grave to his son mourning. In the meantime, what vexation, anxiety, and grief, must he have received from the carrying off and dishonour of his daughter, and the cruel revenge of his sons, which not only brought him into bad odour with all the inhabitants of the country, but exposed him to the greatest danger of extermination? (Gen. 34) Then follows the horrid wickedness of Reuben his first-born, wickedness than which none could be committed more grievous (Gen. 36:22). The dishonour of a wife being one of the greatest of calamities, what must be said when the atrocity is perpetrated by a son? Some time after, the family is again polluted with incest (Gen. 38:18). All these disgraces might have crushed a mind otherwise the most firm and unbroken by misfortune. Towards the end of his life, when he seeks relief for himself and his family from famine, he is struck by the announcement of a new misfortune, that one of his sons is detained in prison, and that to recover him he must entrust to others his dearly beloved Benjamin (Gen. 42, 43). Who can think that in such a series of misfortunes, one moment was given him in which he could breathe secure? Accordingly, his own best witness, he declares to Pharaoh, “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been,” (Gen. 47:9). In declaring that he had spent his life in constant wretchedness, he denies that he had experienced the prosperity which had been promised him by the Lord. Jacob, therefore, either formed a malignant and ungrateful estimate of the Lord’s favour, or he truly declared that he had lived miserable on the earth. If so, it follows that his hope could not have been fixed on earthly objects.

If these holy Patriarchs expected a happy life from the hand of God (and it is indubitable that they did), they viewed and contemplated a different happiness from that of a terrestrial life. This is admirably shown by an Apostle, “By faith he [Abraham] sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he has prepared for them a city,” (Heb. 11:9, 10, 13–16). They had been duller than blocks in so pertinaciously pursuing promises, no hope of which appeared upon the earth, if they had not expected their completion elsewhere. The thing which the Apostle specially urges, and not without reason, is, that they called this world a pilgrimage, as Moses also relates (Gen. 47:9). If they were pilgrims and strangers in the land of Canaan, where is the promise of the Lord which appointed them heirs of it? It is clear, therefore, that the promise of possession which they had received looked farther. Hence, they did not acquire a foot breadth in the land of Canaan, except for sepulture; thus testifying that they hoped not to receive the benefit of the promise till after death. And this is the reason why Jacob set so much value on being buried there, that he took Joseph bound by oath to see it done; and why Joseph wished that his bones should some ages later, long after they had mouldered into dust, be carried thither (Gen. 47:29, 30; 50:25).

In short, it is manifest, that in the whole course of their lives, they had an eye to future blessedness. Why should Jacob have aspired so earnestly to primogeniture, and intrigued for it at so much risk, if it was to bring him only exile and destitution, and no good at all, unless he looked to some higher blessing? And that this was his feeling, he declared in one of the last sentences he uttered, “I have waited for thy salvation, O God,” (Gen. 49:18). What salvation could he have waited for, when he felt himself breathing his last, if he did not see in death the beginning of a new life? And why talk of saints and the children of God, when even one, who otherwise strove to resist the truth, was not devoid of some similar impression? For what did Balaam mean when he said, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his,” (Num. 23:10), unless he felt convinced of what David afterward declares, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints?” (Ps. 116:15; 34:12). If death were the goal and ultimate limit, no distinction could be observed between the righteous and the wicked. The true distinction is the different lot which awaits them after death."

--John Calvin

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Charles Spurgeon - The Seven Crowns of Jesus' Dying Love

This is an absolute gem from Spurgeon. I read this several years ago but it has never left me, and I am glad to finally promote it here on my blog. Read and be edified, dear friends.

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THE SEVEN CROWNS OF JESUS' DYING LOVE

I hope I shall have your interested attention while I show that above that highest act of human love there is a something in Christ’s death for love’s sake still more elevated. Men’s dying for their friends—this is superlative—but Christ’s dying for us is as much above man’s superlative as that could be above mere commonplace. Let me show you this in seven points. The first is this—Jesus is immortal, therefore the special character of His death.

Damon is willing to die for Pythias. The classic story shows that each of the two friends was anxious to die for the other. But suppose Damon dies for Pythias, he is only antedating what must occur, for Damon must die one day and if he lays down his life for his friend, say ten years before he otherwise would have done so, still he only loses that ten years’ life—he must die sooner or later. Or if Pythias dies and Damon escapes, it may be that only by a fear weeks one of them has anticipated the departure, for they must both die eventually. When a man lays down his life for his friend, he does not lay down what he could keep altogether. He could only have kept it for a while. Even if he had lived as long as mortals can, till gray hairs are on their head, he must, at last, have yielded to the arrows of Death.

A substitutionary death for love’s sake in ordinary cases would be but a slightly premature payment of that debt of Nature which must be paid by all. But such is not the case with Jesus. Jesus needed not die at all! There was no ground or reason why He should die apart from His laying down His life in the place of His friends. Up there in Glory was the Christ of God forever with the Father, eternal and everlasting. No age passed over His brow. We may say of Him, “Your locks are bushy and black as the raven, You have the dew of Your youth.” He came to earth and assumed our Nature that He might be capable of death, yet remember, though capable of death, His body need not have died. As it was it never saw corruption, because there was not in it the element of sin which necessitated death and decay.

Our Lord Jesus, and none but He, could stand at the brink of the grave and say, “No man takes My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again.” We poor mortal men have only power to die, but Christ had power to live! Crown Him, then! Set a new crown upon His beloved head! Let other lovers who have died for their friends be crowned with silver, but for Jesus, bring forth the golden diadem and set it upon the head of the Immortal who never needed to have died, and yet became a mortal, yielding Himself to death’s pangs without necessity, except the necessity of His mighty love!

Note, next, that in the cases of persons who have yielded up their lives for others they may have entertained and probably did entertain the prospect that the supreme penalty would not have been enacted from them. They hoped that they might yet escape. Damon stood before Dionysius, the tyrant, willing to be slain instead of Pythias. But you will remember that the tyrant was so struck with the devotion of the two friends that he did not put either of them to death and so the proffered substitute escaped. There is an old story of a pious miner who was in the pit with an ungodly man at work. They had lighted the fuse and were about to blast a piece of rock with the powder, and it was necessary that they should both leave the mine before the powder exploded.

They both got into the bucket, but the hand above which was to wind them up was not strong enough to draw the two together, and the pious miner, leaping from the bucket, said to his friend, “You are an unconverted man, and if you die your soul will be lost. Get up in the bucket as quickly as you can! As for me, I commit my soul into the hands of God, and if I die I am saved.” This lover of his neighbor’s soul was spared, for he was found in perfect safety arched over by the fragments which had been blown from the rock—he escaped. But remember well that such a thing could not occur in the case of our dear Redeemer. He knew that if He was to give a ransom for our souls He had no loophole for escape. He must surely die. It was either He die, or His people must—there was no other alternative. If we were to escape from the pit through Him, He must perish in the pit Himself. There was no hope for Him. There was no way by which the cup could pass from Him.

Men have bravely risked their lives for their friends. Perhaps had they been certain that the risk would have ended in death they would have hesitated. Jesus was certain that our salvation involved death to Him—the cup must be drained to the bottom—He must endure the mortal agony and in all the extreme sufferings of death He must not be spared one jot or tittle. Yet deliberately, for our sakes, He espoused Death that He might espouse us. I say again, bring forth another diadem! Put a second crown upon that once thorn-crowned head! All hail, Immanuel! Monarch of Misery, and Lord of Love! Was ever love like Yours? Lift up His praises, all you sons of song! Exalt Him, all you heavenly ones! Yes, set His throne higher than the stars! And let Him be extolled above the angels, because with full intent He bowed His head to Death. He knew that it behooved Him to suffer, it behooved that He should be made a Sacrifice for sin, and yet for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the Cross, despising the shame.

Note a third grand excellency in the crowning deed of Jesus’ love, namely, that He could have had no motive in that death but one of pure, unmingled love and pity. You remember when the Russian nobleman was crossing the steppes of that vast country in the snow, the wolves followed the sledge in greedy packs, eager to devour the travelers. The horses were lashed to their utmost speed, but needed not the lash, for they fled for their lives from their howling pursuers. Whatever could stay the eager wolves for a time was thrown to them in vain. A horse was loosed—they pursued it, tore it to pieces, and still followed, like grim Death.

At last a devoted servant, who had long lived with his master’s family, said, “There remains but one hope for you. I will throw myself to the wolves and then you will have time to escape.” There was great love in this, but doubtless it was mingled with a habit of obedience, a sense of reverence to the head of the household, and probably emotions of gratitude for many obligations which had been received through a long course of years. I do not depreciate the sacrifice, far from it. Would that there were more of such a noble spirit among the sons of men! But still, you can see a wide difference between that noble sacrifice and the nobler deed of Jesus laying down His life for those who never obliged Him, never served Him—who were infinitely His inferiors and who could have no claims upon His gratitude.

If I had seen the nobleman surrender himself to the wolves to save his servant, and if that servant had in former days tried to be an assassin and had sought his life—and yet the master had given himself up for the undeserving menial—I could see some parallel. But as the case stands, there is a wide distinction. Jesus had no motive in His heart but that He loved us, loved us with all the greatness of His glorious Nature—loved us, and therefore for love, pure love, and love alone—He gave Himself up to bleed and die—

“With all His sufferings full in view
And woes to us unknown,
Forth to the tack His spirit flew,
‘Twas love that urged Him on.”

Put the third crown upon His glorious head! Oh angels, bring forth the immortal coronet which has been stored up for ages for Him alone, and let it glitter upon that ever-blessed brow!

Fourthly, remember, as I have already begun to hint, that in our Savior’s case it was not precisely, though it was, in a sense, death for His friends. Greater love has no man than this towards his friends that he lay down his life for them. Read the text so, and it expresses a great truth—but greater love a man may have than to lay down his life for his friends, namely—if he dies for his enemies! And here is the greatness of Jesus’ love, that though He called us “friends,” the friendship was all on His side at the first. He called us friends, but our hearts called Him enemy, for we were opposed to Him. We loved not in return for His love. “We hid, as it were, our faces from Him, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” Oh the enmity of the human heart to Jesus! There is nothing like it! Of all enmities that have ever come from the Pit that is bottomless, the enmity of the heart to the Christ of God is the strangest and most bitter of all!

And yet for men polluted and depraved, for men hardened till their hearts are like the nether millstone, for men who could not return and could not reciprocate the love He felt, Jesus Christ gave Himself to die! “Scarcely for a righteous man one will die, yet perhaps for a good (benevolent) man one could even dare to die, but God commends His love to us in that while we were yet sinners in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”—

“O love of unexampled kind!
That leaves all thought so far behind;
Where length, and breadth, and depth, and height,
Are lost to my astonished sight.”

Bring forth the royal diadem again, I say, and crown our loving Lord, the Lord of Love, for as He is King of kings everywhere else, so is He King of kings in the region of affection!

I shall not, I hope, weary you when I now observe that there was another glorious point about Christ’s dying for us for we had, ourselves, been the cause of the difficulty which required a death. There were two brothers on board a raft once, upon which they had escaped from a foundering ship. There was not enough food, and it was proposed to reduce the number that some, at least, might be able to live. So many must die. They cast lots for life and death. One of the brothers was drawn and was doomed to be thrown into the sea. His brother interposed and said, “You have a wife and children at home. I am single and therefore can be better spared. I will die instead of you.” “No,” said his brother, “not so. Why should you? The lot has fallen upon me.” And they struggled with each other in mutual arguments of love, till at last the substitute was thrown into the sea.

Now, there was no ground of difference between those too brothers whatever. They were friends and more than friends. They had not caused the difficulty which required the sacrifice of one of them. They could not blame one another for forcing upon them the dreadful alternative. But in our case there would never have been a need for anyone to die if we had not been the offenders, the willful offenders. And who was the offended one? Whose injured honor required the death? I speak not untruthfully if I say it was the Christ that died who was, Himself, the offended One. Against God the sin had been committed, against the majesty of the Divine Ruler! And in order to wipe the stain away from Divine Justice it was imperative that the penalty should be exacted and the sinful one should die. So He who was offended took the place of the offender and died, that the debt due to His own Justice might be paid. It is the case of the judge bearing the penalty which he feels compelled to pronounce upon the culprit!

Like the old classic story of the father who, on the judgment bench, condemns his son to lose his eyes for an act of adultery, and then puts out one of his own eyes to save an eye for his son—the judge himself bore a portion of the penalty. In our case, He who vindicated the honor of His own Law, and bore all the penalty, was the Christ who loved those who had offended His Sovereignty and grieved His holiness! I say again—but where are the lips that shall say it aright?—Bring forth, bring forth a new diadem of more than imperial splendor, to crown the Redeemer’s blessed head anew, and let all the harps of Heaven pour forth the richest music in praise of His supreme love!

Note, again, that there have been men who died for others, but they have never borne the sins of others. They were willing to take the punishment, but not the guilt. Those cases which I have already mentioned did not involve character. Pythias has offended Dionysius, Damon is ready to die for him, but Damon does not bear the offense given by Pythias. A brother is thrown into the sea for a brother, but there is no fault in the case. The servant dies for his master in Russia, but the servant’s character rises—it is in no degree associated with any fault of the master—and the master is, indeed, faultless in the case. But here, before Christ must die, it must be written, “He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many.” “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” “He made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” “He was made a curse for us, as it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree.”

Now, far be it from our hearts to say that Christ was ever less than perfectly holy and spotless, and yet there had to be established a connection between Him and sinners by the way of substitution, which must have been hard for His perfect Nature to endure. For Him to be hung up between two felons. For Him to be accused of blasphemy. For Him to be numbered with transgressors. For Him to suffer, the Just for the unjust, bearing His Father’s wrath as if He had been guilty—this is amazing and surpasses all thought! Bring forth the brightest crowns and put them on His head, while we pass on to weave a seventh chaplet for that adorable brow! For remember, once more, the death of Christ was a proof of superlative love, because in His case He was denied all the helps and alleviations which in other cases make death to be less than death.

I marvel not that a saint can die joyously. Well may his brow be placid and his eyes bright, for he sees his heavenly Father gazing down upon him and Glory awaiting him! Well may his spirit be rapt in joy, even while the death-sweat is on his face, for the angels have come to meet him and he sees the far-off land, and the gates of pearl growing nearer every hour! But ah, to die upon a Cross without a pitying eye upon you, surrounded by a scoffing multitude—and to die there appealing to God, who turns away His face! To die with this as your requiem, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!” To startle the midnight darkness with an, “Eli, Eli, lama Sabachthani” of awful anguish such as never had been heard before—this is terrible!

The triumph of Love in the death of Jesus rises clear above all other heroic acts of self-sacrifice! Even as we have seen the lone peak of the monarch of mountains rise out from all adjoining alps and pierce the clouds to hold familiar converse with the stars, so does this love of Christ soar far above anything else in human history, or that can be conceived by the heart of man! His death was more terrible, His passing away more grievous by far. Greater love has no man than this, that He lay down such a life in such a fashion, and for such enemies so utterly unworthy! Oh, I will not say, Crown Him—what are crowns to Him? Blessed Lamb of God, our hearts love You! We fall at Your feet in adoring reverence, and magnify You in the silence of our souls.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Origin of the Book of Mormon


This is a letter to a friend who asked for my thoughts on the origin of the Book of Mormon.

M---, thank you for the question. Like old times! I wish that we could discuss this face to face my dear friend. I appreciate your openness.

I totally agree with you that the Book of Mormon appears to be a work of "evil genius". That is, we acknowledge the book is false--even, I believe, insidious--but we also acknowledge that it is quite impressive. I do think that a lot of the Book of Mormon shows signs of a sophomoric mind; also that a lot of it is also a literary bore, but there are some interesting points of sophistication. My personal thoughts on the Book of Mormon are that it is the product of a combination of Joseph Smith's natural genius as well as demonic inspiration. By demonic inspiration I don't mean the devil was whispering in his ear dictating to him what to write, but that the devil found a usable tool in Smith (who was, I think, talented, ambitious, and religiously self-willed) in whom he could sow the ideas of Mormonism (2 Tim. 3:13). These ideas are in many ways sophisticated, as they originate from the Deceiver, and play upon man's natural humanistic wisdom and naive sense of religion, as well as counterfeiting Christ and twisting Biblical principles. It all turns out looking very plausible to those ignorant of the truth. While I think Smith was a liar, I think he probably came to believe his own doctrine, and became convinced that he was doing the world good, thus confirming to himself that he was indeed a real prophet, however strangely formed.

So I see the Book of Mormon as written by the talented Smith, but based on demonic ideas; a mix of the human and the supernatural; the ideas being largely demonic, the expression being Smith. This isn't exactly the inverse of divine inspiration, however, because I believe that with the Scriptures God took more of a minute providential concern in the sacred writings than Satan did with the Book of Mormon. This divine oversight is more obvious with the OT prophets, but is true also with the NT authors in a different way. I think Satan may have thumped his brow a few times during the production of the Book of Mormon. I don't believe God did so with the Scriptures. Those are my thoughts. I'd love to hear what you think.

With love,
-Eli