Tuesday, June 30, 2009

0 Weakness of Faith and the Christian

William Gurnall is such a pastorally sound writer - in taking up the question of weak faith, he makes clear the difference between those who fall prey to temptation through weakness of faith, and those who fall prey to temptation in rebellion against God. There is a stark contrast between the two, and Gurnall anticipates the question of a concerned hearer of his words concerning the believer's need to arm himself with God's armor:
"Objection: But is all armour that is of God thus mighty? We read of weak grace, little faith; how can this then be a trial of our armour whether of God or not?" (p. 57, The Christian in Complete Armor)
Gurnall answers, then, declaring the importance of setting an appropriate test for the weak of faith -
"I answer, the weakness of grace is in respect of stronger grace, but that weak grace is strong and mighty in comparison of counterfeit grace. Now, I do not bid thee try the truth of thy grace by such a power as is peculiar to stronger grace, but by that power which will distinguish it from false. True grace, when weakest, is stronger than false when strongest." (p. 57, The Christian in Complete Armor)
This couples with what I've recently quoted from Gurnall - that NO armor that derives not from God has ANY efficacy whatsoever with the enemies of God. There is no personal resolve, no individual resource that can stand up to the temptation to sin. While the believer does fall, and the new or immature believer, often, this is no necessary indicator that his armor is false. Gurnall takes pains to outline some thoughts concerning the fall into sin of the believer, and how it may be distinguished - and how one's concerns about the reality of his God-given armor may be assuaged:
"Speak, O ye hypocrites, can ye show one tear that ever you shed in earnest for a wrong done to God? Possibly you may week to see the bed of sorrow which your sins are making for you in hell, but ye never loved God so well as to mourn for the injury ye have done to the name of God. It is a good gloss Augustine hath upon Esau's tears - Flevet quod perdidit, non quod vendidit - he wept that he lost the blessing, not that he sold it. Thus we see an excellency of the saint's sorrow above the hypocrite's.... while the Christian commits a sin he hates it; whereas the other loves it while he forbears it." (p. 57, The Christian in Complete Armor )
The hypocrite, in falling prey to a temptation and giving in, will never lament the fact that he has sinned against God... the Christian, when falling into a sin, will frequently do so, and pray strength for recovery and resistance in the next instance of said temptation. This is a huge comfort to me, and to any Christian, who still recognizes his weakness and propensity to sin in various ways. If perfect obedience and perfect standing against all temptation were the rule of justification, none of us would pass the bar. Thanks be to God for His gift of Christ in atoning for us, and for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives to help us gain that maturity and the dexterity with the Armor that He alone provides us, so that as we walk with Him, we'll stand firmer and firmer, and be better and better able to withstand as the battles with sin and temptation come at us daily.

Monday, June 29, 2009

0 Christ's Announcement of His Anointing

From the M'Cheyne calendar this morning:
1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has t anointed me
to bring good news to the poor; [1]
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and u the opening of the prison to those who are bound; [2]
2 v to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,

(Isa 61:1-2a, ESV)

What a surprise Christ's brief exposition of this passage must have been to the synagogue hearers that day mentioned in Luke 4:16ff. What a wonderful announcement, that "today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21), must have been for those whose hearts were the soil well-prepared by the Spirit for the seed of the Word. What a strange statement for the rocky soil, the thorny soil and that along the pathway... How these words, coming from this person whom those in the Nazareth synagogue knew as the grown child of Joseph and Mary, must have resounded with the eschatological pronouncements Isaiah makes next in chapter 61 concerning the overturning of mourning into gladness, the identity of the people as a nation of priests, prosperity in the land, and the great day of vengeance. With Christ proclaiming the fulfillment of his anointing for the announcement of the gospel and healing of the nations, the days of His brief ministry began. The appointed time had come. The world was turning upside down.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

0 William Gurnall Resonating with Recovering the Reformed Confession

Okay, so it's a little anachronistic - but I came across something in my reading of Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armor that reminded me distinctly of some of the points Scott Clark is trying to get our post-modern church to listen to in his Recovering the Reformed Confession (RRC), which I am still reading with much delight and edification.

Much of the first half of RRC involves a discussion of what Clark describes as the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience - something one might describe in terms of the desire in our everyday church experience for "wow" moments that are reminiscent of the Great Awakenings. Today's Christians are dissatisfied with the blessings God has given His church through the ordinary means of the preaching of His Holy Word and the Sacraments. The cause of the historic practice of Reformed piety is not helped by today's societal dependence on immediate delivery of visceral satisfactions, whether they be gastronomic, visual or sensual. Everyone wants to "feel" their faith, and to worship with immediate feedback and physical enjoyment. People don't want to sit for 45 minutes and listen to a man plainly exposit the Scriptures. If it doesn't come at them with the "wowza" bam, bam, bam rapidity of Holywood big-budget action dramas, or ESPN's Sports Center, people leave bored and unimpressed. If it doesn't have the postmodern gloss, it isn't seen as useful for their lives. The ordinary means of grace are not seen by so many today as THE means of standing firm in the faith! Yet God has ordained these for just that purpose! Where are people who reject these blessings left when the enemy attacks? What defense against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:10) have they? They are as Jerusalem was in Nehemiah's day prior to the rebuilding of the wall: open for conquest, defenseless. And we wonder why the American church is in such a shambles.

All of this is hard to compare to Gurnall's situation in the 17th century, but he faced the same problems of people looking to satisfy their craving for religious experience and equipping in all the wrong places and by all the wrong means. We are no different today. Listen to Gurnall, and see if you can hear him resonate with Clark's ideas. He has been describing the kind of armor necessary for the Christian, as found in Ephesians 6:11 - "the whole armor of God." His first observation (on p. 50 for those following along with my reading) is that the armor used by the Christian for defense against the enemy and for spiritual growth "must be of God's appointment":
"The Christian's armor which he wears must be of divine institution and appointment. The soldier comes into the field with no arms but what his general commands. It is not left to every one's fancy to bring what weapons he please; this will breed confusion. The Christian soldier is bound up to God's order; though the army be on earth, yet the council of war sits in heaven; this duty ye shall do; these means ye shall use. And those who do more, or use other, than God commands, though with some seeming success against sin, shall surely be called to account for this boldness....

God is very precise in this point; he will say to such as invent ways to worship him of their own, coin means to mortify corruption, obtain comfort in their own mint: 'Who hath required this at your hands?'....

And what is the gospel of all this -- for surely God hath an eye in that to our marching to heaven, and our fighting with these cursed spirits and lusts that stand in our way -- but that we should fight lawfully, using those means which we have from his mouth in his Word?" (pp. 50-51, William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor)
So far are we in today's church from considering the mortification of sin as a daily responsibility that some of Gurnall's concerns, I'm sure, would fall flat. However, for those who are in fact concerned with their own sanctification, and walking a Christlike walk in their daily lives, but who desire a "worship experience" that rivals the best of Hollywood entertainment, what recourse have they when they are hit with a debilitating temptation? To what will they resort who do not have a regular diet of clear, plainspoken exposition of God's Holy Word? Will the strains of "Shine, Jesus Shine" help them when they are overtaken by an unmortified lust? Will remembrance of the worship band's awesome riffs in the instrumental break between praise Choruses help them when trying to overcome their fleshly desires? I have grave concerns about the helpfulness of much of today's churchly practices when it comes to the possibility of raising up a new generation of Christians bold to stand forth for Christ in the world we live in today...

When God's ordained means of grace are rejected as old-fashioned and boring, ineffective and irrelevant, the church is in a world of hurt. God promises results, indeed, when His people study His word, when the gospel is purely preached, and the sacraments rightly administered. This is indeed "boring" when compared to the glitzy entertainment provided by many churches today... but where should our desires be? What should be pursued? God-ordained means, or man's playthings?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

0 John Owen: The Abomination of Murdering One's Children

There are times at which one is astounded at the clarity of a Puritan's thought as applied to modern circumstances. Witness the following from John Owen in Indwelling Sin in Believers, quoted from a recent republication of Owen's invaluable works on sin and temptation, (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, eds., Crossway Books):
First, There is nothing that is more deeply inlaid in the principles of the natures of all living creatures, and so of man himself, than a love unto, and a care for, the preservation and nourishing of their young : many brute creatures will die for them, some feed them with their own flesh and blood; all deprive themselves of that food which nature directs them to as their best, to impart it to them; and acting in their behalf to the utmost of their power.

Now such is the efficacy, power, and force of indwelling sin in man, an infection that the nature of other creatures knows nothing of, that in many it prevails to stop this fountain, to beat back the stream of natural affections, to root up the principles of the law of nature, and to drive them unto a neglect, a destruction of the fruit of their own loins. Paul tells us of the old Gentiles, that they were Asorgoi, Rom. i. 31, "without natural affection :" that which he aims at is that barbarous custom among the Romans, who oft-times, to spare the trouble in the education of their children, and to be at liberty to satisfy their lusts, destroyed their own children from the womb. So far did the strength of sin prevail to obliterate the law of nature, and to repel the force and power of it.

Examples of this nature are common in all nations; amongst ourselves, of women murdering their own children through the deceitful reasoning of sin. And herein sin turns the strong current of nature, darkens all the light of God in the soul, controuls all natural principles, influenced with the power of the command and will of God. But yet this evil hath, through the efficacy of sin, received a fearful aggravation. Men have not only slain, but cruelly sacrificed their children to satisfy their lusts. The apostle reckons idolatry, and so consequently all superstition, among the works of the flesh, Gal. v. 20; that is, the fruil and product of indwelling sin. Now from hence it is that men have offered that horrid and unspeakable violence to the law of nature mentioned. So the Psalmist tells us, Psal. cvi. 37, 38. The same is again mentioned, in sundry other places of Scripture. The whole manner of that abomination I have elsewhere declared. For the present it may suffice to intimate, that they took their children and burnt them to ashes in a soft fire: the wicked priests that assisted in the sacrifice affording them this relief, that they made a noise and clamour, that the vile wretches might not hear the woful moans and cries of the poor dying tormented infants. I suppose in this case we need no farther evidence. Naturalists can give no rational account: they can only admire the secret force of that little fish, which, they say, stop a ship in full sail in the midst of the sea. And we must acknowledge, that it is beyond our power to give an account of the secret force and unsearchable deceit that is in this inbred traitor sin, that cannot only stop the course of nature, when all the sails of it that carry it forward are so filled, as they are in that of affections to children, but also drive it back with such a violence and force, as to cause men so to deal with their own children, as a good man would not be hired with any reward to deal with his dog. And it may not be to the disadvantage of the best to know and consider, that they carry that about them and in them, which in others hath produced these effects. (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, eds., Crossway Books)
So clearly spoken that you might be convinced this was written today. Abortion is the holocaust to beat all holocausts, and the root of the problem is exactly as Owen has highlighted it: indwelling sin, and the captivity of the human mind to its own selfish purposes. It can be that the sin is so ingrained that a woman is able to set aside the natural concern any creature has for its young, and murder it, even in the womb! Wicked is the only word for such a grievous sin, and it is rampant today - it is characteristic of the day - rather, it is trumpeted from the highest hills that THIS act is today what we are to celebrate as a sign of true freedom for women. What a wretched situation. What is the most evil of injustices is celebrated as a necessary condition for true justice to be present. Our society calls what is black white and what is evil good. Is there any other indicator needed to tell us that our nation is inundated with sin and evil?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

0 The Danger of a Christless Existence

Part I of William Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armor serves as introductory material, wherein the Christian is directed to the imperative from verse 10 of Ephesians 6, "Be strong in the strength of the Lord and in the power of His might". This is Paul's introduction of the great analogy of the Christian's armor, and leaves us waiting to see how it is we are to be strong - how it is we are to ensure that we are able to stand firm. Gurnall then continues in part II of this, his magnum opus, to describe the armor and give motives for pursuing the aquisition of it all. He begins with an analysis of verse 11 of Ephesians 6, wherein the command is given "put on the whole armor of God, that you may stand against the wiles of the devil." The implication here, clearly, is that apart from having that armor of God, we stand defenseless, and will undoubtedly fall. Gurnall has already directed us to the need for the strength of the Lord, and our inability to do battle with the enemy apart from the power of His might; here he launches into a very long discussion (encompassing the bulk of the rest of the book) of that armor which we so desperately need.

Among the first points he makes in this section is that we truly do stand defenseless against the enemy if we are not in Christ. It is a woeful state indeed of nakedness before the enemy's advances. We should no more be pleased to stand on our own before the temptations of sin and attacks of the devil than an Army commander should be willing to stand out in his boxer shorts on an open field with no armor or weaponry when facing a dozen tanks rumbling his way. Gurnall makes several points to this end. To be without Christ, he writes,
"is a state of alienation from God... such an one hath no more to do with any covenant promise, than he that lives at Rome hath to do with the charter of London, which is the birthright of its own denizens, not of strangers. He is without God in the world; he can claim no more protection from God than an out-lawed subject from his prince." (p. 46, The Christian in Complete Armor)
We somehow like to think that God protects all - especially when we hear things like His care of the sparrow, etc... not realizing that that protection of the tiny bird is offered as comfort for God's people (and not of people in general). If one is outside Christ, there is NO hope of protection for him... and as Gurnall says later,
"The Christless state is a state of ignorance, and such must needs be naked and unarmed. He that cannot see his enemy, how can he ward off the blow he sends?" (p. 46, The Christian in Complete Armor)
Those who aren't in Christ - i.e those who are "of the world" are lost not only because they have no defenses, but because they don't even know their danger. When one is saved by the grace of God, it is often said that their eyes are opened - he was blind, but now can see. This is an extremely useful analogy... for when one cannot see the danger he is in, there is NO way he'll be seeking solutions or salvation from that danger! Why don't those outside Christ clamor after Him, given that He is the way, truth and life? Because those outside Christ don't know their need, and indeed will not know it unless they have been regenerated by God's Spirit. THEN, knowing their danger, they flock to Him without fail.

It should not be surprising, this being true, that the world runs headlong into sin and is easily subjected to Satan's temptations and "wiles". With no ability to preceive their danger, people readily seek to satisfy their innermost desires - and the temptation of that Turkish Delight is too strong, especially when no danger is perceived. Satan has his way with the world because the world can't think of anything better than what he offers. How hard is it for a strong military commander to subdue an unarmed and undefended people? We should not wonder at this, nor wonder at the depths of sin into which our world goes. The filth that passes for entertainment on television and in film should be no surprise.

We also should not be surprised that Satan hates the gospel so much - for it provides the armor of God, and the only defense that the enemy cannot defeat. We should not be surprised that the Word of God is universally hated by those who are perishing. We shouldn't find it a shock that the expressions of Christian faith are suppressed and that we're often simply told to "shut up". The servants of the enemy (i.e. all those outside of Christ, whether they are "in" or "out" of the church) will act to serve HIS ends - the suppression of the gospel - one way or another. We see this now in particular, and will moreso, in the violent opposition given to speech that condemns things like homosexuality and abortion. These great sins of our time will be defended by those who practice them AND by those who have other sin that they'd prefer remained hidden... the sinner desires that ALL sin be kept in the dark, so that the light not shine on their own pet sins. Gurnall writes (350+ years ago, remember):

"Nay, it is come to such a pass, that the Word is so heavy a charge to the squeamish stomachs of many professors, that it comes up again presently, an abundance of choler with it, against the preacher, especially if it fall foul of the sins and errors of the times, the very naming of which is enough to offend, though the nation be sinking under its weight. What reproaches are the faithful ministers of the gospel laden withal!" (p. 49, The Christian in Complete Armor)

When pastors take on the sins of the day, whether it be the aforementioned horrors, or the sin of selfishness, consumerism and materialism that have plunged our nation and world into economic distress, they will be opposed, and opposed with whatever force is necessary to shut them up. The enemy hates the truth, and the light that clearly illuminates sin, and expends much effort to keep the light of the gospel from drawing people out of darkness and into salvation. Thanks be to God that the enemy never succeeds in keeping God's people from Him.

Gurnall's work simply drips with wisdom - and is rich and worthy of long pondering. He speaks so clearly to the errors and dangers of his time, and of ours - pick up a copy if you've not got one. It's well worth the effort to read, re-read and think about as you consider your own walk with Christ in this world of sin.

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