Substituting the Social for the Spiritual

I’ve been perusing an old periodical, The Christian Worker’s Magazine (Nov 1919), published by the Moody Bible Institute. In an article titled “Christian Education: Its Relation to Modern World Life” the author Rev. Robert Russell marks out “five distinct lines of modern apostasy [that] stand out in world thought” where apostasy is substutited for the Christian faith. The fourth substitution Russell identifies is “Social Reform for Individual Regeneration.”

The substitution of the social by-products of Christianity for the main product of individual conversion, is a marked feature of modern church policy. It is now claimed that the main effort of the church should center on the thought of better homes, better industrial conditions, better roads, i.e., the bettering of the conditions of the natural man, rather than individual conversion and the building up of a true social order through the securing of regenerated units. The present cry is for a great “get together” movement, forgetful that the great “get together” movement of Noah’s day ended in Babel and the confusion of tongues; while the movement which is to save the world began with the age of promise, when Abraham, the lonely pilgrim, “built an altar unto the Lord.” Instead of “get together,” the modern cry should be “Get to God,” for through union with Him there can alone be the unity of the race.

Sadly the substitution of social reform for individual regeneration has not abated in the near century since Russell penned these words. Since that time apostate Protestantism continues this program, and nearly all evangelicalism adopts “social reform/activism” to some degree.


The Act of the Death of Christ

William Ames (1576-1633), Puritan theologian, powerfully says that Christ’s death

was an act of Christ and not a mere matter of enduring because he met and endured it purposely. John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep,” and 10:18, “No man takes it from me, but I lay it down myself.” For the same reason it was also voluntary and not compelled. The act arose out of power and not merely out of weakness–out of obedience to his Father and love for us, not out of his own guilt or deserving. It was designed to satisfy through victory and not to ruin through surrender.

Marrow of Theology, p. 141, emphases added.

Knowing Little of God

In his work The Mortification of Sin Puritan John Owen outlines nine directions to help believers in their struggles with sin. The eighth involves meditating on those things that will always result in our humility and awareness of sin. This involves meditating not only on the excellencies and majesty of God, but especially on how little we really know of God.

We know so little of God because it is God we are seeking to know. God Himself has revealed Himself as one who cannot be known. He calls Himself invisible, incomprehensible, and the like. We cannot fully know Him as He is. Our progress often consists more in knowing what He is not, than what He is. He is immortal and infinite and we are only mortal, finite, and limited.

That is truly something to think about! 

Charles Hodge on the Perspicuity of the Scriptures

chodgeFollowing the Puritan William Ames’ excellent teaching concerning the doctrine of the Scriptures are some helpful words from Princeton theologian Charles Hodge that the central message of Scripture is clear and understandable (“perspicuous”)–

The Bible is a plain book. It is intelligible by the people. And they have the right, and are bound to read and interpret it for themselves; so that their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scriptures, and not on that of the Church. Such is the doctrine of Protestants on this subject.

It is not denied that the Scriptures contain many things hard to be understood; that they require diligent study; that all men need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to right knowledge and true faith. But it is maintained that in all things necessary to salvation they are sufficiently plain to be understood even by the unlearned.

It is not denied that the people, learned and unlearned, in order to the proper understanding of the Scriptures, should not only compare Scripture with Scripture, and avail themselves of all the means in their power to aid them in their search after the truth, but they should also pay the greatest deference to the faith of the Church. If the Scriptures be a plain book, and the Spirit performs the functions of a teacher to all the children of God, it follows inevitably that they must agree in all essential matters in their interpretation of the Bible. And from that fact it follows that for an individual Christian to dissent from the faith of the universal Church (i.e., the body of true believers), is tantamount to dissenting from the Scriptures themselves.

What Protestants deny on this subject is, that Christ has appointed any officer, or class of officers, in his Church to whose interpretation of the Scriptures the people are bound to submit as of final authority. What they affirm is that He has made it obligatory upon every man to search the Scriptures for himself, and determine on his own discretion what they require him to believe and to do.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (1871), 1:183-84.

William Ames on the Doctrine of the Scriptures

WilliamAmesPortraitDuring our Bible study tonight I will conclude our study of the doctrine of the Scriptures. Part of my preparation involved looking at key systematic theologies (primarily Bancroft, Berkhof, Enns, C. Hodge, McCune, Thiessen and sometimes Grudem and Strong).

While looking over the theology books on my shelf today, I noticed I neglected to look at The Marrow of Theology by the Puritan William Ames (1576–1633). He has some excellent points I’d like to share under the following headings—

Verbal Inspiration

Only those could set down the rule of faith and conduct in writing who in that matter were free from all error because of the direct and infallible direction they had from God. §2

In all those things made known by supernatural inspiration, whether matters of right or fact, God inspired not only the subjects to be written about but dictated and suggested the very words in which they should be set forth. But this was done with a subtle tempering so that every writer might use the manner of speaking which most suited his person and condition. §6

The Sufficiency of Scripture

All things necessary to salvation are contained in the Scriptures and also those things necessary for the instruction and edification of the church, 2 Tim 3:15–17. §15

The Authority of Scripture

Scripture is not a partial but a perfect rule of faith and morals. And no observance can be continually and everywhere necessary in the church of God, on the basis of any tradition or other authority, unless it is contained in the Scriptures. §16

Progressive Revelation

All Scripture was not committed to writing at one and the same time, for the state of the church and the wisdom of God demanded otherwise. But beginning with the first writing, those things were successively committed to writing which were necessary to the particular times. §17

The Univocality of Language

There is only one meaning for every place in Scripture. Otherwise the meaning of Scripture would not only be unclear and uncertain, but there would be no meaning at all—for anything which does not mean one thing surely means nothing. §22

The Perspicuity of Scripture

The will of God is revealed in such a way in Scripture that, although the substance itself is for the most part hard to conceive, the style of communicating and explaining it is clear and evident, especially in necessary matters. §20

The Scriptures need no explanation through light brought from outside, especially in the necessary things. They give light to themselves, which should be uncovered diligently by men and communicated to others according to their calling. §21

There is no visible power established in the church, royal or magistrative, for the settlement of controversies in theology. But the duty of inquiry is laid on men; the gift of discerning truth both publicly and privately is bestowed upon them; and an endeavor to further the knowledge and practice of the known truth according to their calling is enjoined—to all of which is joined a promise of direction and blessing from God. §23

Translations of Scripture and Providential Preservation

Among interpreters, neither the seventy who turned them into Greek, nor Jerome, nor any other such held the office of a prophet; they were not free from errors in interpretation. §28

Hence no versions are fully authentic except as they express the sources, by which they are also to be weighed. §29

Neither is there any authority on earth whereby any version may be made absolutely authentic. §30

God’s providence in preserving the sources is notable and glorious, for neither have they wholly perished nor have they been injured by the loss of any book or blemished by any serious defect—though today not one of the earlier versions remains intact. §31

From these human versions all those things may be known which are absolutely necessary, provided they agree with the sources in essentials. Hence, all the versions accepted by the churches usually agree, although they may differ and be defective at several minor points. §32

We must not rest forever in any accepted version, but faithfully see to it that a pure and faultless interpretation is given to the church. §33

The preceding selections are from pages 186–189 of John D. Eusden’s edition of The Marrow of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968). The symbol “§” refers to the particular section of the chapter.

The Coming Reign of the Lord Jesus Christ

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

Behold the islands with their kings,
And Europe her best tribute brings;
From north to south the princes meet,
To pay their homage at His feet.

There Persia, glorious to behold,
There India shines in eastern gold;
And barb’rous nations at His word
Submit, and bow, and own their Lord.

To Him shall endless prayer be made,
And praises throng to crown His head;
His Name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.

People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His Name.

Blessings abound wherever He reigns;
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blessed.

Where He displays His healing power,
Death and the curse are known no more:
In Him the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.

Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honors to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud amen!

Great God, whose universal sway
The known and unknown worlds obey,
Now give the kingdom to Thy Son,
Extend His power, exalt His throne.

The scepter well becomes His hands;
All Heav’n submits to His commands;
His justice shall avenge the poor,
And pride and rage prevail no more.

With power He vindicates the just,
And treads th’oppressor in the dust:
His worship and His fear shall last
Till hours, and years, and time be past.

As rain on meadows newly mown,
So shall He send his influence down:
His grace on fainting souls distills,
Like heav’nly dew on thirsty hills.

The heathen lands, that lie beneath
The shades of overspreading death,
Revive at His first dawning light;
And deserts blossom at the sight.

The saints shall flourish in His days,
Dressed in the robes of joy and praise;
Peace, like a river, from His throne
Shall flow to nations yet unknown.

–Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

The Unifying Theme of the Bible

While catching up on some reading (you will soon see from the date of the journal I’m reading how far I’m behind) I read a great paragraph briefly surveying how God is glorified in human history:

What struck me about [Alva] McClain and [Rolland] McCune’s model (they are similar enough to be treated as a unity) was the fact that personal redemption did not receive pride of place at the center. I rarely heard the storyline of the Bible referenced as “redemptive history” in seminary (this would be too narrow); instead the Bible was read as a kind of doxological history: God was garnering self-glory through a complex of interrelated but more-or-less sovereign spheres. The pistic/redemptive sphere was surely one of those spheres, but it was by no means the only such sphere. God also received glory through non-redemptive civil structures (Gen 9:1–6; much of the Mosaic Law; Rom 13:1–7; etc.), marital/family structures (Gen 2:24–25; Song of Solomon; etc.), providence and common grace (Esther, Jonah, et al.), angelic activity (Ps 103:20–21; 148:1–6), the reprobation of the irredeemable (Ps 76:10; Rom 9:22; Phil 2:11) and, significantly for this review, a complex of natural/scientific blessings associated with man’s dominion over the physical earth (Gen 1:26–30 and the land motif that unfolds through Scripture). While the individual blessings of unconditional election and vicarious atonement were amazing in scope, I learned, these should never be so magnified as to eclipse or cancel out the multiplex of other, more common means whereby God in Christ was bringing glory to himself. Being thusly liberated from my Platonic cave, I embraced this remarkable theory of everything (Mark A. Snoeberger, DBSJ 17 [2012] p. 100).

This was followed up by a quote from another theologian:

The covenant theologian in practice makes this purpose salvation and the dispensationalist says the purpose is broader than that, namely, the glory of God. To the dispensationalist the soteriological or saving program of God is not the only program but one means God is using in the total program of glorifying Himself. Scripture is not man-centered as though salvation were its main theme, but it is God-centered because His glory is the center. The Bible itself clearly teaches that salvation, important and wonderful as it is, is not an end in itself but is rather a means to the end of glorifying God (Eph 1:6. 12, 14). Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, 1965, p. 46.

One of the great things here was I read this in a book review! Too often I get to the “book review” section in a journal and go on autopilot. Lesson learned.

O Blessed God! How Kind

O blessed God! how kind
Are all Thy ways to me,
Whose dark benighted mind
Was enmity with Thee.
Yet now, subdued by sov’reign grace,
My spirit longs for Thine embrace.

How precious are Thy thoughts
That o’er my spirit roll!
They swell beyond my faults,
And captivate my soul:
How great the sum, how high they rise,
Can ne’er be known beneath the skies.

Preserved by Jesus, when
My feet made haste to hell!
And there should I have gone,
But Thou dost all things well:
Thy love was great, Thy mercy free,
Which from the pit delivered me.

A monument of grace,
A sinner saved by blood,
The streams of love I trace
Up to the Fountain, God,
And in His sov’reign counsels see
Eternal tho’ts of love to me.
John Kent, 1766-1843

Sanctification and The Great Commission

Excellent thoughts here: The Obedience of the Gospel.

Too often acronyms cause more harm than good. Recognizing this, I have taught an acronym to the people I’ve been privileged to pastor over the last 14 years to help them with the basic points of the gospel message:

Master-God is our Creator and Lord through whom we live and before whom we will be judged
Outlaw-We are sinners against God, are guilty before Him, and deserve His wrath
Savior-Salvation is found only in Jesus Christ the God-man
Escape-Sinners must turn from (repent)  of sin and self-righteousness and rely (trust, believe) on Christ alone for salvation from sin’s power and penalty
Sanctification-Genuine faith is demonstrated as the believer grows more like Christ and less like the world through the Spirit’s help and personal discipline

I was encouraged by Mark’s post.

Ezekiel 9

In Ezekiel 9 the prophet saw a vision where Jerusalem was slaughtered because of their great wickedness.

God commissioned an angel to mark any in Jerusalem who had remorse and regret over the sins taking place in the city (vv. 4-6). Those bearing this mark would be delivered from judgment. Only one man, Ezekiel, was spared; all the rest were slaughtered (vv. 7-9).

In response to Ezekiel’s mourning over this great destruction, the Lord showed him how the people were totally given over to sin and fully committed to it (v. 9).

As I meditated on this chapter, I considered my response to sin–not only my sin, but others’ sin. Do I “sigh and groan”? Am I saddened by it? Do I mourn? Or am I indifferent or worse yet, laugh at and with it, essentially approving it?

One of sin’s great dangers and effects is how it hardens and callouses the heart. Sins once avoided are embraced and championed. God is nowhere in people’s thoughts (cf. Pss 10:4, 11, 13; 94:7 [note this entire psalm]).

How could this happen in your life?

One area where I applied this is in what I entertain and amuse myself with (for example, various media such as books, radio, internet, videos, etc.). I must ask myself, “will this callous my heart toward sin by being entertained by it, or will this encourage me to have a greater consciousness of God?”

What–who–is controlling my life, my sin nature or the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16-24)? Am I growing more like Christ and less like the world through the Spirit’s help and personal discipline?