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(32 posts)

The Social Gospel According to Me

I was probably about ten or twelve years old when I became aware of the “social gospel’. I learned that some churches were no longer preaching the Gospel of the salvation of hopelessly sinful men from the power of sin and Hell. They were preaching a gospel of redemption from social and economic inequities which, they said, were clearly the fault of anti-Christian capitalist economic policies. According to the social gospel, Jesus did not come to reconcile man to God, but to eliminate oppression of the poor. If there are any Democrats reading this, you can relax. That “social gospel” is not what I am writing about today. This social gospel is concerned with our everyday business dealings and the spreading of the true Gospel, and how they are connected. My goal is to convince you to do business as close to home as possible, regardless of the cost. While I can build the case for doing this on economic reasons alone, showing how we all would benefit from it, I will confine my arguments to the spiritual implications of our business practices. How do we impact the kingdom of God through our day-to-day transactions? I want to make it clear that I am not insensitive to those who find it necessary to economize due to the number of mouths they are feeding and limited cash flow. I fit that category myself, well enough to say that unless you are living in the most desperate poverty, what I have to say about this applies to you. The current view of evangelism seems to be that evangelism is primarily a church activity—get unbelievers sitting in pews, where they can hear the Gospel. This view not only usurps the legitimate purpose of our assembling together, it lets us off the hook in regard to our responsibility in evangelism. Evangelism is not a profession; it is the calling of every Christian. It takes place as we interact with the people God has placed within our sphere of influence. Many Christians have effectively removed themselves from a position of influence in their own community by going elsewhere to do business. They can save money by going to a bigger city where there are lower prices; so they hand their money to a stranger, whom they may never see again, in order to save a few bucks. This practice is baptized by calling it “wise stewardship’. I don’t want to minimize the importance of stewardship, but I ask, is God more concerned about how we spend his money, or how we interact with people? Does your good stewardship have the effect of limiting your relationships to the members of your church, and others in your immediate circle of friends? Allow me to illustrate my point with a personal example. When I have a building project, I can save a considerable sum of money by going out of town to a large, impersonal building supply chain store. I could buy literally everything necessary to build an entire house, excluding the concrete, in one place at significantly discounted prices. Not only would that would be good stewardship, it would make sense, since I have to go there anyway to get the items that my local lumber yard and hardware don’t carry. It would benefit me personally by leaving more money in my pocket. When I go to my local store, I pay higher prices for a smaller selection of products, but I have personal contact with the owner and employees. They know my name, and remember the last time I was in. We converse about everyday things going on in our lives. They ask me about my life, and I tell them how things are going, and vice verse. If I can develop a relationship with them, even just a casual one, I may eventually have the opportunity to share some Biblical truth with them. At my local hardware store, I have made a point of asking the owner if he can get items that are not in stock. When he suggests that Bigstore in Bigtown probably has it, I tell him, “I know, but I wanted to buy it here, if I could.” He appreciates that, and it opens the door wider for future witnessing possibilities. There are practical limits, of course. I recently had to buy a car. There is only one automobile dealership in our small town. I could have driven to Bigtown, where there are several dealerships, but I made the decision to buy local, if they had a car that met our needs. It turned out that they did, and at a reasonable price. However, if that one dealer had been a Mercedes or Ferrari dealer, I probably would have to have gone elsewhere. This policy costs money, and I realize that you can’t spend dollars that you don’t have; but every dollar you now have is a dollar that you previously did not have. If we commit to spending every dollar we have for the glory of God, the dollars will be there. After all, if we’re honest, we must admit that our wealth is not ultimately the result of our intelligence or hard work. It is a gift from our sovereign God, out of his loving provision for us.

Christians Are Evangelists

Wednesday··2008·04·02 · 2 Comments
Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He then leaves the sought and saved in the world to continue that work. Christians are not all evangelists vocationally, but we are all evangelists in the 1 Peter 3:15 sense. A desire for the salvation of others is both a mark and the duty of every believer. Christians are those who believe the gospel. Whether it is by a parent in the home, a minister in the church, or a friend in private conversation, we must be evangelized to be saved by Jesus Christ. Furthermore, according to the four Gospels of the New Testament, the Christian faith is designed to be shared with others. The evangel is evangelistic! A true Christian church is not only evangelical, in that it holds to the Biblical gospel, but it is evangelistic—it zealously spreads and shares that gospel. This means that to be a Christian is to be called as an evangelist. . . . All Christians are called to evangelism. Jesus the Evangelist is our model. If we want to experience the power of God in our gospel witness, we must follow biblical principles of evangelism; we must present the true gospel in clear, scriptural terms; and we must follow Jesus’ example in the practice of evangelizing actual people. Let us seek God’s blessing for the salvation of many by preparing ourselves to be faithful witnesses to the gospel of God’s grace. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 1, 4.

Features of a Faithful Christian Witness: Content

In his book Jesus the Evangelist, Richard D. Phillips lists “Three key features of a faithful Christian witness” found in the apostle John’s descriptions of John the Baptist. The first is . . . the content of our witness. John 1:7 says that John “came as a witness, to bear witness about the light.” A Christian witness is first and foremost about Christ. We tell people what the early church enshrined in the Apostles’ Creed: that Jesus is God’s only Son and our Lord; That He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary; that He suffered under Pontius Pilate,was crucified, died, and was buried; that He experienced death for three days and then rose from the grave; that he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; and that from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. These claims make up a Christian witness. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones put it this way: We are meant to talk to people about the Lord Jesus Christ and to tell them he is the Son of God and that he has come into this world to save men and women. . . . We are meant to tell men exactly why the world is as it is; we are meant to tell them about sin in the human heart and that nobody and nothing can deal with it save the Son of God. . . . We are very ready to talk about are doctors, and to praise the man who cured us when so many failed; we talk about some business which is better than others, or about films and plays and actors and actresses, and a thousand and one other things. We are always glorifying people, the world is full of it, and the Christian is meant to be praising and glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ. John the Baptist set an ideal example of this. His message was not about his experiences or what he felt about God, but about Jesus. When he saw Jesus he declared, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). We, too, need to declare that Jesus saves people from their sins. On the next day, “John bore witness” to Christ again, saying “I saw the spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him” (John 1:32). We, too, must testify that Jesus is the one who came to do God’s will by Gods power. John the Baptist said, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34), and we must too. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 12–13.

Features of a Faithful Christian Witness: Manner

Continuing from yesterday’s post on “Three key features of a faithful Christian witness,” Richard D. Phillips writes: Second, what we read about John the Baptist should inform the manner of our witness. John 1:8a says, “He was not the light.” It is important for us to lead lives that commend our witness to Christ, but our testimony can never be based on what good people we are or what we ourselves have to offer non-Christians. When John began his extraordinary ministry, the priests and Levites came out from Jerusalem to inquire about him. “John answered them, ‘I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes back to me, the strap of whose sandle I am not worthy to untie.’” (John 1:26–27). With these words, John deliberately directed them away from himself and what he was doing to Jesus Christ and what He would do. When many Christians give their witness, they talk about themselves. This is why we speak of “giving our testimonies,” that is, telling people about our conversions and how Christ has helped us. There certainly is a placed for testimonies, but they should never form the heart of our witness. I remember seeing an ad in a secular newsmagazine that featured a handsome, smiling young man. It began by talking about his previous problems: He had been into drugs and had been lost and depressed, but now he was clean and fulfilled. The ad was like many Christian testimonies—except that it was on behalf of one of the more bizarre cults spreading today. It is true that cults can help a person get off drugs, but that does not make their beliefs true. Moreover, it is easy for people to brush testimonies aside, saying, “I’m glad it worked for him, but that has on relevance to me” Our witness must center not on our experience but on the facts of Christ’s coming to this world. It is especially important that we never think that what we are doing for Christ is of ultimate importance. James Montgomery Boice warns us, “Whenever a Christian layman, minister, writer, teacher, or whoever it might be, gets to thinking that there is something important about him, he or she will always cease to be effective as Christ’s witness.” We also must never permit people to glorify us for what God has done in our lives. If people notice that you have changed, you should praise God and tell them that it was Jesus’ work, for they will gain what you have, not by admiring you, but only by believing on Jesus. In some cases, redirecting praise in this manner will result in people who previously admired you becoming hostile; the world hated Christ, and it will often hate a faithful witness to Him. But we must accept this risk so as to bear testimony not to ourselves but to Christ. In John 5:35a, Jesus said that John the Baptist “was a burning and shining lamp.” Some Bible versions say that John was a “light,” but the Greek word Jesus used (luxnos) means a candle or a lamp. A lamp does not shine on its own. Its light has to be kindled from another source, and it needs a supply of oil or it will go out. The same is true of us. In our witness, we are to shine not our own light but Christ’s light. Just as a lamp requires oil, we depend on our fellowship with Christ and the Holy Spirit’s enlivening ministry through God’s Word in order that Christ’s light may shine through us. To use a different metaphor, we are the moon reflecting the light of the sun. On our own. we are in darkness, but a great light has shined and is shinning on us, and we are to reflect it into the world. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 13–15.

Features of a Faithful Christian Witness: Goal

This is the last of “Three key features of a faithful Christian witness” from Jesus the Evangelist. John the Baptist shows the goal of a faithful Christian witness. John “came as a witness . . . that all might believe through him” (John 1:7). Our goal is for others to believe though our witness. Boice writes, “Its is possible for a person to become so mechanical in his witness that he can go through all the motions of witnessing without actually looking and praying for the response to Christ in faith by the other person. If we could remember this, we would find witnessing exciting, and we would learn that winning the argument often becomes far less important than winning the person to the Lord.” Since our goal is to persuade unbelievers and win over sinners, we should labor earnestly in prayer before and after our witness; and we should persist in telling others about Jesus even in the face of hardship and persecution. If we will commit to this pattern of faithful witness, as modeled by John the Baptist, we will find that God will cause people to believe through us. We will have the great joy of being used by the Lord for the salvation of others. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 15.

Andrews Needed

I love preachers, and I love listening to preaching, but I think I can say that the most important human agencies in my conversion were not preachers as such, but individuals who invested themselves in me on a personal level. And I am not the exception. Andrew’s witness to Peter took the form of a personal testimony: “We have found the Messiah” “(John 1:41). Our witness should always include a biblical explanation about Jesus, but it is also important for us to speak or our own experience with the Lord. Peter knew what Messiah meant. John tells his Greek readers that this term means “the Christ”—that is, the “Anointed One” who would come to save and lead Israel. But Andrew also shared his personal experience. [Alexander] MacLaren comments, “The mightiest argument that we can use, and the argument that we can all use, if we have got any religion in us at all, is that of Andrew, ‘We have found the Messiah.’” What kind of things should we tell others about Jesus? We should tell them what caused us to believe. We should tell what we have experienced in our hearts: the joy of knowing our sins are forgiven, the peace that comes through the Holy Spirit, the love we feel as children of God, and the excitement of seeing the truth with new eyes. If you have a good doctor, you tell your friends that they should see him when they are sick. Are your friends not sick in their souls? If you find a store with a great sale, you call your family members and friends to let them know. But here are blessings that money cannot buy—blessings that are, in fact, available to all by God’s free gift of grace—and that never perish or fade. We should tell people what it has meant to us to turn away from sins that had dragged us down for so long, and to have a power within that enables us to walk in faith with God. A personal testimony does not replace a biblical proclamation about Jesus, but it is an important complement. And it requires that we have a close relationship with the Lord. If we are not excited about God’s Word, if we are not warmed by close fellowship with God, and if we are not humbled by Christ’s suffering on the cross for our sins, we will not be very effective witnesses. Yet it is essential that we be able to give such a witness. MacArthur is right when he says: Most people do not come to Christ as an immediate response to a sermon they hear in a crowded setting. They come to Christ because of the influence of an individual. . . . In the overwhelming majority of [new believers’ testimonies], they tell us they came to Christ primarily because of the testimony of a coworker, a neighbor, a relative, or a friend. . . . There’s no question that the most effective means for bringing people to Christ is one at a time, on an individual basis. Between these two brothers—Peter and Andrew—we see the two main kinds of witnesses God provides in the church: the public preaching of the Word and the personal testimony of individual Christians. Every church needs a Peter who will preach the gospel publicly, and God greatly uses faithful preaching. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, when three thousand people believed on Christ, is one such example. But as important as preaching is, it is at least as necessary that a church have a legion of Andrews: those who bring people to Jesus one by one through their heartfelt testimonies. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 49–50.

Caring for the Lost

The doctrine of Particular Redemption (more commonly known as Limited Atonement) is ought to be a great comfort to believers and strengthen our assurance of salvation. It should also motivate us in evangelism. If it glorifies Jesus that He makes salvation possible for everyone, it glorifies Him even more that He actually saves particular individuals. Christian salvation is universal in its offer but particular in its application. A great example of this comes in the account of how Jesus went out of His way to bring His gospel to the woman at the well and, through her, to an entire village. Here we see Jesus the Evangelist bringing the gospel to those whom He would save. John 4 contains a number of famous statements, but the most glorious may be the one in verse 4. John begins this chapter by telling us that Jesus started gathering followers, who were baptized by the twelve disciples, and then He “left Judea and departed again for Galilee” (John 4:3). John then says: “and he had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4). What makes this statement so wonderful is the way in which it was not true. Geographically, Jesus did not have to pass through Samaria, and for many reasons it was inconvenient for Him to do so. But John informs us that Jesus had to go this way; it was necessary for Him. The reason was Jesus’ determination to save his own, among whom was this woman by the well. . . . One way to motivate yourself to care for others is to realize how much Jesus sacrificed to care for your own soul. We see His particular concern for individuals in His journey through Samaria. Had Jesus merely wanted to open a way for salvation for whoever would come, He need never have gone to Samaria. What He soon was to do in Jerusalem—namely, His death on the cross for our sins—was sufficient to make a way to God. Jesus did not have to go to Samaria for this. But Jesus died not only generally for all who would come, but actually to save particular people known to Him, including the woman He knew was coming to draw water from this well. If you are a believer, the same is true of you. Just as Jesus personally brought the gospel to the Samaritan woman, so He personally sought you for salvation. If you have heard the gospel and believed, it was not by chance! Jesus cared for your soul, so He died on the cross for your sins, He sent His witnesses to you, and He commissioned the Holy Spirit to open your heart to believe. “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” He said (John 15:1). Realizing His sacrificial care for your soul ought to inspire you to care for the salvation of people you know and love that He might send you as His witness to them. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 110, 111–112.

God Ordains the Means

Richard Phillips explains why Calvinism is not an impediment to evangelism: [D]ivine sovereignty does not stand against evangelism because God ordains not only the ends but also the means. He predestines some to be saved and commands us to preach to that end. If we do not preach and teach the gospel, then none will be saved. But God has ordained that some will be redeemed; He has chosen His people to be saved. So he has also ordained that we should preach and share the gospel, and therefore we will, exercising our human responsibility in accordance with His sovereign purpose. God commands all who are His to engage in evangelism; it is part of our obedience to Him. Packer explains: “We are not all called to be preachers; we are not all given equal opportunities or comparable abilities for personal dealing with men and women who need Christ. But we all have some evangelistic responsibility that we cannot shirk without failing in love both to our God and neighbor.” —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 171.

A Hopeless Task

Friday··2008·06·13 · 2 Comments
The monergist’s approach to evangelism is necessarily different from the synergist’s because the monergist knows that conversion is a result of the miracle of regeneration—and he knows he is unable to perform miracles. [U]nderstanding God’s sovereignty makes us dependent on Him because we see that it is only because of sovereign grace that the conversion of spiritually dead sinners is even possible. The Calvinist knows that unbelievers are not merely sick; they are “dead in . . . trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). We know that people are dead when they no longer respond to stimuli. We talk to them and they do not answer. We touch them and they do not move. This is the way people who are spiritually dead respond to God and his word. When the Bible is taught, they have no comprehension; when the gospel offer is made, they make no response. This presents a most depressing situation for an evangelist. Given man’s utter depravity, an evangelist cannot hope to lead anyone to faith in Christ by his own power. Paul states, “The natural person does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and He is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1Cor. 2:14). Note that Paul says not only the natural person “does not” accept the gospel but that he “is unable to.” Elsewhere, the apostle says “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Packer therefore writes: “Our approach to evangelism is not realistic until we have faced this shattering fact, and let it make it’s proper impact on us. . . . Regarded as a human enterprise, evangelism is a hopeless task.” —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 174–175.

What Is the Gospel?

A Biblical Understanding of the Good News is, according to Mark Dever, one of the marks of a healthy church. What is the good news? Is it “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’? The Gospel is not the news that we’re okay. It’s not the news that God is love. It’s not the news that Jesus wants to be our friend. It’s not the news that he has a wonderful plan or purpose for our life. As I discussed at greater length in chapter 1, the gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross as a sacrificial substitute for sinners and rose again, making a way for us to be reconciled to God. It’s the news that the Judge will become the Father, if only we repent and believe. Here are four points I try to remember whenever sharing the gospel, whether in private or in public—(1) God, (2) man,(3) Christ, and (4) response. In other words: Have I explained that God is our holy and sovereign creator?Have I made it clear that we humans are a strange mixture, wonderfully made in God’s image yet horribly fallen, sinful, and separated from him?Have I explained who Jesus is and what he has done—that he is the God-man who uniquely and exclusively stands in between God and man as a substitute and resurrected Lord?And, finally, even if I’ve shared all this, have I clearly stated that a person must respond to the gospel and must believe this message and so turn from his life of self-centeredness and sin? Sometimes, it’s tempting to present some of the very real benefits of the gospel as the gospel itself. And these benefits tend to be things that non-Christians naturally want, like joy, peace, happiness, fulfillment, self-esteem, or love. Yet presenting them as the gospel is presenting a partial truth. And, as J. I. Packer says, “A half truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.” Fundamentally, we don’t need just joy or peace or purpose. We need God, himself. Since we are condemned sinners, then, we need his forgiveness above all else. We need spiritual life. When we present the gospel less radically, we simply ask for false conversions and increasingly meaningless church membership lists, both of which make the evangelization of the world around us more difficult. —Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church? (Crossway, 2007), 76–77.

The Bible for Dummies?

During the last week, I’ve been sharing some excerpts from Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation. In Chapter 3, What the Reader Wants and the Translator Can Give: First John as a Test Case, C. John Collins demonstrates how dynamic equivalence translators, in their efforts to make the Bible easily readable and to translate the message, rather than the words, of Scripture, actually lose the message along with the words. The case he makes is quite good, but as it takes us to the outer limits of my ability to follow Greek, I’m not going to try to share it here. I will leave it to you to pick up the book and sort it out for yourselves. What I would like to address, in an otherwise good chapter, is the idea that different types of translations, including dynamic equivalence translations, might be appropriate for different contexts. Collins distinguishes three different uses that might call for different translations: (1) a Bible for church; (2) a Bible for family reading, which includes children, and personal study; (3) a Bible for the uninitiated. . . . these different contexts might be best served by different translation philosophies. What kind of translation might suit these various contexts for the English reader? —C. John Collins, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 93–94. So far, so good; but then he continues: The third category of translation is the one for outreach. Here we might indeed prefer a Bible version simpler than the ecclesiastical one; but if we use such a version, we should explain to people that its purpose is introductory. —Ibid., 94. Collins goes on to emphasize the need for disciples to be challenged intellectually to better things, quoting C. S. Lewis: “[Christ] wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head”—which is quite correct. However, I seriously doubt the wisdom of using second rate translations “for the uninitiated.” My objections are: It has the potential to create confusion, and undermine confidence in the Word of God. What are we saying if we give a Bible one day, only to return later with another, better Bible, explaining that “some of the stuff in the first Bible we gave you isn’t quite right, but this one can be trusted“honest”? It diminishes the role of the Church in the proclamation of God’s Word. The Word of God is not meant to stand alone, outside of the Church. That is not what we mean by sola Scriptura. In addition to simply being read, it is to be explained and taught. Some of it is difficult. That is why we have pastors—preachers, teachers, shepherds—as well as congregations of mature believers: to disciple the young and immature. We are not simply to hand out Bibles and hope for the best; we are to preach it, teach it, and live it out among our neighbors. In the same vein, but far more importantly, It fails to recognize the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating God’s Word. God chose the words he wanted us—all of us, simple and wise—to read. If God doesn’t intend for us to receive the word independent of teachers, it is even more true that he does not intend for us to receive it independent of himself. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14). No matter how simple the translation, none of us can understand it adequately unless we are filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit will make the Word understood, if we bring it accurately. This particular point seems to contradict everything I’ve read in this book so far. In addition to these objections, I can’t help remembering and repeating Leland Ryken’s words from the previous chapter: “what good is readability if what the reader reads is not what the original text of the Bible says?” Accuracy has got to come first, regardless of the target audience.

That Day in October

Well, it’s that time of year again, but I’m not going to write about it. I did that a few years ago. I’m not saying anything about the ungodly nature of the coming celebrations, and I’m definitely not commenting on the increasing popularity of sending precious little girls out into the night dressed as whores. That would be too controversial. I have only one thing to say about this coming Sunday, and about this one thing I am quite serious: if you are inclined to hand out tracts this coming Sunday, please, please, please, no Chick tracts. Repeat: no Chick tracts! This would be much better. Yes, I’m still serious.

A Friend of Sinners

The Pharisees accused Jesus of being a friend of sinners. The words of the accusation were true; the intended meaning was not. John MacArthur writes: But there is an important distinction to be made here: Jesus did not consort or seek fellowship with sinners in their sin. Scripture describes Him as “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). His overtures to sinners were always in the context of seeking their salvation, offering His grace and mercy, and extending to them forgiveness. He healed them, cleansed them, and released them from the prison of guilt and degradation. Yes, of course Jesus consorted with sinners, but always as their deliverer. He was a true friend of sinners—the most authentic kind of friend. He served them and reached out to them and laid hold of their lives. Jesus didn’t affirm them in their sin. Quite the contrary: He gave His whole self for them to redeem them from sin’s cruel bondage. —John MacArthur, A Tale of Two Sons (Thomas Nelson, 2008), 22.

Tongue-Clucking, Finger-Wagging Evangelists

Tuesday··2012·02·14 · 6 Comments
A pastor I know told the story of a young man he encountered at a truck stop. This young man was standing by the magazine rack, perusing a pornographic magazine. Seeing this, the pastor stood alongside him and said, softly, “What would your mother think if she could see you now?” Embarrassed, possibly shamed, even, the young man put the magazine back and walked away. The pastor felt quite satisfied that he had done a good deed in turning the young man from his vice. He considered himself to have been a good witness for Christ. Several people I have known have told of their experiences with coworkers and other acquaintances who habitually take the Lord’s name in vain. Their approach is to tell the offenders how bad it makes them feel to hear their Lord and Savior blasphemed. They often achieve positive results by this method, and therefore think they are good witnesses for their faith. Less looking at porn, less cussing—good things, don’t you think? But you’ve probably guessed that I don’t think very highly of the “witnesses” in either case. Can you see what’s wrong with these pictures? The answer: Tongue-Clucking, Finger-Wagging Idolaters

Tongue-Clucking, Finger-Wagging Idolaters

Wednesday··2012·02·15 · 4 Comments
In reply to my question of yesterday: The first problem that most will recognize is that both examples are pure law, and as one commenter yesterday pointed out, it’s not even good law. At best, it only produces, and indeed, only aims to produce, changed behavior. Changed behavior might be nice for polite society, and might even put the offender on his way toward his “best life now,” but it is meaningless to God, who sees the inside of the cup and the dead bones beneath beautiful gravestones (Matthew 23:25–28). But the fundamental fault of the finger-wagging evangelists is that they preach idolatry, and no yeah-buts about it. They both appeal to an authority other than God, and thereby replace Yahweh with another god. In the first case, the pastor appeals first to Mom-god. Mom would be offended if she knew what Sonny was up to, so Sonny should stop. Second, he appeals to Sonny’s sentiments about Mom. Really, he isn’t laying aside his porn for Mom’s sake, since she’ll never know, anyway. He’s laying it aside because of the uncomfortable juxtaposition of porn plus Mom. So, depending upon Sonny’s disposition, the pastor’s Mom-god is auto-translated into a Mom/Sonny-god, or just a Sonny-god. And if that isn’t bad enough, there is a third possibility: Sonny only walked away because that busybody pastor annoyed him. He’ll be back, because really, he is his own god, and nothing has changed. Nothing, that is, except that he is now more hardened to preaching in general, including genuine gospel preaching. Way to go, Pastor! The second case is much like the first. This time, the blasphemer is asked to desist in deference to the preacher’s feelings, making the preacher God. Again, as in the first case, there is a good chance that the offender is complying out of self-interest. He might simply be taking the path of least resistance for the sake of peace, or he might do it for the satisfying sense of self-righteousness his better behavior will produce. The reason for this is fundamental: we can preach a mom-god or a me-god, but all to whom Jesus is not Lord recognize only one god, that is, self. So they will respond in whatever way pleases their deity most. Now, some might object and insist that I have a better idea before criticizing others. Some might shoot back with, “Oh, yeah? Well, I like the way I’m doing it better than the way you’re not doing it.” To the latter, I submit Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” That’s right: the way I’m not doing it—assuming I’m not “doing it”—is better than the way you’re doing it. Therefore, to the former, I can say that, no, I don’t need a better idea before criticizing a really bad one, any more than I need a good meatloaf recipe before telling you not to eat raw pork. Nevertheless, a person should be prepared to apply the gospel when opportunities arise (1 Peter 3:15). So, what would I do? In the first case, probably nothing. Unless I was given some other opening into his life that might lead to the gospel, I wouldn’t pounce on him for something that, frankly, does not matter. Porn is not his problem; his problem is that Jesus is not his Lord. The last thing I want to do is anything that might make him feel improved outside of Christ. The same is largely true of the cursing coworker. Honestly, I can’t think of a single reason to confront an unbeliever over his language (and this is a situation most of us have probably faced). Now we’re talking about people we know. We have the opportunity to live out our faith in front of them. They notice how we behave. They know what’s important to us. Eventually, we are likely to have the chance to talk about it. Will we? Let’s not let them think that our tender ears are what matters to us. Let’s not set any false gods before them.

You Don’t Even Know Their Names

Tuesday··2013·07·16 · 2 Comments
Sometimes you want to go Where everybody knows your name, And they’re always glad you came. You want to be where you can see Our troubles are all the same. You want to be where everybody knows your name. I woke up this morning with a memory that I’d like to pass on to you for your consideration. It took place in a church several years ago (obviously). The preacher read the Cheers theme lyrics, as seen above, and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if church was that kind of place? Isn’t it sad that someone would go to a bar for that kind of fellowship?” As he went on about this, correctly stating that the church ought to be such a place, but ignorantly decrying the fact that folks can find comradery in a bar [insert tongue clucking here], I thought to myself: Wouldn’t it be great if both places were inhabited by Christians? Wouldn’t it be great if the Cliff Clavens and Norm Petersons of the world saw Christians as regular folks who know their names and are glad they came, who share the same everyday burdens, but—unlike them—have a comfort for today and a hope for tomorrow? Oh yes, and didn’t project the attitude of moral superiority that comes with “Oh, no; I could never go there.” I wonder how Christians who will seldom to never go anywhere where they might actually have a real conversation with Cliff or Norm think those guys will ever hear the gospel. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:2

The Sermon in Simeon’s Song

Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel. —Luke 2:29–32 The New Testament call to evangelism and world missions begins, not with the “Great Commission,” but in Luke 2. The baby in Simeon’s arms was not only for Simeon to see, or just for the Jew, but for everyone. In the gospel of Luke, every time someone prophesies about Jesus we learn a little bit more about who he is and what he came to do. Simeon is the one who takes the gospel and makes it global. Earlier, when the angle spoke to the shepherds, the good news about the coming of Christ was specifically for the people of Israel (Luke 2:10). But Simeon had good news for the whole world. The salvation the God provided in Jesus is for everyone to see. It is for “all peoples” (Luke 2:31). To make his meaning clear, Simeon went on to specify that Jesus came for the Gentiles as much as the Jews. This is the basis for our evangelistic outreach around the world. Simeon’s prophecy was about global evangelism. Jesus is God’s light to the nations. The whole world is covered with darkness through sin, but Jesus has come to dispel the darkness, to shine the light of salvation into every dark corner of every dim heart. It is because of him that we have a gospel that we can take to all nations and offer to everyone. We can say to people, “Look, here is salvation. Jesus Christ is God’s light for the world. See him and be saved.” This was the sermon in Simeon’s song. —Philip Ryken, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 127.

The Church’s Key Assignment

If we want to discover the mission of the church, we have no better place to go than to the book of Acts, in which we see the earliest Christians, led by the Apostles, carrying out that mission. The book of Acts is especially important because in it we can actually see the scope and nature of the earliest Christian mission. If you are looking for a picture of the early church giving itself to creation care, plans for societal renewal, and strategies to serve the community in Jesus’s name, you won’t find them in Acts. But if you are looking for preaching, teaching, and the centrality of the Word, this is your book. The story of Acts is the story of the earliest Christians’ efforts to carry out the commission given them in Acts 1:8. This does not mean that the church in Acts is one big evangelistic rally or inductive Bible study. We see the church devoted to the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer, as well as the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). We see examples of believers sharing with each other (Acts 2:44–46; 4:32–37) and hear of many signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; 5:12–16). Truly the kingdom has broken in as Jesus continues to “do” miracles through the apostles and sometimes others (Acts 1:1; Heb. 2:3–4). But there is no doubt that the book of Acts is a record first and foremost of apostolic witness expanding from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth. As Darrell Bock puts it: This commission [Acts 1:8] describes the church’s key assignment of what to do until the Lord returns. The priority for the church until Jesus returns, a mission of which the community must never lose sight, is to witness to Jesus to the end of the earth. The church exists, in major part, to extend the apostolic witness to Jesus everywhere. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 49–50.

Representative, Not Incarnational

A reiteration and summary of yesterday’s post: [I]t is unwise to assume that because we are sent as Jesus was sent, we have the exact same mission he had. We must protect the absolute uniqueness of what Jesus came to do. D. A. Carson, commenting on John 17:18, concludes that when it comes to the mission of the disciples, “there is no necessary overtone of incarnation or of invasion from another world.” Instead, we come face-to-face with “the ontological gap that forever distances the origins of Jesus’ mission from the origins of the disciples’ missions.” We cannot re-embody Christ’s incarnational ministry any more than we can repeat his atonement. Our role is to bear witness to what Christ has already done. We are not new incarnations of Christ but his representatives offering life in his name, proclaiming his gospel, imploring others to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). This is how the exalted Christ carries out his mission through us. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 57.
The mission of the church in one sentence: The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 62.

Why They Leave

An answer to the perennial question of why young evangelicals are leaving the church is attempted here: Why Younger Evangelicals Are Leaving the Church: Some Arguments against the Conventional Wisdom. The reasons offered are good, but they answer the wrong question. The question they answer is, why do young people leave this or that church. The reasons for that may be complex and require many paragraphs to explain, but the answer to the more important question, why are young people leaving the church, is quite simple. They leave the church because they are not of the church. It is very tempting to assume that because we are Christians, and we have given our children the gospel, and they have been with us in church and Sunday school, that they are Christians, too. This is a particular problem in sacramental churches, in which parents are taught to trust in their child’s baptism, and that child’s faith is “confirmed” by a rote recitation of the catechism. It’s a particular problem in Arminian churches that hold to “once saved, always saved” (not remotely the same as the biblical doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints), in which parents watch their children depart from the faith, but take solace in knowing that little Jimmy asked Jesus into his heart that night at camp. Those people might be forgiven for asking why their children are leaving the church, but not those who understand the truth of John 3:5–8: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” . . . The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. Our children are not save by being sprinkled or asking Jesus into their hearts, nor do they prove they are saved by correctly reciting the catechism or gathering by the river. They are saved by the miracle of regeneration, and are proved by persevering in the faith. The church has got to stop assuming the salvation of its youth. When we see our children walk away from the church, the least of our worries is that they are not going to church. What ought to concern us is the fact that they don’t belong in church—they are not Christians. And the solution to that is not manufacturing strategies to make the church attractive to them. The solution is the same as it is for reaching any other unbelievers. The solution is the gospel. If we failed to give it to them before, we must give it to them now. If we gave it to them before, we must give it to them still. This is the Christian mission, and our unbelieving children are the mission field.

Missionaries to the Gibbers

The Gibbers are, of course, the inhabitants of Gibb, speakers of—well, you figure it out. Pentecostal father Charles Parham was a nut by anyone’s standard. Contrary to cessationist—i.e., biblical—orthodoxy, he expected the gift of tongues. Contrary to today’s Pentecostal/charismatic dogma, he believed that biblical tongues were actual languages, intended to be understood. He boasted to the Topeka State Journal, “The Lord will give us the power of speech to talk to the people of the various nations without having to study them in schools.” Several weeks later, he told the Kansas City Times, “A part of our labor will be to teach the church the uselessness of spending years of time preparing missionaries for work in foreign lands when all they have to do is ask God for power.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 22. As the best laid plans of mice and mystics often go awry, so Parham’s plans were to be disappointed. S. C. Todd of the Bible Missionary Society investigated eighteen Pentecostals who went to Japan, China, and India “expecting to preach to the natives in those countries in their own tongue,” and found that by their own admission “in no single instance have [they] been able to do so.” As these and other missionaries returned in disappointment and failure, Pentecostals were compelled to rethink their original view of speaking in tongues. — Ibid., 23.

No Benefit of the Doubt

Yesterday, I linked to 5 Signs Your Child Is Not Saved. Being a father, this is obviously of immense concern to me. Nothing delights me more than the evidences of genuine saving faith I see in some of my children, and nothing grieves me more than the absence of those evidences in others. I want nothing more than to see them all following Jesus. It would be nothing less than parental malpractice to assume their salvation and cease confronting them with their sin and their need to examine themselves to see if they “are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). It troubles me to see how many Christian parents assume the salvation of their children. It also troubles me to see how many Christians assume the salvation of virtually everyone around them who claims to be a Christian, attends church, and generally lives a moral life. Christianity, while certainly never less than that, is much more than that. Yet so often, when challenging those assumptions, I am charged with being judgmental and uncharitable, as though we should give the benefit of the doubt. But the benefit of the doubt only goes to those who are able to accomplish the goal in question. We may assume individuals to be honest until they lie to us or steal from us. We may assume new employees to be reliable until they are habitually tardy, absent, or lazy. We may assume the best of people until they give us reason to doubt them, because we may assume they are able to perform dutifully. Even unbelievers are capable of basic integrity. No one is capable of doing anything to save themselves. Salvation—in particular, regeneration—is a miracle, an act of God (John 3:1–8). Therefore, it is not uncharitable to assume someone is unsaved. In fact, since we are born as unregenerate sinners (Psalm 51:5), enemies of God (Romans 5:10), and Scripture clearly states that the people of God are the minority (Matthew 22:14), we should assume the vast majority to be unsaved and in need of the gospel. It is no loving act to assume sick people to be well, and thereby deny them the cure. The notion of assumed salvation is found nowhere in Scripture. On the contrary, we are repeatedly taught to judge the faith of others. Matthew 18:15–18 instructs us to treat unrepentant sinners as unbelievers. 2 Corinthians 6:14ff commands us not to “be bound together with unbelievers.” Both involve judgment of faith, and the latter in particular assumes we can—and must—make that judgment. So, how should we judge? We should assume anyone we don't know to be unsaved, because we love them and want them to be saved. To that, we should make the single following exception: we should treat as brothers and sisters anyone who belongs to a local church body that is theologically orthodox (notice, I do not say any and every church so-called) and practices biblical discipleship (meaning: first, that their testimonies have been judged credible by the elders before admittance; second, that the Word is taught faithfully and thoroughly; and third, Matthew 18 discipline is practiced). In other words, we should give the benefit of the doubt to the qualified shepherds who have already judged their profession, understanding that because no shepherd is omniscient or infallible, there are still tares among the wheat. Those we do know should be judged, in addition to the local church affiliation standard in the previous paragraph, by the same criteria as we judge ourselves. But that's another post, a whole book, even, which you will find here. The purpose of this is not simply to see who is in and who is out. The purpose is two-fold: to maintain the purity of Christ’s bride, and to prioritize evangelism. The mission field, for most of us, is not out there and far away. It is right next door, and in our own homes. It will not do to pray for unreached peoples far-off while pretending the unsaved nearby are safely in the fold.

Lord’s Day 45, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” —Matthew 28:18–20 The Great Message [score] Horatius Bonar (1808–1889) “Quo vos magistri gloria, quo salus  Invitat orbis, sancta cohors Dei  Portate verbum.” Old Hymn Apostles of the risen Christ, go forth! Let love compel. Go, and in risen power proclaim His worth, O’er every region of the dead, cold earth,— His glory tell! Tell how He lived, and toiled, and wept below; Tell all His love; Tell the dread wonders of His awful woe; Tell how He fought our fight and smote our foe, Then rose above. Tell how in weakness He was crucified, But rose in power; Went up on high, accepted, glorified; News of His victory spread far and wide, From hour to hour. Tell how He sits at the right hand of God In glory bright, Making the heaven of heavens His glad abode; Tell how He cometh with the iron rod His foes to smite. Tell how His kingdom shall thro’ ages stand, And never cease; Spreading like sunshine over every land, All nations bowing to His high command, Great Prince of Peace! —Hymns of Faith and Hope, Second Series (James Nisbet & Co., 1878). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

The Last Free People

This is heart-breaking: This is one of the many uncontacted tribes in Brazil. The narrator believes it is best if they stay uncontacted, to preserve their way of life. He says they are “the last free people on the planet.” But are they free? Jesus said, If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. —John 8:31–32 How important is this? Again, Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. —John 14:6 No way of life without the truth, without Christ, is worth preserving. He is the way. He is the truth. He is life itself. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. —Luke 10:2

Through the Mind

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you. —1 Peter 1:22–25 How are we to reach the lost in our modern day? The same way as always. Human nature has not changed, Jesus never changes (Hebrews 13:8), nor does his gospel (Jude 3). We are living in strange times in terms of how the church functions. We have been caught up with a fierce desire to find a way to relate to a culture that has been immunized to Christianity. We try to find new methods to reach the lost. The motivation is righteous, because we should have compassion for the lost. The danger comes when we ask the lost how they want to come into the kingdom of God, how they want to worship God, and how they want to hear God’s Word, and then tailor our method to their tastes and preferences. That is fatal. Sooner or later the church must come back to confidence in God’s way of doing God’s work, because the Bible does give us a blueprint for evangelism. It gives us a blueprint for reaching the lost and for generating spiritual growth among the people of God. The blueprint is not a matter of rocket science or Madison Avenue technology; it is a blueprint that God guarantees will not be fruitless. It is accomplished by the method of proclaiming the Word of God, which, as Peter says here, changes lives and purifies souls through the power of the Holy Spirit. God has established a church, a fellowship and communion of believers, to gather for mutual support, edification, and encouragement. The church is to be a group which, when assembled, experiences an extraordinary kind of love. The grace that comes through the preaching of the Word is confirmed by the sacraments that Christ has given to His church and strengthened by the discipline of prayer, both personal and corporate. Whatever we try to do to make the message attractive to a fallen world, we must never negotiate those fundamental, biblical methods of worship, preaching, evangelism, and spiritual growth. The constituent nature of human beings did not change with Generation X, nor did it change with the Baby Boomers. Television changes culture, and technology changes the way we do things, but the fundamental nature of our humanity remains the same as when God created Adam and Eve. The way to the heart is through the mind, so mindless Christianity never really produces purification of the soul. The purification of the soul comes through obeying the truth of the Word of God through the Spirit of God. There are no substitutes or shortcuts for that. There is no such thing as sanctification in three easy lessons. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 51—52.

Two Conditions in which to Die

For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. —1 Peter 4:6 I care how I die. You probably do, as well. I would rather die quietly in my sleep than in a violent accident. I would rather die suddenly in an accident than be mauled by a bear. I would rather be fatally mauled by a bear than suffer a prolonged death of a terminal illness. I don’t think there is anything unusual about those preferences (except, possibly, the fact that I’ve obviously thought a bit about it). But in the end, the mode of my death is entirely trivial in comparison to what really matters, that is, the condition in which I die. [Peter] is not talking about Jesus’ preaching to dead spirits; rather, he is indicating the reason that Christ came. Jesus preached the gospel, and many of those who had heard Him and believed had died, so their battle was over and their victory won. When we get unexpected news of the death of someone we know, we wonder immediately how he or she died. Was she killed in an automobile accident? Did he have a heart attack? When the Bible speaks of people’s dying, it is somewhat reductionistic. From a biblical standpoint, there are only two conditions in which someone dies: in the faith or out of the faith. We die in faith, or we die in sin. Peter understood the urgency of the gospel, so he called people to think about that time of accountability when they would stand before Christ, not in their sins but in faith. Every day we are judged by people, sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly, sometimes graciously and sometimes without grace. Yet any judgment made about us in this world—good or bad—ultimately does not count, because it is a judgment made in the flesh. The only judgment that counts is the judgment of God, so we are to live not according to the judgment of people but according to God in the Spirit. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 144–145. If that doesn’t motivate you to share the gospel, you may not have received it yet yourself.
I am dying. I don’t know exactly when it started, but at some point, I stopped growing, my body began breaking down, and sometime within the next twenty to forty years—maybe a little more—I’ll be gone. This may come as hard news, but the same thing is happening to you. We’re all dying. That’s why I’ve begun planning my funeral. I’ve been thinking about it off and on for several years, but it’s a job that is probably better done sooner than later, so I’ve decided to put my wishes on the record before it’s too late. I have some very particular ideas about what a Christian funeral should be, and I want to be sure mine will fit that description. There will be no “he was a good man” or “celebration of life” nonsense. I am not a good man, and celebration of life funerals are for those who have no hope in eternity and wish to drown out that noise with the best alternative they have. Christians ought not celebrate at the closing of life. We grieve, because life is precious, and death is an enemy, but we do not grieve “as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13ff). Don’t celebrate the life that is past; celebrate the life to come. I know I will be. The Obituary/Eulogy will go something like this: His accomplishments were few and unremarkable. He possessed more faults than virtues, and no merit by which he may claim his salvation. But, while he was a great sinner, he has an infinitely greater Savior. I suppose someone will want to include more details, but the less said, the better. There will be hymns—no sentimental slop, just pure gospel. A full orchestra and choir would be nice, but a single piano and quartet will be sufficient. My short list so far: Edward Mote, The Solid Rock (Melita) Horatius Bonar, I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say (Kingsfold) Augustus Toplady, Rock of Ages (Toplady) Isaac Watts, O God, Our Help in Ages Past (St. Anne) William Cowper, There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood (Cleansing Fountain, sans refrain) There will be no congregational singing—I will not ask unbelievers to sing what they do not believe. The sermon will be an exposition of the gospel that presents heaven and hell as real places to which everyone must finally go, leaves believers with comfort and hope in Christ, and leaves unbelievers knowing both that they are not saved, and how they can be saved. I would like a closing solo of I Know that My Redeemer Liveth by G. F. Handel. If no good soprano can be found who can sing it, then let the sermon be the last word. I’ll be quite busy listening to better music, anyway. In short, I want my funeral to be worshipful and evangelistic (no Finneyish altar call, thank you), as all funerals should be. I consider it my last chance to preach the gospel to friends and family, and I don’t want to waste it. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling; Naked come to thee for dress, Helpless, look to thee for grace: Foul I to the fountain fly, Wash me, Saviour, or I die. —Augustus Toplady

Preach Hell, for Heaven’s Sake

It seems comforting to deny the reality of hell. Eliminating the threat of God’s eternal judgment takes a great load off the mind. But biblical doctrines go hand-in-hand. Removing the threat of hell also removes the hope of heaven. The comforting ideas which the Scripture gives us of heaven are at an end, if we once deny the reality or eternity of hell. Is there no future separate abode for those who die wicked and ungodly? Are all men, after death, to be mingled together in one confused multitude? Why then, heaven will be no heaven at all! It is utterly impossible for two to dwell happily together except they be agreed.—Is there to be a time when the term of hell and punishment will be over? Are the wicked after ages of misery to be admitted into heaven? Why then, the need of the sanctification of the Spirit is cast aside and despised! I read that men can be sanctified and made meet for heaven on earth: I read nothing of any sanctification in hell. Away with such baseless and unscriptural theories! The eternity of hell is as clearly affirmed in the Bible as the eternity of heaven. Once allow that hell is not eternal, and you may as well say that God and heaven are not eternal. The same Greek word which is used in the expression, ‘everlasting punishment,’ is the word that Is used by the Lord Jesus in the expression, ‘life eternal,’ and by St. Paul in the expression, ‘everlasting God’ (Matt. 25:46; Rom. 16:26). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 235–236. Furthermore, denying hell is not the loving act it may seem to be. Where is the charity of keeping back any portion of God’s truth? He is the kindest friend who tells me the whole extent of my danger. Where is the use of hiding the future from the impenitent and the ungodly? Surely it is like helping the devil, if we do not tell them plainly that ‘the soul that sinneth shall surely die.’ Who knows but the wretched carelessness of many baptized persons arises from this, that they have never been told plainly of hell? Who can tell but thousands might be converted, if ministers would urge them more faithfully to flee from the wrath to come? Verily, I fear we are many of us guilty in this matter: there is a morbid tenderness amongst us which is not the tenderness of Christ. We have spoken of mercy, but not of judgment; we have preached many sermons about heaven, but few about hell: we have been carried away by the wretched fear of being thought ‘low, vulgar and fanatical.’ We have forgotten that He who judgeth us is the Lord, and that the man who teaches the same doctrine that Christ taught cannot be wrong. —Ibid., 236–237. Finally, we must believe and profess the doctrines of Scripture, even the unpleasant ones, for own spiritual health. If you would ever be a healthy Scriptural Christian, I entreat you to give hell a place in your theology. Establish it in your mind as a fixed principle, that God is a God of judgment, as well as of mercy; and that the same everlasting counsels which laid the foundation of the bliss of heaven, have also laid the foundation of the misery of hell. Keep in full view of your mind that all who die unpardoned and unrenewed, are utterly unfit for the presence of God and must be lost for ever. They are not capable of enjoying heaven: they could not be happy there. They must go to their own place: and that place is hell.—Oh, it is a great thing in these days of unbelief to believe the whole Bible! —Ibid., 237.

Rivers of Living Water

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” —John 7:37–38 If you have been born again (John 3), know that God did not save you for yourself. He saved you, ultimately, for himself (Revelation 5:9). He also saved you so that you could be a conduit of his grace to others. I believe our Lord meant us to understand that he who comes to Him by faith shall not only have an abundant supply of everything which he needs for his own soul, but shall also become a source of blessing to the souls of others. The Spirit who dwells in him shall make him a fountain of good to his fellowmen, so that at the last day there shall be found to have flowed from him ‘rivers of living water.’ This is a most important part of our Lord’s promise, and opens up a subject which is seldom realized and grasped by many Christians. But it is one of deep interest, and deserves far more attention than it receives. I believe it to be a truth of God. I believe that just as ‘no man liveth unto himself’ (Rom. 14:7), so also no man is converted only for himself; and that the conversion of one man or woman always leads on, in God’s wonderful providence, to the conversion of others. I do not say for a moment that all believers know it. I think it far more likely that many live and die in the faith, who are not aware that they have done good to any soul. But I believe the resurrection morning and the judgment day, when the secret history of all Christians is revealed, will prove that the full meaning of the promise before us has never failed. I doubt if there will be a believer who will not have been to some one or other a ‘river of living water’—a channel through whom the Spirit has conveyed saving grace. Even the penitent thief, short as his time was after he repented, has been a source of blessing to thousands of souls! . . . Let us all lay hold on this view of our Lord’s promise, and never forget it. Think not for a moment that your own soul is the only soul that will be saved if you come to Christ by faith and follow Him. Think of the blessedness of being a ‘river of living water’ to others. Who can tell that you may not be the means of bringing many others to Christ? Live, and act, and speak, and pray, and work, keeping this continually in view. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 365–367.
Faith is the work of God (Ephesians 2:8–9), but, as David Clarkson writes, “he works it not immediately, but in the use of appointed means.” The means he uses cannot work but that the Holy Spirit works through them, but neither does the Spirit work to bring faith outside the appointed means. “It is his power that works faith; but in that way, and by those means, which he has prescribed. Though he has not absolutely tied and confined himself to them, yet he has tied and confined us. Though he is free, yet the means are necessary to us.” The primary means is the hearing of God’s word. This is a means of the Lord’s appointing, and which he ordinarily uses for this end, John xvii. 20. He prays for some that were to believe afterwards, but were to believe through the word in the ministry of his servants. And all that the Holy Ghost mentions afterwards as believers were brought to believe by the ministry of the word. The Jews, Acts iv. 4; the Gentiles, Acts xiii. 48; the Ephesians, Eph. i. 13; the Corinthians, Acts xviii. 8. And therefore the ministers of the gospel are called ‘ministers by whom they believed,’ 1 Cor. iii. 5. And the word preached is called ‘the word of faith,’ Rom. x. 8. He shews the necessity of this means by a gradation, verse 14, 15. There must be a mission, that there may be preachers; there must be preaching, that there may be hearing; there must be hearing, that there may be believing; and so he concludes his discourse, verse 17. Those that will have faith without hearing would have it out of God s way, and are such ever like to find it? If the word be not preached it cannot be heard. The Lord may work it in an extraordinary way, but can it be expected the Lord should step out of his ordinary path to meet those who shew so much contempt of God and of their souls as they will not wait on him for faith in the way that he has appointed? Will God work miracles to save those who so much despise him and his great salvation? Nay, the Lord will have the ministry of the word more honoured in this respect than miracles. He has used miracles sometimes for to startle and humble sinners in order to faith, but has referred those persons at the same time to the ministry of the word for the working of faith. We find not that ever the Lord so much honoured miracles as to work faith by them without the word, though we find the Lord ordinarily so far honouring the ministry of the word as to work faith by it without miracles. Miracles are ceased many hundred years ago, yet the Lord has been working faith in all ages by the ministry of the word. And when miracles were in use, they were but used as subservient to the word, to prepare for faith, which the Lord would work by hearing the word. Saul was struck down and humbled in a miraculous way, but he was sent to hear Ananias, that he might be possessed with the Spirit of faith; he was not filled with the Holy Ghost till then, it descended on him in his ministry, Acts ix. 6. The jailor was humbled by a miraculous earthquake, Acts xvi. 27, 28, but the Lord would not work faith in him by that miracle, he reserved the honour of that work to the ministry of Paul and Silas, ver. 30, 31, 32, 34. Hearing the word is the ordinary means to attain faith, and was the ordinary means when the Lord appeared in extraordinary and miraculous dispensations. —David Clarkson, Of Faith, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:170–171.

George Whitefield, Theologian

One modern biographer claims that Whitefield ‘showed no interest in theology’, but was more concerned with feelings, imagination, and experience. This is palpable nonsense . . . To quote again from Augustus Toplady, Whitefield was not merely an evangelist but ‘a most excellent systematic divine.’ His divinity began with an error-free Bible. ‘If we once get above our Bibles and cease making the written word of God our sole rule both as to faith and practice,’ he declared, ‘we shall soon lie open to all manner of delusion and be in great danger of making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience,’ going on to speak of ‘the unerring rule of God’s most holy word’ (Sermon 2); elsewhere he only ever uses the word ‘unerring’ of Jesus (Sermon 58) or the Holy Spirit (Sermon 39). It was the quintessence of ‘enthusiasm’ said Whitefield, ‘to pretend to be guided by the Spirit without the written word; yet it is every Christian’s bounden duty to be guided by the Spirit in conjunction with the written word of God,’ every inward impression or suggestion being tested against that inerrant standard. . . . Taught by his trustworthy Bible, Whitefield was a Protestant. He rejected the infallibility and inerrancy of the Pope or the Church and settled instead on the scriptures themselves as the final arbiter of his faith. As a result, he could be somewhat vehement in his dislike of Roman Catholicism . . . Continuing to be taught by his trustworthy Bible, Whitefield became a Calvinist. Yet as he said in a private letter to John Wesley in August 1740, ‘Alas, I never read any thing that Calvin wrote; my doctrines I had from Christ and his apostles; I was taught them of God.’ Again, he wrote to another friend in 1742, ‘I embrace the calvinistical scheme, not because Calvin, but Jesus Christ, I think, has taught it to me.’ . . . He considered Arminianism, a progressive and liberal view of theology which downplayed the sovereignty of God in favour of a more liberated human free will, to be ‘antichristian’ both in principles and practice, and to share too much in common with Roman Catholicism, indeed, to be ‘the back door to popery’ (Sermon 14). . . . Whitefield, however, was a firm believer in the Reformed doctrine of salvation and Reformed biblical theology, or as it is often known, covenant theology. . . . Whitefield was in harmony with the Anglican and Reformed tradition in general, holding as he did to predestination and reprobation (Sermons 41, 44), the inseparability of justification and sanctification (Sermon 14), the imputation of the active obedience of Christ (Sermons 14, 44) and the perseverance of the saints (Sermons 60 and 61). No wonder when he returned from Georgia in April 1741 and met Wesley, who disliked these doctrines and crusaded against them, he told him plainly face-to-face that they ‘preached two different gospels.’ . . . Another Reformed doctrine which Wesley despised but which Whitefield gloried in was particular redemption, or as it is sometimes known, definite or ‘limited atonement.’ This is the teaching that the Father’s election, the Son’s redemption, and the Spirit’s application of salvation are all coextensive; that God planned to save a certain people, his sheep, his church, the bride of Christ out of the corrupt mass of mankind, and sent his Son explicitly to achieve this goal, and his Spirit then to draw the elect to Christ. The opposite, Arminian, theory was that Christ came to die for everyone indiscriminately, not to actually save them but to make them saveable, on condition that they repent and believe, which they have the power to do if they want to. Both views limit the atonement in some way, of course: the Calvinist limits the number of people ultimately atoned for (some people are completely saved) while the Arminian view limits the effectiveness of the cross (all people are potentially saved if they fulfil the conditions on their side). It is often asserted that belief in definite atonement saps the energy out of evangelism somehow. Yet reading and studying the example of Whitefield shows just how facile and superficial it is to claim that one cannot be a Calvinist – one cannot believe in a Father who unconditionally chooses, a Son who intentionally redeems and a Spirit who irresistibly calls only the elect – and still be a passionate evangelist. —Lee Gatiss, The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 29–32, 34.


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