Thursday, August 31, 2006

Time to Pray for a New Great Awakening

"Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you." (Hosea 10.12 ESV)

In this post I will make a plea for ministers and churches to pray for revival. It is in this hope that Fetter Lane blog exits. While turning the pages of the historical Great Awakening makes for interesting reading, I'm not blogging for purely historical purposes. I want to see revival.

I don't mind innovation; after all, George Whitefield introduced John Wesley to field preaching to the masses. Also, Charles Wesley and others composed new music for the Methodist societies. However, my primary concern is on foundations. I preach a 2,000 year old message and it isn't chaning so I won't, either. While methods change (and should) and musical styles change (and should) the unvarnished preaching of the straight-up Word of God never changes. NOTHING will supplant the sermon in my ministry...ever.

I care about revival.

I want to see another Great Awakening so powerful that the media will take notice; whether they are interested, incredulous or downright incendiary is of no importance to me. I'll take the notoriety either way.

I believe revival only comes by prayer and fasting.

Let me ask you:

1. Are you praying for a Great Awakening?
2. Are you, in fact, not shy about calling it a "Great Awakening"?
3. Are you asking for salvation, the witness of the Spirit and Christian perfection to break out upon the land?
4. Is your church praying for a Great Awakening? By name?

Are you hungering and thirsting for it?

I want it; I'm tired of church as usual. That doesn't mean I want to mock the "established" churches and try to distance myself from them. It means I want to pray for an old fashioned Holy Ghost Wesleyan revival.

I need to read from E.M Bounds on prayer and take him seriously.
I want a Great Awakening.

I want one for you, too.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Those Other Guys"

Welcome to Fetter Lane's 100th post! Any spiritual movement, to be successful, must have plenty of "those other guys", people largely ignored by the subsequent writing of history but, at the time, are indispensable to the cause.
(Copyrighted Picture Courtesy of Wesley Center Online. Used with Permission.)
I blog about John Wesley but we should never forget the sacrifices of the other Methodist ministers, including the three men pictured above: Reverends Vassey, Whatcoat and Coke. We are called "Wesleyans" but make no mistake--many ministers had a hand in the Great Awakening.

Are you praying for a Great Awakening of salvation and entire sanctification to shake America? Is your church doing the same?

Okay, maybe you'll never be a John Wesley, a John Fletcher or an Adam Clarke. Maybe the subsequent writing of history largely will ignore you.

But maybe God will bless you to be one of "those other guys" of revival.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Praying Like We Mean It

Is your prayer life as rusty as this sign?

What do we believe about prayer? I'm not asking what we abstractly affirm about the doctrine of prayer but what we really deep down believe. If we don't pray often then we must not believe in it deeply.

Wesley gives us direction for prayer in his work, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection:

"God hardly gives his Spirit even to those whom he has established in grace, if they do not pray for it on all occasions, not only once, but many times.

"God does nothing but in answer to prayer; and even they who have been converted to God without praying for it themselves, (which is exceeding rare,) were not without the prayers of others. Every new victory which a soul gains is the effect of a new prayer.

"On every occasion of uneasiness, we should retire to prayer, that we may give place to the grace and light of God and then form our resolutions, without being in any pain about what success they may have.

"In the greatest temptations, a single look to Christ, and the barely pronouncing his name, suffices to overcome the wicked one, so it be done with confidence and calmness of spirit.

"God's command to 'pray without ceasing' is founded on the necessity we have of his grace to preserve the life of God in the soul, which can no more subsist one moment without it, than the body can without air."

While I disagree with Wesley's absolute proposition, "God does nothing but in answer to prayer," I do believe we should meditate on his words. Imagine a scenario in which we received nothing other than what we prayed for (or others prayed to God for us).

How would this increase our prayer lives?
How would this increase our church corporate prayer?


Monday, August 28, 2006

Brick by Brick (Romans № 10)

Let's consider three exhortations from the Apostle Paul as we begin chapter five of his letter to the Romans.

"Since we have been given right standing with God through faith, then let us continue enjoying peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have an introduction through faith into this state of God's favor, in which we safely stand; and let us continue exulting in the hope of enjoying the glorious presence of God. And not only that, but this too: let us continue exulting in our sufferings, for we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, tested character, and tested character, hope," (Rom 5.1-4 WmsNT)

There is a textual question in Romans 5.1. It all comes down to one Greek letter! The phrase in differing Greek manuscripts is either:

εχωμεν [present active subjunctive] προς τον θεον--"let us have peace with God"


εχoμεν [present active indicative] προς τον θεον--"we have peace with God"

The difference is between ω (Omega) and o (Omicron).

The translators of several different versions have chosen "we have peace with God" as the primary reading. I've read different scholarly argumentations to support this textual conclusion. However, I will defer to A. T. Robertson, the greatest Greek grammarian of the 20th Century. He chooses "let us have peace with God", adding that "[t]his is the correct text beyond a doubt...It is curious how perverse many real scholars have been on this word and phrase here." (Word Pictures)

I'll confess this textual/manuscript issue is beyond me but I will adopt Robertson's view. This is why I have quoted from Charles B. Williams' New Testament translation; while it isn't as "literal" a translation in some respects as I would care for, it advocates the same position of Robertson.

With our Greek lesson over let's look at Paul's three exhortations:

1. "let us continue enjoying peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"

Paul's Christians have enjoyed peace with God and he wanted them to continue doing so. As a Wesleyan I believe that a Christian can fall away from the Faith and cease to live at peace with God.

2. "let us continue exulting in the hope of enjoying the glorious presence of God"

Let us live consciously in this God-soaked universe. The Triune God is here in his Spirit; we are never alone. Let us joyfully seek the Day when faith becomes sight and we live before our God continually in heaven.

3. "let us continue exulting in our sufferings"

Why should we glory in sufferings? Notice his chain:

sufferings → endurance
endurance → tested character
tested character → hope

A person won't feel secure in his relationship with God if he hasn't developed endurance which gives way to character that, in turn, becomes hope. Using suffering to learn endurance, learning endurance to develop character and developing character to result in hope doesn't happen overnight. It is built brick by brick. It is a lifetime of making the right decisions, choices and priorities.

This leads to Christian hope, the surety of his salvation.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Mentor of the Methodist Part 2

Today Fetter Lane concludes its look at Peter Bohler, a believer greatly responsible for the evangelization of John Wesley. We pick up with more entries from The Journal of John Wesley as we see the Oxford scholar and Anglican priest come to faith in Christ alone:

March 23, 1738

"I met Peter Bohler again, who now amazed me more and more by the account he gave of the fruits of living faith—the holiness and happiness which he affirmed to attend it. The next morning I began the Greek Testament again, resolving to abide by 'the law and the testimony'; I was confident that God would hereby show me whether this doctrine was of God."

April 18, 1738

"I asked P. Bohler again whether I ought not to refrain from teaching others. He said, 'No; do not hide in the earth the talent God hath given you.'"

April 26, 1738

"P. Bohler walked with me a few miles and exhorted me not to stop short of the grace of God."

(Copyrighted Picture Courtesy of Wesley Center Online. Used with Permission.)

[If you want to see an enlarged picture of the map, click on the image to see it full-sized. Do you see what street is in the center of the map? That's Fetter Lane!]

May 3-4, 1738

"Wednesday, 3.—My brother had a long and particular conversation with Peter Bohler. And it now pleased God to open his eyes so that he also saw clearly what was the nature of that one true living faith, whereby alone, 'through grace, we are saved.'
"Thursday, 4.—Peter Bohler left London in order to embark for Carolina. Oh, what a work hath God begun since his coming into England! Such a one as shall never come to an end till heaven and earth pass away."

May 24, 1738

"In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther'’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

We know the rest of the story—this is the beginning of Wesley's Great Awakening for himself, then for others. But before Aldersgate Street there was Peter Bohler.

If God never calls you to be a John Wesley then pray to be a Peter Bohler.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Mentor of the Methodist Part 1

We all need mentors in life; John Wesley had such a teacher in a German Moravian Christian by the name of Peter Bohler.

It was Bohler who counseled and advised Wesley until our Methodist, so called, came to an understanding of the gospel.

There is a mystery of Providence that makes me wonder: if John Wesley never met Peter Bohler, would Wesley have become the powerful reformer during the Great Awakening that history records?

I'll let a string of entries from The Journal of John Wesley to speak for me. Read Wesley's steps to faith by the influence of Bohler.

February 7, 1738
(A day much to be remembered.) At the house of Mr. Weinantz, a Dutch merchant, I met Peter Bohler, Schulius Richter, and Wensel Neiser, just then landed from Germany. Finding they had no acquaintance in England, I offered to procure them a lodging and did so near Mr. Hutton's, where I then was. And from this time I did not willingly lose any opportunity of conversing with them while I stayed in London.
February 17-18, 1738
Friday, 17.—I set out for Oxford with Peter Bohler, where we were kindly received by Mr. Sarney, the only one now remaining here of many who, at our embarking for America, were used to 'take sweet counsel together' and rejoice in 'bearing the reproach of Christ.'
Saturday, 18.—We went to Stanton Harcourt. The next day I preached once more at the castle in Oxford, to a numerous and serious congregation.
All this time I conversed much with Peter Bohler, but I understood him not; and least of all when he said, 'My brother, my brother, that philosophy of yours must be purged away.'
March 4-6, 1738
I found my brother at Oxford, recovering from his pleurisy; and with him Peter Bohler; by whom, in the hand of the great God, I was, on Sunday, the fifth, clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved.

Immediately it struck into my mind, 'Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?' I asked Bohler whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered, 'By no means.' I asked, 'But what can I preach?' He said, 'Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.'

Accordingly, Monday, 6, I began preaching this new doctrine, though my soul started back from the work. The first person to whom I offered salvation by faith alone was a prisoner under sentence of death. His name was Clifford. Peter Bohler had many times desired me to speak to him before. But I could not prevail on myself so to do; being still, as I had been many years, a zealous asserter of the impossibility of a deathbed repentance.
I marvel at Bohler's advice to Wesley on February 18 as he exhorted, "My brother, my brother, that philosophy of yours must be purged away."

Wesley needed to grasp justification by faith. We will see this tomorrow.

Friday, August 25, 2006

In Jordan's Waters: Divine Healing

So [Naaman] went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
(2Ki 5.14 ESV)
I carry a small bottle of fragranced olive oil on my key chain; as a Church of God minister I believe that God heals the sick when Sovereignty determines to do so. (With insurance premiums continuing to rise we might start preaching divine healing more strongly as the years pass!)

Wesley was no stranger to the healing touch of God. Consider his Journal account for May 10, 1741:
I was obliged to lie down most part of the day, being easy only in that posture. Yet in the evening my weakness was suspended while I was calling sinners to repentance. But at our love-feast which followed, beside the pain in my back and head and the fever which still continued upon me, just as I began to pray I was seized with such a cough that I could hardly speak. At the same time came strongly into my mind, 'These signs shall follow them that believe' [Mark 16:17]. I called on Jesus aloud to 'increase my faith' and to 'confirm the word of his grace.' While I was speaking my pain vanished away; the fever left me; my bodily strength returned; and for many weeks I felt neither weakness nor pain. 'Unto thee, O Lord, do I give thanks.'
I really like this entry for March 17, 1746:
I took my leave of Newcastle and set out with Mr. Downes and Mr. Shepherd. But when we came to Smeton, Mr. Downes was so ill that he could go no further. When Mr. Shepherd and I left Smeton, my horse was so exceedingly lame that I was afraid I must have lain by too. We could not discern what it was that was amiss; and yet he would scarcely set his foot to the ground. By riding thus seven miles, I was thoroughly tired, and my head ached more than it had done for some months. (What I here aver is the naked fact: let every man account for it as he sees good.) I then thought, 'Cannot God heal either man or beast, by any means, or without any?' Immediately my weariness and headache ceased, and my horse’s lameness in the same instant. Nor did he halt any more either that day or the next. A very odd accident this also!
God healed both Wesley and his horse? Well, why not? Try this January 1, 1777 account on for size:
We met, as usual, to renew our covenant with God. It was a solemn season wherein many found His power present to heal and were enabled to urge their way with strength renewed.
Pray for the sick. Elders are commanded to do so (James 5.13-19).

Let it not be said of us, "Ye have not because ye ask not."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Do We Preachers Want to be Popular?

One of the hazardous temptations of a preacher is to hold back on the truth to curry favor with others. Even a preacher wants to be liked and he has to check himself to see if he is tailoring messages to garner acceptance from "important" people.

Preaching the gospel is noble but using the gospel to gain worldly advantage is deplorable. Consider some of Wesley's recollections for June 10, 1757 as he addressed a public crowd in Scotland:
At six, William Coward and I went to the market house. We stayed some time, and neither man, woman, nor child came near us. At length I began singing a Scotch psalm, and fifteen or twenty people came within hearing, but with great circumspection, keeping their distance as though they knew not what might follow. But while I prayed, their number increased; so that in a few minutes there was a pretty large congregation. I suppose the chief men of the town were there; and I spared neither rich nor poor. I almost wondered at myself, it not being usual with me to use so keen and cutting expressions; and I believe many felt that, for all their form, they were but heathens still.

Wesley blasted 'em with the truth. What a sentence this is: "I suppose the chief men of the town were there; and I spared neither rich nor poor." Wesley didn't rip the poor while comforting the rich; he took both to task. John Wesley didn't care for their applause—he cared for their souls! The English evangelist felt that he challenged them not to take refuge in an empty form of religion but press forward to Spiritual reality.

This reminds me of God's unique calling of Ezekiel to prophetic ministry. He ordered him to guide the Jewish exiles in Babylon:
I send you to them, and you shall say to them, "Thus says the Lord GOD." And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house. (Eze 2.4b-7 ESV)
Wow! God told Ezekiel that they might not pay attention but that wasn't the prophet's concern. Ezekiel's concern was to be faithful to the message.

We are called to be faithful, not popular.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What Only Can Be Free

On June 18, 1738 John Wesley preached "Salvation by Faith", # 5 of his Sermons. Read his opening paragraph:

"All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that 'formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,' and stamped on that soul the image of God, and 'put all things under his feet.' The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand. 'All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us.' These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.

This thought comforts me. I would scare me to realize that I must earn good things from the Father's hands! I've heard it said that the best things in life are free.

Looking at the face of Christ convinces me that it is so.

Monday, August 21, 2006

It's Always Been by Faith (Romans № 9)

My observations in today's blog from Romans chapter 4 , et al., will be greatly abridged.

Paul asserts that faith is the way anyone ever is justified in the eyes of God (Rom 4.9-12). This covers both Jew and Gentile. There never has been any other way to find salvation for Adam's fallen race. The Jew never was saved by Torah and the Gentile never was lost without Torah. It came down to faith in God in each case. This is the way that anyone, anywhere at anytime is reckoned righteous before God.
"For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression." (Rom 4.13-15 ESV)

Can we just ignore Torah? Can we act as if the Law of Moses never existed? No, and there's no reason to ignore it. Paul makes a point in his letter to the Galatians that is crucial to our understanding: The Covenant by Faith came before the Covenant by Torah! After bluntly saying that nobody can be saved by observing the Law (Gal 3.1-14), Paul then makes these remarks:

"To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, 'And to offsprings,' referring to many, but referring to one, 'And to your offspring,' who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise." (Gal 3:15-18 ESV)

This is how the Hebrew Patriarch, Abraham, can be the father of many nations--both Jew and Gentile. All who believe in Christ become spiritual children of Abraham because he introduced us to the Covenant of Faith which preceded Torah (Rom 4.16-25). The Law of Moses is now unnecessary and, in fact, impotent to save souls:

"Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law." (Gal 3.21 ESV)

So, did God give Torah to the Jews at all? It was to show them that, devoid of the Spirit in regenerating power, they were hopelessly powerless to sin! (Gal 3.19-22).

Abraham was saved by his faith in God...based on what was going to happen when Christ reconciled the world to God. We are saved by faith in Christ...based on what has already happened when Christ lived his sinless life, died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice and rose from the dead.

Salvation has always been by faith.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Pastoral and the Prophetic

Biblical Christianity has two voices: the pastoral and the prophetic. It's vogue today to focus on the healing, the comforting and the affirming message of the Faith. This is important but it is incomplete without the prophetic voice, the call for sinners to become saints through the death and resurrection of Christ. The prophetic voice is the unambiguous demand for repentance and the direct proclamation of the consequences of not repenting. This prophetic voice is further for people "at ease in Zion" who confess Christianity but their lives don't support their professions:

"They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work."
(Titus 1.16 ESV)

We find one such example of the prophetic voice in a Journal entry by John Wesley. For October 2, 1741, the Anglican evangelist pens:

"We rode to Fonmon castle. We found Mr. Jones's daughter ill of the smallpox; but he could cheerfully leave her and all the rest in the hands of Him in whom he now believed. In the evening I preached at Cardiff in the shire-hall, a large and convenient place, on 'God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his son' [I John 5:11]. There having been a feast in the town that day, I believed it needful to add a few words upon intemperance: and while I was saying, 'As for you, drunkards, you have no part in this life; you abide in death; you choose death and hell,' a man cried out vehemently, 'I am one; and thither I am going.' But I trust God at that hour began to show him and others 'a more excellent way.'"

Granted, such a blunt statement—drunks are going to hell—won't mesh with the notion of some antimonians who believe in an extreme form of unconditional eternal security. However, Wesley, the Arminian, wasn't a stranger to controversy (or opposition) for telling the blunt truth. After all, the Scripture does say:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1Co 6.9-10 ESV)

It's not popular in today's climate that demands "tolerance" (i.e. never tell anybody he's wrong) but it is the biblical truth. Wesley stood for truth and he called them as he saw them. He certainly said enough things to estrange others from his message. Doubtless many people refused to heed him.

But those who truly hungered and thirsted for righteousness listened.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Beauty of Tact

Today Fetter Lane is offering a small meal for thought. It has to do with tact, the ability to discern an apt answer or response. Tact is an important virtue for a Christian; without it the believer may seem overly-harsh or boorish. Tact is a kiss of dignity and an embrace of grace.

There is a touching story in my copy of The Journal of John Wesley that we Christians can learn from so much. Read the words of tact that preserves the dignity of a lady and treats her with grace:

"Once when Wesley and one of his itinerant preachers were taking lunch at a wealthy home, an incident occurred which showed the great man's tact. The daughter of the house, a beautiful girl, was much impressed with Mr. Wesley's preaching. While conversing with the young lady, Wesley's itinerant noticed that she was wearing a number of rings; holding her hand up for Mr. Wesley to see, he said, 'What do you think of this sir, for a Methodist's hand?' (Wesley's aversion for the wearing of jewelry was well known.) The girl blushed and no doubt felt ill at ease, but with characteristic poise Wesley only smiled and said, 'The hand is very beautiful.' The young lady appeared at the next service without her gems, and became a devoted Christian."

Paul wisely remarked:

"Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." (Col 4.5-6 ESV)

May God help us all to learn when it is needful to say nothing more than, "The hand is very beautiful."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Salvation Changes People (Romans № 8 Part 3)

Today Fetter Lane examines an important question: if, through faith, we are imputed with Christ's perfect righteousness then can we live in sin? In other words, since we aren't saved by our good works then does it matter how we live?

We again turn to John Wesley's Sermons, # 40, "The Lord our Righteousness" for guidance. He mentions that some may use the excuse of liberty for license:

In the meantime what we are afraid of is this: — lest any should use the phrase, 'The righteousness of Christ,' or, 'The righteousness of Christ is imputed to me,' as a cover for his unrighteousness. We have known this done a thousand times. A man has been reproved, suppose for drunkenness: 'O', said he, 'I pretend to no righteousness of my own; Christ is my righteousness.' Another has been told, that 'the extortioner, the unjust, shall not inherit the kingdom of God:' He replies, with all assurance, 'I am unjust in myself, but I have a spotless righteousness in Christ.' And thus, though a man be as far from the practice as from the tempers of a Christian; though he neither has the mind which was in Christ, nor in any respect walks as he walked; yet he has armour of proof against all conviction, in what he calls the 'righteousness of Christ.'"

Any regular reader of this blog probably can guess what Wesley's reaction to such a notion would be. John Wesley hits the brakes as he continues to preach:

"It is the seeing so many deplorable instances of this kind, which makes us sparing in the use of these expressions. And I cannot but call upon all of you who use them frequently, and beseech you in the name of God, our Saviour, whose you are, and whom you serve, earnestly to guard all that hear you against this accursed abuse of them. O warn them (it may be they will hear your voice) against 'continuing in sin that grace may abound!' Warn them against making 'Christ the minister of sin;' against making void that solemn decree of God, 'Without holiness no man shall see the Lord,' by a vain imagination of being holy in Christ! O warn them that if they remain unrighteous, the righteousness of Christ will profit them nothing! Cry aloud, (is there not a cause?) that for this very end the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, that 'the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us;' and that we may 'live soberly, religiously, and godly, in this present world.'"

Any "faith" that doesn't produce good works isn't Christian faith. No, we're not saved by our good works--only our faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. However, wonderful Christian fruit inevitably will grow from such a vibrant and real faith.

Never forget the Apostle John's line of demarcation between the saints and the sinners:

"Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother." (1Jo 3.7-10 ESV)

I've never found a way around such plain statements by John.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Righteousness in Christ (Romans № 8 Part 2)

Yesterday we began looking at chapter 4 of the book of Romans. We saw that a person is saved when he places his faith in Christ. God then credits his account in the celestial ledger (so to speak) as "righteous" and his gavel slams down as "not guilty." It is the glorious doctrine of justification by faith.

How does it work, though? What enables God to do such a thing? As I wrote for yesterday's blog, "How can we be reckoned as something we are not?" How can sinners be considered as saints?

Today is our attempt to answer those questions. It has to do with the role that Jesus Christ did for us so long ago. Christ is our propitiation, the one who satisfies the divine justice by the atoning sacrifice of himself.

Jesus stands in our place and takes the punishment that our sins deserved so we could be forgiven our offenses. In Christ we then can share in his righteousness.
For [God] hath made [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2Co 5.21)
This is the traditional King James translation. Here is another one that may help us to grab the meaning:
He made Him who personally knew nothing of sin to be a sin-offering for us, so that through union with Him we might come into right standing with God. (2Co 5.21 WmsNT)
Christ is the sin-offering; he stood in our place and took our punishment. Therefore, we are imputed with Christ's perfect righteousness which results in our right standing with God.

How are we imputed with Christ's righteousness? John Wesley had an opinion to that question. On November 24, 1765 he preached a powerful sermon. From his Sermons, # 20, "The Lord our Righteousness", Wesley preached:
The human righteousness of Christ belongs to him in his human nature; as he is the 'Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.' This is either internal or external. His internal righteousness is the image of God, stamped on every power and faculty of his soul. It is a copy of his divine righteousness, as far as it can be imparted to a human spirit. It is a transcript of the divine purity, the divine justice, mercy, and truth. It includes love, reverence, resignation to his Father; humility, meekness, gentleness; love to lost mankind, and every other holy and heavenly temper; and all these in the highest degree, without any defect, or mixture of unholiness.
The English evangelist believed that, "[w]hoever believes the doctrine of imputation, understands it chiefly, if not solely, of his human righteousness." Wesley spoke of Christ's active obedience:
It was the least part of his external righteousness, that he did nothing amiss; that he knew no outward sin of any kind, neither was 'guile found in his mouth;' that he never spoke one improper word, nor did one improper action. Thus far it is only a negative righteousness, though such an one as never did, nor ever can, belong to anyone that is born of a woman, save himself alone. But even his outward righteousness was positive too: He did all things well: In every word of his tongue, in every work of his hands, he did precisely the 'will of Him that sent him.' In the whole course of his life, he did the will of God on earth, as the angels do it in heaven. All he acted and spoke was exactly right in every circumstance. The whole and every part of his obedience was complete. 'He fulfilled all righteousness.'
Wesley also spoke of Christ's passive obedience:
But his obedience implied more than all this: It implied not only doing, but suffering; suffering the whole will of God, from the time he came into the world, till 'he bore our sins in his own body upon the tree;' yea, till having made a full atonement for them, 'he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.' This is usually termed the passive righteousness of Christ; the former, his active righteousness. But as the active and passive righteousness of Christ were never, in fact, separated from each other, so we never need separate them at all, either in speaking or even in thinking. And it is with regard to both these conjointly that Jesus is called 'the Lord our righteousness.'
So, how does Christ's active and passive obedience help us? We turn once more to Wesley's sermon:
But in what sense is this righteousness imputed to believers? In this: all believers are forgiven and accepted, not for the sake of anything in them, or of anything that ever was, that is, or ever can be done by them, but wholly and solely for the sake of what Christ hath done and suffered for them. I say again, not for the sake of anything in them, or done by them, of their own righteousness or works: 'Not for works of righteousness which we have done, but of his own mercy he saved us.' 'By grace ye are saved through faith, — not of works, lest any man should boast;' but wholly and solely for the sake of what Christ hath done and suffered for us. We are 'justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.' And this is not only the means of our obtaining the favour of God, but of our continuing therein. It is thus we come to God at first; it is by the same we come unto him ever after. We walk in one and the same new and living way, till our spirit returns to God.
Not every Wesleyan, however, agrees with John's assessment on the imputation of the active and passive obedience of Christ. No less than the classical Methodist commentator, Adam Clarke, gave a divergent view. Speaking of the imputed righteousness given to Abraham (Romans 4.22) Clarke wrote:
Abraham’s strong faith in the promise of the coming Savior, for this was essential to his faith, was reckoned to him for justification: for it is not said that any righteousness, either his own, or that of another, was imputed or reckoned to him for justification; but it, i.e. his faith in God. His faith was fully persuaded of the most merciful intentions of God’s goodness; and this, which, in effect, laid hold on Jesus Christ, the future Savior, was the means of his justification; being reckoned unto him in the place of personal righteousness, because it laid hold on the merit of Him who died to make an atonement for our offenses, and rose again for our justification.
Clarke commented at length at the conclusion of his notes on Romans 4 about imputation. He dismantled/attacked the notion that the active and passive obedience of Christ was reckoned to a believer of the Gospel:
1. From a careful examination of the Divine oracles it appears that the death of Christ was an atonement or expiation for the sin of the world: For him hath God set forth to be a Propitiation through Faith in His Blood, Rom 3:25. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ Died For the Ungodly, Rom 5:6. And when we were Enemies, we were Reconciled to God by the Death of his Son, Rom 5:10. In whom we have Redemption Through His Blood, the Forgiveness of Sins, Eph 1:7. Christ hath loved us, and Given Himself for Us, an Offering and a Sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour, Eph 5:2. In whom we have Redemption Through His Blood, the Forgiveness of Sins, Col 1:14. And having made Peace Through the Blood of his Cross, in the Body of His Flesh, through Death, Col 1:20, Col 1:22. Who Gave Himself a Ransom for all, 1Ti 2:6. Who Gave Himself for Us, that he might Redeem us from all iniquity, Tit 2:14. By which will we are sanctified, through the Offering of the Body of Jesus Christ, Heb 10:10. So Christ was once Offered to Bear the Sins of many, Heb 9:28. See also Eph 2:13, Eph 2:16; 1Pe 1:18, 1Pe 1:19; Rev 5:9. But it would be transcribing a very considerable part of the New Testament to set down all the texts that refer to this most important and glorious truth.

2. And as his death was an atonement for our sins, so his resurrection was the proof and pledge of our eternal life. See 1Co 15:17; 1Pe 1:3; Eph 1:13, Eph 1:14, etc.,etc.

3. The doctrine of justification by faith, which is so nobly proved in the preceding chapter, is one of the grandest displays of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more simple than this? Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the soul of his neighbor. God, in his mercy, has provided a Savior for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up his own; he died in thy stead, and has made an atonement to God for thy transgressions; and offers thee the pardon he has thus purchased, on the simple condition, that thou believe that his death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin; and that thou bring it as such, by confident faith, to the throne of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so, thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for righteousness; i.e. it shall be the means of receiving that salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.

4. The doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ, as held by many, will not be readily found in this chapter, where it has been supposed to exist in all its proofs. It is repeatedly said that Faith is imputed for righteousness; but in no place here, that Christ’s obedience to the moral law is imputed to any man. The truth is, the moral law was broken, and did not now require obedience; it required this before it was broken; but, after it was broken, it required death.

Either the sinner must die, or some one in his stead: but there was none whose death could have been an equivalent for the transgressions of the world but Jesus Christ. Jesus therefore died for man; and it is through his blood, the merit of his passion and death, that we have redemption; and not by his obedience to the moral law in our stead. Our salvation was obtained at a much higher price. Jesus could not but be righteous and obedient; this is consequent on the immaculate purity of his nature: but his death was not a necessary consequent. As the law of God can claim only the death of a transgressor - for such only forfeit their right to life - it is the greatest miracle of all that Christ could die, whose life was never forfeited. Here we see the indescribable demerit of sin, that it required such a death; and here we see the stupendous mercy of God, in providing the sacrifice required. It is therefore by Jesus Christ’s death, or obedience unto death, that we are saved, and not by his fulfilling any moral law. That he fulfilled the moral law we know; without which he could not have been qualified to be our mediator; but we must take heed lest we attribute that to obedience (which was the necessary consequence of his immaculate nature) which belongs to his passion and death. These were free-will offerings of eternal goodness, and not even a necessary consequence of his incarnation.

5. This doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ is capable of great abuse. To say that Christ’s personal righteousness is imputed to every true believer, is not Scriptural: to say that he has fulfilled all righteousness for us, or in our stead, if by this is meant his fulfillment of all moral duties, is neither Scriptural nor true: that he has died in our stead, is a great, glorious, and Scriptural truth: that there is no redemption but through his blood is asserted beyond all contradiction; in the oracles of God. But there are a multitude of duties which the moral law requires which Christ never fulfilled in our stead, and never could. We have various duties of a domestic kind which belong solely to ourselves, in the relation of parents, husbands, wives, servants, etc., in which relations Christ never stood. He has fulfilled none of these duties for us, but he furnishes grace to every true believer to fulfill them to God’s glory, the edification of his neighbor, and his own eternal profit. The salvation which we receive from God’s free mercy, through Christ, binds us to live in a strict conformity to the moral law; that law which prescribes our manners, and the spirit by which they should be regulated, and in which they should be performed. He who lives not in the due performance of every Christian duty, whatever faith he may profess, is either a vile hypocrite, or a scandalous Antinomian.
Pardon my extensive block quoting but I felt it important for each man to speak for himself. Whichever side of the doctrine fence a Wesleyan comes down on today does not deny him the joy of crying with Paul:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2.8-9 ESV)

Does this mean that we can sin if we are imputed with Christ's righteousness? Awakening Theology will tackle that one tomorrow.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Saved Like Abraham (Romans № 8 Part 1)

In our study we will tread deep theological waters. We will see how one is actually saved by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In part one, Fetter Lane will begin laying down Paul's explanation of such a great salvation. We already have seen that deliverance/forgiveness of our sins comes by entrusting ourselves to Christ and his atoning work on the cross. How does it happen, though? What is the principle behind forgiveness through faith?

This is what Paul takes up with a discussion of Abraham.

"What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.'" (Rom 4.1-3 ESV)

Paul's quotation is from Genesis 15.6, the larger context being contained in Gen 15.1-6. In this passage, God tells Abram that he is going to be a father. The LORD takes Abram outside and tells him to count the stars, if it's possible for him. "Then [God] said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.'" (Gen 15.5b)

Abram, old as he was, believed the LORD. For that, God reckoned Abram as righteous. Abram was saved because he believed what God told him.

This is Paul's point for us; in the same way Abraham, our Father in the Faith, was saved through his faith, so too are we.

Look again at Romans 4.3:

"For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.'" (ESV)

The word translated "counted" (λογιζομαι) is an accounting term. Abram believed God and God marked Abram as "righteous" in his celestial ledger, so to speak. God reckoned him what he was not--he credited righteousness to him.

When we look upon the Son and believe and trust in him, repenting and submitting to him, we are credited as righteous. We, the sinners, become saints through belief in his sinless life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection.

Tomorrow Fetter Lane will attempt to explain how such a thing could be possible. How can we be reckoned as something we are not?

For now, realize this: we are saved because of Jesus, not ourselves. It isn't our good works that save souls but Christ's good works that do so.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Spiritual Shock and Awe

Wesley penned his thoughts for August 3, 1759 in his Journal. Read the power of his printed words:

"I preached at Gainsborough in Sir Nevil Hickman's great hall. It is fully as large as the Weaver's Hall in Bristol. At two it was filled with a rude, wild multitude (a few of a better spirit excepted). Yet all but two or three gentlemen were attentive, while I enforced our Lord's words, 'What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?' I was walking back through a gaping, staring crowd when Sir Nevil came and thanked me for my sermon, to the no small amazement of his neighbors, who shrank back as if they had seen a ghost."

I won't try to beguile you with false humility--I'd love to preach with such power. To be so aided by grace and to be so forceful in delivery that people look "God smacked" at the conclusion. This isn't the power of charisma...this is the power of the Spirit of Jesus.

I confess that this never happened to me. In the history of my ministry nobody ever came to me after the service and complained about anything I preached. If anyone ever became angry about my words, nobody ever clued me into his ire. People have been nice and complimentary.

But I've never seen anyone "God smacked" after my sermons.

I need more grace. Pray for me.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Axe to Grind Series № 3

Fetter Lane presents you yet another entry into the Axe to Grind Series. Today Wesley, in his characteristic plain speaking, tells of his disdain for physicians who aren't qualified to heal. From his Journal entry on May 12, 1759, we read the following:

"Reflecting today on the case of a poor woman who had continual pain in her stomach, I could not but remark the inexcusable negligence of most physicians in cases of this nature. They prescribe drug upon drug without knowing a jot of the matter concerning the root of the disorder. And without knowing this, they cannot cure, though they can murder, the patient. Whence came this woman's pain? (which she would never have told, had she never been questioned about it) from fretting for the death of her son. And what availed medicines while that fretting continued? Why then do not all physicians consider how far bodily disorders are caused or influenced by the mind, and in those cases, which are utterly out of their sphere, call in the assistance of a minister; as ministers, when they find the mind disordered by the body, call in the assistance of a physician? But why are these cases out of their sphere? Because they know not God. It follows, no man can be a thorough physician without being an experienced Christian."

This post resonates with me; I believe that psycho-somatic illness is quite real; the spiritual should be addressed as well as the physical. Obviously medicine has grown by leaps and bounds since Wesley's day but the best doctors still will be ones who treat both body and soul.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Wesley's Plain Speaking

There is an old saying that can bring a smile to my face: "Ignorance is bliss."

It can make me smile because, deep down, I know it's easier to live in ignorance. The truth can be hard to accept or just inconvenient. Fantasy is easier and more fun.

In his Journal, John Wesley records his thoughts during a trip in Scotland for May 29, 1763:

"I preached at seven in the High School yard, Edinburgh. It being the time of the General Assembly, which drew together not the ministers only, but abundance of the nobility and gentry, many of both sorts were present; but abundantly more at five in the afternoon. I spake as plainly as ever I did in my life. But I never knew any in Scotland offended at plain dealing. In this respect the North Britons are a pattern to all mankind."

Besides pleasing me (my McCallister ancestral home is Glenbarr Abbey), it also reminds me of the Bereans who heard the gospel:

"The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men."
(Acts 17.10-12 ESV)

In another famous passage:

"So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" (John 8.31-32 ESV)

The truth is guidance through the uncertain waters of life--if we want the guidance. If we spurn the truth, we are forced to traverse the uncertain waters of life alone.

And it's easy to get into dangerous waters.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Final Thoughts on Reason Part 2

Fetter Lane's last blog entry on the reason series will conclude with a warning lest we think too highly of the mental function. Christianity is intellectual but it is more than just intellectual. God must work in the soul.

At our last look in Wesley's Sermons, # 70, "The Case of Reason Impartially Considered", we need to take his counsel:

"Permit me to add a few words to you, likewise, who over-value reason. Why
should you run from one extreme to the other? Is not the middle way best? Let reason do all that reason can: Employ it as far as it will go. But, at the same time, acknowledge it is utterly incapable of giving either faith, or hope, or love; and, consequently, of producing either real virtue, or substantial happiness. Expect these from a higher source, even from the Father of the spirits of all flesh. Seek and receive them, not as your own acquisition, but as the gifts of God. Lift up your hearts to Him who 'giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.' He alone can give that faith, which is 'the evidence' and conviction 'of things not seen.' He alone can 'beget you unto a lively hope' of an inheritance eternal in the heavens; and He alone can 'shed his love abroad in your heart by the Holy Ghost given unto you.' Ask, therefore, and it shall be given you! Cry unto him, and you shall not cry in vain! How can you doubt? 'If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give the Holy Ghost unto them that ask him!' So shall you be living witnesses, that wisdom, holiness, and happiness are one; are inseparably united; and are, indeed, the beginning of that eternal life which God hath given us in his Son."

Let me be blunt: if Christianity is nothing more than mental comprehension and acceptance of abstract religious apologia, we're setting ourselves up for disappointment. Why? Because religious principles devoid of the Holy Spirit won't help you in a crisis. If Christianity doesn't include a vital relationship with the vital Triune God then it isn't the answer for the human condition.

Christianity without God is Deism. It's pretentious philosophy--and it's terribly lonely.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Final Thoughts on Reason Part 1

In Fetter Lane's first of final two blog entries on reason/revelation, we will conclude our thoughts. Wesley warns those who would look with disdain at the use of reason, thinking it inferior to things directly communicated/received from God. We now continue with his Sermons, #70, "The Case of Reason Impartially Considered", and we see how proper use of reason can bridge the gap between what we know and what we need to know:

"Suffer me now to add a few plain words, first to you who under-value reason. Never more declaim in that wild, loose, ranting manner, against this precious gift of God. Acknowledge 'the candle of the Lord,' which he hath fixed in our souls for excellent purposes. You see how many admirable ends it answers, were it only in the things of this life: Of what unspeakable use is even a moderate share of reason in all our worldly employments, from the lowest and meanest offices of life, through all the intermediate branches of business; till we ascend to those that are of the highest importance and the greatest difficulty! When therefore you despise or depreciate reason, you must not imagine you are doing God service: Least of all, are you promoting the cause of God when you are endeavouring to exclude reason out of religion. Unless you wilfully shut your eyes, you cannot but see of what service it is both in laying the foundation of true religion, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, and in raising the superstructure. You see it directs us in every point both of faith and practice: It guides us with regard to every branch both of inward and outward holiness. Do we not glory in this, that the whole of our religion is a 'reasonable service?' yea, and that every part of it, when it is duly performed, is the highest exercise of our understanding?"

We're just have to get used to the idea that God wants us to use our minds! Yes, his Holy Spirit illumines our minds as we study his word, but we must study his word before we can be enlightened.

Now, I believe Wesley to be a genius; few of us can be like the Oxford scholar. However, my Methodist hero, the Class Leader William Carvosso, proved that a regular guy can think thoughts worthy of a Christian.

So, what are you thinking about today? ;-)

Monday, August 7, 2006

What Reason Cannot Do Part 2

This is our third day at Fetter Lane on discussing the power and limitations of reason. Today we continue with what reason alone cannot accomplish. Dipping once again into the well of Wesley's Sermons, #70, "The Case of Reason Impartially Considered", we find the English evangelist's further counsel on what reason can't do:

"Thirdly. Reason, however cultivated and improved, cannot produce the love of God; which is plain from hence: It cannot produce either faith or hope; from which alone this love can flow. It is then only, when we 'behold' by faith 'what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us,' in giving his only Son, that we might not perish, but have everlasting life, that 'the love of God is shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.' It is only then, when we 'rejoice in hope of the glory of God,' that 'we love Him because he first loved us.' But what can cold reason do in this matter? It may present us with fair ideas; it can draw a fine picture of love: But this is only a painted fire. And farther than this reason cannot go. I made the trial for many years. I collected the finest hymns, prayers, and meditations which I could find in any language; and I said, sung, or read them over and over, with all possible seriousness and attention. But still I was like the bones in Ezekiel's vision: 'The skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them.'"

Reason won't lead you to loving God; you can't argue your way into loving the Creator. Instead, the Lord's love must be poured in your heart (Rom 5.5) for one thing, and it can (and should) grow stronger:

"Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints."
(1Th 3.11-13 ESV)

That's not all. Wesley continues:

"And as reason cannot produce the love of God, so neither can it produce the love of our neighbour; a calm, generous, disinterested benevolence to every child of man. This earnest, steady good-will to our fellow-creatures never flowed from any fountain but gratitude to our Creator. And if this be (as a very ingenious man supposes) the very essence of virtue, it follows that virtue can have no being, unless it spring from the love of God. Therefore, as reason cannot produce this love, so neither can it produce virtue."

Wesley rounds out his list on the limitations of reason:

"And as it cannot give either faith, hope, love, or virtue, so it cannot give happiness; since, separate from these, there can be no happiness for any intelligent creature. It is true, those who are void of all virtue may have pleasures, such as they are; but happiness they have not, cannot have."

To be joyful in the scriptural sense is to be people who have received revelation from the Spirit of Jesus. Reason alone won't bring it; it has to be brought. Christianity isn't natural but, rather, supernatural. Faith, and all that comes with it, comes because God first brought it.

Now, a person may be ignorant of God's communications; he may think, "I've done this all by myself." That would be wrong thinking, however. Just because he doesn't see God working in a visible way doesn't mean that God hasn't been communicating to his soul. God is mysterious and he often works after the counsel of his will in a way intangible to us but nevertheless quite real.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

What Reason Cannot Do Part 1

Yesterday Fetter Lane considered what the power of reason can do by examining a part of his Sermons, # 70, "The Case of Reason Impartially Considered". It is hard to appreciate the brilliance of the mind and its ability to reason; God created a masterpiece of neurons and synapses. However, thought alone can't provide for us everything we need to know. The colorful mosaic of our lives has to be built with more than reason.

Today we will begin to examine what reason cannot do because it has its limitations. Wesley expounds:

"First, reason cannot produce faith. Although it is always consistent with reason, yet reason cannot produce faith, in the scriptural sense of the word. Faith, according to Scripture, is 'an evidence,' or conviction, 'of things not seen.' It is a divine evidence, bringing a full conviction of an invisible eternal world. It is true, there was a kind of shadowy persuasion of this, even among the wiser Heathens; probably from tradition, or from some gleams of light reflected from the Israelites."

You'll never be able to reason yourself to a belief in God and a life beyond the grave without God's help. In other words, atheistic materialism is all we would have if we had reason alone.

No, God must reveal his existence to us. We know there is a God and there is an invisible world of spirits because God has been pleased to disturb our souls with thoughts of a higher, nobler place.

This is not to say that we can not or should not write apologia; we are enriched by Justin Martyr's First Apology or Lewis' Mere Christianity. However, unless a person is aided by revelatory grace all arguments for God will come to naught.

Wesley continues:

"Secondly. Reason alone cannot produce hope in any child of man: I mean scriptural hope, whereby we 'rejoice in hope of the glory of God:' That hope which St. Paul in one place terms, 'tasting the powers of the world to come;' in another, the 'sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:' That which enables us to say, 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again unto a lively hope; -- to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away; which is reserved in heaven for us.' This hope can only spring from Christian faith: Therefore, where there is not faith, there is not hope. Consequently, reason, being unable to produce faith, must be equally unable to produce hope. Experience confirms this likewise. How often have I laboured, and that with my might, to beget this hope in myself! But it was lost labour: I could no more acquire this hope of heaven, than I could touch heaven with my hand. And whoever of you makes the same attempt will find it attended with the same success. I do not deny, that a self-deceiving enthusiast may work in himself a kind of hope: He may work himself up into a lively imagination; into a sort of pleasing dream: He may 'compass himself about', as the Prophet speaks, 'with sparks of his own kindling:' But this cannot be of long continuance; in a little while the bubble will surely break. And what will follow? 'This shall ye have at my hand, saith the Lord, ye shall lie down in sorrow.'"

The witness of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8.16) is not accomplished by reason alone. If the Holy Spirit doesn't do his part, we will not know of our salvation by faith. While this doesn't exclude intellectual arguments this isn't solved by intellectual arguments alone. The Spirit reveals our acceptance in the Beloved.

We will look further at the limitations of reason in tomorrow's blog; for now, realize that thinking has its limits; reason must be aided by revelation.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Using Your Mind

"And he answered, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10.27 ESV)

In Christianity we affirm that the gospel is revealed to us within our souls by the Holy Spirit; this is revelation. However, what can we learn by reason, by our thinking things through to logical conclusions? In short, how can we know God by reason?

In his Sermons, # 70, "The Case of Reason Impartially Considered", Wesley attempts to strike a balance between under-valuing reason and over-valuing it.

Wesley begins by defining reason:

"First, then, reason is sometimes taken for argument. So, 'Give me a reason for your assertion.' So in Isaiah: 'Bring forth your strong reasons;' that is, your strong arguments. We use the word nearly in the same sense, when we say, 'He has good reasons for what he does.' It seems here to mean, He has sufficient motives; such as ought to influence a wise man."

"In another acceptation of the word, reason is much the same with understanding. It means a faculty of the human soul; that faculty which exerts itself in three ways;---by simple apprehension, by judgement, and by discourse. Simple apprehension is barely conceiving a thing in the mind; the first and most simple act of understanding. Judgment is the determining that the things before conceived either agree with or differ from each other. Discourse, strictly speaking, is the motion or progress of the mind from one judgment to another. The faculty of the soul which includes these three operations I here mean by the term reason."

John Wesley valued the ability for a person to think things through, to use his gray matter. Anyone who reads the evangelist's sermons recognizes a careful, deliberative mind behind those sermons, each point logically following one after another. (In fact, anyone who reads his sermons today mentally has to translate his King's English of 250 years ago into contemporary speech!)

Wesley continues:

"If you ask, What can reason do in religion? I answer, It can do exceeding much, both with regard to the foundation of it, and the superstructure.

"The foundation of true religion stands upon the oracles of God. It is built upon the Prophets and Apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone. Now, of what excellent use is reason, if we would either understand ourselves, or explain to others, those living oracles! And how is it possible without it to understand the essential truths contained therein? a beautiful summary of which we have in that which is called the Apostles' Creed. Is it not reason (assisted by the Holy Ghost) which enables us to understand what the Holy Scriptures declare concerning the being and attributes of God?---concerning his eternity and immensity; his power, wisdom, and holiness? It is by reason that God enables us in some measure to comprehend his method of dealing with the children of men; the nature of his various dispensations, of the old and new covenant, of the law and the gospel. It is by this we understand (his Spirit opening and enlightening the eyes of our understanding) what that repentance is, not to be repented of; what is that faith whereby we are saved; what is the nature and the condition of justification; what are the immediate and what the subsequent fruits of it. By reason we learn what is that new birth, without which we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven; and what that holiness is without which no man shall see the Lord. By the due use of reason we come to know what are the tempers implied in inward holiness; and what it is to be outwardly holy---holy in all manner of conversation: In other words, what is the mind that was in Christ; and what it is to walk as Christ walked."

I'll risk oversimplification and sum up Wesley's words in this way: In Christianity, you'll have to use you mind. God isn't going to fill your life with unending visions, dreams, voices, angelic visitations, miracles, signs and wonders. Sometimes you're just going to have to act on what you believe is right, a conclusion you've reached after difficult reasoning. Granted, Wesley believed that reason was supplemented by the Holy Spirit's revelation but the Spirit doesn't override our thinking processes.

Reasoning isn't always easy; conclusions aren't always apparent immediately. We'll all be baffled at times as to what to think or what to do. That doesn't, however, excuse us from thinking.

We must all use our mind; there are reasons God gave it to us!

Friday, August 4, 2006

When We Really Get It Wrong!

Yesterday I gave you one of my favorite observations of Adam Clarke. Today I will quote a hilarious speculation on his part. Speaking of Genesis 1.16, Clarke noted under the heading, "Of the Moon":
There is scarcely any doubt now remaining in the philosophical world that the moon is a habitable globe. The most accurate observations that have been made with the most powerful telescopes have confirmed the opinion. The moon seems, in almost every respect, to be a body similar to our earth; to have its surface diversified by hill and dale, mountains and valleys, rivers, lakes, and seas. And there is the fullest evidence that our earth serves as a moon to the moon herself, differing only in this, that as the earth's surface is thirteen times larger than the moon's, so the moon receives from the earth a light thirteen times greater in splendor than that which she imparts to us; and by a very correct analogy we are led to infer that all the planets and their satellites, or attendant moons, are inhabited, for matter seems only to exist for the sake of intelligent beings.
There you have it: the classical Wesleyan theology of Star Trek! Now, if we can only get Cochran to build and fly his warp spaceship so the Vulcans can land for first contact and...

I'm not deriding the famed expositor, only poking gentle fun with him. Every preacher, teacher or scholar probably has a few things to be filed under "Speculative Theology". (Remember my post on Wesley and ghosts three days ago?)

We always have to be careful with our speculations, because speculations lead to theological ramifications that direct us toward unanswerable paradoxes or conundrums (or even heterodoxy).

I'll go out on a limb of my own: we human beings (as self-aware, intelligent creation) are alone in the universe. I believe it for theological reasons. Follow my train of thought.

1. At his incarnation, the Son of God also became Man. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, died on the cross for our sins.

2. At his resurrection, the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, the first-fruits of those who will rise.

3. Jesus remains the God-Man. Paul says explicitly, "For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2.9 ESV)

This is crucial; the Greek for "dwells" (κατοικει) is present active indicative. In other words, he presently resides "bodily". Christ never shed his humanity and then, in some reverse-incarnation became "just" the Son of God again. He is still the God-Man, "bodily".

4. If Jesus is the God-Man then it is obvious that he couldn't incarnate into another species. Therefore, there could be no possible salvation for other groups on different planets in this universe (unless, of course, they remained sinless which, to me, seems dicey).

Am I speculating? Yes, I am! Is that dangerous? Yes, it can be! Does the Bible speak directly to this issue? If Paul doesn't speak directly to it in Colossians 2.9 then I doubt it's directly spoken to anywhere in Holy Writ.

But I still think my speculation is better informed than Adam Clarke's. ;-)

Thursday, August 3, 2006

For Quick Consumption!

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD." (Pro 18.22 ESV)

As a bachelor one of my favorite observations from the pen of Adam Clarke is found in his Commentary for this verse. The Doctor writes:

"Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing - Marriage, with all its troubles and embarrassments, is a blessing from God; and there are few cases where a wife of any sort is not better than none, because celibacy is an evil; for God himself hath said, 'It is not good for man to be alone.'"

It's rather humorous, isn't it? Even most bad marriages are better than singleness according to Clarke! There was, however, one marriage so horrible that it may have tested the limits to this opinion:

Wesley's marriage to Vazeille. (I've spoken of Wesley's amorous woes in part one here and part two here.)

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

The Root of Holiness

The Wesleyan holiness tradition has, at times, concentrated on what a Christian doesn't do.

Yes, believers are to be different from the world; in fact "worldliness" is a term that needs to be revived among Christianity. However, what gives a person power to live a holy life?

What is the crux of Wesleyanism? What is the power of holiness? What is the definition of Christian Perfection? It is realization that God wants to flood the heart with his love.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1Co 13.4-8 ESV)
Wesley believed that the result of being perfected in love meant that a person loves God with all he's got and also loves his neighbor as himself.

As Wesley shared in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection:
I think it was in the latter end of the year 1740, that I had a conversation with Dr. Gibson, then Bishop of London, at Whitehall. He asked me what I meant by perfection. I told him without any disguise or reserve. When I ceased speaking, he said, 'Mr. Wesley, if this be all you mean, publish it to all the world. If any one then can confute what you say, lie may have free leave.' I answered, 'My Lord, I will;' and accordingly wrote and published the sermon on Christian perfection.
Love is gloriously contagious and contagiously glorious! Who can be against such a doctrine?

I love this prayer of Paul:
and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1Th 3.12-13 ESV)
Is your love deficient? Can you say that your heart has been perfected in love? Can you say that your heart is blameless in holiness?

Pray for love.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

John Wesley surprised me. He allowed for the possibility of ghosts, disembodied human spirits both evil and holy. In what may have been his last sermon (January 17, 1791), in his Sermons, # 122, "On Faith", Wesley wrote what could be called really speculative theology. Wesley conjectures that dead humans may be used to affect things on this earth. Considering sinners who are dead:
Let us consider, First, what may be the employment of unholy spirits from death to the resurrection. We cannot doubt but the moment they leave the body, they find themselves surrounded by spirits of their own kind, probably human as well as diabolical. What power God may permit these to exercise over them, we do not distinctly know. But it is not improbable, he may suffer Satan to employ them, as he does his own angels, in inflicting death, or evils of various kinds, on the men that know not God: For this end they may raise storms by sea or by land; they may shoot meteors through the air; they may occasion earthquakes; and, in numberless ways, afflict those whom they are not suffered to destroy. Where they are not permitted to take away life, they may inflict various diseases; and many of these, which we judge to be natural, are undoubtedly diabolical.
And this:
May not some of these evil spirits be likewise employed, in conjunction with evil angels, in tempting wicked men to sin, and in procuring occasions for them? yea, and in tempting good men to sin, even after they have escaped the corruption that is in the world? Herein, doubtless, they put forth all their strength; and greatly glory if they conquer.
And this:
Ought not we then to be perpetually on our guard against those subtle enemies? Though we see them not,— —

A constant watch they keep;
They eye us night and day;
And never slumber, never sleep,
Lest they should lose their prey.

Herein they join with 'the rulers of the darkness,' the intellectual darkness, 'of this world,' -- the ignorance, wickedness, and misery diffused through it, -- to hinder all good, and promote all evil! To this end they are continually 'working with energy in the children of disobedience.' Yea, sometimes they work by them those lying wonders that might almost deceive even the children of God.
Not content to speculate only on departed sinners, Wesley continues with his view of the holy dead:
Yet in what part of the universe this is situated who can tell, or even conjecture, since it has not pleased God to reveal anything concerning it? But we have no reason to think they are confined to this place; or, indeed, to any other. May we not rather say, that, 'servants of his,' as well as the holy angels, they 'do his pleasure;' whether among the inhabitants of earth, or in any other part of his dominions? And as we easily believe that they are swifter than the light; even as swift as thought; they are well able to traverse the whole universe in the twinkling of an eye, either to execute the divine commands, or to contemplate the works of God.
With this:
And how much will that add to the happiness of those spirits which are already discharged from the body, that they are permitted to minister to those whom they have left behind...And in how many ways may they 'minister to the heirs of salvation!' Sometimes by counteracting wicked spirits whom we cannot resist, because we cannot see them; sometimes by preventing our being hurt by men, or beasts, or inanimate creatures.
Do I believe Wesley? No, I don't. I think he let his imagination soar a little too highly on this occasion. Perhaps it was the Englishman in him where there is a ghost story for every square inch of centuries old Great Britain. Perhaps it was his family's own encounters with "Old Jeffrey." Perhaps it was his own innate sense of his impending death that allowed for his speculation.

I believe that anything paranormal/supernatural (outside of the Trinity) is either from the angelic realm or the demonic realm. I just haven't found Scripture compelling me to believe that departed human spirits return and do things on this earth despite 1 Samuel 28.11-19 or Matthew 17.3.

In the 1 Samuel account I'm not convinced that really was Samuel or, if it was, it was a special case of God allowing Samuel to prophesy Saul's doom. Moreover, in the Matthew account, I don't see where one can make this extraordinary account normative. In short, I find the evidence lacking.

Now, can I prove Wesley wrong? No, I can't. That's the very problem with speculative theology—you can't prove (or disprove) it. It just kind of hangs out there in theological nothingness.

Let's use some common sense. Do you really think that after a long and productive life on earth your dead relative has nothing better to do with his time than to reduce himself to banging on your bedroom walls, walking up and down your creaky hallway and repeatedly flushing your bathroom's toilet at three o'clock in the morning?

But it makes for a good ghost story. ;-)