Wednesday, November 24, 2010

George Washington: His Thanksgiving Proclamation

Consider George Washington's Proclamation of Thanksgiving for the United States:

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Wonderful words. I love his address of God as, "Lord and Ruler of Nations." Amen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Faith, Promises, Spurgeon and Finney

A particular subject has occupied my mind for years. To introduce it let me quote from "Spiritual Liberty", a February 18, 1855 sermon by Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892):
You are free to all that is in the Bible. Here is a never-failing treasure filled with boundless stores of grace. It is the bank of heaven: you may draw from it as much as you please without let [obstacle] or hindrance. Bring nothing with you, except faith. Bring as much faith as you can get, and you are welcome to all that is in the Bible. There is not a promise, not a word in it, that is not yours. In the depths of tribulation let it comfort you. Mid waves of distress let it cheer you. When sorrows surround thee, let it be thy helper. This is thy father’s love-token: let it never be shut up and covered with dust. Thou art free to it—use, then, thy freedom.
Sounds rather straightforward, doesn't it? Spurgeon seems to say, "Find any Bible promise you want—from any place in the Bible— and claim it." But here's the rub: is Spurgeon suggesting that we find any promise in the Word of God, divorce it from its historical context, and apply it to our situation if we like the words? Can that be done properly? Does the Bible "work" that way?

Revivalist Charles Finney (1792-1875) was direct when he spoke on praying "the prayer of faith" in his Lectures on Revivals. He didn't believe one could pray such a prayer without "evidence" for it contained in a word from God, be it biblical, providential or an inner assurance from the Spirit. Finney believed faith arose by claiming either a general promise in the Bible or a reasonably inferred principal found in the Word:
Where there is a general promise in the Scriptures which you may reasonably apply to the particular case before you. If its real meaning includes the particular thing for which you pray, or if you can reasonably apply the principle of the promise to the case, there you have evidence. For instance, suppose it is a time when wickedness prevails greatly, and you are led to pray for God's interference? What promise have you? Why, this one: "When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him." Here you see is a general promise laying down a principle of God's administration, which you may apply to the case before you, as a warrant for exercising faith in prayer. And if the case come up, to inquire as to the time in which God will grant blessings in answer to prayer, you have this promise: "While they are yet speaking, I will hear."
Finney continues:
If I had time to-night, I could go from one end of the Bible to the other, and produce an astonishing variety of texts that are applicable as promises; enough to prove, that in whatever circumstances a child of God may be placed, God has provided in the Bible some promise, either general or particular, which he can apply, that is precisely suited to his case. Many of God's promises are very broad on purpose to cover much ground. What can be broader than the promise in the text: "Whatsoever things ye desire when ye pray?" What praying Christian is there who has not been surprised at the length, and breadth, and fullness, of the promises of God, when the Spirit has applied them to his heart? Who that lives a life of prayer, has not wondered at his own blindness, in not having before seen and felt the extent of meaning and richness of those promises, when viewed under the light of the Spirit of God?
Yes, but what about taking promises out of their context? Charles Finney seems pretty blunt:
At such times he has been astonished at his own ignorance, and found the Spirit applying the promises and declarations of the Bible in a sense in which he had never dreamed of their being applicable before. The manner in which the apostles applied the promises, and prophecies, and declarations of the Old Testament, places in a strong light the breadth of meaning, and fullness, and richness of the word of God. He that walks in the light of God's countenance, and is filled with the Spirit of God as he ought to be, will often make an appropriation of promises to himself, and an application of them to his own circumstances, and the circumstances of those for whom he prays, that a blind professor of religion would never dream of.
He seems to be saying, Wrench Scriptures out of their historical context and apply/claim them to/for your situation; after all, that's what the apostles did.

What is your opinion on these matters?

1. Are we "free to all that is in the Bible"? Is Spurgeon right when he says, "There is not a promise, not a word in it, that is not yours"? Is Finney right when he alludes to the nature of the prophetical and its often dual fulfillment as a reason to treat all promises the same way?

2. Must we wait until we think the Holy Spirit has impressed us to lift a promise out of its historical context before we can claim it? Could not our imaginations deceive us in this manner?

3. Is it faith or presumption to use the Bible in this way?

4. Can it not be abused in absurd ways? For example, Paul told the Corinthians that "all things are yours" (1 Cor 3.21b) but that cannot mean that I am free to steal anything I want because all things are mine!

5. Yes, it's a given that we must pray according to the will of God (1 John 5.14-15) but have we cheated ourselves by not using the Bible promises in their "length, and breadth, and fullness...when the Spirit has applied them to his heart?"

6. Is the Bible a spiritual grocery store from which we may fill our carts up without "let or hindrance" or does such an approach to violence to sound hermeneutic principles?

There's no doubt that God powerfully used Spurgeon and Finney—and the Lord continues to do so long after they are dead. We, on the other hand, probably will be forgotten by the passing of time. Was it their faith that enabled them to do exploits for God? Let me slap my own hand for typing this but, pragmatically speaking, did such an approach work for them?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Hypostatic Union of Christ

Don't you love technical terms? In a nutshell "hypostatic union" is used by Christian theology to describe the dual natures of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ—divine and human—existing in one person. Russell Byrum explains:

The questions must inevitably arise, Is Christ God or man? If both God and man is he two persons or one? If he has two natures in one person how are they related to each other? Attempts to answer these questions resulted in various theories, some of which were very objectionable because of giving place to either the human or divine element at the expense of the other. At least six heretical theories of the person of Christ gained prominence before the church came to general agreement on the statement of the doctrine. For a century and a half, or beginning prior to the Council of Nicea and continuing until the Council of Chalcedon, 451 A. D., the church was torn by controversies concerning the person of Christ.

The Nicene statement of faith was concerned principally with the defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. The symbol formulated by the Council of Chalcedon has to do directly with the Christological doctrine. It is the result of the best thought of many good and wise men who in defense of the faith had thought profoundly, and honestly endeavored to represent all the relevant facts of Scripture in proper relation. Even though humanly formulated creeds do not necessarily have divine sanction, yet probably no clearer statement of the doctrine of the person of Christ has been constructed.

It is given in Schaffs Creeds of Christendom as follows:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable (rational) soul and body; consubstantial (coessential) with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeable, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning (have declared) concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

This statement clearly sets forth the different elements of the doctrine and shows their harmony, but no attempt is made to eliminate all mystery from the doctrine.
Byrum gives an intriguing last line, "but no attempt is made to eliminate all mystery from the doctrine." There are things about God that we struggle to understand. It doesn't mean we can't accept them by faith but that we can't fully understand them.

It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the hypostatic union of Christ though I do accept it by faith. Over the years I've gravitated toward Christ's deity in my mind. How his "Godness" relates to his humanity is a deep mystery.

I think one problem for humans is our inability to think of a sinless human person. For example, Christ got hot, sweaty and tired as the sun beat down on him while he journeyed to towns around the Sea of Galilee. We can relate with that. However, he never snapped at anyone in crankiness. We can't relate with that.

As a man Christ felt the effects of testosterone and found women attractive. But he never lusted in his heart.

Christ became angry at injustice around him. But her never punched a kid at the playground.

Christ "continued to obey" (Luke 2.51) his parents. But he never disobeyed them.

Christ surely won any Bible-quoting contest he entered (if they had such things). But he never wanted to stick-it-in-the-face of another contestant.

Christ experienced rumbles in his stomach from hunger. But he never rushed to get the last piece of cooked fish before Nathaniel could grab it.

It's a mystery.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

There is a reason why Jesus was murdered. The Darkness hates The Light.
Yahweh never promises an easy life but a life worth living.
Holiness has a beauty about it, a shimmering glory. It is the luminescence that lights the Christian's way Home.