BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

True Grace, Distinguished From the Experience of Devils – Jonathan Edwards (1752)

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingOn September 28, 1752, Jonathan Edwards was invited to preach a sermon before the Presbyterian Synod of New York.  His son-in-law, Aaron Burr (who had recently married his daughter Esther) was the president of the College of New Jersey and undoubtedly had an influence in the invitation that Edwards received.

James 2:19 is the text that Edwards utilizes – You believe that God is one; you do that well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder!

Doctrine

Nothing in the mind of man, that is of the same nature with what the devils experience, or are the subjects of, is any sure sign of saving grace.

Edwards essentially argues this: there is no sign of grace in demons.  Three propositions drive the doctrine which he presents.

  1. The devils have no degree of holiness: and therefore, those things, which are nothing beyond what they are the subjects of, cannot be holy experiences.
  2. The devils are not only absolutely without all true holiness, but they are not so much as the subjects of any common grace.
  3. It is unreasonable to suppose, that a person’s being in any respect as the devil is, should be a certain sign, that he is very unlike, and opposite to him; and hereafter, shall not have his part with him.

Edwards includes a series of improvements or inferences which assist his hearers and instruct them in the Christian faith.

First, Nothing that damned men do, or ever will experience, can be any sure sign of grace.

Second, No degree of speculative knowledge of things of religion, is any certain sign of saving grace.

Third, For persons merely to yield to a speculative assent to the doctrines of religion as true, is no certain evidence of a state of grace.

Fourth, [Converted men] have been the subjects of very great distress and terrors of mind, through apprehensions of God’s wrath, and fears of damnation.

Fifth, It may be further inferred from the doctrine, that no work of the law on men’s hearts, in conviction of guilt, and just desert of punishment, is a sure argument, that a person has been savingly converted. 

Sixth, It is no certain sign of grace, that persons have earnest desires and longings after salvation.

Seventh, Persons who have no grace may have a great apprehension of an external glory.

Edwards demonstrates in stroke after stroke how and why the devils lack saving grace.  He applies his thesis to the hearts of men as noted above.  Once again, the Puritan divine accurately diagnoses the human condition apart from grace.  But he concludes by contrasting the graceless state of devils with the gracious state of a person who trusts Christ: “By this, above all other things, do men glorify God.   By this, above all other things, do the saints shine as lights in the world, and are blessings to mankind.”    It is here where Edwards draws his readers and those who would listen to this sermon – to the fountain of grace which never ends!

 

BOOK REVIEWS · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

God the Best Portion of the Christian – Jonathan Edwards (1736)

Two hundred years after Calvin published his first edition of The jonathan-edwardsInstitutes, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon about being content in God.  The title of the sermon was God the Best Portion of the Christian.  Edwards’s text is Psalm 73:25:

Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee.

The central truth is set forth at the beginning of the sermon, in deductive fashion: It is the spirit of a truly godly man, to prefer God before all other things, either in heaven or on earth.

Two propositions comprise this short sermon

1. A godly man prefers God before anything else in heaven.

Edwards presents the God-centered paradigm in this section by leading readers on the correct biblical path.  He notes, “Every godly man hath his heart in heaven; his affections are mainly set on what is to be had there.  Heaven is his chosen country and inheritance.”

The godly man sets his affection on beauty, which is to say his heart is oriented to God and the things of God.  “Now the main reason why the godly man hath his heart thus to heaven,” writes Edwards, “is because God is there; that is the palace of the Most High.  It is the place where God is gloriously present, where his love is gloriously manifested, where the godly may be with him, see him as he is, and love, serve, praise, and enjoy him perfectly.”

2. It is the temper of a godly man to prefer God before all other things on the earth.

The highest priority for the follower of Christ, according to Edwards is on the Triune God.  Three points highlight the heart of the Puritan preacher:

  1. The saint prefers that enjoyment of God, for which he hopes hereafter, to anything in the world.
  2. The saints prefer what of God may be obtained in this life before all things in the world.
  3. The saints prefer what he hath already of God before anything in this world.

Application

As usual, Edwards concludes his sermon with several points of application.  Five penetrating questions are posed:

  1. What is it which chiefly makes you desire to go to heaven when you die?
  2. If you could avoid death and might have your free choice, would you choose to live always in this world without God, rather than in his time to leave the world, in order to be with him?
  3. Do you prefer Christ to all others as the way to heaven?
  4. If you might go to heaven in what course you please, would you prefer to all others the way of a strict walk with God?
  5. Were you to spend your eternity in this world, would you choose rather to live in mean and low circumstances with the gracious presence of God, to live forever in earthly prosperity without him?

Jonathan Edwards offers perspective and godly wisdom in a sermon that directed his 18th-century hearers heavenward and continues to beckon followers of Christ to the Celestial City.

BOOK REVIEWS · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

The Most High A Prayer Hearing God – Jonathan Edwards (1735)

jonathan-edwards

Psalm 65:2 is Edwards text in the winter of 1735, January 8.

O you who hears prayer, to you shall all flesh come.

Doctrine – It is the character of the Most High, that he is a God who answers prayer.

Four headings drive the sermon.

1. The Most High is a God that Hears Prayer

Though he is infinitely above all, and stands in no need of creatures; yet he is graciously pleased to take a merciful notice of poor worms in the dust.

Edwards argues that God not only accepts the supplications of all the saints; he does so willingly with favor.  He adds, “While they are praying, he gives them sweet views of his glorious grace, purity, sufficiency, and sovereignty; and enables them, with great quietness, to rest in him, to leave themselves and their prayers with him, submitting to his will, and trusting in his grace and faithfulness.”

2. He is Eminently Such a God

Edwards provides several examples of how God answers prayer:

  • In his giving such free access to him by prayer.
  • That God is eminently of this character, appears in his hearing prayer so readily.
  • That the Most High is eminently one that hears prayer, appears by his giving so liberally in answer to prayer.
  • That God is eminently of this character, appears by the greatness of the things which he hath often done in answer to prayer.
  • This truth appears, in that God is, as it were, overcome by prayer.

3. Reasons for the Doctrine

A crucial point that Edwards makes is that God answers prayer because “he is a God of infinite grace and mercy.”

  • He hath by his blood made atonement for sin; so that our guilt need not stand in the way, as a separating wall between God and us, and that our sins might not be a cloud through which our prayers cannot pass.
  • Christ, by his obedience, has purchased this privilege, viz, that the prayers of those who believe in him should be heard.
  • Christ enforces the prayers of his people, by his intercession at the right hand of God in heaven.

Application

Edwards draws out many practical applications, the chief of which alerts the saints to make good use of prayer; to be prayer warriors in this wicked age.

Seeing we have such a prayer-hearing God as we have heard, let us be much employed in the duty of prayer: let us pray with all prayer and supplication: let us live prayerful lives, continuing instant in prayer, watching thereuto with all perseverance; praying always, without ceasing, earnestly, and not fainting.

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THE BUCKET LIST

The Bucket List, starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson is about two very different men who are both diagnosed with terminal diseases. One of the men, upon learning of his condition, decides to draft a “bucket list.” The list would include achievements and things to see before he “kicks the bucket.” After viewing the film, I began to re-visit my bucket list:

  • Attend a baseball game at every major league park in America
  • Visit the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London
  • Walk the streets of Geneva where John Calvin ministered
  • Stand at the Castle Door in Wittenberg
  • Climb the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial

A bucket list is an important tool because it helps a person discern what is most important in life. What is on your bucket list? Who would you want to see? What would you want to accomplish? Where would you travel?

We know that the Apostle Paul had some important goals in his life. But if Paul had a bucket list, what would be on it? Philippians 1:12-18 is a window into the heart of Paul:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice …

At the top of Paul’s “bucket list” is that the gospel of Jesus Christ would spread to every man and woman and every boy and girl in great power to the glory of God. And indeed, the gospel spread like wildfire in the ancient world. The gospel would eventually explode in Europe and Africa and China. The gospel would ignite all around the world! What caused this gospel to progress with such great power?

The Gospel Progressed Because of Ferocious Persecution

The Method God Used

Imagine serving on a team that was commissioned to help promote the flourishing of the gospel. What methodology would you employ? Would you initiate a massive advertising campaign? Would you pump money into a missions program? Or perhaps you enlist the help of an army of volunteers?

In the first century, God providentially used Paul’s imprisonment to cause the powerful spread of the gospel. This persecution came as no surprise to the apostle and should not surprise us either. Jesus told the disciples,

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matt. 10:16–19, ESV).

One of the methods that God used and continues to use to advance the gospel is persecution.

The Meaning Behind God’s Method

Paul refers to the advance of the gospel. The word advance comes from the Greek term prokopei which refers to the progress of an army. It comes from a verb that means “to cut down in advance.” It describes the removing of any barriers which would hinder the progress of an army.1 Paul’s imprisonment took place so that the gospel might advance in a mighty way. The end result is that people would benefit greatly and God would be greatly glorified.

Verse 13 describes a flourishing gospel; one that became known “thought the whole imperial guard.” “The praetorian guard,” writes John MacArthur, was likely a group of nearly ten thousand soldiers who were stationed throughout Rome to keep the peace and protect the emperor.”2 Paul glories in this gospel which became known “to all the rest” for the great name sake of Jesus, his Savior.

The Model Prisoner

The apostle Paul was chained to a Roman guard (Acts 28:16). Consequently, the guards circulated in and out as their shifts changed which gave Paul a remarkable opportunity to bear witness to Christ. No doubt, the guards would have witnessed his body language and learned things about him that would have otherwise been difficult if not impossible. In short, God used this model prisoner to serve as an ambassador for Christ.

No less than one hundred years later (A.D. 155), Polycarp of Smyrna would also serve as a model prisoner and give his life for his Savior. After his arrest, the judge ordered Polycarp to renounce Jesus. The judge promised that if he would swear by the emperor and curse Christ, he would be set free. Polycarp’s response is priceless: “For eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no evil. How could I curse my king, who saved me?”3When the judge threatened to burn him in the pyre, Polycarp simply answered that the fire would only last a moment, whereas the eternal fire would never be extinguished. After Polycarp was tied to the post in the pyre, he gazed into the heavens and prayed aloud, “Lord Sovereign God … I thank you that you deemed me worthy of this moment, so that, jointly with your martyrs, I may have a share in the cup of Christ … I bless and glorify you.”4The gospel progressed because of ferocious persecution. Notice two principles that will serve us in our generation.

First, remember to maintain an eternal perspective. God’s in his providence permits persecution so that Christ might be proclaimed. We may reason, “In order for the gospel to progress in a country like China, communism must be rooted out.” But the reality is this: Communism continues and the underground church is flourishing! God’s providence may close doors that open others doors. Paul maintained an eternal perspective. He maintained his passion for the spread of the gospel and made the best of every opportunity.

Second, allow persecution to strengthen your resolve for proclaiming the gospel of Christ. When you are ridiculed for believing in a personal Creator who fashioned the world, be encouraged. Continue to proclaim the truth, despite the ferocious persecution. When you are mocked for believing in absolutes, be encouraged in that truth and proclaim it despite the ferocious persecution. And when you are challenged for believing that Jesus is the only One who can forgive sin, be encouraged in that truth and proclaim it, despite the ferocious persecution.

How did the gospel progress in the first century? It progressed in large measure because of ferocious persecution. But the gospel also progressed because it was fearlessly proclaimed.

The Gospel Progressed as it was Fearlessly Proclaimed

The persecution of Paul not only helped advance the cause of the gospel; it strengthened the resolve of Christians to preach the uncompromising message of the gospel.

The Definition of Proclamation

The Greek term for preach in verse 15 means “to be a herald; to proclaim with authority.” This message must be listened to and obeyed. Paul sets forth this imperative to herald the truth in 2 Timothy 4:2-4. He writes,

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Martin-Lloyd Jones says, “The most urgent need in the Christian church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the church, it is the greatest need of the world also.”5 And Steven Lawson adds, “True biblical preaching is authoritative in nature and body proclaims God’s Word without compromise or apology.”6 Such is the call of every Christ-follower who fearlessly proclaims the truth.

The Defining Marks of Proclamation

Two marks, in particular, emerge in Philippians 1:14-17. First, proclamation must be confident. Peithō, the Greek term which is translated, confident means “to have faith; to be persuaded of a thing concerning a person – in this case, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 8:38-39 highlights the confidence that believers enjoy: “For I am sure (peithō) that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).

Second, proclamation must be bold and fearless. Paul stresses the importance of speaking the word boldly without fear (Phil. 1:14). The word translated bold means to “endure; to have courage.” Dr. Luke refers readers to the courage of Paul the apostle, who proclaimed the truth “with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31). Such a ministry marks the one who is committed to the proclamation of God’s Word.

William Tyndale was a man who modeled the marks of bold proclamation. Born in 1494, he attended Oxford, Magdalen Hall, and Cambridge Universities. A student and adherent of the Protestant Reformation, Tyndall engaged in numerous debates with Roman Catholics. One Catholic leader mocked Tyndale: “We are better to be without God’s laws than the Pope.” Never content to put up with heresy, Tyndale replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you.”

Tyndale was a confident, bold, and fearless theologian and scholar who translated the Bible into an early form of Modern English, likely with Luther’s help in Wittenberg. But he was arrested and imprisoned for 500 days. He was tried for heresy and treason in a kangaroo court and ultimately convicted. He was sent to be strangled and burnt at the stake in the prison yard on October 6, 1536. The final words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”

Unfortunately, not everyone has the courage of Tyndale. In fact, Paul tells us that there are two different kinds of preachers.

The Different Kinds of Preachers

Some preach Christ “from envy and rivalry” (v. 15). Paul explains that this man proclaims Christ out of selfish ambition. Such a man is not sincere and proves to be unfaithful in the final analysis (v. 17).

Some preach Christ from “good will.” Paul says the motivation of this man is love (v. 16). Such a man understands that the apostle was providentially placed in prison for the defense of the gospel.

The Gospel Progressed as it was Faithfully Proclaimed

“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).

The gospel refers to the “glad tidings of the kingdom of God” or the “good news.” It is the proclamation of the grace of God which is manifest and pledged in Christ.

Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. He lived a perfect life and was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He perfectly kept the law of God. Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; he was buried and raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3). Jesus was glorified and seated at the right hand of the Father. He bore the wrath of God on the cross for everyone who would ever believe (Rom. 3:25). He redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). Jesus became our substitute on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). He reconciled us to God by making peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20). He made us right with God so that we might have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). And Jesus forgives sinners and enables them to stand holy in the very presence of God.

CONCLUSION

In the first century, the gospel progressed because of ferocious persecution, fearless proclamation, and faithful preaching. It was the gospel of Jesus Christ that motivated the apostle Paul. Proclaiming Christ and hearing that Christ was being preached was his passion. The apostle writes, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

I had the pleasure of visiting a small church in a former communist country a few years ago. The pastor was so proud of the little structure which was smaller than most elementary school classrooms. I noticed a sign above the pulpit, written in a language unfamiliar to me. I asked the pastor, “What does that sign say?” With a smile on his face, he said through a translator, “We preach Christ crucified!

What would it look like if each one of us committed ourselves to fearlessly and faithfully proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ? What would it look like if we committed ourselves to fearlessly and faithfully proclaiming the gospel in the sphere where God has placed us?

The gospel progressed because of ferocious persecution, fearless proclamation, and faithful preaching. Will you make it a goal to proclaim the gospel of Jesus fearlessly and faithfully, despite the persecution that surrounds you? May gospel proclamation become a part of every Christ-followers bucket list!

  1. See William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 20.
  2. John F. MacArthur, Philippians (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), 61.
  3. Cited in Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity – Vol. 1 (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1984), 44.
  4. Ibid, 44.
  5. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 9.
  6. Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call For Expository Preaching (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003), 42.
BOOK REVIEWS · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

The Preciousness of Time – Jonathan Edwards (1734)

Time is a precious commodity that must be treasured.  Such is the argument in jonathan-edwardsJonathan Edward’s piece entitled, The Preciousness of Time and the Importance of Redeeming It.

The subject of time was no stranger to Edwards.  He thought about the “improvement” of time often.  Even in his famous 70 resolutions, he addressed the matter of time.

Resolution # 5

Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most

profitable way I possibly can.

It would serve us well, then, to consider the precious matter of time from Jonathan Edwards’ perspective.

Section 1: Why Time is Precious

Jonathan Edwards states four reasons why time is precious.

  1. Because a happy or miserable eternity depends on the good or ill improvement of it.
  2. Time is very short, which is another thing that renders it very precious.
  3. Time ought to be esteemed by us very precious, because we are uncertain of its continuance.
  4. Time is very precious, because when it is past, it cannot be recovered.

Edwards argues in respect to to time, “…When once that [time] is gone, it is gone for ever; no pains; no cost will recover it.”  So typical is this eternal perspective that flows so freely from the pen of the Northampton preacher.  Tragically, many Christ-followers are not following the counsel of this godly man as they squander their time with worldly pursuits.  He reminds us, “Eternity depends on the improvement of time; but when once the time of life is gone, when once death is come, we have no more to do with time; there is no possibility of obtaining the restoration of it or another space in which to prepare for eternity.”

Section 2: Reflections of Time Past

In section 2, Edwards encourages believers to reflect on time which has been granted in order to prepare for eternity.  Indeed, the argument goes, “Your future eternity depends on the improvement of time.”  He challenges readers, “How have you let the precious golden sands of your glass run?”

Section 3: Who Are Chiefly Deserving of Reproof From the Subject of the Preciousness of Time

Edwards begins section three with a discussion of how people waste their time: “There is nothing more precious, and yet nothing of which men are more prodigal.”  He demonstrates the kinds of people are who reproved for their negligence in this area.

  1. Those who spend a great part of their time in idleness.
  2. They are reproved by this doctrine who spend their time in wickedness, who do not merely spend their time in doing nothing to any good purpose but spend it to ill purposes.
  3. Those are reproved by this doctrine, who spend their time only in worldly pursuits, neglecting their souls.

Section 4: An Exhortation to Improve Time

“Time is money.”  So goes the conventional wisdom of the day.  Edwards essentially agrees as he argues, “If you have a right conception of these things, you will be more choice of your time than of the most fine gold.”  He exhorts readers with four  bold propositions:

  1. You are accountable to God for your time.
  2. Consider how much time you have lost already.
  3. Consider how time is sometimes valued by those who are come near to the end of it.
  4. Consider what a value we may conclude is set upon time by those who are past the end of it.

Section 5: Advice Respecting the Improvement of Time

Edwards concludes his piece by offering three encouragements with respect to time.

  1. Improve the present time without any delay.
  2. Be especially careful to improve those parts of time which are most precious.
  3. Improve well your time of leisure from worldly business.

The notion of “improving” time is seen throughout the writings of Jonathan Edwards.  He gave a great deal of thought to it and chose to live wisely in light of his discoveries.  Indeed, Jonathan Edwards sought to “live with all his might unto the Lord.”  By God’s grace he accomplished resolution # 5: Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

“Therefore, spend not such opportunities unprofitably, nor in such a manner that you will not be able to give a good account thereof to God.  Waste them not away wholly in unprofitable visits, or useless diversions or amusements.”

– Jonathan Edwards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEWS

From & Before God: A Practical Introduction to Expository Preaching – Sugel Michelén (2019)

Sugel Michelén, From & Before God: A Practical Introduction to Expository Preaching (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2019), 270 pp.

From & Before God: A Practical Introduction to Expository Preaching is a book designed to train and equip beginning preachers. The author, Sergei Michelén is senior pastor of Iglesia Biblica del Señor Jesucristo in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He is hailed as one of the leading preachers in Latin America. As such, he has much to offer by way of practical instruction and personal insight.

Part One: The Theological Anchor

Pastor Michelén begins by addressing the nature of revelation by presenting three fundamental realities: 1) God has spoken, 2) God speaks through his written word today, 3) God commands us to preach his word. Part one lays the foundation for what is to follow. It is filled with biblical anecdotes and convinces readers of the importance of the preaching task.

Part Two: The Nature, Form, and Content of the Expository Sermon

The author convinces readers that expository preaching is true preaching and spends an extended amount of time focusing on the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching. This important element is too often missing from preaching books. Also, the author shows why Christ should be at the center of every sermon. Numerous citations are included to help bolster his case.

Part Three: Step-by-Step Preparation of an Expository Sermon

The mechanics of the sermon are set forth in the final section and gives beginning preachers a workable outline or the “how to’s” of sermon preparation – from passage selection to the conclusion and everything in between.

Overall, From & Before God is a solid offering. Men who are learning to preach will benefit from this basic introduction. Seasoned preachers will also benefit from Pastor Michelén’s fine work but may choose to turn to other resources for greater detail. A few examples include Reformed Preaching by Joel Beeke, Invitation to Preaching by Donald Sunukjian, Preach: Theology Meets Practice by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, and Expository Preaching: Balancing the Science and Art of Biblical Exposition by John MacArthur and the Master’s Seminary Faculty.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

The Peace Which Christ Gives His True Followers – Jonathan Edwards (1750)

Jonathan_Edwards_engraving

On this day in 1758, Jonathan Edwards breathed his last breath. His next breath was in glory where he appeared before the Savior he loved during his earthly days as a converted man.

The coronavirus crisis has led many people down a path of anxiety, fear, and despondency. Edwards was familiar each of these maladies. In fact, he endured many challenging season over the course of his life and ministry. One of those seasons is described in this post.

—-

Imagine shepherding a congregation of people, only to find yourself
expelled from the church.  That is exactly what happened to Jonathan Edwards – America’s greatest intellectual.  Within a month of his dismissal, Edwards pens a series of sermons – one of which is entitled The Peace Which Christ Gives His True Followers.

The Text: John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

The Doctrine

That peace which Christ, when he died, left as a legacy to all his true saints, is very diverse from all those things which the men of this world bequeath to their children when they die.

It is not surprising that Edwards is inclined to turn to John 14:27, especially in light of the recent events that turned his world upside down.  Three central propositions support the doctrine.

1. Christ at his death, made over the blessings of the new covenant to believers, as it were in a will or testament.

Edwards clearly shows how Christ promised not only peace but joy and grace and victory over the world.  Indeed, we have a delightful inheritance.

2. A great blessing that Christ in his testament hath bequeathed to true followers, is his peace.

Two things are granted to believers in this monumental promise.  First, Christ bestows true peace and comfort on every believer.  Each believer experiences peace with God, peace with one another, and peace within themselves.    Edwards notes, “By these means true saints are brought into a state of freedom from condemnation and all the curses of the law of God” (Rom. 8:34).

Second, Christ bestows his peace to his followers: “So Christ’s true disciples, though in the world they have tribulations, yet in God they have peace.”

3. This legacy of Christ to his true disciples is very diverse from all that the men of the world ever leave to their children when they die.

Edwards assures believers that Christ’s peace differs from worldly pleasures in four specific ways.

  • Christ’s peace is a reasonable peace and rest of soul.
  • Christ’s peace is a virtuous and holy peace.
  • Christ’s peace infinitely differs from the world, in that it is unfailing and eternal peace.

Application

Edwards urges believers to cling to Christ and make good use of the peace he gives so freely.  He urges unbelievers to receive the free offer of Christ or suffer the temporal and eternal consequences: “As long as you continue to reject those offers and invitations of Christ, and continue in a Christless condition, you never will enjoy any true peace or comfort; but in whatever circumstances you are, you will be miserable.”

Edwards choice of John 14:27 is certainly no surprise.  His resolute handling of the text is no less bewildering, given his gospel-centered track-record as a pastor.  The remarkable thing about this sermon is that Edwards forges into the future, unhindered by life-altering circumstances.  This is an example of a Christ-exalting hope and a Christ-satisfied faith!

Hearken, therefore, to the friendly counsel that is given you this day: turn your feet into the way of peace; forsake the foolish and live.  Forsake those things which are no other than the devil’s baits, and seek after this excellent peace and rest of Jesus Christ, that peace of God which passes all understanding.

Atheism · Biblical authority · Creation · God · Revelation

The End of Creation: Soli Deo Gloria

The Sum of the Matter

The first verse in the Bible is a monumental statement that reverberates with earth-shattering implications for the formation of a Christian worldview: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, ESV). Do not miss the magnitude of this statement. Do not downplay the significance of this vital piece of revelation. And be careful to embrace what the Scriptures affirm. Ignoring the clear revelation of God’s truth, in the final analysis, proves to be a costly mistake that will have consequences that extend into eternity.

The German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, accepted biblical revelation and understood the importance of giving credit where credit is due: “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God.”1To do any less would be tantamount to theological treason. So Kepler does not minimize God’s creative activity; he magnifies it. He does not marginalize the miracle of creation; he marvels at it!

A Tragic Turn

Tragically, some thinkers have not followed Kepler’s lead. These skeptics have discounted Genesis 1:1 and cast the revelation of God into the cosmic rubbish bin. Charles Darwin, who popularized the notion of “natural selection” in his book, Origin of Species also rejected the clear account of creation. Ironically, he is buried in Westminster Abbey. Darwin may be gone but his atheistic ideology continues to dominate the thoughts of many minds, especially in the university.

Carl Sagan, who was a great champion of Darwinian evolutionary theory penned these well-known words: “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us – there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”2 He continues, “Evolution is a fact, not a theory.”3 Such banter may appeal to the itching ears of evolutionists but fails to hold up when scrutinized at the tribunal of truth.

Or consider Richard Dawkins, another defender of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. His rejection of the creation account leads him to a view of God which is blasphemous at best: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”4 The Word of God offers a stern rebuke to this kind of unbelieving thought.

A Rational Christian Response

It doesn’t take long to discern some of the catastrophic consequences of giving God’s revelation a vote of “no-confidence.” Francis Schaeffer understood the vast importance of Genesis 1:1. He understood that if we set aside the reality of creation, our worldview collapses. He writes, “Unless our epistemology is right, everything is going to be wrong.”5 The discipline of epistemology addresses the matter of knowledge. That is, it helps unpack what we know about what we know. Schaeffer continues, “The infinite-person God is there, but also he is not silent; that changes the whole world.”6Schaeffer helps us understand that God exists and he has revealed himself, that is, he has spoken. Or to use Schaeffer’s words, “He is not silent.”

The End for Which God Created the World

That fact that God not only exists but has also revealed himself is a massive reality that every person must come to terms with. This stunning truth should find us on our knees with outstretched arms. It should prompt a humble offer thanksgiving to the living God. But there’s more – Jonathan Edwards understands the motive behind God’s act of creation. He argues that the end for which God created the world was self-communication: ”Seeing that Christ created the world only to communicate his excellency and happiness, hence we learn, that all the excellency, virtue and happiness of the godly is wrought in them by Jesus Christ.”7 The implication of this Edwardian vision of creation are far-reaching and have important practical implications.

So the end of creation is uniquely focused upon God. That is, creation is Godward. Creation is God-centered. In one of his greatest literary achievements, A Dissertation Concerning the End For Which God Created the World, Jonathan Edwards demonstrates this God-centeredness: “What God says in his word, naturally leads us to suppose, that the way in which he makes himself his end in his work or works, which he does for his own sake, is in making his glory his end … God communicates himself to the understanding of the creature, in giving him the knowledge of his glory; and to the will of the creature, in giving him holiness, consisting primarily in the love of God; and in giving the creature happiness, chiefly consisting in joy in God. These are the sum of that emanation of divine fulness called in Scripture, the glory of God.8

Consider three important implications of discounting the biblical creation account:

First, discounting the reality of biblical creation leads to a skewed epistemology. And a skewed epistemology, will by definition, influence the way we think about everything else. When God is taken out of the picture or removed from the marketplace, we are left wandering in a wasteland in search of answers. “If God does not exist,” writes Dostoevsky, “then everything is permitted.” The eclipse of God leaves us helpless, hopeless, and lost in a quagmire of meaninglessness.

Second, discounting the reality of biblical creation impugns the character and trustworthiness of God. Scripture is clear about the creation account:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16–17, ESV)

When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. (Psalm 104:30, ESV)

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, (Job 38:4–6, ESV)

When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. (Psalm 104:30, ESV)

Anyone who discards what God has made plain calls God’s character into question and heaps a great insult upon the worth of his name. Anyone who dares impugn the character of God stands on the precipice of eternal judgment.

Third, discounting the reality of biblical creation fails to glorify God, which is the end of creation. Isaiah 43:7 says, “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Think about the tragic irony of rejecting the creation account. The creature who was created to glorify God stands in defiance and mocks the One who gave him breath.

The glory of God is the end of creation. The heavens declare his glory (Ps. 19:1). Is it any wonder that sinful men seek to distort what God has made plain in Scripture?

Soli Deo Gloria!

  1. Johannes Kepler, Cited in Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1999), 51.
  2. Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Ballantine Books Trade, 1980), 1.
  3. Ibid, 27.
  4. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), 31.
  5. Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, Volume One, A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1982), 275-276.
  6. Ibid, 276.
  7. Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 13, The “Miscellanies,” ed. Thomas A. Schaefer, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 277.
  8. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, A Dissertation Concerning the End For Which God Created the World, ed. Edward Hickman (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth, 1834), 107, 119.
CULTURE · Edinburgh · Evangelism · Postmodernity · Preaching · Proclamation · Scotland

Truth Unhinged in Edinburgh Square

My wife and I recently spent five days in Edinburgh, Scotland. While there is much to commend in this very beautiful city, it did not take long to realize that God is no longer welcome for many of the inhabitants there.

On the last evening in Edinburgh, I watched a young street preacher proclaiming the gospel from a makeshift podium on Royal Mile Street, which stands in the shadow of St. Giles Cathedral. Here, the mighty John Knox wielded the mighty sword of God’s Word, which brought reformation to Scotland in the sixteenth century. Knox prayed, “Give me Scotland or I will die,” demonstrating his great love for God and his countrymen.

However, the days of the Reformation are long gone in Scotland. The scoffs of the crowd which were directed at the street preacher bore witness to that:

“Who created God?” one man shouted. “What about the holocaust?” another queried. “Who wrote the Bible?” questioned one of the street performers. “How could anyone believe in a talking serpent?” “Where did evil come from?” “What about the dinosaurs?” “What about the other religions?” And, “How could a loving God send anyone to hell?”

These emotionally charged questions were all hurled at the street preacher who merely sought to proclaim the simple message of the gospel.

I stood and prayed for the young man who heralded the truth. I asked God to soften the hearts of this angry mob. In the midst of my petition, the thought struck me, This is the same kind of crowd that Noah encountered. These are the same kinds of people who spewed their venom at Jeremiah and Jonah. And these are the kinds of people who hurled their hate against the New Testament apostles.

Nothing has changed. There is nothing new under the sun. The hearts of men are continuously evil (Gen. 6:5). “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). Ever since the fall of man, sinful people continually suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18).

Every person carries a bag full of presuppositions. Atheism, evolution, immorality, homosexuality, and relativism. These are only a few of the presuppositions that I saw in the Edinburgh square. The people who embrace these worldviews are unwitting worshippers. They worship the false god of success. They worship the false god of autonomy. Or they worship the false god of another religion.

The angry mob who squared off against the preacher in Edinburgh willingly exchanged the truth of God for a lie. The Bible says unregenerate people realize that God exists; yet they refuse to acknowledge him: “For although they knew God, they did not honor God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21).

And so I watched a tragic scene unfold on Royal Mile Street in Edinburgh. I watched a frenzied mob reject the truth from a “voice in the wilderness.” I gazed upon a group of worshippers who willingly turned from the God of the Bible to a god of their own making.

A few thoughts echoed in my mind and pressed against my heart as I stood on Royal Mile Street in the heart of Edinburgh:

First, the unbelieving world who preaches “tolerance” fails to be tolerant when the truth is proclaimed. Tolerance is only a virtue when it lines up with a worldview that rejects God, turns from his law, and marginalizes his Word. The “tolerance mantra” is a smokescreen, in the final analysis. Anyone who repudiates the truth claims of Scripture is tolerated. But anyone who embraces the propositional truth of God’s Word is cast aside and criticized.

Second, followers of Jesus Christ are called to faithfully proclaim the truth. Most will be unwilling to stand on a makeshift platform and herald the gospel to a hostile crowd. But how many of us could utter the claims of Christ over a cup of coffee? How many of us could share the love of Christ in the workplace? Who among us could challenge the pagan mind with the gospel truth in the marketplace of ideas? Paul understood this mandate to faithfully proclaim the truth: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” (Rom. 10:14-15).

Third, when the truth is faithfully proclaimed, the unbelieving world will invariably become offended. The Edinburgh preacher recognized this reality when he stepped upon his makeshift platform. He realized that he would be opposed. He realized that he would be scoffed at. And he realized that the crowd would laugh. Scripture warns us that in the last days, people will not put up with sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3). The Bible says people will “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Tragically, we will not only find these kinds of people in the public square; we will also find them in the church.

In his book, Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Every Day, John Leonard argues that people have stopped listening to the gospel “because we want to share it in the least inconvenient, least costly way. We want to save dirty people at a distance.” Leonard has touched upon an important truth. And we can certainly do a much better job of sharing the gospel up-close. But the real reason for their resistance to the truth is a rocky, stubborn, and unbelieving, sinful heart! Our task is to faithfully share the truth and trust the Holy Spirit to soften hearts and effectually draw sinners to the Savior (John 6:44).

Finally, bold proclamation invites persecution. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Yet Scripture reminds us, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10–11, ESV) The promise of persecution should not hinder our passion to proclaim the truth. Rather, this reality should embolden our efforts to wield the mighty sword of truth!

Was the angry mob who ridiculed the preacher a fair representation of the feelings of the Scottish people? Were their harsh words and cackling laughs an accurate portrait of the people living in Edinburgh? Since I only met a handful of people in our brief stay, I cannot answer this question with any clarity. However, the Word of God informs us that what I saw on that cold winter afternoon is representative of the unbelieving world.

When truth is unhinged, we will face an intolerant audience. When truth is unhinged, the unbelieving world will be offended which will prompt persecution. But when truth is unhinged, some will hear and respond. Some will be cut to the quick. Hearts will be softened. Minds will be sharpened. For the truth of God’s Word will unlock the most resistant and callous heart. Truth unhinged will transform lives as God’s Word is faithfully proclaimed.

Biography · History · Theology

CHARLES HODGE: The Pride of Princeton – W. Andrew Hoffecker (2011)

0875526586_bWho says reviews don’t matter?  “I could not put Hoffecker’s book down.”  Seven simple words uttered by Dr. John Frame prompted me to pick up Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton by  W. Andrew Hoffecker.  The author makes a solid contribution to P & R’s American Reformed Biographies Series.

I first encountered Charles Hodge in Seminary.  His piece on the decrees of God made an indelible imprint on my mind and has influenced my thinking since those early days.  Hoffecker’s work puts skin on the bones that I was confronted with in my Seminary days.  Here we find a man of courage and a man of deep conviction.   Charles Hodge was a man willing to put his neck on the line and battle for truth.  He laid the groundwork for men who would follow and continue to fight on the theological battlefield; men like B.B. Warfield and Gresham Machen.

A few highlights worth mentioning include Hodges’ faithful fight against liberalism.  Like today, the liberalism of the 19th century was popular and would influence young minds if left unchallenged.  Hodge was not content to sit by idly.  He boldly confronted the pernicious error of 19th-century liberalism (which oddly enough is seeking to permeate the church once again – primarily through many emergent sympathizers).

The second highlight is Hodges’ unwavering commitment to Reformed theology.  Call him a guardian, a defender, an apologist – or just a diehard Reformed theologian.  Hodge may have been willing to sacrifice certain negotiable doctrinal points.  But he drew the line in the sand when it came to the doctrines of grace.

Charles Hodge is a model of teaching excellence.  He is a worthy example of what it means to stand for the truth in a dark world.  Young pastors and seasoned pastors alike would do well to emulate the courage and conviction of the Pride of Princeton – Charles Hodge.