Do Not Sleep Another Night Without It! (McCheyne)

While reading several of Robert Murray McCheyne’s letters this morning, I came across one he wrote to a stranger in 1840.  McCheyne’s friend told him of a man he knew that might benefit from an evangelistic letter.  So McCheyne sent a letter since he wasn’t able to visit the stranger in person.  Here’s a very encouraging excerpt from the letter:

“Look at Romans 5:19.  By the sin of Adam, many were made sinners.  We had no hand in Adam’s sin, and yet the guilt of it comes upon us.  We did not put out our hand to the apple, and yet the sin and misery have been laid at our door.  In the same way, ‘by the obedience of Christ, many are made righteous.’  Christ is the glorious One who stood for many.  His perfect garment is sufficient to cover you.  You had no hand in his obedience.   You were not alive when He came into the world and lived and died; and yet, in the perfect obedience, you may stand before God [as] righteous.”

“This is all my covering in the sight of a holy God.  I feel infinitely ungodly in myself: in God’s eye, like a serpent or a toad; and yet, when I stand in Christ alone, I feel that God sees no sin in me, and loves me freely.  The same righteousness is free to you.  It will be as white and clean on your soul as on mine.  Oh, do not sleep another night without it!  Only consent to stand in Christ, not in your poor self.”

R. M. McCheyne, Memiors, ed. Andrew Bonar (Chicago: Moody Press, 1951), 93.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Loss of the Christian Mind in America (Moreland)

As I was re-reading parts of Love God With All Your Mind, I came across this great section I had marked up – a section of the book where Moreland talks about the loss of the Christian mind in American Christianity.  I’ve posted it here before, but it is for sure worth noting again.  Especially fascinating are Moreland’s comments on how the rise of two major cults in the U.S. had a lot to do with the lack of doctrinal knowledge about the Christian faith:

“During the middle 1800s, three awakenings broke out in the United States: the Second Great Awakening (1800-1820), the revivals of Charles Finney (1824-1837), and the Layman’s Prayer Revival (1856-1858).  Much good came from these movements, but their overall effect was to emphasize immediate personal conversion to Christ instead of a studied period of reflection and conviction; emotional, simple, popular preaching instead of intellectually careful and doctrinally precise sermons; and personal feelings and relationships to Christ instead of a deep grasp of the nature of Christian teaching and ideas.  Sadly, as historian George Marsden notes, ‘anti-intellectualism was a feature of American revivalism.’”

“Obviously, there is nothing wrong with the emphasis of those movements on personal conversion.  What was a problem, however, was the intellectually shallow, theologically illiterate form of Christianity that became part of the populist Christian religion that emerged.  One tragic result of this was what happened in the so-called Burned Over District in the state of New York.  Thousands of people were ‘converted’ to Christ by revivalist preaching, but they had no real intellectual grasp of Christian teaching.  As a result, two of the three major American cuts began in the Burned Over District among the unstable, untaught ‘converts’: Mormonism (1830) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (1884).”

J. P. Moreland, Love God With All Your Mind, p. 23.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Not Giving Up On A Sinner (Spencer)

Sometime around the middle of the 19th century, a woman spoke to Rev. Ichabod Spencer about the things of the Christian faith.  After the discussion, the woman was interested in becoming a Christian.  Spencer met with her many times over the next two years.  Over and over Spencer told her about sin, repentance, faith in Christ, and what it means to be a disciple.  Over and over he showed her the verses about these truths.

For reasons only God knows, she was very slow to believe.  She just couldn’t quite commit.  Spencer had talked to her so many times he became weary of talking to her; he even was tempted to tell her, “I’ve said everything that needs to be said.  Don’t see me anymore.”  It got to the point where he was annoyed when he saw her coming to talk, which made him feel guilty about it.  He never did turn her away simply because he knew the agony she was in.  Spencer noted that he had never spent so much time talking to an unbeliever about the faith.  To make a long two-year story short, by God’s grace the woman finally did come to faith, as did her husband, her sister, and some of her friends.  After telling this story, Spencer wrote this:

“Ministers ought never to despair of the salvation of any sinner.  To despair of any one is just the way to make him despair of himself.  Many have been ruined in this way, probably.  We ought to expect sinners to repent – and treat them accordingly.  Who shall limit the Holy One of Israel?  It took me long to learn the lesson, but I have learned never to give up a sinner.  We must urge the duty of an immediate faith and repentance, as the Bible does so continually; but we must be careful to enjoin this duty in such a manner that, if it is not immediately done, the individual shall not be led or left to cease seeking God.  Many a sinner turns back, when just at the door of heaven.”

Ichabod Spencer, A Pastor’s Sketches, II.III.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Freedom of the Will? (Horton)

The Bible teaches that the human heart is deceitful above all things and that everyone who sins is a slave to sin (Jer. 17:9; John 8:34).  It teaches that apart from grace, a person is dead in sin (Eph. 2:1).  These texts and others like them are where Reformed theology gets the doctrines of total depravity and bondage of the will.  That is, apart from grace we are depraved in every part (extensively): heart, mind, body, and soul.  Apart from grace, it is impossible for a sinner to come to faith in Christ since he is dead in sin.  Yet every human still has a will and ability to choose to some extent. Michael Horton describes this topic well:

“Before the fall, humankind had the natural and moral ability to obey God with complete fidelity and freedom of will.  After the fall, we still have the natural but no longer the moral liberty to do so.  When it comes to our fallen condition, we all have the natural ability to think, will, feel, and do what we should.  None of our faculties have been lost.  We have all of the ‘equipment’ necessary for loving God and our neighbors.  Nevertheless, the fall has rendered us morally incapable of using these gifts in a way that could restore us to God’s favor.  I could choose to dedicate myself to becoming a marathon runner, but I cannot choose to dedicate myself to God apart from his grace.”

“Even in our rebellion, we are exercising the very faculties that God created good, yet we are employing them in a perverse way.  …The fall has not taken away our ability to will in the least, but only the moral ability to will that which is acceptable to God.  It’s not a question of whether we choose, but what we choose.  …If we are bound by sin, then it is not a natural ability that we have lost but a moral ability.  We can only choose sin and death – and we really do choose it (John 8:44) – until God liberates us from this bondage. …It is not that the will that is rendered inactive by sin, but that it is bound by sin until grace restores it in a one-sided, unilateral, and unassisted divine act.”

Michael Horton, For Calvinism, p. 45.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

No Reason to Complain (Brooks)

When we face trials and afflictions, sometimes we complain.  We grumble why such and such is happening to us, we complain that other people deserve the trial, or we murmur at the pain and hardship of it all.  Even mature Christians sometimes grumble when trials come.  If the trial is really difficult, it’s hard not to complain!  Thomas Brooks (d. 1680) talked about this in the middle of his book written to those suffering trials and affliction (The Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod):

“[Dear Christian], of all men in the world, you have least cause, yea, no cause to be murmuring and muttering under and dispensation that you meet with in this world.  Is not God your portion?  Chrysostom asks this question, ‘Was Job miserable when he had lost all that God had given him?’ and gives this answer, ‘No, he still had the God that gave him all.’  Is not Christ thy treasure?  Is not heaven your inheritance – and will you murmur?  …Has not God given you a changed heart, a renewed nature, and a sanctified soul, and will you murmur?  Has not God given himself to you to satisfy you?  Has not he given his Son to save you, his Spirit to lead you, his grace to adorn you, his covenant to assure you, his mercy to pardon you, his righteousness to clothe you, and will you murmur?”

“Has not God often turned your water into wine, your brass into silver, your silver into gold?  When you were dead in sin, did he not quicken you?  When you were lost, did he not seek you?  When you were wounded, did he not heal you?  And when you were falling, did he not support you?  And when you were down, did he not raise you up?  And when you were staggering, did he not strengthen you?  And when you were erring, did he not correct you?  When you were tempted, did he not help you?  And when you were in danger, did he not deliver you? And will you murmur?

It may seem a bit harsh to rebuke someone for complaining while they are going through a difficult trial.  But we have to remember that grumbling is a serious sin (Num. 14).  Furthermore, even through trials Christians should want to avoid sin and do what is right in God’s sight.  The rhetorical questions Brooks asked are good ones to go through as we aim to suffer without grumbling.  Trials are miserable and more difficult than some people realize.  But the Christian need not grumble because the promises of Scripture are true: God is with us and loves us, Jesus died to save us, and the Spirit is at work in us (etc. etc.)!

The edited quote above is found in volume 1 of Brooks’ Works, page. 340.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Call to Remember and the Christian Faith (Guinness)

God in the Dark: The Assurance of Faith Beyond a Shadow of Doubt by [Guinness, Os](This is a re-post from April, 2010)

This section of Os Guinness’ book, God in the Dark, came to mind when I was recently studying the repeated command of YHWH to his people: Remember the day you came out of Egypt…  Remember that the LORD your God redeemed you… Do not forget the LORD your God (Deut 5.15, 7.18, 9.7, etc).

“Clearly, memory for a Christian is not nostalgia or historical reverie.  It is far more profound than having a mental skill or a better-than-average ability to recall.  There is all the difference in the world, as G.K. Chesterton pointed out, between tradition as the living faith of the dead and traditionalism as the dead faith of the living.”

“The redeemed memory, as it works under God’s Spirit, keeps the living awareness of the present in line with a living awareness of the past.  Thus our gratitude and thanksgiving, which are spurred by a knowledge of the past, are linked to our faith and hope, which engage the present and look toward the future.  This gives continuity and wholeness to the life of faith that are indispensible to its growth and maturity.”

“Ideally the ministry of remembering should be a bright thread running through all our Christian living – individually, corporately, publicly, privately; in the quiet moment of the intimate prayer as well as in the open statements of public thanksgiving…”

These excellent quotes are taken from chapter 3 of Os Guinness’ God in the Dark.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Danger of Idols (Lints)

 Not many people in our American culture worship and bow down to physical images and statues.  Instead, our idols are things like money, entertainment, sports, sex, health, fitness, image, relationships, and work.  But whether the idol is an actual statue or something like football or a flat stomach, the truth is that idols are dangerous and deadly.  Here’s how Richard Lints explains it as he discusses the image of God in man as it relates to idolatry:

“The image finds its flourishing in its relationship to the original.  Creatures find their satisfaction in the God who made them.  The idol represents both a false fulfillment and a perversion or corruption of the creature.  The [biblical] canon goes to great lengths to narrate the tug in human hearts between the living God and the idols who pull them away from the living God.”

“Idols are dangerous in the same way that outside love interests are dangerous to the marriage.  Adulterous liaisons inevitably pull the marriage apart at the seams.  As with adultery, so idolatry is about both wrong beliefs (e.g. a belief about where satisfaction can be found) but more importantly, idolatry is also about corrupted desires (e.g. the desire to get gratification on whatever terms are necessary).

“All idolatry involves error in belief to some extent, if the belief in question is that some creature has a worth enjoyed only by the Creator.  If there is only one God, there is only one object worthy of worship and adoration.  Monotheism and monolatry go hand in hand.  The worship of one God (monolatry) is a necessary consequence of the belief that only one God exists (monotheism).”

These are some profound thoughts about idolatry.  It is dangerous, it is about wrong beliefs, and idolatry is about corrupted desires.  These are things to think about as we fight idolatry and seek to faithfully bear the image of God rather than sinfully bear the image of an idol we’ve made.  As the Apostle John said, Dear children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21 NIV).

The above slightly edited quote is found on page 39 of Lints’ Identity and Idolatrywhich, by the way, is one of the best books on idolatry that I’ve ever read.  I highly recommend it!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI