Books for Kids: Update May 2018

I finally got around to adding a few more books to my “Books for Kids” page *HERE*.  I don’t read books to my boys any more since they’re older (almost all teenagers!), but I will start reading to my young daughter this summer.  Stay tuned!  I hope to add some to this list again this fall.  Until then, and as always, feel free to recommend other books.
Blessings,
Shane Lems

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…Less of Our Hearts (Wilberforce)

Real Christianity by [Wilberforce, William] I appreciate the following section of William Wilberforce’s book called “A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity.”  I’ve edited it slightly:

True, practical Christianity consists in devoting the heart and life to God.  It is governed supremely and habitually by a desire to know God, to be disposed to God’s will, and to live in his glory.  Where these essential requisites are wanting, one cannot complement it with the name of Christianity.

…Is he [the Christian] too keenly engaged in worldly business?  Let him carefully examine the state of his own heart.  If he finds himself pursuing wealth or status or reputation too much, he must realize, ‘No man can serve two masters’ (Mt. 6:24).  The world evidently possess his heart.  So it is no wonder that he finds himself dulled, or rather, dead to the impression and enjoyment of spiritual things.

Let us carefully scrutinize our whole conduct to see if we have breached or omitted a duty toward God.  Particularly, we need to see if we are negligent of self-examination, of secret and public prayer, of reading the Scriptures, and of other prescribed means of grace.  If we find the allotment of time that should be devoted to our spiritual development lacking, let us be open about it with ourselves and remedy the situation.  Otherwise, this fatal negligence will begin to affect our hearts and our conduct.  So we need to ascertain if other matters that preoccupy us are not consuming too large a share of our time.  By careful management, we might still fully satisfy their legitimate claims and then devote time to our devotional life.

But if we deliberately and honestly conclude that we ought not to give these worldly affairs less of our time, let us endeavor at least to give them less of our hearts.

Let us at least have a just sense of our great weaknesses and numerous infirmities.  This is a becoming spirit in those who are commanded to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).  It prompts us to constant and earnest prayer.  It produces that sobriety, lowliness, and tenderness of mind, that meekness of behavior and care in conduct, that are such notable characteristics of the true Christian.

This is not a state devoid of consolation.  ‘Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).  “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Is. 40:31). “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt. 5:4).  These divine assurances soothe and encourage the Christian’s disturbed and dejected mind and instill unconsciously a holy composure.

William Wilberforce, Real Christianity (Victor: Colorado Springs, 2005), p123-124.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Evil: An Unjustifiable Mystery (Blocher)

 I really appreciated Henri Blocher’s book Evil and the Cross.  It’s a helpful discussion about the problem of evil from a Christian perspective.  I’ve blogged about it before so I won’t go into details.  However, reading through parts of this book again today I found one section I highlighted – it’s worth sharing.  Right before this quote, Blocher was talking about how in many ways we can’t understand evil.  There’s mystery involved.  Here’s Blocher:

If we bowed to the incomprehensible as a way out every time that we found ourselves in difficulties, there would be grounds for suspicion about such a procedure – it would be sheer irresponsibility, the abdication of reason.  People are too ready to fall back on the action of ‘mystery’, and also to confuse mystery with the absurd – which Scripture never does.

But we would argue that the mystery of evil is the one unique inscrutable mystery, as unique as evil itself, sui generis.  Far from being absurd, it corresponds precisely with the experience of evil, with its two facets: unjustifiable reality.  Engraved in the decree of God, evil has a certain reality; but being contrary to his precept and his will, it is unjustifiable.  As we have said, it does not imply contradiction.  All the other mysteries that transcend our understanding, those of the Trinity, the union of the two natures of Christ, created freedom, are all luminous mysteries: if the mind tackles them biblically, it simply revels in them.  Only the ‘opaque’ enigma of evil causes it pain.

If the solutions put forward in place of the scriptural response were capable of satisfying the human mind and spirit, they would be unquestionably superior.  But surely it is the opposite that we have shown from a broad enough selection.  Analysis reveals that what are called solutions turn out to be so many attempts to gloss over one or other of the aspects of the problem, to deny evil, or to ‘forget’ the initial, more reliable apprehension of the reality of evil that everyone experiences with indignation and shame.

Scripture alone is free of that.  Surely such purity is nothing short of miraculous.  No discourse strips the guilty of excuses like this Book.  Water down one of the three affirmations (the evil of evil, the sovereignty of God, and the goodness of God) and evil to some extent becomes excusable, as we have demonstrated.  Would Scripture be so true to reality if its origin were solely human?

Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1994), 102.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Blessings of Bible Study (Witsius)

On the Character of the True Divine Don’t let anyone convince you that those older Reformed theologians were dry, dispassionate teachers who were only concerned about bare doctrine and orthodoxy.  Read what Herman Witsius (d. 1708) had to say about the blessings of Bible study. I take it he’s speaking from experience!

The Word of God… when studied attentively, has also an indescribable power of attraction. It fills the mind with the clearest ideas of heavenly truth. Its method of teaching is distinguished by purity, solidity, certainty, and the absence of the least mixture of error. It soothes the mind with an ineffable sweetness, it satisfies the hunger and thirst of sacred knowledge with flowing brooks of honey and butter,it penetrates, by its irresistible power, into the inmost recesses of the heart, it imprints its testimony on the mind so firmly and immoveably, that the believing soul rests upon it with as much security as if it had been carried up to the third heaven, and had heard it directly from God’s mouth, it moves all the affections, and, exhaling in every line the most delightful odor of sanctity, breathes it [sanctity] into the soul of the pious reader, even although he perhaps does not reach the full meaning of all that he peruses….

 Witsius, H. (1856). On the Character of the True Divine: An Inaugural Oration, Delivered at Franeker, April 16, 1675 (p. 19). Edinburgh: James Wood.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Law/Gospel Distinction (Olevianus)

An Aid to the Heidelberg Catechism The Reformers understood the difference between the law and the gospel.  It wasn’t just Luther who made this important distinction.  For one example, here’s how Caspar Olevianus (d. 1587) explained it (as quoted by Otto Thelemann):

“With reference to the relation between the law and the Gospel, Olevianus says:

“The law is a principle which God has implanted in nature, and has repeated and renewed in the commandments, in which He presents to us as in a handwriting what we are bound to do and what to leave undone, viz., a perfect inner and outer obedience; and He promises eternal life on the condition that we keep the law of God perfectly all our life. But on the other hand, eternal damnation is threatened if we do not keep it, but transgress it in one or more points. Deut. 27:26. After the law has once been transgressed, there is no promise that our sin will be forgiven through its help, i.e., through the works of the law, but the sentence of condemnation follows immediately. But the Gospel, or the glad tidings, is a truth concerning which the wisest men have known nothing by nature. It has been revealed from heaven. In it God does not make a demand of us, but He offers and gives to us the righteousness which the law demands of us, viz., the perfect obedience of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, whereby all our sins and condemnation with which the law threatens us, are pardoned and blotted out. Rom. 5, Gal. 3. God gives us in the Gospel the forgiveness of sins, not under the condition that we keep the law, but as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. Although we have never kept the law, and even now cannot keep it perfectly, He has nevertheless forgiven us our sins and offers eternal life. John 1:17, Rom. 8:3, 4, Gal. 3:12–15.”

 Thelemann, O. (1896). An Aid to the Heidelberg Catechism. (M. Peters, Trans.) (pp. 61–62). Reading, PA: James I. Good, D. D, Publisher.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

10 Reasons Why I Will Never Go to Rome

 I’ve been re-reading parts of Rome’s Catechism and the Canons/Decrees of Trent again recently, which reminded me why I’m Reformed and not Roman Catholic.  Here’s a post I wrote in February 2013 on this very topic:

For the past eight years or so, I’ve had the opportunity to read, study, and observe the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  Most specifically, I’ve read extensively from The Catechism of the Catholic Church and The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent.  Having studied these resources, I have thought of many reasons why I believe Rome is unbiblical and why I will never go there.  I thought it might be helpful to give our readers citations along with ten of my reasons why I am a Reformed Protestant and not a Roman Catholic (though I do have more reasons than ten).  I will never go to Rome because:

1) …I will not have my conscience bound by man or man’s decrees.  Rome binds consciences beyond the Word by teaching that the dogmas of the Church’s Magisterium “oblige” adherence (Catechism, p. 33, 548).  I believe that God alone is Lord of the conscience and that it can only be bound by his Word (Westminster Confession of Faith 20.2).

2) …I will never submit to a Pope.  Rome teaches that the pope is “pastor of the entire Church” and has “full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (Catechism, p. 254).   However, Scripture teaches there is no other head of the church besides Christ (WCF 25.6).

3) …I refuse to pray to Mary or have her for a mediator or helper.  Rome teaches that Christians should pray “to” Mary; “we can entrust all our cares and petitions to her: she prays for us as she prayed for herself” (Catechism, p. 704ff).   The first commandment, however, teaches us not to pray to or confide in any creature (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 94).

4) …Rome anathematized the gospel of free grace. “If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone…let him be anathema” (Canons of Trent, 43).  Scripture, however, teaches that God justifies ungodly sinners by faith alone, completely apart from works (see HC Q/A 60-61).

5) …I believe the church is under the Word, not beside or above it.  Rome teaches that Scripture is not the highest authority in faith and life.  Rome says “both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (Catechism, p. 31).  However, Scripture teaches that it alone is authoritative and sets forth perfect and complete doctrine for salvation and life (see Belgic Confession of Faith article 7).

6) …I do not believe that salvation is losable.  The Council of Trent said that true faith can be lost and one can forfeit the grace of justification (Canons of Trent, 38-40).  But God’s Word teaches that Christ will never let go of his sheep and that nothing can separate the elect from God’s love in Christ (WCF 17.1).

7) …I do not believe the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper is a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice.  Rome’s catechism teaches that in the Eucharist “the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever-present…the Eucharist is also a sacrifice…because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross….” (Catechism, p.380).  Scripture, however, teaches that the body of our Lord ascended into heaven where he now is; therefore the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of his death, a participation in it, and a reminder of it (WLC Q/A 168-170).

8) …I am not convinced that baptism itself effects the forgiveness of sins.  According to Rome, “by baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sins” (Catechism, p. 353).  On the other hand, Scripture teaches that baptism is a sign and seal that points us to Jesus’ blood and the Holy Spirit’s work, which alone can wash away sin and effect its forgiveness (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 72-73).

9) …Purgatory is an unbiblical doctrine.  Rome says that Christians who die in an imperfect state “undergo purification” after death “to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (Catechism, p. 291).  Scripture teaches differently.  Scripture teaches that in Christ the Christian has all he or she needs to enter the joy of heaven, since he is our holiness, sanctification, and righteousness (WLC Q/A 85).

10) …Rome’s many superstitions lead people away from Jesus.  Rome’s icons, images, saints, indulgences, mysticism, and repetitious prayers often lead people into a vortex of idolatry.  For example, Rome teaches that dead saints “do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth….” (Catechism, p. 271).  Scripture, however, teaches us to stay away from superstitions and myths while standing firm only on apostolic truth, which has Christ as its center (WCF 22.7).

In case you were wondering, I cited Reformed Creeds/Confessions rather than Scripture texts.  The reason for this is simple: if you look up those confessional references, they will give you numerous Scripture citations.  Rather than me list dozens of Scripture texts, you can read the summaries in the Reformed Creeds/Confessions and look up the Scripture for yourself. (Note: Someone kindly wrote a list of Scripture citations for the above points, so I’ll include them in a comment box below.)

Also if you’re interested, I recommend R. C. Sproul’s book, Are We Together?  Finally, Andrew and I have both studied and critiqued other parts of Roman Catholic theology here on the blog, which you can find using the search bar.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Pride and Loving to Hear the Self Talk (Bernard)

7D78CC05-EC15-43DE-B3A5-6061C54DD524 In his treatise on the steps of humility and pride, Bernard does a good job of explaining how pride and the love of hearing the self talk go hand in hand.   What was true in the 12th century is true today.  Do you know anyone who likes to hear himself or herself talk too much?  Here’s Bernard’s explanation:

“For he is full of talk and the spirit is straining to get out (Jb 32:18). He hungers and thirsts for listeners to whom he can make empty boasts, to whom he can pour out all he feels, and whom he can tell what he is and how great he is.

He finds an occasion to speak. Let us say the subject is literature. He says new things and old (Mt 13:52). His opinions fly about. His words tumble over one another. He butts in before he is asked. He does not answer other people’s questions. He asks the questions himself and he answers them, and he cuts off anyone who tries to speak. When the bell rings for the end of the discussion, even though it has been a long one, he asks for a little more time. He asks permission to come back to the stories later, not so as to edify anyone, but so that he can show off his knowledge (1 Cor 8:1).

He may say something edifying, but that is not his intention. He does not care for you to teach, or to learn from you what he himself does not know, but that others should know how much he knows.

If the subject is religion, at once he has dreams and visions to offer. Then he praises fasting, commends vigils, enthuses above all about prayer. He discusses patience, humility, and all the other virtues at great length, but in utter emptiness. Yet if you were to hear him you would say that he “speaks from the fullness of his heart” (Mt 12:34), or “A good man brings forth good things from his good treasure” (Mt 12:35).

If the talk turns to lighter things, he is discovered to be even more talkative, because this is something he really knows about. You would say if you heard him that his mouth was a stream of vanity, a river of scurrility (vulgarity), so that he stirs even solemn and grave minds to merriment. And to cut a long story short, “When there is much talk there is boasting” (Prv 10:19). Here you have the fourth step described and named. Avoid the thing but remember the name.”

The quote can be found in the Selected Works of Bernard of Clairvaux, page 133.

Shane Lems
Hammond WI