“What is Man?” and Apologetics (Pascal)

As I’ve mentioned a few times here before, Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics is one of my favorite books on this topic.  I don’t agree with every part of it, but every part of it is insightful and worth reading.  One part that sticks out is the chapter called “Deposed Royalty.”  This chapter is a discussion of Blaise Pascal’s defense of the Christian faith from an anthropological angle.  In other words, one way Pascal aimed to prove the truth of the Christian faith is by arguing that Christianity has the best and most satisfying answer for the fact that man is both wretched and great at the same time.  No other religion can explain this fact nearly as well as Christianity.  Here’s Pascal:

“Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.””Man’s greatness comes from knowing he is wretched: a tree does not know it is wretched.  Thus it is wretched to know that one is wretched, but there is a greatness in knowing one is wretched.”

Pascal is saying that humans have a sort of “dual nature.”  Here’s how Pascal said it (from God’s perspective):

“…You are no longer in the state in which I made you.  I created man holy, innocent, perfect, I filled him with light and understanding, I showed him my glory and my wondrous works.  Man’s eye then beheld the majesty of God.  He was not then in the darkness that now blinds his sight, nor subject to death and the miseries that afflict him.””But he could not bear such great glory without falling to presumption.  He wanted to make himself his own center and do without my help.  He withdrew himself from my rule, setting himself up as my equal in his desire to find happiness in himself, and I abandoned him to himself.  The creatures who were subject to him I incited to revolt and made his enemies,  so that today man has become like beasts, and is so far apart from me that barely a glimmering idea of his author alone remains of all his dead or flickering knowledge.”

Pascal, of course, says more about this.  But the gist of his apologetic argument is that the philosophers never did reconcile the fact that man is both wretched and great at the same time.  The Christian faith alone gives the best and most plausible reason for why humans are like they are.  Created upright and in God’s image, we fell into sin, and now we are both wretched (sinful) and great (still have a faint reflection of God’s image).  Pascal also noted that humans are redeemable by grace.  Douglas Groothuis summarizes the argument with a Creation-Fall-Incarnation logic:

Humans are 1) wretched because fallen, 2) great because of their unfallen origin and the vestiges of it, and 3) redeemable through the incarnation.

Finally, here’s Pascal’s challenge after talking about the need to answer the “what is man” question:

“Let us examine all the religions of the world on that point and let us see whether any but the Christian religion meets it.”

Pascal’s argument is very much worth considering.  Groothuis did a good job in summarizing it.  If you’re interested, pick up Christian Apologetics and see the chapter called “Deposed Royalty.”  And while you’re at it, check out the other chapters as well!

Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Great Antidote to Spiritual Depression (Lloyd-Jones)

Here’s Lloyd Jones.  Listen up!

“…The great antidote to spiritual depression is the knowledge of Bible doctrine, Christian doctrine.  Not having the feelings worked up in meetings, but knowing the principles of the faith, knowing and understanding the doctrines.  That is the Biblical way, that is Christ’s own way as it is also the way of the apostles.  The antidote to spiritual depression is to have a knowledge of Him, and you get that in His Word.  You must take the trouble to learn it.  It is difficult work, but you have to study it and give yourself to it.”

“The Christian faith begins and ends with a knowledge of the Lord.  It begins with a knowledge of the Lord – not a feeling, not an act of will, but a knowledge of this Blessed Person.”

D. M. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures, chapter 11.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

He Does Really and Actually Save!

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2 What does Reformed theology teach about the extent of Christ’s atonement?  Francis Turretin (d. 1687) explained definite atonement well:

“The common opinion of the Reformed is that Christ – from the mere good pleasure of the Father – was appointed and given as a Redeemer and head, not to all men, but to a certain number of men.  By the election of God, these compose his mystical body.  For these alone, Christ, in order to fulfill the decree of election and the counsel of his Father, was willing and determined to die, and also to add to the infinite price of his death a most efficacious and special intention to substitute himself in their place and to acquire faith and salvation for them.”

Turretin then  went on to mention the texts in Scripture that talk about Christ’s death being for “his people,” “his sheep,” “his friends,” “his church,” and “his body” (Mt. 1:21, Eph 5:23, Jn 10:15, Jn 15:13, etc.).  Turretin also noted how the acquisition and application of redemption are inseparable from the extent of it.  In other words, Jesus redeemed his people and applied redemption to the same ones, his elect.

“It is gratuitous [unwarranted] to say that Christ is the Savior of those for whom salvation is indeed acquired, but to whom it will never be applied.  Even the very word ‘to save’ denotes the actual communication of salvation, and Christ is Jesus, not only because he is willing and able to save and because he removes all obstacles out of the way of salvation, but because he does really and actually save his people, not only by his merit acquiring salvation for them, but also efficaciously applying it to them, which was the intent of God in sending Christ and the end of his mission (as the angel clearly intimates by the imposition of the name ‘Jesus’).

Jesus is not possibly a Savior; he’s not a potential Redeemer.  He actually saves and is a true Redeemer!

The above quotes are found in volume 2 of Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 458 & 461.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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