God Told Me!? (A Critique of Mysticism)

What do you do when a friend says, “God told me I needed to go on a diet,” or “The Holy Spirit spoke to me last night and said you should make more friends”?  How do we even begin to respond?  It’s not easy to respond to such comments; it takes patience and wisdom!  If you’ve heard these statements before, you might appreciate Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ comments on this kind of “God-told-me” mysticism.  In the paragraphs below, Lloyd-Jones says these are his main critiques of mysticism: 1) it is claiming continuing inspiration, 2) it devalues Scripture, 3) it devalues the person and work of Christ, 4) it focuses on the Lord’s work in us so much that it forgets His work for us, 5) it is weak on the doctrine of sin, 6) it is entirely subjective, 7) it tends to extremism and fanaticism.  Here are his comments:

“The main criticism of the evangelical can be put in this form: It is a claim to a continuing of inspiration.  The mystic in a sense is claiming that God is dealing as directly with him as He was with the Old Testament prophets; he claims God is dealing with him as He did with the Apostles. …The mystic says he has received a new and fresh message and that he is in a state of direct inspiration…. Now we believe that God gave a message to the prophets, He gave a message to the Apostles; but we say that because God has done that, it is unnecessary that He should do that directly with us.

“My second criticism would be that mysticism of necessity puts the Scriptures on one side and makes them more or less unnecessary.  You will always find that persons who have a mystical tendency never talk very much about the Bible.  …They say, ‘No, I do not follow the Bible reading plans; I find one verse is generally enough for me.  I take one verse and then I begin to meditate.’  …He does not need this objective revelation; he wants something to start him in his meditation and he will then receive it as coming directly from God; he depreciates the value of the Scriptures.”

“I do not hesitate to go further and say that mysticism, as a whole, even tends to make our Lord Himself unnecessary.  …There have been people who have been mystical and who claim that their souls have immediate access to God.  They say that just as they are, they have but to relax and let go and let God speak to them and He will do so; they do not mention the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“…The danger of mysticism is to concentrate so much on the Lord’s work in us that it forgets the Lord’s work for us.  …It is so concerned about this immediate work upon the soul that it quite forgets the preliminary work that had to be done before anything could be done upon the soul.  It tends to forget the cross and the absolute necessity of the atoning death of Christ before fellowship with God is in any way possible.”

“We can go further….  Mysticism is never very strong on the doctrine of sin.  The mystic tends to say, ‘…If you want to know God just as you are, you have to start getting into communion with Him, and He will speak to you and give you all the blessings.’  They never mention the doctrine of sin in the sense that the guilt of sin is such a terrible thing that nothing but the coming of the Son of God into the world and the bearing of our sins in His own body….”

“Another very serious criticism of mysticism is that it always leaves us without a standard.  Let us imagine I follow the mystic way.  I begin to have experiences; I think God is speaking to me; how do I know it is God who is speaking to me?  …How can I be sure that I am not the victim of hallucinations, since this has happened to many of the mystics?  If I believe in mysticism as such without the Bible, how do I test my experiences?  How do I prove the Scriptures; how do I know I am not perhaps being deluded by Satan as an angel of light in order to keep me from the true and living God?  I have no standard.”

“In other words, my last criticism is that mysticism always tends to fanaticism and excesses.  If you put feelings before understanding, you are bound to end in that, because you have nothing to check your experiences with, and you will have no reason to control your sensations and susceptibilities.”

Lloyd Jones goes on to mention that the Scriptures are the “only authority and final standard with regard to these matters, with regard to a knowledge of God.”  He said, “the evangelical doctrine tells me not to look into myself but to look into the Word of God. …It tells me that God can only be known in His own way, the way which has been revealed in the Scriptures themselves.”

This entire section is very much worth reading.  It’s found on pages 89-92 of Life in Christ.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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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

The Final Answer to the Devil

Romans 8:17-39: The Final Perseverance of the Saints The Christian’s salvation is securely founded on historical facts and truths of God.  We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace alone.  These gospel truths give us solid ground to stand upon and a bulletproof defense against Satan’s attacks.  Lloyd-Jones explains this well in his comments on Romans 8:33-34.

“How important it is to understand the doctrine of justification by faith only!  There is no type of Christian who is so utterly foolish as the one who says, ‘I am not interested in doctrine; I have my experience.’  It is only as you understand the doctrine of justification by faith that you will have security and safety and joy.  Doctrine is essential.”

“Have you realized the meaning of justification?  You are not merely pardoned and forgiven; you are declared by God to be just in his sight.  This is a matter of status, a matter of standing.  There is no going back and forth from being justified to not being justified, and then being justified again.  God has done this one and for ever, and the Law is ended as far as you are concerned.  ‘Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.’  (Romans 10:4).  That is the complete answer to any charge that can ever be brought against us.  It is the only answer.  If you rely on anything else the devil will soon shake you.  There is only one answer to give him, and it is, ‘God himself has justified me, so all you say is a lie.”

“This, then, is the way to meet the devil and his accusations.  If you begin to listen to the devil and say to yourself, ‘Well, after all, he is right; I did sin yesterday and I am not as good as I ought to be,’ you will soon be feeling under condemnation again because you have brought in works once more.  You should rather say, ‘I know I am unworthy, I know I am sinful; no one knows how bad I am, but God has justified me in Christ.  I do not rely upon myself; I am relying utterly, only, absolutely upon the Lord Jesus Christ and upon what he has done on my behalf, and upon God’s declaration with respect to me.’”

“Stand on justification by faith only.  It is the only ground on which you can stand.  We must learn to do this; it is the final answer to the devil.  ‘It is God who justifieth.’”

D. M. Lloyd Jones, Romans Chapter 8:17-39, p.411.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Not Boasting In My Orthodoxy

Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that while we want our doctrine to be biblical, doctrine isn’t what saves us from sin and misery.  We don’t have faith in our doctrine; the object of saving faith is Christ alone.  Unfortunately, even good doctrine can become an idol, as Lloyd-Jones notes here:

“Let me put it plainly, I will not make my boast, I will not glory, even in my orthodoxy, for even that can be a snare if I make a god of it.  I will glory only in that Blessed Person himself by whom this great thing has been done, with whom I died, with whom I have been buried, with whom I am dead to sin and alive unto God, with whom I have risen, with whom I am seated in the heavenly places, by whom and by whom alone the world is crucified unto me and I am crucified unto the world.  Anything that wants to come into the center instead of him, anything that wants to add itself on to him, I shall reject.  Knowing the apostolic message concerning Jesus Christ in all its directness, its simplicity and its glory, God forbid that any one of us should add anything to it.  Let us rejoice in him in all his fullness, and in him alone.

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, p. 189.

shane lems

Lloyd-Jones on Dispensationalism

Romans 8:17-39: The Final Perseverance of the Saints I came across this helpful quote on old-school dispensationalism in chapter 17 of D. M. Lloyd-Jones’ sermons on Romans 8:17-39.

“It is important that we emphasize that the plan of salvation did not come into the mind of God after the fall of man.  It was in his mind even before the creation of the world.  The plan of salvation was not conceived after the Fall.  There have been no readjustments in God’s plan.  Some have taught and still teach, a notion of a series of readjustments in God’s plan….”

“This erroneous teaching is carried even further in the notes of a certain well-known edition of the Bible, [notes] which do not hesitate to say that even when eventually God sent his Son into the world the plan had to be changed.  They assert that the Son came and preached the Kingdom of God, and offered an entry into the Kingdom of God to the Jews simply on the terms that they should believe on him and his teaching.  Had they done so the Kingdom of God would have been established there and then.”

“But unfortunately the Jews rejected the offer, and on that account God had to introduce another way through the death of his Son.  And so the Church came into being.  The Church had never been thought of before; it came in as an after-thought, as a temporary expedient, because the Jews had rejected the teaching of the Kingdom of God and the offer of entry into the Kingdom.  The Church and salvation through the death of Christ are a kind of improvisation.  The death of Christ need not have taken place if the Jews had believed the message of the Kingdom.  God’s plan had to be interrupted.  The ‘prophetic clock’ was stopped for the time being, and after this ‘church age’, which is a digression, God’s plan and purpose will be continued again.”

“Such notions are a complete denial of the biblical teaching concerning the ‘purpose of God’ conceived in eternity before the foundation of the world and the creation of man.  They represent the teaching which is known as ‘dispensationalism.’  We must be clear about these things.  God’s purpose came into being before the foundation of the world.  There is nothing contingent, nothing temporary or expedient about it.  It does not come into being because of something unforeseen.”

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans 8:17-39, chapter 17.

rev shane lems

There Are No “Ifs” In Romans 8:28-30

Romans 8:17-39: The Final Perseverance of the Saints For me, one of the most comforting things in Scripture is the fact that there are no question marks or “ifs” in God’s plan to save his people from sin, hell, and death.  No one can snatch me out of Christ’s sovereign hand and nothing can separate me from God’s love in Christ (John 10:28-30, Rom. 8:38-39).  My salvation is safe and secure because God is strong and sovereign.  Lloyd-Jones echoes well this in his exposition of Romans 8:28-30.

“This promise [that all things work together for the good of those who love God – v28] must be true in light of God’s purpose with respect to his people.  In other words, the statement is not that all things work together for good ‘as long as we love God.’  The statement is true of us because we are ‘the called according to his purpose.’  This is a most important distinction.”

“Some would interpret the words as saying that as long as I love God, as long as I am in a state of faith, this is true of me; but if I should backslide, then it is no longer true of me.  But such an interpretation entirely reverses the Apostle’s statement.  All things must work together for me because I love God, and I love God because I am ‘called’ of God, and because I am included in God’s purpose of salvation.”

“At this point we are face to face with what is called the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints….  It is a great part of our Protestant heritage.  The Roman Catholics, as I have had occasion to point out before, do not believe this doctrine; they reject it in toto.  There would really be no place for their church if they believed it to be true, which explains why they have always fought [against] it with such great zeal.”

“In these verses we have the greatest statement in Scripture of this doctrine.  It is stated elsewhere, and it is implicit in many places.  But here we have the plainest, clearest, and the most explicit statement of it that can be found anywhere.”

“Now this is God’s purpose for you, and it will lead to your glorification. Cannot you see that because it is God’s purpose he will certainly bring you there?  And so everything that happens to you is subservient to, and must be regarded in light of that purpose.”

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans Chapter 8:17-38 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975), 195, 205.

rev shane lems

Feelings and Emotions

 One characteristic of modern Western Christianity is the focus on feelings and emotions.  Many people gauge their faith by their feelings; they also judge worship based on how it makes them feel.  The former can lead to depression (i.e. if you don’t feel saved maybe you’re not).  The latter can lead to superficial emotionalism divorced from doctrine (i.e. worship becomes a matter of getting a good feeling usually based on ambiguous emotional songs).  Lloyd Jones has a good word on this.

“Avoid the mistake of concentrating overmuch on your feelings.  Above all, avoid the terrible error of making them central.  Now I am never tired of repeating this because I find so frequently that this is a cause of stumbling.  Feelings are never meant to take the first place, they are never meant to be central.  If you put them there you are of necessity doomed to be unhappy, because you are not following the order that God himself has ordained.  Feelings are always the result of something else, and how anyone who has ever read the Bible can fall into that particular error passes my comprehension.”

“The Psalmist has put it in the 34th Psalm.  He says: ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’  You will never see until you have tasted; you will not know it, you will not feel it until you have tried it.  That is something that is constantly emphasized everywhere in Scripture.  After all, what we have in the Bible is truth; it is not an emotional stimulus, it is not something primarily concerned to give us a joyful experience.  It is primarily truth, and truth is addressed to the mind, God’s supreme gift to man; and it is as we apprehend and submit ourselves to the truth that the feelings follow.  I must never ask myself in the first instance: What do I feel about this.  The first question is, do I believe it?  Do I accept it, has it gripped me?”

“Very well, that is what I regard as perhaps the most important rule of all [in fighting spiritual depression], that we must not concentrate overmuch on our feelings.  Do not spend too much time feeling your own pulse taking your own spiritual temperature, do not spend too much time analyzing your feelings.  That is the high road to morbidity.”

Well said.  Emotions come and go like the tide; feelings wax and wane like the sun.  The truth of the gospel, however, is constant truth.  Jesus died and rose again to save sinners.  This is an objective, historical, unchangeable truth, not an inner subjective feeling.  Once again in the words of Lloyd Jones: “We are never told anywhere in Scripture that we are saved by our feelings; we are told that we are saved by believing.”

The above quote can be found in Spiritual Depression, pp. 114-116.

shane lems

sunnyside wa