Preaching the Law with Love (Bridges)

A friend and I were recently discussing several parts of Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry. One section I have marked and underlined quite a bit has to do on how a preacher should rebuke with love.  This also has to do with preaching the law: it should be done with love.

“The spirit of love must deeply imbue the language of reproof.  We must ‘exhort,’ but ‘with all longsuffering’ (2 Tim. 4:2); bearing with the frowardness that will often resist the most affectionate pleading.  Meekness, gentleness, and patience must stamp our instruction of the opponents of the Gospel.  We must wound their consciences as sinners, not their feelings as men; carefully avoiding unnecessary excitement of enmity; and showing the faithfulness that lays open their sins, to be the ‘wounds of a friend’ (Prov. 27:6), the chastening to be that of a father (2 Cor. 2:4).”

“The recollection of our former state (not to speak of our present sympathy with them as their fellow-sinners) will give a considerate tenderness to our reproof, which without weakening its application, will powerfully soften the heart to receive it: so that it falls, ‘as a wise reprover upon an obedient ear’ (Prov 25:12).  Indeed it is when we most deeply feel our own sinfulness, that we speak most closely and powerfully to the consciences of our people.”

Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry, p. 335.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

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The Whole Chain Holdeth (Sibbes)

The unbreakable, unchanging love of God for his children is one of the most comforting truths in Christianity.  God’s love for us in Christ is a free love.  This means it is not dependent upon something in us or something we have done or left undone.  He knew we were ungodly sinners, yet he loved us and gave his Son to die for us (cf. Rom. 5:8).  He loves his people with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).  When we stumble and fall, his grip of love does not waver. His love for us is firm and constant. Richard Sibbes explained the comforting aspect of God’s love very well in A Heavenly Conference.  Here’s an excerpt; notice how the love of the Lord is very much related to the perseverance of the saints:

Beloved, let us not lose the comfort of the constancy and immutability of Christ’s love. Let us conceive that all the sweet links of salvation are held on God’s part strong, not on ours; the firmness is on God’s part, not on ours. Election is firm on God’s part, not on ours. We choose indeed as he chooseth us, but the firmness is of his choosing; so he calleth us, we answer, but the firmness is of his action. He justifieth; we are made righteous, but the firmness is of his imputation. Will he forgive sins today, and bring us into court and damn us tomorrow? No. The firmness is of his action. We are ready to run into new debts every day, but whom he justifieth he will glorify. The whole chain so holdeth, that all the creatures in heaven and earth cannot break a link of it. Whom he calleth he will justify and glorify. Therefore never doubt of continuance, for it holds firm on God’s part, not thine.

God embraceth us in the arms of his everlasting love, not that we embraced him first. When the child falleth not, it is from the mother’s holding the child, and not from the child’s holding the mother. So it is God’s holding of us, knowing of us, embracing of us, and justifying of us that maketh the state firm, and not ours; for ours is but a reflection and result of his, which is unvariable. The sight of the sun varieth, but the sun in the firmament keepeth always his constant course. So God’s love is as the sun, invariable, and forever the same.

Richard Sibbes, A Heavenly Conference, p. 53-54.

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

God’s Saving Love: Personal or Impersonal?

Greg Forster makes a great point about the Calvinist view of God’s love in contrast to other views of God’s love.  Either God’s love is a personal, intimate love that embraces some sinners, as the Calvinist says, or it is an impersonal, abstract love that embraces none.  Here’s how Forster says it:

Every tradition besides Calvinism claims that God’s saving love is aimed not at particular individuals but at humanity in the mass. [They say] God may well love individuals, personally.  But that aspect of his love is not what saves people.  Jesus did not die on the cross and rise again because he loved you personally – loving you, the individual whom he knows completely and intimately.  He did it because he loves people in general, in the abstract.

In short, Jesus died on the cross and rose again because he ‘loves humanity.’

It is important to clearly grasp the difference between saying God loves all people – loves each of them personally, as individuals – and saying ‘God loves humanity’ in the abstract.  It is one thing to say God loves you personally, and also loves me personally, and also loves this person, and that person…and so on until we have included every individual in the human race from Adam to the last person born at the end of history.  It is a very different thing to say God ‘loves’ the theoretical concept of ‘humanity’ – that he loves the abstraction, the mass as mass, impersonally.

…All theological traditions besides Calvinism claim the saving ‘love’ for ‘humanity’ that led Jesus up to the cross and down to the grave, and then back up out of it, is a love that does not embrace any specific individuals at all.  If it did, that would put us right back where we started with our problem.  If the love that led Jesus to the cross is a love for any individual people, it is either a love for all individual people or only for some.  We don’t want it to be only for some, because that thought is horrible.  But if it’s for all people then either they’re all saved (which we know is not true) or God’s work fails in its purpose (which we also know is not true).  So God’s saving love is either a personal love that embraces some and not others, or it is not a personal love at all; it embraces no individuals.  It is entirely abstract.

Greg Forster, The Joy of Calvinism, p. 52-3.

Shane Lems

Augustine and Love (Oberman)

The Reformation: Roots and Ramifications This is an excellent resource: The Reformation: Roots and Ramifications” by Heiko Oberman.  I just finished reading the chapter that covered mysticism in the medieval church; it was quite helpful.  It’s too detailed to summarize in one blog post, so for now I’ll just quote a section where Oberman summarized Augustine’s view of love.  This is worth thinking about – especially the two different “orbits”.

[Augustine was] a theologian of love. Not only is his great survey of history in ‘De civitate Dei’ (The City of God) shot through with the theme of love, but his ‘Confessiones’ (Confessions) take from the love of God and from God’s love a new definition of the person. Reason and intellect do not place us in the cosmic hierarchy, contrary to what Augustine had learned while studying philosophy, but love. Love is ‘pondus’ (weight), and ‘pondus’ is not a burden but rather gravity, and therefore determines the orbit into which a human being gravitates.

Augustine assumes that there are only two sorts of people, who move in two different orbits. One sort rotates around themselves, the other sort, around God. Both orbits are determined by the love that seeks the center, either by amor sui, self-love, or by amor Dei, the love of God. In order to make the jump from the ‘self-centered’ orbit to the other one, human beings need the help of a sovereign act of God. God alone makes this jump from the old to the new orbit happen—by his grace alone, ‘sola gratia.’

Heiko Augustinus Oberman, The Reformation : Roots and Ramifications (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 82–83.

(A paperback copy of this book is available on Amazon.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Love Rightly Ordered (Augustine)

When Augustine was commenting on how the “sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful” and married them (Gen. 6:2 NIV), he made a brilliant observation on God-given beauty and love rightly ordered:

And thus beauty, which is indeed God’s handiwork, but only a temporal, carnal, and lower kind of good, is not fitly loved in preference to God, the eternal, spiritual, and unchangeable Good. When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately,

Augustine goes on to quote a poem/hymn, which he himself probably wrote:

It is this which some one has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator:

These are Thine, they are good,
because Thou art good who didst create them.
There is in them nothing of ours,
unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things,
and instead of Thee love that which Thou hast made.”

We might say this is also an exposition of the Bible’s teaching that we should love God first and foremost (Mt. 22:37).  Here’s one more paragraph from Augustine after his poem/hymn:

But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, “Order love within me.”

There’s something to read again and think about: virtue is the right order of love.

These quotes are found in Augustine’s City of God, XV.22.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

“The Majesty of the Lover” (Turretin)

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1 In studying for a sermon on God’s love, I found these four excellent points in Francis Turretin’s Institutes – points which I had highlighted around 10 years ago.  This is why I highlight in my books!

These four things in the highest manner commend the love of God towards us:

(1) the majesty of the Lover;
(2) the poverty and unworthiness of the loved;
(3) the worth of Him in whom we are loved;
(4) the multitude and excellence of the gifts which flow out from that love to us.

Turretin then explains each of these four points:

(a) God loves us; He who, constituted in the highest pre-eminence and happiness, does not need us and is not bound to love us; indeed can most justly hate and destroy us if He so willed.
(b) Men are beloved, not only as empty and weak creatures, but as sinners and guilty, rebellious servants, who so far from deserving it, are on the other hand most worthy of hatred and punishment.
(c) He in whom they are beloved is Christ (Eph. 1:5-6), the delight of his heavenly Father and the “express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3), than whom He could give nothing more excellent, nothing dearer, even if He had given the whole universe.
(d) The effects of His love are both many in number and great in value – that is, all the benefits by which salvation is begun in this life and perfected in the other.  Also, what is the crown and sum of all the blessings, the gift of God himself, who imparts himself to us as an object of fruition both in grace and in glory.

You’ll find this paragraph (which I’ve edited slightly) in volume one of Turretin’s Institutes, page 242. 

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

The Bags Around Our Necks (Binning)

 I’ve been studying and preaching through 1 Corinthians 13 (sometimes known as Paul’s hymn of love) and one resource I’ve been using is Hugh Binning’s Christian Love.  It’s not too long, but it is sometimes difficult to read because of the older language.  However, it is worth the effort!  Here’s a section I ran across today as I was looking at the phrase love “always trusts” (NIV):

It is certainly [excessive] love and indulgence to ourselves that makes us aggravate other men’s faults to such a height.  Self-love looks on other men’s failings through a magnifying glass, but she puts her own faults behind her back.

Binning is alluding to one of Aesop’s Fables that explain how all men are born with two bags around their necks: One is full of the faults of others and it hangs on our necks in front of us, under our noses.  The other bag hangs behind us, and it is full of our own faults.  This means, of course, that we always see the faults of others, but it is hard to see our own faults.  This is similar to the “log in the eye” teaching of Jesus in Luke 6.  Here’s more:

[Excessive self-love] can suffer much in herself but nothing in others; and certainly much self-forbearance and indulgence can spare little for others.  But charity is just contrary, she is most rigid on her own behalf, will not pardon herself easily…, and has no indignation but against herself.  Thus she can spare much candor and forbearance for others, and has little or no indignation left behind to consume on others.

Does that make sense?  In other words, if you don’t love someone you will be quick to look for, find, and point out other people’s flaws and sins while minimizing your own.  If I don’t love my neighbor, I will not put up with my neighbor’s faults and sins, but I will easily put up with my own.

However, love is not that way.  If you love someone, you’ll be patient and kind towards them, despite their flaws and sins, and you’ll be more upset with your own sins than theirs.

Indeed, love is patient, love is kind.  …It does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:4-5 NIV).

The above quotes are from Hugh Binning, Christian Love, p. 26-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI