When Sin Turns Into An Affliction (Bunyan)

 Israel’s complaining and grumbling began early on in the wilderness years. In fact, if my count is correct, they complained around 5 times in the first year or so after God rescued them from Egypt.  In one instance of their grumbling, God gave Israel what they whined for: meat to eat.  In fact, God said to Israel, “You will eat it [meat] for a whole month until you gag and are sick of it” (Num. 11:20 NLT).

In their hearts, the people of Israel craved, coveted, and longed for the things of Egypt.  This was such a deep heart issue that they wouldn’t listen to God’s word nor would they remember his promise and his provision.  John Bunyan commented on this deep-rooted sinful craving:

But now, how shall this man be reclaimed from this sin? How shall he be brought, wrought, and made, to be out of love with it? Doubtless it can be by no other means, by what we can see in the Word, but by the wounding, breaking, and disabling of the heart that loves sin, and by that means making sin a plague and gall unto the heart.

Sin may be made an affliction, and as gall and wormwood to them that love it; but the making of sin so bitter a thing to such a man, will not be done but by great and sore means.

Bunyan also told a story of a little girl in his town who used to chew on dirty cigar butts she found on the ground.  Her parents tried everything to get her to stop eating the butts – from kind promises to discipline – but nothing worked.  Finally, since nothing else was working, they listened to their doctor.  They took a bunch of dirty cigar butts, mixed them with warm milk, and made the girl drink it.  She took a sip and it made her so sick that she vomited.  After that, she never touched a cigar butt again!  The point is that God sometimes does that to his children when they are infatuated with sin.

Bunyan then wrote,

You love your sin, and neither rod nor good words will as yet reclaim you. Well, take heed; if you will not be reclaimed, God will make you a potion of your sin, which shall be so bitter to your soul, so irksome to your taste, so loathsome to your mind, and so afflicting to your heart, that it shall break your heart with sickness and grief, till sin be loathsome to you. I say, thus he will do if he loves you; if not, he will allow you to go on in your sinful course, and will let you go on eating your tobacco-pipe heads!

In other words,

God can tell how to make that loathsome to you on which you most set your evil heart. And he will do so, if he loves you; else, as I said, he will not make you sick by smiting you nor punish you for or when you commit whoredom, but will let you alone till the judgment-day, and call you to a reckoning for all your sins then.

When our hearts are so in love with the things of this world, so enraptured by sin, sometimes God makes us drink that sin like a nasty elixir which makes us sick to the heart.  When that happens, we must learn from Israel’s mistake and repent!  And we must thank God for making us taste the bitterness of sin now so we can escape its bitterness in eternity.  Finally, we should ask God for forgiveness, for the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, for his Spirit to help us fight sin, and for contentment with the lot God has given us.

The above edited quotes are found in John Bunyan, The Acceptable Sacrifice, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 707.

(NOTE: This is a repost from August, 2016).

Shane Lems

The Dimensions of Repentance in the OT (Boda)

 I enjoyed this book by Mark Boda called Return to Me: A Biblical Theology of Repentance.  As the title suggests, it is a summary of the Bible’s teaching on repentance from Genesis to Revelation.  Each chapter is called something like this: “Repentance in the Torah,” or “Repentance in the Latter Prophets,” etc.  While studying 2 Chronicles 19:4, I read over some parts of Boda’s book and I saw this section that I had marked up earlier.  It’s about the dimensions of repentance in Old Testament theology:

Repentance throughout the Old Testament involves a shift in relationship, in behavior, in affection, and is often accompanied by a verbal declaration and/or ritual acts.  I call these dimensions of repentance because they occur within the same context as simultaneous aspects of repentance.

At the core of the old testament theology of repentance is the relational dimension.  The change in relationship is often explicitly expressed as a shift from a foreign god or gods to Yahweh.  While this may have a behavioral aspect to it, such as destroying or abandoning one’s idols, it is the relational shift that is key as the person or people exchange their relationship with one deity or deities for a relationship with Yahweh.  At times, however, the focus is on returning to Yahweh without explicit reference to turning from other gods.

… Repentance, however, is not reduced to a shift in external behavior, that is, repentance is not mere moralism. Across the Old Testament there is a consistent emphasis on the kind of change that entails an inner reorientation.  This is seen in the regular reference to the heart or soul in contexts that encourage repentance.  This is best expressed by the oft-repeated phrase ‘with all one’s heart’ (and soul and might).  Internal characteristics include humility, sincerity, truthfulness, fear/reverence, tenderness, contriteness and lowliness of spirit, heavy heart and broken spirit, shame and humiliation, loathing, trembling, love, willingness, and steadfastness.  Repentance at times it involves not just a change in behavior (whether action or speech) but a change in perspective, whether that is shifting one’s view of God as seen in Malachi 2:17, 3:15, and Job 42:1-6, or seeking insight into God’s truth in Daniel 9:13….

There is more to Boda’s summary of repentance in the Old Testament, but this is a helpful part of that summary.  Boda did give a list of Scripture references for these aspects of repentance, to be sure.  If you want the entire summary, or if you want a good resource on the theme of repentance in the Bible, get this book: Return to Me

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


Definite Atonement, the Gospel Call, and Rejecting Christ (Newton)

 In a sermon on John 1:29, John Newton discussed definite atonement and the free offer of the gospel.  He admitted there is mystery in this area of Scripture’s teaching:

“I am not disheartened by meeting with some things beyond the grasp of my scanty powers in a book which I believe to be inspired by Him whose ways and thoughts are higher than ours, ‘as the heavens are higher than the earth.’

Later in the sermon, Newton said that the biblical command for “all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30) implies a “warrant to believe in the name of Jesus, as taking away the sin of the world.”  It’s a serious call to repentance and faith, a kind summons for sinners to receive free forgiveness in Christ.

Let it not be said that to call upon men to believe, which is an act beyond their natural power, is to mock them.  There are prescribed means for the obtaining of faith, which it is not beyond their natural power to comply with, if they are not wilfully obstinate.  We have the word of God for our authority.  ‘God cannot be mocked,’ neither doth he mock his creatures.  Our Lord did not mock the young ruler when he told him that if he would sell his possessions on earth, and follow him, ‘he should have treasure in heaven.’  Had this ruler no power to sell his possessions?  I doubt not but that he himself thought he had power to sell them if he pleased….

…We cannot ascribe too much to the grace of God [in the salvation of sinners], but we should be careful that, under a semblance of exalting his grace, we do not furnish the slothful and unfaithful with excuses for their wilfulness and wickedness.  God is gracious; but let man be justly responsible for his own evil, and not presume to state his case so, as would, by just consequence, represent the holy God as being the cause of the sin which he hates and forbids.

These are some excellent points to remember.  The teaching of Scripture is that it is right and proper to call all people to repentance and faith, sincerely promising them that if they come to Christ, they will receive forgiveness and eternal life.  It’s also true that salvation is all of grace, yet God is not to blame when sinners reject the gospel call.

The entire sermon – which is very much worth reading! – is called “The Lamb of God, the Great Atonement” and it is found in volume four of Newton’s Works.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54014

They Came to Jesus and Burned Their Dark Magic Books

The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Acts of the Apostles Dark magic has been around for a long time.  When Israel was going into the Promised Land the LORD told his people not to dabble in the pagan occultic practices of the Canaanites (Dt. 18:9-14).  They were to avoid omens, fortunes, divination, spiritists, sorcery, psychic readings, and other sorts of dark magic.  The same goes for God’s people today.  Paul called sorcery one of the sinful “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:20).  In Acts 19, when Paul was in Ephesus, many who turned from their sins and believed the gospel ended up confessing their wicked practices of sorcery and dark magic.  They even went a step further:

Large numbers of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them up in the presence of everyone. When the value of the books was added up, it was found to total fifty thousand silver coins (Acts 19:19 NET Bible).

I appreciate David Peterson‘s comments on this in the Pillar New Testament Commentary on Acts:

The remarkable humiliation of the exorcists and the consequent glorification of the name of the Lord Jesus by many led to another amazing event. ‘Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed (exomologoumenoi kai anangellontes, ‘confessing and disclosing’) what they had done.’ There was a public expression of repentance on the part of ‘many of those who believed,’ whereby ‘a number who had practiced sorcery (ta perierga,’ ‘superfluous works’, a technical term for magic) ‘brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly.’ Apparently they were moved by the exposure and overcoming of the exorcists to realize that their own previous involvement with the magic arts now needed to be acknowledged. Perhaps they had kept scrolls in which spells were written as an insurance policy, in case their newfound faith proved to be inadequate in some situation! Burning the scrolls was a way of repudiating what they contained and represented a greater trust in God to deliver them from trouble and supply their needs.

Such repentance before God and his people was costly: When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand [drachmas] (argyriou, ‘of silver’, without specifying the units of silver as ‘drachmas’). Luke’s reference to the price of these scrolls once more suggests ‘his strong dislike of the money-making side of magic and his clear rejection of it from the Christian side’ (Barrett). These people recognised that genuine discipleship involved letting go what they treasured in order to enjoy the blessings of God’s kingdom (cf. Lk. 9:23–27; 18:18–30). The scrolls that were burned may have contained the famous ‘Ephesian letters’, with their words of power for warding off demons, and ‘the sort of material preserved in the magical papyri such as thaumaturgic formulae, incantations, hymns and prayers’ (Trebilco). By depicting the defeat of the magicians in this way, Luke conveyed the message ‘that in the name of Jesus, the faithful shall triumph over the forces of darkness: Christians need not fear the devil, for there is no power in him against them’ (Garrett).

David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, 19:18-19.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


Don’t Give Up On A Sinner! (Spencer)

I was recently reading part of A Pastor’s Sketches again and I found a paragraph I had marked up quite a bit.  Turns out I had blogged on this already (May 2017), so I thought I’d post it again.  Here it is:

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