…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

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Doctrinism and Antinomianism (Newton)

 Here’s a section from one of John Newton’s sermons on those who are orthodox in doctrine but destitute of good works.  Or, in other words, their doctrine is right, but they have no deeds that show their faith to be true.  Maybe we could call this “doctrinism,” when a person is only concerned about doctrine and not practice.  Notice below how “doctrinism” goes hand in hand with antinomianism.

It is very possible, yea, very easy, by the help of books, sermons, and conversation, to acquire an orderly and systematic knowledge of divine truths.  It may be learned thus, like any other branch of human science, and the head be well stored with orthodox sentiments.  There may also be an ability to prove and defend them, in a way of argumentation, while the heart is utterly a stranger to their salutary influence.

Such characters are too common. None make a greater parade and boast of seeing than these persons. None are more fatally blinded. They smile, with disdain, when they speak of a self-righteousness founded upon prayers, alms-deeds, and sacraments but are not aware that they themselves live in the very spirit of the Pharisees (Lk 18:2) so clearly described and so expressly condemned in the New Testament. Their supposed knowledge of the doctrines which they misunderstand and abused is the righteousness on which they base their hopes.  And trusting to this, they despise all those who are stricter in practice than themselves, as ignorant and legal.  They discover, almost as great a dislike to close and faithful preaching, as they could do to poison.

Though the doctrines of the Gospel, when rightly received, are productive of godliness, it is to be feared, there are people who espouse and plead for them, to quiet their consciences, by furnishing them with excuses for the sins they are unwilling to forsake. It is not surprising, that they who are displeased with the yoke of our Lord’s precepts, should seem friendly to the idea of salvation without the works of the law.

In other words, there are some people who have their doctrine straight but they do not live godly lives.  It’s one strain of antinomianism: I know my doctrine, so I can live how I want.  Newton continues his discussion about those people who are doctrinally sound but lacking in good works:

The notion of the final perseverance of believers, may afford a pillow for those to rest on, who being at present destitute of all feeling of spiritual life, labour to persuade themselves that they are Christians, because they had some serious thoughts, and made some profession of the truth, many years ago. So, likewise, in what the Scriptures teach, of the total inability of fallen man, they think they have a plea to justify their negligence and sloth, and therefore are not disposed to contradict the testimony. They evade the invitation and command to wait, and watch, and strive, in the ways and means of the Lord’s appointment, as they think, with impunity, by confessing the charge, and saying, ‘I am a poor creature indeed, I can do nothing of myself aright, and therefore to what purpose should I attempt to do any thing?’

A minister may preach upon these points, in general terms, and obtain their good word. But if he speaks plainly and faithfully to conscience; if he bears testimony not only against dead works, but against a dead faith, against spiritual pride, evil tempers, evil speaking, love of the world, and sinful compliances; if he insists that the branches of the true vine should bear grapes, and not the same fruit as the bramble, hearers of this stamp will think they do God service by censuring all he can say, as low and legal trash. How awful(!) that people should be blinded by the very truths which they profess to believe!

Yet I fear such cases are too frequent. God grant a delusion of this kind may never be found amongst us! For if the salt itself should lose its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? (Mt 5:13). May we come simply to the light, with a desire of seeing more of ourselves, and more of our Savior; that we may be more humble and spiritual, more afraid of sin, more watchful and successful in striving against it; and, in our whole conversation, more conformable to our glorious Head!

John Newton, Works, volume 4 pages 145-146.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

A Poem for the Ill (Toplady)

 Here are a few verses from a poem Augustus Toplady wrote for those suffering with sickness:

Jesus, since I with thee am one;
Confirm my soul in thee,
And still continue to tread down
The man of sin in me.

Let not the subtle foe prevail
In this my feeble hour
Frustrate all the hopes of hell
Redeem from Satan’s power

Arm me O Lord from head to foot
With righteousness divine;
My soul in Jesus firmly root,
and seal the Savior mine.

Proportioned to my pains below,
O let my joys increase,
And mercy to my spirit flow
In healing streams of peace.

In life and death be thou my God,
And I am more than safe;
Chastised by thy paternal rod,
Support me with thy staff.

Lay on me Savior what thou wilt,
But give me strength to bear;
Thy gracious hand this cross hath dealt,
Which cannot be severe.*

As gold refined may I come out,
In sorrow’s furnace tried;
Preserved from faithlessness and doubt,
And fully purified.

*(“Severe” here means “unnecessarily extreme” or “harsh in an unloving way.”)

There are other verses; these are just a few.  The entire poem can be found in the Works of Augustus Toplady, volume six.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

God the Sculptor (Kuyper)

 As we well know, the Bible talks about God being a potter (Is. 64:8, Jer. 18:6, Rom. 9:21, etc.).  Abraham Kuyper built on this imagery in his devotional on Philippians 2:13: For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (NASB).  He started by saying this:

We ourselves will, not because of ourselves, but because God so worketh in us, that now we ourselves truly and actually will to do thus and not otherwise.

Kuyper later gave the illustration of God being the sculptor of his people and discussed it in terms of sanctification and a renewal of the image of God in us:

When God worketh in us he is the omnipresent One, who is both high in heaven and close at hand. Even “close at hand” is still too weak a statement, for God is in every one of us. There is no part in our being where God is not omnipresent. This is the case with all men. But when God deals with one of his children, this inward presence is much closer and more personal, for God dwells in such an one by his Holy Spirit, If we believe that the Holy Spirit is himself God, we understand that God himself tabernacles in his child, that he has his throne in the inmost recess of the child’s soul, and thus has fellowship with him, not from afar, but in the sanctuary of his own person. There God worketh upon us by day and by night, even when we are not conscious of it. He is our Sculptor, who carves in us the image of himself, and makes us more and more to resemble his own Being. Thus he transforms us, and also the willing in us. It is God who worketh in us, not only our emotions, but also our willing, by transforming “the self that wills.”

When we understand it this way, it is plain that there is a constant holy entering in of God’s will into our will, thanks to this purifying and refining and transposing of our inmost selves. This work goes on in us mostly unobserved and unperceived, so tenderly and gently does God’s hand direct the task. But not always just like this. Sometimes the sculptor must forcibly strike off a piece from the marble, so that it crashes and splinters as it falls. These are our times of violent inward struggles, when everything within us quakes with the reverberations of moral shocks. But whether it be gentle or whether it be violent, it is ever the process of sculpturing. And the sculptor works not after a model that stands before him, but is himself the model. He forms us after his own image.

 Kuyper, A. (1918). To Be Near unto God (pp. 168–169). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co.

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

All of Grace, From Beginning to the End (Kuyper)

 It is true that when God sovereignly changes our hearts and gives life to what is dead, we ourselves repent, believe, and begin to obey him (see Eph. 2:1-10).  We are passive in regeneration but are active in sanctification.  True faith always shows up in truly good works.  However, it’s all of grace.  Abraham Kuyper put it well in his book on the work of the Holy Spirit.  He noted that the regenerate Christian is not passive, but active in the Christian life.  Then Kuyper wrote this:

But it is not implied that the elect and regenerate sinner is now able to do anything without God; or that if God should cease working in him, conversion and sanctification would follow of themselves.  Both these representations are untrue, un-Reformed, and unchristian, because they detract from the work of the Holy Spirit in the elect.

No; all spiritual good is of grace to the end; grace not only in regeneration, but at every step of the way of life.  From the beginning to the end and throughout eternity the Holy Spirit is the Worker, of regeneration and conversion, of justification and every part of sanctification, of glorification, and of all the bliss of the redeemed.  Nothing may be subtracted from this.

Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, p. 339.

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

Sanctification: A Supernatural Work (Hodge)

Systematic Theology (3 vols.) Charles Hodge did a nice job explaining from Scripture how sanctification is a supernatural work of God.  Here’s an edited summary of his explanation:

That sanctification is a supernatural work…is proved:

  1. From the fact that it is constantly referred to God as its author (1 Thes. 5:23, Heb. 13:20-21, Titus 2:14, Eph. 5:25, etc.)….
  2. This reference of sanctification to God as its author is special.  “Every such prayer, every thanksgiving for grace imparted, every recognition of the Christian virtues as fruits of the Spirit, and gifts of God, are so many recognitions of the great truth that the restoration of man to the image of God is not a work of nature, either originated or carried on by the efficiency of second causes, but is truly and properly supernatural, as due to the immediate power of the Spirit producing effects for which second causes are inadequate.”
  3. We find in Scripture that the continuation of spiritual life in its activity and growth is attributed to God’s almighty power (Eph. 1:19, 3:7, 3:20)….
  4. “All that the Scriptures teach concerning the union between the believer and Christ, and of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, proves the supernatural character of our sanctification. Men do not make themselves holy; their holiness, and their growth in grace, are not due to their own fidelity, or firmness of purpose, or watchfulness and diligence, although all these are required, but to the divine influence by which they are rendered thus faithful, watchful, and diligent, and which produces in them the fruits of righteousness. Without me, saith our Lord, ye can do nothing. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me. The hand is not more dependent on the head for the continuance of its vitality, than is the believer on Christ for the continuance of spiritual life in the soul.”

The above edited summary is found in Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 218.

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

That Rebel Self (Newton)

 John Newton knew what it meant to be a saint and a sinner at the same time.  Here’s part of a letter he wrote to a Christian friend in April 1776:

I do not ask you if you are always filled with sensible comfort; but do you find your spirit more bowed down at the feet and will of Jesus, so as to be willing to serve him for the sake of serving him, and to follow him, as we say, through thick and thin; to be willing to be anything or nothing, so that he may be glorified?

I could give you plenty of good advice upon this head [topic], but I am ashamed to do it, because I so poorly follow it myself.  I want to live with him by the day, to do all for him, to receive all from him, to possess all in him, to live all to him, to make him my hiding-place and my resting-place.  I want to deliver up that rebel Self to him in chains; but the rogue, like Proteus, puts on so many forms, that he slips through my fingers: but I think I know what I would do if I could fairly catch him.

My soul is like a besieged city: a legion of enemies without the gates, and a nest of restless traitors within that hold a correspondence with them without – so that I am deceived and counteracted continually… Indeed it is a miracle that I still hold out.  I trust, however, I shall be supported to the end, and that my Lord will at length raise the siege, and cause me to shout deliverance and victory.

John Newton, Wise Counsel, p. 87-88.

Shane Lems