Prayer and Study, Study and Prayer (Shedd)

Homiletics and Pastoral Theology: With an Appendix (WGT Shedd)
Shedd, Pastoral Theology

Serious Christians are students of the Word.  We seek the truth in God’s Word, we find it there, and we learn more about it as we grow, study, and read.  We memorize verses, try to understand biblical concepts, and we desire to live as Scripture calls us to live.  We are students of the Word of truth.

However, as W. G. T. Shedd wrote about studying the Word, 

It is not sufficient to commune with the truth; for truth is impersonal. We must commune with the God of truth. It is not enough to study, and ponder, the contents of religious books, of even the Bible itself. We must actually address the author of the Bible, in entreaties and petitions.

There can, consequently, be no genuine religion without prayer. And the degree of religion, will depend upon the depth and heartiness of prayer. It does not depend so much upon the length, as the intensity of the mental activity. A few moments of real and absorbing address to God, will accomplish more for the Christian, in the way of arming him with spiritual power, than days or years of reflection, without it.

 Shedd then applies study and prayer to the pastor’s life:

Well, therefore, may we lay down, as the first rule for the promotion of piety in the clergyman, the great and standing rule for all Christians. Let him not be satisfied with studying, and pondering, the best treatises in theology, or with studying, and pondering, even the Bible itself. Besides all this, and as the crowning and completing act, in the religious life, let him actually, and really pray. Let him not be content with a theological mood, with a homiletic spirit, with a serious and elevated mental habitude. Besides all this, and as a yet higher and more enlivening mental process, let him truly, and personally address his Maker and Redeemer, in supplication. Let him not attempt to promote piety in the soul, by a merely negative effort,—by neglecting the cultivation of the mind, and undervaluing learning and study. If the clergyman is not spiritually-minded, and devotedly religious, with learning and studiousness, he certainly will not be so without it. Neglect of his intellectual and theological character, will not help his religious character. Let him constantly endeavor to advance the divine life in his soul, by a positive, and comprehensive method. Let him consecrate, and sanctify all his study, and all his meditativeness, and all his profound and serious knowledge, with prayer.

 William G. T. Shedd, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1872), 336–337.

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


Advertisements

Ongoing Inspirations from the Holy Spirit? (Van Mastricht)

 In the years following the Protestant Reformation there were groups who believed that God was still speaking directly and immediately to them.  thought that this inner word from God was equal to or sometimes even above Scripture, so they would follow and submit to the inner word.  Luther and Calvin, along with other Reformers, were very critical of these enthusiasts.  In fact, historical Reformed theology has always been critical of such claims and movements.  One example is Petrus Van Mastricht (d. 1706) who gave a helpful summary of the enthusiast position and a biblical refutation of it:

…We [the Reformed] dispute whether believers now, after the canon has been sealed, possess enthusiasms, or inspirations, of the Holy Spirit.  These inspirations are to them [the enthusiasts] the most certain word of God, to which one must submit just as much, if not in fact more, than to the Scriptures. …Indeed, they acknowledge that Scripture is the Word of God, but it is not to be understood except according to the breathings or the inspirations of their Spirit, a certain sort of internal word, as it were.

The Reformed acknowledge that in the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, there were true enthusiasms, and that in all ordinary believers there are indeed operations of the Holy Spirit that illuminate, convert, and sanctify, but there are no enthusiasms, no inspirations, in the sense of the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit, [infallible direction] which has now been removed from all men.  This heresy is refuted by a destruction of this twofold false hypothesis:

First, they claim that Scripture is not a complete and sufficient rule of faith and morals in itself.  For if Scripture’s sufficiency stands enthusiasm falls on its own.  Now, its sufficiency stands by those things that we have said in favor of the perfection of Scripture in section 19 above….

Second, they claim that even now enthusiasms are infallible revelations of the Spirit are given, which are different from the scriptural enthusiasms, and with the help of which the Scriptures must be interpreted. However, the sacred page does not know of such revelations; indeed, it even rejects them, since it is perfect, and sufficient of itself in every respect; and it pronounces that they are joined with the most pressing danger of seduction (2 Cor. 11:14; 2 Thes. 2:2; 1 John 4:1-2).

…[Indeed,] there are passages that speak of revelation and of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I respond that those passages are not speaking about the kind of enthusiasms that direct [us] infallibly and that reveal other objects to us, different from those things (indeed, even contrary to those things) that Scripture holds, but rather, those that bring light to the intellect, so that we might be able to discern and distinguish the things revealed in the Scriptures (Eph. 1:17-18).

This complete section (which I’ve edited slightly) can be found on pages 153-154 of Van Mastricht’s Theoretical-Practical Theology.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Taking the Sufficiency of Scripture Seriously (Murray)

 John Murray’s article, “The Finality and Sufficiency of Scripture” is a wonderful explanation of those twin biblical truths about Scripture.  One section of this article that I read today had some comments in it that are still applicable for us in our setting:

Here, I believe, we have too often made the mistake of not taking seriously the doctrine [of Scripture] we profess.” If Scripture is the inscripturated revelation of the gospel and of God’s mind and will, if it is the only revelation of this character that we possess, then it is this revelation in all its fulness, richness, wisdom, and power that must be applied to man in whatever religious, moral, mental situation he is to be found.  It is because we have not esteemed and prized the perfection of Scripture and its finality, that we have resorted to other techniques, expedients, and methods of dealing with the dilemma that confronts us all if we are alive to the needs of this hour.

Later Murray wrote,

..Let us learn from our tradition, let us prize our heritage, let us enter into other men’s labours; but let us also know that it is not the tradition of the past, not a precious heritage, and not the labours of the fathers, that are to serve this generation and this hour, but the Word of the living and abiding God deposited for us in Holy Scripture, and this Word as ministered by the church.  And we must bring forth from its inexhaustible treasures, in exposition, proclamation, and application what is the wisdom and power of God for man in this age in all the particularity of his need, as for man in every age.  There will then be commanding relevance, for it will be the message from God in the unction and power of the Spirit, not derived from the modern mentality, but declared to the modern mentality in all the desperateness of its anxiety and misery.

…Let us reassess the significance of Scripture as the Word of God and let us come to a deeper appreciation of the deposit of revelation God in his grace and wisdom has given unto us as the living Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, and let us know and experience its power in its sufficiency for every exigency of our individual and collective need, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts.

John Murray, Collected Writings, Vol. 1, p. 21-22.

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

Evil: An Unjustifiable Mystery (Blocher)

 I really appreciated Henri Blocher’s book Evil and the Cross.  It’s a helpful discussion about the problem of evil from a Christian perspective.  I’ve blogged about it before so I won’t go into details.  However, reading through parts of this book again today I found one section I highlighted – it’s worth sharing.  Right before this quote, Blocher was talking about how in many ways we can’t understand evil.  There’s mystery involved.  Here’s Blocher:

If we bowed to the incomprehensible as a way out every time that we found ourselves in difficulties, there would be grounds for suspicion about such a procedure – it would be sheer irresponsibility, the abdication of reason.  People are too ready to fall back on the action of ‘mystery’, and also to confuse mystery with the absurd – which Scripture never does.

But we would argue that the mystery of evil is the one unique inscrutable mystery, as unique as evil itself, sui generis.  Far from being absurd, it corresponds precisely with the experience of evil, with its two facets: unjustifiable reality.  Engraved in the decree of God, evil has a certain reality; but being contrary to his precept and his will, it is unjustifiable.  As we have said, it does not imply contradiction.  All the other mysteries that transcend our understanding, those of the Trinity, the union of the two natures of Christ, created freedom, are all luminous mysteries: if the mind tackles them biblically, it simply revels in them.  Only the ‘opaque’ enigma of evil causes it pain.

If the solutions put forward in place of the scriptural response were capable of satisfying the human mind and spirit, they would be unquestionably superior.  But surely it is the opposite that we have shown from a broad enough selection.  Analysis reveals that what are called solutions turn out to be so many attempts to gloss over one or other of the aspects of the problem, to deny evil, or to ‘forget’ the initial, more reliable apprehension of the reality of evil that everyone experiences with indignation and shame.

Scripture alone is free of that.  Surely such purity is nothing short of miraculous.  No discourse strips the guilty of excuses like this Book.  Water down one of the three affirmations (the evil of evil, the sovereignty of God, and the goodness of God) and evil to some extent becomes excusable, as we have demonstrated.  Would Scripture be so true to reality if its origin were solely human?

Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1994), 102.

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

The Blessings of Bible Study (Witsius)

On the Character of the True Divine Don’t let anyone convince you that those older Reformed theologians were dry, dispassionate teachers who were only concerned about bare doctrine and orthodoxy.  Read what Herman Witsius (d. 1708) had to say about the blessings of Bible study. I take it he’s speaking from experience!

The Word of God… when studied attentively, has also an indescribable power of attraction. It fills the mind with the clearest ideas of heavenly truth. Its method of teaching is distinguished by purity, solidity, certainty, and the absence of the least mixture of error. It soothes the mind with an ineffable sweetness, it satisfies the hunger and thirst of sacred knowledge with flowing brooks of honey and butter,it penetrates, by its irresistible power, into the inmost recesses of the heart, it imprints its testimony on the mind so firmly and immoveably, that the believing soul rests upon it with as much security as if it had been carried up to the third heaven, and had heard it directly from God’s mouth, it moves all the affections, and, exhaling in every line the most delightful odor of sanctity, breathes it [sanctity] into the soul of the pious reader, even although he perhaps does not reach the full meaning of all that he peruses….

 Witsius, H. (1856). On the Character of the True Divine: An Inaugural Oration, Delivered at Franeker, April 16, 1675 (p. 19). Edinburgh: James Wood.

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

Rome: Sola Ecclesia or Sola Scriptura? (Kruger)

7C391526-D6D2-4506-A1CD-0FBC96E36A2F (This is a re-blog from March, 2013)

A short while ago I posted some helpful and critical comments about Rome’s view of Scripture by Michael Kruger (in Canon Revisited). Here is part two of that post. The quote is a bit longer than my usual ones, but it is well worth the time.

“…The most fundamental concern [is] whether the Roman Catholic model, in some sense, makes the Scripture subordinate to the church. The answer to that question is revealed when we ask another question: How does the Roman Catholic Church establish its own infallible authority? If the Roman Catholic church believes that infallible authorities (like the Scriptures) require external authentication, then to what authority does the church turn to establish the grounds for its own infallible authority? Here is where the Roman Catholic model runs into some difficulties. There are three options for how to answer this question.”

“(1) The church could claim that its infallible authority is authenticated by (and derived from) the Scriptures. But this proves to be rather vicious circular reasoning. If the Scriptures cannot be known and authenticated without the authority of the church, then you cannot establish the authority of the church on the basis of the Scriptures. You cannot have it both ways. Moreover, on an exegetical level, one would be hard-pressed to find much scriptural support for an infallible church….”

“(2) The church could claim that its infallible authority is authenticated by external evidence from the history of the church: the origins of the church, the character of the church, the progress of the church, and so forth. However, these are not infallible grounds by which the church’s infallibility could be established. In addition, the history of the Roman Church is not a pure one – the abuses, corruption, documented papal errors, and the like do not naturally lead one to conclude that the church is infallible regarding ‘faith and morals.’”

“(3) It seems that the only option left to the Catholic model is to declare that the church’s authority is self-authenticating and needs no external authority to validate it. Or, more bluntly put, we ought to believe in the infallibility of the Roman Catholic Church because it says so.”

“The Roman Catholic Church, then, finds itself in the awkward place of having chided the Reformers for having a self-authenticating authority (sola scriptura), while all the while it has engaged in that very same activity by setting itself up as a self-authenticating authority (sola ecclesia). On the Catholic model, the Scripture’s own claims should be received on their own authority. The Roman Catholic Church, functionally speaking, is committed to sola ecclesia.”

Here’s Kruger’s helpful critique of Rome’s view of the church over the Word.

“…This presents challenges for the Catholic model. Most pertinent is the question of how there can be a canon at all – at least one that can genuinely challenge, correct, and transform the church – if the validation structure for the canon, in effect, already presupposes that the church bears an authority that is even higher? On the Catholic system, then, the canon’s authority is substantially diminished. What authority it does have must be construed as purely derivative – less a rule over the church and more of an arm of the church, not something that determines the church’s identity but something that merely expresses it.”

This sheds some new light on the Reformation phrase, “always reforming according to the Word.” Rome can’t logically say this phrase because it does not believe that the Scriptures alone are the highest authority for faith and life; Rome believes in sola ecclesia, not sola scriptura. One cannot have it both ways.

The above quotes are found in Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 47-48.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Sola Scriptura: What It Isn’t (Muller)

Product Details The Reformation teaching of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) does not mean that the Christian alone reads the Bible alone and interprets it alone.  Sola Scriptura does not at all mean we should be lone rangers when studying, interpreting, and applying God’s Word.  According to sola Scriptura private devotions aren’t bad, but private interpretation is.

And historically speaking we probably shouldn’t use Luther on trial at Worms as an illustration of what sola Scriptura means unless we give it a fuller contextual explanation.  The Diet of Worms wasn’t at all “Luther alone and his Bible alone against the Roman Catholic Church.”

Here’s how Richard Muller describes it.

“…It is…entirely anachronistic to view the sola scriptura of Luther and his contemporaries as a declaration that all of theology ought to be constructed anew, without reference to the church’s tradition of interpretation, by the lonely exegete confronting the naked text.”

“It is equally anachronistic to assume that Scripture functioned for the Reformers like a set of numbered facts or propositions suitable for use as ready-made solutions to any and all questions capable of arising in the course of human history.  Both the language of sola scriptura and the actual use of the text of Scripture by the Reformers can be explained only in terms of the questions of authority and interpretation posed by the developments of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.  Even so, close study of the actual exegetical results of the Reformers manifests strong interpretive and doctrinal continuities with the exegetical results of the [early church] fathers and the medieval doctors.”

Richard Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics vol. 2 p. 63-64.

(This is a repost from July 2013)

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