Man Abandoned To Himself (Pascal)

 Blaise Pascal (d. 1662) is one of those Christian authors I can read over and over.  His writing has a depth to it that is both profound and thought-provoking – two things that are not so common in much of today’s Christian literature.  Here’s a section of Pascal’s writing I was reflecting upon this afternoon.  You might have to read it a few times – but it is worth the effort!

…What religion then will teach us to cure pride and lust? What religion will in fact teach us our good, our duties, the weakness which turns us from them, the cause of this weakness, the remedies which can cure it, and the means of obtaining these remedies?

All other religions have not been able to do so. Let us see what the wisdom of God will do:

“Expect neither truth,” she [God’s wisdom] says, “nor consolation from men. I am she who formed you, and who alone can teach you what you are. But you are now no longer in the state in which I formed you. I created man holy, innocent, perfect. I filled him with light and intelligence. I communicated to him my glory and my wonders. The eye of man saw then the majesty of God. He was not then in the darkness which blinds him, nor subject to mortality and the woes which afflict him. But he has not been able to sustain so great glory without falling into pride. He wanted to make himself his own centre, and independent of my help. He withdrew himself from my rule; and, on his making himself equal to me by the desire of finding his happiness in himself, I abandoned him to himself.

And setting in revolt the creatures that were subject to him, I made them his enemies; so that man is now become like the brutes, and so estranged from me that there scarce remains to him a dim vision of his Author. So far has all his knowledge been extinguished or disturbed! The senses, independent of reason, and often the masters of reason, have led him into pursuit of pleasure. All creatures either torment or tempt him, and domineer over him, either subduing him by their strength, or fascinating him by their charms, a tyranny more awful and more imperious.

Such is the state in which men now are. There remains to them some feeble instinct of the happiness of their former state; and they are plunged in the evils of their blindness and their lust, which have become their second nature.

Blaise Pascal, Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works, p.140.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Helpless and Hopeless Humankind (Motyer)

Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary If you’ve used Bible commentaries even a little bit, you know that they are quite often hit or miss.  I’ve had it more than a few times that I purchase a highly recommended commentary and was disappointed with it so much that I turned around and sold it. Such is how it sometimes goes!

However, I’ve always been happy with Alec Motyer’s commentaries.  I was reminded of that today when studying the pretty tough and dark prophecy in Isaiah 13, where Yahweh uses the Medes to brutally wipe out the Babylonians.  It’s the Day of the Lord in all it’s fury!  Isaiah 13:14 notes that on that day (the day of Yahweh) the people (of Babylon) will be like “gazelles that are chased” [וְהָיָה֙ כִּצְבִ֣י מֻדָּ֔ח] and “like sheep that no man gathers” [וּכְצֹ֖אן וְאֵ֣ין מְקַבֵּ֑ץ] (JPS).  What does this mean? Obviously, it has to do with the Babylonians trying to escape the merciless slaughter of the Medes.  But what’s with the imagery?  Motyer comments briefly but well:

‘Like a hunted gazelle’ and ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ are complementary similies.  The first animal is endangered by the attentions of the people, the second is endangered without their attentions. So, finding the Lord as their enemy and losing him as their shepherd, humankind is indeed helpless and hopeless, with everything to flee from and nowhere to flee too.”

There’s more to this passage for sure.  But Motyer picks up the poetic imagery very well.  It also reminds us that rejecting the Lord is not the path of joy, peace, and comfort.  Instead, it’s a path full of hopelessness and helplessness.

J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 139.

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

The Biblical Understanding of Sin (Horton)

Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology For Pilgrims on The Way When it comes to the topic of sin, we for sure want a biblical view of it. We want to understand sin in the way that the Bible defines and describes it. It is a big topic, of course, since the Bible talks about it very often. The following paragraph from Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith is a helpful brief summary of a bigger topic:

“The tendency of fundamentalism is to reduce sin to sinful acts and behaviors, while liberalism reduces sin to evil social structures that impede the realization of the ethical kingdom. In contrast to both forms of reductionism, the biblical understanding of sin is far deeper in its analysis. Sin is first of all a condition that is simultaneously judicial and moral, legal and relational. Accordingly, we sin because we are sinners rather than vice versa. Standing before God as transgressors in Adam, we exhibit our guilt and corruption in actual thoughts and actions. If we cut off one diseased branch, another one – pregnant with the fruit of unrighteousness – grows in its place.”

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, p. 427.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54105

Self-glorification and Sin (Bavinck)

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity In the second chapter of the first volume of Reformed Ethics, Herman Bavinck discussed the organizing principle and classification of sins.  He mentioned, of course, that sin is disobeying God’s law and is the opposite of the good.  He also gave a good explanation of how sin is an attempt to dethrone God and enthrone the self:

“…Who now is humanity’s god?  They must have gods for whom they live and to whom they dedicate themselves.  Sin consists concretely in placing a substitute on the throne.  That substitute is not another creature in general, not even the neighbor, but the human self, the ‘ego’ or ‘I.’  The organizing principle of sin is self-glorification, self-divination; stated more broadly: self-love or egocentricity.  A person wants to be an ‘I,’ either without, next to, or in the place of God.  Turning away from God is simultaneously a turning to self.

Prior to this, God was the center of all human thought and action; now it is the person’s ‘I.” Humanity not only surrendered its true center but also replaced it with a false center.  On the one hand, sin is a decentralization of all things away from God, a loosening, an undoing of bonds with God – atomism, individualism.  On the other hand, it is at the same time also a concentration of everything around the human self, an attempt to subjugate everything to an individual ‘ego.’  Thus sin is not only a matter of turning away from the existing order – in effect, undermining order – but also an establishing of another order, which actually is a disorder.  Sin produces not only an alternative or counterorder but an anti-order; in a word: revolution.”

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, p, 105.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

To Thy Grace I Ascribe It (Augustine)

The Confessions of Saint Augustine Many of us have heard the story about Augustine stealing pears when he was a teenager.  Indeed, he stole them not because he was hungry or poor, but simply because he wanted to sin (he “lusted to theive”).  Afterwards Augustine even said that he didn’t even really enjoy the pear but he did enjoy the theft and sin itself.  Only a few pages after he talked about stealing pears he wrote these words in his ConfessionsWhenever we hear the pear story, we should remember these words too!

Behold my heart, O God, behold my heart, which Thou hadst pity upon in the bottom of the bottomless pit. Now, behold, let my heart tell Thee what it sought there, that I should be gratuitously evil, having no temptation to ill, but the ill itself. It was foul, and I loved it; I loved to perish, I loved mine own fault, not that for which I was faulty, but my fault itself. Foul soul, falling from Thy firmament to utter destruction; not seeking aught through the shame, but the shame itself!

What shall I render unto the Lord, that, whilst my memory recalls these things, my soul is not affrighted at them? I will love Thee, O Lord, and thank Thee, and confess unto Thy name; because Thou hast forgiven me these so great and heinous deeds of mine. To Thy grace I ascribe it, and to Thy mercy, that Thou hast melted away my sins as it were ice. To Thy grace I ascribe also whatsoever I have not done of evil; for what might I not have done, who even loved a sin for its own sake? Yea, all I confess to have been forgiven me; both what evils I committed by my own wilfulness, and what by Thy guidance I committed not.

 Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

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

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

A Reason for These Astonishing Contradictions (Pascal)

The Harvard Classics 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works I always enjoy reading Blaise Pascal.  Here are two paragraphs from a section of his writings called, “Morality and Doctrine”:

The greatness and the wretchedness of man are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us both that there is in man some great source of greatness, and a great source of wretchedness. It must then give us a reason for these astonishing contradictions.

In order to make man happy, it must prove to him that there is a God; that we ought to love Him; that our true happiness is to be in Him, and our sole evil to be separated from Him; it must recognise that we are full of darkness which hinders us from knowing and loving Him; and that thus, as our duties compel us to love God, and our lusts turn us away from Him, we are full of unrighteousness. It must give us an explanation of our opposition to God and to our own good. It must teach us the remedies for these infirmities, and the means of obtaining these remedies. Let us therefore examine all the religions of the world, and see if there be any other than the Christian which is sufficient for this purpose.

Blaise Pascal, The Harvard Classics 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works, ed. Charles W. Eliot, trans. W. F. Trotter, M. L. Booth, and O. W. Wight (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910), 140.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI