Somewhere out there in the great, wide world, someone is praying for you. He probably doesn’t know you and you probably don’t know him. You may not meet one another for many more years. But he’s praying for you nonetheless and has been for a very long time.
He is the father of a daughter. He is the proud father of a daughter who is very precious to him—more precious than anything he owns, more precious than anything he has ever done, ever made, ever accomplished, more precious than his very life. She is so precious that if he gained all the riches of this world but lost her heart along the way, he’d consider himself an abject failure.
This father knows that a time is coming when a young man will approach him and ask for permission to marry his daughter. He knows that a time is coming when a young man will insist that it is in his daughter’s best interests if she leaves her father and mother—leaves behind the ones who brought her into this world and who gave her such privileges and who raised her so well—and is joined to him instead (for such is the endearing conceit of young men). And, though it may be hard for this father to admit, he knows that this young man may just be right—that his daughter’s best life will be outside of his care and in another man’s, outside of his home and in one this new couple will build together.
From the day he welcomed his precious little daughter into the world, he knew that he would at some point entrust her to another man. And so he began to pray. From the day he laid eyes on his beautiful little girl, he knew he would some day lead her down a church aisle to place her hand in another man’s. And so he began to pray for him. From the day his heart became so deeply bound to hers, he knew hers would someday become bound to someone else’s. And so he began to pray all the more earnestly.
He prayed that this young man would come to saving faith—that he would repent of his sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. He prayed that this young man would grow in holiness—that he would conscientiously put sin to death and come alive to righteousness. He prayed that this young man would become a capable provider—that he would study hard and work diligently and make good on all the privileges afforded to him. He prayed that this young man would grow in godly character—becoming loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. Ultimately he prayed that this young man would prove worthy of his daughter—that he would know her to be as precious as she actually is and that he would treat her with all the love and dignity she deserves.
This is an interesting thought, isn’t it? It is an interesting thought, and an encouraging one, that since you were tiny, this man has been praying for you. He has been praying for you without knowing who you are, praying for you without knowing when you would meet, praying for you with longing that in the day that you emerged from the great crowd of humanity, he would see that God had heard his prayers and answered them.
This is an encouraging thought but also a challenging one, for it now falls to you, young man, to be worthy—as worthy as any man can be—to receive from his hand what he counts more precious than jewels, more valuable than his own heart, of greater worth than his own name and even his own life. It falls to you, young man, to honor his diligence in so faithfully interceding for his daughter. It falls to you, young man, to be God’s answer to a father’s prayers.
May the Lord bless and keep you today.
My church is hosting a Weekender for pastors, elders, and church leaders from March 25-27. If that’s of interest to you, you can find information right here.
‘Gotcha’ Sermon Clips Are Bad for the Church
Trevin Wax considers “gotcha” sermon clips and says, “I don’t believe the widespread sharing of bad moments in preaching will make the pulpit stronger. The weaponization of preaching clips as ammunition in intramural warfare isn’t a healthy and life-giving development.”
Were the Gospel Writers’ Memories Accurate? (Video)
“There was a time gap of 25 years between the life of Jesus and when the first Gospel was written. When Mark was remembering the life and teachings of Jesus, can we trust his memory? If not, then the written Gospels are not trustworthy either.” Bill Mounce offers an answer in a brief video.
The Sweet Spot
Darryl Dash considers the benefits and drawbacks of aging.
Pastors, You Don’t Have to Be an Expert on Everything
Michael Kruger looks at a popular book and draws some lessons for pastors. “Pastors too need to realize they are not experts in everything. Yes, they have been trained in theology, bible, church history, etc. But that does not make a pastor an expert on immigration policy, epidemiology, or tax reform.”
Turning From Ancestor Worship Will Be Costly, Jesus Said So
Lucky Mogakane: “Ancestral worship remains a significant hindrance to the gospel in many African countries. Generally, Africans do not have a problem with the gospel message. But a massive question hangs over the decision to repent and believe, related to worship of the ancestors.”
God Is Not Going to Slap the Cookie From Your Hand
“I tend to be overly analytical. I’ve spent a great deal of thought on what’s God’s part and what’s our part in the Christian life. I can’t say I have it all figured out, even now. My tendency is to want to sort it out neatly in a series of points. God does this: 1, 2, and 3. And we do this: 1, 2, and 3. But I don’t think it works like that.”
Flashback: The App of God
As one medium gives way to another, we do well to remind ourselves of what the Bible really is. Not a book, but something far better, and far more transcendent. It is the enduring words of God himself.
To every believer, the debt–book is crossed; the black lines of sin are crossed out in the red lines of Christ’s blood. —Thomas Watson
When we lose sight of the fact that common grace is grace and not our due, we become like travelers who bemoan poor overnight travel accommodations and forget the paradise that is our final destination.
Few people would disagree that a sense of entitlement permeates our culture. But as the Preacher said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). While shifts in worldview over the past few decades may have poured gasoline on the fire, a sinful sense of entitlement was sparked for the first time in the garden of Eden, and since that day, this tendency to sinful entitlement has been embedded in our fallen DNA.
Entitlement can be defined as the belief that one is deserving of certain privileges. The belief itself may be true or false. People might believe that they have a certain right when they do in fact possess an actual right, or people can believe that they have a certain right when no such right exists. Thus, there are times when entitlement is not, strictly speaking, a sin but rather a legal right in a well-ordered society. For example, if I purchase a car, it is legally my property. I hold the legal title to the vehicle. I believe that I possess the right to that car, and my belief is in line with reality.
However, this legitimate entitlement can turn into a sinful expression of an entitlement mentality if my five-year-old niece spills a drink in the back seat and ruins the interior, or if I am the victim of a parking lot hit-and-run. It’s at those points of pressure that my sinful response to God’s providence can expose a more insidious entitlement mentality in which I think I am owed pristine automobile upholstery or a risk-free parking lot.
In the Reformed world, we (hopefully) embrace wholeheartedly the belief that we are by nature children of wrath, dead in our trespasses, unable to save ourselves, and completely dependent on the righteous life and substitutionary death of Jesus Christ to be reconciled to God and made His children. We extol the grace of God in salvation and would never say that we are owed the right to become children of God or that we are entitled to His saving grace. Therefore, the problem with our sinful entitlement mentality usually lies not in our understanding of special grace but rather in our understanding of common grace.
Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Contemporary Christians need to remember that our hands are not so clean. Anyone who uses a computer or smartphone to decry racism or call for reparations for American slavery can only do so because of contemporary slave labor in China. Does the fact that others own the slaves who make the goods we buy make us less guilty than Luther or Edwards? Are the past sins of long ago, committed by others, more heinous than the contemporary sins of far away to which we are all now connected?
Cancel culture shows no signs of abatement. The Spectator in Britain ended the year speculating on whether comedy itself will now be a thing of the past. Cancel culture is incompatible with comedy and humor. Meanwhile, the venomous reactions to those who dare to affirm the importance of biological sex, such as J.K. Rowling, continue unabated. Even the word “mother” is under attack from the highest levels of government. It is hard to imagine that a society can survive long term that denies reality and reinforces its lunacy with an adamant refusal to laugh at itself.
Yet there is a form of cancel culture emerging within the ranks of Christians. It operates with selective pieties drawn from the wider woke culture and reflects, whether by accident or design, the same self-righteousness that marks the secular world. Two obvious examples are current attitudes toward Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards.
Edwards owned slaves and was thus a part of America’s original sin, the consequences of which we still live with today. Luther is worse. He is notorious for the violently anti-Jewish nature of some of his later works. In a post-Holocaust world, that is highly problematic. Some years ago, while working on a book on historical fallacies, I did considerable research on the Jewish question in Luther and was distressed to find that his anti-Jewish works had been reprinted by the Nazis as part of their own propaganda and were also available today on viciously anti-Semitic websites.
The question—and it is a very legitimate question—is whether we should continue to take seriously such men who failed so signally to conform to moral positions that we now regard as self-evident and, indeed, a consistent application of the Christianity into which they both had such signal insights. Should we cancel them?
It may or may not surprise you that the majority of men seeking help from Harvest USA are married. The majority of these husbands are not coming to us because of their own conviction over sin but because they were caught. They were living, often for decades, in darkness, and now they’ve finally been forced into the light. They usually come to us with a mixture of pain and relief—the pain of the consequences of their sexual sin and its accompanying deception, and also the relief of no longer living as hypocrites.
This initial exposure is freeing and provides with it real opportunities for change and transformation. While there are many dangers and snares along the path towards marital restoration, none is more common and more deadly than going back into the darkness.
For any of you familiar with twentieth-century American poetry or Christopher Nolan’s brilliant film Interstellar, you probably know the poem by Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” In his poem about death, Thomas provides incredible wisdom for a husband tempted to go back into hiding. He writes,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Husbands who are battling sexual addictions are not only wrestling against the allure of sexual sin. They are also facing the constant temptation of lying about it to their wives. I’ve heard all of the major excuses for going back into the darkness:
“I love her too much to hurt her by telling her.”
“I know how she’ll react; she just can’t handle this.”
“She’s not supposed to be my accountability partner; I have men in my life I confess to.”
“Confessing to her doesn’t help me; she’ll just use that as fuel to punish me later.”
“I’ve already confessed it to the Lord.”
While we recognize that there are rare and extreme situations where it may not always be prudent or loving for husbands to confess their sexual sins to their wives, the general rule we find to be most beneficial for marriages is called “the 24-hour rule.”
What is the 24-hour rule?
The 24-hour rule is when a husband promises that he will confess, within 24 hours, any time that he engages in behavioral sexual sin—including masturbation, pornography, fantasy indulgence that lasts for minutes at a time, and anything worse than these behaviors. This includes any active pursuit of these behaviors, even if he is unsuccessful, such as seeking ways around internet filters to find pornography.
What the 24-hour rule is not.
The 24-hour rule, misapplied, has the potential to become very detrimental to a marriage, which is why clear, objective expectations are essential. It is unhelpful for a wife to be privy to every single battle a husband faces with sexual temptation. We believe she deserves to know the battles he clearly loses, but not every battle he faces.
While every couple requires a nuanced approach, we generally try to steer couples away from certain scrupulous standards of confession. We generally do not encourage couples to adopt the following types of confession as a rule:
Every time a husband takes a second look
A sexually suggestive image appears on his device apart from his active pursuit of it, and he immediately flees from it.
Tempting thoughts that come into his mind but against which he has fought and upon which he does linger for minutes at a time.
All theological error originates from the evil one. He is more cunningly skillful than we could ever know at leading people astray through academic and highly nuanced theological error. As is true with every other danger that we face, when we come to study theological error we must remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
There is a profoundly important section titled, “On the Preaching of the Word,” in The Directory for the Public Worship of God, in which we find a very short and very wise statement about the minister’s responsibility to refute false teaching in the church. What is most captivating about the brief statement found therein is that it instructs concerning, first, the dangers of talking about false teaching, and, second, the necessity of refuting false teaching in the church.
As the Divines unfolded their beliefs about how ministers should approach the aspect of refuting theological error in their preaching, they wrote:
In confutation of false doctrines, he [i.e. the minister] is neither to raise an old heresy from the grave, nor to mention a blasphemous opinion unnecessarily: but, if the people be in danger of an error, he is to confute it soundly, and endeavor to satisfy their judgments and consciences against all objections.
The rationale for this statement is dependent on understanding the nature of false teaching itself. In short, ideas can and often do have massive spiritual consequences. J. Gresham Machen made the important statement about the implications of false teachings and ideologies when he wrote:
False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel…What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combated; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassioned debate.1
Since beliefs inevitably have consequences on our lives and actions, the Divines first warn against our “raising an old heresy from the grave, nor to mention a blasphemous opinion unnecessarily.” They do not say this to be necessarily or fearfully censorious, or to bury their heads in the sand rather than deal with difficult theological matters. Rather, they raise this warning because of the nature of false teaching.
When I was a young Christian, a friend taught me that “whenever false teaching is taught in a nuanced fashion there is always the danger that some who hear it will be drawn into it.” He went on to explain that this is true within the realm of relationships, as well. Whenever we start to enter into debate with those with whom we disagree we are in danger of becoming more like them–as well as becoming more susceptible to being influenced by their beliefs. It is not guaranteed that this will happen, but it is certainly a very real and ever present danger. Tragically, years after sharing this thought with me, my friend went on to embrace a sinful lifestyle due in part to the public discussions about, and approval of, that particular sin. Additionally, I have watched–with great heaviness of heart–as a minister of the Gospel walked away from Protestantism in the midst of engaging, on church court levels, with men who were being tried for holding to aberrant theological views on the sacraments and soteriology. Whether engagement with sacramentalist views were the cause of his departing from the truth or not, I cannot help but wonder what impact interacting with aberrant teaching had on this particular individual.
This danger must be highlighted within the realm of pastoral ministry in the church. There are some who thrive on debating theological issues. This can be harmful to the members of a church because some members already have misguided beliefs, and some have a very small knowledge of doctrine. In the case of the first group, introducing old heresies can encourage more confusion. I have, time and again, seen individuals start to dabble with heresy because they already had misguided beliefs based on their erroneous knowledge of Scripture. In the case of the latter group, introducing theological error–even in the name of “discernment”–can end in filling the minds of God’s people with falsehood when they ought to be filling their minds with the truth. Far better to teach them the nuances of the truth of Scripture so that they will be able to discern falsehood when confronted with it. You don’t study a counterfeit dollar bill to spot a counterfeit; you study the real dollar currency so that you will be better suited to spot the counterfeit.
Nothing can stop us when our eyes are focused on glory. Fear is vanished, anxiety disappears, and worry exits the door. We become so enraptured with what we will experience in the New Earth that the cares, fears, and temptations of this present Earth quickly fade into the abyss.
There is something sanctifying about fixating our eyes on Heaven and the glories to be experienced there. It’s no wonder the Apostle Paul exhorted us to do so in Colossians 3:2, where he wrote, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (ESV).
Setting our minds and hearts on Heaven is not optional for the Christian. Amid the allurements of this world, indwelling sin, and Satan’s influence, it’s all the more imperative that we take heed of Colossians 3:2 by fixing our gaze on glory.
When we consistently obey this exhortation, several things take place, but let’s draw our attention to two.
Sin Becomes Less Appealing
I tweeted recently, “Today, think on the glories that await us in Heaven. I find that the more I think on Heaven, the less appealing sin becomes.” Indeed, it does. The more I stare at the glories of Heaven, the easier it is to ignore the deceptive enticements of sin.
It is when we daydream about the world and get caught up in worldly pursuits that sin is more prevalent in our lives. We give sin—whether intentional or not—a firm grip on our hearts when we take our eyes off the glories of Heaven. We lose the eternal perspective and replace it with the anxieties of this world.
Written by R. Scott Clark |
Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Has not the PCA already taken a clear and unequivocal position on the natures and person of Christ and on images of God? That this a live issue both theologically and practically tells us something about the role of the Standards in the life of the church. It seems to me that the future of the PCA hangs on this question as much as any other.
When the Westminster Assembly (1643–52), which was composed of Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians, deliberated on the moral law of God, they agreed on with the church of all ages and times on the abiding validity of God’s moral law. In their Confession (19.5) they wrote: “The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.” The Larger Catechism (1647), which the assembly debated between April and October, 1647, explained the consensus of the ancient (pre-eighth century) church and of all the Reformed churches on the “good and necessary consequence” (WCF 1.6) of the second commandment:
You shall not make any graven images or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them: for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, visiting the sin of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of those that hate me; and showing mercy to thousandth generation of those who love me, and keep my commandments (Exod 20:4–6).
The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.
In the modern period, the divines have taken a good deal of abuse for their opposition to mental images of Christ, but about the Assembly’s opposition to representations of God the Son incarnate there can be no doubt.
Good Faith Subscription
In the history of American Presbyterianism since the early eighteenth century the trend has been toward subscribing the Standards (i.e., the Westminster Confession and catechisms) not because (quia) they are biblical but insofar as (quatenus) a candidate or minister believes them to be biblical. The Book of Church Order (BCO) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) permits exceptions to the Standards
only if in the court’s judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion (BCO 21-4 (f).
It is this writer’s understanding that it is the practice of some PCA presbyteries, under their “good faith” (BCO 21-4(g)) approach to confessional subscription, to allow candidates for ministry to take exception to the Standards on the second commandment and specifically images of Christ. The material issues have been discussed here and elsewhere at length. On this see the resources below. It would, however, surprise our Reformed fathers (and our fathers in the ancient church) to no end to discover that Christians had decided in that images of God the Son incarnate are morally adiaphora. Nevertheless, under the PCAs BCO, it is apparently possible.
It is one thing to dissent from the Standards of the church. It is quite another to flaunt that exception to the Standards publicly and thereby to risk offending the consciences of those who hold the ancient Christian view and who agree without exception to the understanding of God’s Word as confessed by all the Reformed churches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Whether ministers (in the language of the PCA, Teaching Elders) may teach things that are contrary to the confession of the church is a matter of debate in the PCA. How this could be a debate is not exactly clear. When the church has confessed her understanding of God’s Word on a particular point, that is the church’s understanding. The church does not confess an interpretation of Scripture or conviction about every issue. Some things truly are morally indifferent (adiaphora). When the church has prayed, studied an issue, deliberated, debated, and finally confessed a view there should be little question oner what the church intends to impose upon her members.