It would be a mercy of God to take a man’s mind away in hell, but that surely is the agony of hell. Mercy was for another time, now so long ago. A man must live with himself, without the dignities of feigned kindness and pretended beauty. His mind is the most tortured part of him, regardless of what pains he is afflicted within the body.
At 3:30 a.m., I awoke to a black room, so dark that my eyes could not see even one inch away, much less to the other side. The simple room in a Romanian home in Brasov had one of those metal external shades that are lowered over the window, capable of completely deleting light. I was in the darkest place I had been in perhaps for years. And, since it was night and I was alone in the house, I thought.
“Outer darkness.” I’ve been troubled by those words before—not blindness in this world where others may help, but “outer,” away from all others, forever. I do not understand why hell is described as both “outer darkness” and a place of fire, for where there is fire there is light. Perhaps these are only feeble descriptors meant to approximate the reality, the best that words can do. Perhaps the darkness of “outer darkness” and the fire of “the lake of fire” cannot perfectly convey the emptiness and pain of that future place, but are only signposts to something worse. The signpost isn’t the city itself. What if the worst we can think about hell would one day seem pleasant by comparison to the one experiencing it? What if the true hell can only be experienced, and not described?
What does a man think about in outer darkness? Could he think of, say, a day at the beach with his family? Impossible. For if he were to think of a day at the beach with his family he would immediately moan in agony for he will never see his family nor a day at the beach again, ever. If a man has no hope, nor any prospect of arriving at a place where the slightest wisp of hope could blow like a gentle breeze over him, how could he ever be happy again? Every joy is an eternal pain—a reminder of what will never be.
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By Joe Rigney — 6 months ago
Where then does this boldness come from? Fundamentally, it comes from the Holy Spirit. Peter, “filled with the Holy Spirit” answers the Sanhedrin’s question (Acts 4:8). In the face of threats, the early Christians “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Steven, “full of the Holy Spirit,” indicts the Jewish leaders who have arrested and falsely accused him (Acts 7:55).
What is Christian boldness? For some, the phrase conjures images of bravado, machismo, and swagger. For others, the phrase signifies a vague sense of courage and conviction in the face of opposition.
The fourth chapter of Acts provides an unusually clear picture of Christian boldness. The noun for boldness (parrēsia) appears three times in this one chapter (and only twice more in the rest of Acts) and here sets the context for Luke’s use of the verb speak boldly (parrēsiazomai) seven times in the coming chapters. He apparently intends for us to see the events of this chapter as a particularly poignant example of Christian boldness. By examining them, we can see not only what Christian boldness is, but where it comes from, and how we can cultivate it for ourselves.
Astonished at Common Men
The word first appears in Acts 4:13: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.” What had the Jewish leaders seen that so shocked them?
Recall that Peter and John had been arrested following a miraculous healing at the temple (Acts 3:1–4:4). Peter had healed a man lame from birth, amazing the crowds. He followed the healing with an evangelistic sermon to the gathered crowd. The sermon is interrupted by the Jewish leaders, who, annoyed by the apostolic teaching, arrest the apostles and throw them in prison overnight.
The next day, Peter and John are brought before the entire council, including the high priest and his family. The rulers demand to know how Peter and John were able to do this miracle. And then Peter responds with the words that surprise the Sanhedrin and show us the meaning of boldness.
Three Elements of Christian Boldness
First, their boldness shines in a hostile context. The gathering of the entire council seems to be an attempt to intimidate these uneducated, common fishermen. Here are the elite, the educated, the men who have power. It is they who ask, “What do you have to say for yourselves?”
No doubt other uneducated men had stood before them and shivered, looked pale, and found their tongues tied in the presence of these religious leaders. But not Peter and John. Their answer to the accusatory question is as clear as a bell. “Let it be known to all of you . . . ,” Peter says (Acts 4:10). One imagines him lifting up his head and his voice so that he can be clearly heard by those in the back. This fisherman is unmoved in the presence of these leaders.
Second, their boldness manifests in their clear testimony about Jesus. It is by his name that the man was healed. It is by his name (and his name alone) that any man can be saved. This Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, is the cornerstone, and there is salvation in no one else (Acts 4:10–12). Thus, clarity about Jesus, and his power to heal and save, is at the heart of Christian boldness.
Finally, their boldness is displayed in their clarity about sin. This man, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified . . . this Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you” (Acts 4:10–11). You rulers, you who purport to be the builders of Israel, rejected him, the cornerstone who has become for you a stone of stumbling and rock of offense. Here is a turning of the tables. Peter and John are the ones on trial; they have been arrested. And yet here they accuse and condemn the powerful men who not a few months earlier had killed Jesus himself.
So then, what is Christian boldness? It is courage and clarity about Jesus and sin in the face of powerful opposition. It is plain and open speech with no obfuscation or muttering. It is unhindered testimony to the truth, whether about Christ and his salvation, or about what he came to save us from.
Obey God Rather than Men
This understanding of boldness is confirmed if we consider the next chapter, when Peter and John are again arrested and hauled before these same leaders for their refusal to stop speaking in the name of Jesus.
The high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:28). But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
By Staff — 5 months ago
In keeping with the journalistic tradition of looking back at the recent past, we present the top 50 stories of the year that were read on The Aquila Report site based on the number of hits. We will present the 50 stories in groups of 10 to run on five lists on consecutive days. Here are numbers 41-50.
In 2021 The Aquila Report (TAR) posted over 3,000 stories. At the end of each year we feature the top 50 stories that were read.
TAR posts 8 new stories each day, on a variety of subjects – all of which we trust are of interest to our readers. As a web magazine TAR is an aggregator of news and information that we believe will provide articles that will inform the church of current trends and movements within the church and culture.
In keeping with the journalistic tradition of looking back at the recent past, we present the top 50 stories of the year that were read on The Aquila Report site based on the number of hits. We will present the 50 stories in groups of 10 to run on five lists on consecutive days. Here are numbers 41-50:
A Response to the PCA “Moderators’ Letter”: May We Ask a Question?
The challenges of homosexuality and Critical Race Theory pressing into our denomination are not matters of mere style, and mischaracterizing these concerns will not make them go away. Progressive PCA leaders may multiply letters and signatures denouncing the motives and attitude of concerned confessionalists, but Revoice and Critical Race Theory require an answer to the question: “Are we being biblically faithful?” The mere fact that PCA power brokers have acted with such preemptive strikes raises a question of what they mean by unity in the PCA. Do they mean that conservatives must surrender to the progressive agenda?
Does 1 Corinthians 6:9 Really Condemn Homosexual Sex?
The documentary, “1946: The Mistranslation that Shifted a Culture,” undermines biblical sexual ethics under the guise of honest hermeneutics.
Making Sausage with the National Partnership
Among their efforts is identifying the men who their members should not vote for if they are nominated for committees or agencies. For instance, one well known Ruling Elder with a well-earned reputation for faithful service to the Lord and the PCA was recently nominated to serve on the Standing Judicial Commission. In one email the leader of the NP wrote that this brother, “is the primary GRN organizer and agitator, the prime organizing voice against CTS and mover of the Nashville statement. He would be, I cannot stress enough, a disaster for the court.”
A Response to David Cassidy’s ‘PCA At the Crossroads’
…that for the PCA to allow its ministers to teach their own doctrine alongside of its official doctrine would be to lay the groundwork of its own destruction as a confessional denomination, the assertion of multiple doctrines serving to engender confusion and to allow the official position on many matters to be crowded out by the alternatives. For now, it is enough to see that this is another dubious attempt to shift the blame for the denomination’s present troubles away from that faction which is anxious to keep in step with the culture and to lay it at the feet of others who dare object to the said faction’s methods and desires.
A Plea to the PCA
We all know the importance of distinguishing the meat from bones, whether it’s when we read books, watch movies, listen to sermons, or receive advice from friends. When it comes to Critical Race Theory, the question is whether we’re dealing with a bony piece of fish, or water from a poison well.
The NP and the Ninth Commandment
However, if they put their case in such clear terms, it couldn’t do the other thing that such assurances are designed to do: to ease the consciences of the chosen members of the NP that they are not doing anything wrong. As a result, the NP emails almost all sound like this: the PCA is wonderful, and everyone is wonderful, and we are the most wonderful, and our cause is worthy of tireless and sacrificial advocacy.
At The PCA General Assembly, The Little Guys Stood Up
To outside observers of the PCA, like myself, the result was encouraging and surprising. What happened, as outlined here and here, was that the Assembly voted to propose several changes to the denomination’s Book of Church Order (the manual of church law) that would prevent anyone who identifies as gay or same-sex-attracted from holding office in the denomination.
The Recent SJC Decision and Side B2 Homosexuality
The SJC is the Supreme Court of the PCA. This decision has more authority than the BCO or any decisions of a Presbytery or a General Assembly. In any future cases it will be used as the rule book, as the authoritative interpretation of Scripture on the matter. The PCA is now officially a Side B2 denomination.
No Christian, You Should Not Include Your Pronouns In Your Email Signature
We live in a world today that is sometimes, unfortunately, complex. Our first filter on anything we write should be “is this immediately true or false?” but we also have a duty to consider, much as we can, the other messages we are sending by what we choose to say and not to say. The world (and especially the academy) is badly confused today on issues of identity generally, sex and sexuality specifically, and we should do what we can to promote the better and more beautiful (and more real) message of Scripture and the Church.
PCA Standing Judicial Commission Denies Complaint Against Missouri Presbytery
The SJC officially concluded, “Based on the Record, there was no reversible error in the decisions reached by Missouri Presbytery regarding the four allegations. It was not unreasonable for Presbytery to judge that TE Johnson’s ‘explanations’ on the four allegations were ‘satisfactory.’ (BCO31-2).”
By Mark Sanders — 9 months ago
When you turn from sin to Jesus, you are not only repenting today, but you are also investing into repentance for tomorrow, and next week, and a year from now. Saying “no” to sin today makes it easier to say “no” to sin tomorrow.
It’s happened to me more times than I can count. I’m sitting with a man who has given in to sexual sin for the majority of his life. He’s tried many things to stop, but he keeps failing to say “no” to temptation. He’s fighting to believe that victory is possible, but he feels weary and scared. Teetering on the edge of hope and despair, he asks me a simple question: “Does the battle ever get any easier?”
While simple questions rarely have simple answers, David Powlison was fond of saying, “[There is a] simplicity on the far side of every complexity.”¹ So the simple answer to this question is, “Yes, the battle does get easier.” However, in order to understand what that really looks like, we need to wade through the complex depths of the human experience.
The Battle Has a Context
In humility, we always need to treat each person as a unique individual, and that requires great attention to the details of their lives. I always want err on being slow to speak and quick to listen. I want to assume that I don’t know what this person needs unless I first get to know them. I want a holy curiosity about his or her life. I don’t just want to know about his sexual sin. I want to know about his family, his childhood, his hopes, his disappointments, his suffering, and his understanding of the world, God, and himself.
As I get to know someone more intimately, I begin to understand in greater ways the functionality of sexual sin in his life. I see more and more the specific false promises that sin has tailor-made to fit someone’s particular desires and weaknesses. Consider the complex algorithms employed by modern social media giants. How is it that Facebook knows exactly what advertisement will hook you? It’s because Facebook has studied you. Facebook knows your heart based on what you click on and how long you stay. Sin operates in the same way. The battle is so difficult partly because you have an enemy who knows exactly where you are weak. Sin preys on its knowledge of your life, your sufferings, your heart, and your desires, and it exploits them.
Growth in the battle against sexual sin requires an increasing self-awareness of your own life experiences and how they have shaped you. Your enemy knows your weaknesses. Do you?
The Battle Has a Past
If we’re honest, we often live our lives thinking only about the present, and sin capitalizes on this short-sightedness. If I only think of life in 24-hour chunks, then what’s the big deal about eating one or two donuts? No problem, right? But what if I eat two donuts every day for a whole week? That’s 14 donuts. What if I eat that same amount for an entire month? Now you’re looking at close to 60 donuts! It’s not hard to see that this kind of lifestyle will lead to major health problems down the road. The problem is that you can’t simply stop eating donuts one day and then pretend like you didn’t eat donuts every day for the past 10 years. The effects of those 10 years will linger and perhaps have lasting, lifelong consequences.
We reap what we sow. In Galatians 6, Paul doesn’t sugarcoat the impact of years of sowing into fleshly desires. He writes, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Galatians 6:7–8). Sin has a corrupting impact on our hearts and minds. Every time you give in to sexual temptation, you are sowing seeds of corruption. Think of it like an investment. Sexual sin isn’t just an isolated event. Giving into temptation today makes it harder to resist tomorrow. And science has now definitively shown how habitual pornography use in particular actually rewires your brain to make you that much more prone to return again and again to your sin.