Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Amazing Grace

This is a prayer from The Valley of Vision entitled, "Amazing Grace." May it be to you comfort, wisdom, and strength as it has been to me:

O thou giving God,
My heart is drawn out in thankfulness
to thee,
for thy amazing grace and condescension
to me
in influences and assistances of thy Spirit,
for special help in prayer,
for the sweetness of Christian service,
for the thoughts of arriving in heaven,
for always sending me needful supplies,
for raising me to new life when I am like one dead.
I want not the favor of man to lean upon
for thy favor is infinitely better.
Thou art eternal wisdom in dispensations
towards me;
and it matters not when, nor where, nor how, I serve thee,
nor what trials I am exercised with, 
if I might but be prepared for thy work and will.
No poor creature stands in need of divine grace
more than I do.
How heartless and dull I am!
Humble me in the dust for not loving thee more.
Every time I exercise any grace renewedly
I am renewedly indebted to thee,
the God of all grace, for special assistance.
I cannot boast when I think how dependent
I am upon thee for the being and every act
of grace;
I never do anything else but depart from thee,
and if I get to heaven it will be because
thou willest it, and for no reason beside.
I love, as a feeble, afflicted, despised creature,
to cast myself on thy infinite grace and goodness,
hoping for no happiness but from thee;
Give me special grace to fit me for special services,
and keep me calm and resigned at all times,
humble, solemn, mortified,
and conformed to thy will.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Despair of Trusting in Liberalism's Jesus

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) published Christianity and Liberalism in 1923 as a response to the liberalism of the day. In the second chapter of his book entitled, "Doctrine," Machen argued against the liberal claims and desires to cast aside doctrine in order to get to the "root" of Christianity, namely, the "historical" Jesus. At one point in his argument, Machen considers the liberal suggestion that we should return to the pre-resurrection faith of the disciples. The suggestion was that we should stop asking how Jesus saves. We should stop focusing on all of those specific, dogmatic, and divisive doctrines such as justification, sanctification, and adoption. Our focus and trust should only be in the Person of Jesus, rather than the message concerning what His life meant or what He did; "in Jesus' character rather than in Jesus' death." Machen rejected this suggestion, arguing that we cannot return to faith in the pre-resurrection Jesus. That was a unique time that was afforded to the people of that time alone. They were in the position to hear Jesus Himself say to them, "Your sins are forgiven you." They alone were able to come to Him and be healed. They alone could receive immediate aide from Him. I might also add to this that it is clear that the faith which the disciples had in Jesus before His resurrection was a faith with many flaws. It was an imperfect faith which resulted in despair once Jesus was crucified. It was a faith, still blind through unbelief, that caused Peter to hear the testimony of the resurrection from women, run to the tomb, see it empty, and depart, "wondering to himself what had happened (Lk 24:12)." Machen states that the major flaw in this logic is that we are separated by (in Machen's day) 19 centuries. Machen asks, "How can we bridge the gulf of time that separates us from Jesus?" (33). It is at this point that I am going to provide the full argument of Machen. The argument is convincing, but whether one agrees or disagrees with Machen, what should not be overlooked is Machen's profound ability to draw the reader into his argument by bringing them into his own drama. This is good writing, and this alone, at minimum, should be commended:

Some persons would bridge the gulf [of time that separates us from Jesus] by the mere use of the historical imagination. "Jesus is not dead," we are told, "but lives on through His recorded words and deeds; we do not need even to believe it all; even a part is sufficient; the wonderful personality of Jesus shines out clear from the Gospel story. Jesus, in other words, may still be known; let us simply - without theology, without controversy, without inquiry about miracles - abandon ourselves to His spell, and He will heal us."
There is a certain plausibility about that. It may readily be admitted that Jesus lives on in the Gospel record. In that narrative we see not merely a lifeless picture, but receive the impression of a living Person. We can still, as we read, share the astonishment of those who listened to the new teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. We can sympathize with the faith and devotion of the little band of disciples who would not leave Him when others were offended at the hard saying. We feel a sympathetic thrill of joy at the blessed relief which was given to those who were ill in body and in mind. We can appreciate the wonderful love and compassion of Him who was sent to seek and to save that which was lost. A wonderful story it is indeed - not dead, but pulsating with life at every turn.
Certainly the Jesus of the Gospel is a real, a living Person. But that is not the only question. We are going forward far too fast. Jesus lives in the Gospels - so much may freely be admitted - but we of the twentieth century, how may we come into vital relation to Him? He died nineteen hundred years ago. The life which He now lives in the Gospels is simply the old life lived over and over again. And in that life we have no place; in that life we are spectators, not actors. The life which Jesus lives in the Gospels is after all for us but the spurious life of the stage. We sit silent in the playhouse and watch the absorbing Gospel drama of forgiveness and healing and love and courage and high endeavor; in rapt attention we follow the fortunes of those who came to Jesus laboring and heavy laden and found rest. For a time our own troubles are forgotten. But suddenly the curtain falls, with the closing of the book, and out we go again into the cold humdrum of our own lives. Gone are the warmth and gladness of an ideal world, and "in their stead a sense of real things comes doubly strong." We are no longer living over again the lives of Peter and James and John. Alas, we are living our own lives once more, with out own problems and our own misery and our own sin. And still we are seeking our own Savior.
Let us not deceive ourselves. A Jewish teacher of the first century can never satisfy the longing of our souls. Clothe Him with all the art of modern research, throw upon Him the warm, deceptive calcium-light of modern sentimentality; and despite it all common sense will come to its rights again, and for our brief hour of self-deception - as though we had been with Jesus - will wreak upon us the revenge of hopeless disillusionment.
But, says the modern preacher, are we not, in being satisfied with the "historical" Jesus, the great teacher who proclaimed the Kingdom of God, merely restoring the simplicity of the primitive gospel? No, we answer, you are not, but, temporally at least, you are not so very far wrong. You are really returning to a very primitive stage in the life of the Church. Only, that stage is not the Galilean springtime. For in Galilee men had a living Savior. There was one time and one time only when the disciples lived, like you, merely on the memory of Jesus. When was it? It was a gloomy, desperate time. It was the three sad days after the crucifixion. Then and then only did Jesus' disciples regard Him merely as a blessed memory. "We trusted," they said, "that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel." "We trusted" - but now our trust is gone. Shall we remain, with modern liberalism, forever in the gloom of those sad days? Or shall we pass out from it to the warmth and joy of Pentecost?
Certainly we shall remain forever in the gloom if we attend merely to the character of Jesus and neglect the thing that He has done, if we try to attend to the Person and neglect the message. We may have joy for sadness and power for weakness; but not by easy half-way measures, not by avoidance of controversy, not by trying to hold on to Jesus and yet reject the gospel. What was it that within a few days transformed a band of mourners into the spiritual conquerors of the world? It was not the memory of Jesus' life; it was not the inspiration which came from past contact with Him. But it was the message, "He is risen." That message alone gave to the disciples a living Savior; and it alone can give to us a living Savior today. We shall never have vital contact with Jesus if we attend to His person and neglect the message; for it is the message which makes Him ours.

Human Resolves

This is a short account of Ichabod Spencer's (1798-1854) encounter with two young girls in his congregation. They claimed to have a genuine conversion, only, the contrary had occurred. They had experienced a false conversion. The final paragraph is Spencer's reflections:

Two young girls of my congregation, about seventeen years of age, went to a neighboring town, where there was a religious excitement; and after remaining there about two days, returned home very happy. They thought they had attained salvation by faith in Christ.
On talking with them, I was surprised to find them so little sensible of the extent of human depravity, of the helplessness of human nature, and the necessity of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. They told me that they had been rendered sensible of their sin and danger, and had resolved to go to Christ; and the minister told them that was enough - if they really resolved to give up the world and to serve God, that was enough; and they had resolved to do so. This appeared to me to be all the reason for the hope which made them so happy.
But their religion did not last them six months. At least, they gave no evidence of it, but much to the contrary. They ceased to hope and ceased to pray.

Moral suasion is one thing, and the Holy Spirit is another. It is an easy thing for a minister to fix a hope in the heart of an alarmed sinner, but it is not safe. The Bible does not tell us that a sinner's resolves are enough. It does not tell us the resolves are regeneration.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A blog in hope of...

This will be my blog, and I hope what may come of it will be careful articulation of my thoughts on various issues. Perhaps, since writing is improved through writing, writing on a blog will improve my writing about writing about other peoples writings. And thus the writing begins...