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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Boston’


Before I begin, I want to commend the use of the Oxford Comma in the PCA Report on Human Sexuality.

As I noted in discussion about the Twelve Statements, I wasn’t exceedingly pleased with the order. I understand some want to just get to the point. My wife reads the end of a novel, and then the rest. If I know the ending I think, “What’s the point?”. I wanted to see the work they went through, at times, to better understand their conclusion.

Some of the issues being discussed in our churches today have to do with understandings of sin and gospel expectations.

They were to examine the differences with Roman Catholic theology on the issue of concupiscence with regard to same-sex attraction. This is the overflow of the Revoice issue. Some of the speakers at Revoice were Catholic. Additionally, some of the debates among pastors centered on the question of when temptation becomes sin. As I noted previously, in those discussion I was thinking of sin as an act or transgression, not as corruption or original sin. But some were speaking of corruption. I suspect there was plenty of talking past one another, and accusing people of having a Roman Catholic view of concupiscence.

What is surprisingly missing here is interaction with Thomas Boston and his Human Nature and its Four-Fold State. Just saying, since he’s not only a personal favorite but also this is a standard work. But this is a personal thing. He notes that both our corruption and regeneration are total in that they affect the whole of us. They do not mean each has been affected completely.

The Report notes the Confessional distinction between the corruption and the active fruit of that corruption. This is part of why I try to maintain this distinction. However, those who speak of our corruption with regard to same-sex attraction seemed not to affirm it with regard to heterosexual lust.

I wish their distinction between original and actual had been more explicit in the Statements.

As a technical theological term, “actual”sin refers not to the reality or non-reality of sin, but to its being an act of the soul as opposed to a disposition or inclination only.

The summer of the original “debates” I preached on a number of these issues in a special series, taking an overtly redemptive historical approach. Internal temptation flows from our corruption. Internal temptation is sin in the sense of corruption. It is a desire, in this case, for something sinful in itself. It becomes an act when we entertain said temptation, not simply when we act on it.

Luther is noted for saying that you can’t stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop him from building a nest there. We can’t control that we experience temptation, but we are responsible for what we do with it. That was my point. This is what they are getting at in the Report.

After regeneration we do continue to be corrupt. This is part of the already/not yet. We are already renewed but not yet perfectly renewed. We still have that original sin or corruption from which our sins actual continue to flow. “The fact that the corruption remains highlights that justification is imputed, not infused.” We are simul justus et peccator as Luther also said. The change in regeneration is total, in that affects our whole person, but it is imperfect. They pull a number of chapters in the Confession in this: Of the Fall of Man, Sin and the Punishment Thereof, Of Sanctification, and Of Free Will. We continue to have disordered desires. At times we will and act good things, but not perfectly and exclusively. Our good works are truly good, yet mixed with our corruption. They bring us to Calvin.

“If the true standard of righteousness is to love God with the whole heart, and mind, and strength, it is clear that the heart cannot incline otherwise without declining from righteousness… The law, I say requires perfect love: we do no yield it. Our duty was to run, and we go on slowly limping.”

Those imperfect stumblings in the way are purified by the work of Christ. He accepts our sincere efforts despite their many weaknesses and imperfections.

They lay plenty of groundwork for our view before getting to the Roman Catholic view and the application to the current issues. They bring us to the Council of Trent. This affirmed there was an incentive to sin, concupiscence, but it was not properly considered sin unless you consented to it. The Report summarizes “the Council says that concupiscence is a result of sin and inclines to sin, but is not sin itself.” They anathemtize us and the Reformers. There seems to be an acknowledgment that the Bible calls it sin, but the Church doesn’t. So we return to one of the main emphases of the Reformation: the nature of authority. Their tradition was not in accordance with the Scriptures and they were okay with that. The Reformers weren’t, and should not have been. When our “tradition” departs from the Scriptures we should submit to the Scriptures. Sin, in Reformed Theology, is always connected to the Law of God.

Rome has a fundamentally flawed view of sin, and as a result salvation. Baptismal regeneration essentially removes corruption in their view. It accomplishes what Pelagius did with original sin. Sin becomes limited to transgression, act/actual in their view. Some of the main speakers at Revoice expressed this and similar views.

There is a danger shift in this away from the imputed righteousness of Christ toward a confidence in our own righteousness. This is why justification follows sanctification in their views. Christ only justifies the sanctified rather than sanctifying the justified. But if sin has been ontologically removed via baptism, then temptation itself has no connection to sin.

“The Reformers, however, stressed the importance of recognizing the ongoing presence of sinful concupiscence in the Christian precisely because it highlighted that the righteousness given is only and completely an imputation of that which is Christ’s.”

The Reformed view rests on the authority of Scripture, not the (ever-changing) authority of the Church. The Reformed view recognizes are on-going need for pardoning, purifying and empowering grace.

The Report than brings us to the “Common Dynamic of Concupiscence.” This is not just about same-sex attraction. It “is not unique to those who experience homosexual desire. All people experience it.” This cannot be downplayed. We all have spontaneous thoughts, of all kinds, that flow out of our corrupt nature. They are sin original and lack conformity to the law of God. The Report rightly warns us about thinking homosexual desire as qualitatively different from our disordered desires. “Or worse, some may be willing to assert the sinfulness of one category of spontaneous desire but minimize or remain largely ignorant of the sinful concupiscence that is common to all.” This doesn’t make homosexuality “less sinful” but reminds us of the actual sinfulness of our own disordered desires. “Good Reformed teaching on sin places us all on equal footing in our need of Christ’s imputed righteousness.” It seemed to me that some forgot that very important point.

Because of continued corruption we should not be surprised if homosexual attraction continues after conversion. Yet, some seem to think it should cease. Careful study of our continuing corruption should lead us to not promise removal such desires even as we encourage on-going sanctification. In this context they address “reparative therapy”. If there is a promise of such freedom, and a corresponding demand for such freedom then “that demand is an anti-gospel that only crushes and condemns- especially if the admonitions are applied selectively to this form of concupiscence but not to other common varieties, both sexual and other.”

I’ve interacted with people who have such a view of repentance that the Report warns against. If only people truly repented they would not experience homosexual desire, it is said. I guess many of us haven’t truly repented of all our sins if we commit them again. This is truly a perversion of the doctrine of repentance. As a result, all such claims or demands must be rejected and resisted. Not by a liberal or anti-confessional basis but precisely on a Confessional and Scriptural basis.

Does this mean we are being soft on same-sex attraction? Are we pandering to their sin? No. The Report then addresses real change. Regeneration is total, affecting the whole person, Boston notes. Sanctification is total as well. There should be progress as the Spirit sanctified the “whole man.” The person experiencing homosexual attraction needs to put it to death. They should seek real change “even if that change is incomplete and mixed.” Strides made are real even if imperfect.

This means we should “Celebrate Sincere Efforts.” While all gospel-change is “incomplete and mixed with corruption” it is still gospel-change. Christ is transforming them even if it is the putting to death of temptation one time this week. We celebrate, not the attraction, but our baby steps in sanctification.

This continues in establishing a moral difference between corruption and transgression. The initial desire/temptation is different morally than the desire or temptation that is turned over in our mind, and then to act on it. In this they use the language of WLC 151.

“The point here is not to encourage those with homosexual attraction to become comfortable with or accepting of it. Rather, it is to counter the undue heaping of shame upon them as if the presence of homosexual attraction itself makes them the most heinous of sinners.”

This has been one of my concerns, the reality of shame. They way some of us speak about homosexuality we just heap shame on people. No wonder they don’t want to talk to some of us about their same-sex attractions. This was my concern when focusing on their corruption but ignoring our own. The idea of repent of their orientation isn’t applied to other people’s sinful inclinations in the same way. We place improper shame on them: not the shame of being a sinner but of being a different & worse sinner than the rest of us.

Despite the fact they didn’t bring Boston into the discussion, there are a number of excellent points made in application of the doctrine we have in common. There are good correctives and clarifications so perhaps we can have more fruitful discourse in the future.

Addendum:

Of course after writing this, I read the chapter in Maturity by Sinclair Ferguson on Overcoming Temptation.

“In biblical teaching temptation as such is not sin.”

6fb996429b682df40584f0a1a7acad70_1024xHe also notes that “the distinction between temptation and sin is vital theologically and also pastorally.” He’s getting at that moral difference between them. As a “student” of John Owen’s, he’s not ignoring our corruption (he addresses that on the very next page) but focusing on sin as transgression in those statements. There is plenty here to apply pastorally. And Ferguson does just that. “We are conflicted. Christ dwells in us, yet sin remains.”

He’s writing for the tender-hearted, like I can be, who can be filled with guilt and shame over the existence of temptation in our lives. He offers a general rule of thumb to help such people.

“A rule of thumb that will be helpful if we are prone to confuse being tempted with actually sinning is this: Ask yourself: ‘Do I want this temptation? Do I want what it solicits me to do or have? Or is it distasteful to me?‘”

This is helpful, I believe, for those Christians tempted by homosexual attraction. Many don’t want those temptations that they experience. They wish it were different. They don’t yield to it, but due to indwelling sin still experience it.

“… sensitive Christians must learn not to listen to Satan’s sinister suggestions that by being tempted they have already sinned and are thereby condemned.”

He develops the doctrine of concurrence in this chapter looking at David’s sins in the affair with Bathsheba, as well as Job. This is not simply external temptation, but how Satan piles on when these desires arise from indwelling sin.

Ferguson also quotes the main passage from Owen that defines what he means by “entering into temptation.” This is a sentenced I missed while re-reading Owen for my sermon on the subject in 2018.

” Whilst it knocks at the door we are at liberty; but when any temptation comes in and parleys with the heart, reasons with the mind, entices and allures the affections, be it a longer or shorter time, do it thus insensibly and imperceptibly, or do the soul take notice of it, we ‘enter into temptation’.” (Owen, Works, VI, 97)

Ferguson develops this process from temptation to sin in the life of David, and applies it to us in what I find a helpful way. All in all, it is a very helpful chapter in his book regardless of the nature of our temptations. I heartily recommend it. I heartily recommend Ferguson’s books because I find him to have a pastor’s heart, not simply a theologian’s mind. I continually praise God for his ministry to my life and the model of doing theology in his writings.

 

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One of the things I appreciate about Sinclair Ferguson is how he combines astute theological thinking with pastoral wisdom. This characteristic is what makes his latest book, The Whole Christ so good, so timely and helpful.

It is also what makes reviewing this book so difficult. I started to review it, describing many of the great insights, distinctions, historical issues etc. that are in this book that the review was becoming a tome. It would be easy to have a short review that just doesn’t do the book justice, that doesn’t really give you a clear idea as to why you should read it. And you should!

The story of the book began decades ago when Ferguson delivered a number of messages on pastoral reflections of the Marrow Controversy at a conference. Over the years people have asked if he would put them in book form (I hadn’t seen him since I heard the lectures, so I just hoped and prayed). As he noted, and I have also discovered firsthand, it is much harder to adapt messages than to just write a book. The last person to ask him was Tim Keller. Ferguson’s retirement provided the opportunity. Having heard the lectures, I am thankful that it has come to pass. Having read the book, I am even gladder he did.

Ferguson brings us back to the Marrow Controversy that troubled the Church of Scotland in the 1700s. It was a controversy prompted, in part, by The Marrow of Modern Divinity by E.F. But it was really a disagreement about legalism, antinominanism and assurance in the Church of Scotland.

He necessarily interacts with the book, written years earlier but discovered by Thomas Boston, and how the controversy played out in the Church. He brings The Westminster Confession of Faith, various Puritans and John Calvin into the fray. Most importantly, Ferguson also writes about the human heart since these are not simply abstract theological ideas, but issues that plague us.

For instance, he resolves an alleged conflict between Calvin and the Westminster Divines on the subject of faith and assurance. Calvin wrote of assurance being essential to faith which is contrary to the Confession. But Ferguson shows that Calvin meant we must believe that Christ is able to save. This differs from assurance of salvation, meaning that Christ as saved a particular sinner. In other words, they were discussing two different kinds of assurance. This is a very helpful distinction, with pastoral implications. The first is an issue of one’s justification, the other is an issue of their subjective confidence before God. You have to identify the proper problem so you give them the proper instruction, otherwise you can do spiritual damage.

This book is rife with such pastoral implications whether for our preaching or our counseling. This is what makes the book so excellent, and a must-read. He gets to the heart of legalism and antinomianism, and presents us Christ and the gospel as the resolution for both (and the issue of assurance as well).

Ferguson asserts that both legalism and antinomianism severe the law from the character of the law Giver. They do it in different way, but come from the same root. He brings us to Eve and the original temptation. Satan got her to doubt God’s goodness and love. She developed a legalistic spirit, which hardened her heart towards God, which resulted in her antinomianism, or rejection of God’s law to the original couple.

He unpacks how both legalism and antinomian manifest themselves. They also appear in how we think of assurance. They also affect how we preach, and how we hear the gospel, or shall I say mishear.

Much of what Ferguson does is bring us back to the gospel and the character of God. Law then finds its appropriate place, and assurance seen aright.

What started this mess that divided the Church of Scotland, and many Christians today. The controversy started over a Presbytery creed that rejected “preparationism”, a form of hyper-Calvinism that taught that the gospel only for those who showed signs of grace, who have repented (yeah, confusing). One thing that becomes evident is that theses Scots wrote questions in a very convoluted fashion. One man had his license to preach the gospel removed by not affirming the creed. The General Assembly reversed the decision and condemned the creed. One frustrated member of the Assembly sat next to Thomas Boston who recommended The Marrow of Modern Divinity.

Some have taken issue with the book. The controversy over the book is not the issue so much as the views of the Marrow Men. The controversy spiraled out of control, and wider.

The first issue was the free offer of the gospel, contra preparationism. The Marrow Men held to limited atonement. They also believed that the gospel was to be freely offered to all sinners. There are no qualifications that must be met before the offer of Christ, and pardon in Him, is made to sinners.

“The fallacy here? The subtle movement from seeing forsaking sin as a fruit of grace that is rooted in election, to making the forsaking of sin the necessary precursor for experiencing that grace. Repentance, which is the fruit of grace, thus becomes a qualification for grace.”

The Marrow Men rejected the notion of separating Christ from His benefits. We receive all of them in Christ, not in isolation from Him. They upheld a robust theology of union with Christ. “This, to use an Augustinian term, is totus Christus, the whole Christ, the person in whom incarnation has been accomplished and in whom atonement, resurrection, ascension, and heavenly reign are now realized.”

In the midst of this, Ferguson sneaks in an application regarding the New Perspectives on Paul. Yes, he says, the Pharisees believed in grace. It was a conditional grace, however. This was the error of preparationism. It is similar to a conversation I had with some Mormons. We obey, and grace covers what lacks. Ferguson brings us back to the nature of God as good, gracious, and loving. This is what the Enemy seeks to keep from us via a legalistic spirit.

From here he discusses the various forms of legalism which essentially sees God as “He-whose-favor-has-to-be-earned.” Just as in preparationism, where repentance is separated from Christ, in legalism the law is separated from God, from “his loving and generous person”, and “not as the wisdom of a heavenly Father.” The solution is not in rejecting the Law, but embracing God as our delight (see WSC #1). He brings John Colquhoun in to remind us of “what the heart hears”. We can mis-hear solid gospel teaching because of our legalistic hearts. “But it is also all too possible to have an evangelical head and a legalistic heart.” This is important to remember in pastoral counseling. But it means that some hear the offer of free grace as antinomianism.

From there Ferguson moves into the “order of grace”. He touched briefly on the ordo saludis before, but now spends more time there. Faith is the instrument of justification. Repentance does not occur before faith (preparationism), nor after faith, but “within the context of faith’s grasp of God’s grace in Christ.” Further, “while we cannot divide faith and repentance, we do distinguish them carefully”. He also moves to the implications of free grace, a life seeking joyful obedience. Grace produces obedience, and not the other way around. The Mosaic Covenant is to be seen this way, not as a republication of the covenant of works that undoes the Abrahamic covenant. Many preachers, sadly, focus on the law’s exposure of our sin to drive us to Christ with a stark law-gospel distinction. For those justified, it shapes our salvation. It provides direction …

Do you see what I mean?

How we think about law and gospel matters. The default of our hearts matters in terms of how we hear discussions of law and gospel. Where we look for our assurance matters. Why we want to obey matters.

This is a book that can have a profound effect on how a pastor, elder or ministry leader goes about ministry. This is why I find this a book that should be in the hands of pastors, elders and ministry leaders. I want them to bring gospel wisdom to the people they serve: not legalism, not cheap grace. But to do so they have to embrace, and preach, the whole Christ.

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In the last few years there has been an explosion of books on the topic of grace. Some of been excellent. Some have been controversial. Some of those that have been controversial had some significant flaws. Not a fatal flaw, mind you. They were still within the bounds of Christianity but not necessarily within the bounds of the community to which the author belonged (how’s this for vague?).

So, it was with a measure of anticipation and trepidation that I read Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in Our Weakness by Barbara Duguid. I had a sense of anticipation because I have found her husband Iain’s books very helpful. Additionally I saw that she was very dependent on John Newton from whom I’ve also benefited greatly. But I also had sanctification controversy PTSD.

Here is my bottom line: I loved the forest, but some of the particular trees may have issues.

Barbara has some obvious influences, and some that aren’t as obvious. In addition to John Newton, she has a certificate from CCEF, and holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith. When she sticks close to those the book is quite excellent and helpful. When she goes beyond them I found it less helpful and has some of the same issues that troubled me about Tullian Tchividjian’s books on grace. I try to remember what Dr. Pratt taught us: you can’t say everything any time you say anything. Yet a qualification or two saves a world of misunderstanding.

The Good

Throughout the book Barbara Duguid is quite honest about her own struggles, which essentially drive the book. This is nothing new. Many theologians have a doctrinal emphasis that reflects their own personal struggles. Think Luther and his emphasis on justification by faith alone. There is nothing wrong with this, particularly when we consider the providence of God in the matter. Yet we should recognize that we, as sinners saved by grace, can still run off into extremes. Her honesty, to get back to my point, is helpful. She is not writing theoretically, but has walked with God through these difficult places.

“God thinks that you will actually come to know and love him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you would as a triumphant Christian warrior who wins each and every battle against sin.”

This book is easy to read. It is not a technical book but intends to make theology practical. She does a good job of this. The first chapter, Welcome to Your Heart, easily introduces you to her heart and by extension yours through a story. She shows how pride lurks in our hearts, distorting our experience by trying to make us the center of … everything.

The next three chapters, leaning heavily on Newton, are about the three stages of Christian life: babes in Christ, maturing and grown-ups. Sadly, not many people talk about this. It is helpful to recognize the differences so a person has more accurate expectations. Babes often have few trials and lots of joy. God has merciful on them. There is often, in my experience, significant change almost immediately if one converts as an adult. But then life gets hard. God begins to work more deeply, and most often through hardship and failure. The focus is on developing deeper dependence on God, and the destruction of our pride.

“A mature believer studies all the aspects of a person’s struggle with sin and makes allowances. He never stops calling sin the ugly and evil thing that it is, but he understands how deeply rooted it is in human nature and how helpless every Christian is to stand against it.”

Her book offers hope to all of us who struggle with sin, which is every Christian. She reminds us of the providence of God, the preservation of the saints, and the doctrine of assurance (from the Westminster Confession of Faith) which instruct us that sometimes God does in fact bring us through periods of disobedience. The problem is most Christians don’t talk about with struggles (contrary to James 5) so when we struggle with sin we think we are the only one, or more messed up than everyone else in church.  We have to remember that God is up to something bigger than “sin management.”

Our struggles with sin should translate into greater patience with the sins of other Christians. When we consider how patient God is with us, and how sufficient His mercy is to us, we are able to be patient and extend mercy to our brothers and sisters even (particularly!) when they sin against us.

“The more I see myself as the biggest sinner and the worst transgressor, the more I will be able to step up to love others even when they sin against me time and time again.”

I can see Ed Welch’s (a professor at CCEF)  as well as Newton’s influence in the last chapter. Part of how we strive for holiness is in community and making use of the means of grace (Word and sacrament). We need each other profoundly. Her the individualism of Americans is anti-thetical to the gospel. We need help to see our sins. We need help through the prayers of others not only for our illnesses but our sins. We need to remember that the Lord’s Table is for us as saved sinners who still need grace along the pilgrim road.

Her audience is those who are depressed and overwhelmed by their on-going struggle with sin. These people need to know of God’s extravagant grace toward sinners saved by grace. There is plenty of truth to encourage them so they can strengthen their weak knees and keep moving by the grace of God.

“Although God did not create your struggle or tempt you to it, he has called you to walk with it. He has assigned it to you, and he loves you as he calls you to walk through it. He is not disgusted by you.”

The Questions the Reformed Community Needs to Address

There are some questions that are raised by this book, reflecting problems with other books on grace. The sanctification debates seemed largely focused on the third use of the law. These go deeper and are, I think, more important.

1. Is sanctification monergistic or synergistic? This book seems to give conflicting answers at times. Newton often refers to striving for holiness, and she echos that at times. But she is also critical of unnamed pastors who seem to focus on our responsibility. Philippians 2:13 has been one of the key verses for me to understand the relationship between gospel indicatives (facts) and gospel imperatives (commands). God works in me so I will and work according to His purpose. We can’t focus on only one part of that. Edwards noted that it is “all of God and all of me”. I can only work because He works in me (grace!!). But I actually work. He’s not working for me, believing for me, repenting for me. It is typically a hyper-Calvinist view to minimize the exercise of our wills. At times she comes really close to this.

2. What is the nature, or goal, of sanctification? She frequently criticizes the view that it is “sinning less and less.” This seems contrary to the way it is expressed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism to which she holds as a member of the ARP.

Question 35: What is sanctification?
Answer: Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

She doesn’t really qualify or explain what she means. She is correct if she is referring to simply external obedience. The truth is that our “obedience” is often driven by fear and pride instead of faith and love. When we obey out of fear (the fear of getting caught, what people will think etc.) or pride (having a reputation to uphold, a sense of entitlement) we are not really obeying. If this is what she means, I wholeheartedly agree. God is working to address the fear and pride behind so much “obedience.” God also won’t give us “victory” (I hate that term) if it will lead us to spiritual pride. Fear and pride are sins too, but sins that drive other sins as well as counterfeit obedience.

3. What is the Degree of Regeneration?

Our depravity is total, but not absolute. Every aspect of us is affected but we aren’t as bad as we could be. She notes that though saved, we are depraved, weak little sinners. Where is regeneration? To what degree have we changed? Thomas Boston, in the Human Nature in its Fourfold Estate, argues that our regeneration is total in the same way that depravity is. Every aspect of us is affected by regeneration, but not absolutely. While regenerate we still have indwelling sin. We want to be neither triumphalists nor fatalists. She rightly criticizes the former but sounds an awful lot like the later.

4. Does God get angry with us? Can He be pleased by our actions?

She hammers our position in Christ. Indeed there is cause for great rejoicing with regard to our position in Christ as perfectly righteous. This is our hope: union with Christ. But in sanctification does God only see us positionally or does He also see us personally?

She notes the Israelites in the wilderness as the pattern for us in many respects, particularly their failure (she overlooks how many times it does say they did everything the Lord commanded Moses in particular matters). If they were converted (which I think many/most of them were) they were then united to Christ (apart from whom there is no salvation). During the wilderness journey we often see God angry with Israel (with no differentiation between the elect and non-elect). In Hebrews 12 we see that God disciplines us so we bear the harvest of righteousness. He necessarily sees us as less than personally righteous and moves us toward greater personal righteousness. We have Christ’s imputed righteousness in justification, and He imparts Christ’s righteousness to us in sanctification. These distinctions seem to be missing here (and in other some books about grace). If we can’t please God personally, then why does Paul pray for this in Colossians 1.

Love is not contrary to anger, as she seems to argue. Anger is an important part of love to protect the beloved from danger, including the destructiveness of sin. I wonder how much her own anger issues (one of the sins she says she struggles with) influence her views on this. I don’t want God to be angry with me, but I need his fatherly anger at times, as Calvin notes.

“The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,” (Rom. 5:5); namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. On the other hand, we see that God is mysteriously offended [wondrously angry] with his children, though he ceases not to love them. He certainly hates them not, but he alarms them with a sense of his anger, that he may humble the pride of the flesh, arouse them from lethargy, and urge them to repentance. Hence they, at the same instant, feel that he is angry with them for their sins, and also propitious to their persons.John Calvin (Institutes 3:2:12)

The Big Picture Problem?

When she moves away from Newton, CCEF and the Westminster Standards, I pick up an organizational principle for salvation that is more Lutheran than Reformed. Lutheran theology (after Luther’s death) made justification by faith alone the organizing principle so union with Christ and sanctification (and all the other benefits) flow out of justification. This, in my opinion, means that justification flattens the other doctrines, our understanding of Scripture and the dynamic rather than static relationship we have with God. This shows up in focusing on the positional almost exclusively.

The Reformed view sees union with Christ as the organizing principle (to borrow Lane Tipton’s terminology, see Calvin’s Institutes, book 3 and the WLC #65-69). Out of our union with Christ we receive all the (distinct) blessings of Christ. We receive the double grace of justification and sanctification at the same time, though they are distinct. We experience definitive or definite sanctification at that point. It focuses on us as positionally sanctified (see Hoekema’s Saved by Grace). Progressive sanctification necessarily focuses on our personal sanctification. He sees us as we are in ourselves (but doesn’t condemn us because of our position in Christ). Reformed Theology has historically held these two in a biblical tension that appears to be lacking here.

Yesterday I looked at some other reviews to make sure I wasn’t missing the boat, or seeing something that isn’t there. Both Mark Jones and Dane Ortland saw the same things or similar things.

Like Dane Ortland I recognize the many good things about this book which includes some things that are rarely taught which need to be heard. But I want to filter out the ways in which she departs from (my understanding of?) Reformed Theology. Enjoy the forest, even if some trees have thorns. Or to use a different metaphor: it is a good meal, but there is some bone and gristle to toss out.

Time for a little Double Cure.

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Lately I’ve been interacting with a number of people who call themselves “moderate Calvinists”. I’ll be honest, it has been frustrating (for both sides, I’m sure). One reason is a body of literature they have read, that I haven’t, and they point to as authoritative. They usually despise John Owen, and (from my perspective) take comments by scholars (Owen and otherwise) out of context for their arguments.

Moses Amyraut- the original 4-Pointer

They hold to a “hypothetical atonement” instead of a particular atonement. They are similar to the Amyraldian position (they resist this label) in that the atonement is universal in extent, even if only efficient for the elect. They recognize the reality of the elect. So they’ve got that going for them.

One claim I’ve heard from them is that the Canons of Dort do not support the doctrine of limited or particular atonement as espoused by 5-Point Calvinists. (If I’ve misunderstood in the flood of verbiage, I’ll recant.) They see the 5-Points as a modern formulation (yeah, so?), that has no basis in the work of Calvin and the Canons.  I thought I’d look at the Canons (it has been awhile) and see what I find. It is kind of hard to re-read all of Calvin on this topic.

(more…)

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"no one gets a smooth ride" The Choir

There are lots of books that deal with the providence of God. Some are good, and some are not so good. Some are just plain horrendous!

I’m beginning to preach on the life of Joseph in the latter sections of Genesis. You cannot avoid the reality of God’s sovereignty in this section of Genesis. As I prepare the sermons, there are three books I’ve pulled off my shelves (and the church library) to help me along the way, particularly as I ponder application of the doctrine. They hit different aspects, complementing them.

First, I’m going old school with Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot: The Sovereignty and Wisdom of God Displayed in the Afflictions of Men. Some of the things that Boston stresses include humbling ourselves as our afflictions reveal the sin in our hearts. This is one of the things I want to address as we move along.

“But as the fire under the pot makes the scum to rise up, appear atop, and run over, so the crook in the lot rises up from the bottom and brings out such corruptions as otherwise one could hardly imagine to be within.” Thomas Boston

Second, I’m using Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. The title conveys the main point of the book, helping people to trust God in the midst of afflictions of all kinds by knowing that He is ultimately in control and His purposes for His people are good.

“It is difficult for us to appreciate the reality of God sovereignly doing as He pleases in our lives, because we do not see God doing anything.” Jerry Bridges

Third is R.C. Sproul’s Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work for Good?. I never bought it because I read it while I worked for Ligonier. We could use the resources, and this explains why I’m missing his books from the mid-late 90’s. This is more of a redemptive-historical approach. The seemingly disconnected events are actually the working out of the plan of salvation for God’s people. Our confidence is that God, who accomplished our salvation in Christ, will continue to accomplish His plan for us through the events of our lives and history at large.

“Because the word providence is rooted in the Latin term for seeing or vision, we may be tempted to restrict its theological application to God’s mere observance of human activity. It is not merely that God looks at human affairs. The point is that He looks after human affairs. He not only watches us, He watches over us.” R.C. Sproul

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Author & Pastor Andrew Farley

This summer I had a blog “debate” of sorts with Andrew Farley, the author of The Naked Gospel, about the relationship of the Christian to the moral law.  I come from the perspective of Covenant Theology  which sees a connection between the various covenants in the Bible.  While apart from Christ, the moral law serves as a manifestation of the covenant of works (do and live, don’t and die).  With regard to justification, it is Christ’s obedience that is imputed to us.  So, in this respect, we are dead to the law.  We are not to rely on the law to gain acceptance with God.  As a Christian, we are sanctified by grace such that we increasingly obey the moral law.  It is in the context of sanctification that Paul affirms a relationship with the law (as does James & Peter).

Andrew comes for the perspective of a New Covenant Theology that is similar to hyper-dispensationalism in some ways.  For instance, he thinks that the commands of Jesus given prior to His death and resurrection are not for us.  He says we are not under the moral law of the Old Testament, but are under the Royal Law or the Law of Perfect Freedom (this is why he says he’s not an antinomian).  He takes these out of context (the context is James 1-2 in which James then quotes from the 10 Commandments).  He says the content is: Love the Lord with all your heart mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Never mind that these are both given in the Old Testament and mentioned by Jesus long before His death and resurrection.

Thomas Boston

I guess I now have 2 questions for anyone who has a view similar to his which thinks that in sanctification we are not led by the Spirit to fulfill the moral law (see Romans 12 for instance).  I could not help him understand that we (Reformed guys like Thomas Boston, John Owen and Sinclair Ferguson) do not think we are sanctified BY the law.  We are sanctified by the power of the Spirit, who applies the work of Christ to us, SO we obey the law.  Jesus said if you love me you will obey me.  We only love Him because He first loved us and have His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.  (Hmm, what commands did He have in mind in the upper room when He said that?  oops, 3rd question)

Okay, first question.  This came to me in the shower the other day.  I’m not sure why.  But I pondered the man that Paul told the Corinthians to discipline for incest.  This clearly violates the moral law.  But how does this violate the “royal law”?  What particular sin, as defined by the “royal law” has this man committed?

In my view, the moral law defines what it means to love God and my neighbor.  This is seen because Jesus said all of the law and the prophets hang on them.  It is also clear from Romans 12 where Paul uses the moral law to define what it means to love my neighbor.  But when you gut them of the moral law, what command is it breaking and WHY?

2nd question relates to the Great Commission.  This is given by the resurrected Jesus, so it is binding on us.  The discipleship process is described as baptizing them and teaching them to obey all that He has commanded them.  So what precisely is the all He has commanded us?  When did He do this since we have no record of Him giving any commands to the disciples/apostles after the resurrection except for this one?

Had I been wiser & quicker I may have asked these questions.  Or are these questions merely more evidence that I am foolish and slow?

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The Book at the Center of it All

Here are my notes from the 3rd lecture by Sinclair Ferguson on The Marrow Controversy.

Antinomianism

This controversy enables us to see marks in our hearts and ministry of where we are with relationship to the grace of God.  We must exegete those great passages dealing with law & gospel.  It is one of the hardest notes in all divinity for us to untie.

The Marrow Men were accused of Amyraldianism, Arminianism, antinomianism.  But they held to a particular, not universal, atonement; free grace, not free will; and the law as a rule of life.

The 2nd part of the Marrow of Modern Divinity is an exposition of the place of the law of God in the life of the believer.  Wherever natural hearts, or gracious hearts bound by a legal spirit, hear of the grace of God they hear “shall we sin that grace may abound?”  We are in danger of legalism in response to this.

Wherever free grace is fully preached, the accusation of antinomianism has ever arisen.  Israel called John the Baptist a legalist and Jesus an antinomian.  The gospel is ever under attack.

Often it is a false conclusion from a true premise.  Grace does abound all the more where sin abounds.  But we do not sin that grace may abound.  We must affirm the true premise that grace is greater than sin.

The Nature(s) of Antinomianism– it wears many faces

The historical use of the term arose in the days of Martin Luther.  He emphasized free grace.  About 1537, one of his friends drove this to unbiblical, but logical, conclusions.  This friend taught we were free from the law as a rule of life.  Luther began to correct his friend.

Antinomianism existed long before the name was given to it.  The WCF teaches that while the law is not a covenant of works to the believer, it remains a rule of life to the believer.  We are bound to the law as a rule of life.  Antinominism denies this in a variety of ways.

We must not dispute about mere words, but instruct with gentleness.  We should not use it as a cuss word, condemning others needlessly.  We often attribute the worst possible theological conclusions to adherents of a particular view point, conclusions they do not hold.  We need the wisdom of Solomon and the meekness of the Son of Man.

It is a pastoral and theological duty for us to distinguish from the forms of antinomianism.

Doctrinal Form- the absolution of the law as a rule of life is the result of a theological premise.  Some Puritans emphasized the free grace of God that any question of law was opposite to the grace of God.  Justification was eternal, and emphasized immediate assurance apart from the Word of God.  Since we are justified, we have no need to know our sin.  It was associated with hyper-Calvinism at times.

They ignore the indicative-imperative pattern of Scripture from beginning to end.  They focus only on the indicative, rending asunder what God had joined.

The Brethren and their concern for the purity of the church, similar to hyper-Calvinism, drew similar concerns.  Darby called the covenant of works as a mischievous fable.  He could see no place for the 10 Commandments in the life of the believer.  In his full-blown dispensationalism, it was confined to the OT.  This has lead many Brethren to fill the void with tradition, looking for decisions instead of obedience as a fruit of grace.  This is like Ryrie’s “unbelieving believer.”  Easy believism rejects the place of the Law in our life as a rule.  When Christianity is more a matter of decision than living, grace becomes an excuse of licentiousness.

Exegetical Form- it is commonplace now for theologians to take a view of the law is like the position adopted by hyper-Calvinists and dispensationalists.  They think Jesus did away with the law.  They think Paul makes no distinction between the end of the ceremonial law and the continuation of the moral law.  This does not mean these men are immoral.  They often affirm all but the Sabbath since they are repeated in Paul.

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This Sunday I’m sort of preaching on the Ten Commandments since it is 10/10/10.  What I’ll be doing is grappling with Law and Gospel.  I want my people to understand the nature of their relationship to the law because of the gospel.

I’ve had a few of those conversations on the internet lately.  It is a difficult issue to grasp and we tend to head toward the extremes of legalism and antinomianism.  They are the 2 ditches on the side of the road.  And both ditches are deadly.  I don’t advise falling into either.

So, I started to listen to Sinclair Ferguson’s Pastoral Lessons from the Marrow Controversy.  Here is a short history of the Marrow Controversy.  I thought my notes might help a few people to understand what was going on, whetting the appetite about this pastorally important theological controversy.

The History of the Marrow Controversy

1717- the Presbytery of Auchterarder examined a candidate for ordination, William Craig was asked a question unique to that Presbytery.

“Do you subscribe to the following: I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ.”  Craig hesitated and they refused to grant him ordination.  This brought the Auchterarder Creed before the General Assembly.

It was condemned by the Church of Scotland “as unsound and detestable doctrine.”

Thomas Boston was there, and he was quite disturbed by the proceeding.  He saw this as an attack upon the gospel of grace, falsely accusing it of antinomianism.  In 1700 Boston had discovered The Marrow of Modern Divinity which enabled him to grasp the relationship of law and gospel.  He recommended it to James Drummond who gave it to James Hog who ended up reprinting it.

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This is really part 3, but the 2nd part was limited to the idea of Gospel Pardon arising from the book.  I’ve now finished the first part of The Marrow of Modern Divinity.  The 2nd part is an exposition of the law.  The first, and original, part covered some significant territory.  In case you didn’t read the other post, I’m reading the new edition with notes by Thomas Boston.

I previously wrote about the difference between the law of works and the law of Christ.  Fisher writes in the form of a dialogue between a legalist, an antinomian, a new convert and a pastor.  The pastor helps to sort out their misunderstandings about our relationship to the law.  I won’t revisit that territory.

The dialogue touches on the free offer of the gospel.  There was a strain of legalism that was hyper-Calvinistic which rejected (and still does) the free offer of the gospel.  They restrict the offer of the gospel to those who show signs of being elect- seeking Christ, and conviction of sin are two.  Some have since accused Fisher of teaching a universal pardon, or his doctrine implying one.  Thomas Boston protects him from such erroneous charges in his notes.

“… yet so long as the Lord has concealed their names, and not set a mark of reprobation upon any man in particular, but offers the pardon generally to all, without having any respect either to election or reprobation, …”  Edward Fisher

The Scriptures often make a general pronouncement of the pardon.  In fact, all men everywhere are commanded to repent.  we are merely calling them to repentance in light of the work of Christ for sinners.  God is the one who sheds his light into their hearts and converts them (2 Corinthians 3-4).  The elect will respond with faith and repentance.  The reprobate will not.  We are not to play God and try to discern whether or not someone is elect prior to offering them the gospel.

“… for all this general pardon, the formal personal pardon remains to be obtained by the sinner, namely, by his accepting of the pardon offered.”  Thomas Boston

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As I read The Marrow of Modern Divinity a few things have become clearer to my mind.  One of those is the difference between Repentance unto Life (as the Westminster Confession of Faith calls it) at conversion and the on-going repentance of a Christian.  This distinction is what The Naked Gospel by Farley doesn’t recognize.

There is a difference between repentance during conversion in which one moves from the covenant of works into the covenant of grace and after conversion respecting the law of Christ.  Fisher touches on some of the realities at play here:

“… when believers in the Old Testament did transgress God’s commandments, God’s temporal wrath went out against them, and was manifest in temporal calamities that befell them as well as others.  Only here was the difference, the believers’ temporal calamities had no eternal calamities included in them, nor following of them; and the unbelievers’ temporal blessings had no eternal blessings included in them, and their temporal calamities had eternal calamities included in them, and following of them.”

So, for believers earthly blessings are a foretaste of eternal blessings.  Both are earned by Christ and his merits, not ours.  Because of Christ’s merit and satisfaction, we are not condemned for our sin.  But because God loves us He disciplines us when we break the law of Christ (Hebrews 12).  It is restorative and not punitive, designed to produce a harvest of righteous character in us.  We repent, not because we’ve lost our salvation but because we have disobeyed our Father.

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I’ve finally begun to read The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.  It is the newer edition with Thomas Boston‘s notes.  So, you get 2 Puritans for the price of 1.  Hard to hate.

I am finding it a tough go at times.  Perhaps I’ve been slack in my reading of the Puritans lately.  Perhaps it is the layout.  The longer notes by Boston are laid out together, but cover a few different pages.  Since I don’t want to continually flip back and forth I sometimes lose the context.

The books starts with a few historical questions.  It briefly recounts the Marrow Controversy in the Church of Scotland and Thomas Boston’s involvement in that Controversy.  It also examines the identity of E.F. and which Edward Fisher probably wrote this important book that discusses the Christian’s relationship with the law.

The book is like Cur Deus Homo? in that it is in the form of a dialogue.  But instead of 2 characters, there are 4 to represent 2 erroneous views (legalism and antinomianism), the proper view and the new Christian who is caught in the crossfire.

One of the interesting aspects for me is that occasionally Boston disagrees with Fisher on finer points.  There are quite a few finer points I disagree with one or both on due to how they are using Scripture in particular instances.  These are non-essential to the arguments, however.  Boston does not require that Fisher agree with him on everything to recommend him as beneficial.  Sinclair Ferguson (his Pastoral Lessons on the Controversy are excellent!)and Philip Ryken also recommend the book (as well as a few other prominent Puritans like Burroughs) which goes to the point that a recommendation does not entail approval of every jot and tittle.  They agree with the main point, not every rabbit trail.

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The 4th part of The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley is called Burning Matryoshkas, but the basic content is about justification and regeneration.  In this section Farley displays another aspect of a hyper-dispensationalist  method of interpretation- literalism.  The result is some profound distortions of the doctrines of justification and regeneration, and their effect on sanctification.

Properly understood, a literal method should take figures of speech, metaphor, genre and more into account to proper understand the author’s intention.  Literalism often ignores these literary tools, thereby distorting the author’s intention.

He attacks the view that our justification is positional.  He never really defines justification, but as he discusses it we find a fundamental rejection of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as the foundation of our justification.

“God’s plan was actually an exchange of nature. … People who place their faith in Christ undergo a miraculous exchange at the center of their being.  Who they were in Adam is no longer there.  They become a new person, a child of God who is in Christ.  The key event causing this exchange is a death, burial and resurrection with Christ.  This miraculous exchange is not figurative or symbolic but literal and actual.  The spiritual part of every Christian has literally and actually been crucified, buried, and raised with Christ.”

In Paul’s writings we find the concept of being “in Christ”.  We enjoy a spiritual union with Him.  Since he is our representative, instead of Adam, all that happened to Him happened to us.  When Jesus literally died and rose again, He did it as our Substitute so we receive the benefits of His actions.  In Romans 4, one of the key phrases Paul quotes from Genesis is that Abraham’s faith was “credited to him as righteousness.”  Justification is the removal of our guilt (imputed to Christ at His death) and the imputation of His obedience to us.  Though we are not personally righteous, His righteousness is credited to all who believe.  Luther would say we are “at the same time just and sinners.”

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The Marrow Controversy is one of those obscure questions that appears on the ARP examinations.  Many a student has little knowledge of this controversy that involved, among others, the Erskine brothers.  As a result of the Erskine brother connection, the ARP holds to the “free offer of the gospel”.  The Marrow Controversy shaped the groups that would one day shape the ARP.

I heard of the Marrow Controversy while in seminary, but it was not discussed or examined in any great detail (I can think of a few guys who were examined in Central Florida Presbytery who wish it had so they could answer R.C. Sproul’s questions about evangelism as Calvinists).

One of my favorite Puritans, Thomas Boston, was central to the Marrow Controversy.  The Controversy involved The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.  Thomas Boston witnessed its censure by the Church of Scotland and saw this as an attack on the gospel itself.  He and the Erskines were among “the Marrow Men” who believed Fisher’s book defended true Christianity against both anti-nomianism and legalism.

Phil Ryken’s introduction to a recent (and needed) reprinting of this book is helpful to put some of this together.  This new edition includes Thomas Boston’s explanatory notes.  Even more helpful is Sinclair Ferguson’s lectures Pastoral Lessons from the Marrow Controversy.  It has 3 lectures that examine its history, the twin problems of license and legalism, and their resolution in the free grace of God.  In many ways, Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God is a modern defense of free grace against license and legalism.  It is the Marrow Controversy applied to today.

“Anyone who comes to grips with the issues raised in The Marrow of Modern Divinity will almost certainly grow by leaps and bounds in understanding three things: the grace of God, the Christian life, and the very nature of the gospel itself.”– Sinclair B. Ferguson

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In the second chapter of Velvet Elvis called Yoke, Rob Bell tackles the issues of authority and interpretation.  He provides some interesting background information, showing that he is well-read.  He continues the practice of asking questions instead of answering questions.  In the process, as in the previous chapter, he unwittingly (?) seems to set people up to question themselves right out of orthodox Christianity.  Here are some examples.

 

“Notice this verse from 1 Corinthians: ‘To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord)…’  Here we have Paul writing to a group of Christians, and he wants to make it clear that the next thing he is going to say comes from him, ‘not the Lord’.”


Rob does not discuss the context of this passage from 1 Corinthians 7.  Paul differentiates his counsel which is coming from the Old Testament, and that which is not found there.  Are we to take Paul to mean that we don’t need to heed this instruction because it’s from him and not God?  I don’t think so.  I’m not going to start chopping my Bible up into what God says and what the human author says.  But Rob’s statements undermine the authority of Paul’s instruction (unless I’m really missing something here).

 

In keeping with his anti-fundamentalist bent, he turns his gaze to the Southern Baptist Convention (without naming names).

“The reason their annual gathering was in the news was that they had voted to reaffirm their view of the importance of the verse that says a wife’s role is submit to her husband.  This is a big deal to them.  This is what made the news.  This is what they are known for.”

 

Last I checked the SBC didn’t control the news outlets.  I have some bones to pick with them too, but this is not one of them.  It made news because it is so counter-cultural.  I applaud them for not giving in to cultural pressure to somehow water down Scripture.

But Rob has a question or two.  First, “What about the verse before that verse?  “What about the verse after it?” The prior verse is a summary statement that we should submit to one another (a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit).  Paul then lays out some examples- wives to husbands, children to parents, employees to employers (yes, I made an epochal shift there out of slavery).  No one says that parents should submit to their children, or that employers should submit to their employees.  But somehow Paul is not to be taken to mean that wives should submit to their husbands.  He wants you to doubt that it really means this, and the SBC is foolish for believing it (Neanderthals!).  I guess Christ should submit to us.

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I am currently preparing my sermon on Ruth 3 (check CavSermons to the right).  It has been some time since I’ve tried to handle a whole chapter of an historical book in a week.  Whew!  I don’t have an hour like Big Name Preachers (nor the gifting necessary to pull an hour off).  So it has been interesting.  What have I been using?

Esther & Ruth by Iain Duguid from the Reformed Expository Commentary Series.  He is a prof at Westminster West.  I’ve enjoyed his books from the Gospel in the Old Testament series (also published by P&R).  Note this is expository, not exegetical.  These are his sermons on the texts, so there is focus on application beyond the meaning of the text.  There are footnotes interacting with some of the language issues (and there are plenty in Ruth).

This book is solid, and accessible to pastors and lay people alike.  He has a great way of putting things that gets to the heart of the issue.  And, it also covers Esther as a bonus.  This is the first book in this series I’ve purchased, and I’ll probably buy more.

The standard exegetical commentary would be The Book of Ruth by Hubbard in the NICOT series.  There is lots of ambiguous Hebrew in Ruth, so a mere 4 chapters required 280+ pages.  It was very helpful, though difficult to get through all the material each week (average of 50 pages/week of dense reading after the introductory material).  If I’d gone slower through the book, I wouldn’t have felt so overwhelmed.  You live; you learn.

I wanted to pick up The Message of Ruth in the Bible Speaks Today series (one of my favorite commentary series), but the RTS Orlando bookstore didn’t have it in stock.  I didn’t have the time to go on line and have it shipped to me.  But since Hubbard was so exhaustive, I may not have had the time/energy to work through that one too.

[I have since purchased and read Sinclair Ferguson’s short book, Faithful God, which is a short commentary on Ruth.  It is fantastic. I’ve also purchased Dean Ulrich’s From Famine to Feast in the Gospel in the Old Testament series, but I’ve yet to read it.]

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Somewhere along they way I reduced my reading of the Puritans.  Not eliminated them.  I guess I was just trying to keep up with what is going on in the greater world and contemporary Church.  What a schmuck.

No one dissects the heart like the Puritans.  Read John Owen on The Mortification of Sin, On Temptation or On Indwelling Sin in Believers (Volume 6 of his Works).  There is great insight into the human heart and the effects of both grace and sin on it.  It is great to return to him as I preach on repentance (one of those topics that has fallen by the wayside these days).  I even took my title from Thomas Brooks, who called it “the vomit of the soul”.

Thomas Boston is another true master to study.  I’m slowly working my way thru Boston’s The Crook in the Lot which is about affliction.  Sadly, his book Repentance was not at the RTS bookstore as I hoped.

We neglect the Puritans at our peril.  Our theology will be more shallow, less practical (they were not abstract theologians, but drove the truth home to life- which may be why we hide from them), less enthusiastic and so on.

I’ve seen guys go overboard- not making the cultural and/or ephocal adjustment.  We shouldn’t expect to live just like they did.  I’ve even seen guys start to write like Puritans.  The average person will just not grasp what you are trying to say (which is why Kris Lundgaard simplifies Owen’s classic works).

I choose the middle road- delving into them to understand our God and ourselves better that we might be more faithful followers of Jesus in our own day.

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