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Laden with Guilt

This is a beautiful hymn, proven time and again by our own experience, is it not? Perhaps one of the most stunning claims we make as Christians is that we have a book that accomplishes far more than any other printed material. We claim that reading a text and believing in faith is used by God to actually change us.

Laden with guilt and full of fears,
I fly to Thee, my Lord,
And not a glimpse of hope appears,
But in Thy written Word
The volumes of my Father’s grace
Does all my griefs assuage
Here I behold my Savior’s face
In every page.

This is the field where, hidden, lies
The pearl of price unknown
That merchant is divinely wise
Who makes the pearl his own
Here consecrated water flows
To quench my thirst of sin
Here the fair tree of knowledge grows,
No danger dwells within.

This is the judge that ends the strife,
Where wit and reason fail
My guide to everlasting life
Through all this gloomy vale
Oh may Thy counsels, mighty God,
My roving feet command,
Nor I forsake the happy road
That leads to Thy right hand.

–Isaac Watts

What Are You Reading?

1. One Book You’re Currently Reading: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

2. The Last Book You Finished: Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp

3. The Next Book You’ll Read: The Servant King by T. Desmond Alexander

4. What’s on the Shelf Begging to be Read: Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray

Humble or Hypocrite?

Jonathan Edwards writes,

But though spiritual pride be so subtle and secret an iniquity, and commonly appears under a pretext of great humility; yet there are two things by which it may be discovered and distinguished. The first is this: he that is under the prevalence of this distemper, is apt to think highly of his attainments in religions, as comparing himself with others. . . .That the person who is apt to think that he, as compared with others, is a very eminent saint, much distinguished in christian experience, in whom this is a first thought, that rises of itself, and naturally offers itself; he is certainly mistaken; he is no eminent saint; but under the great prevailings of a proud and self-righteous spirit. And if this be habitual with the man, and is statedly the prevailing temper of his mind, he is no saint at all; he has not the least degree of any true christian experience; so surely as the word of God is true. . . .

Secondly, Another infallible sign of spiritual pride, is persons being apt to think highly of their humility. False experiences are commonly attended with a counterfeit humility. . . . An eminent saint is not apt to think himself eminent in any thing; all his graces and experiences appear to him to be comparatively small; but especially his humility. Nothing appertains to christian experience, and true piety, is so much more out of his sight. He is a thousand times more quick-sighted to discern his pride, than his humility. On the contrary, the deluded hypocrite, who is under the power of spiritual pride, is so blind to nothing as his pride; and so quick-sighted to nothing, as the shows of his humility.

from Religious Affections, italics in original

“You Have Very Weak and Infirm Health”

To Miss Sarah Edwards, [at] Lebanon

My Dear Child,

Your mother has received two letters from you, since you went away. We rejoice to hear of your welfare, and of the flourishing state of religion in Lebanon. I hope you will well improve the great advantage God is thereby putting into your hands, for the good of your own soul. You have very weak and infirm health, and I am afraid are always like to have; and it may be, are not to be long-lived; and while you do live, are not like to enjoy so much of the comforts of this life as others do, by reason of your want of health; and therefore, if you have no better portion will be miserable indeed. But, if your soul prospers, you will be a happy, blessed person, whatever becomes of your body. I wish you much of the presence of Christ, and of communion with him, and that you might live so as to give him honour, in the place where you are, by an amiable behavior towards all….

I remain your loving father,

JONATHAN EDWARDS

 

To master Timothy Edwards, at New York:

My Dear Child,

Before you will receive this letter, the matter will doubtless be determined, as to your having the small-pox. You will either be sick with that distemper, or will be past danger of having it, from any infection taken in your voyage. But whether you are sick or well, like to die or like to live, I hope you are earnestly seeking your salvation. I am sure there is a great deal of reason it should be so, considering the warnings you have had in word and in providence. That which you met with, in your passage from New York to Newark, which was in the occasion of your fever, was indeed a remarkable warning, a dispensation full of instruction, and a very loud call of God to you, to make haste, and not to delay in the great business of religion. If you now have that distemper which you have been threatened with, you are separated from your earthly friends, as none of them can come to see you; and if you should die of it, you have already taken a final and everlasting leave of them while you are yet alive, so as not to have the comfort of their presence and immediate care, and never to see them again in the land of the living. And if you have escaped that distemper, it is by a remarkable providence that you are preserved. And your having been so exposed to it, must certainly be a loud call of God, not to trust in earthly friends or any thing here below. Young persons are very apt to trust in parents and friends when they think of being on a death-bed. But this providence remarkably teaches you the need of a better Friend, and a better Parent, than earthly parents are…

Your Affectionate and Tender father,

JONATHAN EDWARDS

 

Timothy Edwards was 14; Sarah Edwards 13 when they received these letters from their father. Harsh? No. But rather weighted with the understanding that in the face of the terrors of hell and the kindness of Christ, anything less than the fullness of reality is worthless. Euphemisms and baseless optimism won’t cut it.

Book Review: From Eden to the New Jerusalem

T. Desmond Alexander’s From Eden to the New Jerusalem was written as an accessible introduction to biblical theology.  Structured in a cyclical manner, the six chapters in between the introduction and conclusion each survey a particular aspect of redemptive history. Structured thus, each chapter serves to add another layer of detail to the overall thesis. Each chapter could be read profitably as an independent study of one particular subject in biblical theology.

Alexander states in the introduction, “There is something of value in seeing the big picture, for it frequently enables us to appreciate the details more clearly. The scholarly tendency to ‘atomize’ biblical texts is often detrimental to understanding them.” (11) This illuminates the thesis of his book, that the biblical meta-narrative must be the lens through which individual passages of Scripture are interpreted, as God’s overarching plan of redemption provides a context which must be considered.

Foundational to Alexander’s hermeneutic is his interpretation of the Garden account in the first three chapters of Genesis. The Garden itself is God’s temple, the connection point where the person of God dwells upon the earth and interacts with His people. Adam and Eve were placed in Eden with instructions to expand the garden, thereby eventually spreading the presence of God throughout the whole earth. This role of Adam and Even designated them as “priests” and co-regents, ministers for God in the presence of God.

The disobedience of Adam and Eve by eating from the forbidden tree was an outright rejection of their status as God’s appointed priest-kings. By failing to exercise dominion over the serpent, they refused their role as kings; and by failing to obey the word of the Lord, they refused their role as priests. Alexander writes, “All importantly, their actions jeopardize the fulfillment of God’s blueprint that the whole earth should become a holy garden-city. The very ones meant to extend God’s dwelling place throughout the earth are excluded from his presence.” (27)

After this expulsion God’s presence is experienced through sacrificial altars, as can be seen through the worship of men such as Abel and Job. The original promise of a Messiah embedded within the protoevangelion begins to germinate with the advent of the covenant between God and Abraham.

God’s call of the nation of Israel out from the land of Egypt to the peaks of Mount Sinai reintroduces the presence of God specifically dwelling amongst a people called to be His priests. The divinely-inspired blueprint for the Tabernacle is laden with nature imagery, connecting the Mosaic Tabernacle with the original Tabernacle of God, the Garden of Eden. At the heart of the Tabernacle is the Ark of the Covenant, which is the footstool of God. It is inside the Holy of Holies that the presence of God dwells, and the Ark is the connection point between His reign in the heavens and His reign on the earth.

Like Adam and Eve, the Israelites fail in their responsibilities as priest-kings. The vision recorded by the prophet in Ezekiel 10 depicts the presence of God departing from the recalcitrant nation. Though the temple was rebuilt in post-Exilic Israel, the presence of God is never depicted as returning to the temple. While God’s favor still was upon the nation, His specific presence was not.

The New Testament marks a fundamental shift in the way the God is working to fulfill His original creation blueprint. All throughout the Old Testament the presence of God was in a specific, geographic location. The pilgrimages of the Israelites for the feasts consisted of returning under the shadow of the presence of God. After the death of Jesus Christ, the presence of God is implanted within His followers. Alexander quotes McKelvy, “God no longer dwells with his people in a sanctuary which they make for him; he dwells in them, and they are his temple.” (64)

More than being the means for implanting His presence inside His followers (which returns them to their role as priests), Jesus Christ also reestablishes His followers’ role as kings. Jesus Christ as man triumphed over the serpent that had held mankind captive since the fall of the first Adam, purchasing for His followers a return to the original created order, to be revealed in the coming New Jerusalem.

In the new creation, the original design of God will finally be realized. The New Jerusalem as pictured in John’s Revelation is a perfect cube, connecting it with the Holy of Holies within the Tabernacle. The presence of God will dwell with His people on the whole earth, as they worship before Him as His priest-kings.

As an introduction to biblical theology, Alexander’s work is quite helpful in presenting the basic hermeneutic used to trace the biblical meta-narrative, as well as the conclusions resulting from such a study. Throughout the book he intertwines personal and ecclesial application with nuanced theological argument, demonstrating how technical theological discussion should produce a purer worship and life. A discussion about the atonement preparing human beings to be the living temple of the Lord suddenly bursts forth into Charles Wesley’s classic hymn And Can It Be? While rare for a theology book, such passionate worship is not contrived but rather the obvious overflow of an author who has experienced much of God in his studies.

As it is an introductory work, Alexander’s book is rather short and suffers for it. At times it seems as though clarity was sacrificed upon the altar of limiting the book’s pages. Though Alexander’s intention in his work is to concentrate upon the big picture, clarity is sometimes lacking as to how the details prove his rendering of the big picture. The strength of this work is clearly its presentation of biblical theology, not its defense of it.

While Alexander has written a very clear, understandable, and accurate vision for the overarching plan of God in redemptive history, his conclusions about the connection between the the old covenant people and the new covenant people are questionable.

Concerning communion and the passover, Alexander writes, “Given the obvious links between the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper, it seems reasonable to conclude that both fulfill the same purpose of sanctification.” (134) For Alexander, the communion meal carries much greater significance than being a mere symbol. He understands the meal to have in and of itself properties of sanctification, which is why it is dangerous for the unrepentant to partake.

While there certainly is symbolic connection between eating Passover and partaking of communion, to state that both function in the same way is to underestimate the differences between the old and new covenants. God now resides within the human heart, and it is the Spirit who makes holy, not eating a particular meal. (1 Pet. 1:2) The Passover is only mentioned once in the Epistles as anything other than a day on the calendar, (1 Cor 5:7) and the context is church discipline.

Likewise, Alexander draws a heavy correlation between the nation of Israel and new covenant believers. He writes, “Undoubtedly, Paul views the church corporately as being God’s temple,” (61) and “Many scholars interpret Paul’s comment ‘your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit’ as implying that each individual believer is a temple of God…However, Paul’s use of the singular forms ‘body’ and ‘temple’ in conjunction with the plural pronoun ‘you’ would seem more naturally to fit with the view that the local church is the temple of God.” (64, footnote 95)

The communal aspect of the church as the body of Christ certainly has been largely ignored in contemporary American Christianity. Alexander’s argument for such an understanding of the church as the collective temple of God from Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 6 is quite compelling. However, Alexander’s conclusions would seem to ignore the individual aspect of the return of the presence of God at Pentecost. The tongues of fire rested individually upon the disciples, not upon the room as a whole. The Scriptures affirm both the corporate body of believers and the individual believer as being the temple of God.

These two matters of exegesis do little to dampen my enthusiasm towards Alexander’s work. It is clear, it is concise, and it is worship-producing. In my own life, gaining an understanding of God’s passion to have His creation be priest-kings and the necessity of having a human being fulfill that plan makes the incarnation and subsequent death and resurrection of Christ even more unfathomable. I was in subjection to the serpent, but another Man came and conquered him for me. I would heartily recommend this book to anyone in my church who desires to understand how the Scriptures are unified as a whole, and how they communicate God’s passion to be known by His people.

image courtesy of GoogleImages

Hometowns

The more I read in preparation for moving to Kentucky, the more I’m realizing that there’s a very different mindset in Southerners than Californians. Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Seminary, wrote an article for Touchstone Magazine detailing his response to watching Hurricane Katrina wipe his hometown off the map. Entitled “Christ and Katrina,” click here to read it. It’ll be worth your time.

Bad Doctrine May Poison Good Doctrine

During my visit to Southern it was impossible to miss the emphasis placed upon the Southern Baptist Convention. I don’t think this is a bad thing, as it is rooted in a care and concern to see the SBC be saturated with an understanding of the person and work of Christ, but it is very different from the non-denominational church culture I’m used to. Like any traveller wanting to prepare himself for a new cultural context, I’ve been reading up on the distinctives and history of the SBC. I found this quote in Tom Nettles’ The Baptists: Key People Involved in Forming a Baptist Identity (Vol. 2):

The anti-Calvinist context of Helwys’ arguments indicates that he believed Calvinism fostered the assumed prerogatives of persecution. He even applied his central idea of the ‘Mistery (Mystery) of Iniquity’ to the distinctive doctrines of the Calvinists. ‘We are not able to the full desire of our souls to discover the depth fo the mystery of iniquity in this opinion of Particular Election and Reprobation and of so Particular redemption, nor to show forth the great mystery of godliness in the true and holy understanding of Universal or the General Redemption of all by Christ.’ That persecution and Calvinism did not share the same soul soon would appear by the arguments of many Particular Baptists for liberty of conscience. (28)

Early in their history, Baptists in England found themselves persecuted by their brothers who held to a covenant-theology Puritan understanding of ecclesiology. Some, like Helwys, reacted against the whole of Puritan doctrine. It is a caution to us in two directions. First, we must take care that our actions do not poison our good doctrine. By persecuting fellow believers for their beliefs about the ordinances, many Puritans drove their brothers further from the Lord, not closer to him. And second, we must take care that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater like Helwys and take care to separate clear biblical exegesis from misapplied biblical truth.