The Inward Experience of Believers

Taken and adapted from, “Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne”
Written by, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Sermon XV
Put together and published by Andrew Bonar, 1894.

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“For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”   —Romans. 7:22–25.

A BELIEVER is to be known not only by his peace and joy, but by his warfare and distress…

His peace is peculiar: it flows from Christ; it is heavenly, it is holy peace. His warfare is as peculiar: it is deep-seated, agonizing, and ceases not till death. If the Lord will, many of us have the prospect of sitting down next Sabbath at the Lord’s Table. The great question to be answered before sitting down there is, “Have I fled to Christ or no?”

’Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought,

Do I love the Lord or no?
Am I his, or am I not?

To help you to settle this question, I have chosen the subject of the Christian’s warfare that you may know thereby whether you are a soldier of Christ— whether you are really fighting the good fight of faith.

I.   A believer delights in the law of God.—“I delight in the law of God after the inward man,” ver. 22.

(1.) Before a man comes to Christ, he hates the law of God—his whole soul rises up against it. “The carnal mind is enmity,” etc., 8:7.

First, Unconverted men hate the law of God on account of its purity. “Thy word is very pure, therefore thy servant loveth it.” For the same reason worldly men hate it. The law is the breathing of God’s pure and holy mind. It is infinitely opposed to all impurity and sin. Every line of the law is against sin. But natural men love sin, and therefore they hate the law, because it opposes them in all they love. As bats hate the light, and fly against it, so unconverted men hate the pure light of God’s law, and fly against it.

Second, They hate it for its breadth. “Thy commandment is exceeding broad.” It extends to all their outward actions, seen and unseen; it extends to every idle word that men shall speak; it extends to the looks of their eye; it dives into the deepest caves of their heart; it condemns the most secret springs of sin and lust that nestle there. Unconverted men quarrel with the law of God because of its strictness. If it extended only to my outward actions, then I could bear with it; but it condemns my most secret thoughts and desires, which I cannot prevent. Therefore ungodly men rise against the law.

Third, They hate it for its unchangeableness. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but one jot or one tittle of the law shall in no wise pass away. If the law would change, or let down its requirements, or die, then ungodly men would be well pleased. But it is unchangeable as God: it is written on the heart of God, with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning. It cannot change unless God change; it cannot die unless God die. Even in an eternal hell its demands and its curses will be the same. It is an unchangeable law, for He is an unchangeable God. Therefore ungodly men have an unchangeable hatred to that holy law.

(2.) When a man comes to Christ, this is all changed. He can say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” He can say with David, “Oh how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day.” He can say with Jesus, in the 40th Psalm, “I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart.”

There are two reasons for this:—

First, The law is no longer an enemy.—If any of you who are trembling under a sense of your infinite sins, and the curses of the law which you have broken, flee to Christ, you will find rest. You will find that He has fully answered the demands of the law as a surety for sinners; that He has fully borne all its curses. You will be able to say, “Christ hath redeemed me from the curse of the law, being made a curse for me, as it is written, Cursed,” etc. You have no more to fear, then, from that awfully holy law: you are not under the law, but under grace. You have no more to fear from the law than you will have after the judgment-day. Imagine a saved soul after the judgment-day. When that awful scene is past; when the dead, small and great, have stood before that great white throne; when the sentence of eternal woe has fallen upon all the unconverted, and they have sunk into the lake whose fires can never be quenched; would not that redeemed soul say, I have nothing to fear from that holy law; I have seen its vials poured out, but not a drop has fallen on me? So may you say now, O believer in Jesus! When you look upon the soul of Christ, scarred with God’s thunderbolts; when you look upon his body, pierced for sin, you can say, He was made a curse for me; why should I fear that holy law?

Second, The Spirit of God writes the law on the heart.—This is the promise: “After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jer. 31:33. Coming to Christ takes away your fear of the law; but it is the Holy Spirit coming into your heart that makes you love the law. The Holy Spirit is no more frightened away from that heart; He comes and softens it; He takes out the stony heart and puts in a heart of flesh; and there He writes the holy, holy, holy law of God. Then the law of God is sweet to that soul; he has an inward delight in it. “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” Now he unfeignedly desires every thought, word, and action to be according to that law. “Oh that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes: great peace have they that love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.” The 119th Psalm becomes the breathing of that new heart. Now also he would fain see all the world submitting to that pure and holy law. “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes because they keep not thy law.” Oh that all the world but knew that holiness and happiness are one! Oh that all the world were one holy family, joyfully coming under the pure rules of the gospel! Try yourselves by this. Can you say, “I delight,” etc.? Do you remember when you hated the law of God? Do you love it now? Do you long for the time when you shall live fully under it—holy as God is holy, pure as Christ is pure?

Oh come, sinners, and give up your hearts to Christ, that He may write on it his holy law! You have long enough had the devil’s law graven on your hearts: come you to Jesus, and He will both shelter you from the curses of the law, and He will give you the Spirit to write all that law in your heart; He will make you love it with your inmost soul. Plead the promise with Him. Surely you have tried the pleasures of sin long enough. Come, now, and try the pleasures of holiness out of a new heart.

If you die with your heart as it is, it will be stamped a wicked heart to all eternity. “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still.” Rev. 22:11. Oh come and get the new heart before you die; for except you be born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God!

II.    A true believer feels an opposing law in his members.

“I see another law,” etc., ver. 23. When a sinner comes first to Christ, he often thinks he will now bid an eternal farewell to sin: now I shall never sin any more. He feels already at the gate of heaven. A little breath of temptation soon discovers his heart, and he cries out, “I see another law.”

(1.) Observe what he calls it—“another law;” quite a different law from the law of God; a law clean contrary to it. He calls it a “law of sin,” ver. 25; a law that commands him to commit sin, that urges him on by rewards and threatenings—“a law of sin and death,” 8:2; a law which not only leads to sin, but leads to death, eternal death: “the wages of sin is death.” It is the same law which, in Galatians, is called “the flesh:” “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit,” etc., Gal. 5:17. It is the same which, in Eph. 4:22, is called “the old man,” which is wrought according to the deceitful lusts; the same law which in Col. 3 is called “your members”—“Mortify, therefore, your members, which are,” etc.; the same which is called “a body of death,” Rom. 7:24. The truth then is, that in the heart of the believer there remains the whole members and body of an old man, or old nature: there remains the fountain of every sin that has ever polluted the world.

(2.)  Observe again what this law is doing—“warring.” This law in the members is not resting quiet, but warring—always fighting. There never can be peace in the bosom of a believer. There is peace with God, but constant war with sin. This law in the members has got an army of lusts under him, and he wages constant war against the law of God. Sometimes, indeed, an army are lying in ambush, and they lie quiet till a favourable moment comes. So in the heart the lusts often lie quiet till the hour of temptation, and then they war against the soul. The heart is like a volcano: sometimes it slumbers and sends up nothing but a little smoke; but the fire is slumbering all the while below, and will soon break out again. There are two great combatants in the believer’s soul. There is Satan on the one side, with the flesh and all its lusts at his command; then on the other side there is the Holy Spirit, with the new creature all at his command. And so “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these two are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”

Is Satan ever successful? In the deep wisdom of God the law in the members does sometimes bring the soul into captivity. Noah was a perfect man, and Noah walked with God, and yet he was led captive. “Noah drank of the wine, and was drunken.” Abraham was the “friend of God,” and yet he told a lie, saying of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” Job was a perfect man, one that feared God and hated evil, and yet he was provoked to curse the day wherein he was born. And so with Moses, and David, and Solomon, and Hezekiah, and Peter, and the apostles.

First. Have you experienced this warfare? It is a clear mark of God’s children. Most of you, I fear, have never felt it. Do not mistake me. All of you have felt a warfare at times between your natural conscience and the law of God. But that is not the contest in the believer’s bosom. It is a warfare between the Spirit of God in the heart, and the old man with his deeds.

Second, If any of you are groaning under this warfare, learn to be humbled by it, but not discouraged.

1st, Be humbled under it.—It is intended to make you lie in the dust, and feel that you are but a worm. Oh! what a vile wretch you must be, that even after you are forgiven, and have received the Holy Spirit, your heart should still be a fountain of every wickedness! How vile, that in your most solemn approaches to God, in the house of God, in awfully affecting situations, such as kneeling beside the death-bed, you should still have in your bosom all the members of your old nature! Let this make you lie low.

2d, Let this teach you your need of Jesus.—You need the blood of Jesus as much as at the first. You never can stand before God in yourself. You must go again and again to be washed; even on your dying bed you must hide under Jehovah our Righteousness. You must also lean upon Jesus. He alone can overcome in you. Keep nearer and nearer every day.

3d, Be not discouraged.—Jesus is willing to be a Saviour to such as you. He is able to save you to the uttermost. Do you think your case is too bad for Christ to save? Every one whom Christ saves had just such a heart as you. Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life. Take up the resolution of Edwards: “Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” “Him that over-cometh will I make a pillar,” etc.

III.   The feelings of a believer during this warfare

(1.) He feels wretched.—“O wretched man that I am!” ver. 24. There is nobody in this world so happy as a believer. He has come to Jesus, and found rest. He has the pardon of all his sins in Christ. He has near approach to God as a child. He has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. He has the hope of glory. In the most awful times he can be calm, for he feels that God is with him. Still there are times when he cries, O wretched man! When he feels the plague of his own heart; when he feels the thorn in the flesh; when his wicked heart is discovered in all its fearful malignity; ah, then he lies down, crying, O wretched man that I am! One reason of this wretchedness is, that sin, discovered in the heart, takes away the sense of forgiveness. Guilt comes upon the conscience, and a dark cloud covers the soul. How can I ever go back to Christ? he cries. Alas! I have sinned away my Saviour. Another reason is, the loathsomeness of sin. It is felt like a viper in the heart. A natural man is often miserable from his sin, but he never feels its loathsomeness; but to the new creature it is vile indeed. Ah! brethren, do you know anything of a believer’s wretchedness? If you do not, you will never know his joy. If you know not a believer’s tears and groans, you will never know his song of victory.

(2.) He seeks deliverance.—“Who shall deliver me?” In ancient times, some of the tyrants used to chain their prisoners to a dead body; so that, wherever the prisoner wandered, he had to drag a putrid carcase after him. It is believed that Paul here alludes to this inhuman practice. His old man he felt a noisome putrid carcase, which he was continually dragging about with him. His piercing desire is to be freed from it. Who shall deliver us? You remember once, when God allowed a thorn in the flesh to torment his servant,—a messenger of Satan to buffet him,—Paul was driven to his knees. “I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” Oh, this is the true mark of God’s children! The world has an old nature; they are all old men together. But it does not drive them to their knees. How is it with you, dear souls? Does corruption felt within drive you to the throne of grace? Does it make you call on the name of the Lord? Does it make you like the importunate widow: “Avenge me of mine adversary?” Does it make you like the man coming at midnight for three loaves? Does it make you like the Canaanitish woman, crying after Jesus? Ah, remember, if lust can work in your heart, and you lie down contented with it, you are none of Christ’s!

(3.) He gives thanks for victory.—Truly we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us; for we can give thanks before the fight is done. Yes, even in the thickest of the battle we can look up to Jesus, and cry, Thanks to God. The moment a soul groaning under corruption rests the eye on Jesus, that moment his groans are changed into songs of praise. In Jesus you discover a fountain to wash away the guilt of all your sin. In Jesus you discover grace sufficient for you,—grace to hold you up to the end,—and a sure promise that sin shall soon be rooted out altogether. “Fear not, I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by my name; thou art mine.” Ah, this turns our groans into songs of praise! How often a psalm begins with groans and ends with praises! This is the daily experience of all the Lord’s people. Is it yours? Try yourselves by this. Oh, if you know not the believer’s song of praise, you will never cast your crowns with them at the feet of Jesus!

Dear believers, be content to glory in your infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon you. Glory, glory, glory to the Lamb!

For our God is a Consuming Fire

Taken and adapted from,“Select Practical Writings of Robert Traill”
Written by, Robert Traill

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“For our God is a consuming fire.”
—Hebrews 12:29.

THE transgression of the wicked saith, within the heart of every man to whom God hath given spiritual understanding, that there is no fear of God before their eyes. The formal and fearless approaches unto the Lord in all his ordinances, which have now become so common among professors, ought to say to us, that they have but little of this fear. The beginning, yea, the whole of religion, consisting in a great measure in this holy fear, and being denominated from it frequently in scripture, it cannot but be a sad evidence of the decay of religion, when this fear is so evidently wanting or weak: and therefore, to be exercised a little (if we would in the right manner) in the consideration of this matter, as it is at all times suitable to them to whom the vitals of religion are savoury, so, in a special manner it is pertinent for those, who have the solemn ordinance ensuing in their eye and aim.

There are three false grounds upon which Satan and our own corrupt hearts are ready to plead against this so precious and necessary a grace, and the exercise of it. The first is more gross, yet such as carries away thousands to destruction; that is—an apprehension that God is all mercy and goodness. It is true his mercy and goodness are infinite; and yet, so is his justice. We shall not stand to shew either the grounds and reasons of this woful mistake, or to discover it largely; it is enough that it is here removed, by the Holy Ghost declaring somewhat of the terrible majesty of God, in a figurative expression. The second is—some think that the New Testament dispensation doth not so require the fear and dread of God, as the Old Testament did, as it did also then more manifest his dreadfulness both, at the giving of the Law; and in his punishments, sometimes extraordinary, for the breaches of it; but under the New Testament, he manifesteth his mercy, and calleth for love. The scope of the Apostle in bringing in this word, doth evidently obviate the mistake of this: for from the 18th verse to the end, he instituteth a comparison, and stateth the differences between the two dispensations; and in the preceding verse, doth draw a conclusion, from all the love and mercy revealed in the gospel, which is the worship with fear; and backs it with the argument in this our text. The third ground of mistake may be—granting the dreadfulness of God in himself, and in the New Testament dispensation also; yet, that a saving interest in this God, as ours in Christ, doth remove all this dreadfulness, and calls for nothing but love, and delight, and familiarity. This ground of mistake the Holy Ghost obviates, by declaring, that even “our God,” our covenanted God, is a “consuming fire.”

This word then containeth a very weighty declaration of the dreadfulness of God, under the borrowed term of “a consuming fire.” It is the gracious condescending way of the Holy Ghost, in scripture, to speak of God according to our capacities, and to manifest him by such names and descriptions as may convey to our understandings some sense and knowledge of him. By this word, then, we are to understand, that as fire, and a consuming fire, is a dreadful creature, so when the name of it is ascribed unto God, we are to take notice of his dreadful and terrible nature and majesty.

The words then being plain, we shall not stand to start and raise questions and difficulties from them. We have then these instructions from them:

Observation 1. The Lord Jehovah is a most dreadful and terrible God:

Observation 2. And that as He is so in himself, so this attribute of his doth still continue, notwithstanding of a saving and covenant relation unto him. Both these are in the words themselves,

Observation 3. This truth hath a great influence, as a motive and argument, upon our serving of him with reverence and godly fear. The connecting word “for” beareth this.
As to the first,—The dreadfulness of God in himself—we may well say of this subject, as Jacob of that place, “How dreadful is it!” Much of the dread of it upon the heart, would enable us to speak and hear of it to better purpose than otherwise we do. We shall not prosecute it as a common-place, or multiply notions concerning it; but would plainly and briefly make it clear from the word. And as the metaphor here doth evidently point out a relation to some object which, as fuel, is in hazard of being devoured by this consuming fire, so, in speaking of this terribleness of God, we shall prosecute it as relating to us. Consider him then, 1st, As in himself; 2d, In his works; 3d, In his ordinances.

First,

Although everything in God, (if we may use the phrase, nothing being in him which is not himself:) every attribute of God doth demonstrate this, we shall name but a few:

1. Consider his incommunicable attributes, which paint forth somewhat of his nature and being—his infiniteness, absolute sovereignty, eternity, independency, and inexpressible glory—and we, poor, finite, dependent beings, at the next door to nothing, lately brought out of nothing by his infinite power, and by the same every moment preserved from returning into it. This infinite distance betwixt him and us, will work dread in every considerate soul. It is a great wonder, that the whole frame of nature is not swallowed up by the glory of his majesty. Upon account of this, Abraham dreads to speak unto him: upon this account, the angels in a holy dread cover their faces; and Job, upon a discovery of this, abhors himself in dust and ashes: from this it is, that no man can see God and live; that is to say, a discovery of God in his majesty, is enough to confound a creature into nothing. “No man hath seen him at any time,” saith he who is God—the Holy Ghost. This his glory is light inaccessible. “Whom no man hath seen, nor can see”—a strange word! Light is that which manifesteth every thing, and yet, it is a cover unto God from the eyes of all creatures.

2. Consider the holiness of his nature. “Holy, holy, holy!” (Isa. 6.; Rev. 4.): “Thou only art holy,” (Rev. xv. 4). And therefore we, by the unholiness and vileness of our nature, our hearts, and lives, are upon this account as stubble fully dry before him. Is it not a wonder then that He, who is of purer eyes than that he can behold iniquity, doth not every moment consume us who drink up iniquity as water? How can a sinner, then, not fear?

3. Consider this dreadful and holy One as sitting in judgment, and exercising his justice in making laws, and giving sentence against the breakers thereof. “His eyes behold the things that are equal; he sitteth in the throne, judging right.” And here we are to be considered as breakers of his laws from the womb to the grave. Oh! how dreadful is this attribute of God! and how stupid must senseless hearts be!

4. And as this holy just One pronounceth righteous sentences, so there cometh next to be considered his infinite truth in accomplishing, and his irresistible power in executing them. No creature can, either by subtlety or strength, escape His hand.

Second,

Consider the dreadfulness of this God in his works. The very sight of the glory of the heavens and earth—of the frame of nature, every way admirable—of his ordinary and extraordinary works—ought to stir in us a dread of this God: his ordering of all creatures, his accomplishing of all his purposes, his maintaining of this All—his sovereign distributing of blessedness and misery to men and angels, according to his wise decrees. Heaven and hell are dreadful things, and should awaken our hearts to greater fear.

Third,

But to come nearer to our present work. How much of his dreadful glory is to be seen in his church, and ordinances in dispensing of them, and the blessing or curse of them. He is terrible out of his holy places, (Psalm 68:35; Gen. 28:17).

In his ordinances this consuming fire draws near to us, and we to him, though with offers of mercy and salvation; yet to abusers there is a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. In prayer, we speak to him. Abraham, and Moses, and Jacob,—with what fear are they in this duty! The prophets begin with this, “Thus saith the Lord,” to strike secure hearts with some awe of their Master. Here we hear him speaking to us. Do we communicate?—Damnation, judgment, and wrath are then to stir us up to a careful, heedful way of performing that duty.

But it may be said that all this is true; but we, who have a saving interest in this God, need not entertain such impressions. I answer, Happy indeed are they who upon good grounds can say so! Such, indeed, ought not to fear to be ever actually destroyed by this consuming fire. But yet there is a fear called for from such, and this leads us to the second note.

Observation 2. Even God in covenant with his own is a dreadful God, (Deut. 28:58). We find such in scripture entertain the most deep impressions of his terribleness; and that is,

1st, Because only such do know him, and none can know him but they must fear him. It is a most native effect of a discovery of God, to have a holy dread and fear of him. “Men do therefore fear him,” (Job 37:24). Surely the want of fear floweth from ignorance.
2d, The Lord, though in covenant with his people, is still the same God, and in him are all those things which move holy fear. It is true that his justice having received satisfaction from their Surety, shall never break out against them to destroy them; and that, upon the account of their covenant-relation unto him, they may with comfort and delight travel through all the attributes of God, even such as are most terrifying. Yet, notwithstanding of all this, all those things are still in our covenanted God, which are the grounds of fear and reverence.
3d, And as He is still the same, so we are but very little changed, and there is but a little of that removed that lays us open to destruction from this consuming fire. It is true that there is a change in the state of believers in their justification and adoption, which is a begun change in their natures in sanctification; yet still they are creatures—still there is much unholiness in their hearts and lives, and all sin in itself is equally hateful to God, and contrary to his holy nature; still they are under his holy law, and bound to obedience, though not as a covenant of life, yet as the rule of their life; still they are in hazard of his anger (though not as an unappeased enemy, yet as an offended father), and of the fruits of it, upon their breaking of his laws.
4th, The experience of the Lord’s people who have felt somewhat of the wrath of God upon their own hearts for sin doth prove this, and calleth for fear. Not only at first conversion, when by a mighty hand He makes a conquest of them, the design whereof, though it be great mercy and salvation in his heart, yet his way of managing it towards many proclaimeth that anger in his face, and strokes in his hand; but after conversion, many experiences have the saints of the dreadfulness of God. It was so eminently with David, (Psalm 102 and 51:5). The saints have some attributes of God to move fear and dread, which others have not: his goodness, love, pardoning and healing mercy, the manifestations of that love and mercy (Hos. 3:5, Psalm 130:4),—unto a considerate soul, how ready are these to stir up holy fear and dread!

The application and use of this doctrine the Holy Ghost here maketh, which is our third note.

Observation 3. The dreadfulness of God ought to enforce a reverent and holy fearful way of serving him. This is evidently the scope of the Holy Ghost, in bringing in this reason to back the former exhortation. So Psalm 2:11, “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling;” and, in the next verse, it is backed with the same argument; because there is burning wrath in him, gross sinners are in hazard of being destroyed; and this is said to be in the Son, the Mediator.

And in general, this sense of the dreadfulness of God, calleth for these three things in our way of serving him.

1. In all our approaches to him, and in all His approaches to us in his word or works, to have, and keep up upon the heart, a due deep sense of the infinite distance that there is betwixt him and us; and of his glory and majesty, and our vileness and nothingness. We find frequently in Scripture, that the more near the Lord did draw to his people, even in gracious communications of himself, the more of this was upon their hearts. How did the Lord’s condescension to Abraham humble him? How did his merciful proclaiming of his name to Moses humble him? So was it with David, (2 Sam. 7:18). Have a care that you forget not yourself, when he admitteth you to nearness to himself.
2. A second general observation in our way of serving of him, which this dread should stir us up unto, is, always to approach unto him, and converse with him, in the Mediator. Without this, there is no possible escaping of being consumed in our approaches unto him. This is a blessed act of holy fear, and is of great concernment unto our safety. Not only in our first reconciliation with God we must have Christ with us, but we are to abide in him; to put him on as our apparel, as our armour to defend from wrath; and always to dwell in him, and to have him dwelling in us.
3. In all your worship and walk, beware especially of sin. This is the very throwing of ourselves into this fire. It is sin which mainly makes us as fuel before this fire: it is upon the account of sin that ever the Lord did break out, to destroy and consume any.

But before we come to the more particular application of those truths, we would obviate some objections that may arise in the heart against them, the clearing whereof may give some light and understanding in the matter in hand.

First, It may be said, that this is legal doctrine, and inconsistent with that boldness in approaching unto God, which is allowed unto his own. To this I answer,
1. It cannot be denied but that such is the weakness and infirmity of the Lord’s people, that it is hard for them to distinguish the boundaries betwixt some graces in their actings; so that when the love and favour of God are borne in with power upon their hearts, to the filling of them with joy, it is no easy matter to keep up holy fear in exercise; and when his holiness and majesty are manifested, it is hard not to find some abating of love and delight. But this floweth from our own infirmity and weakness, and not from any opposition betwixt these two graces. And the infirmity which is the cause of this, is twofold: First, The infirmity of grace, and the weakness of the new man even in the best; and their having the old man in some vigour and power yet remaining. This, as it keepeth the best from such an intense and vigorous acting of any grace as is called for, so it disposeth them, to make different graces to clash one against the other. To instance it in the particular in hand—when the Lord by the breathing of his Spirit, and the manifestation of himself, doth draw out the soul to act the grace of holy fear and dread of God, unbelief, which in some measure remaineth with the best, is very ready to render that prejudicial to the acting of faith and love, by misapplying of the discovery of his dreadfulness, unto the stirring up of a doubt of his love and favour unto such vile ones as we are. And on the other hand, when he draweth near to fence the soul with consolations, and the sense of his favour, it is ready to forget itself, and the sense of his greatness—which greatness and majesty of his, though they be nothing abated by his gracious condescension to the soul, yet is the soul ready to esteem it so, because in a great measure even the best are ignorant of God. And therefore it is no wonder, since the best find such a difficulty in reconciling in their thoughts these attributes of God, which to our shallow understanding seem different—as his justice and mercy, majesty and love—that it should also be very hard not to make these graces clash together which act upon these different objects—the attributes of God. But, secondly, The infirmity and weakness of our very constitutions have some influence upon this; for the graces of the Spirit being seated in our souls, and in the actings of them the powers and affections of the soul being increased, it is no wonder, since our souls are not capable of acting strongly with different affections, nor able to entertain an impression of fear and dread in an intense degree, which is not prejudicial unto that of love and joy,—that even upon this account, we are in hazard of making the actings of different graces prejudicial, and in a manner opposite unto one another. But we shall not stand on this.

I answer, 2. That there is no such fear of God called for from the doctrine of his majesty rightly understood, as is any way legal, or opposite unto faith and love: for it is deep heart-reverence and holy awe that are called for, which, as we find in some measure in the kindly affections of children to their parents, is very well consistent with love, and trusting them with the care of all their movements. So also is it very well consistent in the Lord’s people with faith in, and love unto him. And therefore, when we read of the fear and fearers of God in scripture, we are not to take it, as holding forth that passion of fear which is an apprehension of some ill coming; but rather, this reverence and holy awe, which may be, where there is no fear of wrath as coming. And so, here, the serving of him acceptably, with reverence and godly fear, upon the account of his being a consuming fire, though the exhortation, as it concerns the visible church, ought not to be taken as exclusive of the fear of consuming by him; (since many in the church are enemies to God, and so, are commanded to fear that, as a mean to make them submit unto him:) yet, as it is an argument pressing the regenerate to reverent service of God, (which is the scope of the Holy Ghost here,) it imports no ground of such an unbelieving fear, in them who have fled for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope set before them.

3. I answer —That though these things, reverence and love, be not inconsistent, yet are we at some times, and in some cases, called more to the exercise of the one than of the other: so that as a disconsolate soul is warranted to be more in the meditation of the mercy, and love, and condescension of God, that thereby the heart may be stirred up to act faith and love, for the removing of that distemper; so, a secure and backslidden saint, is called in such a condition, to the meditation of God’s holiness, majesty, and hatred of sin, that thereby he may be stirred up unto repentance, and returning to God. Not but that there is much need of the anointing which washeth all things, to instruct us in the way of duty here; nor that the Lord doth not sometimes recover backslidden souls, (as at first he occasionally converts some,) by a sovereign merciful leading by the bands of love. But we find this the Lord’s ordinary way in scripture of dealing with his people, of mixing threatenings with promises, and manifestations of his holiness and justice with those of his mercy; and thus, to distribute to every one their portion. And according to this is his ordinary method with his own, as their experience can testify.

But that we may also answer an objection which may be in the heart, though not avowed—it may be said, That there are not now such proofs of the dreadfulness of God in his dispensations, as were formerly in the Old Testament, when many immediate judgments were poured out upon sinners.

I answer,
1.
Look by faith down to hell, and all such objections would for ever evanish.
2. The Old Testament dispensation of the gospel was administered more in external encouragements and punishments, and the New Testament in spiritual ones; and as the one are more choice and merciful, so the other are more terrible. And if we shall compare the one with the other, we shall find, that it is no less dreadful to approach unto God in the New Testament ordinances, than it was in those of the Old Testament. Look to the Popish church accursed, or the dreadful spiritual plagues that fall on thousands within the Reformed churches, and we shall be forced to say, with the Bethshemites, “Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?”

But now, to draw some practical conclusions, for a more particular application of all this:
1. We see what a doleful condition those are in, who are not in Christ, and have no saving interest in this dreadful God. His holy nature makes him hate them; his justice pronounceth sentence against them; his truth and power execute it. Every moment’s breath they draw is from his patience. They are as dry stubble before this consuming fire. Oh, if it were but believed, what work upon hearts would it raise!

2. And as it is thus with them, so we should learn to lament over the sins of the Church of God in these days; and over our own hearts, wherein are such evident tokens of the want of, or at best of the weakness, of this holy dread. I shall name only some plain proofs of it, which as they flow from the want of the due impression of his dreadfulness, so, where it is, they are in a great measure removed—which may both make this grace of fear more desirable, and the want of it more hateful.

1. From this floweth, as a sad proof, the disorderly loose walk of the greatest number of professors. How many fools are there now who make a sport of sin? And what is this, but to sport with a consuming fire? Strict walking with God, keeping up a watch over the heart, ordering the tongue in savoury and edifying discourse, accurate, exact, and circumspect walking, are reduced into notions by the far greater part. And whence floweth all this, but from ignorance of Him with whom we have to do? How rare is the power of religion, and the shining of it, in the conversations of Christians!
2. Consider the manner of worship of many, and examine your own. When many come to pray, they rush irreverently unto the work, and carry themselves so in it as if they were coming to present a compliment, or, at best, to discourse with a man like themselves. How rare is it to feel the heart deeply pressed with the sense of that dreadful majesty to whom they make the address! Come they to hear the word? Many carry themselves as if their only errand were to get a proof of the parts and gifts of the speaker, or to get more brain-knowledge, that they may be more qualified to talk of the matters of God. And oh! how few who take heed how they hear,—who come to get a message delivered to them from the living God, and who tremble at the word! And all this cometh from the want of the due fear of God, who in that ordinance speaks to them. How do many approach unto God in the sealing ordinance? Holy fear of receiving unworthily, and the dreadful plagues that follow upon it; preparation made conscience of, is not every one’s exercise that sitteth down at that holy table. And this floweth from the want of the due impression of this, that it is one of the most solemn approaches that the Lord maketh to us, and that we make unto him. If the fear of taking his name in vain in that ordinance were upon the heart, there would be seen another sort of work in preparing for it than is commonly to be seen.
3. And in as far as heart-exercise may be guessed at, by the manner of walking and of worshipping God, we may lament that in all appearance this is in a great measure gone, and all because of the want of the due fear of God. And in reference to this, I would only pose you with these questions, and let the conscience of every one answer them to the Lord, who speaketh to them from heaven. 1. What find you of a constant care of keeping up constant communion with God, walking as in his sight, taking his law for your rule in all your ways? If this be gone, you are at a great loss: Herein lies a great part of the lively exercise of religion. Take you godliness to be no more than an outwardly blameless conversation and frequenting of the ordinances? This is a gross mistake. 2. If you have convictions of your shortcoming, what do you with them? Do you quench or entertain them? Surely the security and sleeping of many, even within the reach of this consuming fire, doth proclaim that there is little fear of him: fear would set us to our feet, and make us haste to escape. 3. Wherewith do you entertain your affections throughout the day? What is it that hath the flower of your thoughts in the morning, and the last at night? Is it God? or somewhat which you would be ashamed to name to a man like yourself? How can the fear of God be in that man, we may say, as John of the love of God in another place.

USE.

Since, then, it is so that the want of this due impression of the majesty of God is so evident, and bringeth forth such sad fruits, it is exceedingly of your concernment to endeavour to have this, as you tender the welfare of your souls,—as you would grow up in his way, and bring forth fruit to his praise. They must be at a sad pass who desire not this. And as you would have these deep impressions of the majesty of God,
1. Strive for the knowledge of him. It is the ignorance of God that is the most universal cause of all the sin and misery in the world, and in the church. It is a hard matter to convince many of their ignorance of God; and why? Because they can answer some questions anent his nature, and the persons, and anent his attributes. And yet they demonstrate their ignorance by their want of fear in their walk and worship, for it is impossible to separate the knowledge and fear of God.
2. Remember that both are premised in the well-ordered covenant, and therefore it is your part to plead those gracious promises (Jer. 31. and 32.; Ezek. 36.), and patiently and believingly wait for the accomplishment of them.
3. Converse much in the serious meditation of him,—a duty which of all is the most clear token of a lively serious Christian. What wonder is it to see one fearless of God, who doth rush on in his course, as the horse doth into the battle? But let a man set aside some time every day, or in the silent watches of the night, to muse and think again and again of God, and of what is revealed of him in his word and works, and let the heart be exercised therein, and you will find light and life flowing in upon your soul; you will find the holy fear of that glorious One quickening your soul.
4. Beware of every thing which hardeneth your heart against his fear; not only all sin in the general, but those things in particular which you find in experience most to influence your hearts to stupidity. Every soul exercised in searching himself will know what is his own iniquity.

And in all, and with all, be sensible of the work being above your own strength; and that, though you be called to some views of duty, in reference to the obtaining of this fear of God, yet this is only to put you in God’s way wherein he ordinarily meeteth his own. But you must be endued with power from on high: there must be an impress of his own hand upon your heart, to bring out this grace to exercise. Pant, therefore, for it, and wait on him, and he will manifest his glory unto you, and stir up this holy fear in you.

THE LAW: Not Teacher, but Paidagōgós (Guardian) –Galatians 3:24-25

Adapted and lightly edited from, “A Historical Commentary on St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians”
Written by, William M. Ramsey

pedagogy

Before the age of Faith began, we of the Jewish race were shut up and kept under the guard of the Law, in preparation for the approaching revelation of Faith.

Thus, the Law has played the part of “a servant, responsible for our safety, and was charged to keep us out of bad company,” until the age of Christ arrived, so that we might be made righteous by Faith. For that results could not have been attained unless special care had been taken of us during the interval. We could not safely be permitted to be free at that time, for we could not then acquire Faith, that vitalizing and strengthening power, seated in our mind and working itself out in our conduct. It also enables those of us who have spiritually seen and known Christ, to be free and yet safe.

But now the age of Faith has begun, and we are set free from the guard and the directing care of the Law.

When Paul compared the Law to a παιδαγωγός (paidagōgós), he intended undoubtedly to describe it as having a good moral character, and exercising a salutary, though a strict and severe, effect on those who were placed under it. He speaks no evil of the Law; however, he represents it as subsidiary and inferior to Faith, –but still as a wholesome provision given in God’s kindness to the Jews.

Further, he chose an illustration which would make this clear to his Galatian readers; and they must, therefore, have been familiar with that characteristic Greek institution, the paidagōgós, and considered it salutary and good. This throws some light on the social organization in the Galatian cities, for it places us in the midst of Greek city life, as it was in the better period of Greek history. “In the free Greek cities, the system of education was organized as a primary care of the State. The educational system was the best side of the Greek city constitution. Literature, music and athletics are all regulated in an interesting inscription of Teos, the salaries of the teachers are fixed, and special magistrates survey and direct the conduct of teachers and pupils.”

In that period, it would appear that the paidagogoi were trusted servants and faithful attendants, standing in a very close relation to the family (in which they were slaves). Their duty was not to teach any child under their charge, but simply to guard him. Among the Romans, who adopted this institution from the Greeks, the paidagōgós gave some home instruction to the child: he was a Greek speaking slave, who looked after the child, and taught him to use the Greek language.

Though he also accompanied the child to school, there was not the same kindly feeling –between the child to the Roman guardian and ward, as there was in the Greek cities during the better period.

Roman paidagōgói were often chosen without the slightest regard to the moral side of their teaching, and brought the child in contact with the lower side of life among vicious slaves; among the Greeks in the later period, amid the steady degeneration of Pagan manners in the whole Roman empire, Plutarch complains that a slave, worthless for any other purpose, was used as a paidagōgós; and a little earlier Juvenal gives a terrible picture of the upbringing of young children, which, though exaggerated in his usual style, is still an indication of what was characteristic of ordinary pagan homes (though certainly with some, perhaps with many, brilliant exceptions).

In contrast with the care for education shown in the government of Greek cities, the Roman imperial government lavishly provided shows and exhibitions of a more or less degrading character for the population of Rome and the Provinces, but it was the degeneration of the provision for watching over and educating the young in the cities was the worst feature of the Roman period. This had much to do with the steady deterioration in the moral fiber of the population, and the resulting ruin of the empire.

This passage of the Epistle, therefore, places us in the midst of Greek city life as it was in the better period of Greek history. When read in relation to the provision for education in the Greek cities, the illustration which Paul selects becomes much more luminous. But there is nothing here characteristic of North Galatia. We are placed amid the Greek – speaking population of Antioch and Iconium, where Greek ways and customs had been naturalized since Alexander had conquered the country and left behind him a long succession of Greek kings, Even in Lystra, recently founded as a military station in a more barbarous district, and off the main line of trade, the probability is that only a minority of the population were so used to education that this illustration would have appealed to them but I have often argued that it was among that minority that Christianity first spread.

Moreover, it is an early state of Greek manners which is here presented to us. We turn to Plato for the best illustration of Paul’s meaning, and not to late writers. So, we see that is all descriptions are characteristic of South Galatia, where the chief Graecizing influence was the Seleucid rule, ending in B.C. 189. Thus, it was a rather early form of Greek society which maintained itself in a city like Pisidian Antioch; and that society was likely to be kept vigorous by the constant struggle which it had to maintain against oriental influence.

This passage throws an interesting light on Paul’s conception of the Divine purpose in the world. The Disposition by God of the religious inheritance which ultimately is intended for all men, involved a gradual training of mankind [through the Jews] in order that they might be able to accept the inheritance by fulfilling the conditions: The Disposition is first in favor of one man [Adam], then of a nation, finally of all nations. The one man at first needed no schoolmaster he was able to respond at once to the requirements of God. But the nation, when it came to exist, was not able in itself to rise to the conditions which God demanded. It needed education and the constant watching of a careful guardian the Law was given to watch over the young nation as it was being trained and educated in the school of life:

The Law was not itself the teacher, but the paidagōgós, or guardian. Then came the age of Christ, who opened, first to the Jews and through them to all nations, the door of Faith.

The Place Where God Records His Name

The thoughts recorded here are from a discourse delivered
at the dedication
of the Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago,
Illinois, Friday Evening, January 24, 1851.
Written and delivered by, R. W. Patterson, Pastor
Edited for universal application and
condensed for easier reading.
 Gods_House_Title_Slide-SQUARE-400x400

“In all places where I record my name l will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.”
–Exodus 20: 24.

WHEN God spoke to his ancient people from the cloud and fire of Sinai…

…they were on their journey through the great and terrible wilderness, and they had neither temple nor tabernacle, wherein they might present to him their offerings and adorations. But they were not denied the privilege, even then, of building temporary altars of earth, and of paying acts of devout homage to the God who brought them out from the house of bondage.

They were told, for their encouragement and consolation, that in every place which should be consecrated to the honor of Jehovah’s name, in accordance with his revealed will, he would meet with them and bless them.

Then, as now, the breathings of the humble and contrite heart, were graciously regarded by the Father of mercies, whether the suppliant were on a consecrated spot, in the lonely desert, or upon the rolling deep. But there were peculiar acts of devotion, such as the offering of sacrifice, and the exercises of social worship, which might be most appropriately performed in places set apart in a special manner for such purposes. In consideration of this, there were, under the Old dispensation, reasons which no longer exist for the restricting the public worship of God to particular localities. And hence we find that before the nation of Israel were planted in the land of promise, and for a considerable time afterwards, a Tabernacle, constructed according to the peculiar pattern which was shown to Moses in the mount, was set up in different places, which were thus consecrated for seasons longer or shorter, to the special service of God.

In due time a Temple was built for Jehovah’s name, on Mount Moriah, at Jerusalem, which had been long before designated as the place to be thus honored. Most of the rites and ordinances prescribed in the Levitical Statutes were observed at this Temple, and could be lawfully performed nowhere else. For this was the place in which Jehovah had chosen, in a peculiar sense, to record his name. But the hour came in which the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles was to be broken down, and when the true worshippers were no longer to be restricted either to Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem, in the offering of acceptable sacrifices to that God, who as a Spirit, requires his creatures to worship him in spirit and in truth. This was a great outward change. But even the introduction of the Christian dispensation has not superseded the necessity of enlisting the social principle in religion; nor has it set aside the propriety of employing mental association as an auxiliary in the devotional acts of finite creatures such as we are.

It is freely conceded that we have in the New Testament neither command nor precedent for the formal consecration of Churches.

But we know that in Apostolic times, Christians were accustomed to meet together for religious purposes, at appointed seasons and places, and that suitable houses were erected for the accommodation of their assemblies, as soon as the circumstances of the new converts permitted them to make such provisions for the furtherance of the Gospel, and they did so in the particular communities to which they belonged. And we know, too, that it is highly consonant with the genius of our holy religion to open houses which are designed for the public worship of God, with a humble and formal recognition of his right to the exclusive use of them as Sanctuaries dedicated in a peculiar sense to Himself.

We are aware that the materials of which an edifice consists, cannot, as some imagine, have an inherent sacredness and we utterly discard all such conceptions as superstitious and incompatible with true ideas of holiness.

But we believe that God hears prayer, and that he is able and willing to sanctify our mental associations as they may become clustered around a place of habitual worship and to bless the means of grace which may be employed there, all in accordance with His plans for his people, and in accordance with the indications and orderings of his good Providence. It is for this reason we assemble in compliance with the time honored custom of the Christian Church in her various communions, to acknowledge that Glorious Being for whose honor and service this new edifice has been erected and is now Opened. Let us, therefore, notice the characteristics of a place in which God records his name under the Christian dispensation; and the promise which He has given to his people who worship him aright in such a place.

I   God may be properly said to record his name wherever he Providentially directs that his worship and ordinances shall be set aside for the observance and the promotion of his honor and the furtherance of his Spiritual Kingdom.

He causes his name to be in a special manner associated with every such place. Now, as we have seen, there is, since the abrogation of the Ancient Theocracy, no one point where God may be worshipped more acceptably than in other places; and, hence, every house which is erected by a Christian Congregation, under the guidance of Divine Providence, and is set apart to be used as a Christian Sanctuary, can be said to be a place where Jehovah records his name.

Let us inquire briefly, what are the characteristics of a truly Christian house of worship;

#1.   It is, in the first place, a house designed and employed for the service of the revealed God; the God of the Bible; the God of the Old Testament and the New. It is not a temple for the worship of Reason or Philosophy, or of any Deity erroneously supposed to be made known in the New Testament, but misrepresented and dishonored in the Old, or of any imaginary God whose character and government. are partly made out from the Sacred Oracles, and partly from what men are pleased to conceive that their Maker and Moral Governor ought to be and do, –Christianity is a religion of faith founded upon Divine testimony; a testimony to be received as it is given in the Bible, in its most obvious import, and not construed by the canons of scientific or rationalistic theories.

Christianity is the religion of the two Testaments inseparably bound together and sustained by the same Divine authority, but related to each other as Type and Substance, Letter and Spirit, Law and Gospel, Promise and Fulfillment, Savior to come and Savior Crucified.

And the God of Judaism, as it originally was, is also the God of genuine Christianity. For the Savior came not to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill; not to displace the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, but to do his will, more clearly reveal his character, and fully develop and execute his plans of mercy and grace. If the bush on fire but unconsumed, is no longer visible, the God who burned in it before the eyes of Moses, is still in the midst of his one Church, and the gates of hell can never prevail against it. If the outer court of the Temple has disappeared, the inner court yet remains, and the same Shechinah is there, present to the eye of faith, though concealed from the eye of sense. In the truly Christian house of worship the one God of the Bible is acknowledged and honored in his revealed character and relations. He receives adoration and homage, not alone as an Omnipotent and Omniscient Being, but as the High and Lofty One who inhabits Eternity and fills Heaven and Earth with his presence not only as great and holy, but as just and good; as the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and of great kindness, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, though by no means clearing the guilty.

He is neither too high to look after the affairs of mortals, nor too attentive to his own interests to not permit his own creatures to suffer if they presume too far upon his goodness. Neither is he too just to pardon the penitent, nor too merciful to punish the incorrigible sinner.

This is the God who dwelt in the Holy of Holies, at Jerusalem, and it is the same God that is worshipped in every Church appropriately called Christian. In the house where the God of the Bible is truly worshipped, Jesus Christ is honored as the Divine Savior of men, and as the Prophet, Priest, and King, foretold in the Old Testament, and fully declared and proclaimed in the New. All judgment has been committed to him, that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. He was God manifested in the flesh. He is the Prophet spoken of by Moses, who appeared as the Light of the world. He is the Priest forever after the order of Melchisadec; the propitiation for the sins of believers, and the Everlasting Intercessor of his disciples, at the Father’s right hand. He is the exalted Prince and Savior who gives repentance and remission of sins. He is head over all things pertaining to the Church, and he is God whose throne is forever and ever. His is the scepter whose kingdom is forever. His scepter is a right scepter. He is the Lord upon whose name, the Apostles declare salvation. He is the Lord of Hosts, upon whom the saints call upon in every place. And he it is who is worshipped as the Lamb that once was slain. He is glorified by all the adoring hosts of Heaven. Is He not our Great Teacher; our Atoning Sacrifice; our Lord and our God And shall we not adore him as such? Can we refuse to own him as the only hope and helper of sinners and yet reasonably expect that God will record his name in the place of our worship?

We must not omit to say further, that in the house where the God of the Bible is truly served, the Holy Spirit is honored as the great author of regeneration and sanctification in the human soul.

The Christian convert is baptized into the name of this Divine Agent, as well as into the names of the Father and the Son. He is the promised Comforter, whose office it is to convince the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and to dwell with the disciples of Christ forever; in all ages of the world. He acts in obedience to the one divine plan, and is therefore said to speak not of himself, in the same manner as the Son declares that he speaks not of himself. And the Holy Spirit, who is thus distinguished, as a Person, from the Father and the Son, is uniformly referred to in Scripture as the Renewer and Sanctifier of those who become the children of God. Christians are declared to have been saved, not by their own works of righteousness, but by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, and to have purified their souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit.

Indeed, the Divine Spirit seems to have been denominated “Holy,” because he is the only real, efficient producer of holiness in the hearts of men. And this great truth implies the natural and total alienation of sinners from God, which is a fact always assumed in the Gospel as the basis of all its appeals and invitations.

Why do we all need to be born again? Because we have by nature no holiness of heart, and no disposition to seek reconciliation with our Maker in a proper manner, even after a sufficient sacrifice has been offered in our behalf.

And when regenerated, we are still so far from confirmed and perfect holiness, that left to ourselves, we should never become fitted for heaven. Therefore, the Spirit of God must renew and sanctify us before we can be prepared to see the Lord in peace. And it thus becomes plain that we cannot duly honor the Holy Spirit, in the worship of God, without a full, practical recognition of our entire depravity while in the natural state, and our dependence upon this Divine Agent for all right purposes, desires and works.

Christianity finds man a lost sinner, and proposes to save him, not by natural, but by supernatural means and agencies; not through his own meritorious efforts, but through a Savior crucified for him; not through his own spontaneous endeavors after holiness of heart and life, but through the subduing and renovating operations of that Divine Spirit who is abroad in the world and works with the Word of truth wherever the Gospel is faithfully preached and pressed upon the human conscience. Our religion is genuine Supernaturalism Not Superstition. The living God is in it, but works not by miracle, but mysteriously in connection with appointed instrumentalities and means. And how can the God of the Bible record his name where this great truth, and the facts which it obviously implies, are not duly acknowledged to the honor of the Eternal Spirit of grace?

#2.  Permit me to remark in the next place, that a truly Christian house of worship is one which is designed and used for the promotion of holiness and the glory of God, in accordance with the true genius of Christianity. It is not an edifice planned and erected merely to attract the admiration of the passing multitude, or to gratify the taste or pride of those who may assemble in it, by the splendor of its architecture, and the brilliancy or beauty of its decorations and ornaments. It may be inviting, and may afford evidence that Christians have as much respect for the house of God as for their own dwellings. But if it has not a higher purpose to which all else that pertains to it is made sub ordinate, it is not a place where God records his name; it is not a Christian Sanctuary. Holiness, says the Psalmist, becometh thine house forever. This is as true of a Christian Church as it was of the ancient Temple. For what end do we assemble ourselves in a place of worship, but to enlist the social element in our religion; to aid one another in the great effort to learn and do the will of God to unite in our humble pleadings at the mercy seat for grace to help us in time of need, and to spread the truths and motives of the Gospel before the minds of our fellow travelers to eternity, that they too may be led to seek and obtain that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. We come together to acknowledge the God of the Bible in a public manner, and thus to glorify him. We come to extend the influence of divine truth to those who worship and serve the creature more than the Creator, and thus to follow out the spirit and aim of our Christianity, which is designed and fitted to subdue the world to the obedience of the faith of Christ We come to strengthen our religious habits and principles and to give stimulus and efficiency to Christian zeal in its outgoings towards the multitudes in our own community and country, and in other lands, who are perishing in sin.

The dispensation under which we live, differs widely from that which went before it, especially in the fact that our religion, which is that of the whole Bible, is essentially aggressive, in contradistinction to the less perfect religion of the Old Testament alone, which occupied a strictly defensive position. A Christian Temple therefore, is a house designed not only to preserve the true faith in its purity, but to extend the influences of the Gospel to those who are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. It is a place of training for soldiers in the army of Christ, and of systematic preparation for well directed and oft-repeated assaults upon the. kingdom of darkness. And wo be to that people who on Opening a church and dedicating it to God, feel that the time has now come when they may quietly sit down and take their ease, caring henceforth only for the spiritual welfare of themselves and their children, and leaving the world to go on undisturbed in its downward march towards the gates of destruction.

The new sanctuary is a place not for inglorious repose, but for enlarged activity and more resolute efforts in the work of extending the salvation of the Gospel, and co-operating with Christ in the furtherance of his gracious kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. This, then, is no place to flatter vanity, or please the fancy, or satisfy the cravings of morbid imaginations. It is a spiritual laboratory where thoughts are to be analyzed and the intents of many hearts to be revealed; where light is to be poured into darkness, and heat is to be applied for the fusion of precious but most unyielding materials It is a place for spiritual struggles, and solemn resolves, and mighty prayers, and the poising and settling of eternal destinies.

It is a place for God’s omnipotence to work on human souls stirred up to vigorous strife by the application of truth and motive under the conditions of moral agency in a world of probation. It is a place for life and progress in individual hearts given to God with reference to the enlargement of Zion at home and abroad. It is a fountain for sending forth streams to deepen and widen as they advance, until they shall become a river which no man can pass over. And these streams must proceed from the bosoms of true believers, in whom the Savior has caused the waters of his abounding grace to spring up unto everlasting life. This is a place of privilege and of responsibility. It is one of those points which God selects for the special application of his Almighty energies in the execution of his eternal counsels. And he records his name in it, in characters more or less legible and enduring, according as it is more or less truly devoted to the great ends of promoting holiness and extending the kingdom of Christin the world.

#3.  It is almost needless to add, after what has been said, that a truly Christian house of worship is ordinarily one which is occupied by a Scriptural Church, maintaining a visible form, and cultivating the spirit of Godliness by a faithful observance of those ordinances which Christ has appointed. We know from the New Testament that it is a part of the Savior’s plan that his disciples should be organized into local churches, and that these associations should hold regular meetings in their several places of worship, for the purposes of exhortation, hearing the word, uniting their petitions before the throne of grace, and receiving the holy Sacraments. A Scriptural Church is a body composed of Christians united together in covenant for mutual edification, and governed by the principles of the Gospel. Such a body cannot long prosper without a careful exercise of discipline and the pervading influence of a truly spiritual piety. Gross offenders must be admonished and if need be cast out, that the whole mass may not be corrupted by the working of the evil leaven. The Christian ordinances must neither be profaned nor neglected, if holiness is to be preserved and kept on the advance in the Church; and the faith once delivered to the saints must be watchfully defended against all the encroachments and insidious devices of the enemy, whether they present themselves under the form of false charity on the one hand, or of zeal for the defense of moldy traditions on the other.

A local Church deserving the name of Christian, is one whose faith is substantially Scriptural, whose discipline is at least sufficiently thorough to preserve in a good measure the practical distinction between the professed followers of Christ and the world, and whose internal unity and fellowship are such as to illustrate, in some degree, the power of the one Gospel in assimilating hearts made kindred by the same celestial birth. God records his name in a house which is habitually occupied by such a brotherhood of Christian disciples, and will never blot out this record so long as such a branch of his great Spiritual family continues to abide in the place. He will do more than record his name here, if the characteristics which have been indicated truly belong to this new edifice. For he has said to his people, “In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.”

#1.  Let us dwell for a few moments (in this cheering promise. What could we hope for, if we had no such divine pledges What may we not hope for with them? Where two or three are gathered together in my name, says our Savior, there am I in the midst of them. This promise is the same in its spirit with that contained in our text. Christ is spiritually present with his disciples where they have assembled in his name, as God meets with his children when they come before him as he requires, in a place of worship truly consecrated to him. And for what purpose is the Saviour in the midst of his followers, –but to bless them, as God has declared that he will do to his people in all places where He records his name. What now is the blessing which we are authorized to expect from the God who spoke to Israel in the Mount, and who speaks to us from Heaven, in the person of Jesus Christ?

#2.  He will bless his children in the place which he has chosen, by giving them all needful external prosperity. He always grants to his true followers favor and good understanding in the sight of the people, so far as he sees to be consistent with their spiritual interests. And he affords to them the means of sustaining the institutions of the Church and of doing good to others, in proportion as he regards it wise and safe to entrust such talents to their care. If this shall be truly a place where God will delight to dwell, we shall neither have too much nor too little outward prosperity as a Christian Congregation. But if He with draw from us and leave us to the empty forms of religion without the Holy Ghost to give life to our worship, how soon may dissension and evil counsels destroy us, or worldliness come in like a flood and sweep us away into spiritual ruin. It will be an unspeakable blessing to have the All-wise God measure out to us just the right amount of pecuniary ability and of personal and social influence among our fellow-men. And he will do it if we trust him.

#3.  God blesses his people where he records his name, with internal peace and spiritual strength. The more fully and truly the house of worship is devoted to the great ends to be contemplated in the consecration of such a place, the more richly will the Holy Spirit of promise dwell in the hearts of those for whose benefit it was erected and is set apart. And it is alone by the indwelling of this Divine Agent that the hearts of Christians can be brought into close and abiding sympathy with one another, and be kept under the dominion of brotherly love. With the unity of the Spirit we can preserve the bond of peace; for this will keep alive in our souls a common consciousness of our connection with the body of Christ, which will make our mutual fellowship sweet, and will effectually overpower all those trivial occasions of collision and conflict, or of distrust and coldness, which so often hold brethren bought with the same blood, in painful separation from each other.

And with religious peace and confidence within the Christian body, there must be also Spiritual strength. When the members learn to have fervent charity among themselves and all suffer and rejoice together, it becomes possible to bring the several powers of the body into harmonious cooperation, and the vigor Of the whole and of each part is by a natural law steadily increased, while the Divine Spirit pervades all, by his life-giving energies. It is the privilege of every Christian Church to secure such concentration and power, and the more, as their facilities for religious worship and usefulness are improved and expanded. The dedication of a new edifice to God ought to operate as a means of Opening the hearts Of Christians for the reception of those special influences from on high which are needful to quicken the body of Christ and to give it renewed efficiency and fresh preparation for its great work. For this is an occasion which calls up into clear view, the necessity of Divine help, and the fullness of those promises which are given for the encouragement of God’s people in the Opening of a house for his honor and praise.

#4.  The Lord will bless His true Israel wherever he records His name, with continued spiritual progress. Progress is a law Of Christianity; progress in the hearts of believers; progress in the world. Christians never in this life, reach the end of their spiritual warfare. But this one thing they are bound to do; forgetting the things which are behind, they ought to press toward the mark, for the prize of their high calling; they ought to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And when they continue to assemble together with honest and earnest reference to this great object, with one accord in one place, the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, is sent down to dwell in the midst of them and take up his abode in their hearts. This is the true and only method of ensuring spiritual progress in a Church. Paul may plant and Apollos water, but it is God who giveth the increase, both in quickening and purifying the souls of individuals, and in adding to the body of believers such as shall be saved.

And though the treasure of the Gospel is committed to earthen vessels, but the excellency of the power is of God! Remember, God’s ministers and people can do all things through Christ, strengthening them. The weapons of their warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strong holds. There is no reason why the holiness and moral power and usefulness of a Church should not increase from year to year, and from generation to generation, if the people as well as the house, are consecrated to God. Why should there be a limit to our religious growth! Why should the members and the children of this congregation be alone in receiving the blessings of saving grace through the means and instrumentalities to be here employed! Why should not our faith extend to them that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God will call!

In conclusion permit me to remind you, my brethren, that the promise which we have been contemplating, is not given without an implied condition. God does not record his name, as we have seen, where the people do not truly acknowledge Him and His ordinances and Institutions. And if he should make the record because the condition of it exists at any particular time, he will erase it, if at another time he should cease to be honored in the place. Let us bear in mind, then, the solemn declaration, “Them that honor me, I will honor; and they that despise me shall be lightly esteem.”

This transition point, my brethren, is one around which momentous interests are clustered. It is to us a time of joy; but it suggests a train of reflections that carry us far beyond the period of the living generation, through all the ages of coming time, and brings us in thought, before the Great White Throne of Judgment, where we shall review the results of the moral causes here set in motion, under the radiance of a light too bright for our present powers of endurance. This is God’s house. Here the Shechinah is to dwell. Here saints are to be quickened and souls renewed. Here the seeds of immortal life are to be sown and watered Here vessels of mercy are to be prepared for glory and vessels of wrath, we fear, will be fitted for destruction. For here, doubtless, the Gospel will prove a sweet savor of God in them that are saved and in them that perish to the one a savor of life unto life; to the other a savor of death unto death.

What, my hearers, shall be the nature of the impulse given by this occasion to the spiritual influences here set in operation! What shall be the character and direction of the streams that shall begin now to issue from this Sanctuary! Shall they be pure, and shall they go out to make glad the City of our God!  It may be so; it will be so, if both place and people are dedicated, without reserve, to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and if the vows implied in this consecration are faith fully kept.

Having, therefore, Brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us, through the vail, that is to say, his flesh; and having a High Priest over the house Of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; “for he is faithful that promised.” Let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works! not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.

And now, 0 LORD, arise and enter into Thy rest, Thou and the ark of thy strength. THOU GLORIOUS TRINITY, FATHER, SON, AND HOLY GHOST, record thy name in this place, and here come to us and bless us. May this be truly Thy Tabernacle, O Lord of Hosts. Here may the name Of God be glorified, His people be quickened, comforted, instructed and sanctified, His Gospel be made powerful in calling dead souls to life, and His truth be held forth in its purity and saving efficacy, long after the present speaker and the present congregation shall have gone to their final homes.

 

Amen.

Towards Understanding the Early Christian Church and its Times Through the Life of Justin Martyr

Taken from, “GREAT MEN OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH”
Written by, Williston Walker
Edited and adapted for easier reading

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To pass from the time of the Pauline epistles to the middle of the second century is to come into a very different world of thought.

The Old battle which Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, had bravely fought against the imposition of a legalistic Jewish yoke upon heathen converts, had become well-nigh forgotten ancient history. 

The destruction of Jerusalem (A. D. 70) and the rapid growth of churches on Gentile soil had shifted the center of gravity of the Christian population, so that the vast majority of disciples were now of heathen antecedents. Of all parts of the Roman Empire, Asia Minor was that in which the church was now most strongly represented. Syria, northward of Palestine, Macedonia, and Greece were only in less degree its home. Probably it was already growing strong in Egypt. A close knit, extensive, influential, Greek-speaking congregation was to be found in Rome, and a group of small assemblies existed in the Rhone Valley of what is now France. Probably, but less certainly, the church was already well represented in the old Carthaginian region of Africa; but, in general, the Latin portion of the Empire was as yet little reached by the gospel.

Christians, though rapidly growing in numbers, were still chiefly from the lower classes of the population and of slight social influence. They were knit to one another by a common belief in God and Christ; a confidence in a divine revelation contained in the Old Testament and continued through men of the gospel age and subsequent times by the ever-working Spirit of God; a morality relatively high as compared with that of surrounding heathenism; and a confident hope that the present evil world was Speedily to pass away, and the Kingdom of God to be established in its stead. As sojourners separated from the world they owed each other aid, and developed a noble Christian benevolence.

Yet, though the Christianity of the middle of the second century had possessed itself fully of Paul’s freedom from Jewish ceremonialism, it was far from being Pauline. It did not consciously reject him; but it was unable to grasp his more spiritual conceptions of sin and grace and the significance of Christ’s death. Paul had been only one, if the greatest, of the missionaries by whom Christianity had been preached. To ordinary disciples of heathen antecedents, Christ seemed primarily the revealer of the one true God of whom heathenism had but dimly known, and was the proclaimer of a new and purer law of right living. God, through Christ, had revealed his nature and purposes, and had given new commandments which were to be fulfilled by chaste living and upright conduct. “Keep the commandments of the Lord, and thou shalt be well -pleasing to God, and shalt be enrolled among the number of them that keep his commandments,” said Hermas, writing at Rome between 130 and 140; and adding another utterly un-Pauline feeling of the possibility of works of supererogation: “but if thou do any good thing outside the commandment of God thou shalt win for thyself more exceeding glory. Fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving than both,” said a preacher to his hearers a few years later, probably in Corinth or Rome.”

These changing conceptions of the Christian life were not the chief perils, however, which Christianity was encountering. It had come not into a world empty of thought. And, as we do now, that age attempted to interpret the gospel message in the light of its own science and its own conceptions. It had its own philosophies and its own religions with their secrets for those initiated into their mysteries. The result was a number of interpretations of Christianity, called in general Knowledge, (γνῶσις), the thought being that those who possessed this inner and deeper understanding knew the real essence of the gospel much better than the ordinary believer. Gnosticism had its beginnings before the later books of the New Testament were written. The Pastoral Epistles and the Johannine literature contain clear references to it (Examples would be; I Tim. I:4; 6:20; II Tim. 3:6-8; I John 4:2-3.). The Gnostics, however, as a full system of beliefs, did not however develop their power till the second quarter of the second century.

Gnosticism had many forms, but its essential feature was that it made the God of the Old Testament a relatively weak and imperfect being. It taught that the perfect and hitherto unknown God, far abler and better than the God of the Old Testament, sent Christ to reveal himself and to give men the knowledge by which they can be brought from the kingdom of evil to that of light. Since most Gnostics regarded this physical world as evil, any real incarnation was unthinkable, and Christ’s death can have been in appearance only. If his body was more than a ghostly deception, then Jesus was a man indwelt by the divine Christ only from his baptism to shortly before his expiring agony on the cross.

This thinking, though urged by men of great ability, denied the historic continuity of Christianity with the Old Testament revelation, it rejected a real incarnation, and it changed Christianity from a historic faith to a higher form of knowledge for the initiated, explanatory of the origin and nature of the universe. This Gnostic crisis was the most severe through which the church had yet passed; and its dangers were doubly increased when essentially Gnostic views of the Old Testament and of the inferior character of the God therein revealed, though by no means all the Gnostic positions, were advocated by a man of deep religious spirit, in some respects the first church reformer of history, Marcion.

Having come from Asia Minor to Rome about 140, Marcion broke with the Roman church in 144, charging it, –not wholly groundlessly, with having perverted Paul’s Gospel to a new Jewish legalism. To him Paul was the only genuine apostle; and he gathered a little collection of sacred writings, including ten of Paul’s epistles and the Gospel of Luke, but shorn of all passages intimating that the God of the Old Testament was identical with Him whom Christ revealed. All the rest of the apostles and of our New Testament writings he rejected. It was indeed true that the church of his day was very un-Pauline; but his Paulinism was of a type which Paul himself would have been the first to discredit.

To answer the Gnostics, the party within the church representing historic Christianity replied by gathering a collection of authoritative writings, the major part forms our New Testament; and presented their teachings by the preparation of creeds. The first Creed which was formed, is what we wrongly call the “Apostles Creed.  The basis and authority of these creeds were established by appealing to the teaching handed down in the individual churches which were personally founded by the apostles, and whose authenticity was guaranteed by the continuity of those church’s officers. Out of this struggle, the rigid, doctrinally conservative, legalistic church of the third century —the Old Catholic church — came into being.

To these perils from within were added the dangers which sprang from popular hatred, due to heathen misunderstanding and jealousy, and to the occasional active hostility of the Roman government, which viewed the new religion as unpatriotic and stubborn because of the unwillingness of its adherents to conform to the worship prescribed by the state . Its feeling was much that which would animate many among us should any considerable party now refuse to honor the flag. To the unthinking, because they refused to join in the worship which the state required, the Christians seemed at once atheistic and unpatriotic. Popular superstition, because of their refusal to share in heathen festivals and their worship by themselves, –charged them with practices of revolting immorality. The Jews, also, though politically insignificant, were critical of Christianity; and, existing as they did in every large Roman community, their objections had to be met. These conditions determined Justin Martyr’s work. He would defend Christianity against its heathen Opponents, its Jewish critics, and its enemies within its own household. Hence the threefold battle which he fought.

Justin Martyr, is one of the most characteristic Christian figures, and one of the most useful Christian writers, of the second century. He was a native of Flavia Neapolis, near the older Shechem, in ancient Samaria. Though thus born within the bounds of Palestine, and speaking of himself as a Samaritan, he was certainly uncircumcised and doubtless of heathen origin and training. It was not till after his conversion that he became familiar with the Old Testament.

Of the date of his birth nothing certain is known; but it must have been not far from the year 100. From early youth he was evidently studious, and he gives, in his Dialogue with Trypho, a picturesque account of his search for a satisfactory philosophy. His first initiation was through a Stoic, but when he sought knowledge of God this instructor told him it was needless. He then turned to the Aristotelians, but the promptness with which the teacher sought his fee made him doubt the genuineness of such interested claims. A Pythagorean next was sought, but this philosopher insisted on extensive preliminary acquaintance with music, astronomy, and geometry. Discouraged thus, Justin now turned with hope to a Platonist, and found real satisfaction in this most spiritual of ancient philosophies. He must have made no little progress in his new Studies, for he now adopted the philosopher’s cloak as his distinctive garb— a dress which he thenceforth always wore Yet, even while a Platonist, the constancy with which Christians met death impressed him, and led him to doubt the crimes with which they were popularly charged.

Nevertheless, it was through the gateway of his beloved philosophy that Justin was to be brought, however, into the Christian fold. As he tells the story, a chance meeting with an old man, as he walked by the sea, probably near Ephesus, resulted in a discussion in which his adviser turned his attention to the prophets as “men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers, both righteous and beloved of God, who Spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place Their writings are still extant.” The effect upon the inquirer was immediate and powerful. “Straightway,” he records, “a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable. Thus, and for this reason, I am a philosopher.

This conversion, whether the exact circumstances narrated are historic or are the product of Justin’s literary skill, actually did take place, and we may conjecture them occurring before A. D. I35, –and therefore before he had reached middle life.  Further, this fundamental experience was in entire harmony with Justin’s previous philosophic training. Principally, because its central features were not, as with Paul, based upon a profound sense of sin, and of new life through union with Christ, but rather a conviction that God had spoken through the prophets and revealed His truth in Christ, –and in this message alone was to be found the true philosophy of conduct and life and the real explanation of the world here and hereafter .

To him the Old Testament was always the Book of books; but primarily because it foretold the Christ that was to come. For these truths he was willing to suffer; and to teach them became henceforth his employment. Just where he lived after this, and labored, it is in general impossible to say; but he was in Rome soon after the year 150, and it was there that he was later to meet his death. It was also at Rome, not improbably in 152 or 153, and certainly within the four or five years immediately subsequent to 150, that Justin wrote his noteworthy defense of Christianity against its heathen Opponents which placed him first among Christian apologists. This earnest appeal for justice— the ‘Apology’ is addressed to the emperor, Antoninus Pius (138-162) and his adopted sons, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus.

In a direct and manly fashion, Justin calls upon these rulers to ascertain whether Christians are really guilty of the charges popularly laid against them and not to condemn them on the mere name. The Christians are accused of atheism, but they disown only the Old gods, whose existence Justin does not deny, but whom he regards as wicked demons. “We confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity.”  “The Christians are charged with disloyalty to the Roman state,” Justin maintains, “but that is due to a misunderstanding of the nature of the kingdom that Christians seek. When you hear that we look for a kingdom you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God. Christians are not disloyal. On the contrary their principles make them the best of citizens. More than all other men we are your helpers and allies in promoting peace, seeing that we hold this view, that it is alike impossible for the wicked, the covetous, the conspirator, and for the virtuous, to escape the notice of God, and that each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions. Christians worship God, Justin declares, rationally; not by destroying the good things he has given by useless sacrifices, but offering thanks by invocations and hymns for our creation, and for all the means of health, and for the various qualities of the different kinds of things, and for the changes of the seasons; and to present before Him petitions for our existing again in incorruption through faith in Him. Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the times of Tiberius Caesar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove.”

The last quotation shows that Justin’s view of Christ had not developed the form which we are accustomed to connecting with the doctrine of the Trinity, but judged by the standards of the fourth and fifth centuries. He does have a doctrine of the Trinity, but it is relatively unthought-out.

Yet his view of Christ is lofty indeed. It sees in him the divine activity always manifesting itself in the world, the constant outflowing of the wisdom of God, or we might say, the intelligence of God in action. Taking up the “Logos doctrine of the Stoic philosophers, so akin in many respects to that of the Fourth Gospel, and so easily combined with the conception of the divine “Wisdom,” set forth, for example in Proverbs. Justin taught that the divine intelligence had been always at work, not merely in creation and in the revelation of God to an Abraham or a Moses, but illuminating a Socrates or a Heraclitus, and the source of all good everywhere. In Jesus, this divine Wisdom was fully revealed. It, or to reflect Justin’s view we should say He, “took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ.”

In speaking of Justin’s conversion, mention was made of the importance which he attached to the prophets and to the fulfilment of their utterances. They were men “through whom the prophetic Spirit published beforehand things that were to come to pass.” It was therefore natural that a large part of his Apology and of his Dialogue with Trypho was devoted to an exposition of such of their utterances as he believed bore on the life and significance of Christ; but he went much farther. Like Jewish writers before him, he looked upon the philosophers of Greece, especially his honored Plato, as having borrowed much from Moses. In Christianity was that true philosophy which all the philosophers, in so far as they have seen truth at all, have dimly perceived. The Jews, in his Opinion, had special ordinances, such as the Sabbath, circumcision, and abstinence from unclean meats, given them on account of the peculiar “hardness of their hearts;” but Christ has now established “another covenant and another law.” He has revealed God and God’s will to men; has overcome the demons who deceived men and delighted in their sins, whom Justin identifies with the old gods; and has appointed baptism as the rite effecting the remission of offenses. Christ’s work is, in Justin’s estimation, essentially that of a Revealer and Lawgiver, though he is not without some appreciation of the saving significance of his life and death and declares that “we trust in the blood of salvation.” This redeeming aspect of Christ’s work remains, however, relatively undeveloped in his thinking.

Thus, Justin defended Christianity against its heathen and its Jewish critics. He also replied to its foes of its own household, but his writings against Marcion are lost. His attitude may, however, be surmised from his declaration that the devils put forward Marcion of Pontus. The contest with Gnosticism was, indeed, strenuous; but charity toward those deemed “heretics” was never one of the virtues of the early church.

A most interesting glimpse is afforded in Justin’s Apology of the yet simple worship of the Roman church in the middle of the second century.

Admission to its membership was by faith, repentance, an upright life, and baptism, though in Justin’s view faith is primarily an acceptance of Christ’s teachings rather than as with Paul a new personal relationship. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we are praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us to where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. He who was baptized was counted fully of the church and shares in its worship. On Sunday the congregations gathered in city or country; the “memoirs of the apostles,” i. e., the gospels, or “the writings Of the prophets were read. Then the “president, for Justin avoids technical terms for church officers, verbally instructed, that is, preached a sermon. Next, all rose and prayed standing, the “president” doubtless leading, and the people responding “Amen.” Prayer ended, they saluted one another with a kiss. Bread and wine mingled with water were next brought to the “president,” probably by the deacons; and “after prayers and thanksgivings” offered by him, the Lord’s Supper was administered to those present, and the consecrated elements were taken by the deacons to the absent. The service closed with a collection, from which the necessities of widows, orphans, the ill, prisoners, and strangers were relieved; for the wealthy among us help the needy, and we always keep together.

A pleasing picture, surely, of the simple worship and mutual helpfulness of what it must be remembered were still close-knit little congregations, regarding themselves as separate from the world, and all too unjustly looked upon by it as misanthropic, unpatriotic, atheistic, and guilty of secret crimes. Justin himself was to receive the crown of martyrdom. After the composition of his Apology he left Rome, but of his journeys we know nothing, and he was back in the City where he was to die during the governorship of its prefect, Junius Rusticus, that is between 163 and 167, in the early part of the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

 The account of his trial gives an interesting picture of the examination of a company of Christians at ‘the bar of Roman justice.’ In form, as in all ancient procedure, it was much like an examination in a modern police court, the judge questioning and sentencing the prisoners. Justin was brought before Rusticus, with six other Christians, one a woman, whom the judge evidently regarded as his disciples. Rusticus the prefect said to Justin, “Obey the gods at once, and submit to the Kings. Justin said, “To obey the commandments of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is worthy neither of blame nor of condemnation. Rusticus the prefect said, “What kind of doctrines do you profess?” Justin said, “I have endeavored to learn all doctrines; but I have acquiesced at last in the true doctrines, namely of the Christians, even though they do not please those who hold false opinions.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Are those the doctrines that please you, you utterly wretched man?” Justin said, “Yes, since I adhere to them with orthodoxy. Justin then tried to explain Christianity; but the judge soon cut him short. Rusticus the prefect said, “Tell me where you assemble, or into what place do you collect your followers?” Justin said, “I live above one Martinus, at the Timiotinian Bath; and during the whole time (and I am now living in Rome for the second time) I am unaware of any other meeting than his.” (Possibly Justin meant that his was the only school where Christianity was taught in Rome. See Harnack, Die Missiou and Ausbreitung des Christentums, p. 260.)

Whether this was literally so maybe doubted, but Justin does not seem to be unnaturally anxious to prevent persecution extending to his fellow-Christians. Rusticus said, “Are you not then a Christian?” Justin said, “Yes, I am a Christian.” Thus, satisfied of the guilt of the prisoner, the judge turned to his six fellow-accused, and tried to make several of them acknowledge themselves Justin’s disciples. They all promptly owned themselves Christians, but gave evasive answers as to Justin’s share in their conversion, doubtless wishing to shield him. But the judge was disposed to overlook the past provided the prisoners would now yield full obedience.

Here came, as in most early Christian trials, the real test of steadfastness; and a terrible test it was. A pinch of incense cast on the fire burning on the altar before the bench would have freed them; but it would, in the opinion of the time, have been a total denial of Christ. The prefect says to Justin, “Hearken, you who are called learned, and think that you know true doctrines; if you are scourged and beheaded, do you believe you will ascend into heaven?” Justin said, “I hope that, if I endure these things, I shall have His gifts. For I know that, to all who have thus lived, there abides the divine favor until the completion of the whole world.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven to receive some recompense? Justin said, I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Let us, then, now come to the matter in hand, and which presses. Having come together, offer sacrifice with one accord to the gods. Justin said, “No right-thinking person falls away from piety to impiety. Rusticus the prefect said, “Unless ye obey, ye shall be mercilessly punished. Justin said, “Through prayer we can be saved on account of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when we have been punished, because this shall become to us salvation and confidence at the more fearful and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Savior. Thus, also said the other martyrs: “Do what you will, for we are Christians, and do not sacrifice to idols. Rusticus the prefect pronounced sentence, saying, “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to yield to the command of the emperor be scourged, and led away to suffer the punishment of decapitation, according to the laws.

So died a martyr for his faith, and one of the most deserving of the Christian leaders of the second century.

Uncertainty the New Truth?


Adapted from “The Truth War”
Written by John MacArthur 

Slightly edited for context.

217

Is uncertainty the new truth? Most postmodernists seem to think so. They definitely equate certainty with arrogance.

The belief that no one can really know anything for certain has emerged as virtually the one dogma postmodernists will tolerate. Uncertainty is the new truth. Doubt and skepticism have been canonized as expressions of humility. Right and wrong have been redefined in terms of subjective feelings and personal perspectives.

Those views are infiltrating the church too.

In some circles within the visible church, cynicism is now regarded as the most splendid of all virtues.

A relentless tone of angst about too much certainty pervades every postmodern faction within modern churches. No wonder the emerging church began as a self-conscious effort to make Christianity more suitable to a postmodern culture. Emerging Christians were determined to adapt the Christian faith, the structure of the church, the language of faith, and even the gospel message itself to the ideas and rhetoric of postmodernism.

Abandoning Orthodoxy

The central propositions and bedrock convictions of biblical Christianity —such as firm belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, a sound understanding of the true gospel, full assurance of salvation, settled confidence in the lordship of Christ, and the narrow exclusivity of Christ as the only way of salvation—do not reconcile well with postmodernism’s contempt for clear, authoritative truth claims. The medium of postmodern dialogue thereby instantly and automatically changes the message. And the rhetoric of the Emerging church movement reflected that.

Brian McLaren summed up his views on orthodoxy, certainty, and the reliability of Christian truth claims by saying:

How ironic that I am writing about orthodoxy, which implies to many a final capturing of the truth about God, which is the glory of God. Sit down here next to me in this little restaurant and ask me if Christianity (my version of it, yours, the Pope’s, whoever’s) is orthodox, meaning true, and here’s my honest answer: a little, but not yet. Assuming by Christianity you mean the Christian understanding of the world and God, Christian opinions on soul, text, and culture . . . I’d have to say that we probably have a couple of things right, but a lot of things wrong.

McLaren suggested that clarity itself was of dubious value. He clearly preferred ambiguity and equivocation, and his books are therefore full of deliberate doublespeak. In his introduction to A Generous Orthodoxy, he admitted, I have gone out of my way to be provocative, mischievous, and unclear, reflecting my belief that clarity is sometimes overrated, and that shock, obscurity, playfulness, and intrigue (carefully articulated) often stimulate more thought than clarity.

A common theme that runs throughout most of McLaren’s writings is the idea of great danger in the quest to be right.

Postmodern influences have come into the evangelical movement through other avenues as well. Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context, by Stanley Grenz and John Franke, was published in 2001 and made a significant impact in the evangelical academic community, garnering lots of positive reviews and stimulating numerous papers and lectures from evangelical leaders who evidently found much to agree with in the book.

But as the subtitle suggests, the book pleads for a whole new approach to theology, with the goal of “contextualizing” Christianity for a postmodern culture. “The categories and paradigms of the modern world” are in collapse, the authors note in the book’s opening sentence.  They go on to assert that Christian theology therefore needs to be rethought, revised, and adapted in order to keep in step and remain relevant in these changing times.

Abandoning Certainty

Grenz and Franke argue that the Spirit of God speaks through Scripture, tradition, and culture, and theologians must seek to hear the voice of the Spirit in each one. Moreover, since culture is constantly in flux, they say, it is right and fitting for Christian theology to be in a perpetual state of transition and ferment too. No issue should ever be regarded as finally settled.

The obvious casualty of all this is any sure and certain knowledge of biblical truth. That is okay with Grenz and Franke. They are convinced that every desire to gain a fixed and positive knowledge of any truth actually belongs to the collapsing categories of enlightenment rationalism.

Certitude naturally comes under repeated attack in the book. This culminates in the incredible claim that certainty is ultimately incompatible with hope.  Of course, there are some things we don’t yet see clearly and still hope for (Romans 8:24–25). But it seems rather far-fetched to conclude that there is nothing we can know with a true and settled certainty.

Some readers have nevertheless found the Grenz-Franke argument persuasive, including John Armstrong. Armstrong is a writer, conference speaker, and former pastor who at one time was a defender of Reformation theology and a student of revival. The name of his ministry, Reformation and Revival, reflected that.

But after reading Beyond Foundationalism, Armstrong wrote a series of articles in his ministry newsletter declaring that he has changed his mind about several vital points of doctrine—including faith and understanding, the sacraments, the doctrine of revelation, and Christology—among other things. Crediting Grenz and Franke for helping him see the light, Armstrong wrote, “I have been forced, upon deeper reflection about theological method, to give up what I call epistemological certitude.” He goes on to explain:

Reformed dogmaticians and teachers on the conservative side seek a steady, unshakable and certain knowledge…. John Franke suggests that the agenda employed by such theologians “glorifies reason and deifies science.” I have changed my mind about the way to do theology, and I confess I now agree with Franke’s conclusion.  

Armstrong revealed how far he had moved from his starting point with this statement:

“If there is a foundation in Christian theology, and I believe that there must be, then it is not found in the Church, Scripture, tradition or culture.” If Scripture is not the foundation for Christian doctrine, then what is? Armstrong’s answer echoes the central thesis of Beyond Foundationalism: “If we must speak of ‘foundations’ for Christian faith and its theological enterprise, then we must speak only of the triune God as disclosed in polyphonic fashion through Scripture, the church, and even the world.”

The Gift of Truth

Armstrong, Grenz, Franke, and the emerging postmodernists have blurred the line between certainty and omniscience. They seem to presume that if we cannot know everything perfectly, we really cannot know anything with any degree of certainty. That is an appealing argument to the postmodern mind, but it is entirely at odds with what Scripture teaches: “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

That is not to suggest, of course, that we have exhaustive knowledge. But we do have infallible knowledge of what Scripture reveals, as the Spirit of God teaches us through the Word of God: “We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we might know the things freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12).

The fact that our knowledge grows fuller and deeper —and we all therefore change our minds about somethings as we gain more and more light—doesn’t mean that everything we know is uncertain, outdated, or in need of an overhaul every few years. The words of 1 John 2:20–21 apply in their true sense to every believer: “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.”

The message coming from post modernized evangelicals is exactly the opposite: Certainty is overrated. Assurance is arrogant. Better to keep changing your mind and keep your theology in a constant state of flux.

By such means, the ages-old war against truth has moved right into the Christian community, and the church itself has already become a battleground—and ominously, precious few in the church today are prepared for the fight.

We need to be in a state of operational readiness—armed with the right weaponry and equipped with the right plan.

Our “Blandus Daemon” Our Flattering Enemy

Leah

Those that want the honors of the world, want the temptations of it.

The world is “Blandus Daemon,” a flattering enemy. It is given to some as Michal to David, for a snare.

The world shews its two breasts of pleasure and profit, and many fall asleep with these breasts in their mouth. The world never kisses us, but with an intent to betray us. It is a silken halter.

The world is no friend to grace; it chokes our love to heavenly things: the earth puts out the spiritual fire. Naturally we love the world, Job 31: 24. ‘If I have made gold my hope;’ the Septuagint renders it, ‘If I have been married to my gold.’ Too many are wedded to their money; they live together as man and wife. O let us take heed of being entangled in this pleasing snare.

Many who have escaped the rock of scandalous sins, yet have sunk in the world’s golden quicksand. The sin is not in the using of the world, but in the loving, 1 John 2: 15. ‘Love not the world.’ If we are Christians, we must offer violence to the world. Believers are ‘called out of the world:’ they are in the world, but not of it, John 17.

As we say of a dying man, he is not a man for this world. A true saint is crucified in his affections to the world, Gal. 6: 14. He is dead to the honors and pleasures of it. What delight does a dead man take in pictures or music? Jesus Christ gave himself ‘to redeem us from this present evil world,’ Gal. 1:4. If we will be saved, we must offer violence to the world.

Living fish swim against the stream. We must swim against the world, else we shall be carried down the stream, and fall into the Dead Sea. That we may offer violence to the world, let us remember, it is deceitful; our Savior calls it, ‘The deceitfulness of riches,’ Matt.13:22.

The world promises happiness. It promises us nothing less than Rachel, but puts off on us blear-eyed Leah:’ it promises to satisfy our desires, but instead increases them: it gives us poisoned pills, but it always wraps them in sugar.

……..
Taken and adapted from, “The Christian Soldier,”
Written by Thomas Watson, 1669.

SELF-DENIAL DEFINED

Written by, Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711)
Taken and adapted from, “The Christian’s Reasonable Service”, Vol. 3, reprinted by Reformation Heritage Books

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Self-denial is a Christian virtue, granted by God to His children, whereby they, out of love for God’s will, neither give heed nor yield to their intellect, will, and inclinations insofar as they are in opposition to the will of God—and oppose and suppress them instead. They do so by a voluntary forsaking and rejection of all that pertains to their natural well-being, if God’s cause demands such from them. This [is] to the honor of God and the welfare of their neighbors.

Self-denial is, first, a Christian virtue. Pagans have observed that their inner peace has been disturbed by their lusts. Some therefore sought to extinguish them by way of reason and appeared to practice self-denial regarding some things. However, it did not issue forth from the right motive—love for the will of God. They did not have the right objective in view, but rather it was a seeking of self (be it in a different manner from others), resting in this as their peace and seeking to be honored by men. Their self-denial was thus a splendid sin that had a counterfeit luster and was not accompanied by deeds.

Our reference here, however, is to the self-denial of a Christian as being exclusive of all inordinate self-love (and self-reliance that issues forth from this) and seeking of self. Such self-denial issues forth from love for the will of God and culminates in the glorification of God.

Secondly, the moving cause of self-denial is the Lord and not man himself. Man is too deeply immersed in self-love to be able to rid himself from it. Even if he could divorce himself from this, he would not be able to bring himself into the opposite virtuous disposition. Self-denial does not consist in a negation, but is rather a propensity. The Lord grants this grace to His children, for He grants them spiritual life in regeneration (Eph 2:1; Jam 1:18). Through this virtuous disposition, He causes them to be active and thus works in them to will and to do (Phi 2:13). He particularly works in them the mortification of sin: “…but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom 8:13). God, having given life in the soul, stirs up this life and renders it active by His prevening and cooperative power. The believer—uniting himself by faith with Christ and through Christ with God—takes hold of His strength as his own. By reason of this received strength, [he] is active in mortifying sin within him. God is thus the original cause: man, having been affected by this power, is himself active in the casting out of sinful self-love and its consequences, as well as in purifying and adorning himself with the contrary virtue. “Let us cleanse ourselves” (2Co 7:1); “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which work-eth in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phi 2:12-13).

Thirdly, the subjects of self-denial are the children of God. The unconverted are void of all spiritual life; therefore, the motions and operation of life cannot come forth from them. Rather, it is a gift to God’s children as presently being in a converted and believing state. They are those who are Christ’s disciples and follow Him (Mat 16:24). Self-denial does not consist in a few deeds, but is rather a propensity and disposition of the heart. Their heart has been turned away from self-love and a seeking of self—albeit imperfectly…Once this virtue has become deeply rooted, the person who practices self-denial will have much inner peace. He will not so readily be enticed to entertain ulterior motives or be envious, wrathful, and guilty of misuse of words—all of which frequently issue forth in a rash manner due to self-love and a seeking of self…All that he does renders him pleasant to all—before God and before men.

Fourthly, the object of self-denial is man himself. God has created self-love in man and mandates the exercise of this love in the Second Table of the Law by giving command that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mat 22:39). After the fall, however, love has become entirely distorted, as it causes man to be opposed to God, to make himself as God, and wanting all to end in man. This principle governs fallen man in his operations, and he wants everyone to function toward him in harmony with this principle.