Friday, May 31, 2013

Pursuing Lady Wisdom

Prov. 4:7- “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight” (ESV)

This seems to be a simple enough verse, but there are some truths that must be explicitly drawn out. Our culture tries to indoctrinate us with subtle lies that run counter to this short little proverb from Solomon.
     1.     Wisdom is not found from within, but from without.

Solomon says we must “Get wisdom.” That means it is not something that we inherently possess. It is not something we reach down inside and muster up. It is not something that we can meditate upon long enough and ultimately think ourselves up to. Wisdom, we later find out, is a gift from God (James 1:5) that he gives to those who ask. Both popular culture and other false religions teach us just to “follow our hearts” or “let your heart be your guide.” These malicious maxims, which are drilled into us from birth (through fairytale movies, bad literature, faulty parenting books….), are actually the worst possible advice. Jeremiah tells us that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (17:9, ESV). Like a mis-calibrated compass that leads sailors slowly but surely off course, our hearts can’t be trusted. Our emotions, feelings, affections, intuitions, and all other subjective judgments can be wrong. However, the wisdom of God, revealed through His word and applied by the Spirit, will never lead us astray. That is what should be our guide.

2.     Wisdom must be sought zealously.

Our fallen heart’s natural inclination is not godly wisdom. We are born with desires that run contrary to God’s revealed law. That is why we have to actively seek wisdom. This seeking is never finished either. That’s why wisdom is personified as a noble woman in Proverbs. Like a faithful husband who woos his lover’s heart until his final days, we must constantly seek lady wisdom’s company. 

How do we enjoy the company of such a lovely lady? Well, first we have to ask for her, as James 1 tells us. Ask God to give us the wisdom we need in this life. Admit that we are adrift at sea and need direction. Secondly, we must spend time with her, through prayerful reading and meditation on God’s word, the only inerrant source of ultimate wisdom. Just as intimacy can only be gained through time and attention, so too can intimacy with God only be gained through time spent with Him. Thirdly, we must cherish Christ as the embodiment of God's wisdom. Christ is at the same time: one with the father, the eternal Word (John 1), the living example of wisdom lived out, and the perfect teacher of wisdom. We would be fools if we neglected Christ's example and teachings as instructive.

God has shown us the means to pursue lady Wisdom. We have to seek her by asking, pursuing, spending time and effort, and receiving the Son. She doesn’t always come easy or clearly, but her ways will result in your “honor… if you embrace her” (Prov. 4:8, ESV).

Jon English Lee

Thursday, May 30, 2013

What does Calvinism have to do with Marriage?

Here's a man who comes to his pastor and says, “My wife says she's going to leave me for good. She says she doesn't love me anymore.  I don't want her to leave, but if she doesn't want me, then maybe the loving thing to do is just to let her go. If I really love her, maybe I shouldn't try to stop her from divorcing me. What should I do?”

As in most cases of pastoral counseling, this man's basic problem is theological. He needs to see the doctrine of God's love more clearly. There are very different theologies of God's love today. The most popular American view says that the highest expression of God's love is conditioned on human responses. It says that God loves people up to a point, but if they refuse Him, then God will restrain His love for them. If people don't accept God's love, and if they don't love Him back, then God will respect their free choices, and He will allow them to go their own way, even if their own way ends up destroying them forever. On this view, God's love is ultimately conditional. It's easy to understand why this is so popular, since it lines up nicely with the American notion that the greatest authority is the human heart and that people know what's best for themselves.  

But thanks be to God, the Bible teaches that God has a very different kind of love for His people. The fullest expression of God's love is never conditioned on a human response. The Bible teaches that God's love is unconditional at the most fundamental level. Certainly, God's love produces responses in people, but His love is never based on those responses. Paul said, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). That's unconditional love. In our natural unconverted state, we sinfully and stubbornly refused God's love (Rom 1:18-23). We didn't “seek” His love (Rom 3:11), and we “turned aside” from His love (Rom 3:12). But in spite of ourselves, God lovingly sent His Son anyway.

Later in Romans 8:31-33a, Paul explains just how freely and fully God loves His chosen bride: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?”

Notice that Paul reasons from the greater to the lesser. If God gave His “own Son” (the greater), then He will certainly give us “all things” in Him (the lesser)! What are “all things” according to this passage? Romans 8:29-30 says that “all things” include every part of salvation: calling, justification, and glorification. If God gave His Son for you (the greater), then He will certainly do everything else needed to save you to the uttermost (the lesser). This is free and unconditional love. It's a powerful, absolute, effective, and saving love that holds nothing back at all.

This means that God doesn't love us because we are lovely.  He doesn't love His church because she accepts His love. He refuses to yield to our stubborn and self-destructive wills. He will not let us go our own way. He will not let us choose to destroy ourselves.  Instead, He loves us unconditionally. He sent His Son to die for us and gives us “all things” in Him. He promises to pour out all of His loving affections and actions upon us relentlessly. Paul explains the extent of God's unconditional and effective love, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:37-39).  

So how does all of this apply to marriage?  The man in the example above needs to learn God's love in two ways.

1. He needs to believe God's unconditional love for him. 1 John 4:16 says, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” He feels unloved by his wife. Over the years, his wife has made him feel like he has to meet certain conditions to have her love. But the gospel says that God's love for His people in Christ isn't like that. He can let himself believe and feel God's love for him, no matter what His wife does. He can learn that his identity is in Christ, not in the way his wife treats him. And the more he grasps God's great love for him, the more he will be free to love his wife out of love for Christ, no matter how his wife treats him.

2. He needs to learn to love his wife unconditionally. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Knowing God's love for him, this man can pursue his wife with faithful and relentless love, even when she says she doesn't love him, and even when she says she doesn't want to be married anymore. He can love his wife, even if she doesn't accept his love. He can love her as Christ has loved him, laying down his life for her, serving her, looking for ways to honor her and express love for her, speaking to her with kindness and gentleness the way God in Christ speaks to him. He can put away his pride, humble himself before her, admit his own sin fully, and commit to walk in faithful repentance, even when she refuses to love him in return. He can serve her faithfully and sacrificially, even when she rejects his love.  He can lovingly and gently call her to repentance and love to God for her own good and God's glory. Because God in Christ has loved him so well, this man can and must love his wife with that same kind of unconditional love. If a broken marriage is to be healed, this is the only faithful way toward healing.

God never promises to fix every marriage, but He does promise to love, save, and comfort all who belong to Him.  He promises to fellowship with those who trust His Son and walk in His way, even in the midst of pain and sorrow. May the Lord help us to understand, believe, and apply His sovereign unconditional love.

Tom Hicks

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

B.H. Carroll on Original Guilt

Many of bits and bytes have been given lately to the question of the relation of Adam's sin to the human race. Within the Southern Baptist Convention those who have championed the so-called "Traditionalist" statement of Southern Baptist soteriology deny that Adam's sin results in his posterity inheriting guilt. As Adam Harwood, one of the most outspoken defenders of this document expresses it, their view
 distinguishes between a sinful nature (which every person bears from the first moment of life) and guilt (which occurs as soon as people become morally accountable and commit their first sin). To the question, "Who is guilty of Adam's sin?" this view answers: Only Adam is guilty of Adam's sin. The reason? According to the Bible, God judges people for their own sin. (original emphases)
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Admittedly this question has been debated throughout much of Protestant and Baptist history. The best expressions of those debates have been exegetical, as it should be. An additional approach, one that Harwood and those in his camp also like to take, is historical. In a recent post at the anti-Calvinist SBC Today blog, Harwood tries to shore up his "traditionalist" bona fides by claiming that he was informed by James Leo Garrett that "for over 100 years the theology faculty of SWBTS [Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary] has affirmed: we are not guilty of Adam's sin."

B.H. Carroll
While that may be technically true depending on how one defines "theology faculty," it most certainly is not true with regard to the founding President of Southwestern, B.H. Carroll. In his massive, highly acclaimed Interpretation of the English Bible, Carroll argues plainly for the biblical teaching that 
"By the offense of one man, condemnation came upon all men."
This, of course, flies squarely in the face of the position of the "Traditionalist" statement, which asserts,
"We deny that Adam's sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person's free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned."

Read the whole section from Volume 14 of Carroll's work below.


By a new line of argument the apostle conveys assurance of salvation to the justified, an argument based on our seminal relations to the two Adams. This great doctrine is expressed thus: "Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned" (5:12). "So then as through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men to justification of life. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall many be made righteous" (5:18-19). If we combine the several thoughts into one great text we have this: By one offense of one man condemnation came upon all men. So by one act of righteousness of one man, justification unto eternal life comes upon all men who by one exercise of faith lay hold on him who wrought the one act of righteousness.

This text startlingly offends and confounds the reasonings of the carnal mind which says,  
1. One may not be justly condemned for the offense of somebody else, but only for his own offense, nor justified by the righteousness of somebody else, but by his own righteousness. 
2. Condemnation must come for all offenses, not just one, and justification must be based on all acts of righteousness, not just one. 
3. To base a man's condemnation or justification on the act of another destroys personal responsibility. 
4. The doctrine of imputing one man's guilt to a substitute tends to demoralization, in that the real sinner will sin the more, not being personally amenable to penalty. 
5. The doctrine of pardoning a guilty man because another is righteous turns loose a criminal on society. 
6. The whole of it violates that ancient law of the Bible itself: "Thou shalt justify the innocent and condemn the guilty."
If the gospel plan of salvation, fairly interpreted, does destroy personal responsibility, does tend to demoralize society, does encourage to sin the more, does turn criminals loose on society, does not tend to make its subject personally better, it is then the doctrine of the devil and should be hated and resisted by all who respect justice and deprecate iniquity. But the seminal idea of condemnation and justification grows out of relations to two respective heads, and it results from varieties in creation, thus:

(1) God created a definite number of angels just so many at the start, never any more or less, a company, not a family, incapable of propagation, being sexless, without ancestry or posterity, without brother or sister or other ties of consanguinity, each complete in himself, and hence no angel could be condemned or justified for another's act. The act of every angel terminates in himself. Therefore there can be no salvation for a sinning angel. And hence our Saviour "took not on him the nature of angels."

(2) But God also created a different order of beings, at the start just one man, having potentially in himself an entire race – a countless multitude to be developed from him. And in propagating the race he transmitted his own nature, and through heredity his children inherited that nature. No act of any human being arises altogether from himself or can possibly terminate in himself. In considering heredity Oliver Wendell Holmes has said, "Man is an omnibus in which all his ancestors ride." Moreover, man was created to be a social being, from which fact arises the necessity of human government whether in legislative, judicial, or executive power. The mind can conceive of only one human being whose act would terminate in himself, and under the following conditions alone: He must be without ancestry, without capacity of posterity, without kindred in any degree, without relation to society, living alone on an island surrounded by an ocean whose waves touched no other shore from which society might come. How much more the head in whom potentially and legally was the race could not do an act that would terminate in himself.

(3) The creature cannot deny God's sovereign right to create this variety of moral beings, angels, and man.

(4) Nature does not exempt children from the penalty of heredity.

(5) Human law neither exempts children from legal responsibility of parents nor acquits criminals because of hereditary predispositions.

The context bases the condemnation of all men on the ground that all sinned in Adam, the head, and so having sinned in him they all died in him. The context, "And so death passed unto all men" (even those who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression) is the distinct proof of our proposition. Only one person ever sinned the sin of Adam and that was Adam himself, the head of the race. Now as proof that his posterity sinned in him, death passed upon all of his posterity who had not sinned after the similitude of his sin, that is, they sinned, not as the head of a race, but from depravity – an inherited depravity. Adam didn't have that inherited depravity. God made him. upright. Whenever I commit a sin I don't commit that sin from the standpoint of Adam, but I commit it on account of an evil nature inherited from Adam, and that sin is not after the similitude of Adam's transgression. Moreover, if I commit a sin, the race is not held responsible for my sin, because I am not the head of the race. The race does not stand or fall in me. Thus there are two particulars in which sins which we commit are not after the similitude of Adam's sin, and yet, says the apostle, with his inexorable logic, "Though they don't sin after the similitude of Adam, yet death, the penalty of sin, passed upon every one of them." The law was executed on every one of them; they died. Sin condemns on the ground of the solidarity of the law, the unity of the law. See James 2:10: "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all."

Human law in this respect conforms to divine law. If a man be law-abiding fifty years and then commits one capital offense, his previous righteousness avails him nothing. Nor does it avail that he was innocent of all other offenses. If a man were before a court charged with murder he would derive no benefit by proving that he had not committed adultery. If he were guilty on the one point, his life is forfeited. That is on account of the solidarity of the law. Nor does it avail a man anything in a human court that he was tempted from without. So Adam vainly pleaded, "The woman tempted me and I did eat." 

Tom Ascol

Monday, May 27, 2013

I Address My Verses to the King (Psalm 45:1)

All believers have an impulse to address their distress and exhilaration to God, their maker, sustainer, redeemer, life-giver, afflicter, comforter, succor, and eternal home. Both the Psalms and the prophets are filled with these kinds of approaches to the triune God.

In considering the use of a perverse and evil people as an instrument of holy justice, Habakkuk addressed God with a reminder of His character and the apparent incongruity between His plan and His person: “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? . . .You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why . . . are you silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?”

The Psalmist, less perplexed and more settled on the unchangeable lovingkindness of God, says “Your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (57:10) and again, in light of crushing providences, “You have made your people see hard things” (60:3). But even in the midst of the astonishing and ineffable unity of God as the effective determiner of both these kinds of experiences, His people issue the as yet unquenched cry, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (63:1). In that same spirit, Augustine’s Confessions (398 AD) is a thirteen book address with God as the audience in an effort to unpack the inexhaustible assertion, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

Anselm (1033-1109) addressed himself in preparation for setting himself in front of God to address Him. “Now then little man, for a short while fly from your business . . . Make a little time for God, and rest for a while in Him. Enter into the chamber of your mind, shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek Him, and when you have shut the door, seek Him. Speak now, O my whole heart, speak now to God.” In that speaking to God, Anselm delivered the ontological argument for God’s infinitely excellent Being, in three parts: “Now we believe that thou are a being than which none greater can be thought.” As the second element of this prayerful philosophy, Anselm confessed, “Therefore thou are just, truthful, blessed, and whatever it is better to be than not to be.” The third stage of Being Anselm confessed to God as “And so, O Lord, thou art not simply that than which a greater cannot be thought; rather, thou art something greater than can be thought.” 

As we contemplate the God under whose providence we live, and from whose grace we have received salvation, and before whose glory we shall be transformed, perhaps we should take time, like the company of worshippers in Revelation 4, 5, 15, 16, 19, to address Him with reverent and chastened honesty about the meagerness of our understanding, the hopes of our increased perceptions of and joyful conformity to His perfections, and submissive awe-inspired worship as we recite all we know of His holy purpose and character. I share with you one of my own attempts at going aside to address the Savior in His person and work.

Jesus, all God is thou art, unchanging truth and righteousness,
Word of God who cannot lie, true Hope that scatters sin’s distress.
Nothing is you have not made, and nothing stands without your will.
Pow’r eternal, view our dust, and though we fade renew us still.

Jesus, all man is thou art, of David’s flesh and Israel’s kin,
Born of woman, Son of Man, like us except the flaw of sin.
In your state of condescension all our struggles you have known,
As a servant, as forsaken, yet for joy now at God’s throne.

Jesus, all man needs thou art—a righteous one, no end of days,
God now seen, glory beheld, yet fire that turns away our gaze.
Peerless wisdom! Through your blood God struck your soul with no restraint.
Love undying, slay our death; uphold us so we will not faint.

Jesus, all that God requires flows from thy passion through God’s love.
Wrath avenged, now reconciled both things below and things above.
He now gives us gifts through thee, those blessings rich with heaven’s smell.
Through thee captives are set free, for you have crushed the gates of hell.

Jesus, can a sinner trace the lines of mercy through God’s wrath?
In seeking and expressing grace, alone you walked the death-filled path.
Jesus, now at God’s right hand, your pleas for us know no restraint.
Come with glory, claim your band of sinners now made glorious saints.

Tom J. Nettles

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Local Church: The Training Ground for Ministry

In a recent conversation with a seminary professor, we talked on a topic of great interest to me as a pastor engaged in training the next generation. He told of how he has been teaching Greek to members of his local church. He said that they started out with a class of fifty-five and ended up with six, but that decline in participation did not discourage him. He said that those six church members could now read their Greek New Testament. And they did it all without enrolling in seminary! He added that he thought the local church should be involved in training its people for gospel ministry. I agreed. Our discussion continued on the local church as the focal point of training men and women for gospel work to the nations.

His example represents the local church’s involvement in training people for ministry beyond their local congregation. The typical church’s approach with someone that expresses a call to gospel ministry has been to immediately send him to a seminary for training. While every local church may not be able to replace a theological seminary education (and I am not advocating such replacement), churches must realize that seminaries cannot replace the shaping influence of the local church community for future ministry. Instead, churches must not relegate to seminaries what local churches do best: preparing the next generation for gospel-centered ministry by mentoring young ministers in the context of church community.

The New Testament places priority on the local church and not outside institutions. The church alone is called the bride of Christ (Eph 5:22–33; Rev 19:7–9; 21:2; 22:7) and the corporate entity for fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). Jesus Christ ordained the church (Matt 16:13–20), died and rose from the dead to secure it (Eph 5:25–27), and made it to be a kingdom of priests engaged in worship and proclamation (1 Pet 2:4–10; Rev 1:5–6; 5:9–10). So, the church best serves Christ’s mission and therefore, best prepares its workers.

Ironically, some missiologists have objected to the priority of the church in God’s mission. The late Ralph Winter insisted that the New Testament gave the responsibility of nurturing to the local church but the apostolic focus on evangelism to missionary organizations outside the church, which he called “sodalities." [1] The work of missions, in Winter’s view, belongs to sodalities not to the church. Yet his position totally bypasses Jesus Christ’s commission to the church! D. A. Carson called the Great Commission to the eleven disciples paradigmatic for all disciples. [2] The most natural means for disciple making takes place through the church, especially since Christ’s commission to make disciples calls for baptism and ongoing teaching, which are distinct responsibilities for the church. Consequently, the local church as the means for disciple making also holds the key to training ministers.

Thankfully, a number of leaders in theological education recognize the sometime-disconnect between seminary education and the reality of living out the gospel in community. Timothy George muses that he prefers a residential community for seminarians where professors and students live, work, play, and flesh “out the meaning of the gospel together." [3] In other words, he recognizes that what the church has been created to do—live, work, play, and flesh out the meaning of the gospel together—is necessary to properly shape the rising generation of Christian ministers. Robert Ferris points out that other generations maintained the wedding of community and theological training until the rise of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s influence on “theology-as-science,” or information dump, instead of spiritual formation in community. [4] Academic sterility neglects spiritual formation by isolation from local church ministry.

While theological institutions play an important role in training for ministry, it is the experience of mentoring relationships in the church living out the gospel, modeling forgiveness, service, and accountability that prepares the rising generation for the work of ministry. A healthy church not only proclaims the gospel audibly but also makes it known visibly through the way that believers live together in community. This distinction gives those involved in pastoral and missionary work a realistic rather than theoretical approach to ministry. Therefore, an organic partnership with local churches and theological institutions may best train the next generation’s ministers.

Phil A. Newton 


[1] Ralph Winter, “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission,” Missiology 2(1) (January 1974): 121–139.

 D. A. Carson, Matthew 13–28 (EBC; Frank E. Gaebelein, gen. ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 596.

“50 Years of Seminary Education: Celebrating the Past, Assessing the Present, Envisioning the Future,” Christianity Today 50/10 (Oct 2006): S13.

[4] “The Role of Theology in Theological Education,” in With an Eye on the Future: Development and Mission in the 21st Century—Essays in Honor of Ted Ward (Duane Elmer and Lois McKinney, eds.: Monrovia, Calif.: MARC, 1996), 102.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Charles Spurgeon and Courage in the Pulpit

One of the greatest challenges that faces every pastor is the courage to stay true to his convictions. This is especially true when those convictions, though deeply and clearly rooted in Scripture, are out of step with popular opinion or the prevailing desires of influential church members. I am sure that I am not the only pastor who has been threatened by church leaders with being "fired" if I insisted on teaching and preaching the plain meaning of certain passages of Scripture. Even more common is the subtle pressure that pastors often feel to compromise their convictions for the sake of peace. I have long ago lost count of the number of pastors I know who have suffered serious consequences simply for preaching expository sermons and calling for congregational holiness that is commensurate with the gospel.

Pastoral courage tends to be contagious and examples of faithful pastors who refused to compromise God's Word even in the face of great pressures are worthy of study by any man who desires to stay humbly courageous in the discharge of his pastoral responsibilities. One of the most notable examples of such courage is Charles Spurgeon. Though he is rightly remembered for many wonderful accomplishments and personal traits it is safe to say that had he failed to be courageous in his preaching it is very likely that his successes would have been greatly diminished.

Spurgeon never hedged the message of God's Word despite opposition, ridicule or scorn—all of which he experienced in excess. Nor did he allow controversy, or the fear of it, to silence him on any subject addressed by the Word of God. As such, he remains a wonderful example for courageous preaching for modern pastors.

As a small child his grandfather taught him never to be afraid to stand up for what he believed was right, regardless of the consequences. In the Stambourne chapel, where Spurgeon worshiped with his grandparents for the first several years of his life, it was common to sing the last line of a hymn twice. By the time he turned six, he was convinced that this was the right way to sing. Consequently, when he returned to his parents’ home and began worshipping in their church, he repeated the last line of the hymns, whether the congregation did so or not. Only after what he later described as “great deal of punishment” was he convinced otherwise.

That same willingness to stand alone informed his preaching ministry. He had no tolerance for what he called “putty-men who are influenced by everybody, and have no opinions except those of the last person they met” or the “weathercock brethren–men whose religious opinions veer with the prevailing doctrinal current in their neighborhood.” He would rather be true to God's Word and judged a curmudgeon that to walk in step with the spirit of the times and compromise the message of Scripture at any point.

At no time was his pulpit courage more obvious than in the baptismal regeneration debate of 1864 and the Down-Grade controversy in 1887-91. In the former Spurgeon knew full well that he was stirring up rattlesnakes’ den by preaching against the teaching of the Anglican Church. He told his publisher before-hand that he was about to destroy the sale of his printed sermons, because he was sure that the controversy would cost him many friends and provoke many attacks. He was half-right. He was viciously attacked, and he did lose friends, but that sermon immediately sold more 100,000 copies and ultimately more than three times that amount.

The latter controversy required even more courage because Spurgeon stood virtually alone in warning against the damning influences of higher critical ideology. Those who should have stood with him did not and many friends tried to persuade him to be silent. Spurgeon, however, had purchased truth at too high a price to sell it so cheaply. As a divinely appointed watchman for the people of God, he had to speak out, even if it meant standing alone. In a sermon in 1888, he  speaks of the timelessness of conviction and courage in contending for God’s revealed truth.
We admire a man who was firm in the faith, say four hundred years ago . . . but such a man today is a nuisance, and must be put down. Call him a narrow-minded bigot, or give him a worse name if you can think of one. Yet imagine that in those ages past, Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, and their compeers had said, ‘The world is out of order; but if we try to set it right we shall only make a great row, and get ourselves into disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night-caps, and sleep over the bad times, and perhaps when we wake up things will have grown better.’ Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error. Age after age would have gone down into the infernal deeps, and the pestiferous bogs of error would have swallowed all. These men loved the faith and the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on . . .

It is today as it was in the Reformers’ days. Decision is needed. Here is the day for the man, where is the man for the day? We who have had the gospel passed to us by martyr hands dare not trifle with it, nor sit by and hear it denied by traitors, who pretend to love it, but inwardly abhor every line of it . . . Look you, sirs, there are ages yet to come. If the Lord does not speedily appear, there will come another generation, and another, and all these generations will be tainted and injured if we are not faithful to God and to His truth today. We have come to a turning-point in the road. If we turn to the right, mayhap our children and our children’s children will go that way; but if we turn to the left, generations yet unborn will curse our names for having been unfaithful to God and to His Word.
 In an address to fellow-pastors Spurgeon reiterated his resolve to remain unbending before the modern gods of unbelief. For his stand in the Down-Grade controversy he was willing to be “eaten [by] dogs for the next fifty years” because he was confident that the cause was right and that history would vindicate him. Better to suffer the loss of life itself for the cause of God and truth, Spurgeon reasoned, than to be cast upon “that foul dunghill which is made up of cowards’ failures and misspent lives. God save both thee and me from that disgrace!”

The gospel that has been secured for us and entrusted to us at such great cost is worthy of such courage on the part of those who are stewards of it.

Tom Ascol

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Spurgeon on Suffering and the Pastoral Ministry

In one of the most convicting, encouraging and challenging contemporary books I have read in many years on the pastoral ministry, Paul David Tripp (The book is titled Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry from Crossway. If you are a pastor and don’t yet own this book run—don’t walk— buy it and move it to the top of your summer reading list) reminds pastors that they are, like those to whom the preach, in the middle of their own sanctification even as they are called to preach to others. And of course, God’s Word reminds us in various places that sanctification entails suffering. One example is Paul’s sobering promise in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All that will live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Suffering is an irreducible part of the Christian life and an irreducible part of ministry in a post-Genesis 3 world. 

In the same way that basic training cannot fully prepare a soldier for the hellish nature of actual war, seminary cannot fully prepare a future pastor for the bullets and hand grenades that will be thrown at him in the local church on the field of actual ministry. If I have learned anything in my first two years as a pastor, it has been that reality. My pastoral ministry has been a lot like the scenes that unfolded on the beaches of Normandy during the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, the beginning of a battle known to posterity as D-Day. As soon as the gate dropped on my landing boat, the shells began to fly in my direction. In the pastoral ministry, you will be attacked by enemies both invisible and visible, but God’s Word tells us that it is the invisible powers that commandeer and use the visible enemies to war against you. Deacon Jones may be angry with you, call you a heretic or a Bible-worshiper and demand that you be fired, but it is an unseen enemy who is using Deacon Jones as a means of opening fire on you.

Suffering will, by God’s grace, sanctify you, and it will also do something else for you that no seminary training ever could: It will prepare you to comfort and sympathize with the suffering of those your congregation. Paul had this in mind in telling the church at Corinth, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3-4)

If you are suffering pastor, it is for your sanctification. It is also God’s way of putting you in the trenches on the front line of life alongside your people so that you may sympathize with them and learn how to apply the healing balm of Gospel comfort to their many and varied wounds. Basic training cannot simulate this reality; only war will teach you that.

Few Baptist pastors suffered more acutely and suffered better than the great Charles Spurgeon; I say he suffered better, because Spurgeon’s theology of sovereign grace fitted him with spectacles to see suffering as a gift from God’s hand and to view it as a means of training the minister for sympathizing with others in the academy of God’s grace. Best of all, for the sake of those of us who have been called to minister in his wake, Spurgeon preached and wrote often about his suffering and how God has wisely designed it to intersect with Gospel ministry. Hear the penetrating words of our dear brother Spurgeon from the May 1876 edition of The Sword and Trowel:
“It is good for a man to bear the yoke of service, and he is no loser when it is exchanged for the yoke of suffering. May not severe discipline fall to the lot of some to quality them for their office of under-shepherds? How can we speak with consoling authority to a situation which we have never known? The complete pastor’s life will be an epitome of the lives of his people, and they will turn to his preaching as men do to David’s psalms, to see themselves and their sorrows, as in a mirror. Their needs will be the reason for his griefs.
As in the case of the Lord himself, perfect equipment for his work came only through suffering, and so must it be for those who are called to follow him in binding up the broken-hearted, and loosing the prisoners.

Souls still remain in our churches to whose deep and dark experiences we shall never be able to minister till we also have been plunged in the abyss where all Jehovah’s waves roll over our heads. If this be the fact – and we are sure it is – then may we heartily welcome anything which will make us fitter channels of blessing. For the elect’s sake it shall be joy to endure all things, and to bear a part of – ‘that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church’.”

As Richard Baxter put so well, pastors are dying men called to preach to dying men, a reality I never truly understood until I began to stand behind the pulpit before the same congregation week after week after week. As a dying man, often I am prone to kick against the goads of suffering and, with a wayward heart clinging to its certificate of entitlement to the American dream, I far too often fail to see God’s good purposes for me and my flock when the warfare seems to grow especially hot. Spurgeon suffered along every contour of the human experience. He was wracked with pain from physical ailments. He was harried by theological opponents both within his doctrinal camp and without. He was battered by sinful church members due to false expectations. He spent many dark nights of the soul chained in the dungeon of Doubting Castle, tortured by the Giant Despair.

Spurgeon was broken by God so he could he bind the wounds of those under his care within the church. Spurgeon’s experience as recounted through his words to pastoral students should encourage all of us who have been called to come and die alongside God’s people on the front lines of ministry also known as the local church:
“One Sabbath morning I preached from the text, ‘My God, my God, who has Thou forsaken Me?’ Though I did not say so, yet I preached my own experience. I heard my own chains clank while I tried to preach to my fellow prisoners in the dark; but I could not tell why I was brought into such an awful horror of darkness, for which I condemned myself.

On the following Monday evening, a man came to see me who bore all the marks of despair upon his countenance. His hair seemed to stand up right, and his eyes were ready to start from their sockets. He said to me, after a little parleying, ‘I never before, in my life, heard any man speak who seemed to know my heart. Mine is a terrible case, but on Sunday morning, you painted me to the life, and preached as if you had been inside my soul.

By God’s grace, I saved that man from suicide and led him to Gospel light and liberty; but I know I myself could not have done it if I had not myself been confined in the dungeon in which he lay. I tell you the story, brethren, because you sometimes may not understand your own experience, and the perfect people may condemn you for having it; but what know they of God’s servants?

You and I have to suffer much for the sake of the people of our charge . . . . You may be in Egyptian darkness, and you may wonder why such a horror chills your marrow; but you may be altogether in the pursuit of your calling, and be led of the Spirit to a position of sympathy with despondent minds.”

Jeff Robinson

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Baptist Psalmody and Abram Poindexter

When the Southern Baptist Convention met in Nashville in 1851, the hymnal that was recommended for use in all the churches was The Baptist Psalmody. When The Baptist Psalmody was published in 1850 by the Southern Baptist Publication Society, its editors, Basil Manly and Basil Manly Jr., sought to include not only the older, proven hymns of the faith, but new hymns. They compiled the collection at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and expressed their purpose for the hymnal a year before its publication in an article in the Alabama Baptist:
In accordance with a request of the Tuscaloosa Association, at its late session, the undersigned propose to publish a Hymn Book adapted to the use of Baptist Churches in the South. We design it to contain unaltered, the old hymns, precious to the children of God by long use, and familiarized to them in many a season of perplexity and temptation as well as spiritual joy. We shall also add such other hymns of more recent date as seem worthy to be associated with the former, in order to make a complete Hymn Book for public and private worhip [sic]. [1]
Among these worthy additions were several hymns by American Baptists, including many by contemporary authors from the newly formed Southern Baptist Convention. One notable contributor was Abram Maer Poindexter.

Poindexter was born into the family of a Baptist minister in Bertie County, North Carolina on September 22, 1809. He was saved in July 1831, at the age of twenty-one and soon after decided to enter the ministry. He was licensed to preach in February 1832. The following year he entered Columbian College (later became George Washington University) in Washington D.C. His studies did not last long, however; he became ill before completing his first year and had to return home.

In spite of this discouragement at the beginning, Poindexter did not lose heart. He entered the pastorate in 1835 and eventually received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Columbian College in 1843. In 1845, the year the Southern Baptist Convention was founded, he became an agent for the college.

God began to use Abram Poindexter in some marvelous ways in the new convention. It was under the powerful preaching of Poindexter that John A. Broadus surrendered to preach the Gospel in August 1846. [2] Broadus went on to become the first secretary of the Sunday School Board when it was established in 1863. In August 1848, Poindexter became the corresponding secretary of the Southern Baptist Publication Society. While serving in this office, he worked with Basil Manly and Basil Manly Jr. in publishing The Baptist Psalmody. Poindexter worked several weeks on the final revisions of the hymnal and contributed seven of his own hymns to the collection. [3] He also served as an agent for Richmond College (1851-1854 and 1866-1870), and as the assistant secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (1854-1862). The final year of his life he spent as pastor of the Baptist churches at Louisa Court House and Lower Goldmine. He became ill and died in Gordonsville, Virginia on May 7, 1872.

In an article published in January 1851, the Southwestern Baptist offered praise for Poindexter’s hymns as well as the publication of the new hymnal:
BAPTIST PSALMODY, by Basil Manly, D.D. and B. Manly, Jr:
Southern Baptist Publication Society, Charleston, S.C, p.p. 772. 
We are at last in receipt of a copy of this long looked for Hymn Book, and a handsome book it is. True we are abundantly stocked with hymn books, and some of them of fine merit; nevertheless, we welcome this to a place among the rest, and predict for it an extensive circulation in our Southern churches. 
The Baptist Psalmody is about the size of The Psalmist, and is published much in the same style. It contains 1296 hymns and spiritual songs, selected from the best lyric poets, and arranged with admirable skill. We have looked through the work with considerable care, and while we find most of our good old familiar hymns restored to their proper places-- a thing neglected in some compilations of the sort within the last few years; we are glad to see a number of new ones, of no less merit, introduced, so far as we know, for the first time to a position of such notoriety. Among these latter may be instanced several from the pen of Rev. A. M. Poindexter, and several from the pen of brother Manly, Jr. Brother Poindexter's hymns have great poetic beauty as a general thing, and well deserve a place by the side of Dodridge, Cowper, and Watt's [sic]; while those of brother Manly, in point of unction and pious fervor, are not inferior to the productions of Charles Wesley, to whose style they bear a strong resemblance. The whole book, as it lies before us, must commend itself to the cordial esteem of Baptists generally, on account of the soundness of its doctrinal views, the excellence and simplicity of its arrangement, the deep-toned fervor of its… breathings, as well as for its poetic merits. It is just what we expected from the hands of its compilers-- a hymn book for the Baptist churches of the South. [4]
Below is one of Poindexter’s hymns, a passionate prayer that God would revive His church and that He, who alone can give life, would graciously assert His power and bring salvation.
Return for thy servant's sake.  Isai. 63:17. 
1 O our Redeemer, God,
      On Thee Thy people wait;
   We faint beneath Thy chastening rod,
      Thy house is desolate. 
2 Yet are we not Thine own,
      Though now in deep distress?
   Then be to us Thy mercy shown,
      Thy mourning people bless. 
3 Spirit of God, return,
      Thy cheering light impart;
   O may Thy love within us burn,
      And warm each languid heart. 
4 O’er all assembled here
      Assert Thy gracious power;
   And to our friend and kindred dear
      Be this salvation’s hour. 
5 O Lord, our God, descend!
      Our fainting hearts revive:
   On Thee alone our hopes depend,
      For Thou canst make us live.
Ken Puls


[1] Basil Manly and Basil Manly Jr., "A New Hymn Book," Alabama Baptist, 31 July 1849, reprinted in Donald Clark Measels, "A Catalog of Source Readings in Southern Baptist Church Music: 1828-1890," (DMA diss., Louisville, Kentucky: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1986), 2:152.

[2] Archibald Thomas Robertson, Life and Letters of John Albert Broadus, (American Baptist Publication Society, 1901; reprint, Harrisonburg, Virginia: Gano Books, 1987), 52-53.

[3] Henry S. Burrage,  Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns, (Portland, Maine: Brown Thurston and Company, 1888), 343.

[4] "Baptist Psalmody," Southwestern Baptist,  8 January 1851, reprinted in Donald Clark Measels, "A Catalog of Source Readings in Southern Baptist Church Music: 1828-1890," (DMA diss., Louisville, Kentucky: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1986), 2:154.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Interview with Gregg Allison on Ecclesiology and His New Book

What follows is an interview of Dr. Gregg Allison on ecclesiology and his new book, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church. Dr. Allison is a Professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of the acclaimed Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine and other books.  He is currently the book review editor for theological, historical, and philosophical studies, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Dr. Allison is also the secretary of the Evangelical Theological Society, in which he serves on the editorial and membership committees and regularly presents papers at its national meetings.

I would especially like to thank Dr. Allison for taking time out of his busy writing season to answer a few questions for us.

JE: What is the title, topic, release date, and publisher of your book?

GA: Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012). Release date is November, 2012.

JE: Why did you write the book (any specific occasion or felt need)?

GA: A former professor of mine and good friend, John Feinberg at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (near Chicago), as the editor of the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series, contacted me and requested that I write the volume on ecclesiology for the series.

JE: What do you think is the biggest challenge (or challenges) that the church faces today? (Specifically, the American church)

GA: The church in the United States faces many challenges today. One is doctrinal: every traditional Christian belief is under attack from both the outside—atheists, scientists, postliberals, postmoderns—and the inside—that is, from within the church, by theologians, biblical scholars, pastors, and even ordinary laypeople with a penchant to stir up trouble or who naively contribute to the problem with their unguarded writings. These doctrines that are under attack include (this is not an exhaustive list) divine sovereignty and retributive judgment, the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, the relationship of the God of Christian Scripture to Allah, the Trinity, the exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation, the atonement, human nature, and the future conscious punishment of the wicked in hell. The second challenge is compromise: the current evangelical church mirrors frighteningly the modern liberal society of America, with its emphasis on individualism, tolerance, personal rights, egalitarianism, gender and sexual confusion, antiauthoritarianism, and the like. The third is its traditionalism (this point does not contradict the second challenge), as seen in its emphasis on programs geared almost exclusively toward its own members, its lack of focus on genuine community, its inability to raise up and train its own leaders from within, its legalism, and the like.

JE: Did you learn anything unexpected or surprising while researching for and writing this book?

GA: What I learned became what I consider to be the major contributions I make in this book: (1) The identity markers, or attributes, of the church: the church is doxological, or oriented to the glory of God; logocentric, or centered on the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the inspired Word of God, Scripture; pneumadynamic, or empowered by the Holy Spirit; covenantal, or gathered as members in new covenant relationship with God and in covenant relationship with one another; confessional, or united by both personal confession of faith in Christ and common confession of the historic Christian faith; missional, or identified as the body of divinely-called and divinely-sent ministers who proclaim the gospel and advance the kingdom of God; and spatio-temporal-eschatological, or here but not here, already but not yet. (2) My view of church discipline is quite different from the common perspective. I see it as a proleptic and declarative sign of the divine eschatological judgment meted out by Jesus Christ through the church against its sinful members and sinful situations. In other words, when the church acts to discipline one of its members, it is rendering a forecast of the judgment that this member will face at the judgment seat of Christ unless that member repents, but the church’s declaration is not infallible, for the infallible pronouncement belongs to Christ and Christ alone. (3) I do some more exploration of biblical support for multisite churches. (4) I strongly affirm and warrant the biblical and historic Baptist view of the ordinance of baptism. (5)  I offer a nuanced view of the presence of Jesus Christ when the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper. There’s more, but this hopefully will wet people’s thirst for more!

JE: What are some other sources you would recommend for our readers to dig deeper into the subject?

GA:  From a different (paedobaptist) perspective, Michael Horton, People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology, is excellent. For a beginning study of ecclesiology, Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods, covers the essentials in a readable style.

Jon English Lee