Is Sin Really All That Bad?

One would expect any Christian to answer the question posed in the title with an affirmative and immediate, “Yes!” However, the daily decisions we make often tell another story.

We’re quick to recoil when we hear of horrific acts committed against children, marital infidelity, cold-blooded murder, or, you know, other really bad sins–especially, the sins of others. Yet, it’s our own day-to-day living, in both the major and the mundane, that we are often slow to consider. At times, we fail to measure the words we speak, the attitudes we choose, or the media we consume against the standard of God’s Word. It’s often in the name of cultural engagement that we capitulate to content that has no place in the life of a follower of Christ. After all, it’s much easier to row with the current of our culture than paddle upstream.

While preparing to teach at our church’s young adult community, I was reading through Ralph Venning’s The Sinfulness of Sin. Venning, a Puritan and English non-conformist, had a steadfast desire that Christ be exalted and that any measure of sin be–as it should–abhorred. Here are a few of his remarks that struck me as I read:

“One may suffer and not sin, but it is impossible to sin and not to suffer.”

“Sin can do, without the Devil, that which the Devil cannot do without sin, and that is, undo men [and women].”

“Sin is an evil beyond the skill and power of all creation to cure and to cleanse.”

It is clearly evident that Venning has considered carefully what divine Scripture reveals in no casual terms–that sin, in any measure, is utterly and totally evil.

Contemplate the words of Christ in Matthew 5:29-30

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

Jesus makes it clear that sin is not be tolerated (see esp., Eph. 5:3, 11). Sin must be dealt with swiftly and severely. Think of it…if I were to deal with sin as seriously as Christ commands above, others would surely take notice and likely consider me both foolish and fanatical. The question is, are we willing to be obedient, or is our greater concern what others will think?

Friend, every decision you make either serves to edify or erode your heart, and must be made with the utmost care (see Prov. 4:23-27). There is no such thing as the “neutral” Christian life. You’re either, by grace, pursuing “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Or, because any measure of sin is being tolerated, grievously, you’re moving backward.

Believer, in all of this, remember that you stand securely before the throne of grace solely on the merits of Christ by faith. Indeed, it’s in recognizing the putrid nature of our sin that allows us to view Christ in all his glorious sweetness. Therefore, in view of God’s rich grace toward us in Christ Jesus, let us make it our daily practice to make choices that will stir our affection for Christ, making no room for sin. Or, as John Owen has said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Venning’s The Sinfulness of Sin is available for free, in PDF format, here.

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REVIEW | “Prepared by Grace, For Grace” by Beeke and Smalley

9781601782342__69274.1369337565.1280.1280I appreciate books that seek to clarify misunderstanding and misconception. So often, in the biblical-theological world and otherwise, the proverbial pendulum is swung to the far right or left and a valuable topic and/or perspective is terribly misconstrued, or even lost, in the process. The matter of “preparatory grace” is no stranger to the aforementioned. In their new volume, Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ (Reformation Heritage Books, 2013), Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley offer a thorough look at this important subject among an array of Reformed and Puritan theologians.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Question of Preparationism

  1. Preparation and Modern Scholarship
  2. Precedents to Puritan Preparation: Augustine to Calvin
  3. Preparation and Early English Puritans: Perkins, Sibbes, and Preston
  4. Preparation for Conversion: William Ames
  5. Preparation in Early New England (I): Thomas Hooker
  6. Preparation in Early New England (II): Shepard and Pemble
  7. Preparation and the Antinomian Controversy: John Cotton
  8. Preparation at the Pinnacle of Puritanism: Westminster, Burroughs, and Guthrie
  9. Preparation under a Scholastic Lens: Norton
  10. Preparation and Later Puritan Critiques: Goodwin and Firmin
  11. Later Puritan Preparation: Flavel and Bunyan
  12. Jonathan Edwards and Seeking God
  13. Continental Reformed Perspectives: Zwingli to Witsius
  14. The Grace of Preparation for Faith

Appendix: William Ames’s Theological Disputation on Preparation

I must say at the outset that which is duly noted by Sinclair Ferguson in the foreword, that the authors examining the topic at hand may be characterized as both meticulous scholar and gifted pastor.  Thus their writing is not only academically thorough, but also readable and edifying.

In terms of the book’s content and structure, Beeke and Smalley begin with a chapter entitled “The Question of Preparation.” This chapter lays the groundwork of defining terms and paving the way for the remainder of the book. In their foundational chapter, the authors note that their study will be conducted from the perspective of those that believe firmly that “a righteous and holy God saves sinners “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8)” (p. 1). Thus, the book is designed to address the question of “how God ordinarily brings sinners to the point of trusting in Christ alone for salvation” (p. 1).  Being a work that examines God’s work in saving sinners, the authors are careful to avoid the terms of “preparationism” or “preparationist” so as to not confuse their subject with those that would argue for the notion that the human being prepares himself for God’s saving activity.

The book then moves through Puritan history making mention of a handful of Puritans who both advocated and critiqued certain aspects of “preparatory grace”.  Notably, the authors deal with Augustine and Calvin who held a high view of God’s sovereignty in salvation and how they understood preparatory grace. Additionally, in terms of the Puritan figures who posited a sort of separation from sin via human effort, prior to salvation, the authors expose their errors.

For me, while this book is thoroughly readable, for many, much of the content may be quite tedious to work through. The highlights would be the chapters on Calvin/Augustine and particularly “Jonathan Edwards and Seeking God”.  The final chapter that summarizes the book’s findings is immensely helpful as well.  The authors note 8 ways in which the doctrine of Puritan preparation is helpful for the believer to consider:

1.) Puritan preparation assists the free offer of the gospel.

2.) Puritan preparation is thoroughly Reformed, not Roman Catholic or Arminian.

3.) Puritan preparation highlights the common work of the Holy Spirit.

4.) Puritan preparation engages sinners with the law but not legalism.

5.) Puritan preparation respects the mystery of regeneration in its timing.

6.) Puritan preparation honors God as Creator and Savior.

7.) Puritan preparation reveals the sufficiency of Christ.

8.) Puritan preparation is biblical.

In sum, the Puritans were those who sought to know the Lord with great fervor. Their desire to understand the way in which a holy God saves sinners was far from casual. Studying the way the Puritans understood God’s saving activity ought to lead the believer to a greater sense of God’s rich grace, a great humility, and a response of praise and worship for God’s immense kindness in revealing His Son to underserving sinners. Whenever I read a book by Joel Beeke, I come away with a greater desire to know God in Christ Jesus with the same depth, ardor and sincerity as the Puritans did. Encountering this book was no exception. I recommend it!

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review.  I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

GOOD NEWS: Having nothing. Possessing everything.

“Known—yet regarded as unknown; dying—and yet we live on; beaten—and yet not killed; sorrowful—yet always rejoicing; poor—yet making many rich; having nothing—and yet possessing everything.” 

2 Corinthians 6:9-10 
 


The Christian is a paradox. Because he has Christ, he
has the unsearchable riches of Christ. Believers . . .

have full and free forgiveness of all their sins;

are fully accepted in the Beloved;

are clothed in Christ’s spotless righteousness;

are adopted into the family of God;

have a perfect title to heaven through Christ;

have God for their Father,

have Christ for their Savior,

have the Holy Spirit for their Comforter,

have heaven for their home;

shall be like Christ and with Christ forever;

shall inherit all things;

are sure of ultimate victory over . . .

sins,

the world,

the flesh,

the devil,

all sorrow,

death,

hell.

-William S. Plumer (1802-1880)

 

*For more gospel-soaked goodness from Plumer, consider The Grace of Christ: Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness (eBook).  ON SALE at MonergismBooks.com for only $1.75!

(HT: Grace Gems)

Build Your Comforts Upon Christ

William Bridge, the English Puritan and pastor, writes of the necessity of basing one’s comfort upon the rock that is Christ, as opposed to the sand, or “rotten peg”, of our ever-changing conditions in life.  Wise, Christ-centered words for battling discouragement!

“If you would not be discouraged in any condition, then never make your comforts depend upon your condition, nor be in love with any condition for itself; let not your condition itself be the cause or ground of your encouragements.  Hang a cloak or garment upon a rotten peg, and that will break, and the garment will fall down. Now there is no condition but is a rotten peg.  Every condition is alterable; no condition so firm and fast, but is exposed to many changes; it is a rotten hold. God is a pillar, nay pillars. His name is Adonai, which signifies as much, and in Isa. 26, we are commanded to trust in the Lord, “For in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength,” or “the Rock of Ages.” And, says the Psalmist, “My flesh faileth, and my heart faileth, but God is the Rock of my heart forever” (so the Hebrew) Psalm 73:26.  Base your comforts upon your own condition, and you do but build on the sand, which will be carried away with every wind, and storm, and tempest; but if you build upon Christ Himself, upon God Himself, you build upon the Rock, and though the floods, and storms, and winds rise and beat upon you, yet you shall not lose your comforts, because they are built upon a rock.”

-Taken from “No Reason for Discouragements”, accessed here.

For more of William Bridge, consider A Lifting Up for the Downcast.

PRAY FOR YOUR PASTOR OFTEN…ESPECIALLY THIS MORNING.

I was reading through a section of Joanne J. Jung’s Godly Conversation: Rediscovering the Puritan practice of conference (Reformation Heritage Books, 2011).  As she was noting the primacy of the Word preached/proclaimed in the corporate worship service among the Puritans, she cited the words of Richard Baxter on the task the pastor must assume as he brings the Word of God before the congregation.

Jung writes:

Richard Baxter gave perhaps the finest definition of the purpose and position of preaching expressed by the Puritans:

It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of our Redeemer.  It is no easy matter to speak so plain, that the ignorant may understand us; and so seriously that the deadest hearts may feel us; and so convincingly, that contradicting cavillers may be silenced.

The sermon carried the weight of being the God-ordained vehicle for salvation and sanctification, serving as the chief means for conversion and growth in godliness. (p. 72)

The responsibility your pastor has before himself today, and each Lord’s Day, is massive!  Pray hard for him.  Seek to encourage him.  Strive to support him as he labors to clearly preach the gospel.  For, “It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of our Redeemer” (emphasis mine).

FRIDAY MORNINGS IN THE VALLEY: THE PRECIOUS BLOOD

On this Good Friday morning, I thought this prayer fitting…

BLESSED LORD JESUS,

Before thy cross I kneel and see

the heinousness of my sin,

my iniquity that caused thee to be ‘made a curse’,

the evil that excites the severity of divine wrath.

Show me the enormity of my guilt by

the crown of thorns,

the pierced hands and feet,

the bruised body,

the dying cries.

Thy blood is the blood of incarnate God,

its worth infinite, its value beyond all thought.

Infinite must be the evil and guilt that demands such a price.

Sin is my malady, my monster, my foe, my viper,

born in my birth,

alive in my life,

strong in my character,

dominating my faculties,

following me as a shadow,

intermingling my every thought,

my chain that holds me captive in the empire of my soul.

Sinner that I am, why should the sun give me light,

the air supply breath,

the earth bear my tread,

its fruits nourish me,

its creatures subserve my ends?

Yet thy compassions yearn over me,

thy heart hastens to my rescue,

thy love endured my curse,

thy mercy bore my deserved stripes.

Let me walk humbly in the lowest depths of humiliation,

bathed in thy blood,

tender of conscience,

triumphing gloriously as an heir of salvation.

[Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotionsed. Arthur Bennett (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1975), 41.]

FRIDAY MORNINGS IN THE VALLEY: THE TRINITY [REPOST]

As we reflect on the gospel and God’s work in saving sinners, at times we may forget that our salvation isn’t simply the work of the Father–it isn’t simply the work of the Son–it isn’t simply the work of the Spirit, but it is the working of the Father, Son, and Spirit, our Triune God.

In his excellent bookThe Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes EverythingFred Sanders notes:

“…the Trinity is the gospel.  More expansively said: the good news of salvation is that God, who in himself is eternally the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, has become for us the adoptive Father, the incarnate Son, and the outpoured Holy Spirit.  God the Father sent the Son to do something for us and the Spirit to be something in us, to bring us into the family life of God” (p. 165).

This morning’s prayer from The Valley of Vision, beautifully captures and offers praise for the work of the Trinity in the salvation of those who believe in Christ.  I hope it leads you to a fuller understanding of God’s triune work in our salvation.

THREE IN ONE, ONE IN THREE, GOD OF MY SALVATION,

Heavenly Father, blessed Son, eternal Spirit,

I adore thee as one Being, one Essence,

one God in three distinct Persons,

for bringing sinners to thy knowledge and thy kingdom.

O Father, thou hast loved me and sent Jesus to redeem me;

O Jesus, thou hast loved me and assumed my nature,

shed thine own blood to wash away my sins,

wrought righteousness to cover my unworthiness;

O Holy Spirit, thou hast loved me and entered my heart,

implanted there eternal life,

revealed to me the glories of Jesus.

Three Persons and one God, I bless and praise thee,

for love so unmerited, so unspeakable, so wondrous,

so mighty to save the lost and raise them to glory.

O Father, I thank thee that in fullness of grace

thou hast given me Jesus,

to be his sheep, his jewel, his portion;

O Jesus, I thank thee that in fullness of grace

thou hast accepted, espoused, bound me;

O Holy Spirit, I thank thee that in fullness of grace

thou has exhibited Jesus as my salvation,

implanted faith within me,

subdued by stubborn heart,

made me one with him forever.

O Father, thou art enthroned to hear my prayers,

O Jesus, thy hand is outstretched to take my petitions,

O Holy Spirit, thou art willing to help my infirmities,

to show me my need, to supply my words, to pray within me,

to strengthen me that I faint not in supplication.

O Triune God, who commandeth the universe,

thou hast commanded me to ask for these things

that concern thy kingdom and my soul.

Let me pray and live as one baptized into the threefold Name.

[Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotionsed. Arthur Bennett (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1975), 3.]

*This post was originally published on June 17, 2011.

FRIDAY MORNINGS IN THE VALLEY: ELECTION

As this edition of “Friday Mornings in the Valley” goes live, I’ll be taking off for a vacation with my wife to Florida as we celebrate our one-year anniversary.  We’re really looking forward to spending 6 days celebrating God’s grace to us over the past year, along with a visit to Disney World, St. Andrew’s, and our great friends, The Beaudrys.

I hope that today’s prayer will be particularly encouraging as it relates to a proper understanding of feelings, the reality of the gospel, and the believer’s position in Christ.

I am a person who often struggles very much with allowing my feelings to get the best of me.  Feelings can be so intense, fickle, fleeting, and easily influenced by our immediate circumstances, that it is unwise to draw conclusions about reality based simply on how we feel.  For this reason, as Christians we must be people who are not too easily taken by what we feel at any given moment.  The truth of God’s Word and the objective reality of Christ’s person and work determine reality for the Christian, not personal feelings.  At every point, the Scriptures command us first to believe its declarations, then to allow our feelings to be influenced and directed by this unchanging Word; not the reverse.

The writer of this prayer hits on this reality at several points:

+”I believe it, help me experience it to the full.”

+”Continue to teach me that Christ’s righteousness

satisfies justice and evidences thy love;

Help me to make use of it by faith as the ground of my peace

and of thy favour and acceptance”

+”It is not feeling the Spirit that proves my saved state

but the truth of what Christ did perfectly for me”

Lest I end up referencing the entire prayer before you read it, let me simply say that I hope it helps encourage you, as it did me, to be a person who is first living life believing in the objective reality of the gospel; then, by the Spirit’s power, may our feelings be brought under the authority of God’s Word and Christ’s work, as we preach the good news to ourselves daily!

HOLY TRINITY

All praise to thee for electing me to salvation,

by foreknowledge of God the Father,

through sanctification of the Spirit,

unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus;

I adore the wonders of thy condescending love,

marvel at the true believer’s high privilege

within whom all heaven comes to dwell,

abiding in God and God in him;

I believe it, help me experience it to the full.

Continue to teach me that Christ’s righteousness

satisfies justice and evidences thy love;

Help me to make use of it by faith as the ground of my peace

and of thy favour and acceptance,

so that I may live always near the cross.

It is not feeling the Spirit that proves my saved state

but the truth of what Christ did perfectly for me;

All holiness in him is by faith made mine,

as if I had done it;

Therefore I see the use of his righteousness,

for satisfaction to divine justice and making me righteous.

It is not inner sensation that makes Christ’s death mine

for that may be delusion, being without the Word,

but his death apprehended by my faith,

and so testified by the Word and Spirit.

I bless thee for these lively exercises of faith,

for the righteousness that is mine in Jesus,

for grace to resign my will to thee;

I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal,

and I love to leave them there.

Then prayer turns wholly into praise,

and all I can do is to adore and love thee.

I want not the favour of man to lean upon,

for I know that thy electing grace is infinitely better.

[Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotionsed. Arthur Bennett (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1975), 49.]

Toward Prayerful Praying: A Review of Taking Hold of God

“Prayerful praying.”  Far from a mere redundancy, it is what Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour hope to encourage within the body of Christ through the devout prayer lives of the Reformers and the Puritans in, Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (Reformation Heritage Books, 2011).  Taking Hold of God compiles some of the richest theological meditations on prayer from Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Knox, Henry, and other “giants of the faith” within the Reformed and Puritan traditions. Beeke, Najapfour, and others have sifted through the weighty primary sources to leave the reader with the pure gold and potent perspectives of these men for whom “prayer was a priority.”  Beeke notes:

These giants of church history dwarf us in true prayer.  Is that because they were more educated, were less distracted by cares and duties, or lived in more pious times?  No; undoubtedly, what most separates them from us in is that prayer was their priority; they devoted considerable time and energy to it.  They were prayerful men who knew how to take hold of God in prayer (Isa. 64:7) [p. 224].

Focusing in on the theologies of prayer among 9 influential Purtians and Reformers (along with the aforementioned, also include: Perkins, Burgess, Bunyan, Boston), together with some additional men along the way, Beeke and Najapfour aim to guide the reader in allowing this treasure of theology, practice, and experience to make our prayer lives “more informed, more extensive, more fervent, and more effectual” (p. xiii).  I would say that they accomplish their task quite well.  With the amount of significant theology and testimony in each of the essays on prayer, it would be a book the reader would do well to read more than once.

Additionally, Taking Hold of God aims to develop a robust theology of prayer as it addresses how other theological aspects relate to and inform one’s prayer life and experience.  My favorite bits included Beeke’s chapters on Calvin (Prayer as Communion with God), Matthew Henry (a Practical Method of Daily Prayer), and Thomas Boston (Praying to Our Father), and Prayerful Praying Today.  Also, Peter Beck’s chapter on Jonathan Edwards (Prayer and the Triune God) proved to be edifying and informative as well.

Particularly worth noting within these chapters was Calvin’s perspective on the purpose of prayer in light of the sovereignty of God.  Calvin taught that prayer was “not primarily instituted for God, but rather for man.  Prayer is a means given to man so that he might, by faith, “reach those riches which are laid up for us with the Heavenly Father” (p. 29).  Calvin’s theology of prayer was such that, “Prayer is a way in which believers seek and receive what God has determined to do for them from eternity” (p. 30).

Furthermore, I found Matthew Henry’s remarks on prayer and the importance, practice and purpose of family worship to be convicting and encouraging.  “[Henry] considered family worship as a time for the whole family to come to God in prayer, seeking His blessing, thanking Him for His mercies, and bringing Him fractures in our relationships so He might heal them” (p. 148).

Henry also favored format in daily prayer. Though a Christian can occasionally be caught up with the greatness of God in such a way that methods may hinder, those times are likely quite rare.  Utilizing the Westminster Directory for Public Worship (1645) Henry outlined effective ways to keep prayer focused and substantive so as to “not be ‘rash with our mouth; and let not our heart be hasty to utter any thing before God;’ but let every word be well weighed, because ‘God is in heaven, and we are upon the earth,’ Eccl. 5:2” (p. 154).  Beeke includes one such helpful outline from Henry on adoration within our prayers.

As well, within Beeke’s chapter on Thomas Boston, Boston’s theology of prayer in light of the doctrine of adoption and the Trinity was immensely heartening and enlightening.  Boston taught that, “adoption is the foundation of prayer, and prayer is the fruition of adoption” (p. 161, emphasis mine).  Moreover, in light of Boston’s theology of prayer/adoption, “Prayer is not just a privilege of adoption; it is a sign of the adoption, for it is the fruit of the Spirit of adoption” (p. 168).

All together, Taking Hold of God demonstrates that what seems to have characterized the prayer of these men, and the others within the book, was their focus and dependence upon God’s Word to shape, sustain, and give substance to their prayers to the glory and enjoyment of God.  Beeke fittingly concludes with a chapter aimed at helping the reader practically move in the direction of the Puritans and Reformers so that we, by God’s grace, may achieve a life of “prayerful praying” that “clings with one hand to heaven’s footstool and with the other to Calvary’s cross, stirring itself “to take hold” of God (Isa. 64:7).”

I wholeheartedly commend this book!

BOOK INFORMATION|

Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Author: Beeke, Joel; Najapfour, Brian G.
ISBN-13: 9781601781208
Binding: Paperback
List Price: $16.00
BUY NOW at Westminster Bookstore: $12.00 – 25% Off**

CLICK HERE to read sample pages. (PDF)

*The publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of this book.  I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.

**Prices subject to change without notice.

FRIDAY MORNINGS IN THE VALLEY: THE VALLEY OF VISION

It’s been a couple weeks since I posted a “Friday Mornings in the Valley” selection from The Valley of Vision, but today we’re back at it and I hope it proves to be a blessing to you!

Today’s prayer is of the same title as the book, “The Valley of Vision”:

LORD, HIGH AND HOLY, MEEK AND LOWLY,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,

where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;

hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

 

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,

thy life in my death,

thy joy in my sorrow,

thy grace in my sin,

thy riches in my poverty,

thy glory in my valley.

[Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, ed. Arthur Bennett (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1975), xv.]