“Christ Crucified”

This past Reformation Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching, and chose to complete a goal of mine:  to re-preach a historical sermon.  The specific sermon was “Christ Crucified” preached originally by Charles H. Spurgeon in 1855.

There are difficulties with preaching a sermon from an era gone by.  First is the language issue.  Speakers in centuries past used different words and different idioms, and so even if they spoke in English, words used then mean different things than they mean today (i.e. the old word for a bundle of sticks).  Secondly, there’s the danger that the audience (and preacher) will treat the sermon as a fun historical exercise rather than as the word of God preached.  And third, whenever reading a sermon, there is a danger that the delivery will be dry and monotonous.  With these challenges in mind, my Dad and I set out to “modernize” the language of the sermon without changing what he said, and then I had the privileged of addressing the other two challenges.

I hope that this was helpful, and might be helpful to others who are interested in connecting to the history of the church in this way.  For this reason, I am posting below the updated text of the sermon that was delivered, preceded by a link to a copy of the original and a link to the sermon audio.

Original Text:  Christ Crucified the original message delivered by Charles H. Spurgeon February 11, 1855

Sermon Audio:  Christ Crucified – delivered by Daniel Comings, October 27, 2013

“Modernized” Text:

“But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

1 Corinthians 1:23-24


Oh the contempt God has poured upon the wisdom of this world! How he has brought it to naught, and made it appear as nothing. He has allowed it to work out its own conclusions, and prove its own folly. Men boasted that they were wise; they said that they could find out God to perfection; and in order that their folly might be refuted once and forever, God gave them the opportunity of so doing.

He said, “Worldly wisdom, I will try you. You say you are mighty, your intellect is vast and comprehensive, your eye is keen, and you can find all secrets; now, behold, I try you; I give you one great problem to solve. Here is the universe; stars make its canopy, fields and flowers adorn it, and the floods roll o’er its surface; my name is written therein; the invisible things of God may be clearly seen in the things which are made.

“Philosophy, I give you this problem—find me if you can. Here are the things I have done—find me. Discover in the wondrous world which I have made, the way to worship me acceptably. I give you space enough to do it—there are data enough. Behold the clouds, the earth, and the stars. I give you time enough; I will give you four thousand years, and I will not interfere; but you shall do as you will with your own world. I will give you men enough; for I will make great minds, whom you shall call lords of earth; you shall have orators, you shall have philosophers. Find me out, O reason; find me out, O wisdom; find me out, if you can; find me out completely; and if you cannot, then shut your mouth forever;  then I will teach you that the wisdom of God is wiser than the wisdom of man; yea, that the foolishness of God is wiser than men.”

And how did the wisdom of man work out the problem? How did wisdom perform her task? Look on the nations; there you see the result of wisdom’s research. In the time of Jesus Christ, you might have beheld the earth covered with the slime of pollution, a Sodom on a large scale—corrupt, filthy, depraved; indulging in vices which we dare not mention; reveling in lust too abominable even for our imagination to dwell upon for a moment.

(And yet today we watch TV shows about them)

We find the men prostrating themselves before blocks of wood and stone, adoring ten thousand gods more vicious than themselves. We find, in fact, that reason wrote out her lines with a finger covered with blood and filth, and that she forever cut herself out from all her glory by the vile deeds she did. She would not worship God. She would not bow down to him who is “clearly seen,” but she worshiped any creature—the reptile that crawled, the viper— anything might be a god; anything but the God of heaven. Vice might be made into a ceremony, the greatest crime might be exalted into a religion; but true worship reason knew nothing of.

Poor reason! poor wisdom! how are you fallen from heaven; like Lucifer—you son of the morning—you are lost; you have written out your conclusion, but a conclusion of complete folly. “After that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

Wisdom had had its time, and time enough; it had done its all, and that was little enough; it had made the world worse than it was before it stepped upon it, and “now,” says God, “Foolishness shall overcome wisdom; now ignorance, as you call it, shall sweep away science; now, humble, child-like faith shall crumble to the dust all the colossal systems your hands have piled.”

He calls his armies. Christ puts his trumpet to his mouth, and up come the warriors, clad in fishermen’s garb, with the brogue of the lake of Galilee—poor humble mariners. Here are the warriors, O wisdom, that are to confound you; these are the heroes who shall overcome your proud philosophers; these men are to plant their standard upon your ruined walls, and bid them to fall forever; these men and their successors are to exalt a gospel in the world which you may laugh at as absurd, which you may sneer at as folly, but which shall be exalted above the hills, and shall be glorious even to the highest heavens.

Since that day, God has always raised up men and women to proclaim the foolishness of the gospel that the apostles preached and, therefore, here I stand, foolish as Paul might be, foolish as Peter, or any of those fishermen; but still with the might of God I grasp the sword of truth, coming here to “preach Christ and him crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

Before I enter upon our text, let me very briefly tell you what I believe preaching Christ and him crucified is. My friends, I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to give people a batch of philosophy every Sunday morning and evening, and neglect the truths of this Holy Book. I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to leave out the main cardinal doctrines of the Word of God, and preach a religion which is all a mist and a haze, without any definite truths whatever.

I take it that man does not preach Christ and him crucified, who can get through a sermon without mentioning Christ’s name once; nor does that man preach Christ and him crucified, who leaves out the Holy Spirit’s work, who never says a word about the Holy Ghost, so that indeed the hearers might say, “We do not so much as know whether there be a Holy Ghost.”

And I have my own private opinion, that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith without works; not unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his giving of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, conquering love of Jehovah; nor, I think, can we preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation, after having believed. Such a gospel I abhor. The gospel of the Bible is not that gospel.

There are three things in the text: first, a gospel rejected, “Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness”; secondly, a gospel triumphant, “unto those who are called, both Jews and Greeks”; and thirdly, a gospel admired; it is to them who are called “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

I. First, we have here A GOSPEL REJECTED. One would have imagined that, when God sent his gospel to men, all men would meekly listen, and humbly receive its truths. We should have thought that God’s ministers only had to proclaim that life is brought to light by the gospel, and that Christ is come to save sinners, and every ear would be attentive, every eye would be fixed, and every heart would be wide open to receive the truth. We should have said, judging favorably of our fellow-creatures, that there would not exist in the world a monster so vile, so depraved, so polluted, as to put so much as a stone in the way of the progress of truth; we could not have conceived such a thing; yet that is exactly what happened.

When the gospel was preached, instead of being accepted and admired, one universal hiss went up to heaven; men could not bear it; its first preacher they dragged to the brow of the hill, and would have sent him down headlong; yea, they did more—they nailed him to the cross, and there they let him languish out his dying life in agony such as no man has borne since. All his chosen ministers have been hated and abhorred by world-lings; instead of being listened to they have been scoffed at; treated as if they were the off-scouring of all things, and the very scum of mankind.

Look at the holy men in down through the course of history, how they were driven from city to city, persecuted, afflicted, tormented, stoned to death, wherever the enemy had power to do so. Those friends of men, those real philanthropists, who came with hearts big with love, and hands full of mercy, and lips pregnant with warnings of heavens judgment, and souls that burned with holy influence; those men were treated as if they were spies in the camp, as if they were deserters from the common cause of mankind; as if they were enemies, and not, as they truly were, the best of friends.

Do not suppose, my friends, that men like the gospel any better now than they did then. There is an idea that you are growing better. I do not believe it. You are growing worse. In many respects men may be better—outwardly better; the heart within is still the same. If you dissected the human heart of today, it would be like the human heart a thousand years ago; the gall of bitterness within that breast of yours, is just as bitter as the gall of bitterness in that of Simon rebuked by Peter in Acts chapter 8. We have in our hearts the same latent opposition to the truth of God; and hence we find men, even as of old, who scorn the gospel.

I shall, in speaking of the gospel rejected, endeavor to point out the two classes of persons Paul references who equally despise truth. The Jews make it a stumbling block, and the Greeks account it foolishness. Now these two very respectable gentlemen—the Jew and the Greek—I am not going to make these ancient individuals the object of my condemnation, but I look upon them as members of a great parliament, representatives of a great constituency, and I shall attempt to show that the “Jew” represents the religious person to whom Christ is a stumbling block; and that the Greek represents the intellectual unto whom the gospel would be foolishness. I shall simply introduce the Jew and the Greek, and let them speak a moment to you, in order that you may see the gentlemen who represent you; the representative men; the persons who stand for many of you, who as yet are not called by divine grace.

The first is the man of religion; to him the gospel is a stumbling block. A respectable man the Jew was in his day; all formal religion was concentrated in his person; he went up to the temple very devoutly; he tithed all he had, even to the herbs in his garden. You would see him fast twice in the week, with a face all marked with sadness and sorrow. If you looked at him, he had the law between his eyes; there was the phylactery, and the borders of his garments of amazing width, that he might never be supposed to be a Gentile dog; that no one might ever conceive that he was not an Hebrew of pure descent. He had a holy ancestry; he came of a pious family; a right good man was he. He could not like those Sadducees at all, who had no religion. He was thoroughly a religious man; he stood up for his synagogue; he would not have that temple on Mount Gerizim; he could not bear the Samaritans, he had no dealings with them; he was a religionist of the first order, a man of the very finest kind; a specimen of a man who is a moralist, and who loves the ceremonies of the law.

Accordingly, when he heard about Christ, he asked who Christ was. “The Son of a Carpenter.” Ah! “The son of a carpenter, and his mothers’s name was Mary, and his father’s name was Joseph.” “That of itself is presumption enough,” said he; “positive proof, in fact, that he cannot be the Messiah.”

And what does this Jesus say? Why, he says, “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” Well, they reply”That won’t do.” Moreover, Jesus says, “It is not by the works of the flesh that any man can enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

The Jew tied a double knot in his phylactery at once; he thought he would have the borders of his garment made twice as broad. He bow to the Nazarene! No, no; and if so much as a disciple of Jesus crossed the street, he thought the place polluted, and would not tread in his steps. Do you think he would give up his old father’s religion, the religion which came from Mount Sinai, that old religion that lay in the ark and the overshadowing cherubim? He give that up! not he. A vile impostor—that is all Christ was in his eyes. He thought so. “A stumbling block to me; I cannot hear about it; I will not listen to it.”

Accordingly, he turned a deaf ear to all the preacher’s eloquence, and listened not at all. Farewell, old man of religion! You sleep with your fathers, and your generation is a wandering race, still walking the earth. Farewell! I have done with you. Alas! poor wretch! That Christ, who was your stumbling-block, shall be your judge, and on your head shall be that loud curse. “His blood be on us and on our children.”

But I am going to find out Mr. man of religion here in Exeter Hall (here in this auditorium)—persons who answer to his description—to whom Jesus Christ is a stumbling block. Let me introduce you to yourselves, some of you. You were of a pious family too, were you not? Yes. And you have a religion which you love; you love all the outward trappings of it. You would not have one program altered, nor one of those dear old arches taken down, nor the stained glass removed, for all the world; and any man who should say a word against such things, you would set down as a heretic at once. Or, perhaps, you love some plain old meeting-house, where your forefathers worshiped, that old country church. Ah! it is a beautiful plain place; you love it, you love its ordinances, you love its exterior; and if any one spoke against the place, how vexed you would feel.

You think that what they do there, they ought to do everywhere; in fact, your church is a model one; the place where you go is exactly the sort of place for everybody; and if I were to ask you why you hope to go to heaven, you would perhaps say, “Because I am a Baptist,” or, “Because I am reformed” or whatever other sect you belong to. There is yourself; I know Jesus Christ will be to you a stumbling block. If I come and tell you, that all the times you have gone to the house of God is good for nothing; if I tell you that all those many times you have been singing and praying, all pass for nothing in the sight of God, because you are a hypocrite and a formalist. If I tell you that your heart is not right with God, and that unless it is so, all the external is good for nothing, I know what you will say,—”I will not hear that young man again.” It is a stumbling block.

If you had stepped in anywhere where you had heard formalism exalted: if you had been told “this must you do, and this other must you do, and then you will be saved,” you would highly approve of it. But how many are there externally religious, with whose characters you could find no fault, but who have never had the regenerating influence of the Holy Ghost; who never were made to lie on their face before Calvary’s cross; who never turned a wistful eye to yonder Savior crucified; who never put their trust in him that was slain for the sons of men. They love a superficial religion, but when a man talks deeper than that, they consider it to be simple babbling.

You may love all that is external about religion, just as you may love a man for his clothes—caring nothing for the man himself. If so, I know you are one of those who reject the gospel. You will hear me preach; and while I speak about the externals, while I plead for morality, and argue against drunkenness, or show the heinousness of Sabbath-breaking you will hear me with attention; but if once I say, “Except you be converted, and become as little children, you can in no wise enter into the kingdom of God”; if once I tell you that you must be elected of God: that you must be purchased with the Saviour’s blood—that you must be converted by the Holy Ghost—you say, “He is a fanatic! Away with him, away with him! We do not want to hear that any more.” Christ crucified, is to the Jew,—the ceremonialist, the religious man—a stumbling block.

But there is another specimen of this man of religion to be found. He is thoroughly orthodox in his doctrine. As for forms and ceremonies, he thinks nothing about them. He goes to a place of worship where he learns sound doctrine. He will hear nothing but what is true. He likes that we should have good works and morality. He is a good man, and no one can find fault with him. Here he is, regular in his Sunday pew. In the market he walks before men in all honesty—so you would imagine. Ask him about any doctrine, and he can give you a thorough analysis of it. In fact, he could write a treatise upon anything in the Bible, and a great many things besides. He knows almost everything: and here, up in this dark attic of the head, his religion has taken up its abode; he has a fine living room down in his heart, but his religion never goes there—that is shut against it. He has money in there—Mammon, worldliness; or he has something else—self-love, pride. Perhaps he loves to hear experimental preaching; he admires it all; in fact, he loves the sound of most anything. But that is his problem he is all sound and there is no substance.

He likes to hear true doctrine; but it never penetrates his inner man. You never see him weep. Preach to him about Christ crucified, a glorious subject, and you never see a tear roll down his cheek; tell him of the mighty influence of the Holy Ghost—he admires you for it, but he never had the hand of the Holy Spirit on his soul; tell him about communion with God, plunging in Godhead’s deepest sea, and being lost in its immensity—the man loves to hear, but he never experiences, he has never communed with Christ; and accordingly, when you once begin to strike home; when you lay him on the table, take out your dissecting knife, begin to cut him up, and show him his own heart, to let him see what it is by nature, and what it must become by grace—the man reacts, he cannot stand that; he wants none of that—Christ received in the heart, and accepted. Albeit that he loves it enough in the head, ’tis to him a stumbling block, and he casts it away.

Do you see yourselves here, my friends? See yourselves as God sees you? For so it is, here be many to whom Christ is as much a stumbling block now as he ever was. O you formalists! I speak to you; O you who have the nutshell, but abhor the kernel; O you who like the trappings and the dress, but care not for that fair virgin who is clothed therewith; O you who like the paint and the tinsel, but abhor the solid gold, I speak to you; I ask you, does your religion give you solid comfort? Can you stare death in the face with it, and say, “I know that my Redeemer lives?” Can you close your eyes at night, singing as your evening song—

“I to the end must endure
As sure as the earnest is given”?

Can you bless God for affliction? Can you plunge in, accounted as you are, and swim through all the floods of trial? Can you march triumphant through the lion’s den, laugh at affliction, and bid defiance to hell? Can you? No! Your gospel is an effeminate, wimpy, thing—a thing of words and sounds, and not of power. Cast it from you, I beseech you; it is not worth your keeping; and when you come before the throne of God, you will find it will fail you, and fail you so that you shall never find another. You shall find that Christ, who is now “a stumbling block,” will be your Judge.

I have found out the man of religion, and I have now to discover the Greek. He is a person of quite a different exterior to the man of religion. As to the religious trappings, to him they are all rubbish, and he despises them. He does not care for the forms of religion; he has an intense aversion, in fact, to broad-brimmed hats, or to everything which looks like outward show. He likes eloquence; he admires a smart saying; he loves a quaint expression; he likes to read the last new book; he is an intellectual, and to him the gospel is foolishness.

The intellectual is a gentleman found everywhere, now-a-days; manufactured sometimes in colleges, constantly made in schools, produced everywhere. He is on the exchange, in the market; he keeps a shop, rides in a carriage; he is noble, a gentleman; he is everywhere, even in court. He is thoroughly wise. Ask him anything, and he knows it. Ask for a quotation from any of the old poets, or any one else, and he can give it you. If you are a Muslim, and plead the claims of your religion, he will hear you very patiently. But if you are a Christian, and talk to him of Jesus Christ, “Stop your babbling,” he says, “I don’t want to hear anything about that.”

This intellectual gentleman believes all philosophy except the true one; he studies all wisdom except the wisdom of God; he likes all learning except spiritual learning; he loves everything except that which God approves; he likes everything which man makes, and nothing which comes from God; it is foolishness to him, confounded foolishness. You have only to discourse about one doctrine in the Bible, and he shuts his ears; he wishes no longer for your company—it is foolishness.

I have met this gentleman a great many times. Once, when I saw him, he told me he did not believe in any religion at all; and when I said I did, and had a hope that when I died I should go to heaven, he said he dared say it was very comfortable, but he did not believe in religion, and that he was sure it was best to live as nature dictated. Another time he spoke well of all religions, and believed they were very good in their place, and all true; and he had no doubt that, if a man were sincere in any kind of religion, he would be alright at last. I told him I did not think so, and that I believed there was but one religion revealed of God—the religion of God’s elect, the religion which is the gift of Jesus. He then said I was a bigot, and wished me good morning. It was to him foolishness. He had nothing to do with me at all. He either liked no religion, or every religion.

Another time I demanded his attention, and I discussed with him a little about faith. He said, “It is all very well, I believe that is true Protestant doctrine.” But presently I said something about election, and he said, “I don’t like that; many people have preached that and turned it into something bad.” I then hinted something about free grace; but that he could not endure, it was to him foolishness. He was a polished intellectual, and thought that if he were not chosen, he ought to be. He never liked that passage, “God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and the things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” He thought that it discredited the Bible and when the book was revised, he had no doubt that verse would be cut out.

To such a man—for he is here this morning, very likely come to hear this reed shaken of the wind—I have to say this: Ah! you wise man, full of worldly wisdom; your wisdom will stand you here, but what will you do in the swellings of Jordan? Philosophy may do well for you to learn upon while you walk through this world; but the river of death is deep, and you will want something more than that. If you have not the arm of the Most High to hold you up in the flood and cheer you with promises, you will sink, man; with all your philosophy, you will sink; with all your learning, you shall sink, and be washed into that awful ocean of eternal torment, where you shall be forever. Ah! Intellectual man, it may be foolishness to you, but you shall see the man your judge, and then shall you rue the day that e’er you said that God’s gospel was foolishness.

II. Having spoken thus far upon the gospel rejected, I shall now briefly speak upon the GOSPEL TRIUMPHANT. “Unto us who are called, both Jews and Greeks, it is the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” Yonder man rejects the gospel, despises grace, and laughs at it as a delusion. Here is another man who laughed at it, too; but God will rescue him and bring him down upon his knees. Christ shall not die for nothing. The Holy Ghost shall not strive in vain. God has said, “My word shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall accomplish the thing for which I sent it” He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be abundantly satisfied.” If one sinner is not saved, another shall be. The man of religion and the intellectual shall never depopulate heaven. The choirs of glory shall not lose a single songster by all the opposition of Jews and Greeks; for God has said it; some shall be called; some shall be saved; some shall be rescued.

“Perish the virtue, as it ought, abhorred,
And the fool with it, who insults his Lord.
The atonement a Redeemer’s love has wrought
Is not for you—the righteous need it not.
See’st you yon harlot wooing all she meets,
The worn-out nuisance of the public streets
Herself from morn till night, from night to morn,
Her own abhorrence, and as much your scorn:
The gracious shower, unlimited and free,
Shall fall on her, when heaven denies it thee.
Of all that wisdom dictates, this the drift,
That man is dead in sin, and life a gift.”

If the righteous and good are not saved, if they reject the gospel, there are others who are to be called, others who shall be rescued; for Christ will not lose the merits of his agonies, or the purchase of his blood.

“Unto us who are called.” I received a note this week asking me to explain that word “called”; because in one passage it says, “Many are called but few are chosen,” while in another it appears that all who are called must be chosen. Now, let me observe that there are two calls.

As my old friend, John Bunyan, says, the hen has two calls, the common cluck, which she gives daily and hourly, and the special one, which she means for her little chickens. So there is a general call, a call made to every man; every man hears it. Many are called by it; all you are called this morning in that sense, but very few are chosen. The other is a special call, the children’s call. You know how the bell sounds over the workshop, to call the men to work—that is a general call. A father goes to the door and calls out, “John, it is dinner time”—that is the special call. Many are called with the general call, but they are not chosen; the special call is for the children only, and that is what is meant in the text, “Unto us who are called, both Jews and Greeks, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” That call is always a special one.

While I stand here and call men, nobody comes; while I preach to sinners universally, no good is done; it is like the sheet lightning you sometimes see on the summer’s evening, beautiful, grand; but whoever heard of anything being struck by it? But the special call is the forked flash from heaven; it strikes somewhere; it is the arrow sent in between the joints of the harness.

The call which saves is like that of Jesus, when he said “Mary,” and she said unto him “Rabonni.” Do you know anything about that special call, my beloved? Did Jesus ever call you by name? Can you recollect the hour when he whispered your name in your ear, when he said, “Come to me”? If so, you will grant the truth of what I am going to say next about it—that it is an effectual call; there is no resisting it. When God calls with his special call, there is no standing out. Ah! I know I laughed at religion; I despised, I abhorred it; but that call! Oh, I would not come. But God said, “You shall come. All that the Father gives to me shall come.” “Lord, I will not.” “But you shall,” said God. And I have gone up to God’s house sometimes almost with a resolution that I would not listen, but listen I must. Oh, how the word came into my soul! Was there any power in my resistance? No; I was thrown down; each bone seemed to be broken; I was saved by effectual grace. I appeal to your experience, my friends. When God took you in hand, could you withstand him? You stood against your pastor times enough. Sickness did not break you down; disease did not bring you to God’s feet; eloquence did not convince you; but when God puts his hand to the work, ah! then what a change.

Like Saul, with his horses going to Damascus, that voice from heaven said, “I am Jesus whom you persecute.” “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” There was no going further then. That was an effectual call.

Like that, again, which Jesus gave to Zaccheus, when he was up in the tree; stepping under the tree, he said, “Zaccheus, come down, today I must abide in your house.” Zaccheus was taken in the net; he heard his own name; the call sank into his soul; he could not stay up in the tree, for an almighty impulse drew him down.

And I could tell you some singular instances of persons going to the house of God and having their characters described to perfection, so that they have said, “He is describing me, he is described me.” Just as I might say to that young man here, who lusted after a woman or an image, that Jesus calls him to repentance. It may be that there is such a person here; and when the call comes to a specific character, it generally comes with a special power. God gives his ministers a brush, and shows them how to use it in painting life-like portraits, and thus the sinner hears the special call. I cannot give the special call; God alone can give it, and I leave it with him. Some must be called. Jew and Greek may laugh, but still there are some who are called, both Jews and Greeks.

Then, to close up this second point, it is a great mercy that many a man of religion has been made to drop his self-righteousness; many a legalist has been made to drop his legalism, and come to Christ; and many an intellectual has bowed his genius at the throne of God’s gospel. We have a few such. As Cowper says:

“We boast some rich ones whom the gospel sways,
And one who wears a crown, and prays;
Like gleanings of an olive tree they show,
Here and there one upon the topmost bough.”

III. Now we come to our third point, A GOSPEL ADMIRED; unto us who are called of God, it is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Now, beloved, this must be a matter of pure experience between your souls and God. If you are called of God this morning, you will know it. I know there are times when a Christian has to say,

“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?”

But if a man never in his life knew himself to be a Christian, he never was a Christian. If he never had a moment of confidence, when he could say, “Now I know in whom I have believed,” I think I do not utter a harsh thing when I say, that that man could not have been born again; for I do not understand how a man can be killed and then made alive again, and not know it; how a man can pass from death unto life, and not know it; how a man can be brought out of darkness into marvelous liberty without knowing it. I am sure I know it when I shout out my old verse,

“Now free from sin, I walk at large,
My Saviour’s blood’s my full discharge;
At his dear feet content I lay,
A sinner saved, and homage pay.”

There are moments when the eyes glisten with joy and we can say, “We are persuaded, confident, certain.” I do not wish to distress any one who is under doubt. Often gloomy doubts will prevail; there are seasons when you fear you have not been called, when you doubt your interest in Christ. Ah! what a mercy it is that it is not your hold of Christ that saves you, but his hold of you! What a sweet fact that it is not how you grasp his hand, but his grasp of yours, that saves you.

Yet I think you ought to know, sometime or other, whether you are called of God. If so, you will follow me in the next part of my discourse, which is a matter of pure experience; unto us who are saved, it is “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

The gospel is to the true believer a thing of power. It is Christ the power of God. Yes, there is a power in God’s gospel beyond all description. Once, I, bound on the proverbial wild horse of my lust, bound hand and foot, incapable of resistance, was galloping on with hell’s wolves behind me, howling for my body and my soul, as their just and lawful prey. There came a mighty hand which stopped that wild horse, cut my bands, set me down, and brought me into liberty.

Is there power, sir? Indeed, there is power, and he who has felt it must acknowledge it. There was a time when I lived in the strong old castle of my sins, and rested in my works. There came a trumpeter to the door, and bade me open it. I with anger rebuked him from the porch, and said he should never enter. There came a goodly personage, with loving countenance; his hands were marked with scars, where nails were driven, and his feet had nail-prints too; he lifted up his cross, using it as a hammer; at the first blow the gate of my prejudice shook; at the second it trembled more; at the third down it fell, and in he came; and he said, “Arise, and stand upon your feet, for I have loved you with an everlasting love.” A thing of power! Ah! it is a thing of power. I have felt it here, in this heart; I have the witness of the Spirit within, and know it is a thing of might, because it has conquered me; it has bowed me down.

“His free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Has won my affection, and held my soul fast.”

The gospel to the Christian is a thing of power. What is it that makes the young man devote himself as a missionary to the cause of God, to leave father and mother, and go into distant lands? It is a thing of power that does it—it is the gospel.

What is it that constrains yonder minister, in the middle of an epidemic, to climb up that creaking staircase, and stand by the bed of some dying creature who has that contagious disease? It must be a thing of power which leads him to risk his life; it is love of the cross of Christ which bids him do it.

What enables one man to stand up before a multitude of his fellows, although unprepared he may be, but determined that he will speak nothing but Christ and him crucified? What is it that enables him to cry aha! like the war-horse of Job in battle as he moves glorious in might? It is a thing of power that does it—it is Christ crucified.

And what emboldens that timid female to walk down that dark lane in the wet evening, that she may go and sit beside the victim of a contagious fever? What strengthens her to go through that den of thieves, and pass by the decadent and profane? What influences her to enter into that room of death, and there sit down and whisper words of comfort? Does gold make her do it? They are too poor to give her gold. Does fame make her do it? She shall never be known, nor written among the mighty women of this earth. What makes her do it? Is it love of merit? No; she knows she has no reward here on earth. What impels her to it? It is the power of the gospel on her heart; it is the cross of Christ; she loves it, and she therefore says—

“Were the whole realm of nature mine.
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

But I behold another scene. A martyr is going to the stake; the soldiers are around him; the crowds are mocking, but he is marching steadily on. See, they bind him, with a chain around his middle, to the stake; they heap bundles of sticks all about him; the flame is lighted up; listen to his words: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” The flames are kindling round his legs; the fire is burning him even to the bone; see him lift up his hands and say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and though the fire devour this body, yet in my flesh shall I see the Lord.” Behold him clutch the stake and kiss it, as if he loved it, and hear him say, “For every chain of iron that man binds me with, God shall give me a chain of gold; for all this wood, and this humiliation and shame, he shall increase the weight of my eternal glory.” See all the under parts of his body are consumed; still he lives in the torture; at last he bows himself, and the upper part of his body falls over; and as he falls you hear him say, “Into your hands I commend my Spirit.”

What wondrous magic was on him, sirs? What made that man strong? What helped him to bear that cruelty? What made him stand unmoved in the flames? It was the thing of power; it was the cross of Jesus crucified. For “unto us who are saved it is the power of God.”

But behold another scene far different. There is no crowd there; it is a silent room. There is a poor cot, a lonely bed: a physician standing by. There is a young girl: her face is blanched by disease; long has the disease eaten her flesh, and though sometimes the color returned, it was simply a sign of the deceitful disease. There she lies, weak, pale, worn, dying, yet behold a smile upon her face, as if she had seen an angel. She speaks, and there is music in her voice. Joan of Arc of old was not half as mighty as that girl. She is wrestling with dragons on her death-bed; but see her composure, and hear her dying song:

“Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to your bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high!

Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life is past,
Safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last!”

And with a smile she shuts her eye on earth, and opens it in heaven. What enables her to die like that? It is the thing of power; it is the cross; it is Jesus crucified.

I have little time to elaborate upon the other point, and far be it from me to weary you by a lengthened and flowery sermon, but we must glance at the other statement: Christ is, to the called ones, the wisdom of God as well as the power of God. To a believer, the gospel is the perfection of wisdom, and if it appear not so to the ungodly, it is because of the perversion of judgment due to their depravity.

An idea has long possessed the public mind, that a religious man can scarcely be a wise man. It has been the custom to talk of infidels, atheists, and deists, as men of deep thought and comprehensive intellect; and to pity for the Christian apologist, as if he must surely fall by the hand of his enemy. But this is purely a mistake; for the gospel is the sum of wisdom; an epitome of knowledge; a treasure-house of truth; and a revelation of mysterious secrets. In it we see how justice and mercy may be married; here we behold an unstoppable law entirely satisfied, and sovereign love bearing away the sinner in triumph.

Our meditation upon it enlarges the mind; and as it opens to our soul in successive flashes of glory, we stand astonished at the profound wisdom displayed in it. Ah, dear friends! if you seek wisdom, you shall see it displayed in all its greatness; not in the balancing of the clouds, nor the firmness of earth’s foundations; not in the measured march of the armies of the sky, nor in the perpetual motions of the waves of the sea; not in vegetation with all its fairy forms of beauty; nor in the animal with its marvelous tissue of nerve, and vein, and sinew: nor even in man, that last and loftiest work of the Creator. But turn aside and see this great sight!—an incarnate God upon the cross; a substitute atoning for mortal guilt; a sacrifice satisfying the vengeance of Heaven, and delivering the rebellious sinner. Here is essential wisdom; enthroned, crowned, glorified. Admire, you men of earth, if you be not blind; and you who glory in your learning bend your heads in reverence, and own that all your skill could not have devised a gospel at once so just to God, so safe to man.

Remember, my friends, that while the gospel is in itself wisdom, it also confers wisdom on its students; she teaches young men wisdom and discretion, and gives understanding to the simple. A man who is a believing admirer and a hearty lover of the truth as it is in Jesus, is in a right place to follow with advantage any other branch of science. I confess I have a shelf in my head for everything now. Whatever I read I know where to put it; whatever I learn I know where to stow it away. Once when I read books, I put all my knowledge together in glorious confusion; but ever since I have known Christ, I have put Christ in the centre as my sun, and each science revolves round it like a planet, while minor sciences are satellites to these planets. Christ is to me the wisdom of God. I can learn everything now. The science of Christ crucified is the most excellent of sciences, she is to me the wisdom of God. O, young man, build your studio on Calvary! there raise your observatory, and scan by faith the lofty things of nature. Let the Bible be your standard classic—your last appeal in matters of debate. Let its light be your illumination, and you shall become more wise than Plato, more truly learned than the seven sages of antiquity.

And now, my dear friends, solemnly and earnestly, as in the sight of God, I appeal to you. You are gathered here this morning, I know, from different motives; some of you have come from curiosity; others of you are regular attenders; some have come from one place and some from another. What have you heard me say this morning? I have told you of two classes of persons who reject Christ; the religionist, who has a religion of form and nothing else; and the intellectual man of the world, who calls our gospel foolishness.

Now, put your hand upon your heart, and ask yourself this morning, “Am I one of these?” If you are, then walk the earth in all your pride; then go as you came in: but know that for all this the Lord shall bring you unto judgement; know you that your joys and delights shall vanish like a dream and be swept away forever. Know you this, moreover, O man, that one day in the halls of Satan, down in hell, you may be seen among those myriad spirits who revolve forever in a perpetual circle of judgment and torment.  And there you shall revolve forever with the worm which shall never die gnawing within your heart!

Good God! Let not these people here still reject and despise Christ; but let this be the time when they shall be called.

To the rest of you who are called, I need say nothing. The longer you live, the more powerful will you find the gospel to be; the more deeply Christ-taught you are, the more you live under the constant influence of the Holy Spirit, the more you will know the gospel to be a thing of power, and the more also will you understand it to be a thing of wisdom. May every blessing rest upon you; and may God bring us blessings as we return in the evening!

“Let men or angels dig the mines
Where nature’s golden treasure shines;
Brought near the doctrine of the cross,
All nature’s gold appears but dross.

Should vile blasphemers with disdain
Pronounce the truths of Jesus vain,
We’ll meet the scandal and the shame,
And sing and triumph in his name.”

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Book Review: The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther and Calvin

“The Legacy of Sovereign Joy” is the first book by Pastor
John Piper in a series entitled “The Swans are not
Silent”. This series gives a brief glimpse into the lives

of people used by God in the history of the church.
However, the purpose is not primarily biographical,
but to highlight the character of God in the lives of
these notable Christians. As the title suggests, the
focus of this book is finding joy in a sovereign God. The
characters Piper focuses on are St. Augustine, Martin
Luther and John Calvin.

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After a brief introduction where he makes it clear that
each of the men looked at were used by God in spite
of their flaws (“Savoring the Sovereignty of Grace in
the Lives of Flawed Saints”), Piper spends one chapter
on each of the men drawing out what he feels to be
a picture of how they demonstrated a joyful passion
for God’s sovereign grace. In the life of Augustine we
see “the liberating  power of holy pleasure”, a man who
finally recognized that all the pleasure of earth
could not compare to the pleasures of God. “Saving
grace, converting grace, in Augustine’s view, is God’s
giving us a sovereign joy in God that triumphs over all
other joys…”

In the life of Martin Luther, shaped by
the teachings of Augustine, we see not only a passion
for God’s saving grace, but a zeal for the Word of God
through which that grace is revealed. Piper seizes upon
Luther’s dedication to study to exhort the reader to
zealously study God’s Word. Finally, Piper uses the
life of John Calvin to promote the “Divine Majesty of
the Word” through preaching. (“Let the pastors boldly
dare all things by the word of God…but let them do all
according to the word of God.”) 

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Book Review: Wild at Heart

In this book Eldredge tackles seeks to give men permission
to be what God created them to be – men. From his observation
of culture (i.e. movies), history and Scripture Eldredge reaches the
conclusion that men are hardwired to seek (1) a battle to fight, (2) a
beauty to rescue and (3) an adventure to live.
The motivation for this book is the cultural redefinition of
masculinity into one of two extremes. Men are encouraged to be
more feminine, squelching their masculinity, or they are encouraged
to be hyper-masculine, driven by a macho mischaracterization of
their masculinity.
While Eldridge approaches both issues in the book, his
primary focus is against the “feminization” of men. With that
in mind he sets out to reunite men with the battle, beauty, and
adventure drive within them. But before he fleshes out those three
points he spends the majority of the book laying the groundwork.
He looks at the questions that haunt men, the wounds we carry, the
battle for man’s heart and how ultimately the healing is found at the
cross. This then sets the reader up to learn about the battle to be
fought, the beauty to be rescued and the adventure to live.
I believe that Eldredge makes his point well but potentially
distracts from his point in two ways. First, his handling of scripture
led to some questionable views of God. Since this is not a theology
book and he’s making observations from a human perspective
rather than a doctrinal thesis I can understand his point of view,
but nonetheless it was a distraction for me and has undermined
the message of the entire book for others. Secondly, he only
occasionally warns against turning manliness into a super-macho
caricature, and at times, had I not noted the subtle warnings, I would
have felt that he was advocating what he warned against.
With those observations I still recommend this book,
especially for men, young and old. At the very least it will push the
reader outside the box and make him recognize that what passes
for “manliness” in our culture is handicapping the type of man God
wants us to be.

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Book Review: Bringing up Girls

The book “Bringing up Girls” is, as the subtitle suggests, a book full of “practical advice and encouragement for those shaping the next generation of women.  And, as one might surmise from the title, the book covers how girls need to be brought up as, wait for it, girls!  This is not a book for the feminist who wants to perpetuate the myth that the sexes are identical and only their upbringing creates differences between boys and girls.  Right up front Dr. Dobson spends several pages underlying the scientific and biological reasons why girls and boys think and act differently, and how that applies to parenting. 

   Regarding parenting, Dr. Dobson spends a chapter on the special relationship daughters will have with their mothers and a couple of chapters on the vital roles that fathers play in nurturing their daughter’s femininity.  Dobson points out that the lack of godly fathers is one of the greatest threats that face girls today.

   In addition to the practical advice Dr. Dobson spends most of this book pointing out the perils that face girls today.  These dangers need to be brought to the attention of all parents.  From the lies of feminism, the distorted view of body image that the culture forces upon our teens, the lack of godly and involved fathers and the rampant bullying that takes place – these dangers all face our daughters.  Without belittling these dangers, I did feel that there was a bit of an imbalance toward these negative aspects as opposed to the positive (There was a chapter dedicated to “The Good News About Girls). 

   All in all, I would highly recommend this book to parents with a daughter of any age.  The reading can be tedious at times (a lot of transcripts from radio shows), but the topic is vital and the information very helpful.

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Book Review: Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists

In the realms of non-fiction some books are prescriptive in nature, offering solutions and ideas to assist the reader, while other books are descriptive, describing things like events to the reader.  “Young, Restless, Reformed” fits into the second category.  The author, Collin Hansen (editor-at-large for Christianity Today Magazine) seeks to give the reader a glimpse into the resurgence of Calvinism in American Christianity, especially among the young adult demographic.  Hansen describes his experiences at the Passion Conference in 1997, Bethlehem Baptist Church (Pastored by John Piper), Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  He gives us a glimpse into the lives of some key figures within the movement through interviews with John Piper, Mark Driscoll and many young people that are on fire for God as a result of coming to grips with the doctrines of grace (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints).  Though the book may be descriptive in nature, there are still lessons to be learned.  It becomes clear from his observations that weak theology and “attractional” ministries like the seeker-sensitive movement have failed to capture the passion of the next generation.  The strength of Biblically focused and doctrinally passionate churches is seen, and the myth that a focus on doctrine must result in lack of passion is put to rest.  But further lessons are learned as Hansen also shares interviews of those who are critical of these “new” Calvinists, both from the conservative and liberal side.  From these interviews some of the potential pitfalls can be seen (i.e. perceived arrogance, difficulty getting along with others).

Another feature is that this book provides historical context.  “Young, Restless, Reformed” was written in 2008.  As I read this book in 2012  the “New Calvinist” movement has only gotten larger.  For example, the Together for the Gospel conference that Hansen attended as he researched for his book has grown by the thousands.  Yet some of the opposition to the movement is also clearly seen, as recently as the Southern Baptist Convention as opponents of the movement continue to be vocal.

Finally, while the book is descriptive and historical in nature, as Hansen describes his interactions with the New Calvinists, he also details what they believe which results in a clear presentation of the Gospel.  But when an author writing a descriptive work of such a God centered, gospel oriented movement it would be quite hard to omit that gospel.

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Book Review: The Church: The Gospel Made Visible

This past month I had the privilege of reading “The Church: The Gospel Made Visible“ as part of our pastoral staff’s ongoing reading program (read a book each month and write a review).  The following is my review of this book by Pastor Mark Dever.

As one reads through many of Mark Dever’s books it becomes apparent that he has a desire for people to have a Biblical understanding of “the church”. This desire is seen in his ministry “9 Marks” which details what he believes are 9 marks of a healthy or Biblical local church. In his book “The Church: The Gospel Made Visible” Dever continues his ecclesiological education by, first, running the different aspects of the church (it’s nature, attributes, membership, polity, discipline, etc) through a biblical grid, then secondly, showing how the church or churches stayed true or deviated from biblical teaching throughout history and then finally applying that information to what a local church should look like today. 

The first section is foundational to the whole book, and has necessary information for all Christians as they discover their relationship to the body of Christ made visible through the local church. The first 8 chapters focus on answering the question “What does the Bible Say?”. One of the basic principles that he comes back to regularly is that the marks of a church, as seen in Scripture, come down to 1. right preaching (Preaching the Word, built up by biblical theology and centered around the gospel) and 2. Right administration of the ordinances.

The 3 chapters in the second section answer the question “What has the Church Believed?”. Here he covers the history of the idea of the church, the ordinances of the church and the organization of the church. As he explores the history of the church he goes back to the Biblical foundation that he already laid comparing and contrasting the actions of men, churches, traditions and denominations against Scripture.

Finally in the 4 chapters of the third section Dever puts it all together and puts forth what he believes a Biblical church should look like. In summary a biblical church has right preaching, right administration of ordinances, a biblical view of church membership, and an elder led yet congregational governed structure.

If you’re wondering if you should read this book, ask yourself two questions. 1. Do I know what the Bible says about the church? And 2. Do I know why churches today, and specifically my church, believes what we believe and practices what we practice? If the answer to either of those is less than affirmative, then this would book would be an excellent book for you to read.

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Book Review – The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence

This past month I had the privilege of reading “The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence” as part of our pastoral staff’s ongoing reading program (read a book each month and write a review).  The following is my review of this book by Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile.

With the Muslim population exploding all over the planet, Thabiti Anyabwile’s book “The Gospel for Muslims” is a must read for those who have been saved by and desire to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unlike many books comparing and contrasting Islam and Christianity “The Gospel for Muslims” is not a book of apologetics that simply seeks to answer the claims of Islam and defend the claims of Christianity. Instead Thabiti’s focus is encouraging the Christian to have confidence in the Gospel of Jesus Christ showing that it is the gospel that has the power to save lost sinner regardless of the belief system that is holding them in darkness. To that end this book is more a book about the Gospel than a book about Islam. 

The book itself is divided into two parts. Part one focuses on the expounding the gospel while showing how the Muslim individual may react based on their belief. The good news in talking to a Muslim is that very rarely will the Christian find it difficult to bring up the topic of “Who is Jesus”. From there the conversation will go to who God says He is in His Word (The Quran accepts as inspired the books of the law, the Psalms and the Gospels), man’s problem (To the Muslim all sin isn’t necessarily a big problem), Jesus’ sacrifice and the required response. 

Part two is dedicated to encouraging a right mindset and attitude when witnessing. The chapters focus on being filled with the Holy Spirit, trusting in the Bible, being hospitable (very important in the Muslim culture), using the local church and being willing to suffer. The final chapter looks at the unique challenges of the African-American Muslim culture.

Over all, Thabiti does a good job at reminding the reader that the goal of the Christian is not to win arguments or debates with their Muslim friends, but to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the weeks after I finished this book and wrote this review I have had many opportunities to interact with a Muslim student at an area school and have a inter-faith dialogue with his Imam.  As a result of my discussions I would add that while the Koran does teach that the Torah, Psalms and Gospels are trustworthy, your Islamic apologist will claim that the copies of these today have been corrupted through multiple translations and scribes seeking to change the meaning.  It’s a catch-22 situation for them however since they will try to use (individual) Bible verses to back up their positions and then turn around and say that the Bible has been corrupted.

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Book Review: The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max

This past month I had the privilege of reading “The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max” as part of our pastoral staff’s ongoing reading program (read a book each month and write a review).  The following is my review of author/missionary Andrew Comings most recent literary accomplishment.

Several years ago the author of this book, Andrew Comings, and myself used to travel from church to church teaching puppetry skills.  One of the truisms about puppetry that we would mention was that good puppetry, while mostly geared toward younger generations, would capture the attention of adults as well.  In “The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max” Andrew has managed to do just that.  The book itself would most likely fall into the pre-teen / teen guy reading category.  However, the action, romance and multi-layered plots will keep just about anyone turning the digital pages.

The book, as I just alluded to, has only been published in digital format and is available through Amazon and Nook e-readers.  The story follows Maxwell Sherman, a reluctant missionary with an interesting past, through a series of adventures that begin when he arrives on the small (fictional) island of Cabrito to assist some missionaries in constructing a church building.  But plans go awry from the moment Max steps of the airplane.  Throughout the rest of the book Max embarks on a fantastic, some would say astonishing, journey meeting an eclectic group of characters (from the mysterious Ray and the lovely Ilana to the clutzy Cascavel and ruthless Diego) all the while learning how to trust in God and boldly share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

On a personal note, and since this book review is for a church where the author is known quite well, it didn’t take long for me to see the passion that Andrew has for the culture and people of Brazil come out in the pages of this book.  While missionary Max is not autobiographical by any stretch of the imagination and the none of the cast of characters represent a real-life counterpart, for those that know him it’s hard not to see the influence of people and events that God has allowed Andrew to experience creep into the description of an event or character in the book.  So, while this book may not be autobiographical, it is the direct result of a passion that God has given Andrew for a country, a culture, a people and ultimately for the glory of God.

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Book Review: After Darkness, Light

In November I had the privilege of (re)reading the book “After Darkness, Light”.  The ten chapters of the book cover the distinctives of Reformed theology (5 Sola’s and 5 points of Calvinism).  Each chapter is written by a different author and the book is edited by R.C. Sproul Jr. and dedicated to Dr. R.C. Sproul.

Many people assume Reformed theology is only adhered to by Presbyterians who baptize babies and believe that there is no future for ethnic Israel.  Yet as you read through this book, while you will note some paedobaptist and amillenial (i.e. R.C. Sproul Jr.) authors you will also note some authors that hold to believers baptism and pre-millenialism (i.e. John MacArthur).  The conclusion must quickly be drawn that this issues of baptism and eschatology, though important, are not the litmus test for true Reformed theology.  The authors of this book lays the foundation of Reformed theology in ones view of God, Faith and salvation, and they does so by expounding on two of the best systematic views of God, Faith and Salvation:  The 5 Sola’s of the Reformation

  1. Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone: “An appeal to the ultimate authority of God’s Word” (chapter 2 written by Keith A. Mathison)
  2. Sola Fide – By Faith Alone: Faith that because of the justifying work of Christ “we are as righteous before God as Jesus Christ himself is”. (chapter 4 written by Sinclair B. Ferguson)
  3. Sola Gratia – By Grace Alone: Salvation is not a result of our works, but of the grace of God active in our lives. This chapter also includes a look at how a popular evangelist in the 1800’s (Charles Finney) instituted a pragmatic works based religion into our culture that we are still battling over a century later. (Chapter 6 written by Michael S. Horton)
  4. Solus Christus – By Christ Alone:  “Apart from Christ, there is no hope for anyone.” (Chapter 8 written by John F. MacArthur)
  5. Soli Deo Gloria – To God alone be the Glory:  “If we were forced to pick one [of the 5 sola’s] that subsumes all the others, it would no doubt be the last one, soli Deo gloria, ‘to God alone the glory.'” (Chapter 10 written by R.C. Sproul Jr.)

and the 5 doctrines of grace (or 5 points of Calvinism).

  1. Total Depravity – “Did [man] sin because he is a sinner or because of the sin in his environment?” (Chapter 1 written by Martin Murphy)
  2. Unconditional Election – Sinners “are not condemned because they have been passed over, but because they are sinners.” (Chapter 3 written by W. Robert Godfery)
  3. Definite Atonement – “The nature of the Atonement – the death of Jesus – underscores the actual accomplishment of redemption” (Emphasis added) (Chapter 5 written by O. Palmer Robertson)
  4. Irresistible Grace – “When God gives us the grace of a new heart, the first thing we do with it is to repent and believe.” (Chapter 7 written by Douglas J. Wilson)
  5. Perseverance of the Saints – Salvation is assured in Christ, resulting in confidence and love in place of fear. (Chapter 9 written by Jay E. Adams)

The book in it’s entirety is worth the read.  For those struggling with the biblical doctrine of definite atonement I recommend chapter 5.  I came away from that chapter wondering why I had ever struggled with definite atonement and wondering why people still do!

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The Alcohol Post…

At the outset, let me state that this post is not a defense of nor an attack on conscience or liberty.  Meaning that if you’re looking for ammunition in a fight your having with a brother in Christ over whether drinking is good or bad, I hope that you won’t find any here.  So, move along, nothing to see here.  It’s also important to note that while there will be some universal applications, this post is directed at those who hold Christ as preeminent in their lives.  All who do so would of course be called Christians, but not all who call themselves Christians hold Christ as preeminent.  For that second group there are more important things to focus on than the subject below.  Regardless, my goal even in the paragraphs that follow is to raise the focus of the discussion from the earthly and sensual (dealing with the senses) to Christ.

As Tim Challies points out in the intro to his article Christians and Alcohol, the issue of alcohol consumption is a “source of heated disagreement and even separation.”  But where does this heat come from?  When I linked his article on Facebook a 66 comment discussion ensued with parties demanding black and white answers to an issue that the Bible paints in shades of grey.  Let me be clear:  The Bible no where prohibits the child of God (Old Testament or New) from consuming an alcoholic beverage, though in some places and for different reasons it commends abstinence.  By the same token the Bible no where commands consumption, though in some places and for some reasons it commends the ingestion of strong drink and wine to make the heart glad.

I have read articles that come just short of saying that if you don’t drink you’re sinfully avoiding part of God’s creation that we were intended to enjoy.  And of course there are plenty of articles saying that any imbibing, perhaps even of Nyquil, will probably call down the wrath of God, and definitely call down the wrath of the author (full disclosure…I had a shot of Nyquil last night.  Well…two tablespoons in that little plastic cup they give).  And, of course, there are countless articles in between.

Most articles will cite Romans 14, as they ought, but usually focus on one of two points.  The abstainers will focus on how people shouldn’t drink so as not to offend the weaker brother, though some will chafe when you point out that Paul labels the abstainer as the “weaker”.  The imbibers will point out Paul’s focus on liberty, but some will squirm when you point out that Paul showed that there is a time to abstain.  But the point of the chapter I believe is laid out in verse 19-20.

Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.  Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.  All things are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.

From this passage I think that most of our debates about alcohol miss the point.  It seems that we debate in order to justify our position – rarely are those debates edifying.  Oft times labels are thrown around (immature, foolish, legalistic, unwise, condescending, etc.) with the aim of, intentionally or not, tearing down the opposition and fortifying our own.  If we aren’t labeling the opposition, we engage in judging the motives of the opposition:  “If they weren’t so selfish they wouldn’t drink” or “You’re just trying to impose your standards on everyone else”.  And if all else fails we appeal to the emotions:  “But all the potential dangers of alcohol obviously make it a sin!”  Regardless of which side of the debate we find ourselves on, when we employ these tactics we risk, at best, destroying “the work of God for the sake of food” (or drink).

How then do we approach the issue? In making his point in Romans 14 Paul is demonstrating a very important fact of Christian life:  God is working in each person in unique ways.  There is a black-and-white issue in this area of alcohol:  Drunkenness is repeatedly condemned as sin.  But due to the uniqueness of each individual the line where drinking becomes a sin is different.  I’ve come up with four categories and an analogy that will hopefully prove beneficial.

#1 The person who can, and does.

This is the Christian who is self-controlled, sober-minded and free of conscience as he enjoys his adult beverage of choice.  He knows his limits, and is in no way held in bondage to alcohol.  He can enjoy his drink as a gift from God and would not want to take glory away from God by over indulging in any way.  This person also recognizes his responsibility not to cause others spiritual damage and goes out of his way not to boast or wax eloquent about his liberty recognizing that such boasting in no way brings glory to God and is far more likely to do damage to a brother.  This person would eagerly refrain from all refrence of alcohol in order to enjoy the fellowship of a brother in category #3.  I would place Tim Challies and R.C. Sproul in this category.

#2 The person who can, and doesn’t

This is a person who, if he chose to could enjoy an adult beverage of choice in the same manner as person #1, chooses rather to abstain because of providential circumstances in his life.  These circumstances could include being in a position of leadership and influence where his drinking could be misunderstood or misrepresented by those he is leading.  Perhaps he just despised the taste.  Whatever the circumstances, he believes it would be better for him to abstain than partake.  It’s important for this person not to boast about how he could if he wanted to, or assign to himself some sort of extra-spiritual status because he “chooses” to abstain, when the truth is God has providentially hindered him.  I would place myself, John Piper and probably John MacArthur in this category.

#3  The person who shouldn’t, and doesn’t

English: photo of Josh Hamilton playing.

Josh Hamilton

This is the person who would in some way be held captive by drinking.  This captivity could include (though not be limited to) an alcohol addiction, a lack of self-control, or a simply conscience that won’t let them take a sip.  The person in this category must know himself and refuse to put himself in situations where stumbling is likely.  I would stress that this person has also been providentially hindered from drinking whether by choices in his past, or genetics in his body.  The person in this category is no less spiritual than the person in categories 1 and 2, rather he has the opportunity to glorify God through triumphing over temptations that others don’t face…at least to the same degree.  This person however needs to be careful not to hold others hostage to his own conscience.  Or to put it another way, this person should not demand that others avoid alcohol the same way he must.  The mature brother in this category can rejoice with others over the path that God is leading him on without demanding that others leave their God-given path.  I would place Josh Hamilton in this category (player for the Texas Rangers).

#4  Those who shouldn’t and do

This category is inhabited by members of each of the other categories who give in to their own selfishness rather than seeking the glory of God and the edification of others.  This is the category 1 individual who feels it his duty to let everyone know how much he’s had to drink recently, being known for what he drinks instead of the Savior who loves him.   This is the category 2 individual who despite the conscience issues or negative influence he will have, drinks anyway…and probably boasts about it to his category 1 friends.   This is the category 3 individual who knows he should avoid the bar or those friends but gives in anyway.  Category #4 should have a high turnover rate.  When we sin and find ourselves in this category our reaction should be one of repentance, thus turning away from the sin that put us here and moving ahead on the path God is leading us down.  However, there are people that seem to like it here, and have camped out in this category.  For them the issue is no longer alcohol, but an eclipse of the Son by their own selfish desires.

These categories are best used for self-inspection.  They are observations and hopefully can be beneficial in directing our gaze to our heavenly Father.  I believe that in a lifetime God can providentially move a person through the first three categories, and by his grace and forgiveness out of the fourth every time it’s entered.

Finally, an analogy.  If, after all this, you’re still struggling with how to accept Christians who drink, or Christians who abstain.  Let me provide an analogy regarding another “grey” area….the internet.

Is using the internet a sin? Well…the Bible doesn’t prohibit it, yet how many families and lives are destroyed by internet porn, gambling, etc. – and the Bible has lots to say about adultery and stewardship! Shouldn’t we as Christians avoid all appearance of evil? Some would say this is a very black and white issue? Others would say that the Bible no where prohibits the internet but it should be used cautiously, and for some it might be a sin to use because of their propensity to stumble.

So to complete the analogy, and thinking of the four categories mentioned above:

Just as, the Bible nowhere prohibits the use of the internet, but does speak strongly about the sin of lust and other vices easily obtained by using it and therefore caution should be used by those who have liberty to use it and benefit from it for God’s glory, while those who cannot not show restraint should abstain for the glory of God:

So

The Bible nowhere prohibits the use of strong drink for every person, but does speak strongly about the sin of drunkenness and therefore those who have the liberty to use it should do so with caution in order to bring God glory and those who cannot use it without causing spiritual damage should abstain in order to bring God glory!

And as this discussion will no doubt come up again many times in our lifetimes, let us abide by the Word of God via the pen of Peter (well..technically the pen of Sylvanus as dictated by Peter):

   “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:5b–8, ESV)

May our satisfaction lie not in our liberty or conviction but in the God who gives them.

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