Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why I love Spurgeon

Painting by Robert Bucknell
God has blessed His church with theologians, past and present, who have equipped the saints through their sermons and writings. Kim wrote last week of her appreciation for the good Doctor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I am going to borrow her idea and share why I love Charles Spurgeon.

I first heard of Charles Spurgeon from a fellow InterVarsity member when I was in college. I still remember his exact words: "Spurgeon is awesome!" To be honest, my first thought was, "Why on earth would someone want to read anything by a long-dead Baptist preacher?"

Fast forward nearly 30 years. The bottom had just dropped out of my marriage. I wasn't attending a local church at the time, which is another story. I had no idea where to turn for help, so I called a close friend who promptly told me, "You need to read some Spurgeon." I wasn't sure what advice a 19th-century minister could give to a 21st-century woman who was facing a broken marriage, but I was desperate. I googled "Charles Spurgeon" to see what I would find. The first site on Google's list was The Spurgeon Archive. This seemed like a good place to start, so I clicked the link for the daily devotions.  Given my present state, it would not be an exaggeration to say that I had never read anything like this in my life.

Even though I had been a believer since childhood, my view of God was pretty pitiful. Like Job, I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that God would allow His children to suffer, and like Job's friends, there was a nagging sense that if I had been a better Christian, none of this would be happening right now. On top of this, I was spiritually malnourished from the lack of sound teaching and fellowship.

My view of God was small, but Spurgeon's view of God was BIG. The God he described was glorious and awesome in His holiness and power. Yet He was unchanging in His love for and faithfulness to His children. If there was any doubt on that score, look at the Cross and look at Christ. He also ordains every second of our lives, watching over us as a loving Father who has our eternal good in mind.

This was food and drink to my starving soul. I eagerly read Morning and Evening and Faith's Checkbook each day. I printed out sermon after sermon until I had bulging 3-ring binder. Spurgeon's love of God and His Word was so contagious that I began to read the Bible in a new light. My trial did not miraculously disappear. I still shed many tears and battled fear and unbelief, but my view of God changed which changed everything.

I truly believe God used this long-dead Baptist preacher to keep me from throwing in the towel and abandoning the faith. My weak and rather unbiblical understanding would never have stood the test, but He was faithful to give me a bigger glimpse of Himself in His power, His love, and His sovereignty.

So I thank God for His faithful servants down through the ages, and I especially thank Him for Charles Spurgeon.

The Lord and no one else shall save me. I desire no other helper and would not trust in an arm of flesh even if I could. I will cry to Him evening, and morning, and noon, and I will cry to no one else, for He is all sufficient.
How He will save me I cannot guess; but He will do it, I know. He will do it in the best and surest way, and He will do it in the largest, truest, and fullest sense. Out of this trouble and all future troubles the great I AM will bring me as surely as He lives; and when death comes and all the mysteries of eternity follow thereon, still will this be true: "the Lord shall save me." This shall be my song all through this autumn day. Is it not as a ripe apple from the tree of life? I will feed upon it. How sweet it is to my taste!  
Faith's Check Book, August 28


Monday, October 20, 2014

Food for Thought

 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 
~Psalm 73:25-26

All the riches of the covenant of grace that Christ has purchased with his precious blood, and all the good that an infinite God can give, you shall have them. God will fill your soul to its utmost capacity. When you have these, you desire no more and quietly rest forever. What a portion is this! The pleasures of sin are for a season, a little inch of time. This portion is forever...Death parts all other portions from the sons of men, but gives you your full portion. Then you will know your portion's true worth. When fire burns up the world it will not even singe your portion. You may stand upon the ruins of the world and sing: I have lost nothing, I have my inheritance, my happiness, and my God still.
~George Swinnock

Friday, October 17, 2014

Believers Have New Life

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked . . . 
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved . . . . (Ephesians 2:1, 5 ESV)
God's salvation, Paul writes, brings spiritual life to people who are spiritually dead. Scripture also calls this work of the Holy Spirit being born again (John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23), being newly created (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17), or becoming a new self or person (Ephesians 4:24). Theologians usually call it regeneration.

Everything Changes

This pivotal transformation occurs when God implants spiritual life in someone who, to use another scriptural term, has been spiritually dead. When this change happens, says Louis Berkhof, "the governing disposition of [a person's] soul is made holy".1 If you're familiar with Ephesians 2, you know that between the verses quoted above, Paul says that our natural governing disposition—the spiritually dead one—is decidedly unholy. A spiritually dead person is
following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind . . . . (Ephesians 2:2-3)
Before we are reborn, we are governed by Satan and our own sinful desires, but when we are reborn, we come under the dominion of the Holy Spirit. Or to put it another way, in the new birth, the Spirit unites us to Christ, who lives his resurrection life in us.

At the moment our new life begins, everything changes. Without new life, we see no need for repentance, but with new life, repentance becomes a life principle. Without new life, we have no desire or ability to follow Christ, but with new life, we do.

New Life Gives Faith

Someone who has been born again believes Christ, loves him, and trusts him. In the last post in this series, we learned God gives us the faith by which we are saved. He does this by implanting new life within us, and "conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ is [the] immediate fruit"2 of this new life. Everyone who has been regenerated repents and believes, and no one repents and believes without it.

New Life Grows Holiness

What's more, regeneration brings ongoing changes in our attitudes and actions. Like faith, obedience is also a fruit of regeneration. The person who has been born again is increasingly obedient to Christ (1 John 2:29); they cannot keep on living a life of sin (1 John 3:9). Yes, sin will continue to be a problem in this life, but someone with new life keeps on growing in holiness.

Theologians call this process—the growing holiness of the one who is regenerated—sanctification. Sanctification is primarily God's work, for the Holy Spirit works within the believer, causing them to want to please God and giving them the power to do it (Philippians 2:13). But the believer has work to do, too (Philippians 2:12). The believer's effort is God-dependent effort, but it's real effort.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Fundamentally, a believer's work in sanctification is to become, more and more, what they already have become through God's regenerating work. Paul exhorts the believer to "put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life" and "put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Jesus, the one we have been united with in the new birth, whose resurrection life gives us our new life, is our example as we live out our new life of obedience. In sanctification, we are becoming conformed to his image—and the more we grow in our knowledge him, the more we become like him (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Are you a believer? Then strive to be what you already are—a new person recreated to be like Christ.

Learn More
  1. Study Ephesians 2:1-10 and Ephesians 4:17-32. Read the entire book of 1 John to learn more about the life results of being born again.
  2. Read up on regeneration and sanctification in your favorite systematic theology. In Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, chapter 34 is about regeneration, and chapter 38 on sanctification. You can also read about regeneration and sanctification online from Berkhof's Systematic Theology.
  3. Read the chapters Regeneration and Holiness and Sanctification in J. I. Packer's 18 Words: The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know(previously known as God's Words).
  4. Listen to Wayne Grudem teach about regeneration and sanctification (part 1, part 2, part 3).
1] Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof, page 469

2] Concise Theology by J. I. Packer, page 158.

This post is the latest in a series of posts on truths every Christian woman should know. Here are the previous posts:
  1. God Has Spoken (posted at the True Woman Blog)
  2. God Is Three and God Is One
  3. God Is Who He Is
  4. God Had a Plan
  5. God Created the Universe
  6. We Are Made in God's Image
  7. We Are All Sinners
  8. God Saves
  9. The Son Came
  10. Jesus Lived and Died
  11. Jesus Is Risen
  12. Jesus Is Lord
  13. We Must Believe

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why I Love the Doctor

(And no, just for the record, it's not this Doctor, although I do find him entertaining)

The first thing I ever read by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was Spiritual Depression. I saw the title and synopsis at an online Christian bookseller, and I liked how it sounded. I had been going through a spiritually dry time, and it sounded like just the thing I needed.

That was beginning of a beautiful friendship, as they say. Following that book, I wanted to know more about Dr. Lloyd-Jones, so I read the two-volume biography by Iain Murray (which I highly recommend). Since then, I have read others of Lloyd-Jones's books. He is one of my favourite preachers.

Lloyd-Jones, a Welshman, began his career as a medical doctor, but after a couple of years, felt himself called to ministry. After ten years with a church in Wales, in 1939, he went to Westminster Chapel in London, where he served alongside G. Campbell Morgan, and eventually became the sole minister there. He is recognized as one of the 20th century's greatest preachers. That was what he was above all, a preacher.

If you are looking for encouraging reading, I cannot recommend Lloyd-Jones enough. Lloyd-Jones's books are based upon his sermons, which are plentiful. You could spend a lifetime reading his material. His study on Romans contains fourteen volumes alone.

Lloyd-Jones saw the urgency for the gospel to be proclaimed. He saw the necessity for personal holiness. He saw the need for self-examination. He wasn't caught up in popular trends or fashion. He was simply concerned with people hearing the Scriptures expounded so that they might live in light of them. I have certainly not read everything by Lloyd-Jones, and there are probably things I might disagree with, but whenever I have delved into a volume of his, I have come away having learned something, been encouraged, and been inspired to press on in my life of faith. He explained things thoroughly and clearly, and always with the goal of making these truths real and active in our lives.

Here at the Out of the Ordinary, we are all acquainted with the Doctor. In fact, when I polled my fellow bloggers here, asking for their recommended Lloyd-Jones volume, four of them said Spiritual Depression. Persis also recommended Authority, and Becky recommended Faith Tried and Triumphant. That volume is out of print now, but its contents can be read in two volumes, Faith on Trial, and From Fear to Faith. I have read Faith on Trial, and it is indeed very good. In addition to Spritual Depression, I would highly recommend Studies on the Sermon on the Mount. My friend and I read it together, meeting weekly to discuss it.

Currently, I am reading Lloyd-Jones's volume on I John, Life in Christ. I am teaching I John, and in my preparations, I read the relevant sections after studying. His explanations are always so insightful, and I have borrowed some of his thoughts and used them in my Sunday school class.

Here is a quote from that book which I recently found encouraging. He is commenting on I John 3:3, and how we purify ourselves:
I purify myself by considering Him, by looking at Him and His perfect life; that is the pattern I am to follow. We are reminded of that by the Apostle Paul. God has called us that we may be 'conformed to the image of his Son' (Rom 8:29). So if that is God's plan and purpose for me, then the first thing I must do is look at the Lord Jesus Christ, to look at the way He conducted Himself in this life and world. I am to be like Him, so I consider Him. I realise that is what I am destined for, so I begin to put it into practise.
Notice how Lloyd-Jones points us back to looking at Christ? He does that a lot. He also exhorts us to examine ourselves, and "talk" to ourselves, asking ourselves questions about our attitudes. This is the kind of encouragement I need daily. Books abound with practical advice, with "how to" approaches, and approaches that are ultimately only applicable to one season of life or circumstance. Lloyd-Jones's counsel was for an entire life time, because it always focuses us back to Christ, to who we are, and to how we must relate to Christ properly.

In addition to Lloyd-Jones's books, do check out The Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust, where you can listen to his sermons and learn more about him. If you sample his writing and preaching, you will be blessed.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review: Captivating

This review originally appeared on my personal blog.

Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul by John and Stasi Eldredge has been one of the most popular books in the Christian market over the last decade. Its 2005 release has led to the publication of journals, Bible studies, gift books, and an updated edition. Ideas put forth in this book have found their way into a lot of Christian women’s books, even from authors who have a reputation for being biblical and orthodox.

This is not a comprehensive review. I found many things in this book that are unbiblical, but I’m not going to pull it apart point by point. I am going to focus on two things: what makes the book insightful (and therefore popular), and the book’s most glaring error (which in many ways leads to all its other errors).

What it Got Right

There’s a reason why this book is so popular, and there’s a reason why so many women find it helpful. The authors have a good handle on what makes women tick. Women are relational. In fact, we obsess over our relationships in ways men often don’t understand. This goes back to the curse found in Genesis 3:16. Just as men tend to find their worth and identity in their work (Genesis 3:17-19), women tend to find their worth and identity in relationships. But since we live in a world marred by sin, these things don’t bring the peace that we think they should.

According to the Eldredges, when a woman has been hurt in relationships, she tends to respond in two different ways. She either becomes controlling or desolate. These titles are self-explanatory, and we all know women who fall in these categories. The controlling woman strives to take matters into her own hands, while the desolate woman continues to put herself at the mercy of people who treat her badly.

This is one of the more insightful explanations of the connection between the Fall and women’s behavior that I’ve read. Since understanding why we do what we do is enlightening (especially for women who are well-grounded in Scripture otherwise), I understand why so many women find this book helpful.

Now, even with that, there are problems with this portion of the book. They put a lot of blame for a woman’s troubles on things that happened in her childhood. I’m not saying a woman (or anyone) should be made to feel that abuse is her fault, so please don’t misunderstand me on that. But although they devote plenty of space to the ways others sin against us, they rarely mention how we sin against God.

They also state that Satan has a special hatred for women and attacks her more forcefully. I don’t know of any place in Scripture that confirms this. Yes, Satan is our enemy and accuser, but we sin when we give way to our own evil desires (James 1:14).

The Most Glaring Error

Out of all the errors of the book, the most glaring one is its insufficient view of God. God is portrayed throughout the book as “yearning for us,” and several places state that we as women can “minister to God.” In one section, they even claim that there is “in God’s heart a place that you alone can fill.” (Location 1323, Kindle edition)

This is a direct contradiction to the Scriptural teaching of God’s self-sufficiency (or, as Arthur Pink says in his book The Attributes of God, God’s Solitariness). This is not some obscure, hidden attribute, but something taught plainly in Scripture.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24–25).

And also:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
Or who has given a gift to him
 that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

To quote Pink:

God was under no constraint, no obligation, no necessity to create. That he chose to do so was purely a sovereign act on his part, caused by nothing outside himself, determined by nothing but his own mere good pleasure; for he “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11). That he did create was simply for his manifestative glory.

I’m not being nitpicky by objecting to this. With such a low view of God, they cannot point women to a higher love and devotion. If there is something in us that can “minister to” or “fill” God, that would mean that God is somehow lacking and therefore not perfect. Only a perfect God deserves our trust and worship. All of God’s divine attributes hang together; if we lose one, we lose them all.

Women’s desire for love and beauty is part of what makes us God’s image bearers. (The Eldredges refer to this as our desire to be romanced, to take part in a grand adventure, and to uncover beauty.) Like all good things, though, the human tendency is to turn them into ultimate things. For many women, the good desire for love and beauty is an idol. Instead of showing us how these earthly desires are often a poor reflection of what we can only find in our relationship with Christ, they instead bring Jesus down to the level of some ideal, earthly boyfriend.

Like I said earlier, many women claim this book has helped them. I’m sure some of them have managed to discard the errors and draw help from the insights. But I fear that many women have been soothed into thinking their idolatrous earthly longings are holy. As heartbreaking as it is when people reject the true God, it’s perhaps a greater tragedy when they unwittingly put their trust in a false one.

*This review is based on the Kindle version of the original 2005 edition.