Results tagged “God” from Reformation21 Blog

Love and Anger at the Cross?

Last week, Wyatt Graham published a post titled, "The Father Was Not Angry at the Son of the Cross," in which he rightly explained that God the Father never stopped loving the Son--even when the Son hung on the cross. While there are many good and helpful statements in Wyatt's post--and, while he cites John Calvin for support--quite a number of them raise more questions than they answer. For instance, he says, "To build a case that the Father was angry with the Son goes beyond Scripture and the consensus of orthodox Christianity." Here we need to pause and ask, "Is it, in fact, unorthodox to believe that, in some sense, the Father was angry with the Son when He hung on the cross in the place of His people to atone for their sin and propitiate the wrath of the Father for their eternal redemption?" 

That the Father never stopped loving the Son--even when he hung on the cross--is one of the most important Christological truths upon which we can meditate. After all, it was Jesus who said, "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again" (John 10:17). Herman Witsius, the 17th century Dutch theologian, explained that the Son "never pleased the Father more, than when he showed himself obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."1 In his sermon, "The Saddest Cry from the Cross," Charles Spurgeon explained, 

"If it had been possible for God's love towards His Son to be increased, He would have delighted in Him more when He was standing as the suffering Representative of His chosen people than He had ever delighted in Him before."2

It is impossible for one member of the Godhead to look upon another without infinite and eternal love...even for one second. 

While it is undeniable that the Father never stopped loving the Son (even when the Son bore the wrath of God on the cross), the way we should speak about the Son as our substitute in relation to the Father when he hung on the cross has been long debated. Is it right, in any sense whatsoever, to say that the Father was angry with the Son when He punished the Son in our place and for our sin? Was he ever the subject of the holy anger of which we, as hell-deserving sinners, are the proper objects?

When we take up the question about God's disposition toward his people, we must first seek to embrace all that Scripture has to say. The Apostle Paul made quite clear that we are all "by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Eph. 2:3). John Calvin wrote, 

"Children of wrath are those who are lost, and who deserve eternal death. Wrath means the judgment of God; so that the children of wrath are those who are condemned before God. Such, the apostle tells us, had been the Jews,--such had been all the excellent men that were now in the Church; and they were so by nature, that is, from their very commencement, and from their mother's womb."3

Why did Jesus have to bear the wrath of God on the cross when he hung there as our representative? Simply put, Jesus had to step in the place of filthy (Job 15:16; Lam. 1:8; Isaiah 64:6; ), ungodly (Rom. 4:5; 5:6); God hating (Rom. 1:30) enemies (Rom. 5:10) who "deserve eternal death," those who are "condemned before God." There was nothing in us to commend us to God. The Apostle puts it in the strongest of terms when he said, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells (Rom. 7:18)." When we read these statements, and the many others like it, we are meant to say, "This is who I am by nature--an enemy of God, alienated from Him and under His wrath and just displeasure." 

Nevertheless, God sent His Son because of "the great love with which He loved us" (Eph. 2:4). The Apostle marveled at what God had done in Christ crucified and he said, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Paul's identity was bound up in the love of God in Christ. He wrote, "The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). God does not love us because of Jesus; rather, God loved us and so He gave His Son for us. As John Murray put it, "The death of Christ does not constrain or elicit the love of God but the love of God constrained to the death of Christ as the only adequate provision of this love. The love of God is the impulsive force and its distinctive character is demonstrated in that which emanates from it."

When we take these two things together we have to say that the cross shows me that I am, by nature, the object of God's just anger and displeasure and that I am the object of His eternal and unmerited love, by grace. The cross reveals a both/and rather than an either/or. This is essential to understanding that the Father never stopped loving the Son on the cross and that He made the Son the object of His just displeasure and anger as the representative who stood in our place to atone for our sin and to propitiate God's wrath. 

In his "Conciliatory, or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies agitated in Britain, under the Unhappy Names of Antinomians and Neonomians" (They were quite luxurious with the printing press back then), Witsius explained the longstanding difference of opinion among orthodox theologians over how to speak about the Son in light of the fact that He was bearing the wrath of God for His people on the cross. He first asked whether or not it was proper to say that "Christ on account of the pollution of our sins was also polluted and odious, and placed in such a state that God abhorred him?" After explaining that the Father never stopped loving the Son, but did, in fact, love him most when he was on the cross, Witsius wrote:

"Christ, not because of the susception of our sins, which was an holy action, and most acceptable to God, but because of the sins themselves which he took upon him, and because of the persons of sinners whom he sustained, was represented not only under the emblem of a lamb, inasmuch as it is a stupid kind of creature, and ready to wander; but also of a lascivious, a wanton, and a rank-smelling goat, Lev. 16:7. yea, likewise of a cursed serpent, John 3:14. and in that respect, was execrable and accursed, even to God. For this is what Paul expressly asserts, Gal. 3:13. on which place Calvin thus comments, "He does not say that Christ was cursed, but a curse, which is more; for it signifies that the curse due to all, terminated in him. If this seem hard to any, let him also be ashamed of the cross of Christ, in the confession of which we glory!"4

Witsius then suggested that even if we agree that "God abhorred the Son" when he legally represented us on the cross, we should be willing--for the sake of peace--to limit ourselves to the language of Scripture (e.g. Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21), 

"What cogent reason is there, why we should say that Christ was odious and abominable to the Father, when we may adhere to the dictates of the Holy Spirit, who pronounces that he was an execration (i.e. an angry denouncement or curse) of God? But I would wish also to know what there is in these words of human invention, except that they are of human invention, for the sake of which others are so much offended. If we love the thing itself, is there more of emphasis or of weight, in the names filthy, odious, abominable, than in the name cursed, or execrable? Why do we strive about words, which may be safely omitted, if found to give offense; but being also innocently said, ought not to be wrested to another sense."5

Next, Witsius set out an important section of the "Formula of Concord" as, what he deemed to be, "a convenient method of agreement" in this debate, 

"Since there is an exchange of persons between Christ and believers, and since the guilt of our iniquities was laid upon him, the Father was OFFENDED AND ANGRY with him. Not that he was ever moved with any PASSION against him, which is repugnant in general to the perfection of the Divine nature, under whatever consideration: neither that he was by any means offended at him, much less abhorred him, so far as he was considered IN HIMSELF, for so he was entirely free from all sin; but as considered IN RELATION TO US, seeing he was our SURETY, carrying our sins in his own Body. Thus, if by an OFFENDED AND AN ANGRY mind, you understand a holy WILL TO PUNISH, Christ the Lord felt and bore the displeasure of God, and the weight of his wrath, in the punishment of our sins, which were translated to him. For it pleased the Father to bruise him, having laid the iniquities of us all upon him."6

Witsius concluded, "If these things are granted on both sides, as is just, what controversy can remain?" 

In short, it is right for us to both affirm that the Father never stopped loving the Son when he hung on the cross and that the Father was justly angry with the Son "because of the sins themselves which he took upon him, and because of the persons of sinners whom he sustained." It would be unorthodox to insist that within the Godhead, the love of the Father for the Son was ever diminished or ceased. That would be a denial of the doctrine of Divine simplicity. It would be equally unorthodox to insist that--insomuch as Jesus was the representative of a people who are, by nature, under the wrath and curse of God and rightly the objects of his just anger and displeasure--the Son was not the object of the Father's just wrath. 

1.Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 44. 

2. An excerpt from Charles Spurgeon's sermon "The Saddest Cry from the Cross," Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit #2803

3. Jon Calvin Calvin on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and the Ephesians (Edinburgh: Thomas Clark, 1841) p. 203

4. Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions pp. 44-45.

5. Ibid. p. 46.

6. Ibid., pp. 46-47. 

The Rhythms of Grace


God has placed us in a world that's got a rhythm to it. Each day has a sunrise and sunset. Each week has six days of work and a day of rest. Even the four seasons rise and fall with a predictable pattern.

This same rhythmic quality comes into play at the end of one calendar year and the beginning of another. The end of a year provides a natural opportunity to look back and remember the ups and downs of the year and all the grace received. The beginning of another provides us the opportunity to look forward to what God will do in you and through you for His glory.

To look back and remember requires faith. It requires believing that God sovereignly determined everything you experienced this year. Such exercise of faith is easier to say than to do.

In fact, knowing that God was behind everything that happened this last year is the kind of answer that raises other questions. For we don't just want to know that God was behind it all; we want to know the purpose behind what He did. We want to know the reasons for the tragedies and heartaches. We want to know the meaning underneath the joys and triumphs. In other words, we want to know the why behind the what.

Though we know something of the reasons behind what happens in our lives, we will never have the full picture in this life. John Piper was right when he said, "God is always doing 10,000 things in our life, and you may be aware of three of them." In saying that, Piper is acknowledging that God is infinite and we are finite; that His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are past finding out (Psalm 145:3; Isaiah 55:8-9). Because God is God and we are not, the happenings of our life will always at some level remain mysterious.

That is not to say, however, that we can't know anything. As Piper noted, we can truly know the two or three or four things that God is doing in our life at any given point. We can know these things because God has given us His Word.

For instance, we can know that those tragedies and heartaches from this last year are to produce character and hope, for Paul tells us that, "...suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character; and character hope" (Romans 5:3-4). We know that the joys and triumphs are intended to produce thankfulness and worship to God. Paul writes, "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus," (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and Moses writes, "You shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God is given you" (Deut. 26:11).

When our life experiences are brought into relationship with the truth of Scripture, the light of God's purposes begin to shine.

But what are we to make of the mysteries of life? How do we process the things we can't seem to understand? The Scripture helps us here, too. For even though we don't know the "why" for everything that happens, we know the Who behind it all. And this is the greatest assurance of all.

We know, for instance, that God is always merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love toward his people (Psalm 103:8). He will be for us a stronghold in the day of trouble and will provide a refuge for us (Nahum 1:7). Ultimately, we know this is true because He's given us an eternal refuge in His son (John 3:16), when He offered him up on the cross for our sins while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Therefore, we can rest assured that he will give us all good things (Romans 8:32) according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

As you look back over the past year and find yourself puzzling over why God did what He did, turn from what happened to the Who behind all that happened. This will strengthen you as you press into the new year before you. And when you hit confusing trials in the year ahead, and begin to doubt the goodness of God, pause and remember all you know about Him, for He is infinitely worthy of your trust.

Talk of God's attributes that is not tethered to concrete stories of God's dealings with his people in history tends toward abstraction (and so away from doxology, where all talk of God should end). The same is true, of course, of talk about any person's attributes. It's one thing for you to tell me that your spouse is kind and forgiving. I understand the meaning of those words, and, at least in theory, I applaud the virtues thus named. But those descriptors, so long as they remain divorced from stories of specific instances of spousal kindness and grace, don't grip me -- they don't move me to wonder and admiration at your spouse and his/her virtues. It's a whole different thing to tell me stories about how your spouse supported you in concrete ways during a rough spell at work or when your father passed away, or to tell me how quickly and freely they forgave you after you said or did that thing you shouldn't have said or done. Tell me stories, and I gain a more robust appreciation for the positive qualities of your husband or wife. Stories give teeth to adjectives that might otherwise fail to impress as fully as they should.

So too with God. Descriptions of God as just, merciful, wise, and true are accurate. But those words as such, no matter how artfully defined or movingly recited, don't grip us the way that concrete stories demonstrating God's justice, mercy, wisdom, and truthfulness do. And no story -- that is, no historical event -- puts God's attributes more vividly on display than the Cross. If pressed to define the Cross, our first inclination might be to unpack it in terms of what it has accomplished for us. And not without good reason. But we should also strive to unpack the Cross in terms of what it reveals and demonstrates about God. Who he is. What he is like.

Robert Howie does just that in his late sixteenth-century work On Man's Reconciliation with God. Howie was a Scottish born student of Caspar Olevianus and Johannes Piscator at Herborn. He returned to Scotland around the same time that his book on reconciliation was published on the continent (1591). Back home, he became the first principal of Marischal College in Aberdeen following its founding in 1593, and in 1606 succeeded Andrew Melville as principal of St. Mary's College in St. Andrews.

"In the reconciliation of God and man, God's supreme justice, mercy, wisdom, and truth shine." Thus Howie introduces the second chapter of his book on reconciliation. He proceeds to explain how each named characteristic of God is made conspicuous upon the Cross. With regard to God's justice, for instance, he notes how the Cross upheld God's own insistence regarding himself in Exodus 23:7 that he "will not acquit the guilty." God's justice was not compromised in the least by the Cross. Sin received its full due. God's righteous indignation at violations of his perfect law was exhausted. His wrath was poured out completely -- poured out on His own Son in the place of those whom God purposed to save from all eternity.

God's mercy, however, is equally conspicuous on the Cross. "God himself sent his only-begotten Son to die for those who were his enemies. And the Son suffered that wrath to fall on him that rightly should have been poured out on us." There was, Howie notes, no residual virtue in man that moved God to act thus. "God purposed to have mercy upon us entirely according to his own infinite grace, being moved by the indignity and misery of his creatures." Howie concludes his discussion of God's mercy vis-à-vis the Cross by noting several considerations that highlight the extent of that mercy. So, for instance, he points out that "God had mercy upon us, not upon the Angels [who rebelled against him], even though they were more excellent creatures than we." God's saving compassion towards particular sinners likewise exalts his mercy: "Even if all men had remained in the state of original intregrity and just one of those predestined for salvation had fallen, the Son of God still would have come down from heaven, and, leaving behind the ninety-nine sheep, would have sought the one who had gone astray and carried him home on his shoulders."

God's infinite wisdom, Howie notes thirdly, is conspicuous upon the cross. God's wisdom manifests itself in that way that perfect justice and perfect mercy meet upon the cross. "God remained just to the highest degree because he punished our sins with eternal death, not remitting any of them. He was merciful to the highest degree because he did not exact punishment for those sins from us, but from our surety, whom he himself had given to us, and thus he forgave all our sins." Reflection upon the wisdom revealed in justice and mercy's marriage on the cross prompts Howie to both praise and humble intellectual restraint. "Herein lies the astonishing wisdom of God, which transcends all knowledge. The minds of men are not sufficient to obtain exact understanding of these things. Angels rejoice to probe the same. Indeed, this wisdom is of such magnitude that we and the Angels will dwell upon it for eternity - there is much to learn from it, and much to weigh carefully in it."

"God's supreme truthfulness, finally, is conspicuous in our redemption." God's truthfulness, Howie argues, is seen in the fulfillment of God's own threats and promises in salvation history -- threats and promises that, upon the surface, may seem at odds with one another. So, for instance, God's insistence to Adam and Eve in the Garden that "you will surely die" (Gen. 2:7) finds fulfillment on the cross. Death for sin is realized in our substitute. Simultaneously, God's promise from the beginning (Gen. 3:15) of one who would come to conquer sin, death, and hell finds fulfillment on the cross. "God is found to be true in both the threats and promises he made," at that very moment when profound justice and profound mercy, in keeping with God's profound wisdom, meet. "For in the fullness of time, God sent the mediator into the world, and that mediator... absorbed for us that death which God had threatened."

Other attributes of God demonstrated upon the cross could be noted. Howie himself hints as much when he subsequently notes that God's "omnipotence never shone more brightly than when coupled with God's justice, when he determined to free us from death and the Devil... by a course that in itself seemed most impotent (for never did God constrain his omnipotence more than when he died in the flesh)."

In sum, then, we should as Christians regularly turn our thoughts to the cross. And may the cross, in addition to providing peace and hope to us, richly inform our sense of what God is like (our sense, that is, of his character), and so inform our praise.

Grace and sin

A number of pastoral issues have arisen recently which have brought home to me some particular truths and some particular emphases arising from them. Many of these situations are on the fringes of church life or outside it (though I sincerely hope that some of them might, under God's gracious influences, come within it in due course). How much we need to grasp spiritual realities with scriptural definition! It is a great distress to see how often false religion dismisses the former and degrades the latter, but even more grievous is to see professing Christians mishandle matters of central importance. (Please understand that these are not veiled critiques of events in the Christian stratosphere, but observations about concrete situations in local churches, or at least those places which call themselves churches. But you are wise, and may apply it.)

One area where this has cropped up recently is in the matter of grace, what Matthew Henry somewhere describes as "the free favour of God and all the blessed fruits of it." In common Christian parlance, grace seems to have become a catch-all noun to describe a certain kind of softness and carelessness with regard to sin. When acts and patterns of sin are exposed, we are encouraged to be gracious, but that grace is often not defined or ill-defined. When criticisms are made of certain acts and their actors, the rebuke is readily offered, "That is not gracious!" Grace, apparently, can ignore the sin that calls forth the critique, but not the sin of critiquing it!

So, for example, when there is gross sin in the church, we must show grace. When someone is acting wickedly, it is gracious not to condemn it. When a lie is told, grace will ignore the matter. When leaders fudge matters of righteousness, ignore God's truth, and expose God's flock to harms because they will not deal with transgressors, they are showing grace, and we must show grace by not charging them with any failings.

But this nebulous notion of grace is very far removed from the spiritual reality with scriptural definition that we find revealed and displayed in our Bibles. Gospel grace does not excuse or ignore or neglect sin. Gospel grace is never casual or careless with regard to transgression. Gospel grace, whether patterned in God or echoed in man, never pretends sin is not sin. Gospel grace does not expose the flock to harm because it will not identify error and heresy and defend against errorists and heretics, even in the name of love. Gospel grace suffers long, but it is not a disregard for iniquity that is dishonouring to God and dangerous to men. Gospel grace does not call evil good, and good evil; it does not put darkness for light, and light for darkness, or bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter (Is 5.20).

Gospel grace always faces and addresses sin, though it does so in a gracious way. If you want a seasonal example, think of that just man, who did not want to make the woman he loved a public example, despite what he was legitimately persuaded was the growing evidence of heinous sin, and "was minded to put her away secretly" (Mt 1.19). Grace took no delight in parading sin, but it did not pretend that it was not (as far as could reasonably be determined) sin. When Joseph was enlightened concerning the reality of the situation, would he not have been relieved that he did not have an immediately ungracious response, and make of Mary the most public example he could? Grace prevents us making errors born of harshness, and allows for the easy correction of mistakes.

Remember that fervent love is commanded among the saints, a love which will cover a multitude of sins (1Pt 4.8 cf. Prv 10.12), but consider that such love recognises sin as sin and chooses that, for good and proper reasons, it will be discreet in dealing with it or covering it. Again, to quote Matthew Henry, this love "inclines people to forgive and forget offences against themselves, to cover and conceal the sins of others, rather than aggravate them and spread them abroad." We read that "the discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression" (Prv 19.11) - he decides, as appropriate, that this transgression is not something that needs to be dealt with immediately and publicly, though he still recognises it as transgression, and there may come a time when a pattern of transgression requires him to stop overlooking and start acting. We do not pull one another up on every slip of deed and word, but take account of our frailties and failings as sinful creatures, creatures with remaining sin even as redeemed men and women. This is the grace of God as Father, who is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust" (Ps 103.8-14).

Notice here the hints at the greatest expression of grace: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in coming into the world to die on the cross for his wretched and sin-wrecked people was at once the clearest recognition of sin and the highest expression of mercy. God did not pretend that there was no sin; he saw it more clearly than we ever shall, but put it away by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. The cross is at once the revealing of the sinfulness of sin and the demonstration of the graciousness of grace.

Gospel grace does not revel in the public exposure of sin and aggressive shaming of sinners, like a church boasting of how many cases of corrective discipline it has handled recently. But neither does it sweep sin away as if it were of no moment. True gospel grace, patterned in a gracious God and echoed in gracious men, always faces sin head on. It is patient and kind, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, but it is also fiercely committed to the glory of a God who is holy and to the good of those who are called to be holy just as he is holy. It calls sin sin, and it considers the nature, occasion and consequences of any particular sin and responds appropriately.

Grace is not, then, an excuse to downplay or dismiss sin as if it were of no consequence, to go on neglecting to deal with it. Grace does not make sin of no account. Grace is the most honest in dealing with sin. Grace always takes account of sin, it looks sin in the ugly eye and - one way or another - it puts it away, sometimes at great cost to itself, dealing fairly and even tenderly with those in whom that sin is discerned, as occasion demands.

Grace, ultimately, is Godlike. It is not a commodity, a mere thing, but an expression of the heart of God in Christ Jesus his Son. If we would have a pattern for gospel grace, we must find it in Christ crucified. Bring all sin into the light of the gospel, put all sin under the shadow of the cross, and there you shall find wisdom in how to deal with it. Deal with it graciously, but deal with it you must. There is nothing gracious about pretending otherwise.

For the Lord is good

"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Ps 34.8)

The goodness of God is a topic that repays careful contemplation. Vast tracts of biblical teaching are devoted to this theme (Exod 33.19; Pss 34.8; 100.5; etc.), and the singular desire of the saints is to look upon the goodness of God (Ps 27.13). The goodness of God is multifaceted: the rays of divine goodness shine forth in "steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exod 34.6), but also in refusing to "clear the guilty" (Exod 34.7); and the goodness of God is eternal: his steadfast love "endures forever" (Ps 106.1). There is a sense, moreover, in which God alone is good (Mark 10.18) insofar as he is the supreme good, the source of all good, and the good apart from which no other goods are good (Ps 16.2). 

God's goodness can be contemplated under various categories. God is good in relation to his creatures. "The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made" (Ps 145.9). All God's creatures are good (Gen 1.31). And all God's works in and towards his creatures--in nature, grace, and glory--are expressions of his goodness (Ps 136; Acts 14.17), flowing as from a fountain of unmixed goodness (James 1.5, 13, 17; 1 John 1.5). God is good in his plans toward his creatures, in his execution of those plans, and in his approval of their results. 

God is also good in an absolute, metaphysical sense. According to Turretin, God is "autogathon"--good in and of himself. All the goods of God's creatures are but derivative and limited expressions of the good that God has (better: is) in underived and unlimited fullness. Bullinger describes God as "the everlasting well of all good things which is never drawn dry." God's "blessedness" or "happiness" (1 Tim 1.11; 6.15) accordingly consists in the fact that "he lacks nothing and enjoys in himself the fullness of all good things and abides in himself" (Synopsis Purioris Theologiae 6.43).

We need both "relative" and "absolute" categories of divine goodness in our theology. Leave one out and our theology will be incomplete. Confuse one with the other and our theology will founder. Relate the two categories properly and the rewards multiply. Consider three examples of how contemplating God's absolute or metaphysical goodness helps us better appreciate the nature of God's goodness toward his creatures. 

(1) Creation. We sometimes think of creation as God's plan for personal self-realization. God was lonely, so God decided to make human beings in order to experience relational fulfillment. God's absolute goodness suggests otherwise. Because God is supremely good in and of himself, and because he has always enjoyed his goodness within the perfect life of the Trinity (John 1.1; 17.5), he had no need to create us (Acts 17.25). 

If it was not in order to obtain something that he lacked, why did God create us? God created us in order to communicate a share of his supreme goodness to us. God's motive in creation was wholly altruistic: "The impelling cause of the creation of the world is God's highest goodness, whereby he was moved to communicate and reveal himself as the highest good to the things he would create" (Synopsis Purioris Theologiae 10.18).

(2) Consummation. As I have said before, we sometimes think and talk as if the greatest blessing of the new creation is . . . the new creation. Given God's absolute goodness, however, that cannot possibly be true. 

As in the doctrine of creation, God's absolute or metaphysical goodness does important work in eschatology. Augustine summarizes the matter with eloquence: "God himself . . . shall there be its reward; for, as there is nothing greater or better, he has promised himself. What else was meant by his word through the prophet, 'I will be your God, and ye shall be my people,' than, I shall be their satisfaction, I shall be all that men honorably desire,--life, and health, and nourishment, and plenty, and glory, and honor, and peace, and all good things?" 

(3) Redemption. Adam's sin unleashed disastrous consequences upon his offspring. Chief among these is the state of bondage in which we are alienated from the alpha of divine goodness and in which we have no hope of inheriting the omega of divine goodness. The problem is compounded by the fact that, according to the scriptures, we are far too poor to buy our way out of this bondage: "Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and not see the pit" (Ps 49.7-9). 

The only solution to our plight lies in the absolute, metaphysical goodness of God. From within the inexhaustible treasury that is God's triune life, God has provided the resources to ransom us from our slavery to sin: "you were ransomed . . . not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Pet 1.18-19). 

Augustine contemplated this divine economy, whereby "the one who made man from the dust and breathed into him (Gen 2:7), for the sake of this piece of pottery gave up his only Son to death," only to conclude, "Who can possibly explain how much he loves us, who can even think about it worthily?" The goodness of God transcends all creaturely goodness, unsearchable and unfathomable. We can contemplate the divine goodness, but we cannot explain it. We can however join the chorus of those who "shall pour forth the fame" of his "abundant goodness" and "shall sing aloud" of his "righteousness" (Ps 145.7). And that is a happy chorus indeed.
The Church seems to be full of controversy.  Much of this is quite necessary, and not unexpected.  After all, as the New Testament continually reminds us, false teachers will continually arise and false teaching always needs to be addressed.  On the other hand, it must be admitted that some controversy is merely self-serving - an exercise in building a personal brand.

Jude, as we've seen, is no stranger to controversy.  In fact, he spends most of his little page-long letter describing what I have called the church-wreckers, those men who snuck (and sneak - they're still doing it today) into the congregation, using the grace of God as a kind of cover for selfishness and unbelief. 

But that is not all Jude describes.  He goes much further, showing not just how the false teachers speak and behave, but how, in response and as a defense, we are to contend for the faith.  It is worth reminding ourselves that this contending for the faith involves action, and it presupposes doctrinal content - that's what the definite article in front of "faith" tells us. There is a body of doctrine that we're to defend, and Jude tells us how to do it.

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"God set before me love"

S.M. (Bod Alwyn)
God set before me love
To draw my soul to him,
But I was bound in Satan's chains
And revelled in my sin.

I saw the mercy seat,
Was taught the way to go;
I saw that Christ had died for sin,
But did not want to know.

I would not follow him,
I fought against his call,
But God would have me be his child,
Him be my All in All.

God set before me fear,
Darkness, despair and dread.
He drove me forth into the night
Where angels fear to tread.

As wreckage on the sea
Before God's storm I fled,
Exhausted, scourged and fearing still,
To where my Saviour bled.

While still his enemy
He suffered for my sin.
As clouds across a storm-swept sky
God sped my soul to him.

Still understanding not
I wept and feared until
At the bright throne of God I found
Grace, love, and mercy still.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

Effective personal evangelism: love

In the introductory article to this brief series, we marked out the limits of our study, namely that we are considering how individual believers, in their various spheres, might faithfully communicate the saving truth to those around them still lost in darkness, and what are the features of attitude and action that mark out those who do this well.

I suggest that the first requirement for the effective personal evangelist is love. This love must stretch in two directions: up to God and out to men. His love to God is the love that desires God's glory at any cost to himself, and is provoked when the Lord is dishonoured (Acts 17.16), grieved by affronts to his name. If the glory of God is the supreme object at which the evangelist aims, this will do much to direct and sustain him. But out of a love for the God of love that derives from having been loved comes a love for other people. This is a Godlike, Christlike love, the love of John 3.16 and Romans 5.6-8. Our love for the lost is confident of and reflective of God's love to sinners. It looks like Christ weeping over Jerusalem (Lk 19.41); it feels like Paul being willing to be accursed from Christ for his brothers, his countrymen according to the flesh (Rom 9.3); it sounds like Paul warning the people of Ephesus (Acts 20.31). The true-hearted evangelist knows what is at stake and responds to the desperate condition of the lost. He desires to see sinners new-born of the Spirit and growing in grace (1Cor 4.14-15), and - like his Saviour - dismisses none, but receives and sits down with those whom others would despise (Lk 15) if - by any means - he might win some. This is simply the echo of God's divine love and a response to it. I have known men who love God so much that they cannot bear to see his person unknown, his glory despised, his name dishonoured, his truth rejected, and his gospel unheard. Because of this, they love people enough to take that good news to all men. Our love for God carries us from God to men with a real interest in their well-being. I think of one brother who spent several months witnessing to Christ in a small village. By the end of that time I have some confidence that, without notes, he could have walked down any street in the village and told you the names and circumstances of pretty much every person to whom he spoke. Whatever that says of his mental powers, I believe that they were enhanced by genuine love and exercised by specific prayers. Do we love our children? If we do, are we speaking to them earnestly of Christ? Do we love the children we teach in Sunday School classes? Do we love our neighbours? What are their names? What are their circumstances? Are your colleagues mere faces, perhaps with names, or real people who need a real Saviour? The reason why we are often so slow to go to the lost is because we lack love for God and men. Love will overcome many obstacles in order to secure a blessing.

Persons of interest

You may not be aware of a portentous US drama for mild paranoiacs called Person of Interest. The premise is fairly simple: after September 11, 2001, a mysterious and reclusive (you could be mysterious without being reclusive, I suppose, but the reclusive are typically more mysterious than average) billionaire computer genius called Harold Finch creates a mysterious computer system that surveils pretty much everything going on in the US with the aim of preventing further terrorist attacks. Discovering that the Machine also predicts more ordinary crimes, he recruits a mysterious, presumed-dead CIA field officer going by the name of John Reese to intervene in these crimes, receiving the social security number of those who are either a risk or at risk and then building up a picture from available data to enable them to prevent the crime in question. Finch's mysterious voice-over at the beginning of each episode in season one tells us:
You are being watched. The government has a secret system, a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered irrelevant. They wouldn't act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up . . . we'll find you.
All very mysterious. Or not, now that we know that Machine exists, after a fashion. What is particularly interesting is that, at one point, Finch admits to creating Facebook as a means of gathering the data needed to fuel the Machine's calculations. The essential premise was that it is amazing how much information people will give if you ask, and it is much simpler than trying to extract or extort it by other means.

And that is what is vaguely laughable about the furore over the PRISM program conducted by the US government and probably dipped into by the UK government and who knows how many others: we gave them the information.

I am not suggesting that the companies involved are indeed just massive governmental facades for data-gathering (though just because you are paranoid does not mean that everyone is not out to get you), but it is not as if anyone forced us to offer the most mundane, specific or intimate details of our lives in a constantly updated stream of data. We were asked, and we gave, and gave probably far more and far more readily than the most insane dictator might have demanded. When people know that others are trying to get their information, they seek to hide it; when given an opportunity to share it, they do so thoughtlessly. I can imagine that a variety of representatives of dystopian totalitarian regimes past and present are now scratching their heads over their elaborate and expensive surveillance operations and saying to themselves, "You mean, all we needed to do was ask?"

So, we gave. But - on the assumption that it is not all a massive governmental conspiracy to obtain our information - the government took. We were not deliberately offering our data to them in order to be subjected to the surveillance program conducted with what were doubtless the best of intentions: after all, who would say that preventing terrorism is a bad thing? Ergo it is a good thing. Ergo we should do whatever it takes to prevent terrorism. Ergo PRISM is a good thing. Government employees and committees tend to work like that. And so sales of Orwell's 1984 skyrocket as we begin to realise that we may well be hurtling toward the age of Big Brother. We made our data readily available and nicely packaged, but the government took it unbidden, and in doing so crossed a line of sorts.

And there have been some trying to draw parallels between this process and the knowledge of God. But there are several critical differences, and we need to take great care with our analogies. First of all, we did not need to make our data available to God, and God did not need to take it. The God of heaven and earth simply has it. Possession of all knowledge, both actual and possible, past, present and future (as perceived from within the stream of time), is something that simply belongs to God as God. God is not Big Brother, or any approximation to him; he is God. Although sometimes language is used that accommodates God's knowledge to our understanding - "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good" (Prv 15.3) - God is not surveilling the world; he is God. God is not gathering information; God possesses it intrinsically. He is in all places, he knows all things:
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me," even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You. (Ps 139.7-12)
But furthermore, God is not Big Brother, because God is Father. The incarnate Son of God condescends to call us brothers (Heb 2.11-12) but that does not make him Big Brother. The Holy Spirit is not the Ghost in the Machine, taking up residence to spy from within. The Triune God already knows all things, and that knowledge is directed ultimately to the glory of his name and the good of his people: we are and always have been his perpetual persons of interest.

If we are the children of God, the knowledge and wisdom of God do not terrify us, not least because they are exercised by the God who is also loving, righteous, merciful and gracious. The fact that there is not a word on our tongues that the Lord does not know altogether (Ps 139.4) may act as a check upon our sin, but it does not take us into the realm of horror lest we should be overheard. It carries us into the realm of assurance because nothing lies outside of his understanding, and this is a God who cares for us.

The 1677/1689 Baptist Confession of Faith summarises the Scriptures sweetly by telling us that as the providence of God does in general reach to all creatures, so after a most special manner it takes care of his church, and disposes all things for the good of the church. God's innately-possessed knowledge is the knowledge of a heavenly Father who will accomplish all that is best and right for his children. It is the knowledge of the Good Shepherd who discerns all threats to and needs of his flock. It is the knowledge of the Comforter who understands altogether the being and doing of those to whom he ministers. It is the knowledge of the Lord of heaven who will defend his people against all his and their enemies and ultimately secure the downfall of those enemies.

We cannot rely on fallen men not to abuse their knowledge. To cobble together a couple of generally-acknowledged dicta, knowledge is power, and power corrupts, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. But the incorruptible God simply knows, and his is the powerfully active and loving knowledge of a Father toward his children, and in that knowledge we may rest secure and happy.

A web of wisdom

For anyone who may be interested, here's the complete picture:

1. Know and watch and guard your heart, cultivating the fear of the Lord.
2. Seek wisdom.

3. Remember the power of words.

4. Consider your testimony and character (digital footprint).
5. Assess the nature and influence of the company you keep.
6. Involve wise counsellors, especially parents when you are younger.

7. Be aware of your time and your attention.
8. Beware of filth and frivolity.

9. Train and restrain your appetites.
10. Cultivate humility.

And so, for the time being, the sonic screwdriver returns to its box.

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #6

Having trawled through the following . . .

. . . we come to the end:

9. Train and restrain your appetites.
  • He who earnestly seeks good finds favour, but trouble will come to him who seeks evil. (Prv 11.27)
  • An evildoer gives heed to false lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue. (Prv 17.4)
  • The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body. (Prv 18.8 cf. 26.22)
  • The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. (Prv 18.15)
  • The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbour finds no favour in his eyes. (Prv 21.10)

We need to do this in the real world so that we are equipped for the online realm. Think about what you want and why you engage in social media in the way that you do. What contributions do you enjoy and what links to you click on and what patterns are you a part of and what trends do you follow? Are you seeking what is good and delighting in what is pure, or do you find yourself revelling in what is empty, lascivious, malicious and cruel? Do you enjoy the exposures and failures of others? Are you hooked on gossip? (Not worldly gossip, of course, that would be . . . well, worldly - no, you are merely keeping abreast of matters in the evangelical world.) Are your appetites and contributions Christlike? If they are, you will help starve those who trade in filth and frivolity of their market. We must decide now that we will have no part in such things: we cannot afford to wait until the options are immediately before us on the screen.

10. Cultivate humility.

  • When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom. (Prv 11.2)
  • Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; though they join forces, none will go unpunished. (Prv 16.5)
  • Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, but who can find a faithful man? (Prv 20.6)
  • Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him. (Prv 24.17-18)
  • Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips. (Prv 27.2)
  • A man's pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honour. (Prv 29.23)
  • If you have been foolish in exalting yourself, or if you have devised evil, put your hand on your mouth. (Prv 30.32)

Do not be obsessed with measuring your petty progress and your ephemeral fame. Numbers can be deadly, especially if we become enslaved to them. How many friends do I have? What about him or her? How many views? How many retweets? We are being trained to think of the whole environment as some great arena for a straight competition in which numbers are the register of success or failure, influence or irrelevance. Do not use social media as a platform for your own promotion or to build your own reputation. I understand that you may be under some right obligation (contractual or felt) to draw attention to kingdom work you have been or will be involved in, and I appreciate that we ought to be sufficiently committed to the truth to which we cling that we are willing to make it known even at the risk of appearing self-serving. That said, it is frankly sickening how many men (some of whom make criticising others part of their stock-in-trade) manage to spend a great deal of their time mentioning that they have written such-and-such a book, recommending their own work shamelessly, linking to sweet things others have said about them, and retweeting anything with their name in it. Set out to exalt Christ, esteeming others more highly than yourself. Do not seek out applause and attention, nor angle for compliments and flattery: it is as sad to see someone post a stream of photos at his or her most seemingly-attractive in the hopes of getting all those gushing responses as it is to see the gushing responses flowing on demand. Do not proclaim your good deeds: some environments provide a good space for seeking prayer and rendering praise, the exchange of information, but might there be an ulterior motive? Some lack even the delicacy of the parodies of British DJs from a bygone age, Smashie and Nicey, who made it quite clear in as public a forum as possible that they did not wish to speak of "all the work I do for charidee." Information-sharing can be profitable; self-promotion is reprehensible (see Mt 6.1-4). Let your social media use serve God and others, and not yourself.

In conclusion, whatever you do in this sphere, remember the impact that it has on you, your church, and your Lord, and choose it and use it to the glory of God. Look first to yourself, being slow to judge others (Mt 7.1-5; Rom 14.4), and be especially wary of imputing evil motives to brothers (1Cor 13.4-7). Do not presume upon your spiritual safety (1Cor 10.12). Let this be one proportionate dimension -  not the first or only one - of a life in pursuit of likeness to Jesus Christ. Remember what is at stake (Mk 9.43-50), and that heaven and hell hang in some measure upon the choices you make while floating in the electronic ether. It is better to be thought a Luddite nobody than to be a damned technocrat, better to be a slow adopter than a fool without brakes. If your online engagement is dragging your soul down to hell, then it would be more profitable for you to cut up the cables and cast away the wi-fi than to be up-to-date with all the latest trends and technology even as you descend to the pit. Simply put, if something cannot be used to the glory of God, then do not use it, and do not let anyone tell you that you are redeeming the culture - you are not, you are corrupting your soul. Furthermore, then, if there is a need, repent of your sin and make restitution in the same spheres in which you sinned (Lk 19.8), and then set out in dependence upon God to put away what you cannot use for God's glory once and for all, and to use what you can, if you can, when you can and as you can for the honour and praise of his great name.

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #5

What's a Time Lord to do? He dabbles a little in the 17th century and the shadowy fiend known mainly as the Pope of Ealing throws twitterbombs in his direction. He dips an intergalactic toe in the murky waters of the 21st century, and Davros himself pitches up and gets narky.

But not to worry, chaps: we're almost there, and next week I shall probably be sliding the sonic screwdriver into my universal toolbox for a few days, as - Lord willing (which, at present, very much includes health permitting) - I shall be noodling around Romania, listening to and labouring with the esteemed Conrad Mbewe at a series of conferences. However, I have been skidding across the 18th and early 19th centuries in the last few days, and trust that I have found a few provocative nuggets that I might share at some point.

In the meantime, let's crack on . . .

7. Be aware of your time and your attention.

  • As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy man to those who send him. (Prv 10.26)
  • In all labour there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty. (Prv 14.23)
  • He who is slothful in his work is a brother to him who is a great destroyer. (Prv 18.9)
  • Laziness casts one into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger. (Prv 19.15)
  • The lazy man says, "There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!" (Prv 22.13)
  • I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man. (Prv 24.30-34)
  • He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough! (Prv 28.19)

This may be a matter that is primarily before God for some, but it will almost certainly have an effect on others, including family members and employers (both actual and potential, who are now almost certain, among other things, to be checking out your online profile). Do you know how much time you are spending on these things? There are tools available to help you log your time online. Paul calls upon us to "walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph 5.15-16). Social media is one of the great distractions of the age, a demonstration that it is not time we lack but the ability to apply ourselves in the time we have, and any level of slavery to social media is likely to have a dramatic negative effect on your diligence and productivity. It can become an excuse for not getting on with or accomplishing something in what we might quaintly call 'real life', and that real life will all too soon begin to show the marks of distraction and dissipation. Activity in social media can give the impression of having done something while neglecting what ought to be done. "In all labour there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty": I am not suggesting that there is no place for relaxation and cheerfulness, for a wide variety of appropriate humour, for a healthy measure of banter, as there is between friends face-to-face, but can we really say that our online interaction is more than idle chatter? Or is our life governed by the empty blether characteristic of so much social media?

8. Beware of filth and frivolity.
  • . . . to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things, from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice in doing evil, and delight in the perversity of the wicked; whose ways are crooked, and who are devious in their paths; to deliver you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words, who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God. For her house leads down to death, and her paths to the dead; none who go to her return, nor do they regain the paths of life - so you may walk in the way of goodness, and keep to the paths of righteousness. For the upright will dwell in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the earth, and the unfaithful will be uprooted from it. (Prv 2.12-22)
  • My son, keep my words, and treasure my commands within you. Keep my commands and live, and my law as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, "You are my sister," and call understanding your nearest kin, that they may keep you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words. For at the window of my house I looked through my lattice, and saw among the simple, I perceived among the youths, a young man devoid of understanding, passing along the street near her corner; and he took the path to her house in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night. And there a woman met him, with the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart. She was loud and rebellious, her feet would not stay at home. At times she was outside, at times in the open square, lurking at every corner. So she caught him and kissed him; with an impudent face she said to him: "I have peace offerings with me; today I have paid my vows. So I came out to meet you, diligently to seek your face, and I have found you. I have spread my bed with tapestry, coloured coverings of Egyptian linen. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he has taken a bag of money with him, and will come home on the appointed day." With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him. Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, he did not know it would cost his life. Now therefore, listen to me, my children; pay attention to the words of my mouth: Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths; for she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death. (Prv 7.1-27)
  • A foolish woman is clamorous; she is simple, and knows nothing. For she sits at the door of her house, on a seat by the highest places of the city, to call to those who pass by, who go straight on their way: "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here"; and as for him who lacks understanding, she says to him, "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of hell. (Prv 9.13-18)
  • He who tills his land will be satisfied with bread, but he who follows frivolity is devoid of understanding. (Prv 12.11)
  • Even in laughter the heart may sorrow, and the end of mirth may be grief. (Prv 14.13)
  • The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on foolishness. (Prv 15.14)
  • The mouth of an immoral woman is a deep pit; he who is abhorred by the Lord will fall there. (Prv 22.14)
  • My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. For a harlot is a deep pit, and a seductress is a narrow well. She also lies in wait as for a victim, and increases the unfaithful among men. (Prv 23.26-28)
  • Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbour, and says, "I was only joking!" (Prv 26.18-19)

Again, before anyone accuses me of po-faced pietism, let me make clear that we are free to engage in that healthy and legitimate cheerfulness which is good for the soul (though bear in mind that banal and inane is not the same as healthy and legitimate - how funny can a cat that looks like Elvis be after you have seen it seventeen times?). But remember the devil's modus operandi: he plays upon "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1Jn 2.16), and social media can be a cesspit of these things however much perfume gets sprayed around. Incidental and deliberate prompts to immorality (images and words) are everywhere, and men in particular are prone to be stimulated and trained by the imagery, and the world is learning how to catch women in the same web more effectively. One prominent British newspaper is well known for its 'sidebar of shame,' boasting a phenomenal rate of clicks through on the rather obvious basis that it majors on unclad women and salacious gossip. The adverts that run on most sites are no different - hot singles in your area, anyone? And we can be so good at masking this: if someone were to calculate, for example, the pictures of friends you have looked at on Facebook, what would be the proportion of those who are the most physically attractive? Is that not a temptation? Satan can use this to train us to do his bidding, especially when we can just keep on clicking, a Pavlovian chain reaction, each tap of the finger providing the anticipated reward - before we have gone very far, we have passed through the levels to some of the worst filth known to men. Alongside of this, though perhaps less immediately dangerous, a sham and shallow lightness can also prevail, a sort of forced frothiness, pandering to frivolity and vanity. One man of God once pleaded, "I will set nothing wicked [or, worthless] before my eyes" (Ps 101.3), and much that is not explicitly filthy is at best painfully empty.

The sixth and final instalment coming up . . .

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #4

We're making progress, and I will bundle all these links in due course, but for now we have had . . .

Here are principles 4, 5 and 6.

4. Consider your testimony and character (digital footprint).
  • The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise. (Prv 11.30)
  • As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion. (Prv 11. 22)
  • The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, but the words of the pure are pleasant. (Prv 15.26)
  • Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right. (Prv 20.11)
  • Like a bird that wanders from its nest is a man who wanders from his place. (Prv 27.8)
  • The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe. (Prv 29.25)

A 'digital footprint' is the mark you leave behind as you make your way through the online world: it is the electronic shape of who you are and what impact you are having. I say unequivocally that a man or woman's involvement in social media, as to its matter and manner, should change decisively at conversion. Salvation should alter your footprint as much in the online realm as in the real world. Many Christians seem to fear the face of men as much if not more in their online interaction as anywhere else. It is frankly embarrassing and genuinely tragic how few Christians appear to have any distinctively Christian contribution to make online, no savour of Christ to carry with them into cyberspace. Where is the outshining godliness that ought to mark the saints? I am, of course, not suggesting that your contributions should consist solely of Bible quotes and stanzas of hymns, but are the contours of Christlikeness evident in the things you say, like, and follow online? If you are a professing disciple of Jesus Christ, would someone be able to read through a few days of your online interaction and legitimately and intelligently conclude who and whose you are? What do you like on Facebook? Who do you follow? What do you tweet or comment? There may be a problem with some who have an online Christian persona and offline prove it a lie; far more grievous is the professing Christian whose digital footprint leaves not a hint of any nailmarks. Here is a chance to let your light shine clearly before men, rather than drawing a veil over or bringing a slur upon true religion. We ought to shine - deliberately and proactively - as much online as we do offline, and that, friends, may point us to the root of the problem.

5. Assess the nature and influence of the company you keep.

  • My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait to shed blood; let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause; let us swallow them alive like Sheol, and whole, like those who go down to the Pit; we shall find all kinds of precious possessions, we shall fill our houses with spoil; cast in your lot among us, let us all have one purse" - my son, do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path; for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. (Prv 1.10-16)
  • Do not envy the oppressor, and choose none of his ways; for the perverse person is an abomination to the Lord, but his secret counsel is with the upright. (Prv 3.31-32)
  • Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on. (Prv 4.14-15)
  • The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Prv 12.26)
  • He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed. (Prv 13.20)
  • Go from the presence of a foolish man, when you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge. (Prv 14.7)
  • A violent man entices his neighbour, and leads him in a way that is not good. (Prv 16.29)
  • A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prv 18.24)
  • Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go, lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul. (Prv 22.24-25)
  • My son, fear the Lord and the king; do not associate with those given to change; for their calamity will rise suddenly, and who knows the ruin those two can bring? (Prv 24.21-22)
  • Whoever causes the upright to go astray in an evil way, he himself will fall into his own pit; but the blameless will inherit good. (Prv 28.10)
  • Whoever loves wisdom makes his father rejoice, but a companion of harlots wastes his wealth. (Prv 29.3)

We might debate the reality of Facebook friendship, but the company we keep is an indicator of where we stand and in which direction we will go. Who are you attracted to and to whom are you attractive? Look through your friends, those who follow you and whom you follow, your blog feeds and readers, your regular commenters, the lists of recommendations that pop up for you on YouTube. What do all these associations say about you? Would you want a loving Christian friend or a faithful pastor to get a printout of your viewing history, all your online association and interaction? If not, why not? Besides, the Lord already knows it. Ask yourself seriously who you are influencing, if anyone, and to what end or by whom you are being influenced, and in which direction. Are you lifting others up or being dragged down? Are you found among the wicked, the angry, the restless, the complaining, the vulgar, and - if so - why are you there and what are you doing? Or, does your path carry you among the wise, the righteous, the peaceful, the pure? Evil company will corrupt your behaviour online as much as offline (1Cor 15.33). Is it time to do some weeding, even some vigorous pruning, of your online interaction and acquaintance?

6. Involve wise counsellors, especially parents when you are younger.

  • Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; for I give you good doctrine: do not forsake my law . . . (Prv 4.1-27)
  • Therefore hear me now, my children, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honour to others, and your years to the cruel one; lest aliens be filled with your wealth, and your labours go to the house of a foreigner; and you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed, and say: "How I have hated instruction, and my heart despised correction! I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me!" (Prv 5.7-13)
  • A wise son heeds his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. (Prv 13.1)
  • A fool despises his father's instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent. (Prv 15.5)
  • Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days. (Prv 19.20)
  • Cease listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge. (Prv 19.27)

Do not be ashamed to take advice and to obtain accountability. Some of this depends on age and circumstance, so if you are younger, and have responsible, hopefully Christian, parents, then they should be one of your first ports of call. Otherwise, find switched on and plugged in (in every sense) saints of wisdom and maturity. There are services like Covenant Eyes that provide some helpful tools for accountability. But find faithful counsellors: give them access to your online activity, and seek their opinion. Get outside your normal circle, if need be, and find someone who will not necessarily tell you what you wish to be told: that is not seeking counsel, but looking for someone to applaud while you get on with whatever pleases you. Listen humbly to what your counsellors say, for far too much seeking of counsel is a desperate attempt to find someone who will confirm what you have already decided to do or tell you what you long to hear.

#5 to follow . . .

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #3

So far, the introduction and the first two principles. Today, the most developed of the principles, concerning the power of words. While the applications are specific to social media, I hope that the principles are transferable to any communication.

3. Remember the power of words.
  • The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, But violence covers the mouth of the wicked. (Prv 10.11)
  • There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health. (Prv 12.18)
  • A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness. (Prv 15.1-2)
  • A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (Prv 15.4)
  • A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is! (Prv 15.23)
  • Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and they love him who speaks what is right. (Prv 16.13)
  • Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. (Prv 16.24)
  • A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Prv 25.11)
  • As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country. (Prv 25.25)
  • Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. (Prv 31.8-9)
  • Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Prv 18.21)
  • The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue an angry countenance. (Prv 25.23)

Words are the most powerful tools you have at your disposal for construction or destruction in the lives of men. They can be used for great good or employed for great evil, a means of blessing or a weapon of cruelty. You may know the little ditty: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, / But words can never harm me." It is arrant nonsense. When you have been most deeply hurt, was it not words that were employed to do the damage, damage that lasts? Perverse words break the spirit and crush the soul. Carelessness with words is the mark of a fool. Whether Facebook status updates or comments, tweets, blog posts and their comments, chat room chatter, instant messaging or texting, speech or song, the godly man sets out to use words to do good, to promote health.

a. Note the connection with the heart.
  • The lips of the wise disperse knowledge, but the heart of the fool does not do so. (Prv 15.7)
  • The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips. (Prv 16.23)
  • My son, if your heart is wise, my heart will rejoice - indeed, I myself; yes, my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak right things. (Prv 23.15-16)
  • Fervent lips with a wicked heart are like earthenware covered with silver dross. (Prv 26.23)

Matthew 12.34 says that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks," and, we might add, the finger types and swypes or the pen writes. Other people can and will obtain an accurate readout of your character from your online interactions. The pictures or posts that you comment on and the comments that you make will prove in measure a window on your soul. They will see your priorities and your appetites and your inclinations laid bare. This is why, perhaps, it is not only employers who ought to check the online profiles of potential employees, but pastors who should consider the profiles of potential members. It is one way - not an infallible way - to gauge the spirit that is in a man, taking into account the warning that fervent lips may hide a wicked heart.

b. Contribute sparingly and slowly and discreetly.
  • My son, pay attention to my wisdom; lend your ear to my understanding, that you may preserve discretion, and your lips may keep knowledge. (Prv 5.1-2)
  • In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise. (Prv 10.19)
  • A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter. (Prv 11.13)
  • As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion. (Prv 11.22)
  • A fool's wrath is known at once, but a prudent man covers shame. (Prv 12.16)
  • A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims foolishness. (Prv 12.23)
  • He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction. (Prv 13.3)
  • The simple believes every word, but the prudent considers well his steps. (Prv 14.15)
  • He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly. (Prv 14.29)
  • The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil. (Prv 15.28)
  • He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Prv 16.32)
  • He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. (Prv 17.27)
  • A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart. (Prv 18.2)
  • He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him. (Prv 18.13)
  • The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression. (Prv 19.11)
  • Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. (Prv 21.23)
  • Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Prv 26.4-5)
  • Like one who binds a stone in a sling is he who gives honour to a fool. (Prv 26.8)
  • A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back. (Prv 29.11)
  • Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Prv 29.20)

Social media demands and usually gets spontaneity and immediacy, especially in its briefer forms, prompting many and rapid contributions. The environment calls us to communicate without any real thought. Again, the way that the screen distances our audience can betray us: would you announce to an audience of tens, hundreds or thousands some of the things that you broadcast online? We have no sense of that hunched over our smartphones or slumped in front of our screens. Proverbs reminds us that we should be conscientiously careful as to the number, speed and intended effect of our words. Perhaps we like the idea of being some kind of online first-responder, quick to the scene of the latest crash, showering insights over situations that no-one else has even realised have happened. If slowing down means that our name is not prominent, then so be it. Consider also how even the mechanics of commenting can push you in a certain direction: tiny keyboards and compressed expression keep us from nuance and development in discussion and interaction. How often do we reveal our ignorance by commenting on what we know nothing about simply because we were given an opportunity and a prompt to do so? Bloggers and commenters often speak to matters that they have no business addressing or no competence to address. Social media can become an involuntary verbal diarrhoea. Make yourself conscious of two audiences: God and those who will or may read your words. Does it honour God? What would this sound like if you said this to someone's face? For mankind, strip out all that vocal tone and body language might communicate, and consider what it communicates. Taking time, considering our reactions, weighing our expressions, being aware of our ignorance, speaking what is needful, holding back what need not be revealed about ourselves or others, will be the wisest course, and will likely garner a more valuable reputation in the long run.

c. Speak truly and honestly.
  • Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so. (Prv 3.27)
  • These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren. (Prv 6.16-19)
  • He who speaks truth declares righteousness, but a false witness, deceit. There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health. The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment. Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but counsellors of peace have joy. No grave trouble will overtake the righteous, but the wicked shall be filled with evil. Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are his delight. (Prv 12.17-22)
  • He who has a deceitful heart finds no good, and he who has a perverse tongue falls into evil. (Prv 17.20)
  • A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who speaks lies will not escape. . . . A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who speaks lies shall perish. (Prv 19.5, 9)
  • He who hates, disguises it with his lips, and lays up deceit within himself; when he speaks kindly, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly. (Prv 26.24-26)
  • He who rebukes a man will find more favour afterward than he who flatters with the tongue. (Prv 28.23)
  • A man who flatters his neighbour spreads a net for his feet. (Prv 29.5)
  • The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe. (Prv 29.25)

Speak truly about what is good as well as what is bad. Most people react most vigorously to what they dislike, commenting or engaging when they are upset, and perhaps presuming upon anything that is healthy and worthwhile. Consider encouraging what is good and profitable where it is appropriate. At the same time, consider that deceit and flattery are rife in social media, in part because you can so easily put a gap between who you really are and how you wish to be perceived. Even your profile may be a more-or-less deliberate exercise in profile airbrushing, presenting the person you would like to be, or would like to appear to be, rather than what you really are. We must put this principle in context: something may be true, but may not need to be said. If you may or must speak, then speak the truth, even if rebuking sin or foolishness. (Please bear in mind that cyberspace is almost certainly not the best place in which to carry out this sorry but necessary duty.) The Lord hates lies and condemns flattery. Mindless gushing serves no-one; for example, the seeming inability of some to see a photo of their friend without pouring forth a flood of inane congratulation on that friend's alleged beauty or poise ought to be controlled. It goes beyond encouragement, especially if it may have been posted with the aim of eliciting that kind of response. Evasive words and silences can also be dishonest.

d. Avoid empty or bitter engagement.
  • These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren. (Prv 6.16-19)
  • A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention. (Prv 15.18)
  • The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts. (Prv 17.14)
  • He who loves transgression loves strife, and he who exalts his gate seeks destruction. (Prv 17.19)
  • A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calls for blows. (Prv 18.6)
  • It is honourable for a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel. (Prv 20.3)
  • Do not say, "I will recompense evil"; wait for the Lord, and he will save you. (Prv 20.22)
  • Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words. (Prv 23.9)
  • Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls. (Prv 25.28)
  • He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears. (Prv 26.17)
  • As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. (Prv 26.21)
  • A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but a fool's wrath is heavier than both of them. Wrath is cruel and anger a torrent, but who is able to stand before jealousy? Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. (Prv 27.3-5)
  • He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife, but he who trusts in the Lord will be prospered. (Prv 28.25)
  • Scoffers set a city aflame, but wise men turn away wrath. (Prv 29.8)
  • An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression. (Prv 29.22)

Be a peacemaker wherever you are. If you must engage, do it graciously and truthfully, as you would wish others to engage with you. Do not seek out and join in fights: like taking a dog by the ears, once you grab hold you cannot let go. Some love to stir up trouble, delighting in pouring fuel on the fire. Some online engagement reads like a verbal drive-by shooting. Especially in the blogging world there are any number of discernment ministries which seem to involve the notion that everyone else has everything else wrong, you have it all right, and you are the (usually self-appointed) guardian(s) of orthodoxy or orthopraxy. There seem to be too many people with a reputation of more-or-less incisive criticism to maintain, too many individuals looking for some kind of argument to get involved in, too many fools participating in other men's quarrels, too many contenders looking for a fight or stirring up trouble. There is so much readiness to quarrel: there are some environments in which it takes no more than three steps for someone to start a fight: someone commends (or challenges) someone, someone queries the commendation (or challenge), the first person (or another) then defends the initial statement, and then everyone else launches off on one side or the other. It is wearying, not least when it takes place among people who ought to know better. Antagonism can bubble up over the most innocuous matters.

e. Shun slander and gossip.
  • Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins. (Prv 10.12)
  • Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool. (Prv 10.18)
  • An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire. A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends. (Prv 16.27-28)
  • He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips. (Prv 20.19)
  • Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. (Prv 26.20)
  • The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body. (Prv 26.22)

Even more innocent sites can be used to destroy someone's character or cripple reputations. Digging up and spreading around tales - even true ones, when and where you have no business meddling in it - will bring no honour to the Lord. God abominates such things. Think of how much 'news' on some sites is nothing more than gossip, sometimes simply slander, both in the world and in the church: who has said what about whom, who is linking up with whom, what is rumoured to be going on behind the scenes at such and such a place. Again, consider the need to know and the need to tell. Consider not speaking or waiting to speak if you are not sure. If the matter hangs in the balance, ask yourself with judgement day honesty whether or not you accurately know and are responsible to tell before you open your mouth or press the appropriate button. If you can, let the fire go out.

#4 to follow . . .

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #2

Following on from part one, in which I suggested that, as with so much else, we should ask the question, "How may I use social media to the glory of God?" Here are the first two principles:

1. Know and watch and guard your heart, cultivating the fear of the Lord.
  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Prv 1.7)
  • Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Prv 4.23)
  • The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Prv 15.3)
  • Hell and Destruction are before the Lord; so how much more the hearts of the sons of men. (Prv 15.11)
  • All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits. (Prv 16.2)
  • In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil. (Prv 16.6)
  • The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips. (Prv 16.23)
  • Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts. (Prv 21.2)
  • My son, if your heart is wise, my heart will rejoice - indeed, I myself; yes, my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak right things. (Prv 23.15-16)
  • Fervent lips with a wicked heart are like earthenware covered with silver dross. (Prv 26.23)
  • As in water face reflects face, so a man's heart reveals the man. (Prv 27.19)
  • He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered. (Prv 28.26)

All true religion is heart religion. As with so much else, this is a matter of setting the heart right and knowing the heart. Are you, fundamentally, seeking the glory of God? What you see and what you say, your desires and appetites, what you pursue and what you avoid, must be governed by the fear of the Lord. This righteous fear - sown throughout our Bibles, as much a part of our spirituality under the new covenant as it ever was under the old, perhaps even more so - involves a recognition of God's existence, the consideration that he knows our ways, the acknowledgement of his righteousness, the consciousness of his eye upon us, and the burning love that issues in a desire from the depths of our being to please him in all things, regardless of the opinions of men. This is vital, because one of the tricks of social media is so to distance the audience as to make us forget that what we say and do is being broadcast, sometimes for anyone who wishes to tune in. This spirit makes us conscious that there is always one pure and holy eye upon us. With a heart tuned to the desires and delights of God, we shall begin to be equipped to assess our engagement and to fashion it in a way that honours him. If our heart is turned away from God, if the centre of our being is not conditioned by the fear of the Lord, then the whole life - not just our online life - will be fatally compromised.

2. Seek wisdom.
  • My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk uprightly; he guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path. When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things, from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice in doing evil, and delight in the perversity of the wicked; whose ways are crooked, and who are devious in their paths; to deliver you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words, who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God. (Prv 2.1-17)
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones. (Prv 3.5-8)
  • Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors: "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. . . . Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favour from the Lord; but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death." (Prv 8.1-36)

The fear of the Lord is the chief part, the foundational element, the controlling core of wisdom. You are not wise if you are not fearing God. The best simple definition of wisdom I know is that is it is "skill for righteous living." So taking that into account, we must ask for and cultivate godly wisdom: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (Jas 1.5). God has not abandoned us to this or any other sphere of life without light from heaven. If we do not know whether or not we can, or how we might, glorify God in this environment, let us ask God to show us, that we might "fear the Lord and depart from evil." Wisdom is found in the Scriptures illuminated by the Holy Spirit:
I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word.
I have not departed from your judgments, for you yourself have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Ps 119.101-105)
You cannot walk rightly in this matter or any other without heavenly wisdom, and it is both given by God and to be nurtured by men. All we need is available to us.

Further principles to follow . . .

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #1

Social media is perhaps the most common or popular expression of what is sometimes called Web 2.0. Web 1.0, for those who may be wondering, consisted mainly of static pages containing fixed data. Web 2.0 is the more dynamic, interactive expression of the interweb which we all now enjoy, or at least employ. Web 3.0, for those tantalised by such prospects, is likely to involve ever-closer tailoring in real time to the perceived interests of users based on data gathered from their previous activity. (Amusingly, the fact that this is being done has terrified and infuriated my esteemed mother - Google beware!)

Social media are those platforms and applications in and by which people create, share, exchange and comment on information. Most definitions and catalogues include the vast range of wikis, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, chatrooms and instant messaging and message boards, MySpace, Bebo, Flikr, Vine and a host of others.

But, if we are professing followers of Jesus Christ, should we get involved, and - if so - how and to what ends? Can we use social media to the glory of God? That question drives the answers to the may and the must of social media engagement. I think that, were he available to offer an opinion, the apostle Paul would suggest, in essence, that we may use social media and that, if we do, we must do so to the glory of God.

My answer is based on 1 Corinthians 10.31: "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Here Paul is responding, for the second time in the letter, to the language that may have been or have become a Corinthian slogan, possibly a twisted version of a truth now being abused by misinterpretation and misapplication: "All things are lawful for me." Even if Paul or another teacher had used some form of this language, it was never intended to provide cover for gross wickedness. In chapter 10 Paul responds to the assertion that "all things are lawful" with the reminders that not all things are helpful or edifying. His ensuing discussion, working through the matter of food offered to idols, ends in the general principle that whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, you are to do it all to the glory of God.

To be sure, Paul wants us to ensure that our most mundane activities are performed with an eye to glorifying God. But this eating and drinking is not, in the context, a mundane and meaningless activity. It is an activity that might involve entanglement with idolatry, if not in our own eyes then potentially in the eyes of others. Paul's point of principle, then, is that our great concern ought not to be with our own rights, desires and freedoms, but with the potential impacts and implications of our behaviour on the honour and glory of the Lord. God's glory and the church's reputation will be compromised on our account if what we do makes others judge unfavourably the faith we profess and the God whom we serve.

Our grand concern is all things ought to be the glory of God, the honour of his great name. All else ought to be subordinated to this. In the words of Charles Hodge, commenting on this passage, "Let self be forgotten. Let your eye be fixed on God. Let the promotion of his glory be your object in all you do. Strive in everything to act in such a way that men may praise that God whom you profess to serve." Notice the proactive nature of this: definitely seek out these ends, either by what you pursue and the way you pursue it or by what you refrain from pursuing. Matthew Henry also gives us some helpful insights:
The apostle takes occasion from this discourse to lay down a rule for Christians' conduct, and apply it to this particular case (v. 31, 32), namely, that in eating and drinking, and in all we do, we should aim at the glory of God, at pleasing and honouring him. This is the fundamental principle of practical godliness. The great end of all practical religion must direct us where particular and express rules are wanting. Nothing must be done against the glory of God, and the good of our neighbours, connected with it. Nay, the tendency of our behaviour to the common good, and the credit of our holy religion, should give direction to it. And therefore nothing should be done by us to offend any, whether Jew, or Gentile, or the church, v. 32. The Jews should not be unnecessarily grieved nor prejudiced, who have such an abhorrence of idols that they reckon every thing offered to them thereby defiled, and that it will pollute and render culpable all who partake of it; nor should heathens be countenanced in their idolatry by any behaviour of ours, which they may construe as homage or honour done to their idols; nor young converts from Gentilism take any encouragement from our conduct to retain any veneration for the heathen gods and worship, which they have renounced: nor should we do any thing that may be a means to pervert any members of the church from their Christian profession or practice. Our own humour and appetite must not determine our practice, but the honour of God and the good and edification of the church. We should not so much consult our own pleasure and interest as the advancement of the kingdom of God among men. Note, A Christian should be a man devoted to God, and of a public spirit.
So in this flood of data which we are called upon to surf, with its endless demands and vast opportunities, we cannot afford to engage thoughtlessly and carelessly. Like food offered to idols, our use of social media reflects on our profession of following the Lord and therefore, ultimately, it reflects on the Lord God himself.

It is therefore absolutely right to ask, first of all, "May I and should I engage?" The answer to that question will involve a frank and honest assessment of our own character with its appetites and inclinations. Taking that into account, we must consider the form, intentions and usual effects of any social media application or platform: What is the tone and nature of this? What is it designed to do for, to or with its users? What are the trends and tendencies of those who employ these as tools or as toys? Such questions will often throw up an immediate and obvious negative. Sites given over to slut-shaming or the exposure (literally) of ex-boyfriends and girlfriends have no place in the Christian's online cache. There may also, however, be sites which some will consider harmless which a Christian, or some particular Christians, should avoid or ignore because they do not need them or would not be able safely and profitably to use them. Remember, there is rarely, for many of us, any "You must!" to the question of social media involvement.

That brings us to the second question: "If I may engage, how must I do so?" How may I do so to the glory of God? In order to begin to answer that question, I wish to offer a web of wisdom, a grid drawn from the Book of Proverbs, which I hope will help believers filter out dangers and assess their contributions to various social media platforms. In the coming posts I will suggest some basic principles, some supporting texts which I hope you will ponder, and a brief summary which may help in your pondering. I do not expect that it will answer every question, but I hope that it will encourage a thoughtfulness and carefulness about our use of social media to the glory of God, as well as prompting thought about other forms of communication.

#2 to follow . . .

God's family on earth

Having done a little travelling over the last few days, I should like to attest once more to the following:
How glorious is the thought that there is a family even upon earth of which the Son of God holds Himself a part; a family, the loving bond and reigning principle of which is subjection to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so embracing high and low, rude and refined, bond and free, of every kindred and every age that have tasted that the Lord is gracious; a family whose members can at once understand each other and take sweetest counsel together, though meeting for the first time from the ends of the earth - while with their nearest relatives, who are but the children of this world, they have no sympathy in such things; a family which death cannot break up, but only transfer to their Father's house! Did Christians but habitually realize and act upon this, as did their blessed Master, what would be the effect upon the Church and upon the world?
David Brown, The Four Gospels (Banner of Truth), 76.

Who is a God like you?

"Who is a God like you,
Pardoning iniquity
And passing over the transgression of the remnant of his heritage?

He does not retain his anger forever,
Because he delights in mercy.
He will again have compassion on us,
And will subdue our iniquities.

You will cast all our sins
Into the depths of the sea.
You will give truth to Jacob
And mercy to Abraham,
Which you have sworn to our fathers
From days of old." (Mic 7.18-20)

If our God were anything other than this, anything less than this, what hope would poor sinners like us have? Where else would we find peace and cleansing? To whom else would we turn?

But he delights to show mercy. His anger is only for a moment, and his favour is for life. His compassion is swift and sure. He tramples our iniquities under his feet. He heaves all our sins into the unfathomable ocean of Christ's blood. He holds fast to his word, to all those promises which are "Yes" and "Amen" in Christ Jesus.

If he were anything else or anything less, we would be lost. But he is and remains our incomparable God and Saviour, and we are safe now and forever.

Devotion to God

A friend just asked about Andrew Fuller, one of the leading lights of the 18th and 19th century Particular Baptists, and a man to be reckoned with in any age. Mention of Fuller always brings to mind one of his most memorable and - for me - compelling counsels. He wrote:
It is to be feared the old puritanical way of devoting ourselves wholly to be the Lord's, resigning up our bodies, souls, gifts, time, property, with all we have and are to serve him, and frequently renewing these covenants before him, is now awfully neglected. This was to make a business of religion, a life's work, and not merely an accidental affair, occurring but now and then, and what must be attended to only when we can spare time from other engagements. Few seem to aim, pray, and strive after eminent love to God and one another. Many appear to be contented if they can but remember the time when they had such love in exercise, and then, tacking to it the notion of perseverance without the thing, they go on and on, satisfied, it seems, if they do but make shift just to get to heaven at last, without much caring how. If we were in a proper spirit, the question with us would not so much be, "What must I do for God?" as, "What can I do for God?" A servant that heartily loves his master counts it a privilege to be employed by him, yea, an honour to be entrusted with any of his concerns.
When each day dawns, will you ask, "What must I do for God?" or "What can I do for God?"