Results tagged “Love” from Reformation21 Blog

Faith Among the Graces: Edwards on Faith and Love

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This year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation when the German Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed a long series of academic debating points about the medieval Roman Catholic penitential system (the 95 theses) to the door of the Wittenberg church. One of the central questions of the Reformation revolved around the nature or essence of saving faith. Is faith in relation especially to the blessing or benefit of justification passive and receptive or is it an active or working faith? Does faith have its own integrity or does it have to be supplemented or completed by another grace?

The Reformation concluded that saving faith, as it is related to justification (i.e. the saving benefit of a sinner being found acceptable in the sight of a holy and righteous God by virtue of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ) is merely receptive. That is, one is justified by placing one's faith in Jesus and that results in the complete forgiveness of one's sins and the obtaining of a right(eous) standing before God. The Reformers determined that the Scriptures taught that faith was the alone instrument or means whereby the sinner unites to and apprehends Christ. While a true and living faith was understood to always be accompanied by all the other saving graces, none of these other graces were taken into consideration by God for his or her justification. It was sola fide or faith alone that was the instrument of justification.

The medieval Roman Catholic church held that saving faith was formed faith. That is, in order for faith to save, it must be formed or perfected by love. In practical terms, one was saved by faith and good works. Luther and the other Reformers recognized that a true and living faith always produced good works but that good works had no part in a proper and biblical understanding of the nature or essence of faith. Faith for Luther and the other Reformers, while accompanied by other graces such as love, was not defective and in need of some corrective such as love.

Over two hundred years later--and across the Atlantic Ocean--New England pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards addressed the question of the relation of faith and love in relation to each other in the thirteenth sermon in the preaching series later published as Charity and its Fruits entitled "Christian Graces Concatenated Together." Edwards has been at the center of a scholarly debate regarding whether or not his concern for sanctification in the Christian life, and specifically his concern with nominalism caused him to compromise his Protestant and Reformed principles about the integrity of justifying faith.

In the 1950s preeminent Edwards scholar Thomas Schafer argued that Edwards had in fact undermined, or called into question, his commitment to a biblical and confessionally Reformed understanding of faith and love in justification. Schafer did not suggest that Edwards intentionally departed from the faith once for all delivered to the saints, but that given his concerns with the new birth and growth in sanctification in the Christian life, he had perhaps accidentally moved away from the gold standard of Reformed orthodoxy. Schafer argued that Edwards embraced a quasi-Roman Catholic understanding of saving faith as formed faith, that is, faith formed by love. It is agreed that Edwards defended the traditional Reformed doctrine of justification in his graduation oration at Yale and in his lecture series on justification delivered at Northampton in 1734. No doubt we will not be able to settle this dispute here and now. However, we can look at how Edwards discusses the relation of faith and love in this sermon to open up for a window into how Edwards thought about this.

Before delving into the specifics of the sermon, we should note the context of this particular sermon. The sermon "Christian Graces Concatenated Together" is the thirteenth of a sixteen sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13, famously known as the "love chapter." I note this in order to point out the direct subject matter is not the doctrine of justification per se, or the nature of justifying faith. Having said this, any confessionally Reformed theologian worth his salt would always have a concern to be as clear and careful as possible when talking about faith (even in a context such as this sermon where the doctrine of justification is not directly in view)--to clearly define faith in such a way as to maintain its integrity as a discrete Christian grace. Faith is a broad biblical category of which justifying faith is one element or facet. What we say about faith more broadly, however, must not undermine what we say more narrowly about justifying faith.

Additionally, I should mention Edwards' emphasis on the integrated nature of the human soul. Edwards moved away from the faculty psychology of his day in which the powers of the human soul (intellect and will) worked concurrently with each other rather than in a reified, hierarchical manner. This means that faith for Edwards was a "whole soul" endeavor. It was not just a matter or the intellect or will alone, but both working together.

Now we can turn to the sermon "Christian Graces Concatenated Together." The main point of the sermon is that whatever Christian graces the Holy Spirit dispenses to Christians, they are chained (this is what concatenation means) together or they occur together or they are interlocked or linked. This is a thoroughly sound and biblical insight. Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 and not fruits. Wherever one fruit such as love, joy, or peace occur, so do others. The Westminster Assembly divines concurred in this (which is a good thing since they were aiming to be biblical!) when they noted that while justification was by faith alone, it was not a faith that was alone. True faith would always be accompanied by every other saving grace. In the case of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is arguing for the supremacy of agape love. In the end, only three graces remain and survive into the eschaton: faith, hope, and love. And, as Paul tells us, the greatest of these is love. Note that this is said by the Apostle of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Edwards tells us three things about the Christian graces: they always appear together, they depend on one another, and they are implied in one another. For our purposes, it is the second and third points that may be most problematic. To say that faith depends upon hope and love in order to be faith or vice versa does seem to suggest that faith does not maintain its own integrity or independence. The further point that faith implies hope and love or implicates them also casts into doubt Edwards' understanding of faith. Edwards goes further and says that love is of the essence of faith or is essential to faith or is an essential ingredient of faith.

One basic Pauline thought at this point is that the fruit of the Spirit, while multifaceted, is singular. We can even recognize a sort of synergy at work in the concatenated graces in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We can go further and say that each grace brings out the best in the others. But, to many, Edwards' language of faith depending upon hope and love to be what it is and to function properly seems to undermine the discrete integrity of faith. Some have suggested that it comes too close to the Roman Catholic notion of formed faith. It is one thing to say that hope and love enrich faith but it is another to say faith depends upon hope and love. This dependency relation suggests that faith cannot function in its own right. That is, faith qua faith, is insufficient. The same thing can be said about implication. Implication suggests that no grace is sufficient as God created them and gives them to his people. Is it logomachy to suggest that impinge might be a better word than imply?

Edwards' concern to stress that Christian graces come together like a floral bouquet is altogether legitimate. But dependency appears to undermine the proper functionality of each grace. Love is not faith--neither is it hope. Implication appears to undermine the discrete integrity of faith, hope, and love. Is Edwards' suggesting in so many words, that the Christian graces interpenetrate one another in a manner analogous to the perichoretic nature of the triune Godhead? He does not say as much in this sermon; but, one is left wonder.

We are left to conclude that while Edwards nowhere affirms in this sermon the medieval Roman Catholic doctrine of formed faith, the logical implication of what he says seems to suggest something similar. Be that as it may, this does not square with what Edwards has written elsewhere about justification by faith alone. I suggest that we have a consistency breakdown in the teaching in this particular sermon.

In conclusion, what we learn from this experiment is that no fallen, sinful Christian theologian can be accepted in everything he teaches or advocates. This is in no way to undermine Edwards' proper due influence. However, with regard to the dependency and implication ideas, Edwards appears to accidentally undermine the biblical and confessionally Reformed notion of justifying faith as passive and receptive and complete in and of itself with its own proper functionality and discrete integrity. The Protestant Reformation recovered a biblical jewel when justification and justifying faith were clarified. Edwards' muddies the waters at this point. So brethren, let's go back behind Edwards to the crystal clear fount of Scripture and the Reformers! 


Dr. Jeff Waddington is the interim pastor at Knox OPC in Landsdowne, PA. He is the author is The Unified Operations of the Human Soul: Jonathan Edwards Theological Anthropology and Apologetic. Jeff is a contributor on the podcast, "East of Eden: The Biblical and Systematic Theology of Jonathan Edwards."

Love the Sinner as You Love Your Sinful Self?

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Over the past week, I've seen more appeals to the second half of Matthew 22:39 than I've seen artist postcards in a hipster coffee shop. "Love your neighbor as yourself" (which is the second greatest command, according to Jesus) is now apparently the favorite verse of atheists, agnostics and liberal Christians alike. Without doubt, it should be one of the most greatly beloved truths for anyone who calls himself or herself a disciple of Christ. However, this command can only be properly understood in light of the previous two verses, its own textual qualification and the teaching of Scripture regarding the person and work of Christ. 

Recently, while reading through Augustine's "On Christian Doctrine," I stumbled across an enlightening section on self-love, loving other and loving God. Augustine wrote: 

"He is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that more which ought to be loved less, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves that less or more which ought to be loved equally. No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God's sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself. Likewise we ought to love another man better than our own body, because all things are to be loved in reference to God, and another man can have fellowship with us in the enjoyment of God, whereas our body cannot; for the body only lives through the soul, and it is by the soul that we enjoy God."

If we endure the enigmatic language of Augustine's opening sentence, we come to what is one of the most profound thoughts on the relationship between the first and second greatest commandments. "No sinner is to be loved as a sinner," he wrote, "and every man is to be loved as a man for God's sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself." Augustine is walking back from the second great commandment to the first great commandment; and, in that way, is showing that we cannot properly understand the second great commandment if we do not rightly understand the first. 

We will surely find ourselves at a loss to properly explain what Scripture means when it says "Love your neighbor as yourself" if we do not have an adequate understanding of what it means when it says "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength." To love the Lord with all of our being is to live as a creature in dependence on our Creator, to humble ourselves under His word, to acknowledge His infinite, eternal and unchangeable being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth, to seek to do those things that are pleasing in His sight and to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. It is the first and great commandment because we are, in all that we do, to seek to please God rather than men (Gal. 1:10). In short, man's chief end is "to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." 

Without doubt, a vital constituent of loving the living and true God is loving those made in His image. If we don't love our fellow image bearers, then, the Apostle says, "he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen?" (1 John 4:20). It is impossible for someone to prove that he is living for and loving God if he is not seeking to love his neighbor as himself. 

When, however, someone bandies about Matthew 22:39--irrespective of its subordination in the taxonomy of Matthew 22:37-39--he or she often goes on to misconstrue its theological and ethical meaning. The second great command is not, "You shall love the sinner as you love your sinful self." As Augustine succinctly put it: "No sinner is to be loved as a sinner." Rather, we are to love our neighbor "as a man for God's sake." This involves first realize that "God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself." When we fail to place these truths in their proper order there is no end to the sorts of evil that we will readily tolerate in ourselves and promote in others.

Of course, none of us has loved the Lord with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. None of us has loved our neighbor as ourselves as we ought. In fact, we are all pervasively depraved by nature (Eph. 2:1-4). A Christian is necessarily someone who confesses that he or she has fallen short--so very short--of the glory of God (Rom. 6:23). A Christian is one who flees to the only One who ever perfectly loved the Lord with all of His heart, mind, soul and strength--to the only One who ever perfectly loved His neighbor as Himself. Jesus fulfilled the first and second great commandments. Jesus took the punishment, in His own body at the cross (1 Pet. 2:24), for our failure to keep these two commandments. Jesus bore the wrath of God that we deserve for our failure to love the Lord and our neighbor as we ought. Jesus did not "love the sinner as His sinful self." The sinless Son of God incarnate loved sinners "for God's sake, God for His own sake, and God more than any man." It is only as we keep the Jesus of the Scriptures before our eyes that we too will learn to love the Lord and our neighbor in a way that brings glory to God and good to our neighbors. 

 


A Historic Framework for Social Responsibility

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How shall the church think about social issues of race, justice and power? It is increasingly popular for these issues to be framed and discussed in the church using the categories of social justice and racial privilege as defined by the social sciences. In secular academic settings such categories find their genesis in and are tethered to Marxist systems of analysis. These systems emphasize the struggle between oppressed and oppressor. Marxist frameworks may have surface resonances with Biblical concerns for justice, equality and the poor. However, these frameworks emphasize the ongoing Hegelian struggle of thesis and antithesis without a clear pathway for resolution. Therefore, the insights gained from such analyses are not placed within a framework adequate to provide a healthy response to the social problems posed.

Rather than relying--almost exclusively in certain sectors of the church--on categories that find their genesis in systems hostile to orthodox Christianity, the church should rediscover the corrective guidance of its own tradition and draw upon its creedal and confessional resources. One such resource is the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), a document famous for its exposition of the moral law of God. The WLC offers a paradigm for social responsibility, a framework for robust ethical reasoning, and points toward the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Paradigm for Social Responsibility

We don't need to rely on Marxist paradigms to teach us about social responsibility. The WLC's rules for interpreting the moral law make it clear that we are, in fact, our brother's keeper. WLC 99 states that "what is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places." Similarly, rule eight sates "what is commanded to others, we are bound, according to our places and callings, to be helpful to them; and to take heed of partaking with others in what is forbidden them."

The WLC does not envision a Christian unconcerned with the moral obligations of their neighbor. Loving your neighbor as yourself includes helping them obey God. In the WLC's exposition of the Ten Commandments, this concern extends to the physical welfare of our neighbors too (see WLC 141-142). Pietistic isolation is not an option. As human beings we are knit together in social relationships which incur moral obligation.

However, the WLC pushes past the simplistic collectivism of Marxist paradigms which posit blanket responsibility or victimization in collectives of race, class and gender. Accordingly, moral guilt or a claim to justice will accrue to these same collectives. The result is a powerful, yet vague and ultimately unhelpful, angst. By contrast the WLC goes further, providing a framework that has the capacity to yield particular pathways for repentance, obedience and advocacy. The WLC teaches that our moral obligations will also be informed by our places and our callings.

On the one hand this is freeing. The single mother working two low-wage earning jobs does share the same kind of moral responsibility as the wealthy CEO for her neighbors, but she does not share the same degree of moral responsibility as the wealthy CEO. On the other hand, it is morally challenging. True righteousness is measured by deeds not by angst. Marxist paradigms that call for awareness, angst and protest allow us to rest content with awareness, angst and protest. The WLC pushes further, calling for actual righteous deeds to be done according to your place and calling. When we stand before God we shall not be judged for how we felt, but for what we have done. Therefore, we need theories of social responsibility that provide particular guidance for obedience.

A Framework for Robust Ethical Reasoning

Pastors and historians alike can tell you that evil deeds are often justified through painfully atomistic readings of Scripture. Our sinful hearts are prone to suppress obvious moral implications from Biblical texts. Jesus summarized the ten commandments with two great laws of love. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind soul and strength. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). Jesus reasons even as he appeals to the heart.

The WLC follows Jesus and embraces a well-reasoned use of the law of God. Good and necessary inferences are drawn from the commandments, always with a view to the whole counsel of Scripture: "where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and, where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded: so, where a promise is annexed, the contrary threatening is included; and, where a threatening is annexed, the contrary promise is included." The WLC encourages a robust moral reasoning intended to give expression to the spirit of the law, lest our sinful hearts rest content with the letter of the law. Both the WLC's exposition of the commandments and the type of moral reasoning it encourages offer resources to fashion a Biblical response to issues of race, justice and power.

The Hope of the Gospel

The WLC makes it clear that the moral law of God binds all people at all times (WLC 91-93). It is the ethical standard that defines what Christians labor for in the public square as much as in the home. For example, the WLC reminds us that we are not to exercise "undue silence in a just cause" (WLC 145). We should "endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others" (WLC 142). In these matters the moral law of God will be our guide.

And yet, the WLC reminds us that ethics and morality are not social goods with which we can rest content. For love of God and neighbor we pursue earthly righteousness. But we accept that "none is righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10). Therefore, there is no lasting hope without Christ. The law that guides our vision for justice will, if handled rightly, at the very same time convict us of our inability to keep it. For the regenerate this means that the law will "show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule to their obedience" (WLC 97). Here we see that the law moves us to worship and adore Christ when we realize that he kept it for us when we could not and bore its curse in our place. The WLC would have the law move our hearts to love Christ, and from that place of love to obey Christ.

For the unregenerate, the moral law is of use "to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come, and to drive them to Christ" (WLC 96). The law serves salvation by driving the unregenerate to Christ. We can never rest content with social transformation or the alleviation of earthly suffering. We will always be burdened to see spiritual transformation and the alleviation of eternal suffering. This is not to deny the God glorifying, neighbor loving value of alleviating temporal suffering. It is simply to remember that temporal suffering is temporal. Of course, to lean on the temporality of suffering as an excuse to ignore our neighbor's pain is wrong. But to forget that our neighbor faces eternal suffering is equally heartless, and with even greater consequences.

This understanding of the usefulness of the law for the unregenerate will inform how we exercise co-belligerence as Christians. Augustine famously coined the phrase City of Man to describe that realm of civil society where Christians labor with unbelievers for the common good. But, those with whom we labor in matters of social concern must take us as we are. We cannot make common cause with those who would demand we lay down the cross of Christ in order take up another cause. We cannot be silenced, for we must save both ourselves and our hearers.

Conclusion

In the spirit of avoiding what C.S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery," just because the Westminster Larger Catechism is old (1648) does not mean it is old-fashioned. It remains relevant today. Nor should we presume that because it was not heeded in earlier days that it did not speak clearly enough to be heard. Hearing was not the problem, heeding was. Chad Van Dixhoorn has noted that in the late 18th century the American Presbyterian church removed the word "depopulations" from the WLC's exposition of the eighth commandment. This ban "was embarrassing given the ongoing European settlement of territory once belonging to native Americans." One might wonder whether 19th century Presbyterians were not similarly embarrassed by the prohibitions against manstealing, defrauding one's neighbor and enriching oneself unjustly.

The WLC is not our only Biblical resource to address concerns over race, justice and power, but it is an important one. Our forebears seemed to have heard the WLC without heading it in these areas. We may find that tomorrow's embarrassment is not that we deleted a word from the WLC because it made us uncomfortable, but that we never bothered to read it seriously in the first place.

   

1. The Westminster Larger Catechism: With Scripture Proofs. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

2. Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2014), xxii.

Luther and Calvin's Quiet Discussions in Heaven

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Those who cherish the Reformation have often sought out what, if any, influence Martin Luther may have had on John Calvin. Did the two Reformers ever meet in person? Was Calvin influenced by the writings or ministry of "the Initiator" of the Reformation? Did he ever rely on the writing of Luther in the development of his own theology? These and many other related questions surface when we begin, with admiration, to give ourselves to a study of these two massively important figures. 

Much remains uncertain about which of Luther's works Calvin read and which of Calvin's works Luther read. It is, however, clear that Calvin had knowledge of the controversies that surrounded Luther's theological writings and debates and that Luther read Calvin on certain theological issues. For instance, Calvin labored to wed Zwingli's spiritual view of the Supper to Luther's insistence on real presence. In John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life, Herman Selderhuis explains:

"Calvin was left with the pieces of the dispute and tried to resolve things by combining the elements that both Luther and Zwingli insisted on. He thus arrived at a belief in the real presence of Christ through his Spirit, a solution through which some kind of unity was established both with the Wittenbergers and with the Swiss. Unfortunately a three-party consensus was never achieved."1  

Luther was aware that Calvin was seeking to reconcile his view with that of Zwingli, as Selderhuis notes:

"Melanchthon reported that when someone tried to incite Luther to attack Calvin's teaching on the Lord's Supper...Luther actually praised Calvin after reading the relevant passages."2 

The bulk of Calvin's references to Luther have to do, not with theological matters but with personal assessment (which is unsurprising given the strong personalities possessed by the two Reformers). Calvin was critical as well as celebratory in his opinions about the Wittenberg Reformer. In a letter to Bullinger, Calvin deemed Luther "immoderately ardent and violent in character;" and, in a letter to Melanchthon, he criticized Luther for getting too worked up and for being too quick tempered. However, Calvin praised Luther to Bullinger when he wrote: 

"I understand that Luther pours invectives on you and on us all. I dare scarcely request you to keep silence. But I supplicate you at least to remember what a great man Luther is, by what admirable qualities he is distinguished, what courage, what constancy, what ability, what power of doctrine there is in him to beat down the kingdom of anti-christ, and to propagate the knowledge of salvation. I say it, and have often repeated it, even though he called me a devil, I would not cease to honor him, and to acknowledge him as an illustrious servant of God."3 

Despite having to endure personal attacks from Luther, Calvin praised Luther for being a "most learned father in the Lord." Merle d'Aubigne wrote: "Calvin did not even fear to say, that in his eyes Luther was far above Zwingli;--Nam si inter se comparantur, scis ipse quanto intervallo Lutherus excedat."4

On one occasion, Luther sent word to Calvin from Martin Bucer. Selderhuis notes that "Calvin was thrilled when Bucer brought him personal greetings from Luther, along with a report that their German colleague had been pleased with Calvin's writings."5 Calvin received word that Luther was finally appreciative of something that he had written. Not unaffected by this commendation, Calvin wrote, "If we are not appeased by such moderation, we must be completely of stone. I am really appeased. I wrote something that satisfied him."6

Despite his criticisms of Luther, Calvin acknowledged the early influence that Luther has on him regarding the other Reformers. Later in life, Calvin reflected on the fact that "'when he began to liberate himself from the darkness of the papacy,' he was so influenced by Luther that he distanced himself from the writings of Oecolampadius and Zwingli."7

One of the most beautiful statements about Calvin's view of Luther is in a letter that he wrote to Luther toward the end of Luther's life (a letter that Luther sadly never received). In it, the Genevan Reformer suggested he and Luther "would soon be together in heaven where they could continue their discussion in quiet."8 What more beautiful way to pursue the peace that Christ longs for His followers to experience! Despite what appears to have been a tumultuous relationship, there was, on the part of Calvin, a deep desire for unity and peace with the great "Initiator" of the Reformation. While they may not have had the sweetest of fellowship on earth, of this much we may be sure: Calvin and Luther are engaging themselves in perfectly loving discussions in heaven before the presence of the Christ whom they sought to glorify here on earth.


1. Herman Selderhuis John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2009) p. 94
2. Ibid., p. 105

3. Emmanuel Stickelberger, Calvin, a Life. Translated by Georg Gelzer (Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1954), 70. 

4. Robert Baird, D'Aubigne and His Writings (New York: John S. Taylor, 1847) p. 257

5. John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life, p. 33

6. Ibid., p. 106

7. Ibid., p. 105

8. Ibid. p. 259

Masculinity and the Priority of Love

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If you were asked to identify the primary quality which defines a true man of God in his specific relation to a true woman of God - distinctively within the marriage relationship - what one-word answer might you give? What if the opposite question were asked: what single quality ought to characterise a woman of God in relation to her husband in particular?

In pondering the answers to those questions, rest assured that I am not having a sly dig at anyone or seeking to make unreasonable or unfair assumptions. I am on record in The New Calvinism Considered (US and UK) as being what is generally now defined as a complementarian, but also as being uncomfortable with some of the excesses that I have perceived, and those in both directions.

Most germane to the purposes of this post are those excesses in which biblical masculinity is celebrated but potentially or actually exaggerated toward a caricature of (Western?) masculinity - "a sort of hairy, Neanderthal, chest-beating machismo." This caricature, it seems, is now being used by some to justify not just a strangely exaggerated form of masculinity but a horribly perverted abuse of it.

I wonder if this can be traced in some instances to a fundamental misunderstanding of what true masculinity looks like in relationship to true femininity? As so often, perhaps there is a danger of reactionary theology: a position formed not from the Word of God but from a response - proper in kind but not in degree - to some opposite aberrance. So, for example, think of someone so (rightly) horrified by the suggestion that the Lord Jesus, in some way, was not fully human that he responds in such a way as actually (wrongly) to undermine his divinity. Such is the skewed reaction to the cultural pressure by which many men have become milk-livered geldings that the goal becomes the embodiment of the rutting stallion. Neither is it a matter of finding some kind of middle ground. The aim should not be some anodyne mean, but a biblical fulness.

But what does that look like with regard to male leadership, especially leading to and in marriage? A simple passage like Ephesians 5 helps us here. I will not go into the substructure of male-female relations, grounded in both being made in the image of God, both being fallen in Adam, both able to be redeemed and restored in Christ. In such a relationship there is a genuine correspondence, a profound cleaving, a total commitment and a joint commission. Furthermore, I am persuaded from the Word of God that there are some distinctive roles within that relationship. In Ephesians 5, the apostle sounds two abiding keynotes, one for the woman and for the man. The primary element for the woman of God is submission, and I recognise that that must be carefully and scripturally defined and worked out. Paul, in this passage, then moves on to the keynote for the man. And what is it? If we make a merely reactionary leap (and I fear this is, in essence, what many are doing) we start looking for the counterpoint to submission. The husband is to be marked by ... what? Authority? Rule? Headship? Leadership? Some other near-synonym for being in charge that emphasises the difference between the sexes?

No, the distinctive feature of masculinity in this relation to femininity is love. Leadership or headship may be implied, but the focus of the apostle is on the motive and nature of the husband's relation to his wife. This love is neither physical lust nor romantic delight, and neither one can or will supply a lack of intelligent and principled love.

Let me briefly spell out several things about this love. Note first its character, for it is Christlike. As such, it must be principled, realistic, intelligent , sweet and - ultimately - sacrificial. Its great pattern is Christ's coming for and dying for his church. This is not a matter of occasional spectacular demonstrations, though it may include them. It is not a notional knight in shining armour who, fortunately for the husband, never actually needs to make an appearance. It is to labour for the good of your wife regardless of the cost to yourself, a daily death of a thousand cuts to male selfishness and laziness.

Secondly, see the quality of this love: it is purposeful. Like Christ's love to his church, it aims not at a wife's slavish subjugation, but at her proper liberation. A husband's love aims to raise his beloved wife to the highest point development and her greatest blessing. He invests in and serves her so as to bring her, by all legitimate means, to the highest pitch of spiritual and moral excellence to which she is able to attain, as defined by God himself. There is a deliberate goal in such love.

Thirdly, consider the anchor of this love: union. Paul grounds this love in the one-flesh union between husband and wife. For the married man, she is one with me. Whatever I would do or have done for my true good and real blessing, by God's estimation, I should pursue for her. As it would be both unnatural and ungodly to ignore, neglect, despise or injure your own flesh, so - if our love is remotely Christlike - it ought to be recognised as unnatural and ungodly to do the same with regard to our wife.

Finally, observe the activity of such love: it is a nourishing and cherishing affection. Whatever the origin of this language, it is clearly not meant to be demeaning, because it refers both to the way in which a man is expected to be caring for himself, and representative of the way in which Christ cares for his church. The words communicate a profound tenderness and principled care, to develop by nurture and to envelope with affection. Some men show more of this toward their car or their home than they do toward their wife - investing more time, energy and money in a hobby than in their God-given wife. The call is for words backed up by deeds, and deeds adorned with words, just as with Christ.

So, brothers, how do you assess your distinctive relationship toward your wife? What ought to lie at the root of your dispositions and actions toward other women who are not your wife? Do you perceive your relationship toward your spiritual sisters (or, indeed, unconverted women), and especially with regard to (but not merely) your wives, to be characterised primarily by rule - by the robust exercise of the authority which has been so largely abandoned by our generation and culture? If so, you are missing the mark. The characteristic quality of the true man of God is a Christlike love, first and primarily with regard to his own wife, and then to other women in appropriate measure and framed by the parameters of a legitimate relationship. If, to paraphrase the apostle elsewhere, you are getting other things right but have not love, you have failed to follow and to show Christ at this point.

If It Makes You Happy

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A discernible pattern has emerged in the wake of recent events. A particular tragedy is perpetrated by a person of one community upon people of another community. The life of one who bears the image of God is wantonly snuffed out. One group of people is allegedly violated by an outdated or oppressive system. A protest for justice forms. Commentators and pundits try to explain who is really at fault and what needs to change. The solution is consistently summarized in one word...Love. Profile pics are changed. Statuses are updated. Social media activism is fully engaged. And with great intentions, everyone seems to agree that what we really need is love. Love is love! We might rightly respond to this ambiguous appeal for "love" with the ever relevant words of Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

"Love" is bandied about as the answer to every societal ill. Every problem is met with the call to love. Racism, sexism, classism, terrorism, or whatever "-ism" that gets thrown out, the answer is love. What makes this solution so attractive and also so dangerous is that there is quite a bit of truth to it. If rightly understood, love is the answer to these problems. But that's the rub, isn't it? It is rare for the idea of love to be rightly understood. Often it is reduced to emotional or sentimental tripes that can be easily shared, retweeted, pinned, or liked.

What is popularly understood as love? The popular notion of "love" seems to be something that more readily resembles "happiness." If something makes me happy then it is good, not just preferentially but also morally and ontologically. And whatever that good is, it must be celebrated and embraced by all people. This is how love and the modern notion of tolerance become so intertwined. Today, the idea of tolerance requires that you never question anyone's pursuit of happiness but must only celebrate it. "Love," (in its late-modern form) therefore, is the unhindered pursuit of happiness, and tolerance is the cheering on of those pursuing happiness. And if we just loved like that, then all our problems would be solved--or so we are constantly hearing. 

The imperative to "be happy," though, comes across as trite and hollow. Perhaps the singer Bobby McFerrin ruined it for us all. Happiness is too subjective and fickle. Rhetorically, "love" packs a much greater punch. There is a weightiness to love. Love is objective and unassailable. Love requires resolution, sacrifice, and commitment. Love requires a standard of faithfulness that is missing in the modern pursuit of happiness. The sexual chaos in our society today thrives off this lack of objectivity. The New York Times recently ran a story about "LGBT -Affirming" psycho-therapy in which a psychotherapist questions the assumption of the benefit of "sexual fidelity in marriage." He states it in the following way:

The whole idea of the crisis of infidelity is based on the expectation that it ought to be otherwise. And that somehow if a relationship changes in its dynamic and somebody has sex with somebody else, that somehow it's ruinous to the intimacy and potential for growth and love. That's an enormous assumption. And it's just another example of a hetero-normative assumption, one that causes enormous suffering.1 

Again, an understanding of love that has commitment and sacrifice at its heart is rejected for the pursuit of personal happiness. Ironically, the conflation of "love" and "be happy" is, in itself, a tacit condemnation on subjective relativism. We use love because we intuitively know that "happy" is too flimsy to carry the weight of the moment. While "love" is used, I believe it would be more accurate if we just admitted as a society that we're trying to say, "Everybody ought to just be happy and then all our problems would be over."

But what is the problem with being happy? Isn't happiness a good thing? Doesn't God want me to be happy? Again, it depends on what we mean by our use of the word "happy." Happiness must be rightly ordered. Our happiness must be subject to our holiness. God does not want you to be happy when it is at odds with you being holy. When these become disordered we fall into the same problem as the nation of Israel at the end of Judges. The result of that tailspin was, "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). Happiness unchecked will always lead to doing what is right in your own eyes. And when we understand that the "heart is deceitful above all things" (Jer. 17:9), we can quickly understand the problem with doing what is right in our own eyes.

Instead, Christians should acknowledge that love is the answer but should labor to define that term as the Bible defines it. Happiness falls far short of love. Happiness is an emotion or state of mind. Love is something so much more. In short, the Bible tells us that "God is love" (1 John 4:8), but that warrants a little bit of unpacking. Wilhelmus à Brakel explained it this way, "Love is an essential attribute of God by which the Lord delights Himself in that which is good, it being well-pleasing to Him, and uniting Himself to it consistent with the nature of the object of His love. The love of God by definition is the loving God Himself."2 That which is most perfect and glorifying and beautiful is to be the very definition of love. That object is God Himself.

The way the world sees love and the way the Bible sees love are incompatible. The apostle John saw these competing definitions of love when he contrasted the love of the world with the love of the Father. The love of the world is concerned with "the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of possessions" (1 John 2:16), i.e. brief feelings of happiness. But the love of the Father is concerned with the will of God. This love of God is exhibited by a conformity to holiness. It too will bring pleasure and happiness, but it is beheld by faith and is not fleeting.

Love requires sacrifice. Happiness delights in whatever causes immediate pleasure. Love requires delighting in that which is greatest, most perfect, and pure. "God shows his love for us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us" (1 John 3:16). "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:9, 10). God's love is demonstrated in his redemption of his people and the restoration of his creation such that they more clearly demonstrate and reflect that which is most glorious, namely God himself.

Love also requires commitment. It requires a commitment to God and His holiness, as well as a commitment to one another. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:11). We must be personally and corporately committed to holiness. This means disciplining ourselves and being willing to submit to the discipline of the Body. Love requires discipline. The author of Hebrews tells us that if we don't discipline our children, we don't love them. In fact, a failure to discipline your children is to treat them like "bastards" (Heb 12:8, KJV). Love requires discipline that conforms us to the pattern of holiness (Prov 3:11, 12). This is, perhaps, the most heartbreaking aspect of the mainline church's drift into apostasy. They earnestly want to love one another. But that love has no meaning beyond the personal happiness of individuals. Thus, when members are in open and unrepentant sin, the most loving thing to do would be to call them to repent. Instead, the boundaries of acceptable behavior are simply moved to continue including them. Happiness is called love and the truth is substituted for a lie. This is happening in the evangelical church as well. A failure to execute discipline, both informal and formal, on the members of Christ's Church will lead to a rejection of Christ.

On one level, there is a great deal of truth to society's answer to the world's problems. Love is the answer. We just have to be clear about what love looks like in action. Matthew Henry said, "When iniquity abounds love waxes cold."3 Love is incompatible with sin. But happiness can thrive momentarily in sin. When love is substituted with happiness, sin reigns and our problems only increase. But when we hold firm to true love, sin is killed, holiness is honored, and true happiness is experienced.

1. Casey Schwartz, "The Couch in Rainbow Colors: 'L.G.B.T.-Affirming' Therapy," The New York Times, July 13, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/14/fashion/lgbt-therapy-antioch-university.html. 

2. Wilhelmus Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), I.123. 

3. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1588.
Love is the end (telos) of the apostles' teaching and the first apology for the faith (1 Tim. 1:5). Without love even the most celebrated preacher or apologist is just a noisy gong or clanging cymbal; by love even the least gifted believer can adorn the gospel, shame Christ's opponents, and silence the church's slanderers (1 Cor. 13:1; Tit. 2). There are other ways to shame opponents and silence slanderers than by love, of course, but no other way adorns the gospel and demonstrates the present reality of saving grace while doing so--or demands much self-denial from the would-be apologist.

It's this last bit I'm most interested in here: a peculiar sort of self-denial that love demands of apologists of the faith, which we are all called to be (1 Pet. 3:15). What does love demand of us, for example, when our brother or sister does or says something socially embarrassing or politically impolite or completely uncool in the company we keep or aspire to keep?

Harsh and scathing reactions occasionally encountered on the Christian blogosphere show just how ready we are to throw brothers and sisters who happen to embarrass or disagree with us under the first bus we meet. Love never throws anyone under a bus, last of all a brother or sister in Christ. Seems like that should go without saying and yet it seems like that sometimes needs to be said.

The weird temptation is to think that stiff-arming the embarrassing brother or sister is apologetically expedient. It never is. It may temporarily spare us, in a selfish way, some part of the unpleasantness of being too closely associated with a sister's awkward act or a brother's distasteful statement. Whatever apologetic gain we think we derive from deriding our fellow believer is destroyed through our failure to embrace and love that brother or sister as Christ does. In the end, when we behave this way, we come off more like asinine teens too cool to bear their parents' presence than people who believe the gospel or know God's grace.

But what if those parents are not just insufficiently sophisticated but say and do certain despicable things? What if, for example, they're obliviously racist or what if they are not so obliviously so? Is it then permissible or apologetically expedient to throw them under the nearest bus? (I'm only asking about fellow believers, not those outside the church.)

No doubt, the children must stop eating their parents' sour grapes if they don't want their teeth set on edge (Ezek. 18; cf. Ex 20:5-6). To that end, we must recognize and name the sinful, harmful, and offensive ways of our spiritual parents and break with whatever witness-destroying pattern of life and thought we find coursing through "our history." This is clearly one of several things the overture on civil rights remembrance at the 2015 PCA General Assembly was calling the church to do.

Even as we break with the sinful ways of our spiritual predecessors, however, we must honor them and own them as our parents in the faith along with everything that association entails--the wonderful and the dreadful--accepting the responsibility of rightly disposing of every inherited effect. It's precisely because we are their heirs that we must break with them on this matter and it's precisely as their children that in doing so--doing the right thing, that is--we honor them. The very possibility of doing the right thing, in other words, begins with owning our solidarity with these brothers and sisters in Christ who, like all the redeemed who have ever lived, left us a mixed and conflicted legacy.

Christian solidarity is something love demands of every apologist who attempts to deal with the sins of those who preceded us and is why those who follow us will have to deal with ours too one day. Love never asks of a brother or sister or father or mother in the faith, "What do I have to do with them?" or "What business of mine is their sin?" Jesus made our sin his business, freely associating with and embracing his sinful people, and he is not ashamed to call the despicable likes of me his brother (Heb. 2:11, cf. 11:16). That's what love does: despising the shame, love denies itself and bears and endures all things; and we adorn the gospel and begin to acquire apologetic credibility only insofar as we do the same.

Cormac McCarthy on Ministerial Power

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I've been reading a good bit of Cormac McCarthy since late spring, when I have time for fiction anyway. McCarthy is a master of terse understated conversation and landscapes, and I happen to be a special admirer of landscapes--real and artistically rendered. But McCarthy is also a sharp observer not just of the human condition but of what that condition does to us, if you follow what I mean--of what it does to the single individual, in that peculiar Kierkegaardian sense, and to every individual so considered. No body escapes being human or being lost in his novels, though some come off rather witless about it just like in this non-fictional world of ours.

One somewhat witless fellow is a certain priest he describes in The Crossing. I know, witless ministers abound in novels. But McCarthy's priest is not a shell of a man and he's witless in a particularly subtle way--and for this reason he is a very good reminder of what pastoral ministry demands of those who would be evangelists and shepherds and potent preachers.

The backstory is convoluted and unnecessary to tell. Suffice to say there is a man living in Sonora who lost essentially everything in the terrible earthquake of 1887, including perhaps his mind. He has taken up residence inside a church whose roof is ruined and about to cave in, and he spends his days (and nights) there, reading and thumping his Bible, pacing and wrestling openly with God. He is Job, or perhaps Ahab the whaler, it's hard to tell.

"The people of the town came and they stood about. At a certain distance. They were interested to see what God would do with such a man. Perhaps he was a crazy person. Perhaps a saint. He paid them no mind." Eventually, they send for the priest, who comes and stands outside the structure and tries to reason with the man dwelling "beneath the shadow of the perilous vault." It's a great scene:

The priest spoke to this misguided man of the nature of God and of the spirit and the will and of the meaning of grace in men's lives and the old man heard him out and nodded his head at certain salient points and when the priest was done this old man raised his book aloft and shouted at the priest. You know nothing. That is what he shouted. You know nothing.

"The people looked at the priest. To see how he would respond." To hasten the story along, the priest went away, troubled by the exchange, but came back the next day, and day after day, to try again. "People came to attend. Scholars of the town. To hear what was said on either side. The old man pacing under the shadow of the vault. The priest outside."

And right there is the whole of the matter: the priest never entered in, never took up the place where the old man stood. He would not, perhaps could not. "The priest wagered nothing. He'd nothing to hazard. He stood on no such ground as the crazed old man. Under no such shadow. Rather he chose to stand outside the critical edifice of his own church and by his choice he sacrificed his words of their power to witness."

"He was a reasonable man and he believed that there was love in his heart," but "there was not."

A reasonable man stands aloof and tries to speak into the situation. The reasonable man imagines himself to love whenever he aims at helping from afar. The reasonable man, however, may well lack the faith to step under the threatening vault, to take up the place of those crazed this way or that by the terrors of life in this world, who rightly understand that everything is in the balance. And in just this way, the reasonable man of this sort often fails to love as he should.

How many ministers, some fresh out of seminary perhaps, stand in the pulpit a bit like this priest stood outside this crumpled church? Such preachers call out to the people and try to reason with them about God and the gospel with words "sacrificed of their power to witness" because they have never stepped into the half-crazed lives of the people before them. How many times have I been as witless as this priest in the world? More than I know or care to admit, I'm sure. Thank God his grace is sufficient to save his people through the preaching of the gospel even when my love is not what it ought to be; thank God that's no excuse for my failure to love the people before me, whoever they may be; and thank God I've sat under pastors who loved so well and see so many of seminary students and presbytery interns doing likewise.

"God set before me love"

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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.

I Love President Barack Obama, but...

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Facebook is an interesting utensil. People use it for all sorts of things (e.g., advertising, spying, networking). If you spend even the slightly amount of time there, you can also get a sense of what matters to people. Some highly value their family. Every other post is a picture of their child or their latest family vacation. Others use it as a means to argue about doctrine. In certain discussion rooms, it seems that every other post is about baptism or church polity. 

Along with the aforementioned, you further get a sense of who is politically inclined. Of course we should all be concerned about what is occurring in the government, both locally and nationally, but not everyone knows the particulars to same extent. However, what is interesting is regardless of the degree to which one knows how the US government functions and how policies are employed, almost everyone has something to say about President Barack Obama. Fox News' posts and certain underground websites' posts go viral over the President's desires. The Affordable Care Act and abortion are a couple of the latest controversies.

Over the years, however, I have refrained from entering most of the conversations on Facebook about the President. Like any form of online communication, it is too easy to be misunderstood. Perhaps I have waited too long. They say, "Timing is everything." Now, I have something to say. Here it is: "I love President Barack Obama and I pray for him."

It seems fair to suggest that many of us, who were raised in the US, were taught to fight for those things in which we believe. "Stand up for your beliefs!" "Find others who are like-minded and fight! Protest! Get others to sign petitions! Do what is right despite what others believe!" If that is not how many of us were raised, Facebook tells a different story. People have no problem telling you what they believe.

"The Affordable Care Act is not so affordable," they say. "We should impeach the President," some believe. "He really isn't American," they post. "The President is a Muslim," a minority suggest. 

Are these claims and suggestions true? You probably have an opinion. You may have even posted your thoughts on Facebook already. Thankfully, in this nation, we have "some" freedom to express ourselves, but in our expressions we should be balanced. "We" in the previous sentence could mean "everyone." As image bearers of God, we should all maintain balance in our comments, but for the purposes of this blog I am particularly interested in Christians.

Regardless of where you find yourself on the theological spectrum (i.e., reformed or reforming), your theology requires balance. Listen to a fundamentalist sermon that is all law and no gospel and you'll soon realize why we need balance. The law is good. It reveals our sin, points us to Christ, and directs our steps, but without the gracious gospel, we are in a desperate predicament. 

Similarly, when we make comments about the President (and anyone else for that matter), we should, likewise, attempt to be balanced. Most of the posts I read on Facebook, however, are far from balanced. You are entitled to your opinion. Please don't misunderstand me. I have my thoughts on the institution of certain policies, too. I have to remind myself to be balanced, though.

Jesus calls us to love (and pray).

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:43-48).

Paul calls us to pray.

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Yes, stand up for those things in which you believe. On many of them, I would probably stand beside you. But I hope, along with standing for what you believe, you can also, by the grace of God, obey your Lord. He tells you to love (and pray). By the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul also tells you to pray. 

Do you?

I understand. I can't read your heart. I don't know your motives. I'm not with you 24-hours a day. You may love the President as an image-bearer of God and pray a great deal, but my perception is something different. As you know, perception can be a gateway to reality. If all you did was write your wife letters criticizing her activities, she might begin to wonder if you really love her. A husband can respond all day long, "Of course I love you," but the portrayal reflects the contrary. As Christians, we must love everyone and pray for them. That includes President Barack Obama. 

I know you desire to see things change. You were likely taught that speaking out on things can lead to change. I was taught the same thing. Yet, while I know lifting our voices in one accord can lead to change, love and prayer can lead to change, too. I'm not naive. Love is not void of correction, but it is definitely much more than correction. 

I'm sure many people want me to say, "I love President Barack Obama, but..." (fill in the blank; lists all your disagreements about his policies). I'm not going to say that. I'm going to say, "I love President Barack Obama, and..."

"...and I pray for him."

Will you love President Barack Obama and pray for him, too. Will you allow your Facebook posts to reflect that love and heart of prayer? People are watching, and you may be providing a perception that is contrary to your heart's desire.

Effective personal evangelism: love

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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.

Why?

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"Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there's room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?"

So asked William Cowper. And so might each child of God ask, with a thousand more questions besides.

Why was I chosen to receive life, when many die in their sins? Why did the Lord show mercy to me? Why was I not made a mere beast? Perhaps, why was I born into a Christian home? Or, why did God send a true friend to preach the good news to my needy soul? Why was I even made to feel my need? Why does the Lord bear with me so patiently? Why am I not cast off on account of my continued sins? Why is forgiveness so freely and readily extended? Why does God love me? Why did God ever love me? Why does he love me still? Why did he send his beloved Son to suffer and die in my place? Why was the Lamb of God sacrificed for me? Why is a sinful wretch like me not in hell?

Why did I end up in a church where my soul is cared for and fed, or at least good spiritual food is offered? Why, if there is no church which can care for my soul, am I sustained? Perhaps, why were Christian friends, a Christian spouse, Christian fellowship provided for me? Why am I fed and clothed? Why do I have any measure of physical and spiritual health? Why have pastors and preachers been sent to minister to my heart? Why are they faithful to me when I make it hard for them? Why was I not set in a place where I would never hear God's saving truth? Why do I have so many resources available as a means to my growth in grace? Why do I receive so many warnings about temptation and sin? Why do I receive so many counsels toward holiness? Why do I hear faithful sermons? Why do they do me good?

Why do so many seeming coincidences work out for my blessing? Why do so many seeming tragedies work a likeness to Christ in me? Why does the medicine, though often bitter, always do me good? Why am I sustained amidst persecutions? Why, though tempted, do I stand? Why, though falling, do I rise again? Why, though sinning, am I restored? Why does the ever-flowing, over-flowing fountain of Christ's blood remain open to me? Why, though despised, am I not cast down? Why do all things work together for my good?

Why are my prayers heard? Why do I receive what I need when I do not know what to pray, have no appetite to pray, or forget to pray? Why do I have opportunities to serve the God of my salvation? Why do my efforts secure any good? Why does God draw a straight line with such a crooked stick as I am? Why am I never alone? Why does he never leave me or forsake me? Why does the devil not readily devour me? Why do I advance? Why do I even stand?

Why do I not need to fear death? Why do I have comfort when other saints die? Why has the grave lost its ultimate sting? Why do I have any hope in this world or for the world to come? Why do I anticipate full and final likeness to Jesus Christ? Why do I have the promise of eternal bliss? Why shall I inherit an unshakeable kingdom? Why am I an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ? Why do I look forward to heaven?
And the answer to it all is, the grace of a loving and faithful God revealed in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ - what Matthew Henry called, "God's free favour and all the blessed fruits of it."

My friend, do you ever marvel at the goodness and grace of the Lord toward you? You might, with perfect justice, have been forever cast into the depths of the pit. You might, with absolute equity, live and die without ever knowing that there is salvation for a sinner like you. You might, without any dent in or damage to the reputation of the Holy One of Israel, have been immediately and forever abandoned to your doom.

So, Christian, have you given thanks to the God of mercy this day? Have you cried out with gratitude to the Triune Jehovah for sparing you and pouring out his lovingkindnesses upon you? Will you realise afresh, and respond afresh to, the blessings which are yours in the Son of God, those unsearchable riches of Christ?

Or, if you are no child of God, will you repent of years of ingratitude and carelessness, held back from destruction while you have no thought of salvation? Will you appreciate, perhaps for the first time, what God has done in sending the Lord Christ, his only Son, to die in the place of the ungodly? Will you grasp that the offer of mercy is held out this day to you, in the face of all your sin and rebellion? Will you realise now that God is gracious, and seek his face?

Let each one who has tasted and seen that the Lord is good lift up heart and voice to the Lord: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ" (Eph. 1.3).

See how he loves

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When the Jews saw Christ weep outside the tomb of Lazarus, this demonstration of his deep affection (compare Jn 11.3, 5) brought forth the declaration: "See how he loved him!" (Jn 11.36). His attitude and actions left the onlookers in no doubt concerning the feeling of Christ for his beloved friend, although their ignorance put it in the past tense. In similar fashion, when we consider the attitudes and actions of Christ toward any child of God, though the circumstances may be very different, we should be able to say, "See how he loves him!"

The love of Christ for his people is something that is worth considering, meditating on and dwelling upon. It does our souls good to remember how we have been and are being loved by the Saviour. The love of Christ is like the many faces of the diamond - we can turn it in the light of our experience to find the aspect which gleams most brightly at this moment. The demonstrations of Christ's love are like the cities of refuge: in times of trouble we flee to the nearest one to find a safe place. So consider these seed thoughts concerning the love of Christ, some few of the ways in which you, child of God, are loved by him, and take those which are most needful and precious. His love for you is a love . . .

  • . . . without beginning. You were loved in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1.4, compare Jn 17.23-24) - the affections of the triune God toward you were always bound up in Christ, who was your representative before time began. Christ has always had his eye upon you: his is an everlasting love (Jer 31.3).
  • . . . of the greatest degree. It is held up as an example of extravagant love: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (Jn 15.13).
  • . . . demonstrated as well as declared. Many speak of love who do not love. But the Lord not only tells me of his love - time and time again - but demonstrates it in countless ways. As John encouraged the saints, "let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1Jn 3.18), so Christ shows a love that is in deed and in truth.
  • . . . proven beyond all doubt. There are times when our confidence in Christ's love is shaken, but then we look to the cross, and can say with Paul, he "loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2.20). The cross - the great demonstration of love - banishes all possibility that he did not and does not love me.
  • . . . beyond human knowledge. It is a shoreless ocean, beggaring human insight and appreciation, a love that passes understanding (Eph 3.19), surpassing our best efforts to comprehend it - like quicksilver, you may get a few sparkling drops in your hand, but the gleaming lake lies outside your grasp.
  • . . . not repulsed by sin. Sin is repulsive and repugnant - the great obstacle that love must overcome (1Pt 4.8) - but the love of Christ does overcome it, and is not defeated by it. Rather, it is in the face of sin that love shows its true depth: "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5.6-8).
  • . . . which pays the full redemption price for the beloved. To purchase those upon whom he had set his love, the Son paid all that was necessary. The Good Shepherd said, "I lay down my life for the sheep" (Jn 10.15). Blood must be spilt, a life must be given, and Christ held back nothing of himself in making atonement for those he loved.
  • . . . that maintains a prayerful interest. Too often love wanes - ardent protestations give way to lukewarm demonstrations. But not with Christ: he ever lives to make intercession for his people (Heb 7.25). Having died for us, he lives for us, and we are the constant objects of his perfect prayers. Have you stopped to consider: the risen Lord of Glory has prayed for you today? What a wonder!
  • . . . that secures us absolutely. Christ's love is the ground of our certainty, it is the crimson cord that binds us forever to God. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8.35-39). Having been so loved, it is not possible for you to cease being so loved.
  • . . . that will not ignore sin in us. Perhaps you have never considered what an act of love it is that the Lord cares about your sin: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Rev 3.19). A love that does not care about the foul presence of sin in its object is not really love: it would be like saying that you love someone, but are happy for them to live in filth.
  • . . . that really overcomes sin in us. There is a positive aspect, too. The love that addresses sin works holiness. That rebuking and chastening is a means of producing holiness in us: "For whom the LORD loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives. . . . we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but he for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness" (Heb 12.6-10).
  • . . . of unfailing patience. This is indeed a love that suffers long (1Cor 13.7). Remember how often our Lord, with holy frustration, asked how long he must bear with his stumbling and ignorant and dull disciples. And how long did he bear with them? He bore with them all the way, and bears with us still. We find it all too easy for our love to be undermined by irritability, but Christ's love is not defeated by our failures and foolishnesses.
  • . . . that removes all our fears. We need fear nothing if so beloved. Even the day of judgement, so awesome and terrible, while not ceasing to be awesome and terrible in itself, ceases to be a cause of overwhelming terror for the one who exists in a relationship of deepening and appreciated love with God: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment" (1Jn 4.18).
  • . . . that never abandons us. We cry, "Do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation" (Ps 27.9), calling upon the one who has given us that very promise (Dt 31.6-8, compare Heb 13.5). His is a love as strong as death (Song 8.6).
  • . . . that will endure forever. It is an everlasting love (Jer 31.3), stretching not only back into eternity past but forward into eternity future. We shall never cease to be loved by Christ. When Christ returns the dead in Christ shall rise first, and "then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1Thes 4.17). Forever with the Lord! Forever with the one who loved us and gave himself for us.
  • . . . held up as the pattern for all love worthy of the name. Christ's "new commandment" is "that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (Jn 13.34; 15.12). Time and time again we are pointed back to the love of Christ as the grand and enduring model of love, the perfect template of what love truly is (see, for example, 1Cor 13.4-8; Phil 2.1-8). It is how we know what love is: "By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brothers" (1Jn 3.16).
  • . . . that offers repeated reminders of its reality and substance. We find these reminders sown throughout the Scriptures and our own experience. However, perhaps pre-eminently, it is the Lord's supper which brings us back to the supreme demonstration of that love in his atoning death, carries us into the present expressions of that love in communion with the risen Christ by his Spirit, and points us forward to the consummation of that love when he returns: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same manner he also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till he comes" (1Cor 11.23-26).

The Lord Christ wants us to consider his love. How often do you say, "Pause, my soul, adore and wonder, ask, 'Oh, why such love to me?'" Do you stop to consider, meditate and dwell upon the love Christ has for you as one of his sheep individually, one of his flock entirely?

To do so will increase our joy. What happiness there is in knowing that this is Christ's disposition toward us! It will deepen our assurance. To know that we are so loved will be a powerful defence against the insinuations of the devil that we are unworthy (we know we are, but that has not stopped Jesus loving us) and the undermining of our sense of enjoying peace with God. It will heighten our gratitude, for the more we see of the kindness and mercy of the Lord in so loving, the more we will be brought to humble amazement at his great goodness toward us. It will stir up love: to be so loved cannot but draw out our hearts toward the one who loves us so: "We love him because he first loved us" (1Jn 4.19). How can we not, when we see how he loved us, and how he loves us still?

Welcome Scotland!

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Welcome Iain! Glad you were able to sign in. T4G is over and perhaps we'll now be able to "resume normal service" again. I feel the "luv" already in the Trueman comment about Lewis. We'll be praying for you in Uganda.