Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bible Theology and Human Reason, part 4

From the Presbyterian Magazine, October 1858. Edited by Dr. Van Rensselaer. Pages 452-458.

“Bible Theology Consistent with Human Reason”
Part 4

III. God’s beneficent design and wish to restore man to his original purity, and the difficulty of reconciling the claims of his justice, with the designs of his mercy.

Nature teaches us not only that there is a God, a great, self-existent, omnipotent Creator, but that this God, in his creation, has looked to the comfort, well-being, and happiness of his creatures in the disposition of his Providence. The only fact, in the remotest degree militating against the thousand proofs of his beneficence, is his permission to the existence of sin; and even that seems to be only the consequence of the bestowal upon man of the gifts of free agency. That such a God should not desire the restoration of man to a state of holiness – a state consistent with his own attributes – would be utterly at war with all the manifestations of his Providence.

But if such be the desire of Omnipotence, who shall it be effected? What difficulty lies in the way of an immediate, unconditional restitution of man to his original state of purity? That it is in the power of God to do this is unquestioned. It is true that an essential attribute of the Most High, without which we would not recognize his perfection, is justice. A just retribution to the wrongdoer, is not only demanded by the obedience of the righteous, but enters into all the ideas which human reason can devise of the Ruler of the Universe—such an idea has been universal with mankind from the earliest ages, and is not only consistent with, but demanded by human reason. To that reason, then, a difficulty exists in reconciling the claims of divine justice with the designs of divine mercy. It may be replied, that this is but an apparent difficulty. With Omnipotence all things are possible. Granted, but how does human reason dictate that this apparent difficulty can be avoided? A thousand expedients might be suggested by an all-wise and omnipotent God; but we are inquiring into the consistency of the alleged revealed scheme with human reason—of this reason, then, we must demand a scheme—and this brings us to the consideration of our fourth point, viz.:

IV. The reconciliation of these conflicting attributes by the scheme devised, viz.: the expiation of man’s sin by the vicarious sacrifice of a being combining the infinity of the God with the mortality and finite nature of the man.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Prayer, from the Palms of Elim

"This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshing"--

"Effectual fervent prayer" -- James v.16

"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask?" -- Matt vii.11


There is a reposeful rest beyond all other at the mercy-seat. When the hurricane of temptation and trial--the simoom blast of the wilderness is fiercest--who has not felt the peaceful overshadowing of this Elim palm?

Prayer for ourselves, the unburdening the heart of its sins and sorrows into the ear of our Heavenly Father; unbosoming our wants, our weaknesses, our frailties and backslidings; it may be the crimson and scarlet stains of which none but the Heart-searcher is cognizant. The cry for "more grace;" realising our own weakness, yet realising, too, the strong arm on which we are encouraged to lean, when our temporary Elim must be left, and the buffeting storm of the wilderness and the unknown perils of the renewed journey must be faced!

Prayer for others. Delightful it is to feel that our intercessions fetch down blessings on the absent. Prayer annihilates space; it knows nothing of distance. That friend, that brother, the companion of your youth, is far separated from you,--out on the perilous ocean, away in the distant colony. The sound of the Sabbath-bell falls no more on his ear; you can go with him no longer to the house of God in company; his place is vacant in the pew; his chair is empty at the table; his voice is missed at the home-hearth! But you can be present with him. Prayer can bring you to his side. Prayer can whisper a father's benediction over him. Prayer can sprinkle him with better than a mother's tears. Prayer can fetch the angels of God around him as a guard; his shield in danger, his defense in trouble. Far off in her cottage-home, a thousand miles away, a mother, all unconscious at the moment of the danger of her sailor-boy, is uttering her midnight pleadings for the wanderer. They have ascended at the very crisis of destruction. The cry of the trembling form kneeling by her lonely couch has rocked the waves to rest. Is is a mother's "effectual fervent prayers" that have turned the storm into calm!

Prayer is still the golden key by which we can unlock, alike for ourselves and for others, the treasury of heaven, and "move the arm of Omnipotence." Yes, and what we owe, on the other hand, to the prayers which have hovered over our cradles and our early years, followed us into the world, grappling for us in our strong temptations, and which, like Jacob wrestling with the angel, have prevailed, will never be known until that day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed!

Gracious indeed is this Palm-tree; to be under its shelter is to be beneath the shadow of God. As the devout Payson expresses it, using a different simile, "The best means of keeping near the Lord is the closet. Here the battle is lost or won."

What an encouragement to prayer is the divine challenge given in the second of our motto-verses; the earthly father yielding to the requests and importunities of his children-- the pledge and guarantee of a still greater willingness on the part of the Heavenly Parent to respond, and that too with a royal plenitude to our wants! "How much more?" Never let us suppose that God is unwilling to hear. There is no exhausting that infinite fullness treasured up in him. It is one of Philip Henry's quaint sayings, "When Abraham interceded for Sodom, God granted as long as he asked, Abraham left off first." He is able to do "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." 'It is said,' observes the saintly Rutherford, '"He answered not a word." But it is not said, "He heard not a word." These two differ much. Christ often heareth, when He doth not answer. His not answering is an answer and speaks thus, "Pray on, go on, and cry; for the Lord holdest His door fast bolted, not to keep you out, but that you may knock and knock."' Can we doubt either His willingness or ability to hear, when we think of Him who is our Advocate with the Father?--the Angel Intercessor with His censer "full of much incense," sprinkling therewith the polluted and unworthy prayers of His people, and causing them to ascend with acceptance before God? "Ask in My name," says that Divine Intercessor Himself; adding, "And I say not unto you that I will pray the Father for you." What means He by this asserted suspension or intermission of His pleadings? Simply, because the utterance of His name is sufficient. It is the passport to the Mercy-seat, the Key which unlocks the Treasury of heaven, and obtains the "how much more" from the Father's heart!

"Thou hast prayed for much
In the time that's past,
Thou must still pray on,
For thy wants come fast;
Now ask what ye will
From His boundless store,
The Father is able
To give 'much more.'

"Hold out the empty hand,
And He will fill it;
Tell Him Thy vexing fear,
And He will still it.
Now take what ye will
From His boundless store,
The Father is willing
To give 'much more.'"

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you."

from J. R. Macduff, Palms of Elim; or Rest and Refreshment in the Valleys. New York: Carter, 1879. pp109-112

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What is it to be a Christian?

"What is it to be a Christian?”

In these days when the Spirit of God is searching the hearts of men and convincing them of sin, the inquiry often arises, “Am I a Christian?”

This question is not to be settled by vague impressions, made in some mysterious way upon the mind. Nor is it safe to permit dreams, visions, or voices to settle this question. Nor will the sudden recurrence of the mind to some passage of Scripture—such as, “Son, daughter, be of good cheer, thy sins which are many are forgiven thee”—be a sufficient reason for regarding the person thus cheered as a Christian. Nor will any amount of happy emotions, which may follow conviction of sin, determine that the person is a Christian. Nor will the cherishing of a hope settle the question. What, then, is it to be a Christian? The Christian is:
  1. One who believes or trusts in Christ as God’s appointed sacrifice for sin, through whom it may be forgiven, and through whose righteousness and mediation all else needful to salvation may be obtained. His whole expectation of salvation is reposed upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. The Christian has the Spirit of Christ. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”
  3. The Christian is the property of Christ. He acknowledges that he is not his own, but that he is under the highest obligations to glorify God in his body and spirit, which are God’s. He aims to be conformed to this obligation; hence, he strives to eat and drink and do whatever he does to the glory of God.
  4. He loves the service of Christ. He accounts as more than his meat and his drink to do the will of his Father who is in Heaven. In keeping of the commandments he finds great reward.
  5. He loves the kingdom of Christ. The prayer for its full establishment in the earth is prominent in all his supplications at the throne of grace. He seeks it first, as involving all his own highest good, as well as that of others.
  6. He loves the friends of Christ. “Hereby,” said our Saviour, “shall ye know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.”
  7. He is not ashamed of Christ. He is not ostentatious in the profession of religion. Nor is he careful to conceal his attachment to Christ. He knows that he who is despised and rejected of men, is at the summit of power and glory in the heavens; therefore he accounts it his highest honour to be known as a servant and friend of Christ.
Reader, are you a Christian?

From The Presbyterian Magazine, November, 1858. Edited by Dr. Van Rensselaer.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Spurgeon's take on an Apple in a Bottle

From The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, complied from his Diary, Letters, and Records, by His wife and His Private Secretary. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society. 4 Volumes. This quote from Volume 1, pages 15-16

An Apple in a Bottle.

I remember well, in my early days, seeing upon my grandmother’s mantel-shelf an apple contained in a phial. This was a great wonder to me, and I tried to investigate it. My question was, “How came the apple to get inside so small a bottle?” The apple was quite as big round as the phial; by what means was it placed within it? Though it was treason to touch the treasures on the mantel-piece, I took down the bottle, and convinced my youthful mind that the apple never passed through its neck; and by means of an attempt to unscrew the bottom, I became equally certain that the apple did not enter from below. I held to the notion that by some occult means the bottle had been made in two pieces, and afterwards untied in so careful a manner that no trace of the join remained. I was hardly satisfied with the theory, but as no philosopher was at hand to suggest any other hypothesis, I let the matter rest. One day, the next summer, I chanced to see upon a bough another phial, the first cousin of my old friend, within which was growing a little apple which had been passed through the neck of the bottle while it was extremely small. “Nature well known, no prodigies remain.” The grand secret was out. I did not cry, “Eureka! Eureka!” but I might have done so if I had then been versed in the Greek tongue.

This discovery of my juvenile days shall serve for an illustration at the present moment. Let us get the apples into the bottle while they are little: which, being translated, signifies, let us bring the young ones into the house of God, by means of the Sabbath-school, in the hope that, in after days, they will love the place where His honour dwelleth, and there seek and find eternal life. By our making the Sabbath dreary, many young minds may be prejudiced against religion: we would do the reverse. Sermons should not be so long and dull as to weary the young folk, or mischief will come of them; but with interesting preaching to secure attention, and loving teachers to press home the truth upon the youthful heart, we shall not have to complain of the next generation, that they have “forgotten their resting places.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bible Theology and Human Reason, part 3

From the Presbyterian Magazine, October 1858. Edited by Dr. Van Rensselaer. Pages 452-458.

“Bible Theology Consistent with Human Reason”

Part 3

II. Man’s fall from this original state of purity and holiness, and the consequent corruption and depravity of his entire nature.

We might here appeal again to the sages of antiquity to show that the perverseness of man’s nature, and his tendency to do wrong, was by them all admitted as a fact, differing, as they did, only in the causes assigned in explanation of the fact. With some, the mind was a blank paper, and received from education the perverted, sinful dispositions. With others, as before stated, his nature was pure, but excess indulged in, caused the errors of his life. While with others, his evil passions were held to be his original nature, and education and culture alone transformed him from a beast into a civilized man. But we need not this testimony. We have an unerring witness in the consciousness of each individual, and this witness we propose now to examine. Let every man review his own life, take up one by one every honorable, noble, praiseworthy act which memory has retained—spread open before himself, as if to the All-seeing eye, every hidden motive conspiring upon his will, to produce his action, select the one to this own search, most free from unworthy motives, and then confess to himself whether even his own consciousness cannot discover in the hidden recesses of his heart some trace of selfish love, some taint which bars the claim of perfect purity in all its bearings. If the blurred eye of erring man can thus discern the trace of sin, how polluted must it seem to the undimmed vision of perfect holiness and purity. Strive as we may against it, with shame confess it to ourselves, and straight resolve that in the future we will not again be forced to confess so mortifying a fact, and yet again and again in our own self-communings we discover this underlying stratum of selfishness, tingeing every fountain that breaks forth from the heart.

We thus find in human nature these conflicting elements, the one indicating a pure, perfect, and holy origin, the other evidencing a depraved and corrupt principle pervading the entire soul. By the unaided light of human reason, then, we discover in man the relics and evidence of a perfect original, but so marred and defaced by error and sin as to destroy its symmetry, and almost obliterate its proportions.

What disposition will the Creator make of such a creature? This question brings us to the consideration of the third point, viz.:

III. God’s beneficent design and wish to restore man to his original purity, and the difficulty of reconciling the claims of his justice, with the designs of his mercy. (Part 4)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why am I not a Christian?

“Why am I not a Christian?”

  1. Is it because I am afraid of ridicule, and of what others may say of me?
    1. “Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed.”

  2. Is it because of the inconsistencies of professing Christians?
    1. “Every man shall give account of himself to God.”

  3. Is it because I am not willing to give up all for Christ?
    1. “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

  4. Is it because I am afraid that I shall not be accepted?
    1. “Him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out.”

  5. Is it because I fear that I am too great a sinner?
    1. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.”

  6. Is it because I am afraid that I shall not “hold out?”
    1. “He that hath begun a good work in you, he will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

  7. Is it because I am thinking that I will do as well as I can, and that God out to be satisfied with that?
    1. “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

  8. Is it because I am postponing the matter without any definite reason?
    1. “Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for you know not what a day may bring forth.”

  9. Is it because I am trying to save myself by morality, or in any other way of my own?
    1. “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

  10. Is it because I do not clearly see the way to be saved?
    1. “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel. God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

--Am. Messenger

From the Presbyterian Magazine, October 1858. Pages 479-480. [Language updated]

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Gem from an Old Casket

From the Presbyterian Magazine, September 1858. Rev. C. Van Rensselaer, editor. Pages 405-406. [edited by SML – or shall I say, (lightly) freshened?]

“A Gem From An Old Casket.”

... “The desire of novelty,” says Mr. Hamilton of London, writer of The Mount of Olives, “is not in itself blameworthy; but there is one form of it which we would like to see more frequent. To freshen old truths is nearly as important as to discover new ones; and instead of telling or hearing some new thing, our time would often be as advantageously occupied in thinking over and brightening up some old thing.”...

“One often thinks what a pity that so excellent a work as the “Westminster Shorter Catechism,” greatly as it is prized, should not be prized and used far more than it is. Let us freshen it up. Let us commend it, not only to the young, but to the old too. Let us point out its beauties and dilate upon them. Take for instance the answer to question thirty-six.

“The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.”

What a cluster of diamonds! What an assemblage of glorious things! Is it possible in any other words of the same compass to set forth so much of the blessedness of the Christian’s portion this side of heaven? Poor, sorrowing, lost, afflicted soul; sometimes you are sorely tempted almost to despair. But cheer up. Think of your portion—not of that unspeakable one in sure reserve, but of that now in hand. No matter what your lot. It may be you are overwhelmed with ills under which mere nature cannot sustain you. But think a moment. You have a title to—nay, you have possession of—priceless blessings. Think over these five benefits.

Assurance of God’s love. –Not his general love, his love of benevolence merely, but of complacency too. He delights in you for what he has wrought in you. Amazing grace! And to be assured of this benefit; to have a warrant to say, I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded he is able to keep what I have committed to him, against that day. Not everyone attains to this blessing; but God has graciously made it accessible to all; and what but the Christian’s own fault hinders his actual possession of it.

Then, Peace of conscience. –Ah, you are somewhat sensible to your ill desert and sinfulness. But the gracious covenant is so ordered as to make full provision for you. God in Christ is not only reconciled to you, but He has in a measure removed your unholy opposition to Him. And since you are reconciled to God, you know the import of the blessed word—peace. John, 14:27.

Your glorious Advocate has so triumphantly interceded for you, that the next benefit in order, Joy in the Holy Ghost, follows as a matter of course. And when it pleases God to grant a large measure of this earnest of heaven, then it does not matter what the outward accidents of the humble soul may be,--lofty or lowly, honoured or despised in the world’s regard, living in a palace, embracing a dunghill, or pining in a dungeon—it is all one. That soul has within itself a fund of life and joy. Who shall harm it? No wonder it joys in God.

But full conformity to the image of Christ will not be attained to in this life. It is therefore a blessed provision that the lineaments of that image shall be growing more and more distinct and symmetrical. Child of God, you will never be satisfied with your attainments here, and if you think you are now perfect, you have not yet learned your first lesson in the school of Christ. Reach forward. Despair not. God will grant thee Increase of grace.

As the outward man perishes, the inward man shall be renewed, day by day. And this by logical sequence involves the next benefit, Perseverance to the end.—Practically considered, this is the culminating point. What would it avail to have the blessedness of heaven in prospect, and desires awakened for its fruition, if, as a matter of fact, the gracious soul may come short of the prize? You know full well, humble child of God, that of yourself you could not persevere. But you shall be held up—kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation—being confident of this very thing, that He that has begun a good work in you will perform it till the day of Jesus Christ. Is not this a most blessed truth?

“The soul that to Jesus hath fled for repose;
He will not, he will not forsake to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,
He’ll never, no never, no NEVER forsake.”

Perseverance to the end! And that end, though it may seem dark, and clouds may gather around it, and for a time terrors may encompass the soul in view of it, yet darkness, and clouds, and terror shall soon vanish. That sad end shall be but the bright beginning of immortal blessedness—the portal of eternal life and joy.

Thus have I worked to freshen one of the beauties of the old Catechism. But in that Casket of Gems there are a hundred and six beside, all rich and polished. True, they are somewhat old-fashioned, but not a whit for the worse for that; nay, the better....”

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bible Theology and Human Reason, part 2

From the Presbyterian Magazine, October 1858. Edited by Dr. Van Rensselaer. Pages 452-458.

"Bible Theology Consistent with Human Reason"
Part 2.

I. Man’s original creation in a state of purity and holiness.

It is a fact well known, that ancient philosophers had arrived at this truth without the revelation of the bible. Aristotle bases his system of ethics upon the assumption that all human passions are pure, and that error lays only in the excess. He carries the doctrine far beyond its legitimate results, but still it effects the purpose for which we use it, viz., to show that human reason discovers in human nature such relics of original purity as to authorize the belief of the existence of such a state. But without invoking the authority of any great name, we may arrive at this truth ourselves. Let us examine the human heart, analyze its passions, explore the deep regions of original motives, and we shall be forced to the same conclusion. As to the better feelings and affections—love, gratitude, pity, &tc.—argument is unnecessary. To the baser passions, then, let us appeal; for example, envy, revenge, hatred, avarice, covetousness. Is there a foundation of good, a corner-stone of purity, upon which such passions as these are reared? A few moments’ reflection will show that there is.

To admire the good, to seek to arrive at its attainments, is laudable. To remove real obstacles in the way is necessary to success. Real or imaginary thwart our purposes, and produce unpleasant reflections. A successful aspirant in the same race becomes in our eyes an obstacle to the attainment of the desired end, and hence Envy.

To love and protect those dependent upon and dear to us, is praiseworthy. To shield them from present harm and future injury, is pleasing and grateful to a generous heart. Every injury unprevented by us, grates harshly on these better feelings, reproaches our self-love for neglect, and demands a reparation, and hence, Revenge.

To love the right must necessarily produce a contrary feeling for the wrong. If both right and wrong make the same impression upon the heart and excite the same feeling, there could be no incitement to the one nor prevention of the other. The existence of real or imaginary wrong gives rise to this repulsive emotion of the heart, and hence, Hatred.

To provide not only for present wants, but to lay up for future necessities, is the prudent foresight of a reasonable being. So great and unexpected are the events which a day brings forth, that the teachings of experience prompt to the accumulation of more than actual necessity requires. This desire for accumulation becomes a master passion, and hence Avarice, and in its train, Covetousness.

The list might be extended until we had exhausted every passion. Sufficient illustration has been given for our purpose, viz.: to demonstrate the traces of a pure fountain for all the dark schemes flowing forth from the human heart.

While we have thus to dig deep into the foundations of the passions to seek for laudable motives, it requires but ordinary observation to arrive at the conclusion, that by some means the waters have become bitter and the streams turbid, and this brings us to our second proposition, viz.:

II. Man’s fall from this original state of purity and holiness, and the consequent corruption and depravity of his entire nature. (Part 3)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bible Theology and Human Reason, part 1

From the Presbyterian Magazine, October 1858. Edited by Dr. Van Rensselaer. Pages 452-458.

“Bible Theology Consistent with Human Reason”
Part 1

The philosophy of the plan of salvation, as revealed and developed in the sacred Scriptures, has so often been considered, and the consistency of the revealed with the natural law so often shown, that one cannot expect to advance any new views of the one or proofs of the other. Yet so varied is the human mind that the presentation of the same idea clothed in different words, or from a different point of view, will sometimes make an impression, never before following a score of previous repetitions. With this view, we propose to consider the consistency of the theology of the Bible with human reason.

We will not stop with the atheist to argue that there is a God, a great creative, self-existent, omnipotent first cause. Nor will we repeat the conclusive and uncontradicted argument derived from history and observation, to show that man is a religious creature, acknowledging always his dependence upon a Supreme Being or Beings, and thereby evidencing, from the internal consciousness of the entire race, our relation as subjects of a higher power. We are tempted to enter upon the enticing field of god’s external providences, to show how mercy and goodness are exhibited in all his creation, thence to draw the conclusion that this mercy and goodness would not stop short at the provision for our carnal wants, and leave unsupplied that intense thirsting of the soul for the spiritual and eternal. And hence, that it is natural that we shall expect such light upon these great interests as would satisfy the craving of the spirit and make plain and sure the path of rectitude. This light is the true religion. It would be pleasant and easy to examine the many lights which have been exhibited to the world, each claiming to be the true emanation from the Deity, and to show that to the enlightened mind none can claim so high a regard from the intellect as that portrayed in the Christian Bible, and thus demand for it the meed [sic] of being the true light of the world—the true religion—until some purer, more spiritual, more reasonable system disputes with it the palm. All these points however have been so clearly, elaborately, conclusively exhibited and illustrated by others that we propose to take them as granted for our present purpose, and from this stand-point to apply to this best of religious systems the crucible of human reason, and independent of its pre-eminence thus established, to examine its claim to Divine authority and human obedience.

We confine ourselves to internal evidence. We leave out of our consideration all the usual external proof derived from human, and consequently fallible testimony. We propose to take the system as if offered now, for the first time, for our adoption, and without other evidence of its genuineness than its own consistency with our finite reason.

The cardinal fundamental truths taught in the religion of the Bible may be reduced to the following:
  1. Man’s original creation in a state of purity and holiness.
  2. Man’s fall from this state, and the consequent corruption and depravity of his entire nature.
  3. God’s beneficent design to wish to restore man to his original purity, and the difficulty of reconciling the claims of his justice with the designs of his mercy.
  4. The reconciliation of these conflicting attributes by the scheme devised, viz., the expiation of man’s sin by the vicarious sacrifice of a Being combining the infinity of the God with the mortality and finite nature of the man.
  5. The terms upon which this atonement is made efficacious, viz., Faith in the heart and consistency in the life.
Are these truths consistent with the teachings of human reason?

[I will post this, Lord willing, in 6 parts, including this introduction.]