19 October 2018

Loneliness and the Church

by Hohn Cho

Ben Sasse sells Runzas at a Cornhuskers game.
Ben Sasse sells Runzas at a Cornhuskers game.

enator Ben Sasse (R-Neb) is a solid Christian brother who was an "elder in the United Reformed Churches in North America and served on the board of trustees for Westminster Seminary California" and is currently "a member of Grace Church, a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation" located in Fremont, Nebraska. He has been outspoken about his faith and his values while avoiding a blindly loyal Republican party line and maintaining a healthy (and I believe appropriate) amount of nuance, including in this recent speech on Justice Brett Kavanaugh. And whether or not one might agree with him on everything—he has been quite plain with his concerns about President Donald Trump, for example—it has been encouraging to see a Christian brother navigating with integrity the dirty field of politics.

He's just written a book entitled, "Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal" and an adapted excerpt of it is available here. Longtime conservative columnist George Will has covered it briefly but well, with a powerful pair of paragraphs here:

Loneliness in "epidemic proportions" is producing a "loneliness literature" of sociological and medical findings about the effect of loneliness on individuals' brains and bodies, and on communities. Sasse says "there is a growing consensus" that loneliness—not obesity, cancer or heart disease—is the nation's "No. 1 health crisis." "Persistent loneliness" reduces average longevity more than twice as much as does heavy drinking and more than three times as much as obesity, which often is a consequence of loneliness. Research demonstrates that loneliness is as physically dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and contributes to cognitive decline, including more rapid advance of Alzheimer's disease. Sasse says, "We're literally dying of despair," of the failure "to fill the hole millions of Americans feel in their lives."

...

Work, which Sasse calls "arguably the most fundamental anchor of human identity," is at the beginning of "a staggering level of cultural disruption" swifter and more radical than even America's transformation from a rural and agricultural to an urban and industrial nation. At that time, one response to social disruption was alcoholism, which begat Prohibition. Today, one reason the average American life span has declined for three consecutive years is that many more are dying of drug overdoses—one of the "diseases of despair"—annually than died during the entire Vietnam War. People "need to be needed," but McKinsey & Co. analysts calculate that, globally, 50 percent of paid activities—jobs—could be automated by currently demonstrated technologies. America's largest job category is "driver" and, with self-driving vehicles coming, two-thirds of such jobs could disappear in a decade.

I've always appreciated whenever science and statistical studies confirm basic truths which have been set forth in the Word of God for millennia. The emerging data regarding loneliness are no exception. Starting from Genesis 2:18, when God declared, "It is not good for the man to be alone," the entire sweep of human history has focused on relationships, whether vertical or horizontal. And our great God has always cared deeply about those relationships, even exemplifying them perfectly in the awesome three-in-one mystery of the Trinity. In the Old Testament, we see the history of the covenant people of Israel, and their relationships both inside and outside of that group. Likewise, in the New Testament, we see the history of the covenant people of the church, and their relationships both inside and outside of that group.

Outside the church, we see the imperative of evangelism, of "Go therefore" from the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, to all nations, with the joyful truth of the Gospel and discipleship in the Word of God. In Romans 10:14-15, we read how preachers of the Gospel are to be sent to unbelievers, with even the preachers' feet being praised as beautiful. And in the second Great Commandment in Mark 12:31, we know that we are to love our neighbors even as we love our own selves. All of these verses and concepts demonstrate the critical importance of relationships with the outside world.

Meanwhile, inside the church, we see the glorious beauty of the one anothers, those commands which believers can only fulfill in Christian fellowship and the corporate assembly. It's a truth reinforced by the image of the church as the Body of Christ in Romans 12:5, Ephesians 3:6, Colossians 1:24, and perhaps most extensively in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, where we see that each member has a diverse role and function, and that only when working together as an organic whole is the Body truly operating as God has arranged and intended. Ideally, the Body of Christ ought never be a place where any member suffers chronic loneliness born from the negligence or apathy (much less hatred) of the brothers and sisters in his or her local church.



And yet as an elder in a relatively large church with approximately 5,000 members and many more regular attenders, concerns like these are the ones that really tie up my stomach into knots and drive me to my knees in prayer. How many of our members struggle with loneliness and alienation? How many people "slip through the cracks" and depart, feeling uncared for and unloved? We've had a homebound ministry for as long as I can remember, and several years ago, a godly, hypercompetent man named Justin Harris greatly improved and streamlined our membership and attendance processes before becoming the senior pastor at another blessed congregation, and it's both a joy and a relief to the elders to know that our members can be contacted regularly if certain needs or challenges might be resulting in extended absences.

But what about the rest of the Body of Christ, such as newer folks, or those who attend only sporadically, or perhaps even people used to participating only on the fringe? I know and understand that members themselves have a responsibility to be faithful and avail themselves of the ordinary means of grace, but what about my own role as a fellow member of the congregation and even more, as a servant-leader of my own particular local body? How can we better serve these beloved brothers and sisters, especially in a culture and age where singleness has become the norm for much longer periods of time, thus delaying or removing the traditionally and biblically normative alleviation for loneliness, specifically marriage and, Lord willing, family?

I have only two suggestions in this regard. First, strive on and remain diligent in your efforts (Proverbs 13:4). Do not weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9-10), be devoted to one another with brotherly love and preferring one another in honor (Romans 12:10), even regarding one another as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). And when you're tired, pray for God to supply you with strength (1 Peter 4:11), knowing that the power of Christ is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and that when we are weary and heavy-laden, our Savior will give us rest (Matthew 11:28).



Second, and far more importantly, the Scriptural truth is that God is the only one who will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He is the one we must turn to when we are lonely and afflicted (Psalm 25:16). Even if our own parents were to forsake us, God will receive us (Psalm 27:10). And Jesus Christ is with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20), nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:35), and indeed, He is even dwelling inside of us in perfect union (Romans 8:10, Galatians 2:20)! Not only that, but He has sent His Holy Spirit to dwell inside of us (Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 2 Timothy 1:14)! And as I reflect on the many missionaries and martyrs who have been imprisoned for years and even died physically all alone, I believe that conveying and reinforcing these incredible truths from the Word of God to every member of the Body of Christ can only serve to help them in the area of loneliness.

When we see well-formulated scientific studies showing the gravely detrimental effects of loneliness, it offers yet another reason why I believe the increasing obsession over ethnicity in the church today is such an unfortunate distraction. Among broader societal ills, I've written previously about why I believe abortion is arguably more than 5,000 times as important of an issue as, say, police shootings of unarmed people of all ethnicities. But even within the church itself, as someone who has a righteous hatred of ethnic partiality and believes actual sin in this area ought to be confronted and purged from the visible Body as much as possible, I still have to wonder whether issues such as loneliness might be an even more dire—if perhaps less stylish—concern than ethnic partiality, just as issues relating to adultery, divorce, and pornography might be an even greater corruption of our visible Christian witness. And as I strive to shepherd the portion of God's flock that He has placed under my care, I pray that I will always strive to be sensitive enough to reach out proactively to those brothers and sisters who seem perhaps a little bit out of place, out of sorts, or even out of hope, no matter what their ethnicity might be.

Hohn's signature

17 October 2018

What Did Jesus Say about "Social Justice?"

by Colin Eakin



As the "social justice" juggernaut continues to batter the breastwork of the Church, it would seem to be a propitious moment to look deeper into what the Head of the Church thinks about the issue. Scripture actually gives considerable insight into the thoughts of Jesus regarding the "social justice" movement. And—to the likely surprise of those pushing the movement forward—His words should give them considerable pause.

Let's start with the obvious: Jesus does not oppose justice. On the contrary, Jesus is the Originator, Definer, Overseer and Executor of justice (Mt. 12:18, 20). With regard to human interactions, the Bible uses the term "justice" to denote the condition of being impartial, even-handed, and scrupulous, and Jesus explicitly supports such an ethic (Luke 11:42; 18:7-8; John 7:24). Another manner by which justice is understood is moral perfection, and on that score, Jesus is the supreme example (Ps. 145:17). Further, the biblical concept of justice ultimately contends that all its supplicants will get exactly what they are promised, and Jesus guarantees that He will be there at the end, making it so (John 5:27-29).

So if Jesus is the author, champion, and living exemplar of all justice, He must be in favor of "social justice"—right? To get an accurate biblical answer to that question we must understand how the modifier compromises and corrupts the virtue. The Bible actually never uses any modifiers for "justice," let alone "social," which in itself should deter those who would speak and reason biblically from use of this term (for this reason, throughout this article the term "social justice" is set off in quotations to indicate its illegitimacy as a biblical term and notion). But because the culture has conjured this idea which the undiscerning Church seemingly cannot resist, it is incumbent upon those who would claim to represent Jesus to understand and discuss its full portent.

For our purposes, we will use the following definition for "social justice": "A philosophical and political concept holding that, because all people in this world should have equal access to wealth, health, opportunity and well-being, all people of this world are thus obliged to make it so."

You may ask, what's wrong with that? All for one and one for all in striving for equality? Why wouldn't the One who is ultimately bringing "justice to victory" (Isa. 42:1-3; Matt. 12:20) support this effort? The Bible gives us four compelling reasons why He does not:

1. "Social justice" misapprehends the eschaton
One text in Scripture giving particular insight into Christ's perspective on the matter of "social justice" is found in Luke 12:13-15. It reads: "Someone in the crowd said to Him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.' But He said to him, 'Man, who made Me a judge or arbiter over you?' And He said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

Here, Jesus is confronted by a man who has been (in his opinion) deprived of his fair share of an inheritance. From a "social justice" perspective, the man has been wronged, in that he believes he is owed wealth that has not been forthcoming. The man thus appeals to Jesus as an authority figure to find in his favor and correct the perceived injustice. This is a quintessential "social justice" scenario: resources have been appropriated in an asymmetric (therefore, unfair) manner, and the one deprived thus seeks redress.

But does Jesus give empathy and succor to the plaintiff? Does He commiserate with the aggrieved brother and come to his aid? Quite the opposite. In fact, Jesus gives the man a curt rebuke. He begins by asking the man why He should be a judge or arbiter in this situation. This response should arouse our curiosity, because as the Bible makes clear, Jesus knows His Father has handed all judgment over to Him (John 5:22, 27; 9:39). His response to the man is therefore puzzling. After all, with all judgment handed over to Him, why wouldn't Jesus be the perfect judge in this, as in all, matters?

The answer is twofold. The first has to do with the ordo eschaton, the order of last things. Jesus is here giving a revealing (if indirect) eschatological lesson. Jesus knows full well that His time for judgment is coming, when He will judge the entire world with perfect justice based upon the Word God has given (John 12:48). But He also knows that the time from the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Captivity (605 BC-586 BC) through His time upon the earth and right up to the present is described by God as "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24; Rom. 11:25). During this period of history, Jesus understands that God's plan is not judgment but salvation. Yes, Jesus is the final Judge of this world, but that comes later. For now, God is still graciously saving sinners through the narrow door of repentance and faith. In His rhetorical query, then, Jesus is deferring present judgment of earthly matters. His desire is that the man might forego the redress of an alleged earthly injustice, and instead prepare his heart through repentance and faith in anticipation of the judgment that is to come.

Many evangelicals who pander to ideas of "social justice" operate from an erroneous postmillennial eschatology. To their way of thinking, the earthly kingdom Jesus is promised to bring (2 Sam. 7:12) has already been inaugurated with His first appearance, and it is thus up to His followers to implement its form. And when one convolutes the Bible's prophecies regarding the present and future ages in this manner, the fallout is naturally erroneous fixation on the redress and reparation of inequalities in the here and now. But that is not what the Bible says about God's intent in the present, nor in the future. God will indeed bring to fruition the promised earthly kingdom of Christ (Rev. 20:1-6), but He will do it without need of any human partnership (Acts 17:25), and only when the sum of those who are appointed to eternal life believe (Acts 13:48). For now, Jesus as Judge and Arbiter of the world is on hold, being mercifully delayed, "until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in" (Rom. 11:25). Jesus' just judgment of the world is coming, but—in God's inexplicable and extraordinary love, mercy and grace—He continues to delay that day, such that "now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2).

2. "Social justice" often arises from sinful impulse
The second reason why Jesus defers to judge in this man's case is found in the continuation of Jesus' remarks to the crowd (v. 15): "And He said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.'" Here, Jesus unequivocally ties concern over earthly inequalities with the potential for sin—the sin of covetousness. And His implication is blunt: the focus upon earthly inequalities, even with the intent of their amelioration, by its nature introduces the possibility of covetousness. Jesus is saying that those obsessed with rectifying worldly inequalities as they pertain to themselves should first reflect about a possible covetous impulse.

The Holy Spirit (through James) then elaborates on this idea (James 4:1-2, 4-5): "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel . . . You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy with God."

So, Jesus claims that those obsessing over their unfair or unequal treatment in this world must guard against covetousness, and the Spirit through James says covetousness lies at the core of fights and quarrels as to who has what and who does not. This link is no mere coincidence. The rancor and invective that so often attend plaintiff demands for "social justice" lie in stark contrast to the fruits of the Spirit-led life, as laid out in Galatians 5:22-23, and this passage in James identifies the core reason for this. The Bible is clear: whenever there is a focus upon remediation of earthly inequality, covetousness may very well lie at the source, and when it does, acrimony and outrage often result.

Notice, too, how the Spirit through James goes on to associate covetousness with friendship with the world. This also is no coincidence. Not only do the evangelical champions of "social justice" often carry with them a misguided eschatology, but also quite commonly a penchant for the favor of the world. In fact, when one looks out over the sea of modern evangelicalism to those at the helm of the S.S. Social Justice, one finds a remarkably common deference to culture and desire for its approval. Today's most prominent evangelical crusaders for "social justice" almost always seem to be those most eager to be received well by the secular docents of modern-day politics, academia, business and social media, and this passage from James helps to explain why.

3. "Social justice" misapprehends human nature and its fundamental need
There is a third reason Jesus opposes "social justice", and that is its failure to apprehend the Bible's description of human nature. In Luke 19:10, Jesus declares, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." And who are the lost? Jesus' answer is clear: they are the spiritually "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Mt. 9:36; Mark 6:34). They are the spiritually poor prisoners, blind and oppressed (Matt. 5:3; Luke 4:18). And from the days of the early Church until recently, it has been understood that the manner by which Jesus saves the spiritually lost is through gospel evangelism by those whom He has already spiritually saved.

But all this is now being challenged on the evangelical "social justice" front. No longer are the "lost" being defined on a spiritual basis, but on economic and/or sociological terms. And no longer is the manner by which Jesus saves the "lost" through a call to "repentance and the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 24:47), but rather through His purported desire that earthly injustices be remedied, including (and perhaps preferably) through governmental policies and programs. This is exactly how neo-Marxist dogma is now being foisted upon an unsuspecting Church under the guise of "social justice."



A natural corollary of this development is that those to be involved in "evangelism" no longer must be "born again" in a "saved from sin" sense, but merely must exhibit interest in bettering the material and social conditions of the disadvantaged around them. Whereas in the past, people were required to "believe in order to belong," it is somehow suggested that they might now "belong" regardless of belief. But Jesus knows that the heart of the unredeemed is "deceitful above all things and desperately sick" (Jer. 17:9), that the mind of the unredeemed is "darkened in [its] understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them" (Eph. 4:18), and that the will of the unredeemed is to "do their father's [the devil's] desires" (John 8:44). Given all that, Jesus knows that the real need of the unregenerate sinner—regardless of race, wealth, or any other earthly designation—is heart, mind and will transformation via (Luke 24:47) "repentance and the forgiveness of sins"; in a word—salvation. Not only that, given that salvation only comes from belief, under no circumstances could an unbeliever ever contribute in a positive sense to the saving work God is doing in the world today.

One passage plainly detailing the above is John 7:38-39, where Jesus declares: "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."

Here, "rivers of living water" is participation in God's work in the world, about which Jesus stipulates the following: penitent belief yields the indwelling Spirit, which in turn yields power for the spiritual work God is doing. Only in that order. As Pastor John MacArthur has phrased it, one's position in Christ establishes one's practice for Christ, and never the reverse. Given this, how then could Jesus back a movement that obsesses over the material and/or sociological condition of the sinner but cares little for how that sinner might be forgiven and granted eternal life?

The condition of the unredeemed is described in the Bible (Rom. 8:5-12) as living "in the flesh," about which it makes the following clear and unmistakable designation (Rom. 8:8): "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Ever. It is a travesty of Christ's teaching that a church could leads its members in works of "social justice" without telling them of their need to be redeemed, and how this might be accomplished. It is a travesty of Christ's teaching that a collection of earnest but unredeemed "Jesus-followers" might pursue good works to assist the disadvantaged, while at the same time having no clue as to how both they and those whom they serve might be saved from their sin.

4. "Social justice" conflicts with the Church's true task
A final and related reason Jesus opposes "social justice" is that it directly undermines the primary task of the Church. To see this, one must understand the primary purpose of the Church is to declare God's Word, and that the summary purpose of all biblical instruction is the following: to present God's righteous standard to all sinners (Matt. 5:48), to drive those sinners to despair at their inability to attain the righteousness demanded of them by a holy God (Lev. 11:44-45; Gal. 3:10-11, 19-24), to have those sinners cry out for mercy to that same gracious God for a pardon from their sin (Luke 18:13-14), and to have faith that God will, as promised, apply to them the righteousness of Christ, who lovingly bore their sins upon the cross (Isa. 53:10-11; 2 Cor. 5:21). That is the crux of the gospel, the one and only message of the Church, and notice it hinges upon a requisite contrite spirit (Isa. 57:15).

But when the Church reorients its focus to concerns regarding "social justice," it short-circuits and inverts this entire process. No longer is the sinner a perpetrator; now he or she is a victim. No longer does the sinner plead for mercy to a gracious and forgiving God; now he or she is owed something from Him, or at least from the world He oversees. No longer are sinners "poor in spirit" and thus eligible for the kingdom of God (Matt. 5:3). Now they are casualties of tyrannical forces that exploit and subjugate them in a bondage of oppression, against which they must rage until scores are settled. The upshot? Instead of sinners acknowledging and repenting of their sinful condition, they are now emboldened to seek recourse against as many injustices as they can identify. Gone is the meek and humble spirit that ultimately inherits the earth (Ps. 37:5; Mt. 5:5). In its place is a spirit of victimization, rebellion and retribution.

It is for this reason that, across the landscape of modern-day evangelicalism, one tends to find an inverse relationship between interest in "social justice" and interest in evangelism in its historic understanding. In a very real sense, the entire mission of the Church is being hijacked. Among those on the evangelical forefront of the "social justice" movement, the talk is no longer about how sinners might avoid eternal damnation in hell, but how they might gain temporal reparation for past and present injustices.

"Social justice" carries with it the implicit idea the sinner in this world is owed something by someone, but that idea is completely foreign to Jesus. Even among His redeemed, Jesus claims they are owed nothing in this world (Luke 17:7-10): "Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table'? Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

Jesus' point is clear: if even those who are a part of His kingdom are mere "servants," with no rights nor entitlements other than to consider themselves as ever-unworthy and thus duty-bound to their Master, how much more so would this apply to those on the outside looking in? It has been written elsewhere that if the parable of the Prodigal Son had been set in the age of "social justice," the son would have never returned home to his father. And why should he have? Once apprised that he was not an ungrateful, impudent, hedonistic fool in need of repentance and humble submission to his Father, but rather a victim of external, impersonal, malevolent forces stemming from unfair societal arrangements, his path would have led not to the true home of his Father's embrace and promise of eternal life, but rather to the false embrace of "social justice" promising entitlements to dampen his fall. Gone would be any notion of regret or remorse at his sin. In its place, as result of his "social justice" reeducation? Only indignation, resentment, and perpetual rebellion.

Conclusion: What Does Jesus Offer?
With the biblical record so consistently opposed to the zeitgeist of "social justice," it should appall the Church that it could be so easily and so harmfully beguiled as it has been. Jesus offers the sinner not a list of earthly entitlements to be pursued and defended at all costs, but rather inexplicable love and mercies despite that same sinner's enmity (Lam. 3:22-23; Rom. 5:8,10; 8:8). Jesus doesn't offer the sinner the right to claim victimhood and redress against earthly injustices, but only the right to claim eternal unworthiness for His promise of eternal life. The Church is called not to a mission of political and economic lobbying for the betterment of this world, but a mission calling sinners to repentance for their betterment in the next (Luke 5:32). As to worldly arrangements and the goals of "social justice" devotees, Jesus wondered (Matt. 16:26), "What does will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" May God raise up within His Church those who know the answer to this question, and from that answer might clarify the true gospel from its "social justice" corruption.

Dr. Colin L. Eakin
Pyromaniac

Dr. Eakin is a sports medicine orthopædic surgeon in the Bay Area and part time teacher at Grace Bible Fellowship Church's Stanford campus ministry. He is the author of God's Glorious Story.

14 October 2018

Wanted: Saucy, barking dogs


Image result for charles spurgeon

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon




The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from C.H. Spurgeon's Autobiography, volume one, pages 271-272, Pilgrim Publications.

Another singular character with whom I became acquainted early in my ministry, was old Mr. Sutton, of Cottenham. He had never seen me, but he heard that I was a popular young minister, so he invited me over to preach his anniversary sermons. 

I was in the vestry of the chapel before the morning service, and when the aged man came in, and saw me, he seemed greatly surprised to find that I was so young. After gruffly exchanging the usual greetings, he remarked, “I shouldn’t have asked you here, had I known you were such a bit of a boy. Why, the people have been pouring into the place all the morning in waggons, and dickey-carts, and all kinds of vehicles! More fools they!” he added. 

I said, “Well, sir, I suppose it will be so much the better for your anniversary; still, I can go back as easily as I came, and my people at Waterbeach will be very glad to see me.” “No, no,” said the old pastor; “now you are here, you must do the best you can. There is a young fellow over from Cambridge, who will help you; and we shan’t expect much from you;” and thereupon he paced the room, moaning out, “Oh, dear! what a pass the world is coming to when we get as preachers a parcel of boys who have not got their mother’s milk out of their mouths!”

I was in due time conducted to the pulpit, and the old minister sat upon the stairs,—I suppose, ready to go on with the service in case I should break down. After prayer and singing, I read, from the Book of Proverbs, the chapter containing the words, “The hoary head is a crown of glory.” 

When I had gone so far, I stopped, and remarked, “I doubt it, for, this very morning, I met with a man who has a hoary head, yet he has not learnt common civility to his fellow-men.” Proceeding with the reading, I finished the verse,—“if it be found in the way of righteousness.” “Ah!” I said, “that’s another thing; a hoary head would then be a crown of glory, and, for the matter of that, so would a red head, or a head of any other colour.” 

I went on with the service, and preached as best I could, and as I came down from the pulpit, Mr. Sutton slapped me on the back, and exclaimed, “Bless your heart! I have been a minister nearly forty years, and I was never better pleased with a sermon in all my life; but you are the sauciest dog that ever barked in a pulpit.” 

All the way home from the chapel, he kept on going across the road to speak to little groups of people who were discussing the service. I heard him say, “I never knew anything like it in all my life; and to think that I should have talked to him as I did!” We had a good time for the rest of the day, the Lord blessed the Word, and Mr. Sutton and I were ever afterwards the best of friends. 


07 October 2018

Mental wealth

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon


The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 41, sermon number 2,415, "The believer's heritage of joy."

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 They testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever; for they are the rejoicing of my heart. Psalm 119:111

"A man’s mind is rich very much in proportion to the truth he knows." 

He who knows the Word of God is mentally rich, he has a large heritage. There are persons, I am told,—deists—who believe in God, but who do not believe in the Word of God. They believe, then, in a God who has never spoken, a silent God, a God who has, at any rate, never spoken to his noblest creatures most capable of understanding his mind. To them, God is one who remains locked up for ever in exclusiveness, except so far as his works may reveal him. I think there are many difficulties in the way of receiving such a theory as that. 

Whatever difficulties there may be about God having spoken to us, and given us testimonies,—and that is the meaning of the word in our text,—there are none so great to overcome as this one would be, that, through all these ages, so many men have sought after God, and so many craving hearts have yearned to find God, yet he should have suffered six thousand years at least to pass, and should never have spoken to men a single word that they can understand. 

Now, so far from accepting that theory, I believe this Word of God to be God’s testimony, God’s speech, God’s declaration about himself and about many other things that his creatures need to know,
God’s witness-bearing to us, out of the depth of his divine knowledge, that we may know and understand and see things aright. 

And I say, and I am sure that many of you will say with me, these speeches of God, these revealing of God which I find in these two books of the Old and the New Testaments, are my heritage. I rejoice to accept them as the estate of my mind, the treasure of my thought, the mint of the heavenly realm, the mine from which I can explore fresh veins of thought as long as I live, claiming all as my heritage forever. 

I have been preaching the Word of God these six-and-twenty years in this one place to very much the same congregation all the while; and if I had been obliged to preach from any other book, I should have worn it threadbare by this time; but the Bible is as fresh to me to-day as when first I began to speak from it as a boy, and preached to you from it as a youth. 

It is an inexhaustible heritage of mental wealth to the man who will accept it, and give his mind to the study of it. Look at the doctrines, the precepts, the promises, the prophecies, the histories, the experiences,—it is no use for me to try to map out this estate, it is so large.

As a great heritage of mental wealth, it makes every man who receives it, however illiterate he may be upon other subjects, a wealthy man spiritually, while they who discard it become poverty-stricken in mind, whatever else of mental attainments they may possess.


04 October 2018

Yes, Justice Is a Gospel Issue

But "Social Justice" is something entirely different.
by Phil Johnson



This article was originally posted at the Reformation21 blog.
WE AFFIRM that since he is holy, righteous, and just, God requires those who bear his image to live justly in the world. This includes showing appropriate respect to every person and giving to each one what he or she is due. We affirm that societies must establish laws to correct injustices that have been imposed through cultural prejudice.

WE DENY that true justice can be culturally defined or that standards of justice that are merely socially constructed can be imposed with the same authority as those that are derived from Scripture. We further deny that Christians can live justly in the world under any principles other than the biblical standard of righteousness. Relativism, socially-constructed standards of truth or morality, and notions of virtue and vice that are constantly in flux cannot result in authentic justice.

Justice is, of course, a major theme in Scripture. In fact, it's a much larger concept—and more central to the gospel—than most people realize. In both Hebrew and Greek, the words translated "justice" and "just" are the same words normally translated "righteousness" and "righteous." No distinction is made in the original text of Scripture. The biblical idea of justice encompasses everything the Bible says about righteousness.

In English, when we use the word justice, we normally have in mind evenhanded impartiality (especially in the realm of law and civic affairs). The dictionary defines justice as "maintenance of legal, social, or moral principles by the exercise of authority or power—including the assignment of deserved reward or punishment."

Righteousness denotes virtue, uprightness, moral rectitude—godly character.

Because we differentiate between the words and use them differently, we tend to think of justice predominantly as a legal standard or civic paradigm, and righteousness as something more personal. Again, Scripture makes no such distinction. In the Bible, justice and righteousness are the same thing, encompassing all the legitimate connotations of both words.

How comprehensive is this idea? God Himself is the embodiment and the touchstone of true righteousness. The moral principles spelled out in His law describe what human righteousness looks like. In fact, when Moses delivered the tablets of stone from Sinai to the people, he said, "It will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us" (Deut. 6:25). Jesus exposed the rigors of this standard even more clearly when He said, "You . . . must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48).

But now you are talking about the law, you might protest. How can you say it's central to the gospel? Aren't you the guy who scolded preachers of social justice for mingling or confusing law and gospel?"

Excellent question, and it requires a two-part answer.

First, justice is a vital gospel issue because the atoning work of Christ turned divine justice in favor of sinners who trust Him as Savior. "For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Having fulfilled the whole law to absolute perfection, Jesus (who "knew no sin" by experience) bore the sins of others (by imputation). Those sins were accounted as if they were His, and He fully paid the due penalty, so that His own perfect righteousness could be imputed to His people. The law has thus been perfectly fulfilled and sin fully punished in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. So God can "be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26). "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins . . . We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 Jn. 1:9—2:1).

Second, "social justice" is entirely different from biblical justice. It is a severely abridged and often badly twisted notion of legal equity—dealing mainly with matters like economics, social privilege, and civil rights. In recent years, a plethora of politically correct causes have been added to the menu, including global warming, animal rights, abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, gender fluidity, war, immigration, socialism, and a cornucopia of similar issues borrowed from the political left.

Historically, social justice advocates have not concerned themselves much if at all with other vital aspects of biblical justice, including the moral content of the law (particularly biblical standards of sexual purity); condign punishment for evildoers (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:4; Matt. 26:52); and the duty and privilege of work (2 Thess. 3:10).

To be clear, there is no single authoritative definition of "social justice." Definitions abound from those who are promoting the terminology. But there are common themes that run through virtually all of them. Here are a couple of typical samples: "Social justice is a political and philosophical concept which holds that all people should have equal access to wealth, health, well-being, justice and opportunity." And "Social justice is the equal access to wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society."

Those familiar with neo-Marxist rhetoric will recognize the themes. Indeed, the derivation and connotations of the expression "social justice" are rooted in secular political and academic dialogues rather than in biblical ideas about divine justice. The rhetoric of social justice has gradually migrated from the radical far left by a dialectical process. Early in that process, the language was baptized and the worldview was given a religious veneer replete with a name: Liberation Theology. The same language and rhetoric were brought into evangelical circles through groups like Sojourners and the Emerging Church movement. Then it was disbursed through student groups like InterVarsity. And most recently it has found its way into more conservative organizations like The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel, and it seems to have been accepted by large numbers of evangelicals with great enthusiasm.

Despite the claims of its proponents, however, the popular notion of "social justice" was not derived from Scripture. It actually began among people well known for their hostility to biblical authority—and the pedigree is not at all difficult to trace.

The dangers of this world-view's influence are not really hard to see, either. Read the chatter in social media and you'll regularly encounter young fair-weather evangelicals who say they have abandoned (or are in the process of abandoning) their evangelical convictions now that they are "woke." Even some of the respected evangelical leaders who have lately become enthralled with "social justice" seem to have fallen silent on the issue of abortion—an easily quantifiable injustice that is responsible for the deaths of more disadvantaged and defenseless children each day than all the unjust police shootings of the past fifty years combined. [http://www.worldometers.info/abortions/]

When the Statement on Social Justice denies "that true justice can be culturally defined or that standards of justice that are merely socially constructed can be imposed with the same authority as those that are derived from Scripture," it is referring to this fact:

"Social justice" is not biblical justice.



Phil's signature

30 September 2018

Honeyed lies

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 13, sermon number 742, "A sermon to open neglecters and nominal followers of religion."  

Image result for charles spurgeon
"As clearly as actions can speak, you say by your neglect of the Sabbath, by your disregard of prayer, by your never reading the Bible, by your perseverance in known sin, and by the whole course of your life, "I will not.'" 

Like Pharaoh, you have demanded, “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?” You are of the same mind as those of old, who said, “It is vain to serve God, and what profit is there if we keep his ordinances?” Moreover, my friend, you have not as yet given an assent to the doctrines of God’s Word; on the contrary, intellectually as well as practically, you go not at God’s bidding. 

You have set up in your mind the idea that you must understand everything before you will believe it—an idea, let me tell you, which you will never be able to carry out, for you cannot understand your own existence; and there are ten thousand other things around you which you never can comprehend, but which you must believe or remain for ever a gigantic fool. 

Still you cavil at this doctrine and that doctrine, railing at the gospel system in general; and if you were asked at a working man’s conference, why you did not go to a place of worship, you would perhaps say that you kept away from worship because you did not like this doctrine or that. 

Let me say on my own account, that as far as I am personally concerned, it is a very small consideration to me whether you do like my doctrine or do not; for your own sake I am anxious above measure that you should believe the truth as it is in Jesus; but while you live in sin, your dislike of a doctrine, will very probably only make me feel the more sure of its truth, and lead me to preach it with more confidence and vehemence.

Think you that we are to learn God’s truth from the likings or dislikings of those who refuse to worship him, and want an excuse for their sins. O unconverted men and women, it is very long before we shall come to you to learn what you would have us preach, and when we fall so low as to do that, you yourselves will despise us. 

What! shall the physician ask his patient what kind of medicine he would wish to have prescribed? Then the man needs no physician, he can prescribe for himself. Show the doctor out at the back door directly. What is the use of such a physician? 

Of what service is a minister who will truckle to depraved tastes and sinful appetites, and say, “How would you like me to preach to you? What smooth things shall I offer you?” Ah souls! we have some higher end to be served than merely pleasing you. 

We would save you by distasteful truths, for honeyed lies will ruin you. That teaching which the carnal mind most delights in, is the most deadly and delusive. With many of you, your beliefs, and tastes, and likes, must be changed, or else you will never enter heaven. I admit that in a measure I like your honesty in having said outright, “I will not serve God;” but it is an honesty which makes me shudder, for it betrays a heart hard as the nether millstone.


28 September 2018

What's Behind the Social Justice Gospel-ers?

by Colin Eakin



ow that the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel (https://statementonsocialjustice.com/) has arrived as a bulwark against the mudslide of attempts to merge the two (i.e. social justice and the gospel), not even those most opposed to its conception can disagree with its content.

But one awkward truth lingers in the back of every thoughtful Christian's mind. It's a lesson that has been reinforced repeatedly by the cyclical rhythm of church history. It's this: When one merges human amelioration of suffering and injustice with divine remediation of sin, inevitably the purpose and impact of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ takes a backseat. As Pastor John MacArthur has remarked, this is the sad legacy of mainline Protestant denominations over the past century—a rise in the focus on enhancing social welfare tightly correlated with a decline of interest in (and understanding of) how sinners might be saved from their sin.

So how does the "social justice gospel" maintain its appeal? To elaborate, how could the evangelion of Jesus Christ, with its transcendent promises—that a sinner worthy only of eternal punishment can be forgiven of all moral debt (Col. 2:13-14; 1 John 1:9), can be robed in the righteousness of the Savior (Isa. 61:10), can be adopted by God as a full-fledged sibling of Christ (Rom. 8:15-17), can be set higher than angelic beings with the same glory as of God Himself (John 1:12; 1 Cor. 6:3; 1 John 3:2), and can be made an ambassador of Christ for the sake of other souls He seeks to save (2 Cor. 5:18-20)—how could such an infinite, too-marvelous-for-words opportunity ever be pedestrianized with finite goals such as elimination of economic disparities and redress of earthly inequalities? With such a stupendous opportunity at stake, why would anyone be tempted to substitute anything for the incomparable prize of the upward call (Phil. 3:14)?

Jesus knew how ludicrous any conflation of earthly and heavenly possibilities would be, asking—incredulously—(Mark 8:36), "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" For Jesus, it does not matter how much one might improve his or her condition in this world—even to the conquest of it all!—if such a development also brought eternal damnation. In another passage, Jesus wonders why one would come to Him to remediate an earthly injustice when His heavenly offer beckons, even going so far as to implicate covetousness as the root cause of fixation on earthly conditions (Luke 12:13-15).

The true gospel is about how penitent and believing sinners—no matter the race, nationality, gender, or any other category—forfeit the world and become united in one spiritual family (Eph. 2:13-22) precisely because a Holy Father has redeemed them through faith in the substitutionary work of the Holy Son. It is about how one turns his or her back on the temporal in order to have one's sins forgiven, blotted out and remembered no more (Isa. 43:25; Heb. 8:12). It is about renunciation of this world and all its attractions for the sake of an eternal inheritance that is "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you" (1 Pet. 1:4). It is about how doing the above grants access to the throne room of God! (Rom. 5:1-2). This should not be a tough sell, folks.

So, given all of the above, given the gulf between what God offers in His true gospel and what "social justice gospel-ers" are offering in theirs, how does their so-called "social justice gospel" maintain any traction? What's behind the "social justice gospel-ers" and their incessant focus, on the temporal and material, on the evanescent here and now?

The Bible is not silent on this question. In fact, it provides the universal explanation behind all corruptions of the true gospel, regardless of the age or form. But before we see God's explanation behind "social justice" (or any other) distortions of the true gospel, we must first address the two distinct aspects of what it means to be a Christian: (1) what one does and (2) what one says. From the earliest days of the Church, these have always been the twin features of the authentic Christian life. We might term them the benevolent works and benevolent words of the faithful.

Let's start with benevolent works—what one does as a Christian. The Bible is clear—Christians love (1 Cor. 13:35). They serve (John 13:14-15). They bind up the wounds of the hurting, feed the hungry, and clothe the poor (Isa. 58:10). They remember the widows and orphans and others who are easily forgotten (Isa. 1:17; James 1:27). They care for the stranger, for the sick, and for the imprisoned (Matt. 25:34-40). And do you know what? The world loves it all. Write it down: the world has always loved the good works of Christians. In fact, it will even seek to partner with Christians in doing these works. The conflict between the world and the Christian promised by Jesus (John 7:7; 15:18; 16:1-4; 1 John 2:15-17) never comes from the world's disapproval of the benevolent works of the Christian.

No, the conflict between the world and the Christian comes only in the other aspect of what it means to be a Christian, when the faithful believer proclaims the benevolent words of salvation. Here is where the love affair between the world and Jesus abruptly ends. Why is that? Because as much as the world will love what Christians do, when those same Christians are faithful in proclaiming the true gospel of Jesus Christ, the world will hate what they have to say (Matt. 10:22; Luke 21:17; John 15:19).

Christians do good works and enjoy the affirmation of the world. Then the faithful open their mouths, starting with the announcement of a holy God who cannot look upon evil (Hab. 1:13), and who has promised its eventual just judgment (Eccl. 12:14). They tell the world that evil is endemic to all as the result of Adam's fall, and therefore everyone lives under a sentence of condemnation and coming judgment (John 3:18; 36). The faithful plead with the world to repent before Christ the Savior and surrender to His Lordship (Mark 1:15). The faithful warn all who will listen that without repentance and belief in the transforming work of Christ, they will die and spend eternity in hell as a penalty for their sin (Ezek. 18:4,20; Luke 13:1-5; John 8:24).

All the while, faithful Christians announce the true gospel—the "good news"—that God will forgive those who repent and trust in His grace to pardon them of their sin, knowing that the true gospel message is the only hope for sinners. And because the gospel they proclaim is the only hope for a dying world, faithful Christians know that pointing sinners to the eternal life God offers for those who repent and believe is true love. But the sinful, rebellious heart is wired such that, apart from God's effectual call and power to illuminate His truth, it spurns the benevolent words spoken by Christians. In fact, Romans 1:18 says that the unrighteous suppress the truth precisely because of their unrighteousness.

The last week of Jesus' life is a case study of the world's diametrically opposite responses to Christ's benevolent works and to His benevolent words. At the beginning of the week, Jesus rides into Jerusalem to the welcome of the adoring multitude, who hail Him as their coming King. The crowd had witnessed His miracles. They had eaten the miraculous loaves and fish (John 6:1-14). They had seen Lazarus raised from the dead (John 11:1-44). Jesus had proven to them with His miraculous works that He was someone of power and authority. The crowd worshipped Him for His signs, and they always pressured Him for more (Matthew 12:38; 16:1; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:29).

So as Jesus rides into Jerusalem at the start of Passover Week, the people go before Him and cry, "Hosanna! Hosanna!" They are ready to follow Him as their leader. They are ready for the revolution and the new Kingdom they believe Jesus is introducing (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-15). But do you notice that adoration does not last for long? In the following days, one sees Jesus deconstructing all the empty religious premises the people held dearest. One sees Him overturning the tables of profiteers in the temple and driving out the moneychangers (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48). One sees Him undermining the Jews' entire form of religion as He upbraids their religious leaders (Matthew 23:1-39). Pretty soon, the crowd has lost all its regard for Him. Now, Jesus is saying things to them, not doing things for them. And what He is saying insults them. His message offends them.

In a parable, He says that the owner (understood as God) of a vineyard (understood as Israel) is coming to destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to those who will be more faithful (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12). The crowd knows that Jesus is referring to them as the unworthy tenants. So even though they cheered His entry into the city earlier in the week, by Friday they are crying, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" The benevolent works of Jesus brought the praise of the people. And, in the same manner, the benevolent words of Jesus brought about His crucifixion. The people loved His works and hated His words. And twenty-one centuries later, nothing has changed. God continues to bring sinners to repentance, day by day, one sinner at a time. But most ultimately reject His offer of eternal life, because they hate the message that they are sinners in need of a Savior.

Jesus says in John 3:19, "'And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil'." Because the world loves its sin, the gospel message proclaimed by faithful Christians will provoke the world's hatred and rejection. And if one persists in declaring the benevolent message of pardon for repentance, it will ultimately bring persecution. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12 that, "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." This is the normal response to be anticipated for all faithful believers, for all who bring the true gospel message. The world has no problem with the Church doing good works. In fact, it welcomes them. It will even seek to partner with the Church in pursuing them. But the world despises the true message of the Church, the only message offering real hope by calling all to repentance and faith in Christ's atoning work. And it will reject and persecute those churches that persist in proclaiming the true gospel.

So here is our answer to the question posed in our title: the social justice gospel is, at its core, driven by a desire to avoid repudiation by the world. Do you doubt this? Then look and see the extent to which those propounding a "social justice gospel" have in their teaching and ministries any statements or positions that would incite the world's opprobrium. Go to the body of teaching of any prominent spokesperson for a "social justice gospel" and see how often that individual highlights the vilification and persecution God says will come to those who faithfully pursue His true gospel. Look hard and look long, because the data will be slow in forthcoming.

Paul writes to the Galatians, "It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ" (Gal. 6:12). The Judaizers of Paul's day demanded that converts to Christianity must also comply with Jewish ceremonial stipulations—including circumcision—in order to be truly redeemed. The reason? The very real possibility that Jewish denunciation might lead to Roman persecution (Acts 18:12-17). And this potential for persecution has attended all gospel proclamation until now. Since the days of the early Church, no matter the particulars of the age or threat, the rationale for deviation from the true gospel is always fear of rejection, fear of reproach, fear of recrimination from a hostile world.

All false gospel efforts—including the "social justice gospel"—are attempts to have it both ways, to maintain a veneer of Christian orthodoxy while at the same time currying favor with the world. The result? A reinvention of Jesus into someone who is less polarizing and more genteel, and a sanitization of His gospel into one that the world might accept. But this is nothing less than apostasy. Want to know what God considers an apostate church? It is a church that is all about good works, and timidly avoids saving words. It is a church that aligns its ministry with the works the world wants to see—helping the poor, healing the sick, feeding the hungry—without simultaneously proclaiming the saving gospel the world despises. And as it pursues good works, even claiming to do them in Jesus' name, the apostate church will deliberately shun Jesus' saving words. Its distorted gospel—devoid of sin, judgment, or any call to true repentance—becomes, "God loves us, so let's love Him back by doing good works in the name of Jesus." It will avoid bold proclamation of the true gospel message, because the true gospel is a message that the world abhors, and the apostate church is ever genuflecting at its throne.

On the other hand, a true church knows that persecution is coming, but still remains faithful to the true gospel. A true church carefully extricates ideas of human munificence from the true gospel tof divine accomplishment. A true church instructs its members on the two essential duties of all who are saved: yes, certainly, benevolent works bringing temporal reprieve toward those depriveds of justice or suffering from want. But these works, no matter how good and how necessary, are never, ever to be elevated above—and therefore lead to the exclusion of—benevolent words bringing opportunity for redemption and eternal glory in union with God.

Dr. Colin L. Eakin
Pyromaniac

Dr. Eakin is a sports medicine orthopædic surgeon in the Bay Area and part time teacher at Grace Bible Fellowship Church's Stanford campus ministry. He is the author of God's Glorious Story.
(Portions of this article are adapted from God's Glorious Story: GBF Press, 2017)