29 June 2015

SCOTUS: Spurgeon's Comments On The Ungodly Supremes

Spurgeon's comments applied to the Supreme Court's attempts to void the law of God; from Leviticus 5:17-18. 
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, "Sins of Ignorance," volume 23, sermon number 1,386.
"Conscience is differently enlightened in different men, and the ultimate appeal as to right and wrong cannot be to your half-blinded conscience or to mine." 

I might condemn what you allow and you would scarcely tolerate what I approve: we are, neither of us judges, but both culprits upon trial when we come under the law. The ultimate appeal will be to “Thus saith the Lord”—to the law itself, which is the only perfect standard by which the deeds and actions of men can be measured.

The law, from the supremacy into which this text lifts it, says to us, “You will not be excused because your conscience was unenlightened, nor because it was so perverse as to put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. My demands are the same in every jot and tittle, whatever your conscience may condemn or allow.”

Conscience has lost much of its sensitiveness through the Fall, and through our actual sins, but the law is not lowered to suit our perverted understanding. If we break the law, although our conscience may not blame us, or even inform us of the wrong, the deed is still recorded against us; we must bear our iniquity.

The law is also set above human opinion, for this man says, “You may do that,” and a second claims that he may do the other, but the law changes not according to man’s judgment and does not bend itself to the spirit of the age or the tastes of the period. It is the supreme judge, from whose infallible decision there is no appeal. Right is right though all condemn, and wrong is wrong though all approve. 

The law is the balance of the sanctuary, accurate to a hair, sensitive, even to the small dust of the balance. Opinions continually differ, but the law of God is one and invariable. According to the moral sensitiveness of a man will be his estimate of the act which he performs, but would you have the law of God vary according to man’s fickle judgment? If you would desire such a thing, God’s infinite wisdom forbids it.

The law is a fixed quantity, a settled standard, and if we fall short of it, though we know it not, yet are we guilty and must bear our iniquity unless an atonement be made. This exalts the law above the custom of nations and periods: for men are very wont to say, “It is true I did so and so, which I could not have defended in itself; but then, it is the way of the trade, other houses do so, general opinion and public consent have endorsed the custom; I do not therefore see how I can act differently from others, for if I did so, I should be very singular and should probably be a loser through my scrupulosity.”

Yes, but the customs of men are not the standard of right. Where they have been at first correct through strong Christian influence, the tendency is for them to deteriorate and sink below the proper standard. Habit, perpetuity and universality of wrong, at last enable men to call the false by the same name as the true, but there is no real change worked thereby: the customary wrong is still a wrong, the universal lie is still a falsehood.

God’s law is not changed: our Lord Jesus said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than one tittle of the law to fail.” The divine law overrides custom, tradition and opinion: these have no more effect upon the eternal standard than the fall of a leaf upon the stars of heaven. “If a man do any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord; though he knew it not, yet is he guilty.”

All the customs in the world cannot make wrong right, and if everybody that ever lived from Adam down to this hour had done a wrong thing and declared it to be righteous, yet would it make no moral difference in the evil deed. A thousand ages of whitewashing cannot make a vice a virtue. God’s commands stand fast for ever, and he who breaketh it must bear his punishment. Thus you see that by the declaration of my text the law of God is enshrined in the place of reverence.

28 June 2015

Be glad!

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 Morning and Evening, September 22, McDonald Publishers. 
"Be glad of heart, O believer, but take care that thy gladness has its spring in the Lord." 

Thou hast much cause for gladness in thy God, for thou canst sing with David, "God, my exceeding joy." Be glad that the Lord reigneth, that Jehovah is King! Rejoice that He sits upon the throne, and ruleth all things!

Every attribute of God should become a fresh ray in the sunlight of our gladness. That He is wise should make us glad, knowing as we do our own foolishness. That He is mighty, should cause us to rejoice who tremble at our weakness. That he is everlasting, should always be a theme of joy when we know that we wither as the grass. That He is unchanging, should perpetually yield us a song, since we change every hour.

That He is full of grace, that He is overflowing with it, and that this grace in covenant He has given to us; that it is ours to cleanse us, ours to keep us, ours to sanctify us, ours to perfect us, ours to bring us to glory—all this should tend to make us glad in Him.

This gladness in God is as a deep river; we have only as yet touched its brink, we know a little of its clear sweet, heavenly streams, but onward the depth is greater, and the current more impetuous in its joy.

The Christian feels that he may delight himself not only in what God is, but also in all that God has done in the past. The Psalms show us that God's people in olden times were wont to think much of God's actions, and to have a song concerning each of them. So let God's people now rehearse the deeds of the Lord!

Let them tell of His mighty acts, and "sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously." Nor let them ever cease to sing, for as new mercies flow to them day by day, so should their gladness in the Lord's loving acts in providence and in grace show itself in continued thanksgiving. Be glad ye children of Zion and rejoice in the Lord your God.

26 June 2015

Tweeting the Supreme Court's latest face-plant: forcing "gay" "marriage" on America

by Dan Phillips

So now we  know, if we didn't already, that the American Congress actually has 509 seats, given that the unelected tyrants sitting on the Supreme Court regard it as their job to create legislation and impose it on their subjects.

Through the day, I'll expand this post to include my tweets on the subject, along with other noteworthy additions.

First: this one I actually scheduled simply from my reading of Revelation, without a thought to the Supreme Court. Yet it was published after, and applies perfectly:


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25 June 2015

Disagreeing with Jesus

by Dan Phillips

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Dan back in June 2011. Keying off of Matthew 19:23-30, Dan explained how a true disciple should respond when disagreeing with Jesus.

As usual, the comments are closed.
In Matthew 19:23-30, Peter claimed to have left everything to follow Jesus, and is now in effect asking Jesus whether it will have been worth it. The Lord graciously answers by telling Peter that he will be richly rewarded, and that the apostles will share in the earthly rule over the restored nation of Israel.

But I think Jesus gave the wrong answer. I think Jesus should have said instead, "And do you regret it, Peter? Am I the Messiah, or am I not? Am I what I say I am, or am I not? If I am not, then by all means, go back to your fish-flinging 9-5 and make the best of it you can. But if I am, what better thing do you have to do than to follow me? What better thing would anyone have to do?"

That's what I think Jesus should have said.  He was too indulgent of Peter. Instead of pointing to His own worth, He spoke of rewards. I think Jesus gave the wrong answer.

So, what does that mean?

Simple! It means I'm wrong. It means I blew the math. It means I have to change the way I think. It means I have to work it through again, until I get the right answer, and see it the way Jesus sees it.

Now, what did I just do? I just took something that happened in my mind in a minute tick of time, and slowed it down, spread it out, gave it a narrative. I took something that happened between my ears at some point in the past, known (before now) only to God, and displayed the process for you.

Why? I did it in the hopes of demonstrating how a disciple thinks, something I've touched on before (perhaps most notably HERE). If we read the Bible with our brains on, we all run into teachings and thoughts that initially hit us wrong, that offend us, that scandalize something in our customary way of thinking. The issue is: what do we do then?

First time a newly-saved man reads about sexual morality and fidelity in marriage, he may balk. Then when he reads about loving his wife as Christ loves the church, he may twitch again. Likewise, when a Christian woman reads about wifely submission, and God's blanket prohibition regarding women teaching or leading men in church, she may bristle. Or individual verses, or books in the Bible. Or the Bible's teaching on manhood or womanhood per se. Or the universal exaltation of a massive and powerful God over a bound and small man may threaten his cherished notions of man's libertarian freedom and sovereignty. Or the Bible's message about the value of the unborn, about keeping vows (including wedding vows), about creation and geohistory, about its own inerrancy and absolute authority, about eternal conscious punishment of the lost in Hell, about the absolute exclusivity of salvation through Jesus Christ, in a Biblically-defined Gospel with actual edges — well, old Adam may rise up and demand to have a word as if he were primus inter pares with God.

This is where real-live, actual, gritty, street-level discipleship either happens, or begins to collapse. To a man, we Christians claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Teacher. That being the case, we necessarily claim to believe that we have been entrusted with the Teacher's Guide. This will have an impact on our thinking, when we come to these forks in the road.

There are fundamentally two ways of handling such experiences, and only two:
  1. We change; or
  2. We try to change the Word.
Disciples take the former option. It involves taking up our cross and denying ourselves; it involves putting on the Lord Jesus, and making no provision for the willful passions of the flesh; it involves putting to death the deeds of the body, and being led by the Spirit in conformity to God's Word. It identifies these resentful, rebellious rumblings within as hostile, as the enemy. It targets them for destruction. It sees the world as enemy, not friend, and expects opposition, mocking, rejection, for the very fact that we live out the discipleship we profess, in every area of our lives.

And that way — alone — ends up right.

23 June 2015

How the Charleston tragedy cries out for God

by Dan Phillips

The facts, as reported and as related in sterile prose, are simple enough.

Last Wednesday, June 17, a young man walked into the church congregation of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and sat through a prayer meeting. At about 9pm, he stood and opened fire on his unarmed, helpless victims. Nine people, ranging in age from 26 to 87, were shot and killed. Eight died on the scene, one died later in a hospital. Among the dead was the pastor, Clementa Pinckney. The murderer, now identified by the police as 21 year-old Dylann Roof, was able to reload five times during the massacre, which his reported words reveal as racially motivated. He has since been arrested.

What to make of it? How to make anything of it?

The incident can be approached from many important angles; I'll select the one I think least likely to receive much consideration. It is this: we cannot even begin to make sense of this, on any remotely satisfying level, apart from the God of the Bible, and the theology that His Word teaches us.

I'll do my best not to insult you with nuance and carefulness; I'll just be direct. As you'd expect.

How can we even describe this situation, how can we even begin to measure its shape and immensity, apart from God? What do we say of it? That it is a "tragedy"? Of course, to Christians, it is every bit of that. But to an evolutionist? To a materialist? To an environmental extremist? To a postmodern sofa-sitter? How can any of them, with any credibility, call it a "tragedy"?
  • How could an evolutionist? What is the very engine that drives forward the development of species, if not the crushing of weaker members by the stronger? Is it a tragedy when a coyote "culls" a slow rabbit? Other than by emotional special-pleading, how could such a worldview even categorize this event as anything other than another step forward in the grand march of progress?
  • How could a materialist? One bag of atoms interacted with nine bags of atoms. The atoms aren't even destroyed, just altered. Where's the tragedy? Where's the wrong that makes it a tragedy? What does wrong weigh? What's the atomic number of tragedy? What instrument measures moral outrage? Is it measured in feet, or in pounds?
  • How could an environmental extremistAren't we constantly told that human beings are destroying our planet? People are the enemy, right? What is nine fewer, if not a step in the right direction? Perhaps the murderer is an enviro-hero, for reducing the "carbon footprint" in Charleston by many thousands of tons per year, going forward?
  • And how could a postmodernistOh sure, to you and me, this is a tragedy. But that's only our perspective. The consistent PoMo — though such a creature is a cryptid — is in a conundrum. He may feel bad about the slaughter. But for him to describe the act as a crime or as a moral outrage – that means he has to judge the shooter by a standard the shooter plainly does not share. Should the PoMo have coffee with the shooter? Or propose a 5-year moratorium on discussing it, until he has had time to think it through?
  • How could a pro-abortionist? It is reported Margaret Sanger's belief that black people were weeds to be eliminated, and abortion was one great way to weed the garden, so to speak. Abortion kills more black people yearly than any other single sort of event. Well (I speak as a fool) nine "weeds" were just plucked, to this mindset. Where's the minus?
Do you see? The worldling has an insoluble problem when faced with such tragedy as this horrendous slaughter. Taken seriously, the reigning worldviews of our day leave us helpless to describe murderer, victims, or incident, in any terms other than either "...and then that happened," or even (God help us all) positive terms. Then after describing them, they have no way to categorize them, or have any relief to the emotional response they quite properly have. They are forced to steal categories from Christianity — categories they don't really mean, and just as surely do not think through — to do any better than "this event makes me feel bad!"

Of course all my observations would be as horrifying and insulting to adherents and proponents as they are inescapable. They would deny them, with outrage and conviction. You see, we don't want to think through our billowy proclamations. We want just enough "freedom" to avoid Jesus, Bible, and church; to sleep with whoever we want, do (or not do) whatever we want, and escape all guilt, reproach, or consequences.

But we don't want anyone continuing the lines of logical development one inch further than we draw them.

Only the Biblically-faithful Christian, studying his Bible and applying the resultant theology faithfully and not emotionalistically, can make full and fully-satisfying sense of this horrific event.
  • Only the Biblically-faithful Christian can say that the lives of every person in that meeting were infinitely valuable, infinitely precious, because they were the lives of eternal beings created in the image of the infinitely valuable God (Genesis 1:26; 9:6). 
  • Only the Biblically-faithful Christian can say that the murderer had no right to take those lives as he did, and only the Christian can give a grounded solution as to what the law must do to do justice to the murderer, and why (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:1ff.). 
  • Only the Biblically-faithful Christian can say that what the murderer did was — not unfortunate, not sad, not objectionable, not regrettable, not ill-advised, but — evil, wicked, sinful.
  • Only a Biblically-faithful Christian can point the grieving to comfort, eternal comfort, by pointing them to Christ and His Gospel. 
  • Only a Biblically-faithful Christian can urge mourners to see and trust that God will completely avenge every drop of blood spilled in that church, either eschatologically on the person of the unrepentant murderer (Ps. 94:1; Rev. 21:8; 22:15), or retroactively on the person of His dear Son for repentant offenders (Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:25). 
  • Only a Biblically-faithful Christian can expose the evil, indeed the absurdity, of racism, and can point to the one and only solution for it: a Biblical anthropology (Gen. 1:26-28; Acts 17:26) married to the Biblical Gospel (Col. 3:11; cf. Eph. 2:13-22).
  • Only a Biblically-faithful Christian can speak truth to the murderer, facing him with the full evil of his crime, the full weight of eternal wrath and judgment he deserves from God, and the full offer of reconciliation and forgiveness that he can know through (and only through) repentant faith in Christ (cf. Acts 9:1, 13; 26:10; 1 Tim. 1:12-16). 
  • Only a Biblically-faithful Christian knows when and how to think and speak of forgiveness.
  • Only a Biblically-faithful Christian can look with assurance to a day when we will dwell in a "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13) — which will be brought in, not on a tide of social or biological evolution, or scientific advance, or abortive weeding, or endless legislation, but with the return, rule, and reign of Jesus Christ.
This tragic and immoral event, in short, is too massive and too immense not to speak and think of Biblically, which is to say, theologically. It mustn't be cheapened by mere emotionalism or bandwagoning.

For the Biblically-faithful Christian knows there is no other way to do this atrocity the justice for which it cries out, and that there is no purer and better display of theological truth than that found in God's Word, the Bible. The Bible is the best theology I've heard in my life, or ever will hear. All thoughts and words — yours, mine, commentators', politicians', mourners' — can only be assessed truly by that standard.

This is the full implications of Sola Scriptura applied to the very depths of life. As it was meant to be.

[This post ricocheted into my mind from Todd Pruitt's fine post, Charleston and the Age to Come, and his observation that "the actions of the murderer cannot be adequately described in anything less that theological language."]

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21 June 2015

Seen with Him

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 "Seen with Christ in the garden," from The Teachings of Nature, page 248, Pilgrim Publications.
"The question is, 'Did not I see thee in the garden with Him?' We did not want to be observed: we were far from courting observation. There are some of the Lord's people who would like to go to heaven without being seen with the Lord Jesus in the streets by daylight." 

You see the world expects a good deal of us, and when the world does not get it, the question may be very properly put to us, “Did not I see thee in the garden with Him?” It is a salutary thing for a man to know that his inconsistency is observed. Then he begins to see himself as others see him. It is very painful, very disagreeable; but, at the same time, very likely to bless the man.

A man is apt to get a little angry about it; but it is a good thing for him to know how his conduct strikes other people.

I have read of an old lady who gazed into a looking-glass, and remarked that they did not make good mirrors nowadays, for those which she used to look into, fifty years ago, showed her quite different from what she now was. The looking-glasses were very inferior in these times.

When the world observes that your character is inconsistent, it may be that it is a truthful looking-glass, although it does not exhibit your beauties, but shows up your wrinkles and blotches.

Do not quarrel with the looking-glass, but quarrel with your own self. Depend upon it, you are disfigured with spots which you need to get rid of. When convicted by your conscience of an inconsistency, even though the conviction comes to you through an unkind, ungenerous remark of a wicked man, yet still take the lesson home, and go to God for grace and forgiveness, and begin again.

A very plain-spoken enemy may do us ten times more service than an indulgent friend. Such a question as this should effectually recall us to holiness — to deep repentance of the past, and to strong resolves for the future.

19 June 2015

Some Here, Some There — June 18, 2015

by Dan Phillips

Small but fun start; check back at noon TX time to see what I've added.
  • Valerie and I did a whirlwind road trip to California over the last nearly two weeks, passing through the LA area, the Sierra, Sacramento in CA; and also parts of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and a bit of Colorado. We saw beautiful, awesome sights and cool weather patterns. Twice, the car's GPS — precursor of Our Coming Robot Overlords? — tried to kill us. But maybe, from your perspective, the scariest thing we saw was this:
  • It's a real thing. We didn't stay there.
  • Did I drink Peet's Coffee? Of course. Did we go to Bob's Big Boy? What do you think?
(Click to enlarge)
  • Wait...what? Rick Warren as an action movie star? Well, sort of? Hm; do you think Christ and His Gospel will be the star and center of that movie?
  • Doug Wilson's muse has stepped in and said "HOWDY!" again, in a big way. Some delectable quotations: "The elites have consumed the Christian legacy they inherited, and the prodigal son is wondering how he can possibly afford to host the next bash."
  • And, "Behind all the trans-sexual, trans-racial, trans-dictionary foolishness is the central foolishness of a race of sinners that wants to be trans-mortal." 
  • And, "this problem is not solved by gospel centrality, if all you mean is that your precious gospel is centrally placed in your jeweler’s box, and that the jeweler’s box is centrally hidden under the bed." 
  • There's more. Just read it.
  • Hm. In honor of Father's Day... I described a scene like, in passing, this in a recent sermon:

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18 June 2015

"Zealous for the ordinary life"

by Frank Turk

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Frank back in November 2012. Frank offered his thoughts on the idea of "perfecting the gospel," which he identified as one aspect of "the normal life of the local church."

As usual, the comments are closed.
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thess 2:7-12)

In this passage, in Paul's view, the normal life of the local church has at least 3 components: Pastoral Care, Personal Affection, and Preaching the Gospel.  But there is a fourth component: Perfecting the Gospel.

“walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory,” Paul said to the Thessalonians.

When Paul said this same thing to Titus at the end of his life, he said it this way, in Titus 2:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
He means that there are necessary consequences of the Gospel.  He says right above that section that they must “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”  That’s what “adorn” means: your wife may be beautiful in her own right, but there is something you can do for her which prefects her beauty.  You may “adorn” her with praise, or “adorn” her with honor, or better yet: “adorn” her with love.  You make what is already there perfect, complete, by doing the things which are necessary in order to show that they are true.

This is also what Paul sees as the ordinary life of the local church.  The fruit of the Spirit is there. There’s a sense there that somehow, Jesus is coming and we must be ready for him, and that when we behave as if what we believe is actually true, being called to God’s Kingdom and Glory are worth it. We must walk in a manner which is worthy of God, worthy of the calling into God’s Kingdom and God’s Glory.

So this is Paul’s ordinary instruction to the church:
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
It’s funny how Paul can pull the cover off the ordinary so quickly to reveal the extraordinary that is underneath it.  We get ourselves wrapped up in the idea that somehow, the big issues of the Christian life are wrapped up in big words and systematic theology.  We think that somehow God has decided that to follow him you need to get a whole new vocabulary which might not even be complete or adequate if you don’t know Greek and Hebrew and Latin.  But here, in this letter to people in a persecuted church, Paul doesn’t use any of those words at all.  He doesn’t resort to extraordinary language.  And he doesn’t appeal to an extraordinary experience – but he makes the point that somehow the Gospel makes us zealous for an ordinary life which is worthy of Himself, and His Kingdom.

14 June 2015

Our last journey

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 23, sermon number 1,373, "Our last journey." 
"Each one of us must believe in the Saviour for himself, each serve God personally, and each have a good hope through grace wrought in his own soul. Will men never think of this till they come to die?" 

Here let me tell you that very much of the comfort with which we wrap ourselves up in days of health proves to be very sorry stuff when we come to die. While you are in good health and strength you often derive a measure of peace of mind from things which will not stand the fiery ordeal of an approaching eternity. Some of the best men that ever lived have found this out.

You may know the name of Mr. Durham, the author of a famous book on Solomon’s Song, one of the most earnest of Scotland’s ancient preachers. Some days before he died he seemed to be in some perplexity about his future well-being, and said to his friend, Mr. Carstairs, “Dear Brother, for all that I have written or preached, there is but one Scripture which I can now remember or dare grip unto, now that I am hastening to the grave. It is this—‘Whosoever cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.’ Pray tell me if I dare lay the weight of my salvation upon it.” Mr. Carstairs justly replied, “Brother, you may depend upon it though you had a thousand salvations at hazard.”

You see it was a plain, sinner’s text that he rested on. Just as Dr. Guthrie wanted them to sing a bairn’s hymn, so do dying saints need the plain elementary doctrines of the gospel to rest upon. Those fine ideas and dainty notions of our nearing perfection and becoming completely sanctified dissolve like the hoar frost in the sun, when we come face to face with eternity.

Those grand excitements, those high enjoyments, and those deep experiences which lead us to think ourselves to be somebodies in the church of God are of small account in dying moments. Men cannot die on stilts. Death finds out the truth of our condition and blows away with his cold breath a heap of chaff which we thought to be good wheat.

Then a man has to look to the mercy of God, to the blood of the covenant and to the promises of the Gospel, and to cling as a poor needy, guilty sinner to free, rich, sovereign grace, or else his spirit will utterly sink. When life is ebbing, nothing will do but the faithful saying, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

I have heard children of God speak in their last moments just as seeking souls speak. They come to God again just as they came at first, and they find in Jesus all their hope. Dying men want realities, they want a sinner’s Saviour, they want atonement for guilt, for so only can they pass out of the world with hope. Oh, brethren, follow after that which is solid and real, for nothing else will serve your turn when you come to die.

11 June 2015

Manly preachers, manly preaching

by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Phil back in April 2009. Phil offered his thoughts on "the church's failure to reach men."

As usual, the comments are closed.
Lots of people are talking these days about the church's failure to reach men. The problem is an old one. To a large degree it is rooted in the eighteenth-century tendency of post-puritan preachers to temper hard truths and cushion the message as much as possible.

Victorian-era preachers added an extra layer of complexity to the problem with their love of flowery rhetoric. Grandiloquence. Turgid oratory. Bloated, high-sounding language designed to impress listeners with the speaker's sophistication rather than rouse consciences with the power of God's Word.

Pulpits became soft places where men loved to show off their refinement. Manly passion was deemed vulgar and lowbrow.

Charles Spurgeon abhorred that trend. He exemplified the opposite style. In fact, when Spurgeon first took his pastorate in London, one of the earliest caricatures published in the London newspapers about Spurgeon pictured him casting the shadow of a young lion from his pulpit—and it contrasted him with a typical Anglican clergyman, who cast the shadow of an old woman.

Spurgeon hated the effeminate tendencies of the Victorian pulpit, and he did everything he could to model a different trend. He said it's OK to be meek, and we ought to work hard at being gentle. But, he said, don't be "indifferent to truth and righteousness. God [does not choose] milksops destitute of backbone, to wear his glory upon their faces. We have plenty of men made of sugar, nowadays, that melt into the stream of popular opinion; but [men like that will] never ascend into the hill of the Lord."

When Spurgeon lectured his students on preaching, he cautioned them strongly against adopting effeminate mannerisms. He said,
Abhor the practice of some men, who will not bring out the letter "r," such a habit is "vewys wuinous and wediculous, vewy wetched and wepwehensible."
"Mawwiage . . . "

Spurgeon went on. He told his preaching students:
Now and then a brother has the felissssity to possessss a mosssst winning and delicioussss lisssssp . . . . [That will] ruin any being who aims at manliness and force. I can scarcely conceive of Elijah lisping to Ahab, or Paul prettily chipping his words on Mars' hill. There may be a peculiar pathos about a weak and watery eye, and a faltering style. . . . Where [those things] are the result of intense passion, they are sublime; but some possess them by birth, and use them rather too freely: it is, to say the least, unnecessary for you to imitate them.
Spurgeon was a man's preacher, and his ministry reflected that. He influenced men—and he is still influencing men from the grave. And even though he was criticized and despised and belittled in his own time for being too aggressive in his defense of the truth, notice that we still read Spurgeon, and his words are still absolutely relevant to our times. But everyone has utterly forgotten all the effeminate preachers of that era who at the time were absolutely certain that they were more "relevant" because they were more in tune with their own times than Spurgeon was.

You know what? They were wrong. And they were wrong for the same reason people are wrong today to follow whatever is deemed stylish. We ought to let Scripture, not the trends of secular culture, define for us what the church should be like.

07 June 2015

Eye exam

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 Words of Counsel, pages 78-79, Pilgrim Publications.
"What a mean and beggarly thing it is for a man only to do his work well when he is watched. Such oversight is for boys at school and mere hirelings." 

You never think of watching noble-spirited men. Here is a young apprentice set to copy a picture: his master stands over him and looks over each line, for the young scapegrace will grow careless and spoil his work, or take to his games if he be not well looked after.

Did anybody thus dream of supervising Raphael and Michael Angelo to keep them to their work? No, the master artist requires no eye to urge him on. Popes and emperors came to visit the great painters in their studios, but did they paint the better because these grandees gazed upon them? Certainly not; perhaps they did all the worse in the excitement or the worry of the visit. They had regard to something better than the eye of pompous personages.

So the true Christian wants no eye of man to watch him. There may be pastors and preachers who are the better for being looked after by bishops and presbyters; but fancy a bishop overseeing the work of Martin Luther, and trying to quicken his zeal; or imagine a presbyter looking after Calvin to keep him sound in the faith.

Oh, no; gracious minds outgrow the governance and stimulus which comes of the oversight of mortal man. God’s own Spirit dwells within us, and we serve the Lord from an inward principle, which is not fed from without.

There is about a real Christian a prevailing sense that God sees him, and he does not care who else may set his eye upon him; it is enough for him that God is there. He hath small respect to the eye of man, he neither courts nor dreads it. Let the good deed remain in the dark, for God sees it there, and that is enough; or let it be blazoned in the light of day to be pecked at by the censorious, for it little matters who censures since God approves.

This is to be a true servant of Christ; to escape from being an eye-servant to men by becoming in the sublimest sense an eye-servant, working ever beneath the eye of God.

05 June 2015

Book review — Philippians: A Mentor Commentary, by Matthew S. Harmon

by Dan Phillips

TitlePhilippians: A Mentor Commentary
Author: Matthew S. Harmon
PublisherChristian Focus Publications
Date: 2015

BackstoryMatt Harmon is professor of New Testament studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary, in Winona Lake, Indiana. Harmon has contributed to various books and academic journals in the past, in the former category including a chapter in Crossway's recent work on particular redemption, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her.

I know Dr. Matt because he was kind enough to be a reader for The World-Tilting Gospel. I wanted a professional academic to assess my translations and my remarks on the Greek text, to make sure they were accurate. Matt was so gracious as to do me that great favor. We became cyber-friends, finally meeting in person at Together for the Gospel.

So when Matt asked me to return the favor by reading his manuscript for a commentary on Philippians, and specifically provide pastoral feedback, I was delighted to accept.

Now, of course, one is always a bit concerned in such situations. One good brother asked me to look at a manuscript some time back, and I immediately saw that I would need to suggest radical edits just about every paragraph, starting with the first. I knew I'd never have the time. What would it be like, reading Matt's manuscript? Being an academic and a good brother doesn't n ecessarily make one a good writer.

OverallAs I read, my concerns vanished, turning to great joy. As I often do, let me anticipate my bottom-line: this is an excellent commentary, one I expect to serve for many years. It transcends both series and publisher, and deserves to become a standard go-to resource for preachers, professors, teachers, and serious students alike.

In saying that I mean no snub to the publisher per se. But perhaps most of us don't think of Mentor right-off when we think of leading commentary series; perhaps we think of NIC, or Pillar, or another. I am saying that this book easily walks in that company.

What makes Harmon's commentary so exceptional is its effortless combination of two factors often missing even in useful commentaries. Often a commentary is either academically sound and dives deeply into the text qua text, or it is warmly devotional and breathes a heart of love for Christ, His Gospel, and His church. One may read (say) Boice or Lloyd-Jones for the latter, and (say) Bruce or Marshall for the former.

Harmon's Philippians bridges the gap to unite both strengths. Harmon very thoroughly (and readably) expounds the Greek text, right down to the lexicography and syntax, and he also communicates it in a way fitting to its message. One can recognize the facts of a text without giving any evidence of tasting its beauties and implications. Harmon's commentary does both. He makes this clear in his initial note to the reader, where he outlines his intent, and then calls on the reader to engage prayerfully with the text as with God's word. I don't recall Bruce, Guthrie, or even P. E. Hughes every doing that!

Specifics. Harmon does his exposition in the body of the text proper, relegating scholarly interaction with the Greek text and the sciences to the footnotes. In this way he equally serves both readerships.

Introduction. The book opens with a thorough 46-page introduction. In it Harmon deals with customary matters such as authorship, destination, and place of origin. After discussing the various options, Harmon comes down in favor of Rome, in the timeframe of 60-62 AD (43). One helpful facet not shared by all Mentor volumes is the outline that Harmon gives, which he then uses to structure the rest of the commentary. That way the reader keeps track of the flow of Paul's thought.

In the introduction Harmon treats the more recently prominent issue of the imperial cult (27-29, with extensive footnote documentation), and brings in data from Acts to discuss the presence of Jews in Philippi. Harmon sees a multi-pronged purpose in Paul's writing this letter, including thanks for financial support, assurance that Epaphroditus is welcomed warmly, and updates for the Philippians as to Paul's own circumstances (45-46). Paul's overarching purpose in all of these is the pastoral goal of calling "for the Philippians to live joyfully as citizens of God's kingdom in a manner worthy of the gospel even in the face of internal and external pressures," which means pointing "them to Jesus Christ as the one who made them citizens of God's kingdom through His death and resurrection and now empowers them by His Spirit to be blameless and innocent children of God who sine as lights in this dark world" (46).

Harmon also discusses the opponents and false teachers (47-50), and opens up the book's key themes: the Gospel, Jesus Christ, the day of Christ, already/not-yet, joy, fellowship, and "mindset" (50-56). Two and a half pages on the use of the OT are followed by an excursus of over 7 pages (with tables) on the OT background to the "Christ-hymn" of 2:5-11.

Commentary. The commentary proper is over 400 pages long. Harmon introduces each section with a discussion of its thought-flow, which will be very useful for all teachers and preachers. Then Harmon comments verse by verse, reproducing the ESV text then expounds it from the perspective of the Greek text. All Greek words are transliterated, both in the body and in the footnotes, which broadens the scope of its usefulness. Harmon interacts with the Greek text in the body in an expository way that is accessible to any reader; the deeper explorations of lexicography and syntax are confined to the footnotes, which sometimes take 1/3 (356) to 1/2 (358) of the page. I love that, as you know!

Plus, Harmon's academic strengths are deep and broad; for instance in opening 1:23ff., in a footnote Harmon profitably applies the rhetorical devices synkrisis and dubitatio, with explanation and documentation (142, footnote 97). Harmon also notes the presence of chiasm (200). The text will satisfy "layman" and more scholarly reader alike.

The commentary itself opens on many levels. Harmon's focus is the meaning of the text as it left Paul's pen. But he also deals with it on a Biblical theology basis, setting it in the Canon, ultimately often commenting on the impact for systematics. Not only so, but Harmon also has an eye to the practical impact, the pastoral burden, and occasional clash with false teachings and other perversions of the text.

A good example illustrating Harmon's levels of concern is his treatment of Paul's prayer in 1:9 that the Philippians' "love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment." Taking just those last words ("all discernment"), Harmon first discusses the wording (98):
Other English versions translate this word 'insight" (NIV), 'understanding' (NLT) or 'judgment' (KJV). Part of the difficulty is that this Greek word (aisthēsis) appears nowhere else in the New Testament. It does occur frequently in [the Greek translation of] Proverbs, where it most often has the sense of insight or knowledge (e.g., Prov. 1:22; 2:10; 3:20). If it refers to discernment, the idea is of making necessary distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad, wise and foolish, etc. (cf. Heb. 5:14). But if it speaks of insights, the emphasis rests on a level of understanding that penetrates beneath the surface to the complexity of something along with its implications. The fact that the very next verse indicates the purpose of this growth of love is for the purpose of enabling the Philippians to approve the essential things may slightly tip the scales towards seeing a reference to discernment. By adding the word all Paul stresses the totality of the discernment.
So a flowing introduction to the range of meaning, the presentation of the two main alternatives, and then rather than moving on without a commitment (as is commonly done), Harmon provides a reason to favor one view. But Harmon is not done yet. Then he develops that Paul's concern reveals "at least three important truths," which are:

  1. "...although love must have some basis in basic knowledge, its depth, consistency and endurance in some sense depend on growing intimacy with the person or object loved. This point is worth emphasis in a day where mysticism often beckons away from  biblical reality. Knowledge is not the enemy of love for God, but a necessary condition for its existence" (98).
  2. "...the fact that Paul prays for this growth in knowledge and insight/discernment implies that it is God who must grant these realities. While it is our responsibility as believers to pursue growth in knowledge and discernment/insight through the available means such as the preaching of God's Word, reading/studying the Bible and helpful Christian literature, these activities are insufficient in and of themselves to produce the kind of knowledge...Paul speaks of here. Apart from the supernatural work of God's Spirit to use those efforts, the only kind of knowledge gained...is the kind that makes a person arrogant (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1)."
  3. "...for Paul, love is not a synonym for naivete. Popular depictions of Christian love as gullible credulity, easily taken in by false teachers, parasites, and hucksters, find no basis in the teaching of the apostles. Paul knew that a loving congregation could be a very vulnerable congregation, unless their love were tempered by a vigorously Biblical sense of knowledge and discernment such as is offered in Proverbs and the rest of the apostles' writings."
Each of those points is developed further, and this serves as a good representation of the commentary's strengths.

In his "Note to the Reader," Harmon announces his hope to serve "the pastor, the Sunday school teacher, the missionary, and the small-group leader." In keeping with this aim , Harmon crowns each section with "Suggestions for Preaching/Teaching and Application."

Also, the publisher made the wise decision in this volume (though not, alas, in others) of providing Harmon's extensive documentation in footnotes, not endnotes. A fourteen-page bibliography, a Scripture index, and a subject index close out the book.

In summary: I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you want to study Philippians closely, let alone teach it or preach it, I'd class it as a must-have, right alongside both classic and modern writers such as Eadie, Ellicott, Lightfoot and Alford, as well as O'Brien, Silva, or Hawthorne.

In fact, if you were about to buy your first commentary, or could have only one, Matthew Harmon's Mentor Commentary on Philippians would be the one I'd recommend. It's both the full package and the real deal, and I expect it to serve Christ's church for years to come.

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02 June 2015

BibleWorks 10 Review — the best gets even better!

by Dan Phillips

The best serious Bible Study software in the world keeps getting better and better.

The way to approach this is to begin with the oft-asked question, "Which is better: Logos or BibleWorks?" Rather than say that it's like comparing apples and oranges, I'd say it's like comparing apples and artichokes, or baked potatoes. They aren't two of the same thing, they're two different things. There is some overlap, obviously,  but the two different softwares have two different foci.

Logos 6 (which I plan to review later) is like having an incredibly powerful, fast, extensive library crammed into your device. It is the best I know of, at what it does, and I need what it does. BibleWorks 10 is like having the world's best infinitely-expandable polyglot study Bible, with margins that indefinitely extend to allow endless note-taking and note-making. It's the  best I know of at what it does, and I need what it does! I wouldn't want to do without either.

Most serious Bible students get a Bible with margin room enough to make notes, or (in my case) even insert Hebrew and Greek. But then when one wears out, you get another and start all over again. And there's never enough room; no one can write small enough to include everything.

BibleWorks solves that problem. Its fully-formatted Notes feature allows instant recording of thoughts, links, documentation, graphics, tables — anything. (See more, on an earlier version, here.) This has been a steady feature since its (as I recall) wobbly introduction in version 6. Now it is long-since robust and stable — and in version 10, expanded.

The first expansion is an additional frame, so that now the Search and Browse frames work with (not one, but) two analysis frames:

Click to enlarge
If you prefer, you can collapse the third analysis frame so as only to have one; but I always use the two, even on my 15" laptop. Depending on what modules you've gotten, you can use the two frames for notes and textual commentaries, cross-references, E-Pub books, other translations, editor, or a dozen other features. You can drag and drop the tabs to customize as needed.

On the subject of customization — though this is not a new feature — BibleWorks allows you to make and name your own configurations.

For instance, I have a Daily Bible Reading configuration that keeps track of where I am each day. It's like being able to leave as many ribbons as you need as place-keepers:

Click to embiggen
You can rename, add or delete the tabs. In my labeling, the OT tab has the Hebrew text for my OT read-through, the NT my Greek tab, and the EV my English Bible read-through tab. ("Bobby" is a random name for a tab I use for side-searches.)

Then I have a general configuration that I employ for all other uses.

Another new addition in version 10 is the User Lexicon. It is exactly what you might think it is from the name: a fully-formatted lexicon feature that the user can create. Note, for instance here, in Proverbs 4:8, when I mouse-over the word  סַלְסְלֶ֥הָ, this appears in the user lexicon:

Too small? Click!
That is the note I created, obviously culled from different sources. Now note: that will display any time I mouse over that lemma in any verse. It is not tied to the verse, it is tied to the word. The value of this is obvious. It works on any language, whether Hebrew, Greek or English. So you can make use of it whatever your level is.

I always translate what I expound, and I try to come up with consistent renderings. It can be hard to remember how I've translated a word last year, or three years ago. But with this tool, I can keep a record that pops up on every occurrence of the word in every book. And as with all the user-created notes, you can fill it as full as you like, from lexicons, journal articles, commentaries, sermons or personal studies.

Now from the heavy to the to the light relief, you can also customize the colors. If you like, you can even do this:

Click for great pinkness
But then, why would you? One of the other beta-testers made that little honey up and called it JapaneseKitten.

Yep. There's a back-story there, I'll bet... and I don't want to know it.

Here are some of the other new features:
  • Danker’s Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the NT. This is actually a very cool new independent lexicon from F. W. Danker, which provides "extended definitions or explanations in idiomatic English for all Greek terms." 
  • EPUB reader & library manager. You can add electronic books to your BW10 using this tool.
  • High-resolution tagged images of the Leningrad Codex
  • Two new NT manuscript transcriptions
  • Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 28th Edition
  • New English Translation of the Septuagint
  • Over 1,200 high resolution photos of the Holy Land
  • Complete audio Greek NT, which will read the Greek aloud either from the Byzantine or the Nestle-Aland, 27th edition.
  • Dynamically adjustable program text size, which is useful if you are projecting or using a large screen to demonstrate.
  • Now in both Mac and PC versions.
BibleWorks itself has a fuller and illustrated listing of new features in BibleWorks 10. (A full list of features, old and new, can be found here.) Also, you can watch BW's own videos demonstrating the new features.

In addition, I guested on a Theotek podcast, battling some bad sound quality and enthusing about the features I like best (starting at about 6:50.

As I've said, I say now: every Bible-teaching, Bible-preaching pastor should have BibleWorks. The same applies to professors and teachers of all levels, seminary students, and serious Bible teachers or students of the Word would benefit greatly from it. Practicing what I preach, I have personally given (or gotten a church to give) copies to pastors. If you are a pastor, get it. If your pastor doesn't have it, get the church to budget it and give it to him. It will reward both him and your church.

Upgrades are discounted, of course. But even if you are purchasing it for the first time, the full price of $389 purchases a stunning array of resources for serious interaction with the text. It is tremendous "bang" for your buck. Plus support is great, and a community of brainiac users is always ready to help.

I enthusiastically recommend it.

[BibleWorks let me be a beta tester and has provided a review copy, with no pressure to produce a positive review. My enthusiasm is all genuine, and all mine. Regular readers already knew that!]

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