Meet the new Sin, same as the old.

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”
(Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV))

In reading George Marsden’s “Jonathon Edwards: A Life,” I came across something that surprised me.  Marsden wrote that when Edwards grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, passed away leaving him as the lead pastor of a church of 1300 members, Edwards faced three major obstacles.  The first was the issue of admittance to the Lord’s Table for Communion.   His grandfather had practiced a rather open table, allowing all who had been baptized to receive the meal regardless of whether their life showed evidence of true conversion.  There was great debate on this matter, one that plagued Edwards’ entire career, but Stoddard’s position was that there was edification and encouragement for conversion in the celebration of the Table.

Another pressing issue facing Edwards in his new church was a growing political divide.  This was the 1720’s, and already there was a growing divide between those who were loyal to the crown, and those who felt independence from the throne would lead to financial and religious prosperity.  It is fascinating the level of contention and divisiveness that political matters such as these had in the church.  Perhaps the reason was that in Edwards day, there was no Cable News to present the political ideas of the day, so the pulpit was the forum in which all ideas were disseminated. 

What struck me as most interesting, however, was what Marsden says occupied the majority of Edwards’ attention: the “indulgences of the young” (pages 130-131).  Marsden writes,

The most notorious result was amazing impurities tolerated among the young in recent years.  Not only was lasciviousness encouraged by nightwalking and similar frivolities, but New England parents allowed practices that are “looked upon as shameful and disgraceful at Canada, New York, and England.”  Everyone knew that he referred to the New England practice of “bundling” in which parents allowed young people to spend the night in bed together partly clothed.  “I believe there is not a country in the Christian world, however debauched and vicious, where parents indulge their children in such liberties… as they do in this country…”

Bundling, which was supposed to be a way of getting acquainted without sexual intercourse, did not always work as advertised.  Pregnancies before marriage were rising dramatically in New England.  Premarital sex was commonplace.  Even when it resulted in pregnancy, so long as the couple married, there was no longer much stigma involved.

Sound familiar?

Edwards noted that the indulgence on the part of the parents was most likely a reaction to their own very strict upbringing, but was increasingly discouraged by the behavior of the youth in his community.  The taverns were full of young men who were wasting their time and energy in worthless pursuits, delaying marriage and work, living with their parents rather than forging out and establishing themselves.  Sounds to me like Edwards could have been writing about 21st century youth as well.

“And there is nothing new under the sun.”  We hear today of the Culture Wars, and young men and women are portrayed in such negative light.  Parents decry “what’s wrong with the children today?”  We see the political divisions of our national leaders, the lack of concern for spiritual growth and maturity, and the erosion of any semblance of moral integrity and we think to ourselves, “Whatever happened to the good old days?”

The truth is, there were no good old days.  Edwards railed against the moral turpitude of the youth of his day; as did Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, and Baxter.  Sin has always and will always attack us where we are most easily tempted.  The youth are tempted with passion and lust; the elders are tempted by power and division, all are tempted to spiritual stupor and sloth.

What Edwards saw as the corrective to the moral decay of his time, the heart of true reformation, was a return to the Word of God.  Revival and reformation would only come through the renewal of the passionate preaching and teaching of the Word of God.  To awaken a people to a zeal for the Lord, to heal divisions within the community, to draw the youth from their immorality and sensuality, they must heed the call of Scripture.

And as we share the same problems as the people of Edwards’ day, we also share the same solution.  We must return to the Word of God.  We will only find revival and reformation in the renewing work of God’s Holy Spirit that comes from the passionate preaching and teaching of God’s Word.  That means that we need to be studying God’s Word for ourselves.  It means that we need to be leading our families in private worship and study of God’s Word. It means that we need to find ourselves in churches that faithfully teach and preach the Word of God.

There is nothing new under the sun.  The sins we face today are the sins that have been with us since the fall. 

There is nothing new under the sun.  Our savior from sin is Jesus Christ: always has been, always will be.

What an indocile…

“But I discipline my body and keep it under control,
lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
(1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV)

I haven’t been running since February. I have a list of excuses, but that’s all they are. The simple fact is, I’m not disciplined enough right now. This is evident in my lack of exercise, and in every other area of my life.

It seems that when I’m not running, not disciplining myself in that one area, all other discipline goes out the window too. I’m not very careful about what I eat, nor when. I get lazy with my time, time and work and home. I don’t floss as regularly as I should.

But the lack of physical conditioning carries over into the spiritual, too. When the physical discipline is gone, I notice that my prayer life is anemic, my daily reading and personal study dwindles, and my general disposition towards ministry is grim. I find myself relying on my own strength, running on my own steam, and finding that I’m full of a lot of hot air.

I don’t think this is exactly what Paul had in mind when he wrote about disciplining the body so as not to disqualify his preaching. Read in context, we see that Paul is making a powerful argument about what true freedom in Christ looks like. In Corinthians chapter 6, Paul addresses sexual immorality, in chapter 7, the principles of marriage and singleness, in chapter 8, what to do with food sacrificed to idols. Chapter 9, however, Paul emphasizes the fact that, for the sake of others, he surrendered his rights for the sake of the gospel. He did not claim his rights to receive payment for his work, He did not throw his authority around so that others would serve him. Instead, Paul became all things to all people, and a servant to all that he might win more of them. He kept himself from that which was rightfully his, and did not take his freedom in Christ as license for indulgence, so that he would not disqualify himself and his preaching.

Still, without discipline, I run the risk of disqualifying myself and my preaching. If the well runs dry, the people will turn elsewhere to find water. If, by lack of discipline and self-control, I lead myself into the barren wilderness of spiritual neglect, how can I ever hope to serve as your pastor? My sermons will become just that, my sermons, rather than a faithful, and prayerful proclamation of the Word of God.

If, by never taking time to delight myself in the presence of God through pray and the study of His word, how can I ever hope to share in your joy in the Lord?

There is an old hymn that you all know:

Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
Than to trust and obey

As an evangelical Christian, I’ve got the trust down. I trust in Jesus for my salvation. I know that I am secure in Him, that my sin has been forgiven, that my guilt is taken away, and that, by God’s grace, I now live in the power of the Holy Spirit, the same power that raised Christ from the dead. I love Him, and so I trust Him entirely with my life.

I guess my trouble is with the obey part. If I love Him, won’t I obey Him? Won’t I be listening and watching for the guidance of His Spirit as I attend to His word and kneel in prayer? If I love Him, won’t I want to live my life in a way that shows my love and my gratitude for His tender mercy and lavish grace?

I know that there is in me a desire to walk closely with the Lord, to be found faithful in His eyes, and to live for His glory. In that knowledge, I know that God’s Spirit is working in me, for if I was content in my lack of discipline, then I would be worried. Still, I hear the words of Paul, encouraging me to compete for the crown, to exercise self-control that I might receive the imperishable crown of glory. I know I must be renewed in discipline.

And I find myself in good company. Jonathon Edwards, while known for many things, is also famous for his list of resolutions. I wanted to share just a couple with you here:

Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done.

Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance.

And so I resolve to be more disciplined in my life, physically and spiritually. And while I make this resolution, I also hear the words of another great Puritan, John Owen, who wrote, “To suppose that whatever God requires of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect.” I make my resolution, trusting solely in the grace of Christ to strengthen and support me, for I know apart from Him I can do nothing.