The Perilous, Pernicious and Pervasive Problem of Pride!

Following the recommendation of a fellow pastor, I have taken up a book by the great Puritan writer, Jeremiah Burroughs, and committed to reading just a section of his book each day.  Burroughs (1600-1646) was one of the Independent members of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, and a Congregationalist. He was so highly regarded by his peers that they published 13 volumes of his sermons after his death. The book that caught my attention was “Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions.”   Like a good Puritan writer, Burroughs thoroughly explores each topic in depth before moving on to the next, but does so in a way that is relatable and applicable to our lives today.  

“Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions” examines the roots and effects of division in the body of Christ, and offers a forward-looking approach for healing the divisions. Burroughs’ study makes suggestions for greater unity, challenging the church to focus on moving ahead in its essential work. Just looking through the contents page will give some indication of where the book is going.  Under the Causes of Divisions, Burroughs addresses Pride, Self-love, Envy, Passion, Jealousy, Whispering, Meddling, and Revenge, just to name a few.

As I read through this work, I’ll give a brief reflection on Burroughs’ work, and I pray that God may bring healing, to our divided hearts and churches, through this study.

The first cause that Burroughs address is pride, which he calls “the chief dividing distemper.”  “It is the great incendiary in the soul of man, in families, in towns, in cities, in all societies, in church and state: this wind causes tempests to arise.” It is pride that hardens our hearts to the needs of those around us; pride that makes us blind to our own sinfulness; pride that keeps us from being useful to the Lord and His Church.  If we are to identify what causes divisions in our relationships and in the Church, the chief and underlying cause will always be our pride.

How does pride work in us? This is one of the great strengths of the Puritan writers: they don’t just name the sin, they examine how the sin really affects us.  Pride, Burroughs says, works in the following ways:

  • Pride makes a man think too great to be crossed:  its is beneath a proudful person to bear any injuries or offenses that others might cause.
  • Pride makes men swell beyond their bounds: “the way to keep all things in union is for every man to keep within his bounds: the swelling beyond tends to the breaking all in pieces.”
  • Pride hardens men’s hearts: “If you would have things cleave, you must have them soft; two flints will not join.”
  • Pride causes men to despise others: Seeking honor for himself, a proud man cannot tolerate other’s success, and cares nothing for others’ sufferings.
  • Pride causes every man to desire to be noticed: One way or another, either through good works that bring fame, or through clamor and opposition, a prideful person must be noticed.  “Proud spirits will venture the setting the temple of God, yea, church and state, on fire, that they may have a name; whatever they do or suffer to get a name, they will rather venture, than die in obscurity; that above all things they cannot bear.”
  • A proud man makes his will the rule of his actions, and would have it be the rule of other men’s too.

This, then, the perilous, pernicious and pervasive problem of pride.  It is worked into each and every heart, and must be driven out by God’s redeeming and purifying Spirit of grace.  Burroughs calls “every man look into his own heart, and see what pride hath been, and still is there, and be humbled before the Lord for this. All you contentious, froward, quarrelsome people, you are charged this day from God with being men and women of proud spirits, and what evil there is in our sad divisions, that pride in your bosom is a great cause of it.”

As we allow the Spirit to show us how deeply pride has set into our lives, we know that God’s work is not merely to crush us under the burden of sin.  “The Lord humbles us, that he may reconcile us, not only to himself, but to one another.”  When we realize how pride as come between us, and between us and God, it is so that we may repent, turn from our prideful ways, and be reconciled and restored by His great grace for us in Jesus Christ.  

SDG

Burroughs, Jeremiah. Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions. New York: Carlton & Phillips, 1855. Print.

10 Helps in Fighting Sin

Today I came across my notes and highlights from reading Thomas Brooks’ Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Decives. If you’ve never had the opportunity to read Brooks, I cannot stress how powerful this work is, and how helpful it can be in your walk with the Lord. As with most Puritan writers, his study on the devices of Satan to tempt and lure the Christian into sin is exhaustive.  He will tell you what he’s going to tell you, tell you, then tell you what he just told you. It can, at times, seem overdone, but it aids you in knowing the enemy and his tactics, and in learning to lean entirely on the Word of God and His saving grace through all of life.

Here is a summary of the final chapter, Ten Special Helps and Rules Against Satan’s Devices.

  1. Walk by rule of the Word of God. He who walks by rule, walks most safely; he who walks by rule, walks most honorably; he who walks by rule, walks most sweetly. When men throw off the Word, then God throws them off, and then Satan takes them by the hand, and leads them into snares at his pleasure.
  2. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.  It is the Spirit who is best able to discover Satan’s snares against us; it is only he who can point out all his plots, and discover all his methods, and enable men to escape those pits that Satan has dug for their precious souls. Ah! if you set that sweet and blessed Spirit a-mourning, who alone can secure you from Satan’s depths—by whom will you be preserved?
  3. Labor for more heavenly wisdom.  There are many educated souls—but there are but a few wise souls. There is oftentimes a great deal of knowledge, where there is but a little wisdom to improve that knowledge. It is not the most knowing Christian—but the most wise Christian, who sees, avoids, and escapes Satan’s snares. Heavenly wisdom makes a man delight to fly high; and the higher any man flies, the more he is out of the reach of Satan’s snares.
  4. Resist against Satan’s first motions. It is safe to resist, it is dangerous to dispute. Eve disputes, and falls in paradise; Job resists, and conquers upon the ash-heap. He who will play with Satan’s bait, will quickly be taken with Satan’s hook! The promise of conquest is given to resisting, not to disputing: ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you’ (James 4:7).
  5. Labor to be filled with the Spirit. It is not enough that you have the Spirit—but you must be filled with the Spirit, or else Satan, that evil spirit, will be too hard for you, and his plots will prosper against you. He who thinks he has enough of the Holy Spirit, will quickly find himself vanquished by the evil spirit. Therefore labor more to have your hearts filled with the Spirit than to have your heads filled with notions, your shops with wares, your chests with silver, or your bags with gold; so shall you escape the snares of this fowler, and triumph over all his plots.
  6. Keep Humble. An humble heart will rather lie in the dust than rise by wickedness, and sooner part with all than the peace of a good conscience. Humility keeps the soul free from many darts of Satan’s casting, and snares of his spreading; as the low shrubs are free from many violent gusts and blasts of wind, which shake and rend the taller trees. The devil has least power to fasten a temptation on him who is most humble. He who has a gracious measure of humility, is neither affected with Satan’s offers nor terrified with his threatenings.
  7. Keep a strong, close, and constant watch (1 Thess. 5:6). A sleepy soul is already an ensnared soul. That soul that will not watch against temptations, will certainly fall before the power of temptations. Satan works most strongly on the imagination, when the soul is drowsy. The soul’s slothfulness is Satan’s opportunity to fall upon the soul and to destroy the soul, as Joshua did the men of Ai. The best way to be safe and secure from all Satan’s assaults is, with Nehemiah and the Jews, to watch and pray, and pray and watch.
  8. Keep up your communion with God. Your strength to stand and withstand Satan’s fiery darts is from your communion with God. A soul high in communion with God may be tempted—but will not easily be conquered. Such a soul will fight it out to the death.  Communion is Jacob’s ladder, where you have Christ sweetly coming down into the soul, and the soul, by divine influences, sweetly ascending up to Christ.
  9. Do not engage Satan in your own strength, but be every day drawing new virtue and strength from the Lord Jesus. Ah, souls! remember this, that your strength to stand and overcome must not be expected from graces received in the past—but from the fresh and renewed influences of heaven. You must lean more upon Christ than upon your duties; you must lean more upon Christ than upon your spiritual tastes and discoveries: you must lean more upon Christ than upon your graces, or else Satan will lead you into captivity.
  10. Be much in prayer. Prayer is a shelter to the soul, a sacrifice to God and a scourge to the devil. Christians must do as Daedalus, that when he could not escape by a way upon earth, went by a way of heaven— and that is, the way of prayer, which is the only way left to escape Satan’s snares.

     

Brooks, Thomas. Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (p. 184). . Kindle Edition.

Standing on the Promises

I have, by strong recommendation, been reading Joel Beeke’s book, “Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith.” It is a wonderful treatise on the blessing of assurance of faith, where this assurance comes from, and how we can grow in it.  And it’s short, sweet, and to the point.  At only 200 pages, it is written in a manageable and easily understood manner; this book was written to be read.  (Available for only $14.99 here at Amazon).

After first laying out the importance of Assurance and why so many lack it, including false assurances, the book then begins to show what is the basis for genuine assurance of faith.  Leaning heavily on the Reformers and Puritans, Beeke draws the foundation for Assurance of Faith straight from the Westminster Confession, specifically, 18.2:

“This certainty is not a bare conjecture and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.”

The first foundation, then, for our assurance of faith, is not in any experience or feeling or mood, but is wholly grounded in the promises of God.  I thought I’d share here some of the highlights from the chapter:

“First, we do not gain assurance by looking at ourselves or anything we have produced apart from God’s promises, but first of all by looking to God’s faithfulness in Christ as He is revealed in the promises of the gospel.” (77)

“Believers in Christ are assured of salvation in the very first place because their God and their salvation are true, sure, perfect, and unchangeable in Jesus Christ forever.” (79)

“God’s promises are the pathways on which Christ meets the soul.” (81)

“Finally, though subjective phenomena may sometimes feel more real than faith in God’s promises, such experiences give less glory to God than divine promises apprehended directly by faith. Burgess (one of the writers of the Westminster Confession) said, ‘Trusting in God and in Christ when we feel nothing but guilt and destruction in ourselves is the greatest honor we can give to God. Therefore, though living by signs is more comfortable to us, living by faith is a greater honor to God.'” (84)

“The smallest degree of saving faith in God’s promises will prove as effectual as full assurance of faith in God’s promises. Though a spider’s thread connected to a rock is much weaker than a strong anchor connected to that rock, the rock is equally strong. So a weak faith that casts itself on Christ and His promises shall find that the Lord Jesus Christ is just as much the rock of salvation for that trembling soul as He is for one who has full assurance of faith.” (85)

Quoting Michael Barrett, “Assurance of salvation does not result from the power of positive thinking; it flows from the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (86)

All quotes from: Beeke, Joel R. Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith. (Christians Focus Pub; Tain, UK, 2017).

The Uninspired Life

In case you were wondering, its been a great week for me.  Yes there’s been the added stress and work after my wife’s surgery, but she’s recovering and doing well, and I’ve managed to not burn the house down – so I’d call that a success.

The Easter Service went well.  We had a full house in church. My sermon rocked.  I didn’t really have a lot to confess during that quiet time of reflection.  Success!

Work is going well.  I’ve got this whole “exegetical method” down pretty well — it only took me about 10 years to get it down.  I start with some Greek study, write out some preliminary thoughts, read through some commentaries, write out the sermon.  All in all, it is an enjoyable discipline of studying Scripture – another success.

I’ve started running again.  Now that I’ve written that, something will probably come up and keep me from running tonight, but I’ve been doing well, feeling stronger with every run, going a little further every night, maintaining a steady pace per mile, and even losing a bit of weight along the way.  Winning!

So after my run last night the little voice in my head started in with the praise, “Yup, its been a pretty good week, Big E, keep up the good work.”  Then here was the kicker, “You haven’t had to ask God for anything, way to go!”

Crap!

(I’m sorry if that offends, but its the only word that truly signifies the sudden shift from self-congratulatory hubris to a Spirit led conviction – I stand behind, not in, the word.)

It is an uninspired life that does not depend on the power of the Spirit of God for everything.

I am so weak that I begin to think I am strong.  I practice carefully to discipline myself so that I can stand on my own two feet, independent of anyone – especially God.  I consider it an accomplishment if I don’t have to ask God for anything to help me get through the week, the day, the hour.  I consider it a sign of strength if all my prayers are for those around me, but I’m just fine on my own.  Why would I need God to guide me in my sermon prep, I’ve got commentaries for that.  Why would I need God to help me teach and raise my kids, I’ve read books about that.  I am independent. I am strong.  I am the master of my own life.

I am full of it. (Refer here to the offending word above.)

What I need, I think, is a case of “Learned Helplessness.”  Usually this is considered a bad thing, where, faced with the overwhelming and uncontrollable flow of events, individuals feel helpless and unable to cope with life.

But for the Christian, learned helplessness is the starting point for saving Grace. Being helpless before the Lord is not weakness, rather it is finding true strength. I cannot save myself, I must trust in my Savior.  I cannot be the master of my destiny, I must trust in the One who is.  I cannot get my life together, I must trust in the One who holds my life in His hands.  I am weak, but in my weakness His strength is made perfect.

So where do I turn to learn weakness in the Spirit?  I’ve found the Puritans often help.

Here’s my prayer for the day (from The Valley of Vision):

O Thou Most High,
It becomes me to be low in thy presence.
I am nothing compared to thee;
I possess not the rank and power of angels,
but thou hast made me what I am,
and placed me where I am;
help me to acquiesce in thy sovereign pleasure.
I thank thee that in the embryo state of my endless being
I am capable by grace of improvement;
that I can bear thy image,
not by submissiveness, but by your design,
and can work with thee and advance thy cause and glory.
But, alas, the crown has fallen from my head:
I have sinned;
I am alien to thee;
my head is deceitful and wicked,
my mind an enemy to thy law.
Yet, in my lostness thou hast laid help on the Mighty One
and he comes between to put his hands on us both,
my Umpire, Daysman, Mediator,
whose blood is my peace,
whose righteousness is my strength,
whose condemnation is my freedom,
whose Spirit is my power,
whose heaven is my heritage.
Grant that I may feel more the strength of thy grace
in subduing the evil of my nature,
in loosing me from the present evil world,
in supporting me under the trials of life,
in enabling me to abide with thee in my valleys,
in exercising me to have a conscience void of offence
before thee and before men.
In all my affairs may I distinguish between duty and anxiety,
and may my character and not my circumstances chiefly engage me.

Humbly yours…

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.

Longing for God

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”
(Psalm 42:1 ESV) 

When embraced with the goodness, the mercy, the gracious love of God, it is only natural to cry out in praise.  I just read in a devotion this morning, our theology must lead to doxology, the study of biblical doctrine is not an exercise in pointless intellectual speculation; rather, its end is to lead us to a greater knowledge and worship of the person and work of the Almighty. 

On the flip side, though, when presented with the glory of God, filled with a longing to worship Him in Spirit and truth, we are confronted by reality: we are sinners, and even with our best of ambitions, our worship before God is less than what it ought to be. 

This morning I came across the following prayer in The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, that I wanted to share.  It is my prayer, may it be yours as well.

My God,
I feel it is heaven to please thee,
    and to be what thou wouldst have me be.
O that I were holy as thou art holy,
                         pure as Christ is pure,
                         perfect as thy Spirit is perfect!
These, I feel, are the best commands in thy Book,
     and shall I break them? must I break them?
     am I under such a necessity as long as I live here?
Woe, woe is me that I am a sinner,
                            that I grieve this blessed God,
                                 who is infinite in goodness and grace!
O, if he would punish me for my sins,
     it would not wound my heart so deep to offend him;
But though I sin continually,
     he continually repeats his kindness to me.
At times I feel I could bear any suffering,
     but how can I dishonor this glorious God?
What shall I do to glorify and worship this best of beings?
O that I could consecrate my soul and body to his service,
     without restraint, for ever!
O that I could give myself up to him,
     so as never more to attempt to be my own!
     or have any will or affections
          that are not perfectly conformed to his will and his love!
But, alas, I cannot live and not sin.
O may angels glorify him incessantly,
     and, if possible, prostrate themselves lower
          before the blessed King of heaven!
I long to bear a part with them in ceaseless praise;
But when I have done all I can to eternity
     I shall not be able to offer more than a small fraction of the homage
          that the glorious God deserves.
Give me a heart full of divine, heavenly love.

SDG

More Recommended Reading

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about what I’m reading, so I thought I’d share with you my current reading list as a recommendation.

Stuff Christians Like  -              By: Jonathan Acuff      Stuff Christians Like (Jonathan Acuff) – Okay, I’m starting with the guilty pleasure.  I’ve been a fan of their blog and website for a while now, and when I saw the book, I just had to get it.  It’s light, humorous reading, often poking fun at the little assiduities that Christians know are true but are never willing to admit.  Surpisingly, there are rare gems of insight that help you to see what the church is all about, stories that can move you.  Overall, a fun read.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & DevotionsThe Valley of Vision – Where “Stuff Christians Like” may be a guilty pleasure, “The Valley of Vision” is a heart breaking collection of Puritan Prayers, from writers such as Bunyan, Watts, Spurgeon, and others.  With a wrenching honesty before God, “The Valley of Vision” helps the reader articulate the groanings of the soul.  I’ve used portions of these prayers in worship, I read from these prayers to help suppliment my personal prayer time; an excellent read for those who desire to mature in prayer.

Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church  -              By: Kenda Creasy Dean      Almost Christian – (Kenda Creasy Dean) I’m reading this one in study with my Youth Ministry Director.  Based on the National Study of Youth and Religion Dean investigates why American teenagers are so positive about Christianity, and at the same time so apathetic about traditional forms of religious practice?
Dean explores the breakdown of the church into the false gospel of Moralistic Theraputic Deism, and offers insight into ways in which an authentic, meaningful, and life-changing Christian faith can be passed from one generatino to the next.  Not my normal cup of tea, but it has been very informative.

Jonathan Edwards: A Life   -              By: George M. Marsden      Johnathon Edwards, a Life (George Marsden) – Maybe I’ve never cared enough about someone else’s life to read a biography, but this is the first biography that I have ever willingly chosen to read – and I am so thankful for it.  I’m still working through this exhaustive volume on Edwards by George Marsden (640 pages), but I am loving every page.  On one page I’ll be laughing at the seemingly absurd reaction over the phrase “let all the people say, amen,” and on the next I’ll be moved to tears over the anguish and struggle of this man of God.  So often Edwards has been portrayed as a rigid puritanical despot, or whittled down to a well-spoken naturalist deist – neither of which is a fair representation of one of the greatest minds of American Christianity to date.

Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion  -              By: Ted Kluck, Kevin DeYoung      Why we love the Church (De Young and Kluck) – When everyone else is producing books on what’s wrong with the church and how to be the church without going to church, here are two guys who love the church and make a great appeal on it’s behalf.  The writing styles of DeYoung and Kluck balance one another well with a good mix of Biblical study, historical information, and humor.  As the cover says, “Whether you’re committed, disgruntled, hesitant, or disconnected from the body of Christ, this passionate resource will help you renew your love for the church in all its real-life guts, gaffes, and glory. DeYoung and Kluck’s valuable resource provides a solid reminder of the biblical mandate to participate in our local congregations. Relevant and encouraging!”

Good reading everyone!

SDG