Reading Scriptural Narrative

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I am working through Biblical Doctrine by MacArthur and Mayhue. I am going to have a criticism of a single sentence, so I should put this into context. The work over all is quite good. The greatest strength of the work lies with the marshaling of biblical evidence.  When it sets forth a doctrine, it typically sets forth the universe of Scriptural support. For example, on page 340, they list 27 instances of how the Holy Spirits ministers to the people of God (He adopts, baptizes, bears witness, call to ministry, convicts, empowers, et cetera). The book is filled with such lists and charts. On this particular point, it is exceptionally good.

A second aspect of the work which I appreciate is that it does not require a great deal of technical background: the text avoids theological terms and prefers to explain the doctrine and use relative simple English terms. This makes the book useful for those coming to theology for the first time as a discipline.

In short, the book is a very good introductory systematic theology.

Now to pick on a sentence. This sentence scraps a particular concern of mine: the common place lack of training in literature and language for Bible teachers and theologians. The Bible is primarily a book of stories and poems. However, most Western contemporary theological training tries to reduce the entire Scripture to a mass of bare propositions akin to blueprints or a shopping list. This is wrong for a million reasons — but that is another topic.

Anyway, here is my concern:

On page 356, a rule of interpretation is stated as follows:

Use teaching (didactic) sections of Scripture, not historical (narrative) portions to determine what is prescriptive rather than what is merely descriptive —what is exceptional compared to what should be considered normative.

First, the bare fact of something having had happened tells us very little beyond that it had happened. We need to ask other questions to make sense of the bare fact: we need context to understand a historical event. They should have written something like, “there are different hermeneutical principles for deriving application from narrative than for didactic passages.”

Our life comes to us as narrative: we see the events in our life as coming from some context and going in a particular direction. Therefore, anyone who merely points at some bare fact and then draws a “random” conclusion proves little more than there are an infinite number of lines which can be drawn through any point.

For example, George Washington was president of the United States. Therefore, I conclude that am the president — or anyone named George can be can be president — or only persons named George can be president, et cetera. Or only persons who were friends with people who knew George Washington — or whatever crazy rule. The proper context is the legal context of the United States Constitution which creates the basis for one becoming president.

I read the United States went to war with England in 1812, therefore, I conclude that England is the enemy of America. I prove that point by pointing to the Revolutionary War. Then someone points to World War I & II.

This sort of naive reading of narrative is seen by members of the Watchtower Society who will not have birthday parties, because Herod — a bad man — had a birthday party. Therefore, birthday parties are bad. Herod also ate, drank, slept, married.

The question being considered on page 356 is whether all believers must speak with tongues to be saved. Some will argue that because there were instances of tongue speaking recorded in Acts, that such is proof that all believers must speak in tongues. That sort of poor reading does not mean the narrative is ambiguous, faulty or otherwise deficient. It merely means that one has to read a narrative in the manner proper for reading narratives.

The trouble with “we all must speak in tongues” is not that one has used narrative to determine a doctrine. Rather, the trouble is that one has read the narrative poorly. The proper context for the narrative is all of Acts — and all of the New Testament, and all of the Scripture. Part of the narrative context are the epistles.

Moreover, the epistles must be understood by referring back to the narrative portions of Scripture: each of the texts helps make sense of the other texts.

Second, the rule as stated makes a point about reading narrative: it distinguishes between exception and normative: That is something gleaned from reading the narrative. Herod celebrating his birthday does not mean that a two year should not eat cake on his birthday. That would be an example of very poor reading.

Third, the authors contradict this rule repeatedly in this very book because they use narrative to prove up doctrine.

For example, on page 366, they consider the question of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament. After a review of the narrative they write:

The major characteristics of indwelling in the Old Testament can be summarize as follows:
Infrequent
Involving selected leaders in Israel only
Temporary
An empowerment for service

Page 367. They read the narrative and deduced a doctrinal point. This is an appropriate reading of narrative.

Or, on page 384, they are considering the question of whether miracles are normative and continuing. On previous pages, they cited to historical precedent and church historians. Looking to the Bible they write

There is no single, explicitly clear biblical statement that specifies whether miracles through men and temporary gifts ceased with the apostles or continued, but if one consults the whole counsel of God, one will find the answer.

They then engage in a reading of the explicit and implicit narrative of the New Testament.

What they really mean to say is that one must read the Scripture with some care. For example, when reading narrative, one cannot simply conclude that because a good man has done X that all men must do X to be good (how many men will offer their son as a sacrifice, ascend Mt. Sinai or bury a linen belt?).No can one conclude that because God did X for a good man in the past means that God will do so of all good men in the future (how many men have been fed by ravens?). Such readings demonstrate foolishness: the fault lies in the reader not in the text.

We can only assume that such people do not go about the world concluding that because a police man has a light bar and gun that they should do the same thing.

One’s reading of the narratives must be consistent with all of the Bible. Plucking an isolated text and drawing a conclusion is foolish and lazy.

How relationship raises the questions of religion

J.H. Bavinck:

As long as he is occupied with himself only and looks no further, he can fancy himself to be self-sufficient. But as soon as he becomes aware of his relationships, he becomes stupefied, and asks: What am I in this great cosmos? What am I over and against the norm, that strange phenomenon in my life that has authority over me? What am I in my life that speeds on and on–a doer or a victim? What am I in the face of that remarkable feeling that overwhelms me sometimes, that feeling that everything must change and that things are not right as they are? What am I over against that very mysterious background of existence, the divine powers? It is in this area of existential relations that man is confronted with the crucial matters of life–and one of these is religion. Religion convinces man that there are relations. It reveals the ‘seams’ of creation where one thing is connected with another. We can now give the following definition of religion: Religion is the way in which man experiences the deepest existential relations and gives expression to this experience. 

The Spiritual Chymist, Meditation LI

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MEDITATION LI
Upon First Fruits and Gleanings

What the apostle says of the heavenly bodies, that one start differs from another star in glory (1 Cor. 15:40-41) is also true of the heavenly laws and commands of God, as well ceremonial as moral, that they differ from each other in their weight and worth. Some of which set forth the greater things, and others the less, as may be easily seen in this double command of first fruits and gleanings. One of which is far greater than the other though the last is not to be neglected, because it is a stream that flows from the same fountain, the sovereign will an appointment of God.

But that we may the better take up the dimension of this law of first fruits, Let us View it by the help of some considerations, as astronomers by instruments judge of the altitude and magnitude of a star. We may first see it in the extent of those things and the offering of which God would be honored and acknowledged. He required the first slings of man in cattle the first fruits of the trees and of the earth, in the sheath and in the threshing floor, in the dough and in the loaves. It did reach to all their substance and increase, which without this service was but a polluted and an uncleaned heap. (Lev. 23:39, 27:26; Dt. 18:4).

Secondly, in the solemn manner of the offering of them on to God, which was to be done with a humble confession of their fathers’ poverty, A Syrian ready to perish was my Father, (Dt. 26:5), up the hard bondage in Egypt sustained by them, and with the acknowledgment of God’s gracious looking up on their affliction, labor, and oppression, bringing them also forth with a mighty hand an outstretched arm, with great terribleness, and with signs and wonders, I’m giving them a land that flows with milk and honey.

Thirdly, and the expressed command for the speedy payment of them [the first ruits] , they were not to be delayed, much less withheld. To keep them back was a robbery, to do for them was disobedience, and renders them rather to be of the gleanings and corners of the field which God had appointed to be reserved for the poor. It was an injury to the moral duty which they did teach of consecrating to God the first and prime of their years and abilities, which is to him far more acceptable than all the offerings and sacrifices what ever.

For how could it be, that he was careless of the rite and ceremony, which typified his duty to him, should ever be mindful of doing that which was the marrow and substance of it. And now when I think that the first fruits only where the shadow of our early honoring God, and remembering him in the day of our youth, when all the faculties both the soul and body are in their vigor and strength. (Eccl. 12:1). I cannot but wonder as well as mourn to see that under the doctrine of the gospel, which teaches men to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts (Titus 2:11-12), that thereby they might become a kind of first fruits onto God and the Lamb.
So few make religion the work of the morning of their age, and so many of the evening. What else’s this, but to give the first fruits to Satan and the gleanings to God. To him (Satan, you give) the finest of the flower, and to God the bran.

But tell me, O ye deferrers of holiness, who make it both the least and last work of your lives, is it only necessary to die to God and not to live to him? Or is it reasonable to say is that young man did to his companion, When he saw Ambrose dying, I would live with you and die with Ambrose? this to Mark God, whom yet you would have to save you? And to minister matter of trying up to the god of this world whose captors you have been, that though the God of heaven pay your wages, yet you would have done wholly his work?

Unto you, therefore, O men I call and my voice is unto the Sons of Men, be not deceived, God is not mocked: It is not the owning of him when you serve 90 yourselves nor your last any longer that will be acceptable on to him: it is not a few bedridden prayers that arise those ears of corn which the Pharaoh’s dream (Gen. 41:23), withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, that will expiate those black crimes with which your ill-spent life is over spread. Can an offering of gleanings, which is made up of robbery and disobedience, of wrongdoing the poor, and violating the command of God, ever hallow the whole harvest? No more can such duties be availing to reconcile you to God, Who requires that you should seek him early (Ps. 63:1).

Yea, has he not cursed the deceiver, which has in his flock on male and sacrifices onto the Lord a corrupt thing (Malachi 1:14), and what are you but deceivers? Who weighs the lamp of the time that God has given you to work by in this sinful Delites of the flesh and alienate the chief of your strength and parts from him that should have been honored, both with the first and best of your abilities and in your age have nothing to offer him but a large bed role of heinous enormities which may justly bring down your gray hairs with sorrow onto the grave (Gen. 42:38)? How blessed are thing is it then from then to give God the first fruits of their youth, that he may not give them bitter after fruits and cause them to feel more smart of their sins and their old age than ever they found pleasure or delight in them in their youth?

And what better persuasions can I suggest than to consider

That early piety gives both to the person and to a service a peculiar preeminence in dignity above all others. The naturalist observes that the pearls that are bread of the morning dew are far more bright in clear than those which are bred of the evening dew. And so are those duties of a greater worth and beauty which are the fruits of the morning and not an evening godliness.
It is the commendation of Hezekiah’s reformation, Above all others of the kings of Judah that in the first year of his reign in the first month he open the doors of the house of the Lord (2 Chron. 29:3). It is that which makes Josiahs memory to be as a box of precious nard, that while he was yet young he began to seek after the God of David his father (2 Chron. 34:3). It is an honorable testimony which Paul gives to Epaenetus, that he was the first fruits of Achaea unto Christ (Rom. 16:5). And the like is that which he gives onto Andronicus and Junia, that there in Christ before him. (Rom. 16:7). To have a precedency what glory can be greater, then to be a Jeremiah sanctified from the womb, or Timothy nourished up in the words of the faith? (Jer. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:5).

Secondly, the comfort of age is a well spent life. When a man comes to the grave as a shock of corn in its season, and not as a bundle of tares to the fire; when the bones are full, not of the sins of youth but of the services that were then done to God. When a man can say is dying Hezekiah, Remember O Lord I beseech thee see how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart and have done that which is good in thy sight. (2 Kings. 20:3).

It is sad when the sins of youth become the burden of age. If the grasshopper then via weight to the body, what a pressure will heaps of mountains of sins be to the soul? Age at the best has sufficient griefs, it is of itself as sickness, and a neighbor to death, and needs not the bad provisions of youthful follies to make it worse.

Let then the counsel of wise Solomon be acceptable unto to you who are yet in the flower of your age, To remember your creator in the days of your youth. (Eccl. 12:1).

And then if death make you pale,
Before age make you gray,
You will have this comfort,
That you are old in hours, though not in years;
And have lived much, though not long;
As having lost no time in sowing seed unto the flesh,
as most do,
making seed-time a mourning age;
and old age a bitter harvest to a foolish youth.
Or if your almond tree shall flourish,
And that a more gracious old age shall succeed a gracious youth,
Old age itself shall be followed with a crown of endless glory.

Van Til: There is no Third Possibility

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An interesting aspect of post-modernism is the acute realization that everyone is reading the world through a grid. This is precisely the point of presuppositional apologetics: Everyone “reads” the world through some means (there is no naive, uninterpreted world for the human being).  As Van Til writes, we either read the world as God’s world, or we read it in rebellion:

The Christian principle of interpretation is based upon the assumption of God as the final and self-contained reference point. The non-Christian principle of interpretation is that man as self-contained is the final reference point. It is this basic difference that has to be kept in mind all the time. It will be difficult at times to see that such is actually the case. The very fact that by God’s common grace fallen man is “not as bad as he could be” and is able to do that which is “morally good” will make the distinction between two mutually exclusive principles seem an extreme oversimplification to many.

In fact, it is in spite of appearances that the distinction between the two principles must be maintained. The point is that the “facts of experience” must actually be interpreted in terms of Scripture if they are to be intelligible at all. In the last analysis the “facts of experience” must be interpreted either in terms of man taken as autonomous, or they must be interpreted in terms of God. There is no third “possibility.”

Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1969).

Edward Polhill, Obedience Prepares One for Suffering

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(The previous post in this series on Edward Polhill’s A Preparation for Suffering in an Evil Day may be found here )

 

Polhill next explains that obedience to God’s will before we suffer, will prepare us to persevere through suffering when it comes. We are fitted to God’s determination for our life through obedience, that obedience then becomes the basis for submitting to God’s will in suffering.

He proves this point with six consideration:

First, obedience is the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life: this supernatural work of the Spirit in obedience leads to the same supernatural work of the Spirit to go through suffering:

Again, the Holy Spirit, which makes good men do God’s will, will enable them to suffer it too. St. Paul took pleasure in persecutions, because, when he was weak, then he was strong, (2 Cor. 12:10); that is, the Holy Spirit did strengthen his inward man to bear the cross. The Holy Spirit in the saints is a well of water, springing up to everlasting life, (John 4:14; 1 Peter 4:14).

Second, we must believe, because God has commanded: that it is enough. Having been fitted to obey, we are fit to suffer at God’s determination.)

Third,

True obedience makes us to grow up into Christ the head, and to be of near alliance to him. It makes us to grow up into Christ the head, (Eph. 4:15). Obedience, being the exercise of all graces, brings us into a near union with Christ, and makes us more and more like to him: the more we act our love, meekness, mercy, goodness, or any grace, the more we are united to him and incorporated with him; nay, true obedience makes us to be of near alliance to him. (Luke 8:20-21)….St. Paul bore about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus, (2 Cor. 4:10); and the allies of Christ must be ready, at God’s call, to suffer with him.

Fourth, suffering well will take strength; we can only increase in such strength through obedience:

True obedience produces an increase of grace and spiritual strength. Obedience is a christian’s daily walk; the more he exercises himself to godliness, the more grace he hath in his soul. …Such an obedience as this admirably disposes a man for suffering. The greater his stock of grace is, the better will he hold out in the straits of the world. The more strength he hath in the inner man, the more able he will be to bear the burden of the cross:

Fifth, “True obedience obtains the gracious presence of God to help and comfort good men in the doing his will.”

Sixth, if we are in the way of obedience, we are on the way to God, and thus will endure suffering on that way:

True obedience is the way to heaven: those blessed ones, that do the commands of God, “have right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates into the city,” (Rev. 22:14). The more obedient a man is to the divine will, the richer entrance he hath into the blessed kingdom. After sowing to the Spirit comes the crop of eternal glory; after walking in holy obedience, comes the blessed end of life and immortality…..When Basil the great was threatened with banishment, and death, he was not at all moved at it: banishment is nothing to him that hath heaven for his country; neither is death any thing to one to whom it is the way to life: He that is in the way to heaven hath great reason to break through all difficulties to get thither.

 Edward Polhill, The Works of Edward Polhill (London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1844), 352–354.

 

William Taylor: An Earnest Preacher

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William Taylor in his 1876 work The Ministry of the Word lists three qualities of the preacher of an effective sermon, earnestness, courage & tenderness.

Earnestness springs from two sources: a personal conviction of the truth proclaimed and the certainty that those hearing need to know this truth.

But before he gets into earnestness and its causes, Taylor begins by stating what earnestness is not:

We must not confound it with mere vehemence of manner

We must not confound it with mere vehemence of manner. Rant is not intensity, neither is noise earnestness. Too often the ” sound and fury” signifying nothing;” and sometimes as I have been compelled to listen to preachers of the noisy school, I have thought that they had taken their cue from Quince in his description of the lion’s part, when he says,  “You may do it extempore, for it is nothing but roaring.”‘- That is, and always must be, ridiculous …

I have often seen men who thought that play acting with lots of noise, as if pretending to enthusiasm were a good substitute for being earnest.

Taylor explains that one can never be earnest unless one is first convinced of the truth of the matter:

If we have not made up our minds upon a subject, we cannot kindle into enthusiasm over its treatment ; and he who has not yet brought the ends of his thoughts together on any matter, should keep that matter out of the pulpit until he has. It is the irrepressible in a man that makes him earnest. If he can keep anything in, then let him keep it, for such a thing, generally speaking, is not worth letting out, and his utterance of it will have no force.

Unfortunately, too often, the preacher goes into the pulpit without conviction, and so he merely talks:

The preacher fills up the time with talk, because he must say something. He does not go into the sacred desk under the absorbing impulse of the feeling that he has something which he must say. So he is aimless and uninteresting, and fails to impress others because he is unimpressed himself. It cannot be too constantly remembered by you, that your usefulness to others must depend, next to the influence of God’s Spirit, upon the intensity of your own convictions. There is nothing so contagious as conviction.

As Taylor says, “If, therefore, you have no positive convictions, keep out of the pulpit until you get them.”

Now, the preacher must not only be earnest in his personal conviction of the truth, he must earnestly believe that others must hear this truth. The preacher must be convicted of the truth and of the importance of that truth:

But another element of earnestness is a vivid realization of the position of our hearers. Let a man have the firm belief that he is dealing with immortal souls ; that unless these souls embrace the Lord Jesus Christ and live in obedience to His laws, they must perish everlastingly ; and that he is set to persuade them to choose that ”’ good part which cannot be taken away ” from them, and he cannot help being earnest in his appeals to them.

And again:

There is no mistaking the earnestness of him who runs from the burning dwelling to cry ” Fire! fire!” He sees the evil; he knows that if means be not taken promptly to extinguish the flames the house must be destroyed ; and so he does not take it leisurely, but rushes on along the nearest way to the engine-house. And it is the same in the pulpit.

In conclusion:

Here, then, are the twin sources of that earnestness of which so much is said, namely, intellectual conviction of the truth of those things which we proclaim; and loving realization of the fact that our hearers need to have these things said to them in order to be saved from the evils of time and the perdition of eternity. Give us these in all the occupants of all our pulpits, and the world will be constrained to listen to them. There is no royal road to earnestness; neither can it be successfully counterfeited by any histrionic art. We can gain it only through personal conviction and pervasive love ; but, when we do gain it, we do not so much possess it as it possesses us, and carries us out of ourselves to achievements which are as astonishing to ourselves as they are irresistible to those whom we address.

The discussion of earnestness is found in Lecture VI, pp. 131-138.

Thomas Manton on helps to obedience

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Thou has commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. Ps. 119:4

In this fifth sermon on the 119th Psalm, Manton begins by providing a help to obedience. There would be no need to speak of obedience, if it were “natural” to use. What then keeps us from obedience? Manton begins here:

Doctrine 1: To gain the heart to full obedience, it is good to consider the authority of God in his word.

Manson makes three points: the first two concern our benefit in obedience; the third, the necessity of obedience.

Our profit:  Obedience to God’s commands is both reasonable and profitable: our good lies in in obedience:

First, it is reasonable to obey God. “If we were left at our liberty, we should take up the ways of God rather than any other: Rom. vii. 12, “The commandment is holy, just, and good.”

Second, it is to our benefit to obey God, both in this life — and more even more so at the judgment. Obedience, “will bring in a full reward for the future.”

God commands:

The next motive is that of the text, to urge the command of God. It is a course enjoined and imposed upon us by our sovereign lawgiver. It is not in our choice, as if it were an indifferent thing whether we will walk in the laws of God or not, but of absolute necessity, unless we renounce the authority of God.

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 6 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 39.

He then supports this point with three considerations:

First, God is not our equal: He is our creator, therefore he has the right to command. He is our judge and therefore has the power to enforce his commands by punishment or reward.

Second, God has not suggested but commanded:

Unless you mean to renounce the sovereign majesty of God, and put him besides the throne, and break out into open rebellion against him, you must do what he hath commanded: 1 Tim. 1:9, ‘Charge them that be rich in the world,’ &c., not only advise but charge them. And Titus 2:15, ‘These things exhort, and rebuke with all authority.’ God will have the creatures know that he expects this duty and homage from them.

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 6 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 40.

Third, God has given us precise directions that must be followed, “precepts”.

Christians, if we had the awe of God’s authority upon our hearts, what kind of persons would we be at all times, in all places, and in all company? what a check would this be to a proud thought, a light word, or a passionate speech?—what exactness would we study in our conversations, had we but serious thoughts of the sovereign majesty of God, and of his authority forbidding these things in the word!

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 6 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 41.

At this point, Manton stops and considers the various hesitations, doubts, questions or weaknesses which could beset his hearers. He asks, Why should I consider the authority of God? This is a key point of the best preaching: it does not merely drop information before the hearer, but it helps the hearer process in the information. The preacher anticipates questions, uncovers motives, et cetera.

The very best preaching and the very best counseling are the same: helping another to understand, to digest, to live in accordance with God’s will.

1  We take God without the seriousness deserved: it shows in how we live:

Because then the heart would not be so loose, off and on in point of duty; when a thing is counted arbitrary (as generally we count so of strictness), the heart hangs off more from God. When we press men to pray in secret, to be full of good works, to meditate of God, to examine conscience, to redeem time, to be watchful, they think these be counsels of perfection, not rules of duty, enforced by the positive command of God; therefore are men so slight and careless in them. But now, when a man hath learned to urge a naughty heart with the authority of God, and charge them in the name of God, he lies more under the awe of duty. Hath God said I must search and try my ways, and shall I live in a constant neglect of it?

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 6 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 41.

2  Obedience requires appropriate fear: disobedience comes from taking the commands of God too lightly:

The heart is never right until we be brought to fear a commandment more than any inconveniencies whatsoever. To a wicked man there seems to be nothing so light as a command, and therefore he breaks through against checks of conscience. But a man that hath the awe of God upon him, when mindful of God’s authority, he fears a command

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 6 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 41.

3 If God has commanded the duty, then God will make obedience possible. We need not doubt our ability, because God stands behind the obedience. If someone thinks they will fail, they almost certainly will:

Many times we are doubtful of success, and so our hands are weakened thereby. We forbear duty, because we do not know what will come of it. Now, a sense of God’s authority and command doth fortify the heart against these discouragements

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 6 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 41.

4  The purpose or profit behind some commands are not immediately obvious. Why should God command that I not eat from this tree? Why should God command such and such a morality, a behavior? Why should God command faith? We do not need to quibble at God’s reasons when we know that it is God who commands.

5  God does not need our bare behavior. When God commands us he is seeking the  voluntary submission of our will to his:

Obedience is never right but when it is done out of a conscience of God’s authority, intuitu voluntatis. The bare sight of God’s will should be reason enough to a gracious heart. It is the will of God; it is his command, So it is often urged: 1 Thes. 4:3, the apostle bids them follow holiness, ‘for this is the will of God, your sanctification.’ And servants should be faithful in their burdensome and hard labours; 1 Peter 2:15, ‘For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.’ And 1 Thes. 5:18, ‘In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.’ That is argument enough to a godly Christian, that God hath signified his will and good pleasure, though the duty were never so cross to his own desires and interests. They obey simply for the commandment sake, without any other reason and inducement.

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 6 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 42.

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Study Guide 10.2

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This is a continuation of a Study Guide on Jeremiah Burroughs The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. The previous post may be found here:

There is a Great Deal of Grace in Contentment:

The second point made by Burroughs has to do with the “grace” which is poured out in contentment.

To understand this argument, it will be necessary to understand that the Puritians routinely used the word “grace” in a different manner than it is typically used by contemporary Christians. In contemporary usage, the word “grace” often refers only to the initial act of God’s saving work, “For by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:8). More broadly, it is God’s mercy towards our remnant sin.

When Puritans used the word, they routinely referenced God’s grace as the various operations of God’s good will toward us and work in us.

Consider the following passage from John Owen:

If we neglect to make use of what we have received, God may justly hold his hand from giving us more. His graces, as well as his gifts, are bestowed on us to use, exercise, and trade with.

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, “The Mortification of Sin,” vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 13. And:

By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh, and the fruits thereof and principles of them. So the apostle opposes the fruits of the flesh and of the Spirit: “The fruits of the flesh,” says he, “are so and so,” Gal. 5:19–21; “but,” says he, “the fruits of the Spirit are quite contrary, quite of another sort,” verses 22, 23. Yea; but what if these are in us and do abound, may not the other abound also? No, says he, verse 24, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” But how? Why, verse 25, “By living in the Spirit and walking after the Spirit;”—that is, by the abounding of these graces of the Spirit in us, and walking according to them.

 

John Owen, at p. 19. Grace is something that God does in us and through.  Grace is not merely the disposition of God nor just our realization of God’s disposition, but grace God’s good work. That is why Burroughs writes in this section, “That in Contentment there is much exercise of grace“.

Contentment is to be prized by the believer, because in action evidences much of God’s good work in our lives.

1. Before we analyze Burroughs’ argument, why would evidence of God working in one’s life be desirable? In this prayer from The Valley of Vision, the unknown author refers to his preconversion life as “graceless”:

O Lord, I am astonished at the difference between my receivings and my deservings,

between the state I am now in and my past gracelessness,

between the heaven I am bound for

and the hell I merit.

Edited by Arthur Bennett. The Valley of Vision (Kindle Locations 213-215). The Banner of Truth Trust. What does “graceless” mean? Does that help understand what clear knowledge of God’s grace would be a comfort and encouragement?

A.  Burroughs writes:

Much exercise of grace, There is a composition of grace in Contentment, there is faith, and there is humility, and love, and there is patience, and there is wisdom, and there is hope, all graces almost are compounded, it is in oil that hath the ingredients of all kind of graces, and therefore though you cannot see the particular grace, yet in this oil you have it all;

B.What are the various things which Burroughs lists as separate graces? What makes up the “composition of grace”?

C. Use your knowledge and a concordance to find passages in the Bible which extol each faith, humility, love, patience, wisdom.

D. How do each of these “graces” contribute to being content? For example, how does humility make one more content, make contentment possible?

E. Based upon what you have considered, how is it a joy and encouragement to find evidence of each of these graces in your life?

F. How do these graces contribute to the strength and exercise of the other graces? How does love contribute to patience, and so on?

 

Thomas Manton: How does the sin of a believer differ?

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Having explained that a “blessed man” is not perfectly holy, Manton next takes up the related question: If a believer is not perfect, then how does a believer differ? Or as he puts, “”Wherein doth grace now discover itself, where is the difference?”

He lists six ways in which true grace in a believer’s life causes the believer to differ:

First,

In that they cannot fall into those iniquities wherein there is an absolute contrariety to grace, as hatred of God, total apostasy, so they cannot sin the sin unto death, 1 John 5:16.

The believer may become entangled in this world, but he will not reject his Savior.

Second, “They do not sin with a whole heart.” He demonstrates this from Psalm 119:176,

176  I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,

for I do not forget your commandments.

There is this contradiction in the psalmist: he does stray but does not forgo and forget the commandments of God. It is not a complete plunging into rebellion.

This is observed in the next two elements: frequency and duration:

Third, “It is not their course; not constant, easy, and frequent.”

Fourth, “When they fall they do not rest in sin.”

This is not perfection. But, the believer is bothered by sin: it is not comfortable: it is not a place to rest. The believer in sin cannot have the rest of others, because he is not at home in sin. “They may fall into the dirt, but they do not lie and wallow there like swine in the mire.”

Fifth, “Their falls are sanctified. When they have smarted under sin, they grow more watchful and more circumspect. A child of God may have the worse in prælio, in the battle, but not in bello, in the war.” It is an interesting thing that believers who have fallen into sin are oddly safest from sin, because sin when recognized brings humility and humility is the enemy of sin.

Sixth, the manner and course of life:

Grace discovers itself by the constant endeavours which they make against sin. What is the constant course a Christian takes? They groan under the relics of sin; it is their burden that they have such an evil nature, Rom. 7:24.

 

In all of these things we see the same principle: Grace produces a disgust with sin and a desire for God. This desire may waiver in the moment, but it will return in the main. If you shake a compass, the needle will flutter, but it will return to true north (as Manton says).

It thus paradoxically the one who is most troubled by sin, who sees the most sin in his life that most likely the child of God.

How Far May Sin Be In A Blessed Man, A Child of God? (Thomas Manton)

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In sermon IV from his sermons on the 119th Psalm, Manton, “How far may sin be in a blessed man, a child of God?” The verse under consideration reads, “They do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.” Having discussed the blessing which comes from avoiding sin (for instance, “In them true happiness has begun.” — for all our sorrow comes from sin, thus avoidance of sin is the beginning of true happiness), he comes to this question.

This shows Manton to be a careful pastor and to have an accurate understanding of the human beings in his congregation. A poor pastor would lash his hearers. Manson has seriously exhorted them to holiness and has noted that sin has to rightful place in the heart of a believer. But he now he comes to this question, what of remaining sin.

First, all believers continue with a “corrupt nature, they have sin in the as well as others.” He then compares the remains of sin ivy on a wall. You cut down the branch and new vines grow up in its place: “Such an indwelling sin is in us, though we pray, strive, and cut off the excrescences, the buddings out of it here and there, yet till it be plucked asunder by death, it continueth with us.”

Second, we have “infirmities”; our service is not perfect — it cannot reach the measure which God requires. “There are unavoidable infirmities which are pardoned of course.”

Third,

They may be guilty of some sins which by watchfulness might be prevented, as vain thoughts, idle, passionate speeches, and many carnal actions. It is possible that these may be prevented by the ordinary assistances of grace, and if we will keep a strict guard over our own hearts. But in this case God’s children may be overtaken and overborne; overtaken by the suddenness, or overborne by the violence of temptation.

Fourth, “they may fall foul.”  — But this is no license to make a trade of sin.

Fifth: a peculiar sin. I will quote this at length, because it is very easy to be smug in this issue and to think that another’s peculiar weakness is especially evil — because it is not sin to me! We need gentleness in judging such things:

A child of God may have some particular evils, which may be called predominant sins (not with respect to grace, that is impossible, that a man should be renewed and have such sins that sin should carry the mastery over grace); but they may be said to have a predominancy in comparison of other sins; he may have some particular inclination to some evil above others. David had his iniquity, Ps. 18:23. Look, as the saints have particular graces; Abraham was eminent for faith, Timothy for sobriety, Moses for meekness, &c.; so they have their particular corruptions which are more suitable to their temper and course of life. Peter seems to be inclined to tergiversation, and to shrinking in a time of trouble. We find him often tripping in that kind; in the denial of his master; again, Gal. 2:12, it is said he dissembled and complied with the Jews, therefore Paul ‘withstood him to his face, for he was to be blamed.’ It is evident by experience there are particular corruptions to which the children of God are more inclinable: this appears by the great power and sway they bear in commanding other evils to be committed, by their falling into them out of inward propensity when outward temptations are few or weak, or none at all; and when resistance is made, yet they are more pestered and haunted with them than with other temptations, which is a constant matter of exercise and humiliation to them

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 6 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 33.