I worry that an awful lot of modern day ministry is about making bricks for evangelical pharaohs. Whether those pharaohs are actual people, or whether they are systems and philosophies of ministry that have been put in place, doesn’t matter all that much; making bricks is the paradigm of much modern ministry. And it’s leaving a trail of exhausted people in its wake.
There’s too much evangelical ministry based on the brick making principles of Egypt, and by that I mean a relentlessness to its demands on its people that is a stranger to the idea of rest. Let me explain.
The first device addressed by Brooks has two elements: presentation and concealment
Device (1). To present the bait and hide the hook; to present the golden cup, and hide the poison; to present the sweet, the pleasure, and the profit that may flow in upon the soul by yielding to sin, and by hiding from the soul the wrath and misery that will certainly follow the committing of sin.
There is the presentation of the bait & the concealment of the hook. Brooks places this device as having its original use in the Garden:
By this device he took our first parents: Gen. 3:4, 5, ‘And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know, that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened; and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.’ Your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods! Here is the bait, the sweet, the pleasure, the profit. Oh, but he hides the hook,—the shame, the wrath, and the loss that would certainly follow!
This device has sufficient biblical warrant. It lies in the basic structure temptation itself. In Proverbs 5, the adulterous woman is described in just this way:
Proverbs 5:3–6 (ESV)
3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil,
4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death;
her steps follow the path to Sheol;
6 she does not ponder the path of life;
her ways wander, and she does not know it.
Look at the structure here: What is seen is all desirable: honey and oil. But what is not seen is the end: wormwood, sword, death, Sheol. There is nothing in the presentation which is not desirable: that is the very point of temptation. When fishing we use baits and lures fit to the fish and the fish’s palate. The fish is offered something which it desires:
James 1:14 (ESV)
14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
Our desire ensares us. When we are presented with a satisfaction to our desire, it is normal and appropriate – in many circumstances to fulfill that desire.
For instance, I am hungry. I see food which is good to eat. I eat it, satisfying my hunger. There is nothing bad in that. I am cold and wear a coat. There is nothing bad in that.
Temptation uses that same mechanism. Often the desires are perfectly good – if met in the right way and the right place. A desire for material security is not bad; but if it turns to theft and coveting, it becomes sin.
The things which are sin to us are things which lead to our sorrow and hurt – and the hurt of others. God has not forbidden us any good thing. God has forbidden us things which are hurtful to us. The Devil baits the hook with forbidden solutions to desire:
There is an opening of the eyes of the mind to contemplation and joy, and there is an opening of the eyes of the body to shame and confusion. He promiseth them the former, but intends the latter, and so cheats them—giving them an apple in exchange for a paradise, as he deals by thousands now-a-days. Satan with ease puts fallacies upon us by his golden baits, and then he leads us and leaves us in a fool’s paradise. He promises the soul honour, pleasure, profit, &c., but pays the soul with the greatest contempt, shame, and loss that can be.
Notice something else in Brooks’ description: the contemplation. In its initial stage, the tempting object may be rejected because it is known to be wrong. But as the contemplation ensues, the strength of desire overcomes the objection with the resulting death. As we look at the desirable object, the result of the object fades from view. The contemplation creates a bondage of the will:
Take heed of the servitude and bondage which the flesh is wont to bring upon the soul where it reigneth. It maketh men very slaves; the heart groweth weak, and lust strong, Ezek. 16:30. They are not under the government of the Spirit, but under the tyranny of their fleshly lusts, doing whatever it commandeth, be it never so base, foolish, and hurtful. If anger provoke them to revenge, they must fight, kill, and slay, and hazard their worldly interest for anger’s sake, or at least cannot forgive injuries for God’s sake; if filthy lusts send them to the lewd woman, away they go like a fool to the correction of the stocks; and though they dishonour God, ruin their estates, stain their fame, hazard their lives, yet lust will have it so, and they must obey. If covetousness say they must be rich, however they get it; they rise early, go to bed late, eat the bread of sorrow, and pierce through themselves with many cares: yea, make no question of right or wrong, trample conscience under foot, cast the fear of God behind their backs, and all because their imperious mistress, ambition, urgeth them to it. If envy and malice bid Cain kill his brother, he will break all bonds of nature to do it; if ambition bid Absalom rebel against his father, and kill him too, it shall be done, or he shall want his will. If covetousness bid Achan take a wedge of gold, he will do it, though he know it to be a cursed thing; if it bid Judas betray his Lord and Master, though he knew if he should do it, it had been better he had never been born, yet he will do it. Thus they are not at their own command, to do what reason and conscience inclineth them to do. If, sensible of their bondage, they would think of God and the world to come, and the state of their souls, lust will not permit it; if to break off this sensual course, they are not able; they are servants of corruption. Some, God hangeth up in chains of darkness for a warning to the rest of the world of the power of drunkenness, gluttony, avarice and wretched worldliness; yea, of every carnal man it is true: (John 8:34,) ‘Whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin.’ Therefore if the slavery and imperious disease begin to grow upon you, the flesh hath prevailed very far, and you need more to look to it, and that betimes.
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 12 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1873), 52–53. When this device works upon the heart, the poor soul is in grave danger. Mark these words of Manton: “Thus they are not at their own command, to do what reason and conscience inclineth them to do.”
There is a great power in this device, because it sails along with the course of desires and the natural of offer of this world:
By a golden bait he laboured to catch Christ, Mat. 4:8, 9. He shews him the beauty and the bravery of a bewitching world, which doubtless would have taken many a carnal heart; but here the devil’s fire fell upon wet tinder, and therefore took not. These tempting objects did not at all win upon his affections, nor dazzle his eyes, though many have eternally died of the wound of the eye, and fallen for ever by this vile strumpet the world, who, by laying forth her two fair breasts of profit and pleasure, hath wounded their souls, and cast them down into utter perdition. She hath, by the glistering of her pomp and preferment, slain millions; as the serpent Scytale, which, when she cannot overtake the fleeing passengers, doth, with her beautiful colours, astonish and amaze them, so that they have no power to pass away till she have stung them to death. Adversity hath slain her thousand, but prosperity her ten thousand.
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 12–13.
For homework then:
Consider what sorts of sin you are prone to. Then consider how the hook is baited: what is offered? Where is it offered? Consider the end. Use Proverbs 5 as a guide: immediately following the offer of the adulteress, there is a list of sorrow which will follow upon the sin.
Create disciples: Matthew 28:18-20
1) Baptism — introduction into congregation
2) Teach them to observe
Means of instruction:
i) Entire congregation
ii) Smaller gatherings
iii) Personal (counseling)
iv) Other than elder
a) one – another
b) particular elements, e.g., Titus 2
A) Right life
ii) Everyone in congregation does this whether good or ill
Immediate discipleship of the Spirit.
- Confirming that everyone in our charge is being instructed
B)Specifically approriate instruction
2) Confirming that everyone is leading a godly life
Mechanism: Instruct enough men well enough so that the individual instruction, exhortation, example and confirmation can take place. [2 Timothy]
Outline of the argument in 1st Timothy
Thesis: We seek to create a godly life (1:5). This is done primarily by giving propositional instruction –which includes confronting error & selecting appropriate instructors (1:3-4; 1:18-20; 2:1; 2:12; 3:1-7, 4:1-5, 4:6-10; 4:11; 6:2b; 6:20-21). Right doctrine leads to right life (1:6-11; 1:18-20). In addition to propositional instruction, be a tangible example of proper (1 Tim. 4:15-16; 6:11).
This is implicit in the qualifications of elders: First, they must be of a godly character: their character demonstrates their fitness for office and fitness as an example. Second, they must be able to instruct.
The letter is structured around the command to teach right doctrine:
1:3-4: Initial command
3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,
4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.
6:20-21: Closing command
20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,”21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.
Command: Protect the doctrine delivered to you.
Enemy: those who teach a different doctrine.
Purpose: Right doctrine leads to faith.
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Doctrine leads to life: Throughout the letter, Paul ties proper doctrine to proper conduct.
1:6-11 charts the movement from wrong doctrine to wrong life. He ends the proposition that a sinful life does not “accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (v. 11).
vv.12-17: Paul gives praise that God who transformed him by faith.
vv.18-20: Paul makes two argument to encourage Timothy to this work: (1) God selected him for this work (v. 18; 2 Tim. 1:6); (2) those who have swerved from the doctrine have shipwrecked (v. 19-20).
Mechanics of instruction:
Prayer for leaders/peaceful life: 2:1-7
Selection of instructors
Men, not women: 2:8-14
Only certain men: 3:1-7
Selection of deacons (men and women): 3:8-13
Encouragement and warning:
The supernatural redemptive nature of faith: 3:14-16
Warning about false teaching: 4:1-5
Train yourself: 4:6-10
Avoid needless wrangling 4:7
Train to godliness: 4:8
Remember the end: 4:9
Train others: 4:11-16
Propositional instruction: 4:11
Be an example for others to imitate: 4:12-15
Details on manner of life: 5:1-6:3
Effectively fleshes out the household codes in Ephesians and Colossians.
Notes: a defective life denies the faith (5:8).
Special rules involving widows: 5:9-16
Special rules respecting elders: 5:17-25
These rules concern the conduct and treatment of elders. Thus, this relates to the imitation basis of discipleship.
Instruction about instruction: 6:2b-5
Give these instructions: 6:2b
Those who pursue a different doctrine will be those who create division: 6:3-5
Instruction about example: 6:6-16
Warning about contentment: 6:6-10
Warning about godliness: 6:11-16
Side note for the rich :6:17-19
Guard the doctrine. Remember doctrine affects life. 6:20-21
Encouragement to the work: chapter 1.
Train men to do the work: chapter 2
Train faithful men to do the work 2:1-2
Don’t get distracted from this task: 2:3-7
Content of the Gospel 2:8-13
Doing the work:
Do not permit digressive quarrels 2:14
Be competent with the Scripture 2:15
Protect doctrine! 2:16-19
Prepare for work: 2:20-21
Avoid distractions: 2:22-26
There will be false teachers: 3:1-9 [Titus 3, the “factious man”, ie. false teacher]
But Scripture is sufficient for the work: 3:10-17
Preach the word: 4:1-4
Counterpart to the encouragement of chapter 1: I am being poured out (4:6-8). Remember to encourage me (4:9-18)
Appoint elders to do the work: 1:5-9
Able to teach
Watch out for the sins of your environment 1:10-16
Household codes 2:2-9
Teach them to be instructors and examples of one-another
Note the conduct of the intra-congregational instruction
You be an example 2:8-9
The doctrine creates right conduct 2:11-14
Instruct in good works: 3:1-10
Watch out for those who cause division [i.e., teach a different doctrine]
Brooks takes as his starting text, 2 Corinthians 2:11, “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.”
He then makes a series of observations about the text. The overall context is the restoration of a man who had been under church discipline. Although there is some debate as to the person of whom Paul writes, it is commonly taken (as is here by Brooks), that the man put out of the congregation had been the man in the mentioned in 1 Corinthians who been an illicit relationship with his father’s wife.
Sorrowing for the Sin of Others
Brooks begins with a reference to the effect of the sin of others upon a believer:
Gracious souls use to mourn for other men’s sins as well as their own, and for their souls and sins who make a mock of sin, and a jest of damning their own souls. Guilt or grief is all that gracious souls get by communion with vain souls, Ps. 119:136, 158.
This leads to a question: if this is true, and if I am not experiencing sorrow over sin of others, then I must be experiencing some guilt, some contagion. Brooks will use the image of sin as an infectious plague in reference to the first device, below. If sin is indeed an infectious disease, one transmitted from person to person with great ease; then the only defense to the infection is sorrow for the presence of sin in others.
There are four points to consider:
First, how should I sorrow for another’s sin:
Psalm 119:136 (ESV)
136 My eyes shed streams of tears,
because people do not keep your law.
The Psalmist has the honor of God as his primary reference: This person in unrepentant sin dishonors the Lord. This one who dishonors the Lord is a danger to me and an enemy to God.
Second, sorrow for the sins of others (particularly when they are seen as in rebellion against God) disarms the temptation which is inherent in being near sin.
Third, sorrow for the sin of others protects me from a haughty attitude toward others: we cannot feel sorrow and pride at once. Sorrow creates pity.
Fourth, how little I sorrow for the sin of others. This then implies that I am being infected with their sin. If sorrow is the antitode, then a lack of sorrow is a grave danger.
And fifth – Brooks will make another observation about the importance of sorrowing for another’s sin, below.
The Sorrow of Repentance
Having made general observations on the text, Brooks moves to the nature of sorrow for repentance:
It was a sweet saying of one, ‘Let a man grieve for his sin, and then joy for his grief.’ That sorrow for sin that keeps the soul from looking towards the mercy-seat, and that keeps Christ and the soul asunder, or that shall render the soul unfit for the communion of saints, is a sinful sorrow.
Sorrow should drive us to Christ.
Before I go along, we must note Brooks’ facility with language:
That sorrow for sin
that keeps the soul from looking towards the mercy-seat,
and that keeps Christ and the soul asunder,
or that shall render the soul unfit for the communion of saints,
is a sinful sorrow.
First, he makes good use of alliteration: there is a conflict between the hard “c/k” and the soft “s”.
Second, there is the repetition of the sorrow & sin at the beginning and end of the sentence: “sorrow for sin” becomes “sinful sorrow”, thus inverting both the words and the concept.
Third, there are three criteria given to define sinful sorrow. The clauses themselves are easily spoken and have the feel of a line of poetry.
Sorrowing for the Sin of Others
Brooks notes an interesting movement in Paul’s thought: We must be show sorrow and pity upon the repentant sinner. Why so? I would think the rationale would be the need for kindness to the broken man. But Paul draws a different relationship: our failure to show pity is a danger to us:
In the 11th verse, he lays down another reason to work them to shew pity and mercy to the penitent sinner, that was mourning and groaning under his sin and misery; i. e.lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
The necessary sorrow for sin is to protect the others from a scheme of the Devil.
This leads to Brooks’ general theme: Satan has many devices to destroy Christians.
He begins with a general observation on the words. First, advantage:
Lest Satan should get an advantageof us; lest Satan over-reach us. The Greek word πλεονεχτηθῶμεν, signifieth to have more than belongs to one. The comparison is taken from the greedy merchant, that seeketh and taketh all opportunities to beguile and deceive others. Satan is that wily merchant, that devoureth, not widows houses, but most men’s souls.
We will not care about Satan’s efforts, if we are not convinced of Satan’s danger.
Next the concept of a scheme or device:
‘We are not ignorant of Satan’s devices,’ or plots, or machinations, or stratagems, Νοήματα. He is but a titular Christian that hath not personal experience of Satan’s stratagems, his set and composed machinations, his artificially moulded methods, his plots, darts, depths, whereby he outwitted our first parents, and fits us a pennyworth still, as he sees reason.
This leads to the basic doctrine for the rest of the book:
Doct. That Satan hath his several devices to deceive, entangle, and undo the souls of men.
These devices are more dangerous than persecution. “So doth Satan more hurt in his sheep’s skin than by roaring like a lion.”
He gives two examples to prove this point: 2 Timothy 2:26 & Revelation 2:24.
This again leads to some questions:
First, is it true that temptation is more dangerous than persecution?
What examples from Scripture can see?
What are examples from history?
Second, do we really see Satan as an active danger?
Do we think of Satan as an actual person, or as a figure of speech?
Do we think of Satan and his minions actually doing things?
Do we see this as a real danger to us?
Third, before we begin to read Brooks’ list: what devices do we see used to ensnare souls?
Brooks list is not exhaustive.
Fourth, why are we so unaware of Satan’s devices? Paul says “we are not unaware”, but is that true?
Fifth, to the extent we are unaware of Satan and his devices, why is this so?
A WORD TO THE READER
This section of the work contains Thomas Brooks Directions for Reading. He begins with the proposition drawn from the Proverbs, that one must obtain truth. Thus, Brooks is not speaking of all reading, but of reading that which is profitable.
DEAR FRIEND!—Solomon bids us buy the truth (Prov. 23:23), but doth not tell us what it must cost, because we must get it though it be never so dear.
The Puritans were quite careful to distinguish between buying truth and buying anything else. Christian, at Vanity Fair, was only there to be “buy truth”. And Bunyan in the Heavenly Footman advises:
Take heed that you have not an ear open to every one that calleth after you as you are in your journey. Men that run, you know, if any do call after them, saying, I would speak with you, or go not too fast, and you shall have my company with you, if they run for some great matter, they use to say, Alas, I cannot stay, I am in haste, pray talk not to me now; neither can I stay for you, I am running for a wager: if I win I am made, if I lose I am undone, and therefore hinder me not. Thus wise are men when they run for corruptible things, and thus should thou do, and thou hast more cause to do so than they, forasmuch as they run but for things that last not, but thou for an incorruptible glory. I give thee notice of this betimes, knowing that thou shalt have enough call after thee, even the devil, sin, this world, vain company, pleasures, profits, esteem among men, ease, pomp, pride, together with an innumerable company of such companions; one crying, Stay for me; the other saying, Do not leave me behind; a third saying, And take me along with you. What, will you go, saith the devil, without your sins, pleasures, and profits? Are you so hasty? Can you not stay and take these along with you? Will you leave your friends and companions behind you? Can you not do as your neighbours do, carry the world, sin, lust, pleasure, profit, esteem among men, along with you? Have a care thou do not let thine ear now be open to the tempting, enticing, alluring, and soul- entangling flatteries of such sink-soulsf13 as these are. ‘My son,’ saith Solomon, ‘if sinners entice thee, consent thou not’ (Pro. 1:10).
Brooks’ directions are to bring information into one’s heart so that it transforms both conduct and affections. Therefore, these directions for reading are not appropriate for all things which we read. As Paul Baynes writes in Brief Directions for a Godly Life, “That all filthy, lewd and wanton books, yea, needless and unprofitable books be avoided.”
Remember, it is not hasty reading, but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that makes them prove sweet and profitable to the soul.
Meditation is a constant element of Puritan spirituality. Thomas Watson writes,
It is better to meditate on one sermon than to hear five. If an angel were to come down from heaven and preach to men; yea, if Jesus himself were the preacher, none would profit without meditation. The bee sucks the flower, and then works it in the hive, and it becomes honey. We must not only suck the flower of the Word, but work it in the hive of the heart.
Thomas Watson, Puritan Gems; Or, Wise and Holy Sayings of the Rev. Thomas Watson, A.M., ed. John Adey, Second Thousand. (London: J. Snow, and Ward and Co.; Nisbet and Co.; E. F. Gooch, 1850), 96–97. And:
Meditate upon what you read. Psalm 119:15: “I will meditate in thy precepts.” The Hebrew word to meditate, signifies to be intense in the mind. In meditation there must be a fixing of the thoughts upon the object. Luke 2:19: “Mary pondered those things.” Meditation is the concoction of Scripture; reading brings a truth into our head, meditation brings it into our heart; reading and meditation, like Castor and Pollux, must appear together. Meditation without reading is erroneous; reading without meditation is barren. The bee sucks the flower, and then works it into the hive, and so turns it into honey; by reading we suck the flower of the word, by meditation we work it into the hive of our mind, and so it turns to profit. Meditation is the bellows of the affection. Psalm 39:3: “While I was musing the fire burned.” The reason we come away so cold from reading the word, is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.
Thomas Watson, “How We May Read the Scriptures with Most Spiritual Profit,” in The Bible and the Closet: Or How We May Read the Scriptures with the Most Spiritual Profit; and Secret Prayer Successfully Managed, ed. John Overton Choules (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1842), 24–25.
In his sermon, A Discourse of the Right Way of Obtaining and Maintaining Communion with God, Matthew Barker writes:
We should, with David, “set the Lord always before” our face; (Psalm 16:8;) and not as he that he speaks of, of whom it is said, “God is not in all his thoughts.” (Psalm 10:4.) This is rather to live “without God in the world,” than to live in communion with him. And these thoughts of God should not be slight and transient, but fixed and serious; especially at some times, which we should more peculiarly devote to solemn meditation. Meditation brings the object nearer to the soul, and the soul nearer to it, though locally distant; unites the soul to it; mixeth itself with it; whereby it doth possess it, or is possessed of it.
James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 4 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 48. Meditation is a deliberate focus and pondering of the proposition; it is the exact opposite of a transitory reading.
Brooks is not merely asking for one to read his book, but to wrestle with the book. A serious book which discloses the truth of God deserves our serious consideration. Much of our trouble comes from not considering what we read.
The purpose of God’s truth is never for bare knowledge; this is an academic prize. I was once asked by a fellow Christian why I should take the time to know and understand, “After all”, he said, “when we’re heaven we’ll know it all any way.” But we are given truth for the end of godliness, faith working through love; never bare knowledge. Thus,
Thirdly, Know that it is not the knowing, nor the talking, nor the reading man, but the doing man, that at last will be found the happiest man.
As Thomas Watson wrote:
Learn to apply Scripture; take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: God means my sins; when it presseth any duty, God intends me in this. Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves. A medicine will do no good unless it be applied. The saints of old took the word as if it had been spoken to them by name. When king Josiah heard the threatening which was written in the book of God, he applied it to himself; he “rent his clothes and humbled his soul before the Lord.” 2 Kings 22:11.
Thomas Watson, “How We May Read the Scriptures with Most Spiritual Profit,” in The Bible and the Closet: Or How We May Read the Scriptures with the Most Spiritual Profit; and Secret Prayer Successfully Managed, ed. John Overton Choules (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1842), 33–34. The application is to be complete:
We must be careful to apply that which we read wisely to ourselves; persuading ourselves that all duties are commanded us and all sins forbidden us all and all promises to be believed by us. Likewise, we must look that all exhortations and admonitions quicken us; all reprehensions check us; and all threats cause us to fear.
Paul Baynes, Brief Directions.
Christianity is not a matter of bare knowledge, it is a comprehensive manner of life. And, we cannot know as we ought when we refuse to live as we ought:
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Hebrews 5:14 (ESV). There is a necessary preparation and transformation of the human heart which makes it fit to receive the truth.
Brooks drives this home with an illustration:
Reader, If it be not strong upon thy heart to practise what thou readest, to what end dost thou read? To increase thy own condemnation? If thy light and knowledge be not turned into practice, the more knowing man thou art, the more miserable man thou wilt be in the day of recompense; thy light and knowledge will more torment thee than all the devils in hell. Thy knowledge will be that rod that will eternally lash thee, and that scorpion that will for ever bite thee, and that worm that will everlastingly gnaw thee; therefore read, and labour to know, that thou mayest do, or else thou art undone for ever.
The fact that knowledge increases condemnation is taught in the Scripture:
20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Matthew 11:20–24 (ESV). They had seen and heard and rejected. The Word of God is a dangerous thing, it will either transform or harden. In Nehemiah 8, the returned exiles are taught the people the Law of God; and when they heard it, they wept. But Herod, who heard the condemnation of John the Baptist, put John in prison. To hear the word of God, and to not listen and comply with the reproof is to be destroyed:
He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
Proverbs 29:1 (ESV)
Application of this to Counseling:
These directions for reading are likely the most common reason that Biblical Counseling fails. The Counselor conveys information and permits to be bare information. The counselee hears something, consents, even admits to its importance. But, after leaving the counseling time, the poor Christian proceeds into the world with more information but the information is inert.
Even the homework given typically does little good because it most often information conveyance. While information is insufficient: Information is a necessary but a sufficient cause for change: the information must drive down into the heart and transform affections and conduct.
Brooks is here underlying the primary elements of turning information into transformation: Meditation – which transforms the thought and affections; and obedience. Conduct and sustained thought do much to drive knowledge into the bones and blood.
Thomas Brooks’ work Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices begins with a pastoral letter to his reader(s). He first lays out the pastoral office:
Beloved in our dearest Lord, Christ, the Scripture, your own hearts, and Satan’s devices, are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched. If any cast off the study of these, they cannot be safe here, nor happy hereafter. It is my work as a Christian, but much more as I am a Watchman, to do my  best to discover the fulness of Christ,  the emptiness of the creature,  and the snares of the great deceiver
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 3. In short we are weak, the Devil is deception, but Christ is greater than both our weakness and the Devil’s snares.
There are several “devices” of Satan, because there are various weaknesses and failings of human beings; therefore, the Devil sets his snares to match his prey:
Satan loves to sail with the wind, and to suit men’s temptations to their conditions and inclinations
This work of Satan is no ideal threat; it is a constant, ubiquitous malice which works throughout the world:
From the power, malice, and skill of Satan, doth proceed all the soul-killing plots, devices, stratagems, and machinations, that be in the world. Several
When we consider both the irrationality of our own sin, and the insanity of the world writ large, we are at loss if we do not consider the malevolence of Satan. Satan, in Paradise Lost (Book I, lines 643-649) realizing that God will not be overthrown by direct war turns his malice to deceit:
Henceforth his might we know, and know our own
So as not either to provoke, or dread
New warr, provok’t; our better part remains [ 645 ]
To work in close design, by fraud or guile
What force effected not: that he no less
At length from us may find, who overcomes
By force, hath overcome but half his foe.
This malice everywhere present in the world. Now Brooks’ willingness to attribute great effect to Satan is certainly odd in this world. To even posit Satan’s existence, much less agency, is to be considered a bit odd if not ignorant (or perhaps deranged). This is of course a great act of his deception:
He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
The Usual Suspects. Having laid out his plan, Brooks then prays for his reader. This is a marvelous model of prayer:
My desires for you are,
‘That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ that passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God,’ Eph. 3:16–19;
‘That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increased in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all might according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering, with joyfulness,’ Col. 1:10, 11;
‘That ye do no evil,’ 2 Cor. 13:7;
‘That your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge, and in all judgment;’ ‘That ye may approve things that are excellent, that ye may be sincere, and without offence till the day of Christ,’ Philip. 1:27, 4:1; and that ‘our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power;’ ‘That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ,’ 2 Thes. 1:11, 12.
And that you may be eminent in sanctity, sanctity being Zion’s glory, Ps. 93:5;
that your hearts may be kept upright, your judgments sound, and your lives unblameable.
That as ye are now ‘my joy,’ so in the day of Christ you may be ‘my crown;’ that I may see my labours in your lives; that your conversation may not be earthly, when the things you hear are heavenly; but that it may be ‘as becomes the gospel,’ Philip. 1:9, 10.
That as the fishes which live in the salt sea yet are fresh, so you, though you live in an uncharitable world, may yet be charitable and loving;
That ye may, like the bee, suck honey out of every flower; that ye may shine in a sea of troubles, as the pearl shines in the sky, though it grows in the sea;
that in all your trials you may be like the stone in Thracia, that neither burneth in the fire nor sinketh in the water;
That ye may be like the heavens, excellent in substance and beautiful in appearance;
that so you may meet me with joy in that day wherein Christ shall say to his Father, ‘Lo, here am I, and the children that thou hast given me,’ Isa. 8:18
My desires to you are,
That you would make it your business to study Christ, his word, your own hearts, Satan’s plots, and eternity, more than ever;
That ye would endeavour more to be inwardly sincere than outwardly glorious; to live, than to have a name to live;
That ye would labour with all your might to be thankful under mercies, and faithful in your places, and humble under divine appearances, and fruitful under precious ordinances;
That as your means and mercies are greater than others’, so your account before God may not prove a worse than others’;
That ye would pray for me, who am not worthy to be named among the saints, that I may be a precious instrument in the hand of Christ to bring in many souls unto him, and to build up those that are brought in in their most holy faith;
and ‘that utterance may be given to me, that I may make known all the will of God,’ Eph. 6:19;
That I may be sincere, faithful, frequent, fervent, and constant in the work of the Lord, and that my labour be not in vain in the Lord; that my labours may be accepted in the Lord and his saints, and I may daily see the travail of my soul, &c.
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 5-6.
How Spurgeon makes an abstraction concrete: A great strength of Spurgeon’s preaching lies in his ability to make abstract concepts concrete, tangible. Ideas have very little effect upon us until we bring them down from the realm of idea and place in the tangible world. A great deal of doctrinal preaching fails because it treats doctrine as a bare idea rather than a tangible fact. (Incidentally, the same is true of all discourse. We little discourse in the public sphere beyond religion and politics which is meant to move people into action or belief — no wait, there is advertising, which is wholly concrete. The abstract is abstracted from advertising, hidden under picture and demands).
Consider. First the abstract proposition:
And first the sin of unbelief will appear to be extremely heinous when we remember that it is the parent of every other iniquity.
The proposition is that unbelief is the predicate of all other sin: we cannot sin without unbelief. Paul makes this point
23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Romans 14:23 (ESV). How then does Spurgeon drive this point home? First, he repeats and rephrases: this is critical in oral discourse. You cannot assume that someone has caught the full wait of your words on the first pass. Repetition and rephrasing are extremely useful:
There is no crime which unbelief will not beget.
Then Spurgeon makes an interesting move to slow down the issue:
I think that the fall of man is very much owing to it.
He does not say, The fall of man was caused by unbelief. Rather, he begins with “I think”. There is a matter of meditation not demand. Let’s think about this together. He is drawing his audience up alongside to contemplate with him:
It was in this point that the devil tempted Eve. He said to her, “Yea, hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” He whispered and insinuated a doubt, “Yea, hath God said so?” as much as to say, “Are you quite sure he said so?”
Here, he turns the event into a play. Come here with me and let’s watch the primeval temptation.
It was by means of unbelief—that thin part of the wedge—that the other sin entered; curiosity and the rest followed; she touched the fruit, and destruction came into this world.
Some of the weight of this image will be lost here: “the wedge”. We don’t cut firewood (at least those of us who live in cities — which is almost everyone; my family in Montana buys pellets). The wedge of a device shaped like an ax head. It was placed against a piece of wood to be split, and a hammer was brought against it.
Since that time, unbelief has been the prolific parent of all guilt. An unbeliever is capable of the vilest crime that ever was committed. Unbelief, sirs! why it hardoned the heart of Pharoah—it gave license to the tongue of blaspheming Rabshakeh—yea, it became a deicide, and murdered Jesus.
Here in quick procession he moves from Adam to Christ. Spurgeon cannot see anything without seeing the Cross:
Unbelief!—it has sharpened the knife of the suicide! it has mixed many a cup of poison; thousands it has brought to the halter; and many to a shameful grave, who have murdered themselves and rushed with bloody hands before their Creator’s tribunal, because of unbelief.
This move is extraordinary: the reference to “suicide” brings us to Judas. He he does not dwell on Judas, rather Spurgeon makes the general point that suicide is the effect of every unbelief. He doesn’t speak of hanging oneself, but rather of poison: Spurgeon broadens the terror. If you are now in unbelief, you are mixing yourself a glass of poison.
All who are judged guilty on the Last Day have committed suicide.
May I now stop to make a point: The Gospel is plainly this: you can do nothing of merit to avoid damnation, but God has done all. No one is saved because he is better than anyone. We are saved when we admit that we are not so.
I am a Christian because I am possessed by a moral certainty that I am and never will be “better” than any man. I am so well acquainted with my sin, that I cannot believe that any man is worse than me.
Here Spurgeon makes a point of common grace: the only reason there is no more sin in the world is that Spirit of God has restrained that sin.
Give me an unbeliever—let me know that he doubts God’s word—let me know that he distrusts his promise and his threatening; and with that for a premise, I will conclude that the man shall, by-and-bye unless there is amazing restraining power exerted upon him, be guilty of the foulest and blackest crimes. Ah! this is a Beelzebub sin; like Beelzebub, it is the leader of all evil spirits. It is said of Jeroboam that he sinned and made Israel to sin; and it may be said of unbelief that it not only sins itself, but makes others sin; it is the egg of all crime, the seed of every offence; in fact everything that is evil and vile lies couched in that one word—unbelief.
C. H. Spurgeon, “The Sin of Unbelief,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 1 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855), 19. Spurgeon then makes the point that all believers sin from the same failure: it is unbelief that leads to sin. There is no sin without unbelief.
I affirm, and the Word declares it, unbelief is a sin. Surely with rational and unprejudiced persons, it cannot require any reasoning to prove it.
Is it not a sin for a creature to doubt the word of its Maker?
Is it not a crime and an insult to the Divinity, for me, an atom, a particle of dust, to dare to deny his words?
Is it not the very summit of arrogance and extremity of pride for a son of Adam to say, even in his heart, “God I doubt thy grace; God I doubt thy love; God I doubt thy power?”
Oh! sirs believe me, could ye roll all sins into one mass,—
could you take
and lust, adultery, and fornication,
and everything that is vile,
and unite them all into one vast globe of black corruption,
they would not equal even then the sin of unbelief.
This is the monarch sin,
the quintessence of guilt;
the mixture of the venom of all crimes;
the dregs of the wine of Gomorrha;
it is the A-1 sin,
the master-piece of Satan,
the chief work of the devil.
C. H. Spurgeon, “The Sin of Unbelief,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 1 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855), 19.
Now let us consider the rhetorical parts. Although he argues for the proposition elsewhere in the sermon, here he seeks not make you think that unbelief is a sin; but rather, to make you feel that unbelief is a heinous sin. This section functions as an introduction into the catalogue of sins which flow from unbelief.
Therefore, at this point, he raises the emotional strain so that you will willing consider the danger of this sin.
First, he states the proposition: it does not require proof to know unbelief is a sin. Thus, it requires only a look at unbelief to realize it is a sin.
He first begins with a series of three questions, all which have the same introductory formula (Is it not ….). All three questions demand an emphatic “Yes!”
While the three questions are parallel, they also show development:
The first question states the general proposition:
Is it not a sin for a creature to doubt the word of its Maker?
The second question repeats the general proposition but it expands both parts
Is it not a crime and an insult to the Divinity, for me, an atom, a particle of dust, to dare to deny his words?
“Sin” becomes “a crime and an insult to the Divinity”. “Creature” becomes “me, an atom, a particle of dust”. “Doubt” becomes “dare to deny”
The third repetition again expands the proposition.
Is it not the very summit of arrogance and extremity of pride for a son of Adam to say, even in his heart, “God I doubt thy grace; God I doubt thy love; God I doubt thy power?”
Here “sin” become “the very summit of arrogance and extremity of pride”. “Creature” becomes “a son of Adam”. The final element “doubt’ is expanded and is made concrete with a very particular three-part question:
to say, even in his heart,
“God I doubt thy grace;
God I doubt thy love;
God I doubt thy power?”
Part Two A.
Second, he makes two forms of comparison. The first comparison entails a weighing of unbelief against all other sin. On one side he balls up all other other sins (“everything that is vile”) and says that unbelief is worse than the lot. Notice that he does not merely say use the conclusion, but he also makes a list of various sins. The list is three basic groups: violence, blasphemy, sexual immorality. The short list gives some depth and color to “everything that is vile”.
Part Two B
He then ends is a list of seven labels for the sin of unbelief. The list is broken up at 4-5 with a repetition of the verbal phrase “It is”. Each item on the list begins with “The” and includes the (implied) verb “is”. The last two lines are parallel substituting the emphatic titles (master-piece/chief work) and the owner (Satan).
Figures of repetition for emphasis are easily overdone. Spurgeon avoids that fault in a couple of ways. First, not every paragraph is this emphatic and repetitive.
Second, he does not use one type of repetition (for instance merely repeating a list of synonyms for a final noun, “A sin, a crime, a rebellion”). He asks questions. He uses two types of labeling repetitions.
Third, within the three forms employed, he creates variety. The three questions are parallel, but they vary in length and rhythm. The two labeling repetitions vary significantly between themselves in form. They also show rhythmic variation within the form. The first set of labels breaks into three distinct parts. The second labeling form has a break mid-way three, repeating the “it is” to gain control for the final couplet.
Fourth, the repetitions are not bare repetitions of sound. He increases the sense. There is an increase in information as he moves along. For instance, in the first three questions he shows that doubt is both unthinkable for a creature (by emphasizing both the lowliness of the creature (“an atom”) and the rebelliousness of the creature (“a son of Adam”). He also notes that doubt does not require a great act of rebellion, it is an unspoken whisper in the heart which is sufficient to create the sin.
While such rhetorical forms are not common in most preaching they are typically repetitions without point beyond emphasis. There is no development of the idea in the repetition of parallel nouns. The parallels were chosen often because they provide no change in the idea.
I saw this on social media today. This is good example of misleading argument:
My favorite part of the Kavanaugh controversy is how people who are absolutely convinced they know exactly what happened in Judea 2,000 years ago have gaslit many Americans into believing it is literally impossible to know what happened at an event in 1983.
Here, our correspondent has misstated both the Christian position on the resurrection and the argument respecting an alleged event involving Judge Kavanaugh.
It is inaccurate to say that anyone is certain of everything which happened in Judea during the life of Jesus. No one claims to have comprehensive knowledge of the time and place. In terms of total facts, far more is unknown than known. The Christian position is that the facts which are known are sufficient to draw certain factual conclusions (such as the Resurrection).
The circumstance involving Judge Kavanaugh differs on the facts available at this time. If the only two facts are one person asserting X and another asserting not-X and there are no other facts, then drawing a conclusion is impossible on that basis alone. The difficulty with Kavanaugh’s case is a lack of a sufficiently detailed allegation (the X, and not-X are not even sufficiently defined) and a lack of evidence beyond the ultimate conclusion.
There are a number of facts which could easily lead to a definite conclusion. For instance, there were a definite statement of date, time and place, one could conclude that the event was more or less probable.
Thus, if the alleged event (again, I have no idea as to the truth, because I do not have a sufficient number of facts from which to draw a conclusion. Anyone who has had access to the publicly available statements “knows” anything is simply wrong.) took place on Date 1 and Kavanaugh was in another Michigan on that date, it is not likely that he took a jet home for this bad act and then returned without notice.
We can look to other corroborating facts: It is reported (goodness knows what has actually been said, this whole story is awash in false statements and nonsense). Are there witnesses? What do they say? Have the witnesses or alleged actors given consistent or inconsistent statements? Etc.
The Resurrection is quite different: it is a conclusion based upon a very definite statement and supported by substantial supporting evidence.
Indeed, the fundamental reason to question the Resurrection is not the evidence but the strangeness of the event. If the Resurrection were a normal historical event, it would be unquestioned.
But what about the passage of years?
As we move further from an event, the number of facts recoverable will lessen. If there are witnesses, the memory of witnesses will fade [I will make a note on eyewitness testimony below.] Witnesses will also become unavailable over the course of time (either through death or becoming lost to interview by moving or whatnot).
Physical facts will also diminish over time (duration will depend upon the nature of the artifact).
How does this not adversely affect the Christian claim?
Christians are not trying to recover facts from 2,000 years. The facts were established and recorded at that time. We are not trying to establish that information today for the first time. The 2,000 years misstates the salient fact of time.
Let’s consider an example: Imagine we have access to a trial transcript from 1940. The events underlying the trial took place one year earlier. If we were to speak of what happened in 1939, the time period between fact and conclusion is 1 year – not 78 years.
In Kavanaugh’s case we are trying to recover facts for the first time 35 years after the event (the 2012 notes are problematic at best. Even the accuser says the notes are wrong).
What about eyewitness testimony? Isn’t it unreliable?
Yes, and no. Eyewitness testimony about stressful events which took place at one time and over a short period of time are very often wrong – often wildly wrong. Crime victims routinely give flawed testimony about the criminal event: they are stressed, confused; their attention is misdirected; they try to reconstruct the event and make numerous errors in the recreation.
The Kavanaugh event concerns eyewitness testimony about an extremely stressful event. An important fact, which may weigh in favor of the accuser is whether she knew Kavanaugh prior to the event. If this was their first (alleged) interaction, she would more easily misidentify him. If they had been friends for years, she does not need to describe his appearance for the first time.
Compare that to testimony about normal events. You know would likely give excellent testimony about the color of your car, the number windows in your bedroom, the number of drawers in your dresser, how often you get paid for work, et cetera. Routine, repeated, normal events are fundamentally different than trying to remember what it was like to be robbed.
On this point, we should note that information obtained in therapy of a long unexpressed painful event which (supposedly) is causing significant bad effects in the present has a reputation for uncovering things which never occurred. Moreover, patients routinely lie to therapists and clients lie to lawyers (I’m not saying always; but it happens enough that it is not a strange thing).
Christianity is based upon claims from multiple witnesses about an event with corroborating physical evidence. For instance, if anyone had been able to produce Jesus’ body in Jerusalem, it would have stopped Christianity at its birth (Crossan’s claim that it was eaten by dogs is silly. Someone could have just said, we say dogs eat it. No one made that claim until Crossan – which a claim which suffers from the 2,000 year distance).
What about prejudice?
The Kavanaugh accusation is a great example of the policy behind Evidence Code section 352. The code essentially forbids the introduction of evidence which would prejudice a juror more than it would inform a juror. For example, let us say the defendant is a gang member charged with a particular crime. In most instances, the jury would never hear about the gang membership. If they heard he was a gang member, they would be more likely to find him guilty because he was in a gang than because he engaged in this particular bad act.
The people who speak confidently about what happened in the Kavanaugh case typically betray a personal prejudice (I was assaulted, therefore, she was telling the truth; I was falsely accused, therefore, she is lying; I hate/adhere to Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy, therefore, ….).
Most of the people providing their opinion of the event have voiced personal prejudice: their opinion is worthless as to the truth of the accusation.
Well, weren’t the Apostles prejudiced in favor of Jesus? That misstates the issue. They were seriously prejudiced against the possibility of Jesus being resurrected from the dead in the manner in which he did (N.T. Wright’s Resurrection covers the evidence here exhaustively). Their prejudice makes it unlikely they would mistakenly believe Jesus had been resurrected.
What about reputation and motivation?
This does have some bearing. One who has a history of lying, might lie more easily than others. But no amount of lying before proves one is lying as to the instant assertion. No amount of prior conduct proves anything about conduct on one particular instance.
With Kavanaugh, the parties both have strong reasons to tell the truth; and they both have significant motive to lie. In fact, the pressure of examination is likely to cause each party to dig in their heels to insist upon their position (recanting has become more costly than the alternative – especially since the possibility of suffering penalty is minimal in this event). (There are event plausible scenarios under both believe that they are each telling the truth.)
This is a point which weighs very heavily in favor of the apostolic witness. They all suffered greatly (most often to death) for their testimony.
But don’t people die for false believes all the time?Yes, but that isn’t the case here.
Consider three scenarios:
1) Alleged Historical Event Z – never happened.
2) P1 who relates Z to P2.
3) P1 has lied to P2.
4) P2 believes P1
5) P2 dies based upon the false belief related by P1.
1) Historical Event Z.
2) Witnessed by P1.
3) P1 knows, based upon personal experience that Z took place.
4) P1 dies for Z.
1) Alleged Historical Event Z.
2) P1 knows it never happened.
3) P1 claims that Z happened.
4) P1 is challenged with death over Z.
5) P1 personally knows that Z is false.
6) P1 recants to stay alive.
People will recant things they believe to be true to save their life. It would be a remarkable day indeed for someone to go to death for a fact which they personally knew was false.
In conclusion, an analogy between Judge Kavanaugh’s circumstance and the Resurrection is poorly drawn.
As for the Judge and his accuser. I honestly have no definite idea what happened. I am not even certain what facts and accusation have been established. I have read any number of assertions made confidentially by people who are in no position to know any more than I do. I have seen a great deal of gossip, slander and vicious stupidity. (Apparently, there have been significant death threats made against almost everyone involved.)
I have seen that bias and prejudice have more importance than any consideration of evidence (not to say burden of proof — which is critical in this instance).
This political tempest is very sad; it has often been wicked; and I fear no matter how it ends, the result will be a further deterioration of our social fabric.