12 Theses on Prayer

5 11 2013

Prayer is vital to the Christian life, and yet there are many things that can rob the life of prayer of its vitality.  There is nothing more damaging to the life of prayer than to redirect our gaze and trust away from God and towards ourselves in our prayers.  There are a variety of ways in which this can be done.  I’ve written the below as a short and simple means by which we can wrest our eyes away from our faith, our will, and our works and redirect our gaze to the goodness of God in Jesus Christ in the life of prayer.

  1. Prayer is a fruit of those who have been born again to a living hope, made alive in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.
  2. It follows then that prayer does not stand on its own, nor can it be produced by man alone in his natural state but rather is dependent upon the work of God.
  3. The foundation and strength of prayer then does not belong to man either in his faith, zeal, sincerity, or works.  Rather, the foundation and strength of prayer is God.
  4. The prayers of Christians are built upon the strong foundation of the (i) promises of God  and (ii) their fulfillment in Jesus Christ (iii) applied by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  5. Prayer then is not a means by which I tell God what to do.  Rather, prayer is a response to what God has done and promised to do.
  6. It follows that prayer cannot change God’s will, rather, prayer is a means by which the will of God is brought about.
  7. The only valid prayers then are those which rest upon the foundation of the work of God.  Those prayers, though said by Christians and prayed in the name of Jesus, which have no basis in Scripture are built upon a sandy foundation.
  8. Those prayers that rest upon the foundation of the promises of God and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ are always answered.
  9. God is not obligated to bring about his will in the manner that I have asked or imagined.
  10. The manner in which God answers my prayers will infinitely exceed my asking and imagining.
  11. The manner in which God has answered many of our prayers will not be made clear until the end of all things, but we will one day see how he has worked good out of evil and worked all things to the good of those who love him.
  12. The above is the fuel for the saints’ eternal worship of God.

 

 

 





John Owen: Discerning the work of God

5 08 2013

Below you’ll find a section from Owen’s sermon “The Shaking and Translating of Heaven and Earth,” preached before parliament sometime in 1649.  In the sermon, Owen exhorts his listeners to seek earnestly through prayer what God might be doing to advance his Kingdom so that they might join him in his work.  He lists four things that help believers gain insight into the work God is doing in their own days.  Read them below and see what you think.  Then why not go a bit further and pray into what God might be doing in our own day.

There be four things whereby we may come to have an insight into the work which the Lord will do and accomplish in our days. (1st.) The light which he gives. (2dly.) The previous works which he doth. (3dly.) The expectation of his saints. (4thly.) The fear of his adversaries.

(1st.) The light which he gives. God doth not use to set his people to work in the dark. They are the “children of light,” and they are no “deeds of darkness” which they have to do. However others are blinded, they shall see; yea, he always suits their light to their labour, and gives them a clear discerning of what he is about. The Lord God doth nothing, but he reveals his secrets to his servants. The light of every age is the forerunner of the work of every age.

 When Christ was to come in the flesh, John Baptist comes a little before — a new light, a new preacher. And what doth he discover and reveal? Why, he calls them off from resting on legal ceremonies, to the doctrine of faith, repentance, and gospel ordinances; — tells them “the kingdom of God is at hand;” — instructs them in the knowledge of Him who was coming. To what end was all this? Only that the minds of men being enlightened by his preaching, who was a “burning and a shining lamp,” they might see what the Lord was doing.

Every age hath its peculiar work, hath its peculiar light. Now what is the light which God manifestly gives in our days? Surely not new doctrines, as some pretend — (indeed old errors, and long since exploded fancies). Plainly, the peculiar light of this generation is that discovery which the Lord hath made to his people of the mystery of civil and ecclesiastical tyranny. The opening, unravelling, and revealing the Antichristian interest, interwoven and coupled together, in civil and spiritual things, into a state opposite to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus, is the great discovery of these days. Who almost is there amongst us now who doth not evidently see, that for many generations the western nations have been juggled into spiritual and civil slavery by the legerdemain of the whore, and the potentates of the earth made drunk with the cup of her abominations? — how the whole earth hath been rolled in confusion, and the saints hurried out of the world, to give way to their combined interest? Hath not God unveiled that harlot, made her naked, and discovered her abominable filthiness? Is it not evident to him that hath but half an eye, that the whole present constitution of the government of the nations is so cemented with antichristian mortar, from the very top to the bottom, that without a thorough shaking they cannot be cleansed? This, then, plainly discovers that the work which the Lord is doing relates to the untwining of this close combination against himself and the kingdom of his dear Son; and he will not leave until he have done it. To what degree in the several nations this shaking shall proceed, I have nothing to determine in particular, the Scripture having not expressed it. This only is certain, it shall not stop, nor receive its period, before the interest of Antichristianity be wholly separated from the power of those nations.

 (2dly.) The previous works he doth. How many of these doth our Saviour give as signs of the destruction of Jerusalem, — and so, consequently, of propagating the gospel more and more to the nations!

Matt. xxiv. 1; Luke xxi. 1. How fearful and dreadful they were in their accomplishment, Josephus the Jewish historian relateth; and how by them the Christians were forewarned, and did by them understand what the Lord was doing, Eusebius and others declare. “When,” saith he, “you shall see the abomination of desolation” (the Roman eagles and ensigns) “standing in the holy place,” Matt. xxiv. 15, — or “Jerusalem compassed with armies,” as Luke xxi. 20, — then know by that, that “the end thereof is come, and your deliverance at hand.”

The works of God are to be sought out of them that have pleasure in them. They are vocal-speaking works; the mind of God is in them. They may be heard, read, and understood: the “rod may be heard, and who hath appointed it.” Now, generally, he begins with lesser works, to point out to the sons of men what he is about to accomplish. By these may his will be known, that he may be met in righteousness.

Now, what, I pray, are the works that the Lord is bringing forth upon the earth? what is he doing in our own and the neighbouring nations? Show me the potentate upon the earth that hath a peaceable molehill to build himself a habitation upon. Are not all the controversies, or the most of them, that at this day are disputed in letters of blood among the nations, somewhat of a distinct constitution from those formerly under debate? — those tending merely to the power and splendour of single persons, these to the interest of the many. Is not the hand of the Lord in all this? Are not the shaking of these heavens of the nations from him? Is not the voice of Christ in the midst of all this tumult? And is not the genuine tendence of these things open and visible unto all? What speedy issue all this will be driven to, I know not; — so much is to be done as requires a long space. Though a tower may be pulled down faster than it was set up, yet that which hath been building a thousand years is not like to go down in a thousand days.

(3dly.) The expectation of the saints is another thing from whence a discovery of the will of God and the work of our generation may be concluded. The secret ways of God’s communicating his mind unto his saints, by a fresh favour of accomplishing prophecies and strong workings of the Spirit of supplications, I cannot now insist upon. This I know, they shall not be “led into temptation,” but kept from the hour thereof, when it comes upon the whole earth. When God raiseth up the expectation of his people to any thing, he is not unto them as waters that fail; nay, he will assuredly fulfil the desires of the poor.

Just about the time that our Saviour Christ was to be born of a woman, how were all that waited for salvation in Israel raised up to a high expectation of the kingdom of God! — such as that people never had before, and assuredly shall never have again; yea, famous was the waiting of that season through the whole Roman empire. And the Lord, whom they sought, came to his temple. Eminent was their hope, and excellent was the accomplishment.

Whether this will be made a rule to others or no, I know not: this I am assured, that, being bottomed on promises, and built up with supplications, it is a ground for them to rest upon. And here I dare appeal to all who with any diligence have inquired into the things of the kingdom of Christ, — that have any savour upon their spirits of the accomplishment of prophecies and promises in the latter days, — who count themselves concerned in the glory of the gospel, — whether this thing of consuming the mystery of iniquity, and vindicating the churches of Christ into the liberties purchased for them by the Lord Jesus, by the shaking and translating all opposing heights and heavens, be not fully in their expectations. Only, the time is in the hand of God, and the rule of our actings with him is his revealed will.

(4thly.) Whether the fears of his adversaries have not their lines meeting in the same point, themselves can best determine. The whole world was more or less dreaded at the coming of Christ in the flesh. When, also, the signs of his vengeance did first appear to the Pagan world, in calling to an account for the blood of his saints, the kings and captains presently cry out, “The great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” Rev. vi. 17.

I am not of counsel to any of the adherents to the man of sin, or any of those who have given their power unto the beast, — I have not a key to the bosoms of the enemies of Christ, — I am neither their interpreter nor do they allow me to speak in their behalf; yet truly, upon very many probable grounds, I am fully persuaded that, were the thoughts of their hearts disclosed, notwithstanding all their glittering shows, dreadful words, threatening expressions, you shall see them tremble, and dread this very thing, that the whole world as now established will be wrapped up in darkness, at least until that cursed interest which is set up against the Lord Jesus be fully and wholly shaken out from the heavens and earth of the nations.

And thus, without leading you about by chronologies and computations (which yet have their use, well to count a number being wisdom indeed), I have a little discovered unto you some rules whereby you may come to be acquainted with the work of God in the days wherein we live, and also what that work is; which is our first use.

-John Owen, Owen’s Works VIII pg 273-276





Facing Down the Ice Dragon

26 06 2013

In 1933 Lewis published his first novel, The Pilgrim’s Regress, which he promoted to a publisher as a kind of “Bunyan up to date.”  Though in title Lewis is clearly indebted to Bunyan, the Pilgrim’s Regress should not be seen as a simple retelling of Bunyan’s classic Christian allegory.  If left to stand on its on two legs, the work is an intellectual map of the early to mid 20th century West as Lewis saw it, as well as how a spiritual pilgrim might navigate such a world away from and returning to Christian truth.

The novel was widely panned and even Lewis himself was deeply dissatisfied with it for reasons that are persuasive.  For one, the work is too obscure and two, Lewis focused too closely on intellectual movements in a narrow window of history, making many of his points almost immediately out of date.  Nevertheless, the work is one of my favorites both for its rich, imaginative landscapes as well as lyrical qualities.  To add to this, Lewis’ vision for a reasonable, faithful, and imaginative Christian life continues to intrigue both Christians and non-Christians alike.  More than any other reason however, is that Lewis’ treatment of universal human issues, when handled, is exceptional. 

Lewis’ novel follows the journey of two characters as they progress and then regress through his fictional landscape.  John, the main character, represents the Greek man full of pursuits of pleasure and ease.  John’s companion, Vertue, represents the classically religious, if not Pharisaical follower of rules who denies himself even the simplest of comforts.  The two men, to be made whole must endure battle with two dragons, one fiery dragon from the South and one icy dragon from the North.

Vertue must fight the fiery dragon, an “expansive, invertebrate dragon whose fiery breath makes all that she touches melt and corrupt.”  “To her,” says the Pilgrim’s guide, you “must go down that you may steal her heat and be made malleable.”  Lewis’ point, powerfully made through the assistance of story was this:  the Pharisee may keep rules but he has no love for God or for man in him.  He needs heat to melt and heat for passion that he might have passion for both God and man.  In one of the more touching, while at the same time one of the more amusing passages, Vertue returns from his fight with the “fiery dragon” “veritably on fire,” “leaping, running, and dancing.”

As for John, he must fight the “cold dragon” for the opposite purpose.  If Vertue is too hard, with no passion, John is too soft, with no restraint, courage, or perseverance.  He must “go up and contend with him (the cold dragon) that you may be hardened.”  Ice from the dragon travels out of his body, down the sword and into John’s body steeling his spine.  When we think of the nature of sanctification, we may not often think of how necessary “hardening” is.  But necessary it is.  After all, doesn’t the Apostle Paul tells us that we are being prepared to bear an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4.17).  Soft people aren’t prepared to bear such a reward.  They need to toughen up. 

So how does this happen?  In the allegory, the cold dragon is placed before the pilgrim as an act of grace.  In facing down the cold dragon, the soft man is hardened as a gift.  The gift is not only the hardening that comes as John plunges his sword into the belly of the dragon, and the ice travels into his body making him strong.  But there is another gift to be given as the dragon is faced down.  This second gift is the gift of victory over the dragon itself.  The coward goes to battle and prevails and this is a gift of God.  Consider the paradox of the following:

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Rom 16.20)

God will crush Satan, but he will do so under your feet.  Here is a remarkable gift.  God will destroy the devil, but he does so in part using the coward as a tool.  Thus the coward has a share, as an act of grace, in the victory of God.

So what do we do with this?  When the dragon appears, whatever form he may take, he must be acknowledged for what he is.  He may be an enemy.  He may be evil.  But he is in your path under the sovereignty of a good God who has placed him there to make you strong.  So take up your sword and play the man.  You may lose, as Peter lost on the night Christ was betrayed.  But, as you’ll remember, Peter was the better man for the losing.  In a sense, he was strengthened in the losing for he was a more gracious man after the temptation than he was before.  You may win, as Lewis’ pilgrim does in the allegory, and share in the victory of God as he crushes the devil under your feet and this will make you strong as well.  Whatever happens, the promise still stands that he will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13.5), nor lose us (John 17.12), will one day complete his work in us (Phil 1.6), and present us perfect before the throne of God (Jude 24).  At least in part this is accomplished, as unpleasant as the reality is, in the facing down of the various dragons that may be blocking our progress.  After all, there is no other way (Acts 14.22). 

 





Re-Imagining Radical Discipleship (Part I)

16 04 2013

In two short posts, rather than critique some of the “radical” books we brought up a few weeks ago I think I’d rather re-imagine them a little bit, hoping to (in some small way) contribute to the conversation as it plays out among friends, church members, and visitors.

There has been a steady stream of literature introduced into the Christian marketplace offering substantial criticism of modern day, North American Christianity.  I would say that the so-called “radical” books fit well within this niche, as they all, on different levels offer critiques at what the church in North America has produced or for that matter failed to produce.  So far so good.  On these points I find it hard to disagree with them.  To be blunt (and brief!), I think North American Christianity is theologically shallow, materialistic, and not particularly Christian.

The first two should be easy to understand.  The last may need some qualification.  When I say that North American Christianity is “not particularly Christian,” I mean the link between the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the practice of many North American Christians (and their churches) is not entirely apparent.  The link could be entirely detached, as it appears to have been with the Episcopal Bishop M. Budde, who called the resurrection of Jesus an “outlandish proposition” (!) or it could be the more subtle detachment but more Jesus and Bible friendly moralistic, therapeutic, deism of much of the Evangelical world.  After all, reducing Jesus from the incarnate Son of God and necessary atonement for sin to some exemplar for a better career, a more proficient parenting, or the key to time management has just as little to do with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as Bishop Budde’s denial of such things.  They appear different in full bloom but they come from the same seed.

If this is the current state of affairs, and I believe it is, what then is the fix?  What the “radical” books suggest, that I wholeheartedly endorse, is discipleship.  But what does this word “discipleship” mean?  Perhaps it means teaching others about Jesus.  This is discipleship.  On this front, recovering some old school catechism, a strategy advocated by J.I. Packer, couldn’t possibly be a bad thing.  Discipleship could also be teaching people to do, or not do, certain things.  This too is a good thing.  Whereas praying, Bible reading, serving the poor, sharing the faith, etc. come quite naturally to some, others must be taught the hows and whys of such things.  That is discipleship.  But discipleship, particularly the radical kind of discipleship I think we want to see, is more than simply knowing and doing the right things.  I would suggest a truly radical discipleship is also, if not primarily, about loving the right things.  This is where I think we’re coming up short.

In the old days (like 1500 years ago) people thought quite a lot about why they did the things they did and why they thought the things they thought.  Within the Christian tradition, knowing and doing are not activities in an of themselves but rather were the fruit of the deeper, more substantial activity of loving.  So for example, Gregory of Nyssa describes love as the “inherent affection towards a chosen object” that “attaches” one being to another through affection (On the Soul and the Resurrection).  Love doesn’t just attach emotion, but it attaches the whole being (emotions, thoughts, actions, etc.) to the object.  Similarly, Augustine describes love as that which “allures and unites us” to the things we love (Confessions IV.XIII).  If you ask the old dead guys, they’ll tell you that your thoughts and actions are dictated by your love.  What you love you think.  What you love you do.

It may be worth pausing for a moment to answer at least one objection.  We are after all, rational creatures are we not?  Loving is not central, thinking is!  Well, I’m not so sure.  Perhaps you have friends with children.  Perhaps your friends think that everything their children do is blog worthy, exceptional, unique, and magnificent.  But you and I know better!  We know that “little Johnny” is not blog worthy, but rather he’s a little devil!  So how is it that the parent‘s thoughts about the child are so distorted?  It is quite simple actually.  The parents love “little Johnny,” and their love has shaped their thoughts.

The point is argued well by Freud and later C.S. Lewis.  Freud called belief in God (thinking) a “collective neurosis” that was really a longing for a father (loving).  So the longing (loving) shaped the believing (thinking).  This appears to be a damaging obstacle to those of us with faith.  But years later Lewis showed this argument to be a bit of a double edged sword.  Lewis argued that unbelief in God (thinking) must be “an admirable gratification of one of our strongest impulses” (loving) because it gives us permission to live without fear of judgment or any higher authority (see Lewis, “On Obstinancy in Belief).  All that to say, you think what you love.  You do what you love.

If love is as central as what we argue above then perhaps the formation of the heart, not simply our thoughts or our behavior, ought to be the chief concern of a would be disciple maker.  So then, how is love formed?  Consider the following from Richard Sibbes:

Things work upon the soul in this order: 1. Some object is presented. 2. Then it is apprehended by imagination as good and pleasing, or as evil and hurtful. 3. If good, the desire is carried to it with delight; if evil, it is rejected with distaste, and so our affections are stirred up suitably to our apprehension of the object. 4. Affections stir up the spirits. 5. The spirits raise the humours, and so the whole man becomes moved.

-Sibbes, The Souls Conflict with Itself

What’s he saying?  You see something, then you imagine if it is good and pleasing or evil and hurtful.  If good and pleasing, you love it and attach yourself to it and pursue it with mind and body.  The more you perceive the goodness and pleasure in something, the great attachment it has over you.  So if we want people, mind and body attached to God, what must we do?  It seems obvious and simple . We must hold God up to be our highest and most pleasurable good, activating the imagination and firing up people’s love.

The English reformer, Thomas Cranmer, knew this well.  Consider the following:

But if the profession of our faith of the remssion of our own sins enter within us into the deepness of our hearts, then it must kindle a warm fire of love in our hearts towards God, and towards all other for the love of God, —a fervent mind to seek and procure God’s honour, will, and pleasure in all things, —a good will and mind to help every man and to do good unto them, so far as our might, wisdom, learning, counsel, health, strength, and all other gifts which we have received of God and will extend, —and, in summa, a firm intent and purpose to do all that is good, and leave all that is evil. (Cranmer, quoted in Null’s Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance pg 185)

Perceive the goodness of God in the remission of sins, says Cranmer, and it kindles a warm fire of love in the heart.  Once this is done, everything else (might, wisdom, learning, counsel, health, strength etc.) falls into place.
For a short post, I’m out of room to discuss method.  But I’ll leave you with one or two thoughts to leap off of from here.  When we teach people to think rightly about Christ, or when we teach people certain distinctive Christian behaviors we must aim at the heart.  The goal is not right thinking, nor is the goal right doing, the goal is right loving.  We must ask “how can I convey this information in such a way as to increase love and delight in God?” or “how can I teach this practice or behavior in such a way that love for God is increased?”  Starting here is a hard road, but I’m convinced it bears good fruit, and warm hearts in the long run.





George Herbert: “The Agony”

28 03 2013

Much to dwell on, particularly this time of year.  The final paragraph is a fine thing to keep in head and heart come Thursday evening.

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of the seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach, then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.





Emotion and Emotionalism

20 03 2013

I remember watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film Commando when I was about five years old.  The news that I had seen that film at such a young age (or seen it at all!) horrified my Christian neighbors, which looking back upon it gives me a little bit of a chuckle.  One of my take home points from that is that Arnold somehow made it through the whole film without crying.  His daughter got kidnapped.  Arnold didn’t cry.  He got thrown out of a plane.  He didn’t cry.  He got flung from a car.  He didn’t even wince.  He was stabbed in the ribs, blown from a building, and shot (multiple times!) and Arnold never shed a tear.  I have high value for all of these things.

I have low value for group hugs, sitting in drum circles, tight jeans, and men crying (there seems to be a link between these things).  This of course is not a biblical conviction.  I just find these things distasteful, kind of like ketchup based BBQ.  I just don’t like it and have suspicions that such things somehow undo the moral fabric of the universe.  Nevertheless, I do have a high value for the emotional life of the Christian.  When I say this, I want to differentiate between emotionalism and the emotional life.  One is bad.  One is vital.  Let’s talk about them briefly.

Emotionalism:  

By “emotionalism,” I mean a characteristic which places highest value upon emotions, or how we feel, and interprets the world through our own emotions.  I want to say that this is bad in general and downright destructive to the Christian.  Let’s talk first about why it’s bad in general.  Consider the following from David Brooks, commenting on the moral compass of young adults:

When asked about wrong or evil, they (young adults) could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.  Rejecting blind deference to authority, many of the young people have gone off to the other extreme: “I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt. I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel.”

­–David Brooks, “If it Feels Right” NYT

I suppose the above works in some circumstances but in others it is woefully inadequate.  For example, I have never felt like getting up at 3 a.m. to be with a crying baby, but I’ve had to because it was my duty as a parent.  Emotionalism disconnects our emotions from our obligations.  I take this to be the reason why so many young adults felt it was o.k. to document their poverty outside of wall street with their $500 Iphones.  It is hard to take seriously the oppression of someone while they’re in designer clothes and carrying smart phones.  But the objective reality makes little difference.  They felt it.

That’s why emotionalism is bad in general.  Why’s it specifically bad for the Christian?  Let me give you one real world example.  I met a young man who came back from school and informed me that he had lost his faith.  I asked him why.  He told that that in Biology 101 he learned that there is no such thing as God.  Now indulge with me a brief segue.  Biology 101 has no standard by which to evaluate whether or not there is a God or not.  Methinks the professor was feeling his oats that day.  My first question to this young man was “Why did you believe in Jesus Christ?”  He replied, “I felt it.”  If you base your faith on how you feel, when the feeling goes away so does your faith.  Whoops!

Emotion:

Faith was never meant to be based upon our feelings, rather it is meant to be based upon fact.  Consider the words of the Apostle Paul:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
(1 Corinthians 15:3-6 ESV)

The core of the Christian message is the proclamation of an event.  Christianity does not first call us to feel, or to hope, or to even place our faith in something.  The first thing that Christianity does is it calls us to the consideration of an event.  The event is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Because it is said that this event happened in time and space, it can be investigated, discovered, found out, or even disproved.  The critical thing to apply at this point is that Christianity is not dependent upon how you feel.  The resurrection either happened or it didn’t.  How you feel about the resurrection has no real direct bearing on whether or not Christ died, was buried, and then on the third day was raised.

Our emotions have no bearing on the event, but the event should be brought to bear on our emotions.   Perhaps an analogy will serve the purpose.  If my wife announces that she is pregnant she has proclaimed an event.  The news of this event might make me happy, anxious, scared, or even angry.  If I heard such news and did not have an emotional response, people might rightly conclude that not all the gears were properly spinning upstairs.  The same is true of the Christian Gospel.  It is the proclamation of an event and this proclamation should elicit an emotional response.  If it doesn’t, then you have not heard it correctly.  Confessing Christians who do not have an emotional response to the proclamation that Christ died for sinners probably have something wrong with their Christianity.  It should do something to the heart.

Maintaining the Christian Emotional Life

Here is the great difference between emotionalism and rightly ordered Christian emotions.  Under the former, our emotions interpret reality.  Under the latter, reality is the basis for our emotional response.  Christians do not base their faith on how they feel.  Christians base their faith on the event of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  More than that, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus should be the basis not only for the Christian’s faith, but also for the Christian’s emotional life.  Principally, the Gospel of Jesus should make Christians (to quote William Tyndale) “happy to the low bottom of their soul.”

The importance in this is that the Christian’s emotional life is not based upon their behavior (righteous or sinful?), their faith (faithful or faithless?), or their feelings (happy or sad?), rather the Christian’s emotional life is based upon the unchanging and objective Gospel event of Jesus giving himself over for sinners and being raised from the dead for the same.  Christian’s don’t always “feel it.”  Sometimes we open the Bible and it is an empty word.  Sometimes we go to Sunday worship and just don’t feel like singing.  Other times prayer feels like a labor rather than a love.  So what happens when we don’t feel it?  What should we do?  The hymnist Edward Mote  “On Christ the Solid Rock” gave invaluable advice when he wrote:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

Mote expresses the feeling of darkness.  Rather than rest on his feelings, he fell back on the event.  “I rest on his unchanging grace,” that is the objective reality of Christ’s life, death and resurrection for sinners.  Mote knew that the way to recalibrate the heart was not to try to drum up extra emotion, but rather to fall back on the event upon which every Christian emotion should be based.

Here’s a little confession.  I’m a reasonably emotional Christian.  If I talk about Jesus and the Gospel for too long, I will probably end up getting a little teary eyed because it has that effect on me.  On occasion, I will have people say “I wish I could feel it like you!”  What I would say to them is counterintuitive.  If you want to feel happy about your faith, quit focusing on your feelings and start focusing on the Gospel.  Think long and often about the event, who accomplished it and what it means for you, and I think you’ll find that a rich emotional life will follow from there.

The value of a Christianity that bases emotions upon Christ, rather than validating Christ by emotions, is that it brings the emotions into service of Christ because it finds him as the root of all joy, comfort, peace, and happiness.  This is the value of an emotional Christianity.





Richard Baxter on Suffering and Death

19 03 2013

Lord, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And this Thy grace must give.

If life be long, I will be glad,
That I may long obey;
If short, yet why should I be sad
To welcome endless day?

Christ leads me through no darker rooms
Than He went through before;
He that unto God’s kingdom comes
Must enter by this door.

Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
Thy blessèd face to see;
For if Thy work on earth be sweet
What will Thy glory be!

Then I shall end my sad complaints
And weary sinful days,
And join with the triumphant saints
That sing my Savior’s praise.

My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
But ’tis enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with Him.